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GB: When did development first begin on Storm of Zehir and where do you currently stand in the expansion's development cycle? Are you still on track for a 2008 release?
Matthew: Development on Storm of Zehir started to pick up right around the end of the development cycle for Mask of the Betrayer. We're progressing well with development and are still working with an eye on releasing in Q4 of 2008.
GB: Tell us a bit more about Storm of Zehir's storyline, as well as how the new overland map and trading system will function.
Matthew: We can't say much about the storyline at this point - suffice to say that Zehir himself is mentioned in some of the D&D 4th Edition manuals. While our game utilizes 3.5 Edition rules and takes place before the 4th Edition in the chronology of the Forgotten Realms, we still foreshadow some of the events of the new D&D edition.
The Overland Map is an exciting new feature for us, as it allows for more non-linear exploration of the game world, in a fashion somewhat akin to Fallout. We feel that this allows for more open-ended gameplay, and also allows us to set the player loose and explore the world in a way that selecting destinations on a map screen doesn't really emphasize. We're also excited about the new roles that some of the Skills will play on the Overland Map; things like Spot, Listen, and Survival will probably be much more important in Storm of Zehir than they have been in previous Neverwinter Nights games.
The trading system revolves around the classic capitalistic technique of "buy low, sell high". You'll also need to keep track of events that may influence the prices of various goods; some of these events might even be caused by your party of adventurers. There are also quests that tie into the trading systems, as well as merchant cartels that you can choose to ally with or oppose. In the end, we want the trading system to open up new role-playing opportunities, so you can expect your trading adventures to open up new quests and influence the story. Its implementation also encourages the player to explore the Overland Map.
GB: The expansion will continue to use the 3.5E ruleset, but you mentioned in the press release that the storyline will "foreshadow" events that will take place in the 4th Edition version of the Forgotten Realms. Care to elaborate? Any chance that there will be other tie-ins to 4E?
Matthew: As mentioned above, most of the 4th Edition tie-ins are plot-related, and playing Storm of Zehir will allow players to get a better feel for how some of the events of 4th Edition came to pass.
GB: Although the storyline is completely new, might we see the return of any significant NPCs from NWN2 and/or NX1?
Matthew: You may come across a familiar face or two as you explore. :)
GB: What sort of level range will the expansion be geared for and how many total hours of gameplay are you shooting for (side quests included)?
Matthew: Your party will start off at a low level. From there, you can reach the level cap of 30 if you set your mind to it, although the toughest encounters in the storyline will likely wind up being placed in the high teens.
We've mentioned 15 hours of gameplay before, but with the new Overland Map exploration, the window on gameplay length is a bit more open than it has been in the past. Some players will rush through the storyline, while others will take their time exploring the Overland Map and poking into every nook and cranny.
GB: How many new classes, races, spells, and feats do you intend to introduce in SoZ? Any examples you can give us?
Matthew: Well, we can say that we've been working on the Doomguide of Kelemvor, a specialist in fighting the undead, as a prestige class. It's perfect for anyone who harbors a particular hatred for skeletons, and they're handy to have in your party when you come across a necromancer's crypt.
GB: What tweaks and additions will SoZ introduce to the game's toolset and DM client? Is there anything in particular that you think modders will be happy about?
Matthew: The main boon in the toolset will likely be the ability for modders to use the Overland Map tools to create their own non-linear adventures, and there'll also be new enemies and tilesets to work with, as well.
GB: Why did you decide to go with full party customization in the expansion? What sort of challenges did you run into while implementing the change?
Matthew: One of the strengths of Obsidian's games have been their character customization, so the full party customization feature was designed to give the ultimate amount of control to our players, allowing them to design a group of characters to their exacting specifications. This level of customization was also a great way to bring back some memories of old-school D&D CRPGs, as well.
GB: With the new party-based gameplay, will skills like Spot and Listen have any practical purposes this time around? Any chance we'll finally see secret doors implemented?
Matthew: We're hopeful that the Overland Map will allow players to use some of the previously underutilized skills, like Spot and Listen. Survival will also come in handy for avoiding roaming enemies.
GB: Does Storm of Zehir share any new content or other assets with Ossian's Mysteries of Westgate, or are these add-ons being treated as two completely independent projects? Will SoZ also utilize Atari's new security system?
Matthew: Storm of Zehir and Mysteries of Westgate are completely separate projects, and no content is being shared between them. Since Storm of Zehir will be a retail product it will likely utilize the traditional cd-key protection instead of Atari's security system. That system was developed specifically for Adventure Packs like Mysteries of Westgate, which can't use the cd-key system since it's a digital download.
GB: What's next for Neverwinter Nights 2 following Storm of Zehir's release? Is it possible we might see more adventure packs or expansions?
Matthew: Anything's possible. :) The existence of Storm of Zehir directly follows from the great reception that Mask of the Betrayer received from the press and our fans, but for the moment we're focusing on making Storm of Zehir the best game it can be.