Kevin D. Saunders Social Interview

Ex-Obsidian designer Kevin D. Saunders is the latest to join the Q&A-driven social network Formspring, following J.E. Sawyer and George Ziets among others, and has already started answering questions on his past work.

Here's on Neverwinter Nights 2's expansion Mask of the Betrayer:
Mask of the Betrayer is considered by many people to be one of the best examples of the RPG genre. What did you work on and what are you most proud of (could be something you or someone else did, or both)?

I'm grateful that many enjoyed MotB it was one of my favorite projects to work on. In terms of the game, one aspect I'm proud of (but pride is not a virtue, you say? =) ) is how the story and overall game came together in a complete fashion. I felt we had few flaws, oversights, or loose ends. George Ziets established some specific themes that we emphasized throughout the game and we wove them through both the main storyline and side quests and area-specific sub plots. Though I was happy that the game was as complete and polished as it was from that perspective, I still wish we had been able to spend even more time on it. But I've never worked on a project that I was completely satisfied with when it was done. =) There's always more you want to do.

As for what I worked on, I was the producer and lead designer, so I was involved in all aspects to some degree. But most of my involvement wasn't hands-on, and my biggest contribution was perhaps staying enough out of the way =) that the talented individual team members could each own their part of the game and excel. We had a strong team and everyone was highly motivated and working toward the same goals. That's another aspect of the project that I am proud of how well the team worked together. I think the team's cohesiveness is well reflected in the final game.

My single favorite aspect of the game itself is the companion Kaelyn the Dove. From her role in the storyline established by George (including the possibilities for her fate at the end), to her dialogue written by Chris Avellone, to her voice acting by Cat O'Connor she turned out close to perfectly.

Mask of the Betrayer. The curse meter. Let's talk about it.

Haha. yes, let's. =) I can't be entirely sure where you're heading, but I'll start the discussion by explaining a bit of how the idea came about and what our motivation was. The real origin of the idea wasn't the spirit meter itself, but a specific game design goal. We wanted MotB to be very story-driven and I wanted to push that approach a bit further I wanted some gameplay element woven into the story such that the narrative was truly part of the game and not just the framework for it. The spirit meter was what we came up with and the concept grew organically from its conception. It didn't drive the high level story at all; George (Ziets) developed the initial storyline and we identified this way to provide an implementable connection between it and the gameplay. At some point, certain details of the storyline were influenced by the spirit-eater mechanic (e.g., providing enough spirits for you to devour), but the story came first.

A secondary goal of the mechanic was that we wanted to change the fact that in NWN2 you could pretty much rest after every battle without any consequences. At epic levels especially, this takes a lot of strategy out of combat you'd never cast low level spells, for example, because you'd have enough high level ones to last through the battles. We wanted to make sure MotB's battles were balanced such that the constant resting wasn't necessary, which would also allow us to make resting a strategic decision instead of the default. We entertained several ways of accomplishing this and we thought the spirit meter could add this strategic element without causing significant frustration (though obviously some disagreed with us about at least this last part!).