George Ziets Interview

Only a few years ago most of us had no idea who George Ziets was, yet today he's interviewed by the RPG Codex on a variety of subjects and rightfully so, given he's made laudable contributions to the RPG landscape with titles such as Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer and he's working as a guest writer/area designer on Project Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera. Here's a few excerpts:
Both Project Eternity and Torment: ToN were successfully crowdfunded. You are free from the pressure of publishers and any external creative control (besides whatever input you allow from the fans). How do you plan to exploit this? What are some of the things you've 'always wanted to do' big or small that were stopped by powers above or beyond you?

I'm not in charge of either project, so it probably won't be me who's making those decisions on PE or T:TON. For example, if it was entirely up to me, we'd have turn-based combat. which in itself is something that a Kickstarter can do that most publisher-funded games currently cannot.

Most of the time, things I've really wanted to do have fallen into familiar categories:

Building a fantasy world that doesn't rely on the standard Western European tropes (e.g., elves, dwarves, medieval tymes). This is typically shot down due to fear that the project won't appeal to a large enough audience. If a fantasy world employs a different set of (familiar) elements, I don't think this is necessarily true, but. I haven't had a chance to prove that yet.

Writing a personal narrative, rather than a (save the world) story. I think there is a perception (rightly or wrongly) that players need to feel like their adventure has higher stakes than just their own story. Personally, I disagree, as long as the player's story is set in the midst of exciting events and lets the player do cool things. Even Planescape: Torment tried to set up larger repercussions of the Nameless One's story, though I think the game would have been just as cool without them.

Making a game in an unfamiliar genre. A while back, I had a great Formspring question that listed a bunch of literary genres and asked which ones I thought would be good for a game. That's exactly the sort of thing we should be thinking about as developers, but publishers rarely greenlight games that don't fit the standard models. I've seen some great pitches (like an urban fantasy that I didn't write but really liked) that should have been picked up but instead went nowhere.

Designing unusual companions. I was allowed to create whatever crazy companions I wanted on Mask of the Betrayer, but this is pretty uncommon. Usually, companions have to be standard humans/humanoids. Why? Probably fear of alienating consumers.

Turn-based combat, as mentioned above. When Obsidian was (briefly) working on Baldur's Gate 3, the design team spent a couple days putting together a proposal for a turn-based combat system, but it was dead on arrival. It wasn't considered viable for a mass market RPG.

I've wanted to do other things that are specific to particular project ideas, but I'd rather keep those quiet for now.


You have on a few occasions mentioned Baldur's Gate 3 how you'd love to work on it, as well as laying out ideas you have for it. Project Eternity may the closest we'll ever get in terms of a 'spiritual successor' to the series, and there's no direct continuation of Baldur's Gate in sight. Would you still consider Baldur's Gate 3 as your 'dream project', even with Project Eternity happening?

Absolutely. Well, it's one of my dream projects, anyway. And I still think that a sequel to the BG series is a possibility. I have my own ideas about how the Bhaalspawn's story could be continued in a divine-level campaign, which I've described on Formspring. Personally, I'd love to play (and work on) that game.

But if BG3 is ever made, it's more likely that it won't be a direct continuation of the Bhaalspawn story. When Obsidian briefly started work on BG3 in 2009, we were planning a narrative that took place some time after the Bhaalspawn crisis, and the main character was not the same as in the original series. I can't say much more about it, but we discussed a number of ways to connect that narrative to the original series, and I think we could have found a clever way to make it work.

Hopefully a BG sequel would have at least some connection to the original games, apart from the location. though I've seen proposals that had nothing to do with the Bhaalspawn at all.