Rock, Paper, Shotgun had an interesting chat with Guido Henkel centered around the Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore Kickstarter, with a short aside dedicated to his experience at Interplay. Here's an excerpt:
RPS: I've seen people asking why the grid-based format? What is it about this format that appeals to you, makes you want to stick to the pre-Ultima Underworld universe?
Guido Henkel: It is a personal preference, really, and it has to do with my memories of tabletop, pen & paper games, I suppose. There is something magical about that for me, because to me it somehow defines the space better and gives the player better control of that space in a strategic sense.
We were extremely mindful, however to make sure that despite being grid based, the game does not necessarily look that way. You can see very well in our outdoor screenshots that we broke up the geometry to create a look and feel that completely hides the underlying grid and creates an environment that is every bit as crooked and angled as it is in other 3D games.
Depending on the environment, we do the same thing in dungeons, though some dungeons are by their very definition fairly straight tunnels and do not benefit at all from too much deviation.
So, on the whole, it is an artistic and nostalgic decision, and since we know that it may not be everybody's cup of tea, we make amends by also offering full mouselook capabilities and the ability to turn off things, such as the little bounce in each step. That way it is possible to move through the world in a fashion that easily lets you forget that you're moving along a grid in a stepwise fashion.
RPS: I can imagine that developing an old-school RPG might come with some challenges based on expectations. People at once want something that reminds them of their favourite games, but also want something original. But at the same time others will react negatively to the original, because it doesn't remind them of their favourite games! Is finding that balance tricky?
Guido Henkel: I am not sure at this point. Time will tell, I presume. All that we can do is make the game we feel is the best we can make. I look at features of my old games and try to determine which ones were valuable and which ones weren't. The other day, for example, I began playing Shadows over Riva, the third of the Realms of Arkania games, and was shocked at how unfriendly the experience was in terms of usability. So I made notes how to improve that. I also found that it had an excessively slow start from a narrative point of view. So I made notes of that as well, and made respective plans not to repeat the same mistake in (Deathfire.) I will start with a bang and set players on the right path straight away, giving them something to do.
The perception of any game is highly subjective. I often see people flock to a certain game on troves, and when I check it out for myself, I just can't see the appeal oftentimes. And vice versa.
Every player has his own preferences and projects his own expectations in a game. We cannot control this and think we shouldn't and the best thing we can do, really, is to make the kind of game we would love to play. That way it will always be earnest and genuine, without becoming a product made purely for commercial appeal.