The folks at UGO were able to track down Obsidian Entertainment's Chris Avellone for a lengthy Q&A about Neverwinter Nights 2.
Q: What was your first instinct when starting off with NWN 2? What jumped out at you as something that was missing from the first game that needed to be included in the sequel?
A: First instinct - don't mess with a good thing. There's a reason NWN1 has had a 4+ year shelf life, and why there's a huge colony of fans orbiting it. So we took a look at all the feedback over the past several years and tried to figure out how much we could put into the sequel to make the basic formula better. We came up with a few things to focus on:
We wanted to add more flexibility to the toolset, especially after seeing what the mod community did for NWN1 - modules that featured extraplanar travel, dream sequences, and incredible combos of props to simulate stuff we didn't think the engine was intended to do, but worked great. So every new feature we tried to make sure that the parameters were heavily tweakable - you can mix and match props, re-skin your interface, build your own unique items for your modules, color, tint, and scale many critters, tilesets, and placeables, and even something as "simple" as water you can adjust the choppiness, flow, viscosity, and the color... which if you tweak them right, allows you to turn water into anything from lava, to slime, to hideous green acid pools. When we had the choice between providing more options vs. less, we tried to opt for more, since if the game has even half the shelf life of NWN1, mod makers are going to want that functionality.
We wanted to increase the efficiency of the toolset, so it was easier to populate, build, and script areas. For example, we have a number of global scripts included in NWN2 where you would have needed a dozen or more individual scripts to script an event or dialogue, easier ways to lay out conversations, and the ability to group up props and save them off for use in other modules. So if you have a module that features a huge town or city with many buildings, you can populate them all very quickly.
We wanted to do a strong single-player storyline that you can still play multiplayer. We wanted to include influence mechanics, more NPC interaction and deeper NPC interaction, and we wanted to deliver a cinematic, epic experience - we wanted to use all the cinematic experience we'd developed for Knights 2 and apply it to NWN2. As such, we expanded the scope of the threat, the challenges, and the enemies the player faces so they feel like they're not only advancing in level, but prestige as well, with their own stronghold, taking command of their own troops, in charge of recruiting new allies, and so on. We wanted the player to have a stake in Neverwinter, and an important one.
We wanted to give the game a visual facelift and use it to be able to breathe some more life and wonder into the spells, environments, and creatures.