Neverwinter Nights 2: Feargus Urquhart personally unveils the sequel!

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Published by Zach 16 years ago , last updated 4 years ago
An article taken from, written by Arul Desigan. [quote]Bioware's Neverwinter Nights employed the elaborate means of a modern computer game to recreate the collaborative experience of pen-and-paper role-playing; it ended up as an odd hybrid form, at once radical and reactionary. Rooted in the rules and arcana of Dungeons & Dragons and inviting deep creative involvement from its users, it was a game of considerable power and limitless potential. The franchise has since passed into the able stewardship of Obsidian Games, and we joined the genre veterans on the newly-occupied ground floor of a faintly ridiculous mock-Tudor office building in Orange County, for the first demonstration and discussion of Neverwinter Nights 2. The demo begins in a hardscrabble village called West Harbor, once the site of a cataclysmic battle. The atmosphere of this swamp outpost is thickly oppressive: rushes grow in lifelike disorder over the rambling terrain, torches and will o' the wisps irradiate the mist in patches. The new graphics engine uses normal-mapping and HDR lighting to convincing effect. Though all the demo's dialogue is glib placeholder presently, a conversation system similar to that of Knights of the Old Republic is observable, with similar moral choices and ramifications. Fittingly, the demonstration centers on the rich customizations available to prospective "Dungeon Masters" (as the moderators of D&D sessions are called): Lead Programmer Frank Kowalkowski dismisses the fog to reveal far blue skies, which then pass rapidly through the hours of a picturesque day. He then turns the area's usual greenish light to glowering red, creating a semblance of a volcanic cave. The demo proceeds to Neverwinter 2's creative toolkit, in which users can produce original game content potentially as rich as that provided by Obsidian. The world-building tools are at once simpler than the first game's and more powerful: users can mold landscapes like clay, layer up to six smoothly blending textures, and then plant fractally generated foliage. The new toolkit seems considerably more flexible and polished than that of the first game; the notable addition of tabbed windows allows users to move smoothly between environments, scripts, and dialogue trees. Executive Producer Feargus Urquhart and Lead Designer Ferret Baudoin later discuss Neverwinter 2 and issues adjacent in freewheeling detail; sadly their disquisitions on game design, the moral subtleties of role-playing, and gender-neutral terms for fantasy races can't be adequately reproduced here. Baudoin puts special emphasis on Neverwinter 2's single-player campaign: they've focused on telling a plausible heroic story in which the player starts off as a nobody and gradually earns the respect and recognition of the world around him. As in KOTOR, the player's moral choices are central to his character's development; the designers have found that many choices are morally neutral or ambiguous, and they've particularly enjoyed exploring these grey areas. Neverwinter 2's "companion" characters -- a pointed change from Neverwinter 1's "henchmen" -- will question decisions, allowing the player to express intent. Urquhart, highly regarded for his work on games like Fallout and Baldur's Gate, said that early RPGs existed primarily for the "level treadmill," the constant process of building a character's power - Neverwinter 2's complex, reactive world broadens the context in which the player acts and deepens his motivation. [/quote] And now, an exclusive interview with Feargus Urquhart, also from [quote]Feargus Urquhart is not the kilted medieval Scots warrior his name might lead you to expect. He is, however, a deeply accomplished game developer, much admired for his work on Fallout, Planescape: Torment, and Knights of the Old Republic II, among others. His crew at Obsidian Entertainment are currently at work on Neverwinter Nights 2, and they recently opened their doors to junketing press. We pulled him aside to chat about Neverwinter, the travails of game development, and the future of computer RPGs: [b]1UP[/b]: You've been working with Dungeons & Dragons on several games, for many years. Do you ever find it restrictive? [b]Feargus Urquhart[/b]: I think a lot of it is...when you first start making games you're just really excited, and at some point it comes to: "I want to make the game I want to make." And then eventually you get over that, and you realize that this is your job -- you get to come in every morning and make games, and hang out with the press, and go to E3 and all those things. You get over the idea that there are things you can't do exactly the way you want to do them. Of course: there's a license and there are rules to follow. But the good thing is that if you accept the license for what it is, you can tell whatever story you want. It's almost the difference between a good fantasy movie and a bad fantasy movie: In a good fantasy movie, the fantasy is just a backdrop, and the story is the reason you watch. How we try to look at our games is...we can tell whatever story we want, or do whatever we want with the game; we're just doing it within a license. Having said that, do we get frustrated? Of course. Let's say we want a monster to look or act a certain way and it's something that Wizards of the Coast doesn't feel fits in with Forgotten Realms -- then we don't get to do it. And sometimes we put time and energy and emotion into it...and it kind of blows. But you roll with it. If you're saying that the license is stopping you from making the game, maybe that's an excuse. Maybe you need to try harder. We've all played licensed games that are amazing, and we've all played licensed games that have sucked ass. It's all about how the developer goes about it. [b]1UP[/b]: One of the unique things about Neverwinter Nights is that it's really based around user-created content. How does that affect development? How is it different from creating a really single-player focused game? [b]Feargus Urquhart[/b]: You're always having to take multiple things into consideration. When it comes to the toolset, you can't just say "we'll hack that in there, and our five designers will know exactly how it works, and if it crashes the toolset every once in a while so what." We can't release a game that does that. So we have to look at the toolset almost as a product in itself. We need the toolset to be as good as...well, maybe the toolset won't be as good as Microsoft Word, but it needs to be a polished thing that doesn't crash, and lets people do everything that they want to do. So, I guess what that means is that we have to think a lot about how to use our resources effectively. So that we're not starving the single-player game by putting too much energy into the toolset, and likewise that we're not starving the toolset. So a lot of what we focus on is: what could make the designers' jobs easier? What could we put in the toolset that will let them make a better game? Because that way we're servicing both things: we're getting stuff in the toolset for the mod community, but we're also getting that stuff for our designers. But it's not always a win/win situation; sometimes we have to make compromises. A lot of the time it's technology. Say we want HDR lighting for the single-player, but the guy who does HDR lighting also does the rendering aspects of the toolset. It's a day to day thing, and we try to make the best choices we can. [b]1UP[/b]: When the game was being demoed, I noticed that you were bringing in something like KOTOR's alignment system in conversation...and of course in Dungeons and Dragons alignment is along two axes. How does that work in the game? [b]Feargus Urquhart[/b]: We want the player to have feedback on what he's doing. We have to provide as much feedback as possible. And how that works with alignment is: when you do something good you become good, and when you do something evil you become evil. And that in turn changes the story. It changes people's reactions to you. The game should feel like it's responding to how you're playing. If you want to play an evil character, then you expect people to respond to you as if you're evil. And we have to track that: if you do som
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