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In recent years, one engine has gone further than any other to endear itself to PC gamers: The Infinity Engine.  It has brought us the Baldur's Gate series, Planescape: Torment, and, of course, Icewind Dale.  Now it's being prepared for one last hurray as the folks at Black Isle work on Icewind Dale II.  We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick the brain of Darren Monahan, Producer for the game.  Here's what he had to say.

 

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Icewind Dale II Q&A

Conducted by Mr. Nash

March 14, 2002

How much freedom to move are you being given in working with the 3rd Edition Rules?  Is there any leeway, do you have to follow them explicitly, are there ways for you to wriggle around some roadblocks that they create to make what you want?

Back when we first announced Icewind Dale 2, we had quite a bit of a mixture between 2nd and 3rd Edition rules.  Over the last month, our programmers have been very busy working on a number of changes we haven’t really talked about quite yet to the press and public.  We’ve been moving in the direction of 3E compliance, removing many of the last bastions of 2E code from the Infinity Engine.  As with many pen-and-paper systems, it can sometimes be difficult to translate some of the rules into computer games, particularly ones that run in realtime (or in the case of the IE games, realtime with pause). 

One very important rule that has lived on since D&D’s inception is that the rules can be changed (of course with good reason) to genuinely improve the campaign for its players.  That’s not to say that we have taken free reign to change the rules as we see fit, nor does it mean that we’re changing things for the sake of doing so, but like many other prior D&D CRPG’s, we’re not necessarily implementing every last rule defined in the books.  We are however bringing over the foundation of the 3E rules and are doing our best to remain true to the spirit of the rules.  Attacks of Opportunity and Mounted Combat feats will not make an appearance in IWD2, but you will see Attack Bonus, Fortitude/Reflex/Will saves, positive Armor Class being better, and much MUCH more that we’ll be talking about shortly.

There’s been mention that more puzzle solving and interaction with NPCs will be included in IWD2 to break up the combat somewhat.  One could argue that what set IWD apart for the Baldur’s Gate series and Planescape: Torment was that it was far more battle-oriented, distinguishing itself as an action-packed hack n’ slash RPG compared to its Infinity Engine brethren.  How will these puzzles and conversational aspects be implemented so to not alienate those who were drawn to the original game for its capacity to allow players to run around, laying waste to legions of monsters, picking up some really slick items along the way?

Many of the puzzles and quests still revolve ultimately around combat.  I suppose the same could be said about the other games in some cases, but we’ve kept to the original goal of keeping the game more fast-paced and hack n’ slash-centric. I believe that we’re still keeping true to our “dungeon hack” roots certainly, providing a linear storyline that puts you into the throws of massive amounts of creatures to destroy and items to find, no doubt.  The Baldur’s Gate series put the player into epic, overland adventures, focusing on exploration, questing, and nonlinear game play.  Chapter 2 could have been a game all in its own.  Planescape: Torment had an incredibly deep storyline, one that focused less on combat and a lot more on character development and interaction.  Icewind Dale II still holds true to being the hack n’ slash sibling to these more arguably elegant brothers.  But this sibling has grown up some and has learned a few things along the way.  We’re still designing the game much like the way we did on Icewind Dale I (with many of the original people), but from feedback from our fans enjoying the Trials of the Luremaster free web expansion, we found that players enjoyed the puzzles as part of the game.  I think you’ll find many of the new puzzles in Icewind Dale 2 still involve pulling your sword or casting that Haste spell.  

What purpose will this new randomizing function on items dropped by fallen enemies serve.  Are we looking at the inclusion of rare and unique items in IWD2, or will it be that instead of picking up 97 hand axes after clearing a goblin horde, being weighed down, then selling them at the shop for next to nothing, we’ll be picking up 23 short swords, 31 daggers, 12 axes, 20 quarter staffs, and 11 long swords, being weighed down, and selling them at the shop for next to nothing?

The purpose of the randomization system is to provide more variety in loot from the monsters you fight throughout the game.  There are many rare and unique items in Icewind Dale 2, some that can be found if the player is lucky enough during normal fights, to others that can be found after slaying a “boss.”  Each random drop has some percentage change of dropping something nicer (and on the flip-side, worse) than what you’d normally expect on a monster.  Instead of always finding “Arrows” on archers, why not occasionally find some higher quality arrows, or, some lower quality arrows that do less damage?   We’ve upped the number of inventory slots you have on your character by an additional row, so it can accommodate more variety.  There’s a lot of generic items, but there are a lot of rare and unique items to found as well.

Looking at the fact sheet, it is said that IWD2 will be larger than the first game in terms of landmass.  Now does this mean that IWD2 is going to be larger than Icewind Dale Proper, or bigger than Icewind Dale after you factor in the two expansion packs?

That fact sheet was referring to Icewind Dale without its expansion packs.  At this point however, it may indeed be close to the sum of them.  Judging QA’s response on gameplay time, they feel that it is definitely a longer game than IWD1.

 

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How much more can you do to improve the Infinity Engine?  Is there anything large that can still be done, or will improvements come in subtle adjustments such as the expected interface tweaks?

There’s a lot that can be done still in my mind.  In fact, the features list is endless (if it weren’t for those darned schedules ).  Some subtle improvements like adding more inventory slots, changing the way the 

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Quick Weapons work to allow for weapon combos, like having your dual-wield combo, your ranged combo and your sword  and shield combo, a unified spell book, and much more.  There are many refinements we can (and have) made to the engine to make some of the more tedious exercises easier for the player.

Then there’s the whole rules thing.  Frankly, 3E has a WHOLE lot of cool stuff.  A lot of it is not accounted for in the Infinity Engine.  Feats, a very cool concept that allows players to gain abilities as they level that they can choose.  This concept doesn’t exist as it stands in the Infinity Engine, but it’s something that would make the game better, at least in my opinion.  I’ll think players will find the GUI changes will also make it feel like a whole new game, we’ve done quite a bit in the last seven months.

In all of the games that have used the Infinity Engine, monsters have more or less walked up to characters and attacked, or launched missile weapons/spells from afar.  In either case they’ve stood their ground.  Is there any chance we’ll see moving targets in IWD2?  For instance, will the worthog riding goblin act as cavalry, or will he walk up and whack at a warrior’s shins?

Quite possibly.  One cool thing about the worg-riding goblin is that you can dismount the goblin and kill him, or kill the worg from underneath him.  We’ve done a lot with the combat in the game to make it more interesting than simply standing ground and attacking with melee weapons.  Early in the game, you’ll find that orcs have some interesting new behavior, I can’t say what though, sort of spoils it. J

Icewind Dale had players working out of one central city, Kuldahar, will Targos be the central city of IWD2 or will we actually be able to visit several of the Ten Towns?

Targos is only part of the game.  Icewind Dale 2 takes place in three sections of the Icewind Dale region.  There are other “bases of operation” as you progress through the game.  Targos will be the only one of the Ten Towns you’ll visit.

Will Jeremy Soule be returning to write the soundtrack for this game?

Actually no, however he is consulting on the game.  Inon Zur is writing the score for the game.  He’s worked on a number of films, TV shows and even some other Interplay titles like Throne of Bhaal, Fallout Tactics and others.  You can check out more about him (as well as download some sample music at http://www.inonzur.com).

The lands of the original Icewind Dale had a decidedly dark motif, will this again be the case in IWD2, or could we see some brighter surroundings?

I think we’ve kept to the style of the original with a dark motif.  There is a sense of urgency throughout the game, that not all is well.  Particularly as you proceed through the game, you’ll find the level of devastation and change in the region to be quite apparent.

Voice acting has played a prominent role in the Infinity Engine games, and been performed surprisingly well compared to what we see in other games.  Will there be entirely new voice tracks in IWD2, a mix of new and old? Any recognizable actors getting involved?

There’s entirely new voice tracks in IWD2, and we have used a few of the same actors from the original.  Many of the voice actors we use on our games work on movies, cartoons and television shows, and the voice actors in IWD2 are no exception.  The narrator has a very well known voice from the cartoon world… stay tuned.

Have the character classes been finalized, or are there some possibilities still being tossed around?  Any chance we’ll see the sorcerer equivalent of a Wild Mage?

Yes, we’ve settled on strictly 3rd Edition classes: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer and Wizard.  We previously announced that kits would be in the game, but through feedback from our fans and a number of new changes we’re making, we decided to remove them in favor of implementing more of the 3E rules.

With clerics being able to align with some of the major gods of Faerun, will this mean that some people may react different to them depending on their religious alignment?  I can’t imagine a follower of Bane making too many friends.

Quite so. With the removal of kits, this sort of is no longer an issue in the game, but some people may discriminate on other attributes about your character, like race.  Not everyone in the free world likes dark elves.

Will there be more side quests this time around?

Absolutely!

Approximately how many different species of monsters are you aiming to include in the game?  Any as of yet unmentioned beasts you’d care to fill us in on?  Will there be any opportunities for dragon slaying in IWD2?

I think nearly every monster used in BG and IWD is back and a bunch of new ones (several from Torment and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance in fact).  Bugbears, Feyrs, Hook Horrors, new demons, Driders, half-human/half-dragons, and much more, and yes, opportunities for dragon slaying do exist, perhaps in more than one situation.

Having worked on this game for over 6 months in complete secrecy, has this allowed work to be done quicker or with greater attention since it could be done without the intense scrutiny of rabid fans of the series and the gaming media?  Have any close calls of people finding out about IWD2 prematurely?

I don’t know if I’d say that.  A lot of what drives us is when fans and the press are interested in what we are doing.  We are very open to listening to everyone on our message boards and respond frequently.  The community really drives us in what we’re doing.  Without being able to talk about IWD2 for so long, it was actually a bummer.  After we announced, the momentum on the team really moved forward.

A number of people knew (including some press folks) that Icewind Dale 2 was in production, and we weren’t really super concerned about that information leaking out, we just weren’t able to officially talk about anything while the BioWare and Infogrames settlements were taking place with Interplay.   

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about Icewind Dale 2!


A big thanks go out to Darren Monahan and Heather Greer for their time and making this interview possible! :)

 

For more info on Icewind Dale II be sure to swing by our preview of the game, or you can visit the Official Site.

 

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