Summary: Obsidian Entertainment, headed by Feargus Urquhart, is developing another sequel for a BioWare original. Feargus takes time out of his busy schedule to talk about the exciting developments of NWN2 and how it's pushing beyond the boundaries of the original.
FiringSquad: First, Neverwinter Nights 2 has been a long time in development it seems. Did Obsidian anticipate taking this much time to create the game when it first started designing it?
Feargus Urquhart: Once we started working on the game in August of 2004, we began to add more and more to our "wouldn't it be cool" list and since we ended up doing most of those things, the project has taken longer than we expected. So, when we started designing it we felt it would be an 18 month-ish project, but after adding the new graphics system, using a new animation system and re-writing the toolset it started to become obvious that it was going to take longer than that.
FiringSquad: How hard is it to develop a game that not only has the D&D franchise behind it but also a previous game developed by BioWare?
Feargus Urquhart: The funny thing is that we don't really worry about those two things as much as you'd think. That may sound arrogant, but it's because we have one other thing that is WAY more looming to us and that is the community. The NWN 1 community is something that we talk about pretty much every day and they really impact almost every decision we make. You could say the same about D&D and Bioware, but we've worked with both of them for so long that knowing what to do there is somewhat second nature. The community on the other hand have an incredible number of good ideas an expectations. Knowing we have to live up to so many of those expectations can be pretty stressful.
FiringSquad: As Obsidian worked on the game were there any surprises or unexpected changes in its development?
Feargus Urquhart: Of course not. And if you believe that I have this bridge for sale.... :) I think the major challenge has been that we didn't anticipate how a lot of the changes that we were making to the engine would effect the overall make up of the engine. Every new system that got added or was changed a great deal, seem to necessitate an even larger number of changes than the previous one. On top of that, while we did take multi-player into account, I think we could initially taken it even more into account when it came to how we approached the design of our campaign and a lot of the changes that we made to the engine.
FiringSquad: What are you most proud of in Neverwinter Nights 2 now that the game is in its home stretch of development?
Feargus Urquhart: That's tough - I think the campaign that ships with the game is going to be a lot of fun to play, but if there is anything I'm proud of it is the effort that a lot of the people on the team have put into the game over the past nine months. They've all really wanted it to be everything the fans would want, which is probably centralized in the new toolset that has been chiefly put together by Erik Novales with work from Adam Brennecke and Steve Weatherly. The toolset pretty much does everything. I really am proud of how it can let people not only place pieces of things, but also change them around by coloring and sizing them differently. Basically, it really is a game making application now.
FiringSquad: Single player RPGs have been few and far between lately but there seems to be a resurgance in this field with Neverwinter Nights 2, Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion and Gothic 3 all due out this year. Why do you think that single player oriented RPGs have come back into favor?
Feargus Urquhart: I'm not so sure that they have come back in favor or that RPGs often get sequels and we are seeing a year of sequels. I am glad though that they are all coming out fairly close in that it will really show that the single player RPG is not dead and that publishers should start green lighting more of them.
FiringSquad: Of course Neverwinter Nights 2 does also have a multiplayer element as well. What can you tell us about your plans for those features for the sequel?
Feargus Urquhart: If there is anything that we haven't changed a bunch, it's the multiplayer element. We wanted to really focus on enhancing the engine, the toolset and delivering a solid campaign. Trying to also do something revolutionary with multiplayer sounded crazy - even to us. The one multiplayer element that we still owe the community an explanation on is the DM Client. I had hoped that we could get a plan put together and explain what we are doing, but we've been trying to get the game done and not looking far enough ahead. I do hope that we'll soon be able to start talking more about our plans for the DM Client and what we will be able to do and by when.
Feargus Urquhart: In some ways it wasn't hard, because we didn't really update it - we just completely ripped it out. Aurora is a great rendering engine, however with the changes we needed to make with normal maps, animation and height mapped terrain it seemed like the better choice was to replace it rather than update it.
FiringSquad: How much support will Obsidian give to mod makers for the game and are there any plans for your team or Atari to launch any official mod web sites for the game?
Feargus Urquhart: We are hoping to support the product once it ships and we will do as much as we can. However, some of how the product can be supported relies on Atari, since they are the ones that pay the bills.
FiringSquad: Will there be an official demo for Neverwinter Nights 2 and if so what will it contain?
Feargus Urquhart: I don't think so. After launch we might re-visit this, but as far as I know today we are not going to be doing one. I've always felt that RPG demo's are a tough thing to do. If you use the first area of the game, then people can get bored because they feel a demo should "wow" them with big flashy things and show them a lot of what the game can do. If you use a later area, it often takes a lot of patching to get to work, because so much of what happens in later areas is dependent on what has happened previously in the game. This is probably all coming off as me whining (which it is a bit), but why I'm going into this is to explain that we made the decision a while ago to put all of our time into polishing and tuning the main game rather than taking away a not inconsequential amount of time to make a demo. [End of Whining]
FiringSquad: Can you give us an overall status report on the game's progress and if so when is the current scheduled release date?
Feargus Urquhart: The whole team is pretty much in bug fixing and polishing mode and we are coming up on Beta as I type this. As for a date, Atari just announced that the game will be coming out on October 20th of this year.
FiringSquad: Obsidian recently signed a new deal with Sega to create an all new RPG franchise. What can you tell us about the game at this point and how does it feel to be working on an original creation?
Feargus Urquhart: It's both exciting and somewhat intimidating to be working on our own thing for a change. It's great because we have a ton of freedom to do what we think is best, which Sega is incredible about supporting. However, since there is no license or game system to base things on we could start getting rapidly off track with nothing to really double check our insanity against. So with the opportunity comes the need to be responsible about what we are making - ok that sounded a little too much like Uncle Ben, but it's true. :)
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Neverwinter Nights 2 and Obisidan in general?
Feargus Urquhart: Well first I would like to publicly thank Firing Squad for putting up with me not getting to this review for an incredibly long time. I really appreciate your patience John.
After that, I just wanted to let everyone here know that if they are interested in working on games and looking for a great place to work, and on RPGs no less, that Obsidian is hiring. Our jobs list can be found at http://www.obsidianent.com/jobs/. But if you can't find something that fits you there, just e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll see if you fit other positions that maybe just haven't made there way up on our website yet
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