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Icewind Dale 2 Designer J.E. Sawyer Interview

/ May 25th, 2002 No Comments

Black Isle Studios, the role-playing game division of Interplay Entertainment Corp., announced on February 4th 2002, that a sequel to the award-winning computer role-playing game Icewind Dale is currently in development and will be distributed by Vivendi Universal Games in North America. Icewind Dale II is scheduled to ship to retail on May 28, 2002.

Icewind Dale II is being created internally at Black Isle Studios and offers more of the classic dungeon crawl experience, using the Dungeons & Dragons license from Wizards of the Coast. Based in part on the series of books by New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, Icewind Dale II will amaze players with new monsters, spells, and areas to explore within the popular Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Gaming Illustrated got the opportunity to get some great questions answered by J.E. Sawyer, lead designer.

Gaming Illustrated : Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your experience in game design, and your experience with designing and/or playing role playing games?

J.E. Sawyer: My name is J.E. Sawyer, and I’m the lead designer for Icewind Dale 2. Prior to this project, I did a lot of design work on Icewind Dale and the Heart of Winter expansion. I’ve been playing RPGs and CRPGs since grade school and designing my own (bad) pen-and-paper RPG settings and systems since high school. I currently run a D&D 3E campaign and play in a pen-and-paper Fallout game.

Gaming Illustrated : Why the decision to set another D&D game in the frozen northern part of the Forgotten Realms? What do you feel is the appeal the Icewind Dale setting?

J.E. Sawyer: From a purely practical standpoint, making another Icewind Dale game using the Infinity Engine is sensible. A lot of fans are familiar with the Icewind Dale setting and the general interface of the Infinity Engine.

I believe the appeal of Icewind Dale is that it offers a sort of untamed wilderness setting in contrast to the many urban, temperate areas found in the Baldur’s Gate games. In the BG games, you often traveled across wilderness simply as a route to get to urban areas. In Icewind Dale and Icewind Dale 2, going out into the wilderness is often the whole focus of the mini-adventures.

Gaming Illustrated : Was a sequel for IWD always planned? How unexpected, given the advent of Torn, was the opportunity to develop a sequel for Icewind Dale?

J.E. Sawyer: No, it wasn’t planned for until Torn was cancelled. I think the development of IWD2 came as a shock to many people on the development teams. It was kind of a 1-2 punch with the Torn cancellation. Surprisingly, the game has actually turned out to be very good… if a tad difficult.

Gaming Illustrated : What’s the story behind IWD2? How much does the story tie into the events in IWD?

J.E. Sawyer: The story starts with exposition about how the narrator remembers the attacks on Icewind Dale that occurred in 1310 and 1311 DR, thirty years after the original Icewind Dale. Unified groups of goblins, orcs, and bugbears swept down from the mountains under a strange banner bearing the heads of the chimera. The Ten-Towns of Icewind Dale responded slowly with a militia force that was bowled over in no time.

Luckily, the mayor of Targos sent a rider south to the port towns of Luskan and Neverwinter, hoping for reinforcements. Though Neverwinter sent a military force by land, the shady rulers of Luskan decided to round up the transient mercenaries and thugs in their town and ship them north to Targos and Bremen. Before the ships could reach the towns, orcs and goblins leapt up from the Shaengarne River and burned many of the vessels to the waterline. Only a few ships survived to make it through. Your characters’ ship was one of the few. You begin the game in the war-torn village of Targos, attempting to rid the area of goblin sappers, traitorous mercenaries, and an adventuring company of lazy scumbags.

The story has a direct tie-in with several principal IWD characters and their descendants. Several characters players met in IWD and HoW return as adults or the Realms equivalent of senior citizens. The connections to IWD become clear as the game progresses.

Gaming Illustrated : What 3rd edition rules are being used for IWD 2?

J.E. Sawyer: Virtually all 3E rules are being used in IWD2. The big elements that are missing are attacks of opportunity, riding feats, meta-magic feats, and several skills. These rules aside, almost everything else is 3E: ability scores, races, classes, multi-classing, spells, magic items, saving throws, armor class… you name it, and we’ve probably converted it. It makes a big difference.

Gaming Illustrated : Are there any character classes that you feel get a significant power boost from 3rd edition rules and feats used in IWD2?

J.E. Sawyer: Quite the contrary; I think that the character classes have much more flexibility but overall have less comparative power. The 3E clerics and rogues are the big exceptions to this, in my opinion. Feats and free multi-classing seem like incredible boons until you actually start playing with them and realize how they work. They’re quite useful, but remember: monsters can take feats, too. 😉

Gaming Illustrated : What changes or improvements are planned for the Infinity Engine interface?

J.E. Sawyer: We’ve redesigned huge sections of the interface. The most immediate change that users will notice is that 800×600 is the standard resolution. There aren’t borders shoved on to the sides to make it appear bigger; the 800×600 resolution is used to its fullest. We changed the standard action buttons to allow users to customize them at will. Want all four quick weapons as buttons? No problem. Want your bard/sorcerer/druid/wizard to have his four class spellcasting icons on the main interface? Simple.
The inventory has an additional row of item slots, allowing players to fill up 24 items instead of 16. It’s very nice to know that your party of 6 can carry 48 more items that your Icewind Dale 1 group. The character record screen has very clear information on your attack modifiers, saving throws, armor class, etc. Overall, the changes to the interface should make the game easier to play and more convenient.

Gaming Illustrated : How large of a game will IWD2 be? Is there a main base of operations (as Kuldahar in IWD)?

J.E. Sawyer: The number of areas in IWD2 is greater than the number of areas in IWD and HoW, so it’s pretty “beefy”. The party’s base of operations shifts throughout the game. Circumstances require the player to change their home base every once in a while. The first main urban area in the game, Targos, serves as HQ for about a third of the game.

Gaming Illustrated : Can you give us any hints as to which areas or quests in IWD2 you think will stand out in player’s minds (as the Underdark did in BG2)?

J.E. Sawyer: I think that the Western Pass, Black Raven Monastery, and Dragon’s Eye will be particularly memorable, albeit troublesome, regions. The Western Pass and its sub areas contain some complex character interactions and a number of difficult puzzles. The Black Raven Monastery is a monastery full of fighting monks in the Spine of the World Mountains. The player has the option of beating the monks’ heads in or taking on their “chambers of trials” to pass by. The return to Dragon’s Eye is particularly bizarre. The first few levels have some tricky puzzles in them, but it’s the last level that really takes the cake.

Gaming Illustrated : Who is developing the music for IWD2? Are there plans to release the soundtrack?

J.E. Sawyer: Inon Zur is developing the soundtrack. He has worked a bit with Jeremy Soule for thematic consistency between IWD and IWD2. I’m not sure if we plan to release the soundtrack or not. The original IWD soundtrack was quite popular.

Gaming Illustrated : How linear or open-ended will the story be?

J.E. Sawyer: In IWD fashion, IWD2 is a linear game. There are multiple ways to solve many of the quests (for reals), but you won’t be taking detours to visit the Silver Marches or hang out in Waterdeep.

Gaming Illustrated : How much of a role will character alignment or role playing choices in the dialogue play in the game? Can evil characters triumph?!

J.E. Sawyer: It actually makes a lot of difference. Characters get a lot of dialogue options based off of alignment, race, class, skill, and so on. Sometimes these responses simply color the conversations, but they can often change the outcome of a quest in a very tangible way.

Gaming Illustrated : What’s the status of BIS’s use of the D&D license?

Clear sailing for several years, as far as I know. Wheeeeeee.

Gaming Illustrated : Are there plans for expansions to IWD2?

J.E. Sawyer: Not currently.

Big thanks to J.E Sawyer for answering our questions! We also have to thank Tamara Johnston of Interplay PR who was able to set us up.

Roy Rossi

Roy Rossi

Roy Rossi was a long time major contributor to Gaming Illustrated before disappearing of the face of the Earth. His service to GI will never be forgotten.
Roy Rossi

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