November 5, 2008. The folks at Obsidian Entertainment were kind enough to take time from their busy schedules and answer some questions for Thieves Guild on OEI's upcoming Storm of Zehir Expansion for NWN2.
RM = Rob McGinnis, Producer
TE = Tony Evans, Lead Designer
MR = Matthew Rorie, Marketing & PR Producer
OVERALL GAME DESIGN:
Storm of Zehir appears to be a blend of Baldur’s Gate with its more open ended world exploration and the full party system of Icewind Dale. Were those two titles the influence for the design of SoZ?
RM: For the gameplay, we looked to a lot of games for inspiration. Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Darklands and many others all played a part.
Which single aspect of SoZ are you most proud of and why?
RM: While I am very proud of what the team accomplished with the game overall, it would have to be the party conversation system that I am most proud of. It really brings a new element into the Neverwinter games that many feel have been lacking. Neverwinter Nights was designed to be as close to playing Pen and Paper D&D as possible. Until now, you could do that with a multiplayer game, but you really couldn't do that in a single player game. I think the party conversation system helps to bring this much closer to the goal of PnP on the computer.
Which feature in SoZ was the most difficult to implement and why?
RM: We had quite a few features that caused some difficulty. The problematic things are always those things that require global changes or touch the faction system. The overland map, the party conversation system and various AI improvements probably top the list of troublesome features.
The overland map requires many new systems and changes to old systems. It changes the gameplay of Neverwinter Nights quite a bit. Nathaniel Chapman put a lot of thought into the overland map to make sure it would be easily accessible to the modding and persistent world community, and I think everyone will like the results. You no longer see the world through a microscope, moving from one little area to the next. Now, entire regions and countries can come into play. The world itself becomes an actor in your story.
The party conversation system was difficult because it pushes the engine in a direction it wasn't originally meant to go. I think the end result was well worth the difficulty, though. The party conversation system really helps to make the game more party focused. You aren't skulking through dungeons and interacting with the various denizens of Samarach alone; you have friends along to help get you out of any trouble - or maybe it was to help get you into trouble. I always get those two mixed up.
In almost any game, something always gets left out due to resource or engine design restrictions. What got cut from, or wasn't included in SoZ that you really regret not being able to add?
RM: There were a couple of things we were looking at in the beginning: Character Templates (allowing your character to become a vampire, werewolf, lich, etc.) and custom spellbooks. We were really excited about doing them, but it quickly became apparent that they would require a lot of time to implement and, coupled with all the other things we needed to do, we knew we had to put them on the chopping block. But we haven't given up on them yet...
How did feedback from the community affect the overall game design or content decisions?
RM: The community played a pretty large part in how we went about the design of Storm of Zehir. Things like the real death system and making skills play a larger role in the game came directly from the community. The overland map came from the community feedback asking for more open game and world designs and more exploration elements in the game. We even put more things in to allow for different ways to go about achieving a goal, such as being stealthy or aggressive.
Races, Classes and PrCs: Have there been any changes to pre-existing classes, races or PrCs? In addition to the two new races (grey orc and pureblood yuan-ti), two new PrCs (Doomguide and Hellfire Warlock) and one new base class (Swashbuckler), are there any other "surprises" in store for us in those areas?
RM: Unfortunately not. We had a limited development schedule for this expansion so we could only put in the classes you mentioned.
Can you tell us a bit more about the new Heritage Feats and their feat progressions and the new Teamwork Benefit feats such as Leadership? Have there been any other new general feats or Epic feats added?
TE: When you create a character you can choose the Fey Heritage or Fiendish Heritage feats. These feats will grant a modest bonus to certain saving throws, but the true benefits of your Heritage come as you advance. When you gain levels, you will be able to access increasingly powerful feats. For example, Fey Legacy grants your character a spell-like ability to cast Confusion several times per day. One Heritage feat that we wanted to include was the Tina Fey Palin feat, which allows your character to become increasingly adorable when cornered – but that one didn’t make it in. You will still have 10 other Heritage feats to choose from.
Teamwork Benefits are synergy bonuses that apply to your entire party. There are twelve Teamwork Benefits you can gain by visiting the new Adventurer’s Guild in Crossroad Keep, which was founded by a band of veteran adventurers that you may have met in Neverwinter Nights 2’s original campaign. After the Adventurer’s Guild trainers have verified that your party meets certain prerequisites, they will charge a nominal training fee and send you on a training quest. At first it may seem like the trainers are sadistic, making you pay for the privilege of running perilous errands for them. However, just like the Karate Kid had to paint a lot of fences and get his legs swept before truly mastering the Crane Kick, your party will need to do crazy things such as conducting a “panty raid” on a dragon’s lair in order to master your fear and gain the Steadfast Resolve Teamwork Benefit.
In addition to the Heritage feats and Teamwork Benefits, Storm of Zehir will ship with over 80 other new feats:
Divine feats, such as Divine Vengeance, which allows you to spend one of your Turn Undead attemplts to add 2d6 damage to your melee attacks against undead.
Racial feats, for the new Yuan-ti Pureblood and Gray Orc playable races. For example, Scent allows the Gray Orc to detect approaching enemies, sniff out hidden foes, and track by sense of smell.
Class feats, for the Swashbuckler, Doomguide and Hellfire Warlock, One example of these is Kelemvor’s Grace, an ability the Doomguide gets at level 10 which makes him immune to energy drain and death effects and also grants allies a bonus on saving throws.
New Background traits, that you choose when you create a new character, These include ones that can only be chosen by characters with low stats, such as Survivor, which requires that your character starts with 9 constitution or less.
Epithet Feats, which are earned through gameplay achievements, such as the Yellow Dragon feat, which you can get if you flee from a whole lot of encounters.
And other assorted feats like Dinosaur Companion, which lets you choose a wild Deinonychus as an animal companion, and Leadership, which allows you to have up to six characters in your party.
Party makeup: What options will a player have for creating his own party?
TE: Party creation is a pretty free-form process. You start with a single character, who's the "leader" of the party, and cannot be removed (so choose carefully!). After spawning into the game's lobby, you'll be able to create up to three more characters to form your party. There are no restrictions on the formation of this party, so you can go with the classic rogue/fighter/cleric/mage, if you like, or create a troupe of bards, a gang of rangers, or any other combination you like.
You can augment your party with hired hands and other cohorts that you can convince to join your party, adding a fifth party member (you can have up to six party members with the Leadership feat). You can add or remove cohorts or player created party members at any time by using the Guest Book found in any Tavern. Keep in mind though that experience point rewards from defeating creatures and overcoming encounters are divided among the number of party members you have, so while you may have an easier time surviving with a full party of six, your party’s progression in levels will be somewhat slower.
Starting level: What is the starting level for new characters?
MR: Most characters will begin at level four, but ECL characters will wind up a bit lower. This added bit of power at the beginning of the game will help get you past the first setpiece battle and shepherd you into Samarach with a bit of a head start. The game isn't going to take it easy on you, though: if you wander too far afield early on, the big bads that hide in the jungles of Samarach will chew you up and spit you out.
Cohorts: How many joinable cohorts we will have to choose from and what classes can we expect? Will all of the cohorts have sub-plots akin to the one for Septimund the Doomguide?
RM: I don't want to give away too much, but you will have more cohorts to choose from in Storm of Zehir than you had companions in any other Neverwinter Nights 2 game so far - all of which are optional.
Crafting system: According to a number of developer posts, the crafting system for SoZ has been revamped to make it more user friendly. Can you describe the new crafting system in more detail and how it is similiar or different from the systems utilized in the OC and MotB?
RM: There are two sides to the crafting in Storm of Zehir. Both mundane and magical items can be created. The major difference is that you need to cast a spell for the magical items. Crafting in Storm of Zehir has been simplified and, like many other aspects of SoZ, the crafting system takes your party into account.
In a single player game the crafting system uses the skills and materials from your entire party, whereas in multiplayer, you craft with a single character - that character must have the skills, materials and spells.
Trading / Costers and Economy:
Can you tell us a bit about the trade and economic aspects of the game?
TE: Capitalism is a central theme of Storm of Zehir and the party has a lot of opportunities to trade goods throughout the game. Trading is an option component to Storm of Zehir, but it is woven neatly into nearly every facet of the game, including the story, overland map, adventure areas and crafting.
One of the many neat things about trading is the caravans. You can create caravans that travel on the overland map and generate income for your party. The caravans may fall prey to wandering monsters and bandits, and the player can choose to step in and defend them, or gather the materials needed to repair your caravans after an attack. Later on in the game, caravans become a clear visual representation of the expanding wealth of your party, as you see yourr caravans travelling all across the world.
What can the modding community expect in the way of improvements or added features?
TE: Storm of Zehir has added many major new features that modders can use in their own campaigns. The overland map, party conversation, party creation, and crafting are a few of the major features of SoZ that can easily be adapted for use in other modules. The majority of SoZ’s new systems were designed from the ground-up to be driven by scripts and 2DA spreadsheets, rather than hard coded. Our ace system designer, Nathaniel Chapman, is working on detailed tutorials to help modders make use of these cool features.
What can you tell us about future plans for additional expansions or adventure packs?
TE: Obisidan loves playing in the Dungeons & Dragons sandbox, and we’re particularly excited about the new 4th edition rules. Beyond that, we can’t yet comment on what is next for the Neverwinter Nights series.
Feel free to add any additional comments on any aspect of the game that we've neglected.
TE: The music in Storm of Zehir is simply awesome! It will give you eargasms for sure. Our overland map music and tavern themes were composed by Bob and Barn. Most of the rest of the music was created by Kevin Chow and the other talented musicians of Rogue Dao, the team responsible for Purgatorio, a NWN2 mod of Planescape. Rob King and Paul Romero did our main theme, which you will hear when you first run the game. In addition, Obsidian’s own Alexander Brandon, who is responsible for the majority of the music in Mask of the Betrayer, contributed a couple of great pieces. Much of our music was masterfully performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, with conductor Nic Raine.
We're anxiously looking forward to playing this. We truly appreciate the time you spent answering our questions. Thank you.