Inside Neverwinter Nights II

A conversation with the creative director and senior designer Chris Avellone on the much-anticipated game

Neverwinter Nights II is easily one of the most anticipated titles for the PC market this year. And why shouldn't it be? You've got the teams that were behind Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale reuniting for what should be an incredible PC gaming experience. We recently had a chance to check out an updated build of the game at Atari's Spotlight event in Las Vegas and had a chance to talk to Chris Avellone, creative director and senior designer at Obsidian Entertainment, about the game and its many improvements.

First off, Chris spoke about the customization engine featured within the game. "The ramp-up on it, to be quite frank, can be a little steep. But we're putting a number of video tutorials in the game to walk the player through. It was a conscious option for the player because Neverwinter Nights 2 is such a mod-driven game. We do provide a number of options for the player, and that's part of the reason for it."

He also spoke about how a Recommend feature was put into the game to aid novice players. "We recognize that not every player will want to max out characters with every single number tweak. So we included a recommend feature so they could advance their character and then just get on to the action."

The question of companion control came about, and Chris was ready to answer. "The fact that you actually have companion control directly allows you to approach situations much more tactfully than you did in the first game. You have to pay very close attention to the spell queue for your companions and who you want for them to attack. Because you have that sort of control over them, it makes your decisions almost three times as important as they were in the first game. Alternately, if you prefer not to take control of your companions, we do have an AI option for each of them, and the AI tends to be pretty smart as well."

As far as multiplayer, Chris feels it's going to be as big a factor with the game as it's ever been. "It's going to be huge. Part of the appeal of Neverwinter Nights 2 and the first one was that you could play an adventure in a module with your friends, or take part in a base campaign in the game."

Chris then walked us through a bit of the game's presentation, and talked about its touch-ups. "Improved graphics was one of the core elements we wanted to improve over the first game. We recognize that we can probably do a better rendering engine and take more advantage of higher-end machines. So the presentation quality has improved considerably with spell effects and detail in creatures and armor, the look of the environments. It's pretty amazing, a pretty sizable improvement."

I decided to dig a little bit deeper on the gameplay involved with the game, beyond its companion control. Chris was happy to respond. "A lot of the core Dungeons & Dragons gameplay elements are still from the first game. We have provided a number of new attacks, spells, and options for the player to use in combat, but ultimately, the mechanic from the first game is maintained. We have tried to include more classes, spell options to use, and more abilities for the characters to use in combat. But people should see the 3.5 D & D rule still faithfully implemented."

Chris continued, "One other advantage is fans that are familiar with the first game's tool set will see a lot of similarities in that as well, especially with the scripting and dialogue." With the game's development time spanning over two years, Chris further showed how much work went into the game as he continued the presentation, as he did battle with some large-looking minions that were swatting away at members of his party.

Regarding the success of the first game, Chris explained, "I was personally surprised by the community support in the first game. The sheer number of modules, the size of the community itself, and the number of sites devoted to it with modules and such. I think there was easily a hundred or a thousand times the content for fan stuff based upon what the original game actually provided. I think it's amazing."

Chris actually thought about if the sequel would have an even bigger community than the original. "I do think that we are providing a lot more options this time around. I think you'll see a larger variety of modules and options for the individual set. We're looking forward to that."

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.