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PAX 07: Joystiq Interviews Obsidian's Nathan Davis about NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer

Colin Torretta

One of the many games being shown off at this year's Penny Arcade Expo was the expansion to one of the biggest RPGs from last year, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. Obsidian's Nathan Davis, the Assistant Producer for the title, was on hand to tell us a bit about the highly anticipated expansion. Read on to see what he says on how they've fixed some of the lingering problems from NWN2 and details on some the cool stuff they've added.

Early on one of the major complaints with Neverwinter Nights 2 was with the camera system. Have you guys worked on making it better in the expansion?

We have improved our camera system quite a bit. So we have two new modes now including a character camera mode that is similar to the one in World of Warcraft and also a new strategy camera mode that is more reminiscent of what you would see in Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale. The character mode is great for exploration and general activities, while the strategy mode is great for big combat scenarios where you want to have a good feeling for where all your teammates and enemies are.

One of the other problems with Neverwinter Nights 2 initially, was poor system performance. It was helped a bit by later patches, but you still needed a fairly powerful machine to run it. Have you been able to optimize this at all for the expansion?

Yeah, we've done a lot to improve that, we brought in programmers specifically work on performance issues and to fine tune everything. So we've gotten a better and more responsive game engine now. We're really trying to reach for a much improved graphical look to the game without creating a heavy draw on systems. We've tested the expansion on a number of different systems and it's running reasonably well. In general I think it's running better than the original NWN2.

Now this is a design choice, but another issue that some longterm Baldur's Gate/NWN fans had with Neverwinter Nights 2 was the fact that you moved away from attractive high quality 2D portraits for your characters and instead got a zoomed-in look at their 3D model's head instead. And honestly, it looked like crap.

Haha, well we've actually made it now so that players can customize their portraits with their own pictures and also increased the quality of the provided portraits for your NPC teammates. That's one of those things - we get a lot of feedback from the community and we respond to that.

Going back to Neverwinter Nights 2 -- it really was a fantastic game and the only other real problem with it was the fact that it started off really really slow. I know a lot of people who never even reached the town of Neverwinter because they were so turned off by the initial pacing. Does the expansion do a better job of keeping the player's initial interest?

You mean storywise? In Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer you can import your NWN2 character or start a new one and either way you start off the game with the shard [see NWN2] being ripped from your chest, covered in blood and a Red Wizard woman is offering to help you. So it kind of immediately puts you in a mysterious place that's pretty dangerous, it has a lot of angry spirits that want to attack you almost immediately.

Overall, I know what you're saying but I think the pacing is a lot better in the expansion. When you come into the main city, there's so much new stuff that it kind of brings back the joy of exploration. There are a lot of secrets in the city, like a shadow portal that transfers you to a black and white alternate version of the town populated with monsters. The game really immerses you into the story more quickly.

What are some of the other changes that have gone into the expansion?

We've changed the companion system to give you a much clearer view of your level of influence with them. You now see exactly what that level is by looking at their character page. You can also view your alignment in a points value on your own character page, which helps give the player a better view into whats going on. And speaking of companions, we've upgraded the benefits you get from gaining influence with them. Now they'll gain new feats, you'll get new feats from them, like special companion feats. There's a lot more to it, a lot more reward for putting in the time and getting into the companions stories.

How many different companions are there?

None of them are ever required really by you, but total I believe we have five.

About how long is the single player campaign going to be?

Initially we were shooting for 15-20 hours, but by the time we added everything we're looking at more like 20-30 hours. It really is more of a full game than an expansion in a way.

And one last thing, will we find out what happened to our companions from the first game? It ended on a bit of a downer with all your companions apparently getting killed and your character getting transported to who-knows-where.

There are some special appearances from your old party and there hints about what happened to the other ones as well. *grin*

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