Recently we've had the chance to talk about the hugely popular Neverwinter Nights module, Darkness over Daggerford, with the module's producer and lead designer, Alan Miranda. Alan is a former BioWare producer, having been the producer on Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal and the associate producer on Neverwinter Nights, and as such, a perfect victim for the Sorcerer's Place inquisition. The second and final part of our comfy chair treatment is available below. (You can read the first part here.)
SP: We've liked the "Honouring the Paladin Code" messages with tiny amounts of experience and alignment points. What made you think of that?
Alan Miranda: That was done by our designers, so I honestly couldn’t say. However, I know that they were very keen on role-playing elements for the various classes, and so created a number of those opportunities for players.
SP: While roaming around the module world, we thought you must have had quite a lot of fun writing epitaphs or crafting certain characteristic personages. What has actually offered you the most enjoyment, from your own perspective?
Alan Miranda: The most enjoyment I personally had was seeing the quests that I had written be brought to life by our designers, as they turned the barebone NPCs on paper into believable characters, and plot outlines into exciting events. They did such an excellent job on the implementation, it didn’t make any difference that I knew what was going to happen – it was always great fun!
SP: In the module, we've noticed some Easter eggs, such as the ale mug of Lord Alex and the musical instrument of Lady Oonagh. Might you be coaxed to reveal more?
Alan Miranda: Well, I wouldn’t want to give away everything. ;) But if you search hard in Torleth’s Treasures, you’ll find a third Easter egg item besides the two you mentioned. There’s also an item hidden under one of the many rocks in the Lonely Barrens, although I’ve never seen anyone mention that they’ve found it.
SP: How much debugging did you have to do while working on Darkness over Daggerford? Was there anything serious enough to halt your works until you've nailed it down and corrected it?
Alan Miranda: Every game requires a lot of debugging, no matter what, and Daggerford was no exception. There was never anything serious enough to halt production though. Had we been doing programming in the game engine code, that could have been an issue. As it was, everyone focused on their own design aspects in the game, so people were never really blocked by a game-wide problem.
SP: Searching through game files sometimes allows one to discover traces of plot lines or side quests cut from the game. While we haven't actually dissected DoD this way, is there something you wanted to put in there, but didn't have enough time to implement?
Alan Miranda: There were a few things that we had initially planned to do, but were dropped at a certain point. One had to do with the number of areas in the game, as we initially had several more than what we shipped with, but we cut them in order to reduce the scope. Illefarn was one spot in particular that was originally designed as a massive place, with several levels. But that didn’t work as well towards the end of the game, so it was redesigned to be smaller and tighter. Another idea we had always toyed with was having your stronghold attacked by a dragon and its minions. The shape of the stronghold, with its four low towers, was designed to handle the player fighting from the rooftop. Seeing the goblins swarming around the structure trying to break in, while the hill giants threw boulders at you on the towers, and having a dragon land on the roof would have been a really cool battle! At some point though you have to cut something in order to stay on schedule, and that happened to be one of those things.
SP: How has the cancellation of BioWare's Premium NWN Module program affected your company financially?
Alan Miranda: Darkness over Daggerford was self-funded from beginning to end. Having the premium mod contract cancelled was more than a little disappointing though.
SP: Considering the amount of time and effort your team has poured into DoD, its removal from the PM program must have come as a shock to you and your team. What were your initial reactions, and did you have any prior knowledge that the PM program might be shut down before the release of your module?
Alan Miranda: No, there was no forewarning about it. It just landed on us with the weight of a flying elephant that suddenly forgot how to fly. We were all rather upset when the news first came through, and then watched the explosive fallout subsequently unfold on the Net. We weren’t interested in jumping into the fray, however, and focused our efforts on finishing the game to the highest quality instead.
SP: Do you feel any different about Atari's decision to stop the PM program at this point? DLA's Wyvern Crown of Cormyr, while supposedly cancelled along with your own module, surprisingly got released a while ago. Did you see this coming, or were you as stunned as the unaware community?
Alan Miranda: All of the premium modules were cancelled when the bad news came out in May about the Premium Mod program being shut down. Although we were unhappy, it affected all the mod teams equally, so there wasn’t any of that sort of unfairness from the situation. It came to our attention a couple of months later (in July) that Wyvern Crown had been reinstated, which caused us to raise an eyebrow. BioWare had way back in March rated Daggerford as being of high quality and green-lighted it towards content completion. So we found the situation quite perplexing.
SP: Gaming companies that continue to develop single-player CRPGs are a rarity nowadays. Despite there certainly being a significant market for good single-player CRPGs, over the last few years the industry's focus has shifted predominantly into the multiplayer/MMORPG direction, which many of the people who love classic Infinity Engine games don't find overly appealing. How do you feel about this trend, which might eventually completely kill off the single-player CRPG genre?
Alan Miranda: I think a lot of things in this world behave like a pendulum. It swings to one extreme, and then due to popular dissatisfaction begins swinging towards the opposite extreme, and so on. BG1, incidentally, came during one such turning point, a time where single-player CRPGs were said to have been dead. The arrival of BG caused the pendulum to start swinging back with full force. Eventually, players will likely become tired of the MMORPG experience, and be on the lookout for trying (or retrying) a different experience (i.e., a single-player one). I think this sentiment, coupled with a macro-technological advance in AI for NPCs, could create the foundation for a new wave of single-player CRPGs. You also can’t beat the great advantage of story-telling techniques and tailored cinematic gameplay only found in single-player games, and those are the kind of epic adventures that Ossian will continue to strive to create.
SP: What is the current status of Darkness over Daggerford? How many downloads have you had, and are you planning on releasing any new patches, additional content, etc?
Alan Miranda: Daggerford has currently surpassed 30,000 downloads just two months after being released, which is pretty fantastic for a module right at the end of the NWN1 life-cycle. We’ve already released two patches to the game and are now at version 1.2, which incorporates numerous bug fixes. There is also a two-part walkthrough for the game’s critical path that we’ve posted on the NWVault for fans who might be stuck. As we shift to our new project, our attention will be primarily focused on that, but we’re always happy to answer any questions fans have on Daggerford, either through the Vault boards or via the email address listed on the Contact page of our website (www.ossianstudios.com).
SP: The Darkness over Daggerford module has made the community hold its breath in expectation of further modules or even games from Ossian Studios. Is there anything you could tell us about your plans for the immediate future? Or maybe about something more long-term?
Alan Miranda: We can’t talk about anything at this point, but Ossian Studios stands for epic adventure and quality, so that’s what you will be seeing from us in the future.
SP: Is there anything else you would like to say to our visitors?
Alan Miranda: I’m glad that we had the opportunity to create a module with a Baldur’s Gate feel. It was personally satisfying for me, the team, and I’m sure for our many fans who played it. Yes, Baldur’s Gate will forever rock! :)
SP: Thank you for answering our questions. We are looking forward to hearing and seeing more from you!