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Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate Interview (18/12/2007)

To learn more about Atari's first upcoming adventure pack for Neverwinter Nights 2, we've cornered its developers, Ossian Studios, and wouldn't let them go until they've answered our questions. NWN2 adventure packs are to be similar in scope to the final NWN1 premium modules, and the first one, Mysteries of Westgate, is expected to become available for online purchase in the following weeks. Some of the new content you can expect to see in MoW includes three companion NPCs, a sewer tileset for module makers, additional monsters, an original score and professionally recorded dialogue.

Answers by:
Alan Miranda: CEO of Ossian Studios, Producer and Co-Lead Designer on Mysteries of Westgate
Luke Scull: Lead Designer on Mysteries of Westgate
Kevin Smith: Lead Technical Designer on Mysteries of Westgate

SP: Could you give us an overview of the adventure pack and a brief summary of the plot for those of our readers not familiar with it yet?

Luke Scull: Mysteries of Westgate offers 15 hours of highly replayable gameplay set in the city of Westgate, in the cutthroat region known as the Dragon Coast. The plot begins with the player arriving at the city on a mission to rid themselves of a cursed mask. This particular item once belonged to the nefarious organization known as the Night Masks, who are known to rule Westgate’s grim underworld with an iron grip. Finding out the secret of the mask is key to saving the player’s sanity.

SP: Why Westgate in particular?

Luke Scull: Westgate is pretty much the embodiment of the Dragon Coast, which makes it a really interesting and, importantly, fresh place to set a game. The city itself is something of a melting pot, packed to bursting with plots, intrigues, schemes, and ultimately, adventure. It kind of brings to mind a smaller and darker twin to Waterdeep.

SP: Pretty much everyone recognizes you as the authors of Darkness over Daggerford, which is well deserved. In some other interviews, you mentioned the Baldur's Gate games as the principal sources of inspiration. In what ways did Daggerford and the Baldur's Gate games influence your work on MoW?

Alan Miranda: Baldur’s Gate 1 was the big influence with Darkness over Daggerford, with its world exploration and discovery of lots of different rural areas. Baldur’s Gate 2 was the big influence for Mysteries of Westgate because with MoW we had decided to do a city adventure, and the best example of that was Athkatla. City adventures require more content in an area than the same size rural area, otherwise they feel empty (which definitely doesn’t help with getting across a bustling city feel). To accomplish this, we needed to develop a number of sidequests to spread across all our areas. This is an aspect that we learned a good deal from Daggerford, where one of the most popular features of that game was our sidequests, so we created similarly captivating sidequests in MoW. Each of our writers, as well as Luke and myself, wrote several sidequests to spread across our four main areas, and some of them are pretty hefty in size.

SP: It's interesting that in one of the Community Updates it was mentioned that MotB wasn't a principle source of inspiration, yet we can't help but notice that MoW involves a mask and a curse. Any insight on where the seeming similarities originated? Or was it pure coincidence?

Alan Miranda: Yeah, we noticed this too. It’s purely coincidental. When we drafted our story for Westgate in the fall of 2006, we decided to use a cursed item hook to start the story. Since the plot involved Westgate’s thieves’ guild, the Night Masks, we made the item a mask that originated from this group – hence our cursed mask. It was a while later that we were told details of NX1 and its official title, to which we thought, “there could be some confusion about this by fans.” But it’s pure coincidence and the nature of each game’s mask is different.

SP: Will we need to create new characters to play MoW, or will it make sense to import and play with existing characters from NWN2 or MotB? What is the level cap going to be?

Kevin Smith: MoW is designed for a level eight character. If you start the game with a lower level character, you will be raised to eighth level automatically. If you don't plan on using any of the companions, then you might want to start the game with a slightly higher level character. On the other hand, characters who have completed the NWN2 official campaign or Mask of the Betrayer would definitely be too experienced for MoW (i.e., the game would become too easy), but there's no explicit level cap imposed at the start of the game.

SP: The stronghold in the Daggerford module was particularly fun. Understandably, there isn't likely to be one in an urban module, but do we get a base of operations, a hideout or what have you or are we always on the road?

Kevin Smith: Westgate is a city filled with magical wonders and dark mysteries but no strongholds. During the game, you'll be walking the streets and sewers, always watching for the next quest. In Westgate, you don't have the luxury of relaxing in a nice comfy stronghold.

SP: At Sorcerer's Place, we're suckers for memorable moments, places and quotes. Something you'll likely remember months or years after playing the game. Care to give a spoiler or two?

Kevin Smith: My favourite sidequest has to be the one with all the ferrets! It's full of the quirky humour that I remember fondly from Daggerford. This particular sidequest has several solutions, one of which is almost entirely non-violent. Also, there's a certain optional fight in the Quivering Thumb arena that I was obsessed with winning but was never able to beat. I'm sure everyone will get a chuckle out of that one!

SP: Is the tiredness system from Darkness over Daggerford also in Mysteries of Westgate? What other restrictions or realism adjustments will players experience in the adventure pack, which weren't in the official campaign?

Kevin Smith: Although there are resting restrictions in several unsafe areas, there is no general tiredness system in Mysteries of Westgate. On the other hand, we did use a custom NPC ambient system to help bring the city to life. When compared to Daggerford, I'd say that MoW has more realistic NPC AI. Many of the foes that you encounter in MoW employ custom-scripted AI during combat. This not only makes them more realistic but also much more deadly. Even some of the minor combats against relatively insignificant foes feature custom AI.

SP: One of the things some members of our team were most disappointed with in the NWN2 OC was the lack of replayability. How replayable is MoW going to be?

Luke Scull: Massively replayable. Mysteries of Westgate is probably the most replayable D&D CRPG since Baldur’s Gate 2. And that’s from the perspective of someone who’s played and analyzed every single one, including all the NWN1 premium modules. The huge number of sidequests with many different resolutions, combined with a branching critical path and multiple endings, ensures that players will be getting a ton of bang for their buck.

SP: You've mentioned that there are several endings in MoW - have you made sure that the adventure pack doesn't lead the player into one favoured course? Is there a feel of a "right" way and "wrong" way of completing it?

Luke Scull: There are no favoured courses, really. We put the same amount of effort and care into each path. There are no wrong and right ways to complete the game. The evil path is pretty evident but it makes sense and thus will tempt players to take it. This differs from evil paths in many other games, which frequently seem designed for “chaotic stupid” characters or outright psychopaths.

SP: An urban module full of intrigue is bound to make use of conversation skills. Does the adventure pack contain any special options for characters with exceptional talking skills?

Kevin Smith: Conversation skill checks are employed throughout Mysteries of Westgate. Under the covers, MoW uses a custom conversation skill check system that adheres closely to traditional D&D rules. The effects of failing a conversation skill check, or simply saying the wrong thing to a very powerful person might cost your character dearly.

SP: Some fights in Daggerford were really difficult. What battle encounter difficulty are you aiming for in MoW?

Luke Scull: In terms of difficulty, I’d peg it a little higher than Mask of the Betrayer and much higher than the NWN2 OC. People need to understand the vast potential that NWN2 party system offers in terms of combat design. Baldur’s Gate 2 was released, what, seven years ago? I find it amazing that things seem to have gone backward since then. We’re moving it back towards that level, and hopefully our future games will continue that trend.

SP: Is there a way and does it pay to resolve some conflicts in a non-violent way?

Kevin Smith: Many quests in the game can be resolved in different ways and some of the solutions are non-violent. I can recall several points in the main story where you can talk your way out of a difficult fight and earn experience for doing so. Of course there are conflicts that are inevitable as well.

SP: How is the adventure pack validation of MoW going to be handled? Will we need to connect to a server each time we want to play?

Alan Miranda: It should be very similar to the NWN1 premium modules, where players will need to authenticate with the NWN2 server in order to initially activate the adventure pack to play it. Whether this authentication occurs subsequent times in order to play, as it did with the digitally distributed premium mods, is something we’re currently evaluating.

SP: Could you tell us anything about your plans for the future? Are you working on any new projects already? Will there be more NWN2 adventure packs from you? Any continuation of the Daggerford module?

Alan Miranda: We can’t talk about our other games at this point, but a NWN2 adventure pack seems like an unmistakable direction. :) And Daggerford Part Deux, you ask? Who knows... ;)

SP: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and we hope to be playing Mysteries of Westgate soon!

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