Josh Sawyer Chapter I

Early history - Interplay, Black Isle & Multiplayer in cRPGs

I am a great fan of tactical elements, especially presented via a turn-based system in similar games. For example, in Divinity: Original Sin, I appreciate the creative ways the player can solve fights even with a much stronger enemy—the optimal utilization of environmental mechanics and the combination of elements, for instance. What was your philosophy for designing combat scenarios?

I think the difference with Icewind Dale was that, basically, the environment played a very little role. The layout of the environment was important, but we didn’t have dynamic elements like Divinity has. In Divinity also, they use keywording heavily in their effects, so fire and electricity and stuff like that are extremely common. Whereas with Icewind Dale, we were really trying to recreate as many existing D&D spells and abilities as possible, so mostly focusing on implementing what was in the rule books and less on creating our own little tactical system.

with Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate, what we found is that despite the fact that lots of people requested multiplayer, ..we didn’t see that many people playing it in the end

This firm anchoring in D&D rule books has also accompanied all of the other projects powered by Infinity and Aurora engines. Thus, I assume that you have never considered walking a different path.

No not really, even with Pillars of Eternity, we haven’t really tried to go too far away. There is still a Magic Missile spell at first level, there is still a Fireball at third level, there is still a Cone of Cold spell at fifth level for wizards. There are certain things that, especially on something like Pillars, we kept there pretty much entirely for the sake of nostalgia—for the feeling, ‘oh this feels comfortable, oh there is the spell I kind of expected to be there.’

What about multiplayer back then? D&D and other pen-and-paper RPGs are by nature multiplayer games. This philosophy is well-represented today by the Divinity: Original Sin series. Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights also had multiplayer, but the upcoming titles completely lost it eventually. What were the main reasons?

Well, with Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate, what we found is that despite the fact that lots of people requested multiplayer, we didn’t see very high numbers in terms of the GameSpy stats and stuff like that. We didn’t see that many people playing it in the end—it was huge effort to put it in and not many people actually played it that much. It’s kind of like when you ask someone if they’d like a dessert; they’d be like, ‘Yeah, sure’ [laughing]. That’s as in, ‘Do you like this game?’ ‘Yeah!’ ‘Do you want multiplayer?’ ‘Yeah, sure, of course.’ It does not really matter if they’re going to play it or not; they’ll probably say, ‘I would not mind that.’

I think—no, I know—that some games have to be fundamentally designed for the multiplayer or they will have a lot of problems. With Neverwinter 1, I’ve heard a lot of people slam Neverwinter 1‘s official campaign, OC. I mean, there are problems with it, but it was designed to be multiplayer-friendly. A lot of the stuff Bioware put out for Neverwinter is multiplayer-friendly—it was designed around that. Neverwinter 2, by comparison, was awful for multiplayer. It was not designed for multiplayer at all.

I still remember how disappointed I was when I was playing the co-op campaign of Neverwinter 2 with a friend and it had no dialogue options—like you get with Divinity, for instance.

A lot of the decisions on how the campaign was structured were made before I got there, but it was really, fundamentally designed to be played as a single-player experience. I think it was actually an over-correction. Don’t get me wrong, there are cool things in Neverwinter 2’s official campaign, but the cost of that is that the people who came to Neverwinter 2 expecting it to be multiplayer-friendly like Neverwinter 1 [laughing], were pretty upset, like ‘what the heck?’ And that extends to other aspects of the game too. Bioware, when they made Neverwinter 1, authored the tiles very memory-efficiently. So, if you connected to a server that you had never been to before, that had a completely brand-new module, it took very little time to download.

there were some people who took bunch of the art assets from Fallout and they made an MMO out of it. It was a free-for-all Ulitma Online style, where you can just mass-murder everybody

Since we are talking about multiplayer, where do you stand with the MMORPG genre?

I have played a few of them and I understand why a lot of people like them, but they don’t appeal to me very much. I like the exploration aspect of them, but I don’t really like grinding and I am not that social a gamer, so organizing with guilds and stuff like that was never really my thing. I played World of Warcraft for about five months and I got to the Arathi Highlands. At that time, the content there was really frustrating and I wasn’t having fun, so I was like, ‘nah, I am not playing this any more’ [laughing].

I have always been a bit of MMORPG enthusiast and a fan of sandbox titles such as Ultima Online. I always thought that they were going to be the future of the genre. That’s why I have spent most of my time playing EVE Online, because it emphasizes free roaming and emergent gameplay. Unfortunately, I feel that it is World of Warcraft which effectively halted and rolled over this initial promise.

Have you seen the insane Fallout: Online (FOnline:Reloaded)?

Unofficial Fallout MMO modification
FOnline:Reloaded

I don’t think so.

So I think it was a Czech group that made Fallout [1.5:]Resurrection. Don’t quote me [laughing], because RPG Codex is going to get really mad if I got that wrong. But that was an unofficial Fallout spinoff, actually just couple of years ago. I think it was called Fallout Resurrection and it was made using the Fallout 2 engine.

Wow, I didn’t know that. Did you say Czechs made it?

I think so. But even before that, maybe four to five, maybe six, years ago, there were some people who took bunch of the art assets from Fallout and they made an MMO out of it. It was a free-for-all Ulitma Online style, where you can just mass-murder everybody [laughing]. People made little bases and they would raid each other’s bases. Yeah, that was incredible.

So Fallout Online and Fallout Resurrection

So yeah, Fallout Online—and by the way, this was totally unofficial—was just some fans making stuff and Fallout [1.5:]Resurrection was a very aggressive mod group. I downloaded it, but I have not played it yet [laughing]. So that’s what I have always thought: if there was ever going to be a Fallout MMO, it would be something like that fan-made Fallout Online; where it’s just super-cutthroat like Ultima Online; where it’s everyone for themselves!

Do you think there will be an official Fallout Online one day?
If Bethesda wants to do it. I am sure they could; they have enough money [laughing].

Next Chapter
Josh Sawyer Chapter I

Josh Sawyer: Chapter I

I am a great fan of tactical elements, especially presented via a turn-based system in similar games. For example, in Divinity: Original Sin, I appreciate the creative ways the player can solve fights even with a much stronger enemy—the optimal utilization of environmental mechanics and the combination of elements, for instance. What was your philosophy for designing combat scenarios?

I think the difference with Icewind Dale was that, basically, the environment played a very little role. The layout of the environment was important, but we didn’t have dynamic elements like Divinity has. In Divinity also, they use keywording heavily in their effects, so fire and electricity and stuff like that are extremely common. Whereas with Icewind Dale, we were really trying to recreate as many existing D&D spells and abilities as possible, so mostly focusing on implementing what was in the rule books and less on creating our own little tactical system.

with Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate, what we found is that despite the fact that lots of people requested multiplayer, ..we didn’t see that many people playing it in the end

This firm anchoring in D&D rule books has also accompanied all of the other projects powered by Infinity and Aurora engines. Thus, I assume that you have never considered walking a different path.

No not really, even with Pillars of Eternity, we haven’t really tried to go too far away. There is still a Magic Missile spell at first level, there is still a Fireball at third level, there is still a Cone of Cold spell at fifth level for wizards. There are certain things that, especially on something like Pillars, we kept there pretty much entirely for the sake of nostalgia—for the feeling, ‘oh this feels comfortable, oh there is the spell I kind of expected to be there.’

What about multiplayer back then? D&D and other pen-and-paper RPGs are by nature multiplayer games. This philosophy is well-represented today by the Divinity: Original Sin series. Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights also had multiplayer, but the upcoming titles completely lost it eventually. What were the main reasons?

Well, with Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate, what we found is that despite the fact that lots of people requested multiplayer, we didn’t see very high numbers in terms of the GameSpy stats and stuff like that. We didn’t see that many people playing it in the end—it was huge effort to put it in and not many people actually played it that much. It’s kind of like when you ask someone if they’d like a dessert; they’d be like, ‘Yeah, sure’ [laughing]. That’s as in, ‘Do you like this game?’ ‘Yeah!’ ‘Do you want multiplayer?’ ‘Yeah, sure, of course.’ It does not really matter if they’re going to play it or not; they’ll probably say, ‘I would not mind that.’

I think—no, I know—that some games have to be fundamentally designed for the multiplayer or they will have a lot of problems. With Neverwinter 1, I’ve heard a lot of people slam Neverwinter 1‘s official campaign, OC. I mean, there are problems with it, but it was designed to be multiplayer-friendly. A lot of the stuff Bioware put out for Neverwinter is multiplayer-friendly—it was designed around that. Neverwinter 2, by comparison, was awful for multiplayer. It was not designed for multiplayer at all.

I still remember how disappointed I was when I was playing the co-op campaign of Neverwinter 2 with a friend and it had no dialogue options—like you get with Divinity, for instance.

A lot of the decisions on how the campaign was structured were made before I got there, but it was really, fundamentally designed to be played as a single-player experience. I think it was actually an over-correction. Don’t get me wrong, there are cool things in Neverwinter 2’s official campaign, but the cost of that is that the people who came to Neverwinter 2 expecting it to be multiplayer-friendly like Neverwinter 1 [laughing], were pretty upset, like ‘what the heck?’ And that extends to other aspects of the game too. Bioware, when they made Neverwinter 1, authored the tiles very memory-efficiently. So, if you connected to a server that you had never been to before, that had a completely brand-new module, it took very little time to download.

there were some people who took bunch of the art assets from Fallout and they made an MMO out of it. It was a free-for-all Ulitma Online style, where you can just mass-murder everybody

Since we are talking about multiplayer, where do you stand with the MMORPG genre?

I have played a few of them and I understand why a lot of people like them, but they don’t appeal to me very much. I like the exploration aspect of them, but I don’t really like grinding and I am not that social a gamer, so organizing with guilds and stuff like that was never really my thing. I played World of Warcraft for about five months and I got to the Arathi Highlands. At that time, the content there was really frustrating and I wasn’t having fun, so I was like, ‘nah, I am not playing this any more’ [laughing].

I have always been a bit of MMORPG enthusiast and a fan of sandbox titles such as Ultima Online. I always thought that they were going to be the future of the genre. That’s why I have spent most of my time playing EVE Online, because it emphasizes free roaming and emergent gameplay. Unfortunately, I feel that it is World of Warcraft which effectively halted and rolled over this initial promise.

Have you seen the insane Fallout: Online (FOnline:Reloaded)?

Unofficial Fallout MMO modification
FOnline:Reloaded

I don’t think so.

So I think it was a Czech group that made Fallout [1.5:]Resurrection. Don’t quote me [laughing], because RPG Codex is going to get really mad if I got that wrong. But that was an unofficial Fallout spinoff, actually just couple of years ago. I think it was called Fallout Resurrection and it was made using the Fallout 2 engine.

Wow, I didn’t know that. Did you say Czechs made it?

I think so. But even before that, maybe four to five, maybe six, years ago, there were some people who took bunch of the art assets from Fallout and they made an MMO out of it. It was a free-for-all Ulitma Online style, where you can just mass-murder everybody [laughing]. People made little bases and they would raid each other’s bases. Yeah, that was incredible.

So Fallout Online and Fallout Resurrection

So yeah, Fallout Online—and by the way, this was totally unofficial—was just some fans making stuff and Fallout [1.5:]Resurrection was a very aggressive mod group. I downloaded it, but I have not played it yet [laughing]. So that’s what I have always thought: if there was ever going to be a Fallout MMO, it would be something like that fan-made Fallout Online; where it’s just super-cutthroat like Ultima Online; where it’s everyone for themselves!

Do you think there will be an official Fallout Online one day?
If Bethesda wants to do it. I am sure they could; they have enough money [laughing].

Next Chapter

Joshua Eric Sawyer

Born: 18.10.1975
Nationality: American
Role: Game Designer
Studio: Obsidian
Previously: Black Isle Studios
Known For: Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity, Deadfire

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