RPGamer Feature - Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition Interview
Platform: PC, iOS, Mac
Developer: Overhaul Games
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 2014

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Trent Oster of Overhaul Games and Beamdog has successfully released polished versions of the classic PC RPG Baldur's Gate series in the form of enhanced editions, and is now preparing to release an enhanced edition of Icewind Dale and its expansions. We interview Trent to discuss the upcoming release of this Infinity Engine RPG remake, and the future plans of the studio.

Johnathan Stringer (RPGamer): With the Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Editions in the bag, had the groundwork already been established for Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition to be the next logical step? For those who have played the Enhanced Editions of the Baldur's Gate games, will the Icewind Dale EE be familiar territory?
Trent Oster (Overhaul Games / Beamdog): Before we had completed Baldur's Gate II: EE we knew we wanted to do Icewind Dale. We started off with some research into the engine and assets differences. We were exceptionally lucky to have a group of former Baldur's Gate modders who had joined our team and did most of the heavy lifting on the assessment and asset conversions. The amazing David Wallace had built a converter to move the assets to the new engine formats and proceeding from his work and notes we were able to get a build up running quite quickly. Once again, instead of running free and making changes to the game we've left all the features as designed, filling the role of curator for such a well loved game.

JS: I know there were some issues with lost source code and graphical assets for the Baldur's Gate games, was this the case as well for Icewind Dale?
TO: Once again, we started with only some code and assets. At this point we are starting to get used to it. As we moved into development, we managed to uncover some additional assets, but we still spent a great deal of time reconstructing, or simply recreating content. For the Heart of Winter expansion, we had no code for the new engine features, so we relied heavily on a few team members, with a lot of effort from Laszlo Toth (known as Avenger_teambg on the community), to help us reverse engineer the new features. With the user interface it was a complete re-paint. We were able to bring in a talented friend in the person of Lee Nielsen who re-built every single pixel in the Icewind Dale UI, and it looks great.

JS: Is the development cycle on Icewind Dale: EE going to be significantly shorter than the Baldur's Gate: EEs?
TO: We've been working on Icewind Dale for quite a while now. We kept it under wraps with the goal of announcing only a month or so before we were ready to ship. While we don't have a final ship date yet, as we want to ensure the quality before we release the game, we are in the late stages of testing with a current burn-down indicating a ship date later this month or early October.

JS: In the FAQ on the Icewind Dale: EE site, you mention that the game will come with content that was cut from 6 quests. Can you elaborate a bit more on what this content is, and the amount of it? Was this content finished and removed, or did you have to fill in missing gaps?
TO: As we went through the assets, we found a number of quests which were partially implemented by the original development team, but were inaccessible from the game. While at Bioware, we did a similar approach with cut content, leaving it partially implemented behind the scenes as the work to clean it all up and remove it was too great. One of our team members (Pete Camagna, known in the community as CamDawg) had laid a lot of groundwork on the content restoration, and the team was able to rebuild and fill in the blanks on the quests.

JS: Any idea why these missing quests were removed from the original game? If they didn't fit or just weren't very good, will the game suffer at all from their addition, or does it seem like they were just unfinished?
TO: My guess on the unfinished quests is that they were cut due to bugs late in the development cycle. Sometimes you look at a quest that has a bunch of bugs to fix and you question if it just easier to cut it than to fix it.

JS: Are you adding in any extra original content similar to the Baldur's Gate: EEs? With no recruitable characters in Icewind Dale, you seem to be limited to just storyline or side-quest content.
TO: We've added all the classes and kits from Baldur's Gate II: EE (as well as a couple of new ones), and over 150 new spells and class abilities to improve the game. There are over 60 new items added to the game. As Icewind Dale was always about creating your entire party, we chose not to implement new characters, but retain the nature and feel of the original.

JS: Are you worried about affecting the overall game balance and difficulty by adding in the new character kits, items, and spells? How do you try to balance this, or can you?
TO: The new additions will affect the balance, but Icewind Dale was a very hard game to start with, so the challenge will remain. With "Heart of Fury" mode, the challenge is even greater, making monsters smarter and more powerful, increasing an already daunting challenge to new heights. On the other end, we've added what we call "Story Mode" for the players who want to enjoy the epic storytelling that the Infinity Engine games are known for without having to wade through hours of combat. I think, in summary, we've got something for everyone.

JS: I noticed this will also have a multiplayer feature. There are some reports that this functionality is not working well for some users on Baldur's Gate I and II EEs. Has this concern been addressed?
TO: We screwed up. We made the same rookie mistake that many studios do, and we caved to external pressure and shipped Baldur's Gate: EE and Baldur's Gate II: EE earlier than we should have and there were bugs in the multiplayer code. With the start of 2014, we had a clean slate on the publishing side, and we were able to take the extra time to fix the bugs and make a game we are proud of.

Icewind Dale: EE multiplayer is tight and works well. We've already moved many of those fixes into the Baldur's Gate: EE 1.3 Update which just released on all platforms, including iPhone, so the proof is out there. The new stability and polish are due to the heroic efforts of our testing team, people such as Gate70, Grogerson, and Troodon80, recruited from the community, and a general high level of commitment to quality across the company. We had the whole team testing the game for a period, and we made the decision to implement "Story Mode" based on feedback from a team member who was new to Infinity Engine games.

JS: Do you plan to follow this up with Icewind Dale II: EE?
TO: If Icewind Dale is a brother or sister to the Baldur's Gate games in terms of code and gameplay differences, Icewind Dale II and Planescape: Torment are more like third cousins. You can see the lineage, but the changes are deep. At this point we haven't gone spelunking too deep into those changes, but we are aware of many differences which will drive up the effort to do our thing on those projects. We hope to do more spleunking once we finish up with the 1.3 Updates for Baldur's Gate: EE and Baldur's Gate II: EE and ship Icewind Dale: EE.

JS: Without getting too technical, what is the nature of differences between Icewind Dale II and Icewind Dale? Any specific examples of challenges that have to be overcome?
TO: Icewind Dale II implemented the 3rd Edition rules and has a completely different UI scheme. We're really not sure how deep those changes run. The move to 3rd Edition rules would invalidate all the character classes and require a pretty thorough rework of the entire game to bring in the features from our Infinity Plus Engine. At minimum, nightmares abound.

JS: We have discussed the potential of Baldur's Gate III in past interviews. Is it something that is still potentially on the table or being considered?
TO: We are still interested in Baldur's Gate III. As to what a Baldur's Gate III would be, wow, that is a terrifying premise. I think every Baldur's Gate fan has a different image in their head as to what it would be, and making all of those fans happy would be a monumental challenge. For now, we haven't started any work on a Baldur's Gate III, but we do discuss the concept on a pretty regular basis.

JS: Could you share your favorite party set up of classes? The new added classes should give many options for players to experiment.
TO: I've tried a few different options. Sometimes I try goofy character combinations just to make it fresh. But, I typically go two tanks, a healer, two mages, and a thief. I prefer to play single class "pure" characters and favor the faster leveling of the straight fighter class over some of the abilities of the other classes. Evoker mages all around for the extra artillery. I have on rare occasion done the dual class fighter-thief for the Potion of Storm Giant strength powered backstab for 100+ damage in a single hit.

JS: Any final thoughts you would like to share?
TO: As a team, the Beamdog crew continues to grow in skill and capability. The efforts of our team make me exceptionally proud. I'm very happy we were able to recruit such great people as Alex Tomovic, Dee Pennyway, Jalily, Laszlo Toth, Lorne Ledger, Liam Esler, Pete Camagna, Andrea Colombo, Jeff Smyth, Trevor Borg, Richard Hilton, Jamie Beadle, and Stephen Hersack from our amazing community. I'm also very proud our internal team at the office was able to partner up, supporting everyone together as one large team.

We extend our gratitude to Trent Oster for sitting down and answering questions about Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. We look forward to exploring this RPG classic all over again.

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