Interplay must have been cringing in fear when the original Icewind Dale was released in mid-2000. Not only did the game hit store shelves a few weeks before the release of Baldur's Gate II, which had been hyped a great deal more at the time, but it also shipped on exactly the same day as Blizzard's Diablo II. That's some pretty stiff competition, but despite all that, Icewind Dale sold relatively well, thanks in part to its instantly accessible hack-and-slash style of gameplay and its rich plot and setting. Besides, the game's creators, Black Isle Studios, had an impressive pedigree that included memorable games like Fallout and Planescape: Torment, as well as a significant role in Baldur's Gate. Icewind Dale lived up to Black Isle fans' expectations, and it was enough of a commercial success to merit the release of two subsequent expansion packs: Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Interplay and Black Isle Studios are working on a true sequel to Icewind Dale. Icewind Dale II has been in development for around six months already--which would explain its closer-than-expected release date of May 28, 2002--and its team includes designers who have worked on all of Black Isle's earlier games. Needless to say, we were curious to find out more about this exciting RPG, so we tracked down its producer, Darren Monahan, who gladly filled us in on many of Icewind Dale II's details.
GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions about Icewind Dale II. What's the official title of the game, and when is it scheduled to be released?
Darren Monahan: Absolutely. The official title for the sequel to Icewind Dale is Icewind Dale II. We tossed around the idea of having a trailing name (as Shadows of Amn is to Baldur's Gate II) but decided that Icewind Dale II was our title of the century. We're planning on shipping this May 28.
GS: When did you decide to go ahead with the project? When did you begin development on Icewind Dale II?
DM: Toward the end of summer 2001, Black Isle was divided into three internal project teams. The team I'm working with created Icewind Dale, Heart of Winter, and the free Web expansion, Trials of the Luremaster. The second team was working on Torn, and the third team on an unannounced project. After the decision was made to cancel Torn, we were given additional resources to move Icewind Dale II into full production. We had been conceptualizing it for some time beforehand while working on the expansions, and we kicked into full production shortly after Trials of the Luremaster was completed.
GS: So, now that some Torn members are working on this sequel, how big is the team for Icewind Dale II?
DM: We've got two full teams of artists made up of 3D modelers, 2D (textures and touch-up), and animators. The designers are Chris Avellone (Fallout 2/Torment/Icewind Dale), Dave Maldonado (Torment/Torn), J.E. Sawyer (Icewind Dale), John Deiley (Fallout 2/Torment/Icewind Dale), Rob Holloway (Torment/Torn), and our new guy, Damien Foletto. There are a couple of us producer types and two programmers from Heart of Winter.
GS: Will Icewind Dale II use the Infinity Engine, like its predecessor? Will any of the assets from Torn be used for the game?
DM: Yes, and mostly yes. We will be using the Infinity Engine for one last game, and we've been working on some really cool refinements to the engine, including the incorporation of some 3rd Edition rules. Additionally, we brought over some artwork assets from Torn.
GS: What's Icewind Dale II about and where and when does it take place, relative to the first game? Will there be an all-new cast of characters?
DM: Icewind Dale II takes place one generation later than the events of the first Icewind Dale. We've tailored the game to appeal to both people who have played the original by making storyline references to prior events, locations, and people, but it's equally accessible to new players and doesn't require familiarity with events in the original to have a good time playing.
There will be a new cast of characters, villains, monsters, and more. Perhaps a few cameo appearances as well. We've tried to throw in as much as we can (we even tried the kitchen sink, but it didn't fit in 640x480), and we'll have a lot available to the player, but definitely keeping in style with the original.
GS: Will Icewind Dale II be using any of the new features from Baldur's Gate II, such as character kits, high-level spells, monsters, and so on?
DM: You bet. Some really great features from our BioWare friends will be showing up in Icewind Dale II, as well as a number of new ones. For example, dual wielding, class kits, high-level spells, monsters, and much more. We've taken some of the features BioWare made for Baldur's Gate II and expanded upon them for Icewind Dale II, like adding new character kits such as the mercenary, dreadmaster of bane, and the votary. We took the kit idea a step further, and players can choose from a number of subraces like drow elves or tieflings. We also have more than 50 new spells, bring the total over 300, at all power levels (including a number of ninth-level spells, like executioner's eyes, aegis, and more). The biggest improvement has been the implementation of some 3rd Edition rules. Say "bye bye" to THAC0 and negative AC.
GS: Are there any new features that are unique to Icewind Dale II?
DM: Well, as mentioned above, we've added subraces into the mix. Players can choose between a number of Forgotten Realms species, from the drow elves and duergar to the aasimar and tieflings. We've spent a number of weeks tuning and optimizing the rendering pathways to allow even more critters on the screen at once for epic battles. And, of course, the usuals--new spells, big interface changes, and so on. We've also refined the heart of fury difficulty mode by giving characters new items using exclusive item-drop tables for that mode, which yields weapons more powerful than anything seen in prior Dungeons & Dragons computer games and expands the game's replay value. One cool feature we introduced in Trials of the Luremaster was the concept of area-based difficulty scaling. We take a look at the average party level when a group enters a level, and based on information about their party, the level is populated in such a way to provide a challenge for people. Some people level quickly, some don't, so depending on how aggressive they are, the difficulty will slide internally to match that play style.
GS: The original Icewind Dale had an incredible soundtrack. Will Jeremy Soule be composing all-new music for the sequel?
DM: Actually, Inon Zur of Throne of Bhaal fame is scoring this incarnation. Mr. Soule is part of the project, however, in that he and Inon have been working together to keep the great feel and mood of the original game's music alive in this game.
GS: Some players felt that the Heart of Winter expansion to Icewind Dale was too short. Black Isle even released a free expansion for Heart of Winter fans, ostensibly to make amends for this. Will Icewind Dale II be comparable to the original game in terms of length?
DM: Our goal with Icewind Dale II is to provide at least the same amount of gameplay you got in Icewind Dale but with a number of new character options and play elements at your disposal. We've added a bunch of new types of quests, puzzles, items, and more to make the replay value of the game even greater. We're also bringing over the heart of fury difficulty mode from Heart of Winter, but modifying it by adding a whole slew of new and insane powerful items that can only be found when playing this mode (that is, in addition to the new items for the regular mode of the game). In terms of areas, there are more screens in Icewind Dale II than in the first one.
GS: Jason Manley's character portraits for Icewind Dale were outstanding. Will he be doing all-new character art for the sequel?
DM: You bet. Before Mr. Manley left us, he painted some really cool portraits, and Justin Sweet, another very talented painter, has been making a bunch of new ones that will also be included in the game.
GS: By now, Black Isle's games are well known for their use of exceptional voice acting provided by celebrity actors. Can you tell us anything about the voice-over cast for Icewind Dale II?
DM: Not quite yet, but I so want to mention some of the people we've been trying to get!
GS: We haven't heard too much from Black Isle since Torn was canceled. Do you have a message for fans who have been wondering what you'll do next?
DM: Yes! I know many of you have read this and that in the news, and I only have one thing to say: We're stronger than ever right now and we're working on some games we think are really cool and that we really hope our fans will enjoy. Stay tuned for more info soon.
GS: On a more serious note, will the JeffK cyclops be playable this time?
DM: Ha, not this time. But who knows? There may be another cameo appearance.
GS: Anything else you'd like to add about Icewind Dale II?
DM: As I suspect this will be one of the first questions on our FAQ, your character will be starting over again at level one [in this game]. Sadly, we are not supporting the importation of prior Icewind characters, but hey, it's time for their kids to have an adventure of their own.
GS: Thanks for your time, Darren.