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Interview Matt Chat 433: George Ziets on Mask of the Betrayer

Infinitron

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Tags: George Ziets; Matt Barton; Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer; Obsidian Entertainment

In this week's episode of Matt Chat, George Ziets discusses the game considered by many to be the high mark of his career - the Mask of the Betrayer expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2. George and Matt agree that expansions are often better than the original games, both because the developers have more experience by the time they create them and because they're smaller & more focused. According to George, the key to designing great choice & consequence as exemplified in Mask of the Betrayer is to keep the overall number of choices small and make sure each one has drastic and wide-ranging effects. He cites the Okku/One of Many choice as an example. During his time at inXile, George made an effort to design choice & consequence in a similar way.



Near the end of the episode, Matt and George talk a bit about the differences between working at large and small studios. Needless to say, George prefers smaller ones. He also has strong opinions about open office layouts (kill it with fire). According to Matt, there are two more episodes left to go.
 
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George and Matt agree that expansions are often better than the original games, both because the developers have more experience by the time they create them and because they're smaller & more focused. According to George, the key to designing great choice & consequence as exemplified in Mask of the Betrayer is to keep the overall number of choices small and make sure each one has drastic and wide-ranging effects. He cites the Okku/One of Many choice as an example. During his time at an inXile, George made an effort to design choice & consequence in a similar way.

If this is what George intends to do with Digimancy, then colour me fabulously optimistic that Digimancy will be pumping out some incline.
 
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Galdred

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Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
He is so right about open offices. Those are horrible, horrible environments for productivity (and for morale, too, if you are an introvert).
It is true most of the time, but in the software company I used to work in before becoming indie, we were 10 developers in the same open space, and there was not any noise at all, like 90% of the time, so it is enforceable with the right "company culture" as long as you don't have team members whose job requires a lot of communication/phone calls in any open space.
 

Bohrain

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My team has the sexiest and deadliest waifus you can recruit.
I tried out MotB, but jesus christ the NWN system is a chore to play. Gave up at around the fire mage academy.
 

thesheeep

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I tried out MotB, but jesus christ the NWN system is a chore to play. Gave up at around the fire mage academy.
What is so bad about it for you?
I also tried playing some NWN2 recently, but couldn't get into it at all - something about the combination of the atrocious UI, the camera and the fact that everything looks like it is covered in grease...
 

Bohrain

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My team has the sexiest and deadliest waifus you can recruit.
I also tried playing some NWN2 recently, but couldn't get into it at all - something about the combination of the atrocious UI, the camera and the fact that everything looks like it is covered in grease...

The same things really, plus not being familiar with tabletop rules at the time, which didn't help since the game doesn't give very clear feedback on what you are doing.
 

Junmarko

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I had the exact same problems you guys had, played only the main campaign when it released, didn't finish it.

Have a bit more patience these days for jank + clunkiness though, so I might try and go back for MotB at least. Heard enough people praise it.
 

MrMarbles

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Tried MotB twice, and rage quit both times around Okku because of the hilariously bad camera and controls. This makes me consider a 3rd attempt, because I have no self-respect
 

MRY

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As I've said before, MOTB is mediocre at best at most of its mechanical systems -- combat, itemization, looting, economy, leveling, etc. are all mechanically closest to idle games if anything, a vast amount of tiny incremental changes, lots of pointless clicking (loot, organize inventory, sell junk, etc., crafting is the same), the combat system is a joke if you minimax your build and prebuff, but all of that is boring, and once combat starts its just silly visual effects and bad camera controls. But the writing, setting, C&C, characters, area design (minus the implausibility of a land populated exclusively by god-tier creatures and NPCs and merchants who carry a billion gold) are all spectacular. At a minimum, you should use the console cheat to add an extra NPC slot (one of the ways the game trolls you, a la PS:T, is by having one more NPC than you can fit in your party, which is ridiculous since (a) the NPCs are some of the game's best content; (b) gameplay is bad, as noted, so it's not enticing to replay; (c) if you replay, it's MUCH MUCH better to try a different set of C&C rather than a different party composition; and (d) even if you were going to do a different party composition, there's the hard choice between Okku and Many-As-One). Beyond that, I still think it's worth considering using a hack to give yourself as much gold as you want and then just ignoring looting, since that at least spares you the idiocy of highlighting all containers and dumpster diving through them, though I have never done that myself, and instead ground my time away on stupid looting and crafting.
 

hexer

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I wish it was something else, such as meeting Myrkul, but the one thing from MotB that stuck with me the most is Ashenwood area.
So many things are packed in a 200 ft. radius - frost giants, spirits of all kinds, berserkers, treants, trolls, glowing tree, elementals, shambling mounds, genius loci, etc.
I found the whole tiny area incoherent even for a fantasy game where anything goes. It would work much better spread over a larger area.
And regarding Myrkul, I guess I wasn't impressed with the encounter because I played Dead Gods by Monte Cook years earlier which also features a visit to a dead god's corpse in the Silver Void.

TSR2631_-_Dead_Gods.jpg
 

Deleted Member 22431

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I tried out MotB, but jesus christ the NWN system is a chore to play. Gave up at around the fire mage academy.
What is so bad about it for you?
I also tried playing some NWN2 recently, but couldn't get into it at all - something about the combination of the atrocious UI, the camera and the fact that everything looks like it is covered in grease...
The main story of NWN2 is awful, the camera is awful and the combat is bad. On the other hand, the game is huge and you have plenty of side quests. Some companions and NPCs you get along the way are cool. Besides, the game has Crossroad Keep, which was the only fortress that ever worked in a cRPG. You can upgrade the thing, manage it, and it is associated with items and quests of the game. I still have fond memories of Crossroad Keep.
 

Deleted Member 22431

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But the writing, setting, C&C, characters, area design (minus the implausibility of a land populated exclusively by god-tier creatures and NPCs and merchants who carry a billion gold) are all spectacular.
Even the voice acting is inspired.
 

MRY

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And regarding Myrkul, I guess I wasn't impressed with the encounter because I played Dead Gods by Monte Cook years earlier which also features a visit to a dead god's corpse in the Silver Void.

TSR2631_-_Dead_Gods.jpg
Six years late.
Pools%20of%20Darkness_25_1.jpg

Anyway, it's all about the execution.
 

hexer

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And regarding Myrkul, I guess I wasn't impressed with the encounter because I played Dead Gods by Monte Cook years earlier which also features a visit to a dead god's corpse in the Silver Void.

TSR2631_-_Dead_Gods.jpg
Six years late.
Pools%20of%20Darkness_25_1.jpg

Anyway, it's all about the execution.

I sadly didn't play PoD until after I played Dead Gods at a local gaming shop.
Good thing owner wasn't fussy about us playing games without everyone buying them.
My family was poor and couldn't buy me a computer so I only played a few games at my friends' house as a kid.. sadly DnD games weren't available.

But yeah, presentation is the key!
I recently spoke with friends how you could simply reduce both James Bond and Batman to "a man who solves problems using technology and his fists"
 

Desert Fish

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Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
At a minimum, you should use the console cheat to add an extra NPC slot (one of the ways the game trolls you, a la PS:T, is by having one more NPC than you can fit in your party, which is ridiculous since (a) the NPCs are some of the game's best content; (b) gameplay is bad, as noted, so it's not enticing to replay; (c) if you replay, it's MUCH MUCH better to try a different set of C&C rather than a different party composition; and (d) even if you were going to do a different party composition, there's the hard choice between Okku and Many-As-One).
I never felt that leaving one character at the menagerie was a significant limitation. I just swapped between Kaelyn and Gann now and then, and still maxed influence for both IIRC. And considering how chaotic some fights were, I'm not sure about adding another party member. Actually; I had the most fun in combat early on before Okku joined, but that had more to do with challenge than the number of party members.
 

MRY

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I seem to recall that it was engaging to see how characters reacted to your choices, which is different from maxing their relationship in one-on-one conversations. But it's been a long time since I played.
 

Trashos

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This was a very interesting part. I agree or sympathize with a lot of the things said (death to open office spaces!), but here I will focus on the things I disagree with.

On RPG length: I agree that it is better to have a short game with quality content than a long game with lower quality content. But you know what is even better than that? Long game with quality content! I understand the resource-related challenges and limitations, but from this gamer's perspective the ideal is clear.

On expansions vs main games: Sometimes expansions are indeed better than the main game, but such a concept can never be marketed, because then noone is going to be buying the main games. From the consumer's point of view, the internal problems of the industry are just that: the internal problems of the industry. The gamer wants great main games, and the fan wants great expansions too. I don't think that attitude is ever going to change. And it probably shouldn't.
 

Deleted Member 22431

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Regarding the bad camera criticism. People tend to forget this, but one of the advantages of such a camera is that they always focused on the characters' faces when you talk to them. It gave the game more personality, a soap opera feel that made the characters more intimate, and that was crazy good.

 
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skyst

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MotB had me so damn hyped the first time that I played it. I was exploring the shadow realm version of the town at the time and that's all I could think about during my shift at Best Buy the next day. Ended up punching out early like 3 hours into my shift to go home and play it, few games have gotten me like that. Since then, the idea of all of the prebuffing before every fight makes me never want to play it again.
 

Roguey

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Since then, the idea of all of the prebuffing before every fight makes me never want to play it again.
Just build a good character so you don't have to.

(alternately, get the persistent spells feat)
 

Longshanks

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On RPG length: I agree that it is better to have a short game with quality content than a long game with lower quality content. But you know what is even better than that? Long game with quality content! I understand the resource-related challenges and limitations, but from this gamer's perspective the ideal is clear.
From the perspective of some gamers. I'm not gonna complain if a game is 150+ hours and amazing all the way through, but would honestly prefer a more manageable 30-50 hours (or even less) with replayablity. The level of replayability is pretty key to a quality RPG for me, with different builds making for significantly different play throughs. Long games are less likely to be replayable in this sense and less likely for me to replay in full.

I've also never played a long game with consistently quality content. That length is almost always bolstered by trash mob after trash mob.
 

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