Rencontre - Jay Watamaniuk (VO)

Each week, we give the word to a member of the Neverwinter Nights' French-speaking community, but this weekend we have decided to pamper you with another Rencontre de Padhivers. It is with a non-dissimulated pleasure that I present you an interview which was granted to us by one of the members of BioWare's staff. For the release of Hordes of the Underdark, Jay Watamaniuk, in charge of the Neverwinter Nights' community speaks to you, while answering our questions. He tells us about himself and his vision of the game, about HotU, and also about the community which is for him Neverwinter Nights' most important aspect. Thanks to him to have spent the time to answer our questions, as well as Tom Ohle in charge of the communication who has comply with our request and all the team of BioWare to have created this game to which this site owes its existence. Thank you.
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The interview

JoL Staff: Can you introduce yourself and tell us what is your role in the Bioware team, and particularly concerning Neverwinter Nights ?

Jay Watamaniuk: My name is Jay Watamaniuk and I am BioWare's Community Manager. I am responsible for communication between BioWare staff and the vast community of gamers, fans, fansites, and custom-content creators. For Neverwinter Nights, the challenge was to help create a central place for the fans of Neverwinter to gather and exchange information with each other and with BioWare staff, and to seek resources to help them get the best experience out of the game. Our ultimate goal was to ensure that, no matter what category our fans fit into-dungeon masters, players, content creators, etc.-they could have one central place to go for all the info they need. Our current site design is quite different from the one we had originally designed, as it has grown and evolved as the community has changed.

JoL Staff: How could YOU describe Neverwinter Nights ? You work on Neverwinter Nights, but does this game occupy a part of your spare time ? Do you play to it or do you try to create your own module ?

Jay Watamaniuk: Neverwinter Nights is an experiment that has succeeded. As a developer, it's difficult to predict how a new idea will be received by the gaming community. Will it be accepted? Is it the right time to hand over something like this to the public? Will people enjoy working with what we have developed? In this business it is always a risk when a product goes out the door. With Neverwinter Nights, we are all very glad that such a great collection of people in the gaming community have taken the game to heart and moved it forward to encompass so much more than we had first imagined. I work with Neverwinter everyday and yes, the game does occupy my spare time. I have the good fortune of having a job that requires me to know a lot about the game, the toolset and the DM Client, so I am able to enjoy a great deal of the fantastic material that has been created by the community. There is nothing I like better than seeing what has been created that I can download and enjoy. I love RPGs and now I have several thousand adventures waiting for me to play.

JoL Staff: Players and builders seem always discover more possibilities with Neverwinter Nights. Are you, or the other people working at BioWare, sometimes amazed by what it's possible to realize with the game ?

Jay Watamaniuk: Yes! As I mentioned I love waiting to see what people have come up with in the community. Some breathtaking moments I have encountered are for tiny things like a new weapons pack all the way up to a new swamp tileset that our artists were very impressed with. BioWare's own designers have been happily forced to raise the bar on what they produce with all the great content that has been created. Hordes of the Underdark will amaze people with the new ways BioWare has used the scripting language to create puzzles and fiendish environments.

JoL Staff: Soon, a new add-on, Hordes of the Underdark, should arrive on our computer. Can you present it to us ? And where are you in the development of Hordes of the Underdark ? What are the main difficulties you encountered during the creation of this add-on ?

Jay Watamaniuk: Hordes of the Underdark takes the players to the near-unimaginable epic levels of Dungeons and Dragons. You are not only a hero but a true legend with vast responsibilities and powers undreamt of by novice adventurers. Of course, with all this power come greater and greater dangers where you will need more than a strong sword arm and quick wits to survive. The development of Hordes came with an assortment of challenges for the designers who now had to think much bigger in terms of plot and obstacles to place in front players. In addition, BioWare had to compete with some very professional modules created by the community, which meant creating things that had not been seen before by the Neverwinter fans.

JoL Staff: Hordes of the Underdark will take place in Waterdeep and in the Underdark. Will we meet famous Forgotten Realms' characters and visit known Forgotten Realms places ?

Jay Watamaniuk: I can't give away the plot, of course, but I think players will be surprised at some of the characters that appear on their journey in Hordes of the Underdark. Some of the places that you travel through will ring with familiarity and some are completely new.

JoL Staff: In Shadows Of Undrentide, the player met some atypical characters as Deekin. Will we find such characters in Hordes of the Underdark ?

Jay Watamaniuk: Yes. Deekin is a favorite of fans of course but there are some new atypical companions that can be encountered in Hordes. BioWare's writers, having seen how well Deekin was received, have created some very...interesting companions for the epic-level player to encounter.

JoL Staff: Will it be really possible to play an evil character in Hordes of the Underdark or will we be oblige to accomplish only good deeds ?

Jay Watamaniuk: The very positive reaction BioWare had to including an evil path has been noted by the designers and great pains were taken to make sure alternate choices were in place for those who prefer to play as evil. The goals are similar, but the methods you employ to accomplish them are quite different. A word of caution: playing a character that kills everything in sight will not get very far...

JoL Staff: Hordes of the Underdark seems favourable to a dark adventure. Did you confine youself with that for the campaign or did you sometimes added joyful and humorous features ?

Jay Watamaniuk: I think BioWare's writers would have a difficult time NOT including a fair share of humor in a game. The fact that Deekin was so popular among fans is a very good indication that humor is appreciated even in the depths of the Underdark. Look for some very funny moments and characters along your quest.

JoL Staff: Why have you choose the Underdark as setting for the campaign ? Have you been influenced by novels of R.A. Salvatore or those of Elaine Cuningham ?

Jay Watamaniuk: The Underdark was a natural choice for a setting because there are few places that an epic-level character can meet their match. No place in the Forgotten Realms is so filled with evil and blight as the Underdark. If there is one place where players would want to explore with a very powerful character it's the lightless world of the Drow and the Mind Flayer. The works of R.A. Salvatore or those of Elaine Cunningham served as inspirations, of course, but the real challenge was to create an Underdark that remained alien to keep players on their toes, but at the same time had things that were familiar, so that fans of the writers would know that they are now in the centre of their own novel set in the darkest of places.

JoL Staff: What did you add in Hordes of the Underdark for the players, the DMs or the builders ? i.e., 140 scripting functions are expected in Hordes of the Underdark. Can you present us some of them and indicate their possible uses ?

Jay Watamaniuk: I'm sure that your readers know about the 16 new creatures, new tilesets, 50+ new feats, 40+ new spells, 6 new prestige classes, along with the new scripting functions that you mentioned. (http://nwn.bioware.com/builders/hotu_scriptpreview.html)
Georg Zoeller (Designer): A few of the things we added to the toolset and the scripting language with Hordes of the Underdark are:
- Dynamic Item Properties, which allow the creation of magical items by scripting.
- Two new events, OnEquip and OnUnequip that can be used to build custom cursed items or powerful new artifacts.
- An OnHit event for items to allow builders to create weapons that cast a variety spells when hitting an enemy.
- Vastly improved functionality for store objects, granting module builders a tighter grip on the economy in their module.

JoL Staff: Nobody awaited them anymore, but however the robes will be implemented in Hordes of the Underdark. Can you tell us the reason why you included them in the game and what are the difficulties with which you had been confronted ?

Jay Watamaniuk: BioWare supports a community in order to communicate directly with the people who play our games. One of the number one requests for any Neverwinter Nights expansions packs was to include robes. The inclusion of the robes was a huge deal in that it created with one addition a completely new look for the worlds of Neverwinter. Fancy gowns for women, adventuring gear for sorcerers and magic users, proper monk robes, devilishly evil-looking costumes for both males and females all create a more complete version of a fantasy world. There was a lot of work to be done to make them work and work well, but again the community showed us that it was not only something very important, but possible as well.

JoL Staff: Did you make modifications on existing spells or tilesets ?

Jay Watamaniuk: Apart from some small fixes to anything that seemed to pop up during the last few months and making sure all the spells also worked in the new epic-level environment, most of the attention was focused on the creation of new content for Hordes of the Underdark. I'm sure you are aware that the system requirements are higher than the original Neverwinter Nights, due to the higher polygon count in the new tilesets and new creatures. It's a very different-looking game, as you have seen from the screenshots that have been released.

JoL Staff: Will Hordes of the Underdark bring modifications to the nwserver ? If not, is something envisaged on a future patch ?

Jay Watamaniuk: There will be continuing investigation and improvements in the future. Post-ship, we are hoping to take a serious look at the whole system to see where improvements can be made. We have some pretty good ideas on how we can improve things.

JoL Staff: What would you have like to see in Hordes of the Underdark but which appeared impossible to for lack of resources or because of limitations inherent to Neverwinter Nights ?

Jay Watamaniuk: I am giant fan of placeable objects because they can take a standard tileset and change it into something completely different with the right objects and effects. I would have loved to have a huge new list of placeables. As it stands we do have a lot of new placeables, but I am very, very greedy.

JoL Staff: On your forums, we can regularly read threads about wishes or requests for add-on or patchs. Did you take it into account ? Do you think the community has changed since the release of Neverwinter Nights ? In which way ? How was Shadows of Undrentide welcomed by the community? Were you surprised ?

Jay Watamaniuk: As I mentioned the reason for all this support of forums, a huge website and so on is to communicate directly to the fans. Our fans dictate the success or failure of a game and I cannot emphasize enough the importance that is placed on their advice and comments about our games. The community has definitely changed since the original Neverwinter Nights came out. After the initial rush of people, we have seen a steady growth in multiplayer numbers as more and more people discover that the true magic of Neverwinter Nights lies in getting together with their friends and playing, just like the pen-and-paper game. We have also seen the true experts emerge in the field of custom-content creation, along with some brilliant new material created by these talented individuals. Shadows Of Undrentide was received well by the community. Additional monsters, tilesets and placeables were all requested by the fans and we were able to fulfill that request. I think with Hordes of the Underdark, though, the fans will see far more of their requests put into place and we expect fans to really appreciate the new stuff we have included.

JoL Staff: What do you think about projects such as those of DLA and CODI ? Do you have a look at them regularly ? Do you have advises to give to those who wish create their own module ?

Jay Watamaniuk: I think the DLA and CODI are setting the standard for quality in module and custom-content creation. They really pushed us to strive for increasingly better content in our own work and for that we thank them and hate them as well (just kidding!). I am regularly in contact with CODI and DLA talking about a variety of projects and ideas for the future as they have demonstrated that they are capable of producing professional work. As for module makers out there- take chances! Don't be intimidated by work that you find on the internet. For every fabulous module there are 10 that are perhaps less than fabulous. If you have ideas and do not have the skill to make them happen then seek out someone who has the specific skills you need. I said a long time ago that I would love to see groups of talented people working together, because only a very rare few would have all the skills needed to complete a large project. I still think that is the best way to go.

JoL Staff: How do you see the future for Neverwinter Nights ? Does BioWare envisage new patchs or adds-on ?

Jay Watamaniuk: The updates to Neverwinter Nights will continue through BioWare's Live Team. As for add-ons, well, we are doing some thinking on that right now...

JoL Staff: To conclude this set of questions, would you add something ?

Jay Watamaniuk: Thanks for letting me talk about the most important aspect of Neverwinter Nights- the community. Without these very talented, dedicated and downright crazy people out there, Neverwinter Nights would not have soared to the heights it has. From everyone at BioWare a big thanks and keep up the astonishing work!

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