Interview of Rob Bartel part 1 (English version)

For more than three years, Neverwinter Nights delights players, and it doesn’t seems ready to stop. After two expansions, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark, and many patchs, we discovered the premium modules which are available on the BioWare’s Online Store. However, there is no doubt that some people would like to know what will be the future for NWN and if more patchs and premium modules will be released. In order to know a little more about what BioWare have in store for us, "Les Nuits de Padhiver" asked some question to Rob Bartel, Lead Designer on the BioWare Community Live Team.
This big interview will allow us to learn more about Rob Bartel, the Live Team, the Digital Distribution and Pirates of the Sword Coast. You will be able to read the first two points today, and the continuation, with the conclusion, will be published before long.


JeuxOnline : Longtime NWN players already know you but perhaps not the new ones. Could you introduce yourself, tell us when and how you joined Bioware, and what was your involvement with NWN and its two expansions?

Rob Bartel : My name is Rob Bartel and I’m the Lead Designer on the BioWare Community Live Team. I joined BioWare in 1998, eight months prior to the release of Baldur’s Gate I. My job was to write 15 FedEx quests a day in order to fill up all of the gorgeous but empty areas. If you ever had to fetch someone’s shoes, clear someone’s basement, or deliver a potion to someone, I take all the blame. =o) When no one was looking, I also slipped in a few oddities like Noober and the Larry/Darry/Darryl trio.

After some involvement in Tales of the Sword Coast and Baldur’s Gate 2, I took on the role of Lead Designer on NWN, the position I had been hired for. My focus was on interpreting the new 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules as well as on the key multiplayer, toolset, and community aspects of the title. When NWN switched publishers from Interplay to Atari, we sadly lost access to the Baldur’s Gate licence. With one year of development left, the decision was made to hand over NWN’s remaining development to the BG team in order to reposition the title and compensate for that particular void. I established the Live Team at that time to ensure support for the community after the game’s release.

When development on the Shadows Of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark expansions ran into some difficulties, I was called in to handle the final chapters of each. They were a lot of fun to work on but they unfortunately postponed the introduction of BioWare’s Online Store for over a year. Things are firing on all cylinders now, however, and we’re finally able to start making up for lost time.

JeuxOnline : What do you think of the NWN community and of its evolution as time goes by ? Have you been surprised by any of the modules or custom content that’s been created?

Rob Bartel : Early in the design of NWN, we told ourselves to expect the unexpected from the community and that has certainly proven to be good advice. If you look on the Vault, not only are there some excellent Dungeons & Dragons adventures available for this game but the fans have also used it to create real-time strategy games, collectible card games, persistent worlds, and more. There are educational groups using it to explore the town of Colonial Williamsburg, develop neural net AI, or train employees about sexual harassment in the workplace.

In short, I’m endlessly surprised and amazed by the sheer variety and quality of what the community is able to produce. As NWN continues to mature, the talent of the community matures with it and there’s more and more professional-quality stuff available every day. It’s no coincidence that BioWare hires extensively from within the NWN mod community. So do many other companies, for that matter. We designed this game for flexibility and for longevity and I take great pride and joy in the community that has built up around it.

JeuxOnline : In spite of all the time that your work might take, do you still find the time to play to NWN? What sort of player are you : solo player, little group of players without DM, little group of players with DM or persistant world player ?

Rob Bartel : I actually find it to be the reverse! My role on the Live Team keeps me very involved with the latest NWN developments, both internally and within the community, and I’m frequently playing through new modules or cracking them open in the toolset to see what makes them tick.

Outside of work hours, however, I do my best to maintain a wide range of other interests. I remain actively involved with a Nicaraguan children’s charity that I helped found a couple of years ago ( I’ve also been assisting with an innovative theatre micropress called New Bard Press. My play, “Beneath the Deep Blue Sky,” served as its initial guinea pig ( These days I’m also getting up early in the morning to get some creative writing done before I come in to work. I’m currently writing a first fantasy novel, for instance, while also shopping around a one-act play about British mathematician, codebreaker, and computer visionary, Alan Turing.

All of that, of course, assumes that I don’t get sucked into all of the other great computer and video games that are out there, including some under-recognized gems like Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath and Psychonauts.

The Live Team

JeuxOnline : The Live Team is often mentioned but not everyone knows what it actually is. Could you introduce us to its members and explain why it was established?

Rob Bartel : The Live Team has always been a bit of a nebulous, multi-headed beast and we’re slowly settling into a series of more definable groups. There’s still plenty of overlap but the basic breakdown is as follows:
  • The Web Team handles all of our website needs, including the forums, the online store, and the introduction of new titles.

  • The Marketing Team handles newsletters, surveys, sales data, interviews like this one, etc.

  • The Legal Team handles our contracts with forum moderators and community contractors as well as sorting out the EULAs for premium modules and ensuring that we’re able to support the community in a safe and protected manner (it’s harder than you’d think, to be honest).

  • The Quality Assurance Team continues to test all of our new NWN patches as well as the premium modules.

  • The Customer Service Team provides technical support and a helping hand with all issues raised by the community.

  • Jay, our Community Manager, keeps his fingers on the pulse of the community, keeping us informed at all times and letting us know when to inject a new shot of Dew directly into your collective veins.

  • The Promo Art team creates the bulk of the art found on the BioWare website or on magazines and box covers.

  • Brian Chung, our brand new Technical Artist, on board to coordinate all of the new in-game art that’s been commissioned for our upcoming premium modules.

  • The Technical Team handles our ongoing stream of patches and is constantly cramming crazy new functionality into the game to support the community and any upcoming premium modules. They’re also busy with online delivery mechanisms, security systems, and mapping out a gazillion new technologies that will improve the community’s experience with future BioWare titles.

  • The Content Team, which is where I currently spend most of my time, is responsible for creating new premium modules, pushing the capabilities of the NWN engine, and researching premium content creation for future titles.
In all, there are far too many people to name and we’re expanding every day. BioWare thankfully realizes the value of its community and has placed an extraordinary emphasis on empowering us, as a Live Team, to meet your needs.

JeuxOnline : On the forums we can sometimes read that a patch 1.67 is on work. Is it the case? Could you give us more information about it? Moreover, can we hope for other patches for NWN or will it be the last?

Rob Bartel : Patch 1.67 is real and will likely be entering beta in January. It contains a ton of new functionality for our upcoming premium modules and the builder community will be very excited to get their hands on it. With Brian’s arrival, we’ve also been able to touch up all of the art content from Pirates of the Sword Coast and cram that into the patch as well. The only thing that didn’t fit was the two tilesets, which we’ll release as free hakpaks available from our site.

On a related note, there will be a 1.68, a 1.69, and beyond. Thanks to the ongoing success of the Online Store, you’ll be excited to hear that we’re in an excellent position to continue expanding and supporting NWN into the future. We expect the typical rollout to be as follows:
1. A new patch will be released, containing new functionality and scripting features.
2. A premium module will be released, showcasing that new functionality and introducing new art and audio content.
3. A new patch will be released, integrating the art content from the previous premium module and containing new functionality and scripting features for the next. New tilesets will continue to be released as free hakpaks.

JeuxOnline : BioWare has announced that they have several projects under development (Dragon Age and Mass Effect, for instance). Will the Live Team be involved with these future games or will it remain devoted only to NWN? If the former, will there be only a single, centralized Live Team or will multiple Live Teams evolve for each game?

Rob Bartel : Yes, BioWare is a multi-project studio and BioWare | Pandemic is now a multi-studio developer as well. NWN has been an excellent proving ground for the Live Team and has really proven the value of strong, community-centric game design. Our goal for the future, however, is to expand our team’s scope to include all future BioWare titles and their respective communities. Traditionally, it’s been very hard to build effective communities within the console space but that appears to be changing with a lot of the next-generation features available on the Xbox 360.

As for our organizational structure, the Live Team will likely remain as a singular entity, though individuals and groups within the team may end up specializing in a variety of different ways. We could specialize according to platform, for instance, with separate streams for PC and Console. Another way we could approach it is by specializing according to intellectual property (Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and the Unreal Engine project). We could also specialize into those creating content internally and those supporting the creation of content by external parties (i.e. the community). Each of those make sense in their own way and we’re open to all of them. At the end of the day, the Live Team will evolve into whatever structure makes the most sense, both for BioWare and for the community at large.


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