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Default RPGWatch Feature - Bob McCabe Interview

April 16th, 2013, 23:07
Bob McCabe is a former Bioware employee who worked as a designer on Neverwinter Nights and changed more into a QA role on later titles, such as Jade Empire. Lucky Day met with Bob and talked about his days at Bioware and Neverwinter Nights.
LD: You had to scrap the original plot as well as a lot of content, like tilesets, as part of the settlement with Interplay. And there were a lot of people shocked when the original Interplay story got leaked. What can you say about that?

Bob:
I don't know what did or didn't get cut as part of a settlement. I didn't think any of the tiles had been cut, to be honest. But I can't really say more than that.

The original plot's release caught me off guard. In a way I was glad. I thought it was a
fantastic story, very polished, and I was glad it got put out there as a novelty of sorts. I really liked the politics and sense of betrayal and twists, on and on. I thought it was a very well done epic, such a fun story. And I'm glad fans can look at that and peek behind the curtain a little. I know I've enjoyed looking at stuff like that with the Ultima series, or some of the various other docs that have popped out over time. But I never expected it to see the light of day. That it did get released was also disappointing. I was proud of the final team effort, that the entire team was able to get such a huge project (DM Client, tools, multiplayer, and a full campaign) out, and pointing to an alternate story partially diminishes some of what we accomplished.

Let me put it this way: I'm playing through Fallout: New Vegas (again, because it's that good) and I came across a fan patch that puts a bunch of cut content back into the game. But sometimes that content was cut for a reason, and its release creates room for people to second-guess the creative process. If that's intentional (i.e. a movie released with multiple endings or deleted scenes), so be it, but I don't think that was the case here.
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April 16th, 2013, 23:07
I always wonder why code for content that wasn't included in the final release is left in place in games. I worked as a Programmer/Analyst in business applications for almost 17 years. It was always a part of the QA process to clean up the final product by editing out test code, diagnostic data item displays and traces, etc., before the final program was compiled and went live.
When you have to track down bugs and sort through thousands of lines of code, you don't want anything extraneous or distracting. To me, leaving in code for deleted content seems lazy and counterproductive. It just gives the end user reason to question the authors/publishers. It may be a different matter if it is meant to be unlocked as future content for some reason.
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April 16th, 2013, 23:12
Interesting background interview!

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. - HL Mencken
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April 16th, 2013, 23:35
Very interesting, it's nice to finally see a different point of view than the regulars. Also, I remember the BG2 load screen referring to importing save games into NWN from BG2, so NWN was clearly quite different at some point, but I had no idea it might be the result of legal issues and what not.

Can anyone dig up some more info on that? I'd be interested in reading more about it.
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April 17th, 2013, 00:05
Rob Bartel wrote the ghost village / castle Charwood story in act 2 of NWN 2? For me that was the best part of the game. Good to be able to attribute that work to a name.
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April 17th, 2013, 02:52
The interview was actually part of a series of PM's Bob and I had one day after he posted a message on our forums and he realized my love for all things NWN after I replied.

I asked him a few questions on some of the things I was curious about and as you see he offered up some generous replies on what he could without getting him in trouble from his former Bioware masters. I realized it would could turn into a great interview so he rewrote it as a question/answer format so some of the questions are his just to make the flow better.

Its really neat to see that Bioware seemed to be or feel like a small company after the huge success of Baldur's Gate even and how employees were affected by the issues. Its a lot different an insight inside of a company than following it from a distance and seeing how human the developers are.

To me it paints a picture of an innovative, exciting, young, small company that we'll not see again. At the time as he said I couldn't distinguish them from Interplay so I had no idea that real humans made video games.

Like it or hate it, NWN offered the most innovative software package the likes we'll never see again. Today, games are just games - sure some games offer toolsets but none offer the power to make your own MMOG. No game offers you the power of the DM Client and Obsidian even tried to take it out of NWN2. Toolsets seemed to have been taken over by Middleware like Unity (which I think is a good thing).

Developer of The Wizard's Grave Android game. Discussion Thread:
http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520
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April 17th, 2013, 13:50
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
Like it or hate it, NWN offered the most innovative software package the likes we'll never see again.
Never say never. I also thought we'd never see another game in the vein of Planescape Torment, or another Baldurs Gate, and look where we are now after a year of Kickstarter…
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April 17th, 2013, 15:02
I think the thing that Atari/Bioware really missed the boat on was monetizing the massive amount of user generated content. Sure they had a few official modules you could buy, but I always figured that they should have done something like an App store where users could create content and then sell it (with them taking a piece of course). Would make a ton of money, plus really encourage some of those more ambitious campaigns to actually get finished.

Of course they would have had to have an approval process to weed out stuff where they didn't have the IP (like the Ultima remakes), but those could still have been released for free as they were.

If they had done that, I think you still could be seeing a lot of active development for the game today.

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April 17th, 2013, 15:56
Let me put it this way: I'm playing through Fallout: New Vegas (again, because it's that good) and I came across a fan patch that puts a bunch of cut content back into the game. But sometimes that content was cut for a reason, and its release creates room for people to second-guess the creative process. If that's intentional (i.e. a movie released with multiple endings or deleted scenes), so be it, but I don't think that was the case here.
Is that his way of saying the cut content for FO:NV isn't very good?
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April 17th, 2013, 16:25
He seems to ignore that cut content is often cut somply because of time or money constraints, NOT because its not very good.

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April 17th, 2013, 17:19
Originally Posted by blatantninja View Post
He seems to ignore that cut content is often cut somply because of time or money constraints, NOT because its not very good.
Actually, he seems well aware of that, which is why he mentions "but sometimes that content was cut for a reason". I agree with that to be honest. For example, the cut robot factory thingymajig in KotOR2 - overall, it's not a bad experience, but I did find it somewhat boring. It would need a bit of an overhaul to be worth it in my opinion.
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April 17th, 2013, 19:18
Originally Posted by Maylander View Post
Actually, he seems well aware of that, which is why he mentions "but sometimes that content was cut for a reason". I agree with that to be honest. For example, the cut robot factory thingymajig in KotOR2 - overall, it's not a bad experience, but I did find it somewhat boring. It would need a bit of an overhaul to be worth it in my opinion.
No doubt that some content is cut because it is boring, or just doesn't work, but he seems to be saying that ALL content was cut for reasons like that, which clearly is not the case.

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April 17th, 2013, 19:20
Everything that is cut is "cut for a reason". The question is whether or not the reason is good enough.
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April 17th, 2013, 21:09
Not leaving garbage is a good point but I think assets are left on are due to three reasons: first, to maintain copyright. The fact is they're published, just not immediately available; for future use. The developers plans to add the features at a later date; for stability. Scripts and other features may still be pointing at these assets and without them something might break. This last one was a constant problem at my old job. Broken legacy stuff got left alone because of time management priorities. A forth reason may be to allow users have them or fix them.

One of the reasons they didn't allow users to sell their builds or pay to play on their worlds is because they were worried about lawsuits. Apple has now proved the business model is sound and those fears were largely baseless. Apple mainly gets sued for blocking products not the content and for being a monopoly. Any occaisional problem with the products loaded quickly get them taken down. Same with the Android store.

Bio thought the trick was to offer company made free products to encourage users to build content and buy more copies of the game but not only did that prove too expensive users made better content in droves, some of which they assimilated.

Their marketing strategy in the game, as you might have noticed in my interview, was to be the Diablo or Counterstrike of traditional CRPG's. You'll note the actionny play of the game itself and tools like the ones that turned Half Life into Counterstrike.

I would kill to have another NWN. I suggested to the Cryptic Studios people something along the lines of renting server space to host user made PW's but they ignored the question and are determined to keep everyone under the same roof.

Selling user made mods would be a much better strategy IMO (and more honest) then selling keys to mystery lockboxes (lottery/gambling).

Developer of The Wizard's Grave Android game. Discussion Thread:
http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520
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April 17th, 2013, 21:28
If I had either more skills or more money, I'd launch a company to do just that!

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April 18th, 2013, 18:36
There was no such thing as an app store in 2002 when the game released, that idea was around 5 or 6 or so years away.

To monetize user generated content back in 2002 would have caused a huge uproar then and maybe even now. There's a fine line between average user generated content and a proper mod. Not everyone wants to be nickled and dimed to death.


Originally Posted by blatantninja View Post
I think the thing that Atari/Bioware really missed the boat on was monetizing the massive amount of user generated content. Sure they had a few official modules you could buy, but I always figured that they should have done something like an App store where users could create content and then sell it (with them taking a piece of course). Would make a ton of money, plus really encourage some of those more ambitious campaigns to actually get finished.

Of course they would have had to have an approval process to weed out stuff where they didn't have the IP (like the Ultima remakes), but those could still have been released for free as they were.

If they had done that, I think you still could be seeing a lot of active development for the game today.
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April 18th, 2013, 18:56
Originally Posted by Znith View Post
There was no such thing as an app store in 2002 when the game released, that idea was around 5 or 6 or so years away.
While not an app store exactly, they built in place from the beginning a method to sell their own premium modules, so the infrastructure was there.

To monetize user generated content back in 2002 would have caused a huge uproar then and maybe even now. There's a fine line between average user generated content and a proper mod. Not everyone wants to be nickled and dimed to death.
Given the prevelence of freemium games, I'd say the evidence does not support that. There is a line between a good mod and a great mod for sure, but I don't think there would have been an uproar. To be clear, I'm not saying Bioware/Atari would should have sold the user generated mods and taken all the money, but rather had something similar to how the app stores work now with them getting a cut.

I've worked on a handful of mods over the years for different games and I would definitely rather lend my time to something where there was a monetary reward, if for no other reason that the liklihood of it being finished (and in a timely manner) would have gone up exponentially.

I think its just a missed opportunity.

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April 18th, 2013, 23:03
Originally Posted by Znith View Post
There was no such thing as an app store in 2002 when the game released, that idea was around 5 or 6 or so years away.

To monetize user generated content back in 2002 would have caused a huge uproar then and maybe even now. There's a fine line between average user generated content and a proper mod. Not everyone wants to be nickled and dimed to death.
you are partially right, but people were asking if they could be paid for their mods and some unscrupulous individuals were demanding pay to play on servers and for special items which got them shut down. Bio eventually started allowing donations even though it was technically against their EULA. Most servers that took donations did so either with a wink and a nod to the players (favouritism) or the players themselves tried to push their weight around even to the server admins.

The launch of the DLC system was actually controversial as it was against much of the games philosophy until that point. It proved to be quite successful in the pocketbook so we know who won.



On the point about doing a new NWN, a buddy I played with on our server for 11 years had a dream for an OpenMP NWN type system. We had a couple of hours long sessions where we discussed how it could be done. He then sent me a DOC file of the game design.

A year later when I showed him the Unity engine he realized there was almost no point anymore except to maybe make a plugin for it. We started thinking about making adventures for it first, if only to make some cash. Its kind of how my Android app started.

Developer of The Wizard's Grave Android game. Discussion Thread:
http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520
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April 22nd, 2013, 18:44
But yet again there wasn't any such thing as freemium games in 2002. They may have missed the boat back then this wasn't available. You have to think about the time of year, 2002, no smart phones, txting was expensive, and Steam released in Oct 2002 (per Wikipedia). The infrastructure and frame of mind just wasn't present yet…

Originally Posted by blatantninja View Post
Given the prevelence of freemium games, I'd say the evidence does not support that. There is a line between a good mod and a great mod for sure, but I don't think there would have been an uproar. To be clear, I'm not saying Bioware/Atari would should have sold the user generated mods and taken all the money, but rather had something similar to how the app stores work now with them getting a cut.

I've worked on a handful of mods over the years for different games and I would definitely rather lend my time to something where there was a monetary reward, if for no other reason that the liklihood of it being finished (and in a timely manner) would have gone up exponentially.

I think its just a missed opportunity.
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April 22nd, 2013, 18:53
Originally Posted by Znith View Post
But yet again there wasn't any such thing as freemium games in 2002.
My point isn't that there were freemium games, but that the public is not opposed to them. They aren't now and there is no reason to think they would be then.

They may have missed the boat back then this wasn't available.
They had a method in place to sell content online. They chose to limit it to their own modules only.

You have to think about the time of year, 2002, no smart phones, txting was expensive, and Steam released in Oct 2002 (per Wikipedia). The infrastructure and frame of mind just wasn't present yet…
They had the infrastructure (you don't need smartphones texting or steam for this). They had an obviously passionate and talented group of fans willing to create content. I thought they should do this in that time period and I am no genius. No reason someone inside the company shouldn't have had the same thought.

That other people were not doing it yet is irrelevent. They could have been the trailblazer, but instead missed the boat.

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