An Interview with Frank Kowalkowski of Obsidian Entertainment
Joseeph Cousineau of Winterwind Productions recently had the chance to grab Frank Kowalkowski of Obsidian, pin him down and force him to answer 20 questions.
Winterwind: Hello, FrankK. *clears his throat* Who're you?
Frank Kowalkowski: I am Frank Kowalkowski, Lead Programmer on Neverwinter Nights 2. I have never uttered the words ‘Lightning Bolt’ while hurling marshmallows at anyone wearing an ice cream carton on their head. On second thought, maybe I should say I have not RECENTLY done that...
WW: Are you who you want to be?
FK: I always wanted to lead a race of tireless, intelligent undead, being a vampire lord or something. This is pretty close to that—except the programmers eat pizza instead of human flesh. And most of them are smarter than me.
WW: You may recall Baldur's Gate, good game. Why was it cancelled for the Dreamcast? *sniffs*
FK: I know nothing of this.
WW: Anything while you were working at BIS that didn't make it into a release that you were sad to see get cut?
FK: This is really a ‘pull up a chair’ type of question. Looking back on Dark Alliance 2, we got just about every major feature we wanted to into the game. I just wish we’d had a week to balance the game in difficulty and in character development. Mordoc was never supposed to be the end-boss either. We wound up cutting the last act of the game and rewriting the story. Dave (the lead designer) actually made provisions in the script for that potential outcome and thus, there were really two stories scripted and voiced for the game.
WW: How about easter eggs, any of those get cut?
FK: We had plans to include the original three characters in DA2 as playable once you rescued them from the Keep of Pale Night. Because we included a whole new animation system, it would have required the original characters to all be re-animated and we simply didn’t have the time to do it.
WW: I have ADD and lysdexia. What was your reaction to Neverwinter Nights (NWN) when it was released?
FK: I played it all the way through as a Ranger and then played the expansions. I also designed my own mods under a pseudonym and had a couple of job offers for design positions from guys who had played them.
WW: What did you feel needed improvement?
FK: I think that BioWare did an excellent job on delivering a customizable game that truly allowed the end-user to craft their own adventure. It did what it needed to do very well. I feel that given the lengthy development schedule, they were forced to either constantly re-do the artwork or settle for a game where some models might be a little lower poly than they liked. It still looked good for the release.
WW: Do you feel that NWN 2 will polish that up?
FK: Graphically, we will be competitive because we are developing our assets very close to the release date of the game. We also have several more years of technology to draw from. I think that will be the biggest change players notice. Sure there will be dozens of gameplay alterations, but the graphics will be what makes people realize this is not the grandparent’s NWN.
WW: How about what the cRPG fans thought about the flaws in NWN, will NWN 2 improve on those?
FK: Well, if you talk to a dozen cRPG fans, they will give you opinions on a dozen different things they find wrong with any game. The fans are a knowledgeable bunch and we realize that. We will design NWN2 to be the game we want it to be, keeping in mind we play these kinds of games every day.
WW: NWN was a huge success, especially for Multiplayer. Don't you agree?
FK: I don’t have any hard numbers that suggest how many people played online, but I do know I enjoyed playing the game online with my friends. That’s a success to me.
WW: Speaking of success, I think Baldur's Gate would've done well on the Dreamcast. How far was it from complete? Hopefully not as far as Half-Life?
FK: Again, I’m not sure what you are referring to. It may have been before my stint at BIS.
WW: I love my Dreamcast. What consoles do you own?
FK: Xbox and Gamecube.
WW: Do you play your console(s) online?
FK: I played several Live! titles online. Rainbow Six could keep me up way past my bedtime and ensure bloodshot eyes for weeks to come at work.
WW: Do you play NWN online?
FK: I do not play NWN online anymore. I played quite a bit back in the day. Darren Monahan (our Producer and co-owner of Obsidian) had a mean little badger that he’d bust out on all those unsuspecting Kobolds. To this day I’ll cross the street whenever I see an unruly rodent/small-mammal.
WW: Describe *your* opinion on a Developer's Forums, i.e., Obsidian Forums, BioWare Forums, Capcom Forums, etc.
FK: I love the forums. When I am not overwhelmed with work I like to communicate with the fans. I used to surf the BIS boards in the Fallout days, so I understand that being able to converse with the developers is vital for both fans and game makers alike.
WW: How often do you wish you could reach through your monitor and punch a few forum members in the face?
FK: Every day. That Brian Lawson (NWN2’s Graphics Programmer) guy just can’t keep his fingers to himself.
WW: What are some other cruel things you wish you could've done to one of those pains in the ass?
FK: You have to have a thick skin to work in the games industry, so forum posts don’t really rile us up too badly. We really appreciate the positive comments people make that help us understand what it is the community desires.
WW: Are you going to Hell, or don't you believe in it?
FK: Been there. Got the Soul Cube. Saved Mars.
WW: You have completed the Crazy Joe's 20 random questions. How do you feel?
FK: 20 questions closer to death.
WW: Good-bye Frank. Hope to see you on a NWN2 PW server in a year and a half, and thank you.
Winterwind would like to thank FrankK, Obsidian and Atari for their assistance with this interview.