Kevin Saunders recently served as the Lead Designer for Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer and today we have an interview with him where we learn about his job, Obsidian and how he got to where he is.
Answers by Kevin Saunders (Lead Designer, NWN2 Mask of the Betrayer)
Questions by Suzie “Kalia” Ford
WarCry: Can you introduce yourself and give readers an idea of your responsibilities at Obsidian and on NWN 2: Mask of the Betrayer?
Kevin Saunders: Hi! My name’s Kevin and I’m the lead designer and producer for NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer (NX1).
WarCry: What is your gaming background? Have you always had an interest in gaming and RPGs?
Kevin Saunders: Yes, and I imagine my gaming background is similar to that of many of your readers. I started playing basic D&D when I was 4 or 5. I loved games like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin for the Intellivision. The Bard’s Tale, Zork, Wizardry, Phantasie, Ultima, “Gold Box” D&D titles, etc. were all a big part of my childhood. I loved Stuart Smith’s Adventure Construction Set.
I missed a whole generation of great games in the early and mid-90s when I was in college. Those days I mostly just played chess online.
WarCry: What has been the single biggest influence on your gaming life? Are there any books or tabletop games that inspire you as you work on NWN 2?
Kevin Saunders: My older brother, Bruce, first introduced me to D&D and has had a huge influence on my life. Another major contributor was my high school Pascal and chemistry teacher, Vin King. He introduced me to my first play-by-mail game, Hyborian War. It was through play-by-mail games that I ultimately found my first MMORPG love, Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, which led to my first game industry job, a game director position some eight years ago.
WarCry: What games have been your favorites in the past?
Kevin Saunders: I think Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is one of the best designed computer games, successfully bringing story and atmosphere to a turn-based strategy game.
WarCry: Do you have time for or interest in any gaming at all during a development cycle? If so, what games do you play?
Kevin Saunders: I find that my work satisfies a lot of my computer gaming desires. Why play someone else’s game when I can invest that energy into making the game I’m working on better? Though I really need to play games more so that I can better keep up with our rapidly evolving industry. I very recently started Titan Quest for the first time.
Outside of computer games, I play some Living Greyhawk as well as another D&D campaign. I also play both competitive and cooperative board games, like Power Grid and Junta.
WarCry: How did you come to be employed at Obsidian? Did you start as a night janitor and work your way up or just land in the big bucks slot right away?
Kevin Saunders: I joined Obsidian over three years ago as a senior designer on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. I’d previously worked mostly on MMOGs or RTSs (or both!) and was interested in getting involved in role-playing games. I hadn’t actually played many Black Isle games, but I was familiar with their reputation and had respect for the owners after interviewing with them. I also liked the idea of working for a smaller company where I could really contribute.
For KotOR2, I did some work on Nar Shadda, but was more involved on the systems side of design, working on the items and crafting, creature auto-balancing, influence system – things like that. I was the lead designer on project “New Jersey,” which was never announced, and then helped with finishing up NWN2 over its last six months or so.
WarCry: Do you have a cot at the OE offices for those long days during development? What’s a typical work day like for you?
Kevin Saunders: No, no cot. Though I did have one at my first job in the industry. Back then I couldn’t afford a car and would walk four miles to work each day. So some days the walk home was too much and I’d sleep at work. My boss got me an inflatable mattress.
My day tends to start early – I’m generally at work between 5 and 8 AM. I use the morning hours to get design work done or to get caught up on email when I have to. Once the day gets going around 10, work generally involves answering a lot of emails and questions. Much of that involves facilitating communication among the team members so that everyone is aware of everything relevant to them doing their job. I also correspond with Larry Liberty, our Atari producer quite a bit.
WarCry: Do you ever get time off? If so, what do you like to do with that free time—remember this is a family rated interview!
Kevin Saunders: Well, Obsidian is very good about not demanding extra work from people. We do tend to work a lot, of course, but the motivation comes from within, from our desire to make the best game we can. I’ll be taking quite a bit of time off after NX1 is finished, but I don’t foresee much free time until then. There’s too much I want to accomplish.
WarCry: If you weren’t in the room, what would the other OE guys and gals say about you? Do they have one of “those” stories they could tell about you? If so, what is it? Remember, if you don’t spill the beans, we’ll dig up someone who will.
Kevin Saunders: I’m really pretty low key and boring, so I’m not sure how many interesting stories you’d get. I might be most known, among the “older” Obsidianites, for an impassioned speech I gave during a team meeting toward the end of KotOR2.
WarCry: Is there anything else you’d like to let readers in on?
Kevin Saunders: I’m not sure what they’d most like to know… hmm… how about something off-topic? If you’re single, give online dating a try. I’m a big advocate of it. It takes a while to get used to, so don’t give up right away. I’ve been on maybe 150 first dates and even the worst ones were worthwhile if only to learn more about myself and others. Though now I’ve met the woman for me and will be getting married later this year.
What do you think? Let us know in the comment thread.