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David Ray Interview

I had the pleasure and honor to ask a few questions of David Ray of Black Isle Studio, Programmer for Icewind Dale.

Icewind Dale, of course, is the dungeon-crawlers / hack-and-slash player's dream game based on the Infinity engine from BioWare. From large creatures to poison undead to new magic items, this game promises hours of monster-killing fun. With no protagonist in the way to spoil the fun if one PC dies, the battles should be hard fought and extremely enjoyable.

- MageDragon (posted May 4, 2000)

How did you end up in the gaming industry?

I've been programming since I was 10 years old, and writing games was what I always wanted to do with my life. However, it is incredibly difficult to get into this industry, because most programmers would like to do it, and there just aren't that many positions. So I did a 7-year stint in the aerospace industry, and got my big break shortly before the release of Windows 95. I had been using and programming Windows 95 since the later half of 93 and that was just the experience they were looking for. My first game programming job was for Dynamix, a division of Sierra.

What was the hardest game project you have been involved with?

I was the lead programmer for a game called Ten Pin Alley. This program was written from scratch on an 8 month development schedule. That really wasn't enough time for the complexity of the project. We couldn't even decide on whether it should be 3D, 2D, or a mish mash of the two for the first 2 months, leaving only 6 months to really write the game. We did do it, but it was rather painful.

Since hind site is 20/20, what would you have done differently to make it easier - if anything?

Had the project had a full year development cycle everything probably would have been fine. Schedules are one of the bigger problems in this industry.

What was the easiest game project you have been involved with?

Probably the Baseball games that I worked on in Interplay Sports prior to moving over to Black Isle Studios. Those games were pretty straightforward.

You are stuck on an elevator overnight with Noober from Baldur's Gate, when the doors are finally opened to let you out, in what condition would they find Noober?

There would be no trace of him, at all.

What projects have you been involved with since working at Black Isle Studios?

I've only been involved with Icewind Dale since transferring to Black Isle Studios a little over a year ago. Prior to transferring I worked in the Interplay Sports division for two years.

Icewind Dale is using a Infinity Engine modified since Baldur's Gate. Did Black Isle Studios do the modifications or BioWare?

A little of both. We have a very symbiotic relationship with Bioware. We write code, they write code, and it all combines to make both of our games better.

Large creatures, such as Cyclops, in Icewind Dale: hard to fight or just eye candy?

Very hard to fight, but not just because of their size. Changing the actual size of the creatures, from an engine stand point, is just eye candy. These large creatures that we chose just aren't easy to fight anyways. They have a lot of hit dice, and they hit really hard.

What is the first step in programming a game such as Icewind Dale (For instance, start with a GUI and throw a PC in to see if he moves around correctly?)

Well Icewind Dale is kind of different in the fact that we started with a working engine. Most projects don't get that luxury. Our first step was to try and make a new area with entirely new creatures and try to walk around. That took longer than any of us expected, there was a significant learning curve for us to understand the engine. The Infinity Engine is by no means simple.

You are in Burger King having it "your" way. How did you order your Whopper?

No pickle, no mayo, everything else. And lot's and lot's of caffinated beverage. I'm surprised you didn't ask me a question about sushi. [ed. David would eat sushi four times a day if he could afford it]

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