Neverwinter: An Interview
In 2002 Bioware and Atari released their version of the long awaited Neverwinter Nights and I was not immediately hooked. With its seeming emphasis on multiplayer and Icewind Dale 2 just around the corner I was far more interested in the latter. But IWD2 ended in three weeks for me and my buddy was still playing NWN. So one day I finally joined him..and WOW!
What started there was a whirlwind rebirth of role playing I hadn't done since I was a teenager, followed by Dungeon Mastering like I never had done before, followed by hosting and learning to become a network whiz, then building, and finally renewing my love for programming - which again I hadn't done since I was a teenager. For the next few six years I was hooked - it got me in trouble at work and has lead to me getting a master's degree in computer science.
Rumours abounded last year about the next version of the series and whispers suggested it would be a MMOG.
And in August this was confirmed..sort of. Atari's Cryptic Studios has been working on the project and lead designer Jack Emmert began a whirlwind of interviews.
Among the questions asked and answered (and I apologize to Jack if I've paraphrased them wrong)...
Will it be a MMOG? No, he said. He calls it an Online Multiplayer Game (OMG) and what distinguishes this is the emphasis on story and the fact that its a Co-Op party game with no Player vs Player.
Will people be able to play solo without a network - or even play on a LAN? Solo play is possible but all play will be online. The game is meant for multiple players and a solo player could compensate for this by hiring henchmen.
What is the game modelled after? Will it be like Star Trek Online or Champions which didn't receive universal critical praise? The game will be most like Borderlands in style of play, Oblivion in size freedom, and Dragon Age in story. They've learned their lessons from problems and reactions the former two.
Will it have a toolset like NWN1 and NWN2? Yes, its working name is Forge.
What rules will it use? 4th Edition
What classes are playable? Wizard, Fighter, Rogue, Ranger, Cleric, which represent the Archetypes in 4e. More will be added after release.
What races? Human, elf, dwarf and a surprise race.
What monsters will we see? As many of the standard D&D as players are familiar with.
Will players be able to customize their characters? Definitely, it will be similar to City of Heroes which is well noted for character creation.
Why Neverwinter and not NWN3? The game is a sequel for sure but its also a tie in to a new book series by RA Salvatore of the same name. Events take place 100 years after the events in the first two games.
With these questions answered in several places I endeavored to ask the questions a NWN enthusiast would ask and still be relevant to a broader audience - particular to the aging, turn based combat, tile based, isometric, slow plodding conversation, moral dilemma choices loving group huddled around the camp fires of RPGWatch.
RPGWatch: Were you a fan of any of the three previous Neverwinter Nights? If so, how much did you play and in the case of the latter two, did you do anything outside of the actual Official Campaign (did you play multiplayer or solo)? Did you try the toolsets or work with haks or the DM client?
Jack Emmert: I played the first a lot, the second less so. I played entirely solo. I found the toolsets a bit beyond my abilities, but I really was impressed with what could be done with them.
RPGWatch: What have been your favourite games? Are you a fan of traditional cRPGs, action RPGs, jRPGs, sci-fi RPGs or have MMOGs been your favourite?
Jack Emmert: Tough question - I'd say my favorite games are pretty eclectic. My favorite game of all time is Starcraft, though I don't consider myself a RTS player. I've played a lot of RPG's and, of course, a ton of MMORPG's. Nowadays, I like games like Arkham Asylum or Force Unleashed.
RPGWatch: What do you think AOL, Bioware and Obsidian did right and what did they do wrong in their versions?
Jack Emmert: Obviously, both games sport great storylines and RPG combat. Personally, I think their user generated content tools were too difficult for the average fan, but that's my own take.
RPGWatch: How is your relationship with Wizards of the Coast and the approval process? Since Cryptic Studios is wholly owned by Atari are you "The Decider" now or do you still need to send it up to your parent company?
Jack Emmert: We work with WotC every week on the game, its storylines, its assets, etc. We pretty much decide everything that's in the game between Cryptic and WoTC.
RPGWatch: Many of our readers are in Australia. What about non-English and foreign versions of the game? Will there be a simultaneous launch? Will foreign players be able to log into other country's servers?
Jack Emmert: At this stage, I don't really have any information on that.
RPGWatch: Why just Neverwinter? Why no more Nights? ;)
Jack Emmert: I suppose we wanted to demonstrate that while we're remaining faithful to the IP, we're also trying to do something new.
RPGWatch: What about NPC companions, similar to Baldur's Gate? Will there be party dynamics and relationships?
Jack Emmert: Players can hire henchmen as NPC allies throughout their adventures. We haven't installed any sort of party dynamic systems, though we have talked about it.
RPGWatch: Are there consequences to players' choices and do they affect the players throughout the game? Will there be some sort of Karma score?
Jack Emmert: We do want players to make significant contributions to the game world, so certain actions will make changes to the environment.
RPGWatch: Will there be multiple ways to resolve the same quest, such as combat, speaking abilities or through stealth and so on?
Jack Emmert: At the very least, you'll need to utilize lots of different systems in order to accomplish quests.
RPGWatch: Will we see Drizzt? Drow can live for several hundred years, I believe. How about Aribeth, Tomi Undergallows or Deekin?
Jack Emmert: Afraid that's still top secret.
RPGWatch: What stage of development are you in? Have you started coding?
Jack Emmert: Full on production. Making content as close to shippable as possible.
RPGWatch: What involvement, if any, is Salvatore involved in the project and will there be any book crossover?
Jack Emmert: We worked closely with WotC to weave Salvatore's upcoming Neverwinter trilogy into the background of the game.
RPGWatch: Do the 4e rules require modification for real time computer play the way 3e did?
Jack Emmert: Certainly. WoTC has been great; they stress that they want to see fun above and beyond pure faithfulness to 4th edition rules. We've made changes, of course. For example, many powers in 4th edition deal with moving foes several or more squares away. Naturally, this works well with a miniatures focused game, but not so well in a real time situation. So we've made changes here and there.
RPGWatch: How will you prevent cheating? Will there be a difference between server side characters and local ones? Will there be such a thing as local characters players can take to any game?
Jack Emmert: All characters are stored on our servers. There's no such thing as a local character.
RPGWatch: Will players be able to queue up their actions beforehand?
Jack Emmert: To a limited degree. A player can queue his next attack, but that's it.
RPGWatch: How is death in general handled? What is the penalty for dying? Will players still die if they have one companion left?
Jack Emmert: Currently, a player can either respawn at a point or can choose to wait for their teammates to rouse them. Nothing is set in stone with a death penalty yet.
RPGWatch: What spells, weapon and armor types are available?
Jack Emmert: We're taking our spells, weapons and armor types straight out of the 4th edition books. We're providing the full breadth of options.
RPGWatch: What monster types will we meet? Will they be scaled?
Jack Emmert: We're trying to get the monsters into the game that are most associated with D&D and Neverwinter. I'm not sure what "scaled" means.
RPGWatch: Will we see cloaks and horses, and will players be able to fly or climb? If players can ride, is mounted combat possible?
Jack Emmert: Cloaks yes, horses unlikely. Flight and climb aren't planned for initial release.
RPGWatch: Will Player versus Player be possible?
Jack Emmert: Not at launch.
RPGWatch: Can private areas be run without the person who initialized it being logged in or the client not running? Will there be standalone servers?
Jack Emmert: Yes. A player can create content that can be played at any time by whoever the player designates.
RPGWatch: Will it be possible to buy housing, build fortresses or store gold?
Jack Emmert: Not at launch.
The Forge Toolset
RPGWatch: What tools are in Forge? Will it be tilebased or have adjustable terrain?
Jack Emmert: Forge is a version of our internal development tools. Honestly, we're still looking at how players will manipulate the terrain. Right now, players select preset rooms and terrain. Afterwards, the player populates the area with encounters, NPC's, etc. We've got a lot of time before launch and we want to get this into a closed beta ASAP. We want to get feedback on what the users want!
RPGWatch: Will creators require other users to have custom content preloaded? Will there be a need to download walkmeshes and haks for example?
Jack Emmert: No, we host all patches and provide all content.
RPGWatch: Will toolset users be able to script and will they have access to the game's scripts such as AI?
Jack Emmert: At the moment, we're still discussing that. Philosophically, we want to give the players as many controls as possible.
RPGWatch: You said it's very unlikely there will be a DM client. Will it be possible to create a Pseudo-DM with Forge?
Jack Emmert: It should be very easy to add some very simple DM tools. For example: DM is non targetable, let them set the spawn size, kill guys w/o rewards, set health, etc. The NWN1 tools don't do a whole lot more than this.
RPGWatch: What about future expansions? Have the DLC issues like with the Mysteries of Westgate been worked out, or will Atari be using a different system altogether, such as Steam?
Jack Emmert: We'll be supporting Neverwinter with ongoing content each month, just like we do with our current MMORPG's, Star Trek Online and Champions Online. We haven't announced our business or distribution plans for that.
RPGWatch: Is there anything you'd like to add that hasn't been brought up in other interviews?
Jack Emmert: We'll be reaching out to the Neverwinter community to help us in beta improve our tools and features. A lot of great work has been done with the previous products and we want those people to help make the new Neverwinter everything it can be.
Thanks to Jack and Cryptic studios for answering our questions, Lucky Day for the interview and Corwin for his assistance.