We visited the BioWare booth and watched producer Trent Oster show off the latest build of the company's ambitious new project, Neverwinter Nights. Neverwinter Nights won't just be a game--though it'll feature a comprehensive single-player game that lets you play through authentic Dungeons & Dragons scenarios, it'll also let you create and host your own online game sessions with up to 60 other players.
The entire demonstration showed how easy Neverwinter Nights will make designing, building, and playing through dungeons. At the beginning of the session, BioWare staffers built a simple dungeon from scratch using the built-in editor. The editor bears a strong resemblance to Microsoft Windows' interface; it has several pull-down menus and hotkeys and lets you build dungeon chambers, lava pits, and narrow catwalks by simply clicking and dragging. The editor lets you build dungeon, outdoor, and city areas by simply selecting texture types and dragging open tile-based areas, without having to worry about texture seams or other graphical problems. And although the editor's default view is a plain top-down 2D representation of the areas you've created, that view is in fact a zoomed-out look at the actual 3D area, so you can zoom in and out and pan and rotate the camera to see exactly how your work is progressing.
The editor seemed extremely simple--until we were shown the game's vast libraries for configuring items, weapons, armor, and nonplayer character and monster scripts. Neverwinter Nights will feature a great many different texture sets with which to decorate your scenarios. It'll also feature a gigantic reserve of different weapon and armor models, textures, and properties, so you'll be able to choose your characters' clothes, armor, body tattoos, and even the color of the flames on their magic swords. And since the game will use the extremely flexible 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules, it'll let you generate your characters' ability scores using a balanced point-buying system (rather than rerolling the numbers repeatedly) and will let you choose from preset character "packages" (similar to the specialized character kits in Baldur's Gate II) or simply customize your character using the many different heroic feats you can give to it.
In addition, Neverwinter Nights will let you customize the behavior of any monsters and nonplayer characters in your scenarios with a powerful scripting language based on the C programming language. You'll be able to make the characters in your dungeons interact with players using complex dialogue trees, or only speak preferentially to dwarves, or attack elves on sight, or burst into flames when defeated. And once you've created your especially interesting nonplayer character, or especially challenging enemy monster, you'll be able to upload that character to the Internet so that other users can incorporate those characters into new adventures.
Neverwinter Nights has looked more impressive each time we've seen it. It's scheduled for release later this year.