E3 2011 is underway and plenty of upcoming games, like Cryptic Studios' Neverwinter, are being shown. Despite the fact that Cryptic was recently acquired by free-to-play game publisher Perfect World, Neverwinter is still being published by Atari (which still has the rights to publish Dungeons & Dragons-licensed games), though the actual game isn't being shown at the convention. Instead, an updated version of the Foundry toolset, which debuted in Star Trek Online in what producer Andy Velasquez described as a "version 0.1 beta state," was shown. The Cryptic staffer suggested that Neverwinter's version of Foundry will be much more robust and went on to fire up the engine to give us a demonstration.
The toolset in Neverwinter will let users start building their own custom adventure using one of four different building blocks: story, map, dialogue, or costumes. Story is the conceptual backbone of the game's user-generated content and can be built by stringing together dialogue sequences (which you write) arranged any way you like. These include multiple options in a dialogue tree and "fail states" that may end the conversation prematurely. You can write branching dialogue tree options or string them together by dragging them back into the same sequence. For instance, you can create a dialogue situation where no matter what you say to a hostile enemy, it attacks you.
If story is the conceptual backbone of the game's UGC, maps are the structural backbone. The updated Foundry map editor seems quite powerful and easy enough to use. While you can craft your own rooms, the editor will also come with dozens of preset rooms that you can drag and drop into your maps, connecting them by lining up their doorways. Better still, the editor will let you test out the dialogues and maps you've built by hopping into and out of a live mode to see what they look like in action. We watched Velasquez put together a simple dungeon full of undead in about 15 minutes, and what we ended up with was what looked like an actual adventure or, at least, a small portion of one. More interestingly, Neverwinter will let you integrate your custom content with the persistent, out-of-the-box content that Cryptic is building with the game, such as by keying up one of your custom quests from a dialogue with a guard from the city of Nevewinter proper.
Unfortunately, no actual gameplay was shown from the final game, but Velasquez did share some story details. Apparently, Neverwinter will take place in the fictitious year 1479 DR (that's Dale Reckoning, fellow Forgotten Realms aficionados). It's about 100 years after the time period usually explored in previous Forgotten Realms games (such as the previous Neverwinter Nights games) and in licensed novels, such as R.A. Salvatore's Icewind Dale Trilogy. The world has undergone The Cataclysm, which is an event that has caused magic to seep out of the world and triggered natural disasters, such as the volcano eruption that leveled the city of Neverwinter. At the start of the game, a noble lord from Waterdeep has sanctioned the rebuilding of Neverwinter, and your character arrives to help with the reconstruction efforts.
We still don't know much about the in-box game that Cryptic is crafting for Neverwinter, but it's clear that the game will have powerful tools, which will let dedicated users create plenty of new content. Neverwinter is scheduled to ship later this year.