Neverwinter Nights First Impression

Neverwinter Nights adds multiplayer party-based gaming to a story-driven adventure to re-create a pen-and-paper role-playing experience.

BioWare and Black Isle demonstrated their upcoming multiplayer role-playing game, Neverwinter Nights, and though the game is still a year away from being released, many aspects of the game looked impressive. The developers have added some innovative features, including a multiplayer mode that allows up to 64 players per server, and allows multiple servers to be connected as well. The game features an easy-to-use level builder that allows the player to quickly create custom maps, complete with buildings, trees, streets, monsters, non-player characters, bottomless pits, and more. The dungeon master mode allows one player to create and control a custom adventure, which can become a persistent world if desired.

The story-based campaign included in the game features 28 module-size adventures, each around four hours long. The game is based in the Forgotten Realms world, and uses 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. Fifteen tile sets will be included in the game; the tile sets we saw in the demonstration included crypt, town, deep forest, dungeon, and rural. Each tile set has a unique appearance and objects, all of which can be used in the level builder to create custom modules. In addition, over 60 monster models will be included, which can be further customized by tweaking their statistics. The game will include 2000 player models, which can be further individualized through character portraits, equipment, and armor, to create a unique character.

The game interface is all transparent, and allows the player to make inventory changes, access spells, equip items, and interact with other players and non-player characters all from the game screen. The third-person view is centered on the player's character and can be zoomed in and out and rotated 360 degrees by using the arrow keys. The Aurora engine used in the game is based on the Omen engine that was used in MDK 2, and features source lighting and dynamic, accurate shadows. The realism of the lighting effects were displayed in the demonstration, as a character carrying a torch walked around another character, making the shadows on the screen rotate and stretch according to the location of the torch. The rendering used in the game is also impressive. At full-zoom on the camera, reflections were noticeable on parts of armor, while the cloth underneath remained matte. A shield that included metal and wood sections also displayed this material-specific reflectivity. Even the character's hair had a slight sheen.

The multiplayer game will allow interesting role-playing options. In the demonstration a cleric came upon a man in a green cloak that claimed to have been assaulted by an ogre. The cleric healed the man in exchange for being led to the location of the ogre. After fighting and defeating the ogre, the man, who turned out to be a thief, backstabbed the cleric and took the treasure. Since each person controls a separate character, each character will have individual motives, so with up to 64 players on a single server a wide variety of interaction is possible. The server linking uses magic portals to transport characters between servers. Each character can look through the portal to see what type of server is on the other side, for instance, if the server allows player killing, the character levels allowed, the races allowed, and so forth.

The variety of play offered by Neverwinter Nights, coupled with the DM-controlled multiplayer possibilities, looks like it will bring computer role-playing games a few steps closer to the pen-and-paper. Black Isle and Bioware expect to release Neverwinter Nights in the middle of 2001.

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