Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide Q&A

BioWare and Infogrames will announce two new expansion packs to Neverwinter Nights tomorrow, but we've got details on them today.

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The long-awaited Neverwinter Nights was finally released earlier this year, and for role-playing game fans everywhere, it was certainly worth the wait. It combined BioWare's masterful storytelling ability with a beautiful new 3D engine, along with the latest 3rd Edition rules for Dungeons & Dragons. Soon after the game's release, however, BioWare started talking about supporting Neverwinter Nights with a future expansion pack.

Tomorrow, the Edmonton-based developer will announce not one, but two add-ons for this ambitious role-playing game. The first one is called Shadows of Undrentide, and it's being codeveloped with FloodGate Entertainment, which is composed of many ex-Looking Glass designers. To find out more, we sat down with Paul Neurath and Rick Ernst, creative director and lead designer at FloodGate, respectively, as well as BioWare's joint CEOs and coexecutive producers on the project, the good doctors Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk. You can find out more about the second expansion in a separate 2898740interview .

GameSpot: The announcement of an official expansion to Neverwinter Nights comes as little surprise, since you've always stated your intentions to expand upon the core game. What are the biggest changes that players can expect from this expansion?

Paul Neurath: Well, we're really not trying to change the game so much as expand it. The initial Neverwinter Nights game covers a lot of ground, but even so, the Forgotten Realms is an amazingly rich fantasy world. Most everyone who's played Neverwinter Nights has a favorite monster, spell, or weapon that they'd like to see added to the game. So what we're doing with Shadows of Undrentide expansion is adding a stack of new material and then building a new campaign to show it all off. The biggest additions would have to be the three new tilesets we've cooked up, a winter version of the rural tileset, plus a new desert and ruins tileset.

Ray Muzyka: Definitely, we've always planned to build and expand on the original game. One of the things that we have found at BioWare over the years is that our sequels and expansion packs are usually even better than the original game. This is because our teams are experienced using the tools, and we have tools and design frameworks available to use that allow our designers and artists to make progressively more complicated and interesting content. We're looking forward to this partnership with FloodGate on the first expansion pack to Neverwinter Nights. It will set the groundwork for the second expansion, which is also in development, exclusively at BioWare.

GS: What does the title "Shadows of Undrentide" refer to?

Rick Ernst: In the Forgotten Realms there was once a nation of powerful wizards called Netheril. So great was Netherese magic that they lived in massive cities that would float through the air. Unchecked ambition destroyed their civilization and sent their cities crashing into the ground (doesn't it always?). Generations later the ruined cities are still filled with powerful magics and fell beasts. Undrentide is one of these cities.

GS: Will players be able to import their high-level Neverwinter Nights characters into the game, or will they start over with a new character in the expansion?

PN: 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons has a built-in level cap at 20th level. Since most people who've played through the original campaign have hit that cap (or nearly so), the expansion campaign is intended to start from first level with a new generation of adventurers. However, the expansion is broken into three chapters and designed such that a player could start the game at the beginning of either the second or third chapter with a preexisting midlevel character.

Greg Zeschuk: Exactly. The first expansion is intended as more of a lower- to midlevel adventure, while the second expansion is aimed at mid- to higher-level characters.

GS: Will the hireling system remain as is, or will players have control over more characters this time around?

RE: We're sticking with the dynamic-duo style of play for Shadows of Undrentide. That being said, we're adding a number of improvements to the henchmen themselves. We're working on allowing the player more control over a henchman's actions, and we're giving the henchmen a more active role by allowing them to interject with criticism or advice. The goal is to give your one henchman more character.

RM: In addition to the design wizardry of FloodGate, the programmers at BioWare are working to implement several improvements to the henchman system, some of which will be in the first expansion, and some of which will be in the second expansion (mainly because some features will take longer to develop). One other important addition in the first expansion (no promises until we implement it) is that we're hoping to be able to allow players to access their henchman's inventory, and we plan to continue to build further enhancements to henchmen in the second expansion.

GS: Neverwinter Nights met with some criticism because of the campaign's relative ease. Will Shadows of Undrentide be a more challenging adventure?

PN: One of the things we're trying to do with the campaign is keep it more focused, with fewer side quests and more emphasis on the plot line. Because of this we have a better idea of what level players will have reached at a given point in the game. This should help us tweak the difficulty of the major encounters. There are also a number of quests that have more than one path to completion, and they won't all be equally easy. Anyone hoping to maintain a lawful good alignment may have some tough choices to make, though they'll find it rewarding if they keep the faith.

GZ: We definitely wanted Neverwinter Nights to be accessible to the mainstream player, but we also provided ways for the hard-core players to be challenged (difficulty settings, for example). With our expansion packs our goal is to grow the audience for Neverwinter even larger.

GS: Will the character level cap be raised? What can we expect in the way of new skills, feats, or even character classes?

RE: Raising the 20th level cap would require implementation of elements from Wizards of the Coast's Epic Level Handbook, which was beyond the scope of what we were planning with Shadows of Undrentide. Even so, we're adding a heap of new feats and spells and a couple of skills as well. Fighters will be happy to see the inclusion of great cleave and dirty fighting, and we've also negotiated for the addition of a certain line of spells from a wizard named Bigby. Shadows of Undrentide will also see our first craft skill, and we're very interested to see how it is received. As for character classes, Shadows of Undrentide will see the debut of prestige classes to Neverwinter Nights.

RM: The programmers at BioWare will definitely be implementing the feats, spells, skills, and prestige classes that Paul mentions above for the first expansion, but epic levels are something that we're hoping to be able to deal with comprehensively in the second expansion pack. We'll reveal more details on that later.

GS: What kind of new monsters will we be up against?

PN: Really, how much fun would new spells and feats be without beasties to try 'em out on, eh? Well one of the additions we've added to Shadows of Undrentide is a petrification effect, so naturally we're adding some petrifying monsters, including the dread basilisk and everyone's favorite evil chicken, the cockatrice. Since we're adding a new desert environment, we have to include some desert monsters to occupy it, so players will be able to face down a sphinx and a horde of stingers (scorpion-men). One of our favorite additions to the monster roster would be wyrmling--very young dragons. And on a not-entirely unrelated note, players will also have access to a couple of new familiars and an animal companion. We'll also be making use of the monsters that BioWare's live team has been working on, including the much-maligned kobold.

GS: What kind of new loot or new magic can we expect to run into?

RE: Ah yes, loot! Well, we'll need wands and staves charged up with our new spells (watch out for a wand that looks like a back-scratcher--it belongs to that Bigby fellow) and new armor and weapons to take full advantage of our new feats and skills--Boots of Tumbling, Arrows of Petrification--plus powerful sets of armor and weapons wielded by legendary heroes. And for our low-level buddies, we're adding a new nonmagic weapon to their arsenal, grenadelike weapons, so you can wade into battle with a bandoleer of holy water, alchemist's fire, or caltrops.

GS: This project is being codeveloped by BioWare and FloodGate. Can you tell us about this partnership and give us some background on the codeveloper?

RM: We're very excited to be working in partnership with another developer to develop a project--it's not something that we've done before, but it's something that we'll likely be doing more of in the future. Accordingly, we've chosen FloodGate very carefully, based largely on the experience of their team--a large number of the people there have come from Looking Glass, a company we had a lot of respect for. We'll be working closely with them--BioWare is doing the programming work on this first expansion, and FloodGate is doing the design and art (which BioWare is providing commentary and suggestions on as well). We're looking forward to seeing the results of this partnership.

PN: FloodGate is a relatively new studio, but the team has deep roots in the game industry, including a number of folks who were key developers on such classics as Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief. All of us are huge fans of Neverwinter Nights, and we are thrilled to help grow this franchise. In our partnership with BioWare, we are providing the design, art, and audio for the expansion, while BioWare is adding the technical (programming) wizardry.

GS: Anything else you'd like to add about Shadows of Undrentide?

RE: It's been great to work on a project where we can build from the solid groundwork of the original Neverwinter Nights game and the Aurora toolset, allowing us to focus on all the fun bits!

GS: Thanks for your time.

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