Neverwinter Nights 2 Designer Diary #3 - Designing an Epic, Flexible Story

Senior designer and creative director Chris Avellone explains how the story in Neverwinter Nights 2 will let you be a hero, politician, general, or criminal.

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Classic role-playing games combine hack-and-slash gameplay, character development, and an epic story--and these are all goals that the team at Obisidan is working on with Neverwinter Nights 2. The follow-up to the popular 2002 role-playing game that had you saving the fantasy city of Neverwinter from evil forces. Neverwinter Nights 2 promises to take the adventure further, with a beautiful 3D graphics engine as well as a powerful and flexible story that will have you experiencing all sorts of new adventures. To explain, we have Chris Avellone, the game's creative director from Obsidian Entertainment. Neverwinter Nights 2 is scheduled to ship around month's end.

You can be a warrior, a mage, or even a ladies man in Neverwinter Nights 2.
You can be a warrior, a mage, or even a ladies man in Neverwinter Nights 2.

Choose Your Own Adventure

By Chris Avellone
Creative Director/Senior Designer, Obsidian Entertainment

One of the initial goals of Neverwinter Nights 2 we had here at Obsidian was to create an epic, cinematic storyline to drive you forward--to make you realize that you are not only advancing in level over the course of the game, but taking on increasingly advanced political and tactical challenges, as well. We wanted your decisions to prove important for not only yourself and your party, but also other prominent non-player characters and factions in the game, to the point where you can even change the balance of power within the city of Neverwinter itself.

It's very easy to label a game as "epic," but what we tried to do was make sure we nailed down exactly what constitutes an epic storyline and then implement it. We wanted to keep the stakes high and the enemies powerful, as well as give you a key role, not just from an adventuring perspective, but also as a general, commander, and even a ruler of your own military stronghold. We give you a choice of being a politician, criminal, or advisor, as well, but that's up to you to choose. Whatever occurs, you will find yourself engaged in several battles over the course of the game--sometimes commanding large groups of troops on the battlefield, and at other times, diplomatically fighting for your reputation in a courtroom where it seems all the evidence is piled against you.

You can also play as a female character, if you choose.
You can also play as a female character, if you choose.

The story in Neverwinter Nights 2 begins with a series of brutal attacks in the Mere of Dead Men, including your home of West Harbor. These attacks begin to escalate up and down the Sword Coast, and you find yourself in the middle not just of a growing war in the Forgotten Realms, but a battle that has been raging across the dimensional planes for centuries. To make matters worse, you find yourself fighting wars not on just one but several fronts. There's the politics of Neverwinter and the challenges of fortifying your own stronghold, as well as enemies from Luskan in the North and the extraplanar githyanki that have declared a crusade on you. You find yourself locked in battle with all these factions, but you're in a position to play them off against each other to buy time and learn more of the events and history that led up to this conflict, and how to end it once and for all.

But fortunately, your character isn't alone in this fight. The companions in Neverwinter Nights 2 have undergone an overhaul from the first game. Not only do they play more of a crucial role in the storyline, but they also have a depth to them that you can choose to explore over the course of the game depending on your interest. They have been revised in terms of game mechanics, as well, and while you can allow them to act on their own (as a personal frustration of mine, ally spellcasters often act much smarter than my own character does in combat), you can command them and issue them direct orders, equipment transfers, and even guide their level-up decisions, as well. At times, you may even be able to convince them to change their class over the course of the game, although this may involve finishing a vision quest or two and gaining their trust through the influence system.

Our influence mechanics system is based on the one we set up for Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. While Neverwinter Nights 2 does offer a range of alignment options for your good, evil, lawful, and chaotic actions, the influence system also allows for an additional level of repercussions for decisions you make that are not on the alignment axis. For example, contrasting opinions on magical theory, nature versus civilization, and even how much of a rein you put on creativity itself in light of threats you and your characters face. Each of these actions can cause your influence with certain companions to go up or down over the course of the game and govern how much they involve themselves (or leave) at certain points in the game.

There are a number of character races, including the hulking half-orc.
There are a number of character races, including the hulking half-orc.

Obsidian has also tried to import several cinematic techniques we learned while working on our previous Star Wars title. We have cinematic cameras and cutscene setups for a number of major dialogues and interaction sequences, as well as a host of animation states that can be used in player-created adventure modules. We do allow for over-the-shoulder camera play and also offer a free-range tactical isometric view to better give orders to allies and soldiers in combat (which proves important in several battles). Being able to move the camera around also allows a better perspective of the environments and creatures the artists have whipped up for the game (many kudos to our art team)--the dragon alone is a terrifying sight to see in the game in over-the-shoulder mode, even before it blasts you with its breath weapon.

In any event, we're working hard on polishing the game for release, and we hope to have it in your hands soon. We're even more excited to see what the community does with the toolset, as well, and get a chance to play modules they create.

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