Not only will BioWare's forthcoming game include single-player and multiplayer adventures, it'll also have the means to run tabletop-style Dungeons & Dragons campaigns online.
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Interestingly, Neverwinter Nights will incorporate the recently released 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. As such, it will let players create characters belonging to the all of the standard races and classes, as well as the sorcerer, monk, and barbarian classes and the half-orc race, none of which was available in the 2nd Edition rules. And as per the 3rd Edition rules, players will be able to create characters of any race/class combination, although more outlandish combinations, like a half-orc mage or a halfling barbarian, may suffer certain penalties based on ability scores and inherent racial limitations. Neverwinter Nights will also feature a scaled-down version of the 3rd Edition's new feats and skills system. Due to logistical limitations and game-balance issues, Neverwinter Nights won't have certain character abilities, like climbing walls, swimming, levitation, or certain types of item creation. And unfortunately, Neverwinter Nights won't feature any of the 3rd Edition's specialized "prestige character classes" or any type of mount (horses or otherwise), at least not at release. However, the game will still feature a great many of the new 3rd Edition abilities.
Next: The highly-anticipated scenario editor and more
If you decide to participate in a session by creating a character and joining in as a player, you'll be able to advance your character to up to 20th level; mages, sorcerers, and clerics will be able to learn spells of up to ninth level. Currently, the game is planned to include about 200 different magic spells, including the deceptively simple-seeming "wish" spell, which will need to be arbitrated in real time by the dungeon master. Since player characters can become so tremendously powerful, BioWare will institute an online "character vault" to curb cheating for characters used in online sessions. These characters' data (including experience levels, ability scores, skills and feats, armor, weapons, and other possessions) will be stored server-side to minimize hacking. Each tabletop-style game session will be run on a distinct server; Neverwinter Nights servers will have a player limit of 64 characters per server. However, ambitious dungeon masters can work around the 64-player server limit by linking up epic campaigns between different servers.
Should you decide to be a dungeon master, you'll have a great deal of material to work with. Neverwinter Nights will include a powerful scenario editor that will let prospective dungeon masters create their own custom dungeons (or recreate their own favorite pen-and-paper dungeon modules) with ease. You'll have access to 15 different sets of terrain tiles, including crypt, grassland, and city tiles, and you'll be able to create your own custom towns, cities, and dungeon structures with some 200 different types of building. In addition, Neverwinter Nights will feature about 60 canonical third-edition monsters and non-player characters, including giant spiders, elementals, umber hulks, and more. In addition, wizards and sorcerers will be able to summon familiars, and druids will be able to summon animal companions, depending on the situation and the rules set for the multiplayer server or single-player game, these summoned creatures will be more than just novelties, but will instead become vital and valued allies in the course of your players' adventures.
Server hosts will be able to set many different attributes and rules for their sessions. For instance, they'll be able to decide whether or not character death will be permanent in the game; death can be completely unforgiving, or can simply result in your character respawning at the nearest spawn point, or it can be adjusted to carry some sort of penalty to the deceased character's money, possessions, experience point total, or all three. Server hosts will also be able to decide whether monsters will respawn, and with what frequency, as well as whether a server will allow player-versus-player (or party-versus-party) combat.
The full game will not only include the 25 or so single-player scenarios and the dungeon master scenario editor, it'll also feature guides and tutorials for dungeon masters and players. Neverwinter Nights is currently scheduled for release in the second quarter of next year, and we'll have even more coverage of the game as its development continues.
Next: Go to our Neverwinter Nights Q&A with Trent Oster
Q&A With Neverwinter Nights producer Trent Oster
We interviewed Neverwinter Nights producer Trent Oster about the ambitious online role-playing game.
GS: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. The concept behind Neverwinter Nights - reproducing a tabletop role-playing game session online - is certainly interesting, but how will it work in practice? Is Neverwinter Nights a playable game or more of a tookit for dungeon-masters and players?
TO: The wonderful thing about Neverwinter is that it is both a game and a toolset! Story is very important to us here at BioWare, so we'll be including an epic role-playing adventure that you can play in either single-player or multiplayer mode. If all you do is play through that story like you did with Baldur's Gate and then put it on the shelf, we want you to feel like you've had your money's worth.
At the same time, the toolset is really what makes Neverwinter such a landmark title and we take that very seriously. We're putting a lot of attention into making it powerful and accessible to our end users. While not everyone's interested in being a module designer, even casual players will benefit from the toolset. After all, what sane gamer can say "no" to such an endless stream of great RPG stuff, like new adventures, new campaigns, new competitive modules, new persistent worlds, all of them made by the fan community. In short, Neverwinter is not only a Dungeon Master's dream game, it's a dream game for everyone.
GS: It's intriguing that Neverwinter Nights will use the more flexible 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. How well do the new rules lend themselves to computer-game format, especially in multiplayer?
TO: The new 3rd Edition D&D rules are more open-ended in terms of races and classes and that certainly makes our lives easier during the development cycle. The addition of skills and feats adds to the open-ended aspect of the game as well, but it does increase the number of abilities that are deemed critical to the game. While the 3rd Edition D&D rules thankfully have fewer exceptions and special cases, any rule-set as robust and well-designed as this one will require a substantial amount of work to support in a computer game.
GS: Will Neverwinter Nights feature any of Dungeons & Dragons' more complex conventions (those that require highly specialized rules), such as horseback riding, henchmen, strongholds, and firearms? How will such things be handled in the game?
TO: We've certainly had to go through the new rules and playtest them to get a feel for what things are vital to the game and which ones are better left for potential expansions. Firearms, for instance, don't play a significant role in the Forgotten Realms setting, whereas the ability to set your own traps might be more important. Henchmen were seen as a definite necessity, for instance, especially given that many of our players will want to play through the game in single-player mode and will need the additional support. Some things, such as horseback riding, while desirable, were simply too complicated to include at this time. Other things, such as the ability to have a house or maintain a stronghold, may not have a place in our campaign but are certainly possible within the context of user-made adventures.
Next: Build your own dungeon
GS: One of Neverwinter Nights most attractive features seems to be the ability to design your own dungeons. What sort of tools will be available for prospective dungeon masters?
TO: Neverwinter Nights is about far more than just dungeons, actually. The powerful and fully supported toolset that ships with the game will allow you to map out dungeons, cities, building interiors, and natural terrain in a variety of styles. Aside from simply placing monsters and treasure into the gameworld, you will also be able to create complex stories and dialog, customize the looks and abilities of non-player characters, monsters, and magic items, and construct complex puzzles and interactions via the scripting language.
Dungeon crawls are a great place for new module designers to start, as they're easy to build and fun to play. Once you've learned the ropes, however, there's plenty of room to grow from there. We're all big gamers here and we're really looking forward to turning the tables a bit and finally playing some modules created by our fans.
GS: Building a dungeon from scratch sounds like a difficult task; especially if the tools are difficult to use or clutter the screen. Could you describe how the game's interface will work? Will players be able to play from a first-person perspective?
TO: The toolset and the game are two very different applications and each one will have an interface designed to meet their needs. As was the case with our Infinity Engine games, cleanliness and ease-of-use are our two top priorities when designing the interface. The toolset will look very similar to a typical Windows application, with a big 3D window prominently displaying the currently active portion of the gameworld and a variety of tools and options available along the top and down the right side.
The game itself will obviously have more of an immersive, fantasy-style feel. The various interface panels will all be transparent, so you never lose sight of your character and the surrounding environment. As in Baldur's Gate II, those wanting a full-screen view will be able to remove and replace the entire interface at the press of a button. Default game actions will be context-sensitive and performed with a single click of the mouse. A wide variety of alternative actions (such as trapping a chest rather than opening it) will be available through context-sensitive radial menus that will pop up and disappear on demand.
As for a first-person perspective within the game, this question has popped up on our message boards every now and then. The short answer is that we've considered both and decided that our isometric 3D perspective provides a more appropriate control scheme; maintains a more intimate, party-based feel; and allows for much greater polygon counts per tile and superior framerate management (meaning more detailed environments, more creatures in the gameworld, more detailed player characters, and so on).
GS: Some players may not wish to spend hours using utilities or toolkits; will Neverwinter Nights have an immediately-available single-player game that players can simply jump into and play?
Next: Single-player and multiplayer
TO: Absolutely. Neverwinter will ship with a lengthy and gripping story that you can jump into and start playing immediately. You can play it offline as a single-player game or go online and play through it cooperatively with friends. You can even jump between the two modes at will, playing a few modules on your own and then sharing the next with a friend from down the street or around the world. We've designed the story from the ground up to be very fluid and to take the way you want to play into account.
GS: Since Neverwinter Nights takes place in the Forgotten Realms, is it possible that players may run into characters from TSR's Forgotten Realms' fiction or from Bioware's other Forgotten Realms' games?
TO: The world of the Forgotten Realms is a big place but there always seem to be a few famous and familiar faces to cross your path over the course of your journeys. With Baldur's Gate to the south, Icewind Dale to the north, and a long adventuring tradition of its own, Neverwinter has had its fair share of heroes from other locales adventuring in the region.
GS: Neverwinter Nights will use a server-side "character vault" to help prevent cheating. How does this system work? What other measures are being taken to prevent cheating?
TO: Cheating is an important issue for online games and we've taken a number of steps to protect honest players from abuse. First, the multiplayer code in Neverwinter is designed as a client-server framework. As all of the game rules are handled exclusively on the server, hacking the client will not provide you with any kind of advantage. Second, we're putting a lot of power into the hands of the game host and Dungeon Master (they don't have to be the same person but they often will be), both on a proactive and a reactive level. They will have the power, for instance, to screen incoming players to make sure they meet certain specifications. Once the players are in the game, the DM or game host also has the ability to kick out troublemakers or even permanently ban them from their server. It's important to recognize that we're not disallowing artificially enhanced characters in Neverwinter. Some DMs like to run Monty Hall or Super-Hero campaigns and that's a perfectly legitimate way to play. We're simply making sure that a safer, more controlled environment exists for those who want it.
The Vaults are the third link in our security system. Neverwinter will let you store your characters in any of three ways:
-Local character: High flexibility, high mobility, low security. Local characters are stored on your own machine and you can tweak and alter them to your heart's content. If you encounter a local character in one of your games, they could have superhuman statistics, extremely powerful items, and so on.
Next: More about characters and development
-Server Vault: High flexibility, low mobility, high security. As their name suggests, server characters are stored on the server on which they play. The server operator is the only one with access to the character files and he or she can alter them at will. The DM of your regular gaming session, for instance, might want to curse you with lycanthropy or give you special abilities related to the plot. Alternatively, the operator of your persistent world might want to maintain or enforce a different advancement rate than that allowed in the official vault. In short, if you can trust your server operator, you can trust the server characters he or she is responsible for.
-Character Vault: Low flexibility, high mobility, high security. Official characters are stored on our official matching service, where they are safe from undue alteration. There is a predefined rate of progression and if your character exceeds that cap at any point, you must choose either to edit the character back down to an acceptable power level or save it as a local character. Players can still 'cheat' within the official vault but it will not give them any advantage over those who wish to play legitimately. If you encounter an official character in your adventures, you know that that character is appropriately powered according to the length of time that they have been playing and the level of their character.
The type of character allowed in each adventure is set by the server operator. If you wish to run a very tight legal game, character-vault characters would be a good choice. For a mini-persistent world, the server character is the logical choice. The goal with the various storage options is to cater to varied styles of play.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Neverwinter Nights?
TO: I'd just like to comment on how much I enjoy working on Neverwinter Nights. It's an exciting and revolutionary project and the entire team is dedicated to bringing it to life. Everyone involved is doing a great job and it is a pleasure to work with such talented and hard-working people on a daily basis.
If you'd like to learn more about the project and take an active role in its development, I'd encourage everyone to stop by our official message boards at www.NeverwinterNights.com. We visit there quite often and answer whatever questions we can. The message boards are a great place to get more information about the game and to speak with us as we continue to develop the game.