Neverwinter E3 2011 Preview -- Time to Put Your Fan Fiction Skills to the TestBy Kevin Kelly - Posted Jun 17, 2011
Last year, Atari announced that it was involved in resurrecting Neverwinter Nights as Neverwinter, and as it turns out that entire brand is getting a push across multiple forms of entertainment ranging from this new game that Atari hopes to have out by the end of this year, to a new series of books from famed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, to a new board game called The Legend of Drizzt later this summer. It's a full-on Neverwinter onslaught.
If you remember back in 2002 when BioWare released the highly acclaimed Neverwinter Nights, they set the bar very high for future iterations of the game. That game is universally beloved across a wide range of critics, and it's almost a shame that they aren't still developing the title, which was supported with multiple expansions. Development of Neverwinter Nights 2 fell to Obsidian, and has had three expansions as of 2009.
Now, Cryptic Studios is taking the helm with Neverwinter, and while they're staying true to the games D&D ruleset and the multiplayer from the previous versions of the game, the teams looks to put very powerful game creation tools directly into the hands of gamers. At E3, they didn't show us anything from the game, but instead chose to focus on their massively powerful Foundry mode, which will cause writers of fan fiction all over the world to swoon in delight.
Foundry, which first appeared in Star Trek Online back in December, is an amped-up level editor that allows you to build your own encounters, populate them with creatures, write the dialogue, and build completely new areas. It's not exactly what the developers use when designing the game, although they are switching over to using the system from time to time. It's basically a user-generated content generator on steroids. In fact, the level-building tools are so good that Wizards of the Coast should look into licensing this to replace the dismal Dungeon Master tools on their own D&D Insider service.
While at first you're presented with a series of pull-down menus, but as you begin to build your encounters and understand how robust the tools are. It's a much more accessible layout than any other UGC system I've ever seen, and it includes the ability to dive into what you've been working on at any moment. They've also included pre-made maps and simple tools so that you can take the quick and easy approach if you want to churn out something quickly, or you can drill-down deep and spend a lot of time making a masterpiece.
Our demo was about 15 minutes long, and by the end, one of the developers had built a medium-sized grouping of rooms complete with pathing and NPCs who had dialogue and were able to send us on a quest. He was using the pre-fab group of items from the enormous Library that is available to Foundry users, and it's very impressive to see how intuitive the level building is. Line up corridors and rooms, and Foundry figures our where the doors should be, or you can place them manually and even decide which way they swing open.
The Story tab, which is where you build what's happening in your newly-minted level, allows you to set dialogue for everyone, and it features a very easy to learn drag and drop system that allows you to attach story points and items to dialogue and characters, and it's deep enough for you to create an entire adventure with an epic story with a multitudes of characters. You can even put inanimate objects in your story, it case you ever wanted to write that, "Hey, this evil wizard turned me into a lamppost!" story that you've been itching to publish.
Properties allows you to tailor specific items and conditions to "completing" a level. Maybe you have to collect specific items, defeat a creature, or visit certain locations in order to cause the next event to happen or the story to unfold. You can set your questgiver, and then attach whatever conditions you want to that quest. There's quite a bit to choose from, and it's a lot like having access to the a whole library of Monster Manual's and Dungeon Master Handbooks.
The game uses the new 4th Edition ruleset, and while we didn't get to see any of the actual campaign that Cryptic is working on, it's clear that we could create enough of our own adventures to keep us happy for a long time. Users can publish their adventures online, and you'll be able to download new ones constantly to keep the game in flux. Imagine co-opping through an epic adventure that you and your friends built together, or just using it as a pre-viz tool for an actual pen and paper game of D&D. Hopefully, the final version will be something that provides you with a great game, along with quality tools that you can use for months to come.