Neverwinter Nights Interview

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2002-06-18
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
The team over at BioWare has created quite a history for themselves. By combining the gripping storylines and extensive gameplay associated with tabletop AD&D gaming with the functionality of computer gaming, they've provided us with some of the most revolutionary role-playing games of all time. And they intend to continue.

Their next project quite literally might redefine multiplayer gaming as we know it. This game, entitled Neverwinter Nights, will provide a plethora of advantages and enhancements over current RPGs. It will give you the power to manipulate, control, and even create your own worlds.

As such, we wanted to quench our insatiable thirst for more information concerning the game. Luckily, we were given the chance to ask Rob Bartel, the game's co-lead designer, some questions about how exactly the game would function and just how powerful it would be. Here's what he had to say:

GB: Many people consider the DM tools the most crucial factor in Neverwinter Nights' success. If they are easy to use for the average gamer and provide a wide range of freedom, NWN will have the edge against current RPGs with similar traits, such as Vampire: The Masquerade. In PnP AD&D gaming, if the players tried something that the DM hadn't thought of, or if the module doesn't cover the activity the PCs are trying to perform, the DM could (wing it) if he had to. Will the DM tools give the DM running an NWN module the freedom to build certain areas of a module on an as-needed basis? If so, how difficult and time-consuming would it be for a DM to create a whole new room, for example, if he didn't anticipate the PCs traveling there? Would something like this require (pausing) the module or stopping the module in some fashion? Or could a diligent DM keep the module running smoothly while he adds the room?

Rob: There are a number of technical issues associated with on-the-fly terrain updates. For instance, what happens to the treasure pile that suddenly finds itself above a bottomless chasm? Or what about the plot-critical trigger that is suddenly embedded in a wall? For these reasons and others, we've decided to hold off on real-time terrain alteration in the initial release. Perhaps we will have time to address the issue more thoroughly in the future. In the meantime, should the players express an interest in journeying to an unexpected location, the DM can always delay their progress until the next game session and handle it then.

GB: I realize the DM can change stats of creatures, but when you place a monster, such as an ogre, can you alter their appearance and/or title in any way? For example, can you place an Ogre Leader named Tuth'gar that is 150% larger than your standard ogre (and of course more powerful) and wearing very large platemail armor? Can you alter the experience gained from this more powerful version?

Rob: Hmm. Aside from altering the creature's stats, you will be able to change their name, as well, so Tuth'gar Undurak of the Fang Tribe is certainly a possibility. You won't be able to scale the size of the creature, however, as that would break a lot of his animations. Most of the creatures will have variant parts that you'll be able to swap in and out but not to the same extent that is possible with the player character races. So while you may not get a suit of player-style platemail on Tuth'gar, you'll still be able to make him seem beefier and more heavily armored than the remainder of his clan. And yes, you can override the default amount of experience he gives out upon his death.

GB: If the above example is possible, will doing things like this get people's characters barred from being "Vault-Approved"? Will there be guidelines for DMs so that they don't "overdue" implementing too many high level items and experience, thus causing the players of their module to be unable to bring them over to the Vault? It might be a bit of a letdown if characters go through a very comprehensive module only to find out that their gold, items, and/or experience is all null. If the DM knew what he could and couldn't add beforehand (to let the players keep Vault-approved characters), this would make implementing a module less frustrating.

Rob: The standards of the Official Vault will be firm but they will also be reasonable. It should be something to keep in the back of your mind as you design your module but there shouldn't be any need to be obsessive about it. If you do happen to give out too many experience points or items, don't worry - you haven't invalidated your player's entire character. When he or she checks back into the Vault, it will be possible to trim down the excesses instead of having to revert to a past save. Also, the Official Vault isn't the only way to play Neverwinter Nights. If you find the Vault restricting, you always have the choice of maintaining your characters locally or on servers where you play frequently.

GB: What is stopping a DM from implementing monsters and treasure *exactly* to Vault specifications and running players through quickly and easily in order to (twink) their characters to be some of the most powerful in the NWN network (with the least amount of time invested)? For example, could a DM put the appropriate amount of treasure on the ground (without any sort of fight or struggle) for his friends' characters in order to build them faster?

Rob: With Neverwinter Nights, we want to put as much power into the DM's hands as possible. Game balance and power levels are theirs to discern. For instance, they may want to run a superhero campaign, where both the player characters and the enemies they face are grossly overpowered. While such characters won't receive Official Vault status, they nevertheless represent a perfectly legitimate approach to gameplay. And that's the thing with the Official Vault: it's not there to stop cheating - it's just there to make cheating redundant. Yes, you can put a lot of effort into '˜min-maxing' the Official Vault but your character won't be all that more powerful than anyone else's. Players that want to be super-powerful are better off saving their characters locally, where they don't have to worry about maintaining official certification.

GB: There are going to be around 200 spells, will the spells be very similar to the selection in BG2? BG2 added a lot of summoning spells, will NWN implement a lot of these as well?

Rob: The new 3rd Edition D&D rules modified a lot of the existing 2nd Edition spells, cut some that were unpopular or unbalancing, and added a number of new ones to enhance gameplay. In other words, while the Neverwinter Nights spell list will still seem quite familiar to players of Baldur's Gate II, there will be plenty of noticeable differences as well. We're working hard to make sure our spell list reflects the changes made in 3rd Edition.

GB: I've seen Trent Oster post that large-scale battles will definitely impact framerates. In BG2 (and Icewind Dale), there was a restriction of 5 summoned monsters at any one time. Are there any such restrictions in NWN as far as the number of players, NPCs, and monsters that can be on screen at one time? If so, will DMs be aware of these restrictions when they design modules, such as an error if they try to place X number of monsters in one place? Or maybe some other way for a DM to know that he is causing serious graphic lag on the players' screens?

Rob: As a general rule of thumb, we try to avoid placing hard restrictions on future module designers. We will do what we can to optimize our engine, keep the content of the official campaign running at a reasonable framerate, and offer what advice we can on these sorts of issues. Ultimately, however, if a DM is creating custom modules for a group of friends and everyone has fairly powerful machines, we want that game to be the best it can be. We're designing Neverwinter Nights to have a long shelf life. We want it to age well and even improve alongside the advances in hardware that are bound to occur over the coming years.

GB: Will there be multi-colored equipment? For instance, can a player wear non-magical green plate mail if he chooses to? If so, will this have to be specifically bought or can a player simply buy regular plate mail and then just change the colors of his character?

Rob: Absolutely. The armor and clothing creation system we're including in the toolset will allow for part-by-part control over the basic geometry. Each of these parts has from 2 to 6 different color zones that can be manipulated independently by the module designer. Players will not have in-game access to the armor creation tool, so if a specific suit of armor catches their eye, they'll have to cough up the cash for it.

GB: How will ability scores come into play in Neverwinter Nights? In BG2, intelligence, wisdom, or charisma didn't do a whole lot unless you were a class that really *needed* them. Will having a high intelligence do anything for a fighter? Or a high charisma do anything for a thief? I realize there are role-playing reasons to want a high score in these abilities, but will there be anything tangible in the game?

Rob: Your character's ability scores will play a big role in Neverwinter Nights. The 3rd Edition designers have done a wonderful job of weaving the different ability scores into the fabric of the game and Neverwinter will definitely reflect that. An intelligent fighter will have a lot more points to spend on skills like Spot and Listen while a charismatic thief has the potential to be more successful when using wands and other magic items normally reserved for sorcerers and wizards. Overall, 3rd Edition is a much more robust, enjoyable system that past editions and much less prone to '˜min-maxing' imbalances.

GB: What will happen to characters when they die during a module? I have seen posts talking about how the person will be able to have a camera view of the rest of his companions while he awaits his resurrection, but will he lose gold, experience, or other treasure when he initially dies?

Rob: Correct. The default death setting for our official campaign is to provide you with a choice immediately upon death. If you just want to get back in the action, you can choose to be instantaneously raised or resurrected at some pre-defined location, such as a temple. This will probably incur the loss of a small but appropriate amount of experience. If your companions are capable of raising or resurrecting you themselves, however, you also have the option of waiting around for them to do so. While you wait, your camera will likely remain anchored to your corpse.

Q: How difficult will it be for his companions to resurrect him (how much will it cost, how (available) are raise dead scrolls, etc)? If the party has quite a trek to the nearest town, the person could potentially be waiting a long time, correct? During this time, if a player goes linkdead, or the module ends, can he potentially lose his equipment?

A: A lot of this will be determined as part of our testing and balancing process toward the end of our development cycle. In order to encourage cooperative play, however, the availability of such items will probably be reasonably high within the official campaign. In your own modules, the availability is yours to determine, of course. Should the module end or the player lose his or her connection while in a dead state, it will be assumed that he or she chose to be raised at the temple and the character will suffer the requisite experience penalty but no loss of items.

Q: What measures have been taken to keep a player from "pulling the plug" on his internet connection when a battle is going bad? Will he just go linkdead and remain in the world for "x" number of seconds/minutes like other online games? If a player does go "linkdead" while in combat, will their character automatically fight back? or will he/she just stand there and take damage until dead?

A: Should the player lose their connection while in combat, their character will go into a defensive stance and do their best to avoid any incoming attacks. If the connection has not been re-established before a timeout period expires, the character will then be removed from the gameworld. If the character has died in the interim, it will be assumed that he or she chose to suffer the requisite penalty in order to be raised at the temple before exiting the game.

Q: We realize the game is quite a few months away, but has there been any sort of plan on having a public beta test of NWN? If so, is there any projected timeframe?

A: We have discussed the advantages and possibility of having a limited public beta of Neverwinter Nights towards the end of our development cycle. If we do decide to have one, we will announce it on our official sites: and and you will be able to apply at that time.

In conclusion, I'd like to issue a sincere thank you to Rob and the rest of the crew at BioWare for making this interview possible. I hope all of you enjoy reading about NWN as much as we do =).