Cryptic Studios' Diana Sherman has penned an interesting article for this Seventh Week Writers Workshop PDF, during which she discusses her responsibilities as a writer on Neverwinter while also revealing a few details about the game's overall scope, NPCs, and quest structure. A healthy excerpt:
The all-team meeting for Neverwinter is at 11, leaving just enough time for breakfast before we all pile into the nearest conference room. There's barely standing room for the whole team; there are about thirty-five of us in the room.
The executive producer starts off the meeting by going over the notes from the latest playtest: (We have a lot of great new content. Combat is flowing more smoothly, and the dialogue is way better. Everyone agreed on that.) I exchange a look with one of the level designers; we worked our butts off on that dialogue, so that's a relief.
(But everyone was confused about the story.) Uh-oh.
Then the producer takes over. He tosses up a Powerpoint with all of our tasks for this milestone broken down by team. Character Art is working on faces, which explains why, when I tried to log in my fighter-elf chick the other day, her entire face was a blob of navy blue. Environment is working on sky files for the city so it no longer feels like it's floating in the vacuum of space (which is cool, but not appropriate so much for D&D). Powers will be working on rewards tables, which determine what kind of reward the player gets when they complete specific tasks. There's a lot of math involved in this. Content, unsurprisingly, is going to be working on making the story clearer.
The art lead pulls up some slides and we end the meeting looking at the new faces and concept art for the final dungeon. We (ooh) and (ahh) (really, the faces look much better). Then it's off to our cubes to get to work.
I pull up the latest version of the game and log in. When I reach the character selection screen, I discover that (female) is grayed out Art has yanked females altogether until they're finished with the overhaul. So I name my burly fighter guy Natasha, and move on.
I run through the zone, comparing the playtest feedback to what I'm seeing. As I go, I'm (aggroed) by a big group of undead (the term comes from the same root as aggression). While Natasha gets the stuffing kicked out of him, I pull up the developer menu and grant him invincibility and, while we're at it, the power to kill things with his mind. Well, not exactly that, but I do have the ability to click on an enemy and have it just collapse.
I go through the zone and I see why people were confused. Remember that whole (not quite an MMO) thing? Since we're still dealing with a persistent world of the sort commonly used in MMOs, our NPCs (Non-Player Characters, which are controlled by the game) always have to be in the same area. While you may have already saved Johann the Wolfboy from sure death at the hands of the Accountants' Guild, your buddy who logged in forty minutes later hasn't yet. But he has to be in the same world you're in, as do a bunch of other people you don't even know, so when you come back an hour later, Johann the Wolfboy is surrounded by accountants again and you, as the player, are wondering why he didn't high tail it out of there while the getting was good.