The Neverwinter name is over 20 years old, and has become a longtime piece of canonical history in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. The lands have been long regarded by fantasy fans for its excellent role-playing history, specifically across the classic Neverwinter on AOL and Neverwinter Nights series’. In the latter content creation played a big part for most players, and when word came out that Neverwinter would be seeing release in the form of a free-to-play MMO, fans were worried that this major aspect of creation would remain untouched.
On the PAX show floor, users were given an opportunity to test through the new Neverwinter combat system. And while the system certainly looked sleek, polished, and accessible, too often we MMOs fail by trying to put all of their resources into battles alone. At PAX Prime 2012, we were given the opportunity to speak with lead developer Andy Velaskez, and learn exactly how deep Neverwinter‘s Foundry creation system plans to expand the resources a free-to-play MMO can offer.
The Neverwinter name is huge in D&D circles, particularly with the Neverwinter Nights series. Will any of the role-playing elements from the older games make their way into this new title?
We are not Neverwinter Nights 3, we’re just an MMO called Neverwinter. But interestingly enough, when we set out to make an MMO from this legacy, we had to decide what to carry over from it, and one of the things we decided to bring was user generated content. The [Neverwinter Nights] Aurora Toolset is still live and active now.
Neverwinter is set one hundred years after the events that took place in Nights 2. What kind of world can players expect to arrive in?
The city of Neverwinter has been wiped out by a cataclysm (that, if you’ve read the most recent novels, Drizzt may or may not have something to do with), but it’s being rebuilt, and there’s been a call for any adventurers to come and help rebuild Neverwinter, and that’s where all level 1 characters begin.
How do you retain custom creation in a Massive Multiplayer Online game?
Player-created missions become a part of the persistent world. As you can see [on my screen], I already have a few missions. What you probably aren’t aware of is that one of these is someone’s Foundry mission, and one of these is a Cryptic [developer-made] mission. One of the big agendas that we have is making Foundry content – our in-game editor – indistinguishable from Cryptic content. It shouldn’t matter to the player which is which. We want players to be creating content along with us, and not against us.
Could you tell us more about The Foundry? How will players be able to play through missions created by others?
One way is by opening up the landing page. It’ll pop up every time you start playing the game, and prominently featured is The Foundry content. We’ll be highlighting great content every day and say “this is something you should check out, go click on it and see what’s going on.” [In addition], there’s a star rating system and a filter that allows you to sort all missions by player rating, required level, by author, that sort of thing.
Speaking of level, how do you determine how much experience is granted for player created missions?
Yes, we entirely control that based on level and difficulty equations. It is entirely possible to max level a character on Foundry content alone, if you chose to. We have a bunch of limits in place to prevent players from [abusing this system], and it’s been very helpful at mitigating that in Alpha so far. We still have Beta to go through and work out those kinks, so we feel pretty comfortable about it.
What kind of creation tools will players have at their disposal?
Accessibility is our keyword for how we want users to enter The Foundry. When you enter other editors it’s like six hours of tutorial videos and you still don’t know what the hell you’re doing. One big thing we’re doing is adding a wizard icon [for quick completion]. Once you have something that is required for the mission to proceed, the entire system will dynamically update.
So what is a typical quest in an MMO? You talk to someone in the persistent world, they send you to his house to kill some guys who stole his statue or something. Everyone has played this quest, so how do I make this? I drop down the Cryptic map, we have you talk to someone, it gives you a new map, you kill some guys, and then click on an object [note: Andy, by the time he finished that sentence, had inserted all aspects of the quest into a drag-and-drop menu. The jaws of every press member in the room then proceeded to visibly drop]. All that complicated mission logic, this system will do for you.
So the tool is clearly very fast for players looking for an intuitive creation interface. But how deep is the tool itself for experienced editors looking to create a very specific mission or world?
We wanted to make things really easy, but we didn’t want to take away that depth that advanced modders are expecting. Right here, you can see the advanced dialogue editor, which allows us to make complicated trees of decisions for your quests. You can even have options of dialogue not available until the player has completed a certain quest or collected a certain item. All the complexity that you know DMs are going to want is right here.
So that’s dialogue, now we have to make our map. The fast and easy way to do it is to take a pre-made map. But custom map editing is sexier – indoor and outdoor. For me, this is one of the things that is also very exciting because it’s very evocative of my pen-and-paper D&D experiences. Every dungeon, cave, house, corridor, everything is customizable. We have thousands and thousands and thousands of tools to mess with [note: He isn’t kidding. When viewing all items at once with no filter, the scroll bar is just a sliver that barely moves as you try and view everything. Even simply typing “book” will narrow the focus down to dozens of book objects you can place].
What about custom loot? Is that a possibility for a reward with custom quests?
That’s our next big problem to tackle: We certainly want to do at least something. Whether that is like a Chinese-menu style menu that says “you’re level 20 so you can add on X enhancements to this loot item”, or it’s something else, that’s on our short list of things to really push for before launch.
Neverwinter is going to be released in a free-to-play model. Will all players have access to The Foundry? If so, how much access?
Absolutely. Specifically, we found when we look at the data for who our content creators are, it’s usually a small fraction of the userbase. We’re not doing any monetization on The Foundry – it’s not like players will have to buy map packs or character packs. We don’t want to put anything gating those few prolific authors from being able to contribute.
Instead of removing road blocks, we’re even helping [content creators]. It is very important to us that authors are able to make a name for themselves in Neverwinter. When you’re going through the catalogue, you’ll noticed that author’s are featured, and every creation links you back to an author’s specific blog page. I can subscribe to that author, so that every time they make a quest, I’m notified. I can donate currency to that guy, so if I like his missions, I can donate money to support them. There will be true in-game rewards for authors.
While even the games most noted for their content creation can still come with limitations (such as item and skin packs for sale in Little Big Planet), Neverwinter is taking a drastic stance toward an open creative community. And in a world where even the most promising MMOs can fall due to a lack of uniqueness, The Foundry just might be the building blocks to a successful MMO franchise.