Posted Tue, Mar 19, 2013 by gunky
Dungeons & Dragons has always been a game for creative people. The crude black-and-white illustrations in the original books left about 90% of the game to the imagination. But even as the books got more colorful and slick and descriptive, the core element of gameplay has always been creating new worlds of adventure and magic. Cryptic Studios recognizes this, and has followed in the footsteps of previous namesake titles to ship Neverwinter with a set of content-creation tools: the Foundry.
Way back in 2002, the first Neverwinter Nights shipped with the Aurora toolset, which allowed users to build entire game worlds quickly and easily, and share them with the world through Gamespy. While it was never a true MMO (a server could only hold 96 players at a time, plus DMs, so populations were never "massive"), a number of creators took cues from Ultima Online, EverQuest and other early-generation MMOs to create persistent world servers, which behaved like MMOs.
But it wasn't just MMO wannabes getting cranked out of the Aurora toolset. With the right haks (custom content modules created by the modding community) and a bit of scripting know-how, it was possible to create just about anything. And with Gamespy, it was super-easy to find exactly the kind of game you wanted to play: the tweaked-out uber-gear PvP arenas where you could test your build theories; the adults-only servers that used, erm... "specialized" hak packs; the strict RP servers where it could take weeks to earn a single level and where your charcters could die permanently. Whatever you wanted, you could find it somewhere. And if not, you could build it yourself.
The updated Aurora toolset that shipped with Neverwinter Nights 2 was even more powerful. It was no longer tile-based, terrain could be deformed into hills and valleys with push-and-pull brushes and buildings and other objects could be placed anywhere, facing in any direction. Of course, the increased power of the toolset made the whole system more complicated. The new maps used walkmeshes which had to be downloaded for each server, in addition to any special custom haks. And the walkmeshes could be huge in size, so it wasn't really possible to casually skip from server to server to try them out and get a feel for them like it was with the original game.
The Foundry in Cryptic's Neverwinter is something of a "spiritual successor" to these older toolsets, but it will be a tool of a different sort. It will more likely closely resemble the Foundry currently employed by Star Trek Online, another Cryptic game that features user-generated content. Instead of D&D-themed Lego, it will be D&D-themed Tinkertoys.
Star Trek Online's Foundry toolset isn't really capable of creating persistent worlds. It comes with a limited selection of pre-made interior and exterior maps, most of which are used elsewhere in the game and are recycled for use in the toolset. These maps can be manipulated in clever ways to make them seem new and unique and different, but not in the same way that maps could be manipulated in the Aurora toolset. In the Star Trek Online Foundry, terrain cannot be deformed with push-pull brushes. Customization is achieved by the placement of objects, effects and monsters/NPCs around the map.
The Foundry in STO is very good at creating story modules, and that will likely be the strongest part of the Neverwinter version as well. Story events (including custom maps and scripted dialogues) are placed like links in a chain, sometimes branching out depending on the choices made by the player. This process was somewhat more complicated in the Aurora toolset, often requiring meticulous dialogue editing and confusing scripting. Planning out a story in the Foundry is a relatively simple matter of dragging and dropping events from the library on the right to the assembly area in the middle, and then editing the details afterward to make them fit together properly.
The chief difference will be that it is highly unlikely that the Neverwinter Foundry will allow users to create space missions.