A Return to the Sword Coast! A Neverwinter Q&A with Cryptic’s Jack Emmert

It seems that Neverwinter is coming back to its online roots.
It seems that Neverwinter is coming back to its online roots. Some of our readers might not know that Neverwinter Nights was originally one of the first graphical MMOGs and ran on America Online from 1991 to 1997, where players paid anywhere from $4 - $8 an hour to play. (And we complain about $15 a month!) That Neverwinter Nights became the foundation for the bestselling BioWare series.

It’s been almost four years since Neverwinter Nights 2 first graced our monitors, but yesterday the rumors proved true:  Cryptic Studios is indeed developing the next iteration of the beloved Neverwinter series, succinctly titled Neverwinter.  We had some questions: what Cryptic’s learned from its last two launched titles, and the game’s alleged use of 4th edition rules. To answer these questions and more like them, we collared our favorite ex-comic book store clerk, classics scholar, and trivia master, Cryptic Studios Chief Creative Officer Jack Emmert.

Ten Ton Hammer: Neverwinter is a markedly different game from Cryptic’s current gameography. Does this mark a permanent shift towards smaller scale co-op multiplayer? Co-op is definitely hot right now between games like Borderlands, Alpha Protocol, the Left 4 Dead series, etc.

Jack Emmert: We’re looking at those games on the console as a model for things we can do on the PC. That doesn’t mean we’ll never do an MMO again, but this is definitely a style of game that we want to carve out and say yes, this is what we can do, and we can do a great job with it.

Ten Ton Hammer: Many fans will be anxious to know what lessons you’ve learned from Champions Online and Star Trek Online. How will Neverwinter preserve the good things you’ve learned and correct some of the things that didn’t go as planned?

Jack Emmert: Right now, our goal is to create a great game, and we’re really trying to change the pattern we had with Star Trek Online and Champions Online. We churned those games out  fairly quickly -  Star Trek Online came out in 18 months, City of Villains in nine months, and Champions Online and City of Heroes in two years.  We created a tool chain and a methodology to get MMOs out quickly that was ten times better than almost anything anyone else could do.  Most MMOs don’t even launch, right?

The problem is, what made a game successful back in 2004 isn’t what makes a game successful in 2010. We need quality, and that’s what we’re focusing on – changing the scope of the game so everything we make is that much better.  In the context of Neverwinter, you’re going to get a co-operative RPG that focuses on great storylines, great content, great community, instead of every last feature system you can possibly imagine. That’s what we were concerned with in our previous products.

Ten Ton Hammer: Storywise, are you treating Neverwinter as a sequel to Neverwinter Nights 2

Jack Emmert: The game is set a little over a hundred years in the future and is part of 4th edition D&D. A lot has changed – if you read the 4th edition lore, Neverwinter’s been totally destroyed, and players will learn all about that storyline.

Ten Ton Hammer: Could you give us some hints as to why Neverwinter has been destroyed and what caused the spellplague that’s sweeping the land?

Jack Emmert: Right now it’s a mystery why the great city of Neverwinter has been totally decimated and is in ruins.  We don’t really know why. Now, across the planet, there’s something called the spellplague that resulted from the assassination of the goddess Mystra. A huge wave of energy washed across the Forgotten Realms.  Everything it touches, it does something random to. It mutates the landscape, creatures, people, it creates abilities, and it’s been decades since this has taken place.

As a result, the Forgotten Realms as a whole is a much more dangerous place. A lot of the great nations have either lost power or fallen part, like Luskan or Neverwinter. It’s certainly a more wild continent.  That’s the thumbnail sketch.

Ten Ton Hammer: 4th edition was made for a game like Neverwinter, but it’s gotten mixed reviews from traditional players. How extensively will you use this ruleset in the game?

Jack Emmert: Neverwinter is completely set in 4th edition, is using the character classes, everything.

Ten Ton Hammer: For players who aren’t terribly familiar with the D&D but played the Neverwinter Nights games extensively, will the races and other aspects of the Neverwinter experience be familiar?

Jack Emmert: Yes, absolutely.

Ten Ton Hammer: Aside from the game reveal itself, the most intriguing thing about this press release is Forge, the ability for players to craft their own storylines and quests. What can you tell us about Forge?

Jack Emmert: Neverwinter, like the previous Neverwinter games, is not only a great RPG, but will also make it easy to create user-generated content. You’ll have the tools you need to effectively become a virtual dungeonmaster.

Neverwinter picture
Neverwinter will incorporate the five classes of the 4th ed. ruleset.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will players be able to progress in the core Neverwinter story with player-created content, or are these side quests? How extensive a story can players create?

Jack Emmert: They’re side quests, but frankly, somebody can build their own campaign within the Neverwinter setting. We’re really hoping that players can create their own set of content that runs parallel to ours, that interleaves with ours, however they want to do it… really bring their imagination to life.

Ten Ton Hammer: Also regarding Forge, will players be able to share the campaigns and adventures they’ve created with not just other players that they know or through a third-party upload / download site? Will there be a system in place for rating these campaigns and easily sharing campaigns?

Jack Emmert: Ideally, we want people sharing everything from layout, dungeons, to adventures, campaigns, whatever. But nothing’s final yet. Our ideology going into it is to make sure that if I’m a really good story writer, I should be able to contribute that to the creation process, whereas another guy might be really good at laying out levels. We want to make sure it’s easy and accessible.

Ten Ton Hammer: You’re targeting Q4 2011 as a release date. I take it Neverwinter has been in development for quite a while, though?

Jack Emmert: Yes, even before our acquisition by Atari we were working on user generated content tools in an MMO environment – not that Neverwinter is an MMO. So when Atari acquired us, it seemed like a natural game to pick up and run with.

Ten Ton Hammer: Neverwinter isn’t an MMO, but it will have multiplayer aspects?

Jack Emmert: Certainly, we’re calling it an Online Multiplayer Game – OMG (laughter). It’s going to be tough to try and make people understand that this is closer to a game like Borderlands than it is like Champions Online or Star Trek Online.  We’re just trying to focus on letting players get in and focus on gaming with friends or play with a handful of people, and we’re trying to get away from the standard cookie-cutter approach most MMOs have.

Ten Ton Hammer: As a co-op multiplayer game, are you planning to maintain a lobby where players can find friends and pick-up groupmates or maybe a dungeon master, or will players have to rely on third-party tools to find games ready to start?

Jack Emmert: We’ll be doing everything we can to incentivize and help players meet others and group up.  Also, there are going to be NPCs (non-player characters) that can form part of your group, so if you’re on late at night or can’t find anyone else, you’ll still be able to go out and do things.

Ten Ton Hammer: You’re working with R.A. Salvatore, whose first tie-in novel, Guntlgrimm, is due out in early October, and also a tabletop game from Wizards of the Coast.  Dealing with a licensor is nothing new to Cryptic Studios, but every IP relationship is different. How’s it been dealing with WotC and R.A.?

Jack Emmert: Both Wizards of the Coast and R.A. have been terrific and great partners creatively and brainstorm with. We’ve been sharing ideas back and forth. So if you have the Neverwinter roleplaying products you should learn a lot about the game, and vice versa.

Yes, R.A.’s been writing a trilogy about the fate of Neverwinter, and a lot of the events he’s writing about form the core of the game of Neverwinter. It’s very fun to work with an author that I and many others have read for years.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you have any plans for further reveals at any of the shows coming up: PAX Prime, Austin GDC, New York Comic Con?

Jack Emmert: Nothing in the near future, but of course we’ll keep the community posted.

Our thanks to Jack Emmert and the Cryptic Studios team for a quick glimpse inside the newly announced co-op RPG Neverwinter, currently slated for Q4 2011.

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