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 style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter
is coming back to its online roots. Some of our readers might not know
that Neverwinter
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 style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter Nights
became the foundation for the bestselling BioWare series.

It’s been almost four years since style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter Nights 2
first graced our monitors, but yesterday the rumors proved
true:  Cryptic Studios is indeed developing the next iteration
of the beloved style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter
series, succinctly titled style="font-style: italic;">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.

style="font-weight: bold;">
Ton Hammer:
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter style="font-weight: bold;"> 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 style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Borderlands style="font-weight: bold;">, style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Alpha
Protocol style="font-weight: bold;">, the style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Left 4
Dead style="font-weight: bold;"> series, etc.

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.

Ton Hammer: Many fans will be anxious to know what lessons
you’ve learned from
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Champions
Online style="font-weight: bold;"> and style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Star
Trek Online style="font-weight: bold;">. How will style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter style="font-weight: bold;"> preserve the good things
you’ve learned and correct some of the things that
didn’t go as planned?

Right now, our goal
is to create a great game, and we’re really trying to change
the pattern we had with style="font-style: italic;">Star Trek Online
and Champions
. We churned those
games out  fairly quickly -  style="font-style: italic;">Star Trek Online
came out in 18 months, style="font-style: italic;">City of Villains
in nine months, and style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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.

Ton Hammer: Storywise, are you treating
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter style="font-weight: bold;"> as a sequel to style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter
Nights 2 style="font-weight: bold;">? 

The game is set a
little over a hundred years in the future and is part of 4th edition style="font-style: italic;">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.

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

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.

Ton Hammer: 4th edition was made for a game like
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter style="font-weight: bold;">, but it’s
gotten mixed reviews from traditional players. How extensively will you
use this ruleset in the game?

style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter
is completely set in 4th edition, is using the character classes,

Ton Hammer: For players who aren’t terribly familiar with the
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">D&D style="font-weight: bold;"> but played the style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter
Nights style="font-weight: bold;"> games extensively, will
the races and other aspects of the style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter style="font-weight: bold;"> experience be familiar?

Yes, absolutely.

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?

style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter,
like the previous style="font-style: italic;">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.

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/88438"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 580px; height: 363px;"
alt="Neverwinter picture"

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

Ton Hammer: Will players be able to progress in the core
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter style="font-weight: bold;"> story with player-created
content, or are these side quests? How extensive a story can players

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.

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?

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.

Ton Hammer: You’re targeting Q4 2011 as a release date. I
take it
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter style="font-weight: bold;"> has been in development
for quite a while, though?

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

Ton Hammer:
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Neverwinter style="font-weight: bold;"> isn’t an MMO,
but it will have multiplayer aspects?

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 style="font-style: italic;">Borderlands
than it is like style="font-style: italic;">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.

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?

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.

Ton Hammer: You’re working with R.A. Salvatore, whose first
tie-in novel,
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Guntlgrimm style="font-weight: bold;">, 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.?

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 style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter
roleplaying products you should learn a lot about the game, and vice

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 style="font-style: italic;">Neverwinter.
It’s very fun to work with an author that I and many others
have read for years.

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?
style="font-weight: bold;">

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

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.
style="font-style: italic;">

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Neverwinter Game Page.

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