Neverwinter is the MMORPG.com Best of Show for PAX Prime 2012 for many reasons, most notably for its inclusion of the Foundry, a way for players to create custom content for a game that sits squarely on many people’s “Most Anticipated” game list. There’s good reason for that too as we discovered during this past weekend’s show.
To truly understand how awesome the inclusion of the Foundry is, we have to take a short trip back in time to the original Neverwinter Nights. Originally released in 2002 by Bioware, NWN captivated many players who had been longing for a deep DnD experience in a computer roleplaying game. NWN delivered in a big way. What set it apart from all of the other SPRPGs of the time was the inclusion of the Aurora toolset which allowed players to create custom content using the same toolset that the developers had used to make the original game. Custom modules, campaigns and persistent worlds flourished for many years afterward and the modding community became a juggernaut of creation by making new adventures for players who seemingly couldn’t get enough. But the Aurora toolset was an unforgiving master, a difficult tool to use at best, and a downright frustrating one at worst. While it gave modders a huge amount of flexibility in the creation of custom locations and monsters (Star Wars critters anyone?), it was not a user friendly tool.
Fast forward to 2012 and Cryptic’s development of Neverwinter. During PAX, we had the distinct privilege to chat with Neverwinter’s Lead Designer Andy Velasquez about the new Foundry tools that will ship with Neverwinter when the game goes live some time in 2013. After gushing on in a very fangurlish way about how much the idea of being able to revisit Neverwinter again was such a great thing after somany years, we got in to the nitty gritty of the Foundry tools.
One of the first things Andy made sure to point out was the fact that the team is committed to ensuring that the tools for creation are not only powerful but also accessible to a wider array of creators than the original Aurora toolset. The team wants to give the ability to create custom content to anyone with as few barriers to doing so as possible. At the same time, Cryptic wants to make sure experienced builders and those with a great passion for creating complex quests will also have the robust features that they want. Cryptic has scored a win on both points.
But before we get to how they have done that, let’s talk about the way custom content will arrive in game:
Once logged in to Neverwinter, players will find the normal “choose your character and enter the world” type screen with a new layer along the bottom where Cryptic will shine the spotlight on user created mods. There will also be a way for users to enter the Foundry from within the game to view new mods, their favorite creators’ collections and more.
What makes the system so intriguing is that it seamlessly embeds the new content straight into the larger Neverwinter game. Once a module is chosen, the quests it includes appear in the game as any Cryptic-created quest does. Quests and objectives appear in the tracker, the “golden trail” appears just as it does for developer content, map points show up both on the mini map and the world map, quest giving NPCs exist in the main game world, the mission is tracked in the player’s lorebook and much more. In short, user generated content is given equal footing with developer-created content.
In addition to all of this, players of custom modules will be able to rate the content which, when enough positives are given, help the creator earn Foundry rewards in the form of custom forum effects and more. Players will also have the ability to check out their favorite creator’s content through his/her blog page and message the builder as well as donate building resources to them.
Foundry creators will have access to their own blog which will list all of the content they’ve created and player ratings of that content. Builders can give updates on projects they're working on, they can message users, add screenshots of their work and much more.
So, just how intuitive is the Foundry creation tool? Very. From everything we saw, creating custom content will be as simple or as complex as a builder wishes.
Once the Foundry creation tool is selected, players are taken to an interface that literally walks builders through the process. The UI shows builders what has been done and what still needs to be completed in order to get the content out the door. Helpful tooltips are included to move creators along in the process and I want to reiterate that everything, and I do mean everything, can be as simple or as complex as the builder wants it to be.
Modders start by creating and naming their quest. An interface then opens up that allows builders to literally ‘drag and drop’ all necessary components into.
Think of a quest like the one Andy spoke to us about:
A quest giver tells players he wants them to go to Location X, kill some bad guys, retrieve a lost item and return.
With those very basic parameters, builders drag and drop “NPC, location, mobs, item” (not Cryptic’s language, mine only!) into the interface. By simply clicking on each component, builders will see a new interface opened where they can add all of the relevant quest details.
Almost all NPCs in the game are available to use as quest givers. Obviously, some are reserved exclusively for Cryptic’s use in the overarching game, but there are literally hundreds of others to choose from. How about a barmaid at the local tavern? Check! What about that guy standing in a pile of rubble between buildings? You bet! In short, builders can pick damn near anyone. Once ‘who’ is chosen, then the dialog is entered. Again, it can be as simple or as complex as the builder wants. There can be a single dialog tree or one as detailed and branching as can be imagined.
When ready to choose the location for the quest, a map of the Sword Coast opens up and it’s as easy as clicking a spot on the map. If it’s not an already-named location, builders can fill in that information along with the accompanying lore behind it. Maps can either be completely customized or builders can choose from premade Cryptic maps that can be altered according to whim.
Choosing the mobs, traps and other encounters for players to experience once arriving at the quest location is, again, as easy as drag-and-drop. But even better is the astonishing amount of customization that builders will have access to when placing mobs and setting out the ambiance of the area.
Let’s say, for instance, that a cave/mine system is the location of the quest. Cryptic has provided preset assets that match them. But choosing a preset doesn’t mean that builders are stuck with Cryptic’s choices. Even within presets, creators can resize, rotate, remove, or relocate everything. Nothing is ‘set in stone’.
The same goes for the monsters. Builders can choose preset groups of monsters but then can customize them liberally. Want a set of house guards all wearing the same uniform or armor? You can do that and can niggle the details of what that armor looks like down to minute details. Want multiple types of monsters, each wearing something different? You bet! Want to give names to each monster? It can be done. In short, making the monster encounters completely unique is available and easy to accomplish.
One of the things we asked that we knew people would be concerned about was the potential for exploitation of the custom content. What, we asked, would stop builders from making a level 1 dungeon with level 20 rewards?
Fortunately, Cryptic will be maintaining control over the rewards and XP gained in the custom modules. Each creation is assigned a player level by the builder and rewards and/or gold earned will be assigned based on that level. It’s Cryptic's way to shut down exploitation of the system.
All I can say is that Cryptic devs have done something exceptionally amazing with the Foundry. While Star Trek Online players are familiar with the system, those who have not yet experienced it will be astonished at the ease with which player generated content can be made.
According to Andy, the team is excited to work in conjunction with builders to tell Neverwinter’s story. It’s a brilliant and refreshing trend in a very tired and often stale genre and something that I believe will become the norm in the years to come. While not a new concept, player generated content has been ignored by the industry for far, far too long. Kudos to Cryptic for bringing it back in spades.
I cannot say enough good things about Neverwinter’s Foundry. Fans of Neverwinter Nights, fans of custom content, fans of building and creating player generated adventures, sit up and take note. This is the game to watch.