Yesterday we had the chance to chat with Jack Emmert, COO of Cryptic Studios. The obvious topic of the Neverwinter co-op RPG was the focus, but we changed some questions to give more insight into the how Cryptic is approaching the project. Jack was willing to openly chat about the game as well as talk about Cryptic’s past and future. In a very revealing interview we get the sense that Cryptic really is putting their best foot forward on this one and will show the game industry something new for the future.
I first asked Jack what it is like to work with the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms world. He explained that it was the game world he grew up with as a teenager. Playing D&D for him took place in Forgotten Realms and remains close to his heart. He explained that Cryptic’s goal is to create a game that will help players relive those old memories in a new format. It will also introduce new players to a fantastic game world with a rich history. Jack also explained that they have a lot to live up to with the games created before. Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights series did very well and for many is the defining RPG among gamers. Jack said they truly want to live up to the expectations set and are working hard to do so.
The next topic that came up was why the game was being made as a co-operative RPG and not really an MMO. Jack said that the concept is much easier than an MMO and there are a lot of things they can work on differently. He referenced the crafting system in Champions Online saying that it was a mistake to add to the game. He said that City of Heroes got attacked by MMO players for not having enough crafting, yet when they added the system to Champions it could have been done much better. For a co-operative RPG Jack said they can add systems in if the game demands it. Because MMOs had to follow a certain criteria, systems were added that did not meet expectations. This way with an RPG they have more freedom to create the systems if needed rather than to make sure they were part of the original design.
The other thing Jack mentioned is that the game will follow the play style of something like Borderlands with a Dragon Age/ Oblivion feel to it. The game won’t have to live up to the MMO expectations that have become so widespread in online gaming. Instead of having a full on MMO, Cryptic wants the game to be a place where old D&D groups can get together no matter where they are and play a night of gaming without having to deal with grinding monsters or endless repetition. They want the game to be a fun experience to have with your friends.
Jack explained that after Champions and Star Trek they realized that the studio had to shift gears from the typical MMO template. This new style of game is working with a tested engine and allows Cryptic to make the games they want. After the feedback they got from their most recent MMOs Jack explained that the studio is now moving in a new direction, “It’s a brand new Cryptic.”
So in talking about the game itself Jack did say that Cryptic will continue with the customization features which it has become known for. They want players to really be able to customize not only their characters but also to create dungeons and quests for other players to explore. The player created content is one of the end game scenarios that Jack thought would give a lot of tools to players to help create their own fun. He also said that with the success of downloadable content they have many plans to keep players active with new adventures in the future. They will have expansions to boost the level cap and allow players to experience Epic style adventures as seen in the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons currently being played today.
Jack went on to explain the design strategy behind the new Neverwinter game as using Veritcal Slices. Each slice is a full game play experience that the team and outside reviewers can look at and make assessments on. Back when they made Champions Online and Star Trek they had each team working on different systems that would eventually combine in the end. The problem with this design philosophy, Jack explained, was that it was difficult to make changes to the game once all the systems were in place. Using the new vertical slices system the team can make changes as they go. Jack also mentioned that the team is currently working on its second vertical slice in development, which means there is a full game play version of the game out there. Not the full game, but a playable tier of the game for Cryptic to test and make changes to as needed. Jack explained that development is going well and the team are very excited with results.
The biggest area that Jack address was quality, “We have to get better!” he explained. “It is a brand new game and a brand new Cryptic,” Jack was excited to say. Overall it seems like Cryptic is putting on their game faces for Neverwinter and seems to have a new design philosophy that benefits their approach. Jack addressed the tough past with Cryptic and is excited about the bright future with this new game and new game style. Thanks to Jack for taking time to talk with us and after our conversation we are also looking forward to what Cryptic has to offer in the future.