In this exclusive phone interview with Cryptic Studios COO Jack Emmert, ZAM gets a heap of new details about the recently-announced Neverwinter "online multiplayer" RPG
The gaming community received exciting news on Monday when Cryptic Studios announced its upcoming Neverwinter online multiplayer RPG, based on the hugely-popular Forgotten Realms campaign setting of the classic Dungeons & Dragons. In the official press release, Cryptic Studios COO Jack Emmert described Neverwinter as an online, cooperative PC-RPG based on the works of best-selling fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, a linchpin of Forgotten Realms lore.
Not to be confused as a direct sequel to the original Neverwinter Nights series of MMOs and video games, Cryptic's upcoming title is more like a modern reboot with hybrid gameplay. In interviews earlier this week, Emmert was quick to point out that Neverwinter isn't a traditional MMO, despite sharing some MMO-like features such as persistent zones and group play. In homage of the original series, Cryptic is also developing a set of tools—tentatively dubbed the "Forge" system—that will allow players to build their own adventures and share that user-generated content with others.
To help us understand the scope and direction of Neverwinter, ZAM got in touch with Cryptic this week and spoke with Emmert in a phone interview. We asked him to describe the co-op gameplay and "persistent" aspects in more detail, as well as the capability and function of the "Forge" system and user-generated content. In today's first installment of our two-part Neverwinter interview, we start with game mechanics. Does the system finally bring the real Dungeon Master experience to the realm of video games? Is the 4th edition D&D rule set a good thing in Neverwinter? How tactical will real-time, group combat be? Finally, in part two, Emmert explains why he's the right guy for this job and offers a frank response to some of the criticism he's received in recent interviews after talking about Cryptic's previous two MMOs, Champions Online and Star Trek Online. Sit back, relax and read today's first installment after the jump. Keep an eye out for the second part of our Neverwinter Q&A later this weekend!
ZAM: There has been some confusion within the gaming community about Neverwinter's gameplay style; it's not exactly an MMO, yet it's not just a PC-RPG with multiplayer support. You've called it an "online multiplayer game" in interviews, which is a pretty broad term…
Jack Emmert: We look at it like a cooperative RPG. You get online, meet a handful of other people or game with your friends; we're not looking at zones which support hundreds of people. They're going to be smaller in scale to keep with the heroic skill, so that you, as an individual, feel like an intrinsic, important part of everything that happens. But at same time you're still going to be running across other people delving into the depths of Neverwinter—there are other adventurers in the world.
Unlike, say, Borderlands or some of the other [co-op] games; not that they haven't done this, but we're really focusing [on the fact] that it's an online, persistent game and we're going to be adding content to it continually just as we've done with our traditional MMOs. So imagine taking the traditional MMO model of adding new content continually—as opposed to every once in awhile coming out with DLC [downloadable content]—and very explicitly laying out plans for continual growth and marrying that with traditional RPGs, with the additional layer of being able to play with groups of other people… scores of other people, instead of hundreds, in a persistent zone.
ZAM: What else will Neverwinter share in common with MMOs, and in what ways will it be completely different?
Emmert: I think in a typical MMO you go out and you'll get a mission to kill 10 rats or whatever; it's very difficult to create scripted quests for hundreds and hundreds of hours. We're not doing that; everything that we're doing [with Neverwinter] includes a storyline and narrative like Oblivion and Dragon Age… a more traditional RPG. There's a beginning, middle and an end. There are no killing fields and you're never requested to just go kill 10 orcs, or collect five torn pelts. We don't have traditional crafting with resource nodes that you click on to collect stuff. A lot of those mechanics are simply born of the fact that you want people continually playing hour after hour. We're looking for great gameplay with a great story that's [going to be] a lot of fun.
ZAM: Collectively, do features like the "Forge" content creation system, the 4th edition rule set and co-op gameplay illustrate more of a video game representation of the complete D&D experience, as opposed to traditional D&D campaign video games?
Emmert: Some things have more holistically captured the experience of what it is to run through a module of D&D; I think that's exactly what we're trying to do. As opposed to the more traditional MMO model, I'm trying to make you feel like you're getting together with your buddies to run through the module of Neverwinter. But instead of being around a tabletop, you're going to be on the computer together.
ZAM: How much detail will the "Forge" system provide to create user-generated content and, on the other hand, how accessible will those tools be to the average player?
Emmert: That's going to be an ongoing battle, between flexibility and how much control we're going to give. But I do know that essentially, we're going to be taking simplified, streamlined versions our own internal tools and [making them] more accessible than some systems. Yet there's still a lot of control in it. Again, that's a careful balance that we're actually working on right now. It's a philosophical thing too; who do we want to use these tools? The good news is that you won't have to set up your own servers and stuff because that's already done; we already have access points set up for people enter UGC [user-generated content]. So that's a lot easier than say, finding a Neverwinter shard today; we're just trying to make that an easier process.
ZAM: So ultimately, does this system aspire to be the "digital" version of a Dungeon Master's notebook and tabletop screen, allowing the creator to build one-off adventures—or eventually, even campaigns—for other players?
Emmert: Yeah, my hope is that I can practically create my own campaign in [the town of] Neverwinter and maybe even put it in other areas; you make it accessible through the Neverwinter setting, but maybe you're going to other locations or whatever—but that's where we want to eventually get [the system] to.