Interview with Neverwinter Developers: Why Quest When You Can Question?

During Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter’s beta press event last week, the Cryptic Studios developer team offered themselves up to be pelted with questions– in game. I felt like I was just getting my bearings within this new game world, but I forced myself to run over to the northern part of the city map, called the Hall of Justice, and think of some questions to ask them. Yes, I’d planned on brainstorming questions and neatly typing them out all-professional-like, but I spent a lot of my time logging into the game throughout the day just to see if the servers were up, and time got away from me. But once in, I trotted on over to a huge rabble of press people and a fast-moving conversation buzzing by in my chat log.

Here’s the conversation I stepped into:

Craig Zincievich (Chief Operating Officer): We’ll be releasing classes continually after launch as well.

Mystery Interviewer #1: Yes, I was rather curious about that. In 4.0, things like Trickster Rogue and Great Weapon Fighter was more a specific build for a class, not a class in itself. Any reason why you separated them?

Zeke Sparkes (Lead Designer): We thought a lot about whether to go with classes or more specialized class builds as the main player choice. We really liked the flavor, gameplay, and look we could bring to the more specific class builds over the broader classes themselves. Just like with Guardian Fighter and Great Weapon Fighter we plan on building out multiple class builds per class to help flesh out the best D&D archetype characters.

Mystery Interviewer #1: Ok, what about Epic Destinies? Any plans for those? Or is that something we’re not talking about yet?

Zeke Sparkes: Epic Destinies will come later. Post launch plans. : )

Mystery Interviewer #2: Are there plans at all to expand the quickbars or to allow for further customization in skills, controls, etc.?

Zeke Sparkes: The number of power slots you have is a big part of the balance of the game so we won’t be expanding those any time soon. But as far as what powers you can get, combinations you can slot…

I asked several questions of my own, but the sheer amount of people hanging out in the Hall of Justice was creating a wall of text that my questions were being crushed in between. Then I remembered that Perfect World had previously said there would be multiple developers all around the city, waiting to answer questions. Excitement! Pure slap happy excitement! I looked up the PDF I was sent and found the most southern spot a dev would be hiding.

Neverwinter Screenshot

I wandered over, and most likely with the luck of all of the gods of the Forgotten Realms, I came upon Lindsay Haven, a systems designer for Neverwinter. When I entered into the conversation she was having with a lone interviewer (score for me!), Lindsay was finishing up talking (or not talking) about the pricing model of the game.

Lindsay Haven (Systems Designer):  It is completely free to download, and completely free to play. Unfortunately  I am not allowed to say more than that right now. But as a MMO player myself, I’m pretty excited about monetization.

Party Member On the Seas of Getting Information Out of This Developer (or PMOSGIOTD): You mentioned a rich endgame?  What do you guys have planned to keep players locked in?

Lindsay Haven: Well, like I said, we have end game 5 man dungeons, PvP, professions, and some other systems we haven’t announced yet. But we think there is going to be enough for everyone.

Eric: Hello there Lindsay! Question for ya! What elements have you included for people interested in the RP facet of D&D and what do you guys have in the works?

Lindsay Haven: Hi [Eric]. RP is a BIG part of D&D. It’s something we are keenly aware of. We think [user generated content] brings an element to creation that [dungeon masters] like to express their [roleplay] through. And of course there will be guilds that like minded [roleplayers] can group up in.

PMOSGIOTD: Any plans for dedicated RP servers?

Lindsay Haven: Cryptic typically has a one shard/server infastructer, we don’t plan on changing that.

Eric: What important lessons have you learned from the release of Champions Online and Star Trek Online and how did you apply them to Neverwinter?

Lindsay Haven: Wow, well, we have learned a lot. Most importantly is how to deliver a game that players want to play, and continue to play. As a free to play game we think it’s even more important to make a good game, because people come and go quicker.

PMOSGIOTD: Can you unpack that a bit?

Lindsay Haven: Sure. As you probably know, CO and STO have both gone free to play fairly recently. Learning how to make a game that gives players a feel of accomplishment is what I’m talking about. Making content that matches the average play time of a player. Making systems that are compelling and get players excited about logging in.

Eric: Having played what I can only describe as a “buttload” of both titles I do see some of the best parts of each game in Neverwinter.

Lindsay Haven: You are definitely right. We consulted the CO and STO teams frequently to try and pull in the best elements. And, it’s important that we find what works for D & D pen and paper players as well. So that had a big hand in our development direction.

Neverwinter Screenshot

PMOSGIOTD: What challenges does the DnD audience bring that the normal MMO crowd doesn’t?

Lindsay Haven: The need for an excellent [user generated content] system, depth in customization and character builds, as well as a high level in lore accuracy. Making systems that are compelling and get players excited about logging in. You are definitely right. We consulted the CO and STO teams frequently to try and pull in the best elements. And, it’s important that we find what works for D & D pen and paper players as well. So that had a big hand in our development direction.

This is where the other interviewer asked if I was ready to ask another question, because it was actually my turn. I hadn’t been keeping track, but at that point I thought of us as group. Our challenge? Getting as much info out of this elite mob as possible! I mustered my resolve and thought of the most critical question to gaming history.

Eric: Well on a lighter note…What are the chances we get a playable Mindflayer race?

Lindsay Haven: Hahaha. I’m submitting that question as feedback. :) We aren’t allowed to talk about races other than the ones that are on the character creation currently. But, we do plan on adding more after the game launches so keep looking for a Mindflayer.

Eric: Well that is nice to know! What are the improvements over the foundry in comparison to the one found in STO?

Lindsay Haven: [Eric], about the Foundry, we’ve added a lot of new features. The map system is vastly different than STO, as you can imagine the space maps didn’t translate too well to Neverwinter. We’ve added a lot of emphasis into user flow with constant testing and UI updates.

Eric: One word. Dragons! You could have just cut and pasted the combat from STO BAMF!

Lindsay Haven: LOL! That would be epic. I think that our license would prevent that though. :) STO is more about tactics and precision. Both are great games, but very different combat.

PMOSGIOTD: Okay.  So where have you guys taken influence from in designing the combat?

Lindsay Haven: When I first started working on combat the Lead had me review animations from Street Fighter II. It’s based on movement heavy games like fighting games and God of War.

PMOSGIOTD: Can we talk player advancement?   What are some of the milestones along a player’s journey to the level cap?

Lindsay Haven: For player advancement we have power gains, power ranks, ability scores, feats, as well as gearing. We tried to even all these things out so there wouldn’t be a time a player felt underpowered, only to blast them with too much power. One of the bigger milestones though is the class Paragon Path. Which is similar to how it works in D & D pen and paper.

Eric: Having not gotten to play with the foundry yet– are all the tools unlocked when the player starts or do you unlock pieces, monsters, bosses, locations by actually visiting and defeating them?

Lindsay Haven: [Eric], for Foundry access, we plan on unlocking that at a specific level (it’s in flux, so I can’t say what it is, but you won’t have to wait until level cap to access it.) Also, we want [the] Foundry to be very accessible, and allow players to express their creativity. We’ve seen amazing stuff from the STO players, we don’t want to limit that in Neverwinter in any way.

Neverwinter Screenshot

PMOSGIOTD: I assume you guys are basing a lot of this on 4E, right?

Lindsay Haven: Yes! Lots of 4th edition in this game.

PMOSGIOTD: have you guys been talking to Wizards [of the Coast] about the upcoming 5th edition?

Lindsay Haven: We have been talking to them about 5th edition. We have also Beta’ed it internally (we constantly have D&D campaigns going in the office).


Lindsay Haven: We consider all editions of D&D in our design, but we lean most on 4th edition where it works within the scope of an MMO.

Eric: Okay! So do you guys have any plans for any cross media endeavors? It just makes sense to get a Forgotten Realms writer up in this world or will we be meeting some of the more famous characters?

PMOSGIOTD: Somebody wants to go questing with Drizz’t. :)

Lindsay Haven: We have considered those things. The game hasn’t even launched yet, so I don’t have much to say about where we might go (really depends on the players).

Eric: LOL No there will be enough Dr1zzts and Drissts that I won’t want to see the original. Hehehe

Lindsay Haven: Yeah, we are definitely planning on seeing a bunch of those :)

Neverwinter Screenshot

Eric: Oh almost forgot! So you have 2 shards right now are you guys not using the unified server tech I love so much in your other games?

Lindsay Haven: I’m glad you asked about shards. We have two shards because we are expecting heavy server loads at launch and we want to make sure we have the capacity for high CCU (Note from Eric: Did you guys know this meant concurrent users? I didn’t!) It’s likely once we get better technology and have an idea of what player play patterns are, we’ll consolidate to a single shard. Except for test shards, of course.

Eric: Companions! Companions! I’ve had a crew in STO and devices that act like sidekicks in CO. How are companions different? Do I get to personalize them as much as my character?

Lindsay Haven: Companions! :) That’s one of the systems I work on. [A] crew in STO and Sidekicks in Champions are completely different technology than what we use for Companions  They are customizable. You can equip items and Runestones in them. They come with a selection of different skins. That’s about all I can say. There is more depth, but you’ll have to wait for the official release on that.

Eric: Great to hear! Are they meant to fill a parties missing members or to be a buddy during soloing?

Lindsay Haven: They are not meant to replace party members. You can take them with you while questing, dungeoning, etc…

This is when I thanked Lindsay for the awesome Q&A and left her to do whatever magic game creation stuff the awesome people over at Cryptic do.

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