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Neverwinter Nights Chat With Marc Holmes
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Last night, Neverwinter Vault hosted an Internet chat relay session with Bioware's Marc Holmes and Neverwinter Nights fans. Marc Holmes is the Art Director for the highly anticipated AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) PC RPG, Neverwinter Nights. Although not related to the original online game by the same name, Neverwinter Nights largest pull is that it will be able to emulate the traditional AD&D pen and paper campaign by allowing players to create their own modules, and have highly customized RPG experiences with friends and a Dungeon Master. In this case Neverwinter Nights is largely seen as a AD&D campaign toolset, although Bioware will include an already prepared single-player Neverwinter Nights adventure. Neverwinter Nights will also be the third AD&D RPG to use the 3rd Edition rules - Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor, and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance being the other two.

Concerning the chat, Marc Holmes answered a variety of questions from the fans in no particular order, based on Neverwinter Nights art and its incorporation into the game's toolset (some questions and answers have been omitted for being "unrelated" to the chat topic or due to a "no answer" like response). In answer to a question about helmets and their technical structure (component-based like the weapons or whole objects set in stone), was that helmets will be component-based, which when apart will be in three pieces - the helmet shape and two decorative bits. The helmet will form one piece when equipped. A question concerned the number of non-combat related objects such as movable objects, chairs, candelabra, tables, forks that will make the game feel "world-like." In response, Holmes stated that there will be non-combat items (referred to as placeables) - examples being candelabra, treasure, practice dummies, small furniture, idols, painting that can be used to customize areas, although there will be limits imposed by pathfinding on how much placeables you can place (items such as forks may not be interacted with due to it small size). The Neverwinter team is currently working on ways to use placeables in any setting. In response to a question which asked about the importing of custom models, skeleton structures, and type into the toolset, Holmes said that creatures shares animation skeletons so the player can create new creatures but must use the existing animations. In order to create customized monsters, the new creature must overlap the existing animation's pivot points. If a player knows how to animate, they will need to replace the entire list of animations on a creature or use an old list and override specific ones. A question which involved the extent of how customizable monster models/skins are (for example, if you wanted to turn a Frost Giant into a Fire Giant, could the toolset be used to change the creature's skin color black, the hair color to orange, and replace the battle axe with a two-handed sword); would the player be forced to create a new skin in an external program? The answer to this is that Neverwinter's toolset is that generally a player can't change creature texture color (creatures share textures unlike the player models), so custom textures must be created in another program such as Photoshop. However changing a monster's weaponry which includes its colors and shape, can be done. Overall, textures will be set at 24 bit.

In response to a question which concerned static lighting and whether the player can change it as a module is played out, Holmes disclosed that the team was trying to overcome the frame rate hit of calculating lights and shadow volume, but he did not promise that this would eventually pan out. To a question involving the adding of flames onto creatures or people models (to simulate burning peasants or Flame Cats), Holmes said "..flaming creatures...well we are not allowing you to put flames on your creatures in the toolset - effects are costly so we don't want too many flaming things on the screen at one time - plus and more importantly, the particle system for the game is quite complex." Concerning the number of hair designs there are in Neverwinter Nights - the response was that there will be 32 hair colors for each race. Hair design implementation is biased in a Human, Elf, Dwarf order. Players can always customize the heads themselves. Bioware is also planning to create body types for all player races. Gnomes and Halflings will also be given their own models. In response to a question that referred to the size of tiles, Holmes said that tiles would be one centimetre, maximum one unit and are 10 metres square. A building story is roughly set at 3 metres high. In response to the inspection of items for players, there will be a description of the item but an icon of it will be seen instead of the item. Neverwinter Night's camera position is a top down perspective but it can be controlled manually. On the importing of models, there is no defined difficulty on bringing Neverwinter models into a 3D graphics program to edit skins and create "new looking creatures." In response to a question about a placeable that is also an NPC, Holmes said that objects are objects, creatures are creatures, the painting system for both is the same but they are categorized under different lists. In Neverwinter, fog will be an area effect so smoky rooms are possible; density, color, and lighting can be changed. There would be no ground fog however. Height transitions of buildings will be kept low because of the way the game view is set up (top down). Weather, fog, and falling leaves are default effects that can be turned on or off. Players can also set the amount of light in a certain map from pitch black to daylight. Concerning objects that can break such as chairs, it will have an animated death as it was decided the team wasn't going to spend time on physics for bouncing objects, and that having characters hold more and making creature pathfinding was the tradeoff.

To further customize Neverwinter Nights, there will be 200 portraits at intial release. The portraits from the Baldur's Gate series and Icewind Dale may be added in as well. Another question for Holmes about portrait resolution, was answered with this link to the Black Isle Studio Boards. Concerning the customization of tilesets and animations again, Neverwinter will have export tools for 3D Studio Max (as Bioware uses the program), may be extended in the future. Trees for the game will be deciduous, and players can change the leaves' color. Tilesets may also be created so that they can be waded through (in-game). Another detail about tilesets is that the mixing of tilesets will not be possible of example the mixing of a forest and urban tileset). In Baldur's Gate II, when the Monk class was first implemented, a question which brought up additional animations such as kicking was asked. Holmes said "Kung fu - well, we have some hand to hand animation. Frankly there is more weapon work, but that's kind of the way D&D is...we will see what we can do in the future about better martial arts in games..."

Concerning the usage of crowds, Neverwinter will allow for packs of creatures or NPCs. Building tilesets will be of many varieties; slums, merchant buildings, rich buildings, castle tilesets, shopping tilsets, and others. In Neverwinter Nights, the player may opt to add in their own animations - each added motion must correspond with the correct animation, the maximum size of animations depends on RAM (read-only-memory). In order to create custom creatures, (each creature in Neverwinter is a separate model with a pre-applied skin meaning no mixing or matching), players would be required to create their own variation, and add their own skin making it a separate model. Emotes will be also implemented so people can convey emotions such as wave and pray in the game. In response to a question about overlaying a transparency effect to creatures (for ghostly beings), Holmes said that an external graphic program will have to used, however there will be spirit creatures in Neverwinter Nights. For the usage of 2D maps in the game, Bioware is currently working on a auto map that will be generated from the tile information in the module.

A question which asked about the limits concerning custom monsters, tilesets, and models, Holmes said the limitations would be hardware and performance, however a player can't have more than 256 types of monsters in one module. On creating an exporter that works directly from .max file extensions for easy exporting with a file converter, Holmes said that this would be considered a future issue. Holmes also said that Bioware was thinking about having email support for scripted cutscenes but did not confirm it. Game settings that monitor in-game violence such as having blood showing or not would be there though.

Lastly although not related to the chat, RPGamer would like to extend our thanks to both the Neverwinter Vault staff for hosting the chat with Marc Holmes, and Marc Holmes for taking the time to talk with the fans.


by Rebecca Phoa    
Source: [Neverwinter Vault]
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