Exclusive: Neverwinter Is Coming

By Meelad Sadat

Cryptic’s Neverwinter is breaking new ground for D&D Forgotten Realms video games on several fronts, but not because it’s the first online game set in the universe, nor the first one that promises to keep the experience very D&D with player created content. The original Neverwinter Nights developed by Stormfront debuted 22 years ago and was essentially a D&D online for anyone who had AOL. Atari’s two Neverwinter Nights games, the first from Bioware and the second from Obsidian, were primarily single-player RPG experiences. Yet both had online multiplayer and player content. The latter came from ‘mod’ tools aimed at advanced PC users, and the games’ online modes were either multi-user dungeons or PvP multiplayer modes housing dozens of players at a time.

Cryptic’s game is the first Neverwinter MMO game, one that the developer promises lets thousands of players play on a single server, and where a good portion of the experience will eventually rely on user generated content. Along with publisher Perfect World, they’re using the expertise they built on City of Heroes and Star Trek Online to bring D&D into the free-to-play category. For game play, the experience breaks away from what players might expect with fast-paced combat and game mechanics rooted in action RPGs, not the turn-based, slow plodding ones.

Outside of mechanics and monetization, Cryptic is making sure the game is Forgotten Realms through and through by working closely with those who have helped the IP endure. Originally, the game was supposed to release with a new table top campaign from D&D licensee Wizards of the Coast, and the release of new books by longtime Forgotten Realms author R.A. Salvatore. As games are wont to do, it didn’t make the simultaneous launch. Salvatore is now creating plotlines to connect events in the game to his series of novels. Cryptic is also using Wizards of the Coast’s release of new Forgotten Realms campaigns and how they’re being promoted at retail to create tie-ins and drive awareness for their game.

There’s an interesting aspect to how Cryptic is handling the beta period. They’re letting people buy their way into closed beta testing by purchasing ‘founder packs’ ranging from $20 to $200. Once they’re done testing and the full game launches, people who purchased the packs get packages of virtual goods and in-game currency equal to what they purchased. It’s a way to keep beta players playing and the servers bustling at launch. Cryptic CEO Jack Emmert admits the idea isn’t original.

“I have to give props to Guild Wars 2,” says Emmert. “Because they did presales that got people in the beta, and I thought that really worked out well. That was one of the inspirations behind it.”

Another nifty effort is plans for a companion app. Emmert points to two frustrations players have with MMOs, one being grinding tasks that take away from real in-game action and progress, the other those long moments when they can’t play and feel disconnected. Crytpic is working on a Neverwinter mobile app designed to address both. Emmert expects features that combine some level of in-game functionality, such as crafting or making purchases and upgrades, with mini-games where players can earn in-game points and currency.

Last weekend at PAX East, we pulled Emmert away from a very busy booth to hear more about the game and what Crytpic is planning in the lead up to launch.

Tell us about the game.

Neverwinter is a MMO set in the D&D universe in Forgotten Realms. This is very rich history with gamers, and Neverwinter itself has been the subject of three different video games over the years. We make the fourth. Ours is going to be an MMO RPG, so you get online with thousands of other players. The three major features – number one it’s action combat so it’s not your more typical or standard MMO press a button, the attack takes a second or two to execute and then you’re on to the next. Ours is much closer to console combat. The second thing is it has user generated content so players can create settings, missions and whole worlds for themselves, for their friends, for the public. The third is we tried to make it so there’s always something to do in Neverwinter. There are contests, there’s dungeons and special events, so when a player logs on they’re not just stuck doing the same old missions and grinding their way through the game.

From a product standpoint, how are you communicating that this game is different than any other Neverwinter and Forgotten Realms games?

That’s a really good question because it comes down to things like the name of the game. We purposely didn’t call it Neverwinter Nights because we wanted to communicate to players that this is a different game. It’s set in the same in setting but different game play, so we called it Neverwinter and not Neverwinter Nights. By the same token we just called it Neverwinter and not “Neverwinter Online” because it’s kind of redundant nowadays, most games are online so it seems silly to put it there. So I think that was a really good, just by starting with the name and then the game mechanics too. The minute you start playing it’s very, very dramatically different than Neverwinter 1 and 2, and that was purposeful because those are great games, they stand up today. If someone wants that type of gameplay they can go buy that stuff on Steam in a heartbeat. We wanted to do something different that stood out.

What would you highlight for fans, what are some treats they can expect from this new game in the series?

The names and places of things in Neverwinter 1 and 2, you’ll be able to see in much greater detail. So there are areas of the city that are briefly mentioned in previous games where we actually have full zones. One of the developments of the IP was that D&D went through, since Neverwinter 2, they did D&D Fourth Edition where they moved the timeline of the game up over a century. And all these horrible things happened in that century, so the Forgotten Realms is really trying to recover, and Neverwinter is part of that. We worked with Wizards of the Coast who owns the D&D IP to chronicle everything. Salvatore . . .  he sat down and we worked with him on plotting out the storylines in Neverwinter. He wrote a series of four books set in Neverwinter — I think the last one just released — and that chronicles the period from when Neverwinter Nights 2 ends and what happens pretty much up until our game, so that players can read those books and get a better idea.

Tell us a bit about how you’re monetizing the game.

There is aesthetics, that’s certainly part of it. There are mounts, there are companions. We also have a system in game — there’s a currency we call Astral Diamonds. You get this by doing dungeons and the hard stuff, usually. What we do is create an in-game exchange so you can sell your extra Astral Diamonds to another player, blind auction mind you, for micro-transaction points. So that I can sell my points to you, you can use it as Astral Diamonds to buy some gear, and I can use it as micro-transaction points to buy a mount or a companion or an extra character slot. If you have a lot of time but no money, you can still enjoy the game. If you have money but not a lot of time, you can still get the things that you might be able to attain. Kind of a nice balance.

 Tell us about the ‘founder’s packs’.

I have to give props to Guild Wars 2 because that kind of inspired us, because they did presales that got people in the beta, and I thought that really worked out well. That was one of the inspirations behind it We have two different levels, one’s $60 and one’s $199, and each of them contain mounts, exclusive costume pieces, early access — VIP access to so if there’s a queue you jump to the front of the queue — companions, Astral Diamonds currency so you can start the game with a full wallet of stuff to buy your gear with, there’s a starter pack of potions and other things you might need.

How do you plan on tapping the player community for game ideas or improvement?

 If you take a look at Star Trek Online, which we did recently, it was the players who chose a massive expansion to the game where we added playable Romulans. That came purely from the players, it was a hundred percent what they chose in a poll we did, and that’s something I want to continue to do. What makes Neverwinter different is that it’s the players who will be creating game content with user generated content. So they’re actually going to be part of the development process because what they add to the game is what’s going to grow the game. So it’s going to be important for us to give them the tools that they want and need in order to make that aspect of it successful.

 How are you generating buzz building up to launch?

Step one is places like PAX, areas where businesses can interact with consumers. E3 is more business-to-business, with media. But here where you get the actual players, that’s vital. It’s one of the few places where devs can interact personally with the fans — PAX Prime and PAX East. Two, web banners, web ads — you have to advertise. Facebook, that’s a necessity, and Twitter. Sort of the basics., I don’t think anything is mind blowing that we’re trying to do except the size of it is perhaps bigger than anything we’ve done before.

 What about on the community side, are you doing any programs to drive recruitment?

We’re working hand in hand with WOTC [Wizards of the Coast], to give you an example. They make a product called Encounters for D&D. They ship out these short bite-size adventures to retail stores around the country and people once a week come in to play an encounter with a DM. All of these Encounters are going to reflect Neverwinter in this period, so players can go to a local game store, roll dice and play D&D, just like they have for 30 or 40 years — geez, it has been that long. And that is a way of engaging the player base.  That’s another interesting method where the unique nature of the IP allows us to do something like that.

 Will there be a companion app for Neverwinter?

Star Trek Online Gateway

Yes, definitely, we already have a nascent step — we have a tool called Gateway that allows players in our current online game, Star Trek, to check their character and stuff like that. But we want to build off that, we want to add different game mechanics in it so players can interact with Neverwinter and Star Trek twenty-four/seven. Too often you’re on vacation or you’re wherever, well I can’t play my game. But if we can have apps on here that allow you to access it even for just a minute a day so you still feel connected. I think that’s very , very, very important.

What features do you foresee in the app?

We’re discussing where to grow Gateway but I know we definitely want to add…for instance there’s a game in Star Trek Online called Dabo which is kind of like a roulette wheel game – you might have seen it in Deep Space Nine — where you can win in-game currency. Well that’s a great thing that we can put onto a mobile app. Crafting in Neverwinter, that’s a great thing we can put in app. Our crafting is very assignment based so you assign a henchman to go do a task, and he does it. It might take an hour or two hours or three hours, so you assign him and then three hours later it says ‘bing’ and then ‘oh ok I can send him to do something else’. That’s the direction I think we’re going. Use the downtime in our real lives to do the down time in MMOs.

Marriage Equality Supporters Paint Facebook Red

Facebook is seeing another political movement rally backers on the social net by having supporters change their profile pictures. If you’ve been seeing profile pictures replaced with a distinctive red image, it’s the work of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the gay and lesbian advocacy group and opponent of the Defense of Marriage Act.

HRC isn’t the first to take advantage of Facebook this way. Last year when the internet rallied against the controversial, corporation-backed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), activists on Facebook turned their profile pictures black to signify how the laws would amount to a clampdown on information flow over the internet. More recently, Rhythm and Hues inspired a unionization movement among visual effects artists when it announced layoffs right around the time it was taking home an Oscar for its work on the film Life of Pi.  The movement took to Facebook, asking supporters to replace their profile pictures with ‘green screens’ to symbolize what a film might look like without the work of visual effects artists.

HRC’s image was originally shared by the group earlier this week and as of the time of this writing has generated more than 68,000 shares and 21,000 Likes.  It has also transcended Facebook to other social nets, namely Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest. HRC introduced the image when it put it in place of its own blue and yellow logo. Advocates have not only begun using it for their profile pictures but also putting creative spins on their own images. Images circulating the internet are incorporating the graphic’s distinctive red, representing HRC’s message red4equality, and the widely recognized gay and lesbian movement’s ‘equal sign’ logo into everything from Beatles inspired images to Star Wars themes and pictures of kittens.





Broken Age Teaser Trailer

Broken Age, revealed to be the title of Double Fine Adventure, revolves around a young boy and girl leading separate yet parallel lives. The girl, chosen by her village to be sacrificed, fights back while the boy lives on a spaceship under the care of a motherly computer, but he wants to break free to go on adventures.

The Wolverine — First Official Trailer

The Wolverine, based around the classic comic Japan story arc, follows the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, where Logan deals with loss and the reality of being immortal. His journey will push him to his physical and emotional limits, facing deadly enemies and confronting the beast within.

GDC 2013 Tech Demos Impress

Nvidia showed off the power of the GTX 680 at GDC 2013 with a demonstration of an ancient pavilion being blown realistically to smithereens. Meanwhile, Activision had their own next-gen tech for facial modeling, that while still in early stages of development will make you question your concepts of the uncanny valley.

Enter The Most Terrifying Site Ever

The official site for the The Evil Dead serves up a fresh order of engagement and lets fans explore the haunted cabin that the main characters get holed up in. Within the cabin, fans can Facebook connect and experience a personalized experience. Explore the creepy cabin’s living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and the dreaded basement. The transition scenes and the creepy background music are haunting and never let you settle in.

The experience starts in the living room . . .

Click the shotgun to start killing Deadites . . .

Make sure to shoot twice for a kill.

Proceed to the basement to check out your own personalized Necronomicon

Take control of a haunted typewriter


Spamhaus Cyber-Attacks Subside For Now

Spamhaus says that the “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks on its computer servers has subsided. The cyber-attacks during mid-week crippled the Internet for many users.

It is still unknown who perpetrated the attack, but the unknown attackers were apparently unhappy with the British company’s efforts to block spam email. Thousands of computers that had been infected with a computer virus to become part of what is known as a “botnet,” which then was used to send huge amounts of data to targeted servers in an effort to overwhelm them, attacking one link in the Internet infrastructure and slowing down other parts of the Internet as well.

Source: VOAnews.com

GDC 2013 Talk Details The Rise Of Digital Markets

During a GDC talk, NPD games industry analyst Liam Callahan said that the U.S. and Europe is seeing a 33 percent increase in digital game and DLC revenue yearly, while China is expected to see digital sales increase 10 percent annually for the next three years. Furthermore, the Asian market is expected to lead the online and mobile games market by 2016.

The U.S., U.K., France and Germany saw $10 billion in sales for 2012, with a U.S. total of $5.9 billion followed by the U.K. at $1.7 billion, Germany with $1.4 billion and France with $1 billion. In the U.S., digital content now accounts for 40 percent of the total spend on games, which is up from 28 percent in 2010.

The annual spending on games in the U.S. for new retail games in 2012 was $7.1 billion, which represented about 48 percent of the total of $14.8 billion spent on games, down 22 percent from last year. The other revenue, according to NPD estimates, includes used games at $1.59 billion (down 17.1 percent), digital games and DLC at $2.22 billion (up 33.9 percent), subscriptions at $1.05 billion (up 12.9 percent), social network gaming at $544 million, game rentals at $198 million, and $2.11 billion in mobile game sales (up 10.4 percent).

Callahan noted different regions had different device habits. The U.K. had the highest percentage of console players, while France preferred portable consoles, Germany preferred PCs, and the U.S. was most partial to gaming on mobile and tablet platforms.

While smartphone penetration is similar in Europe and the U.S., only 27 percent of gamers paid in the U.S. while 40 percent of the players in Europe paid for mobile games (average spending in the U.K. was $16 compared to $9 in the U.S.). People in the U.K., France and Germany all spent more time playing than people in the U.S. did.

China’s growth continues, thought it’s slowed from 66 percent in 2008 to only 19.4 percent in 2012. According to Will Tao of iResearch, slow growth is expected to continue, while social games, game platforms and web games are projected to reach over 20 percent of the market in a few years and mobile game spending is projected to cross $1 billion this year, on its way to an estimated $2.8 billion in 2016.

Chinese game players are younger than in the U.S., with 37 percent of the gamers under 18 and about two-thirds of the gamers are male. A third of Chinese gamers spend between 5 and 10 hours gaming in a typical day.

Tim Merel of Digi-Capital noted that the U.S. tended towards ‘value’ markets like console games and subscription MMOs, countries such as China and Brazil were much more likely to see ‘volume’ games like mobile, social, and free-to-play MMOs as the dominant games. Merel believes that Asian games could dominate the online and mobile games markets globally, adding that game mergers and acquisitions broke all records in 2012, and eight out of 10 of the biggest acquisitions last year were with Asian acquirers.

Merel’s suggested that developers build those contacts in China now and possibly attend the next China Joy conference. “Start building relationships in Asia now,” he said.

Source: GamesIndustry International

BioShock Audio Diary For Sale On eBay

Corresponding to the release of BioShock Infinite, a fan has put up a functional BioShock audio diary on eBay. The auction is set to close March 31 and right now the bidding price is set at over $2,500.

The promotional piece was made was part of the “There’s Something in the Sea” viral campaign for BioShock 2 and there were only four made. Via the ARG, the current owner of the audio diary received the item, which actually does work.

Source: eBay.com

Total War: Arena Changes The Game For The Creative Assembly

The Creative Assembly announced that it is developing Total War: Arena. This game will be the first free-to-play title from the developer, mixing RTS and MOBA gameplay elements in online multiplayer match ups.

The theme of the game is that history’s greatest commanders and their armies will be pitted against each other in massive team-based battles. This implies that the game will not be tied down to a particular region or period of history like previous Total War games have been.

To find out more, and sign up for the beta, visit TotalWar.com/Arena.