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Pen and Paper Gaming Comes to the PC
From the moment of its release on June 18, 2002, the computer roleplaying game Neverwinter Nights offered players a deep single-player experience, and a multiplayer option that let them relive the fun of pen and paper roleplaying while in an online environment. Sharing a gaming event without the need to share the same physical space. Groups could gather together and play through the same adventure as a party, with provision made by the game that even allowed for an old fashioned Dungeon Master (DM) who could exert ultimate control over the players and the environment. The game release was a success, with the game becoming an instant hit. But from the start Neverwinter players wanted something more. They wanted an ever present world, and with the popularity of games like Everquest and Ultima Online, they were determined to get it. In this quest for permanence were the persistent worlds of Neverwinter Nights born.
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Something Completely Different
What really sets Neverwinter Nights apart from other CRPGs is the Aurora engine toolset the developers released prior to the game itself. This toolset allowed customers to create their own adventurers, modules, and content for Neverwinter Nights. These adventures could include everything present in the actual game itself, from monsters to items, in addition to community created content. But even more important for the online community was the release of a game hosting client, capable of connecting up to 75 players in a single world. Players looked at this as a chance to recreate the feel of pen and paper roleplaying groups in an online environment. And developers looked at it as a chance to create the gaming worlds they’d always dreamed of.
The response from the gaming community was tremendous. Though the initial release of the toolset was problematic, the interface was best described as awkward, creators worked at breakneck speed, determined to be among the first to release player made content and modules for the enjoyment of a community which had been looking forward to the game’s release for months. The results were several player created modules available at release, and a growing interest in creating continuous world where players and DMs alike could live the adventure whenever they’d like. These continuing modules would come to be known in the community as persistent worlds, and would become one of the most used methods of playing the game from then on.
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Persistent Worlds vs. Regular Modules
A Neverwinter Nights persistent world isn’t much different than any other module created with the game’s Aurora toolset. The physical creation of the module is the same, and the world’s look and feel are the same as that of any other module. The difference comes in the hosting of the module. Where typical Neverwinter Nights modules are meant to be hosted, played, then removed when the group finishes with play, the persistent world is hosted on a server with the intent of remaining available to players 24 hours a day, much like the MMORPGs that influenced their design, Everquest and Ultima Online. Often encounters are pre-canned, and quests scripted into the module, so there’s little need for 24-hour attention from creators. Player characters are saved from session to session, complete with items and rewards, allowing for player development over a length of time. But it’s the inclusion of the DM client and the ability for the DMs to involve themselves that really brings in the players.
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Something Completely Different (cont)
Neverwinter persistent worlds are divided into genres according to their playing style. Some of the more popular genres for players are arena, story, role play, team, action, and social. The idea is to provide a world that’s suitable to a player’s goals in playing an MMORPG, Often with rules existent on the server that helps maintain playing style. Whether the player enjoys a traditional roleplaying style with character immersion, or an all-out battle between hordes of players, there’s usually a server somewhere that suits their tastes. There are even a few dedicated to more adult playing experiences.
With the inclusion of a Dungeon Master, persistent worlds take on an ever-changing life. With a DM, stories can be played out that would require vast amounts of programming, and players can live an adventure limited only by the imagination of those involved. Some of Neverwinter’s persistent worlds have been available since shortly after launch. The longevity of these worlds require change, and while modules are easily expandable, the change that often makes the difference from a mediocre world to a great one is that provided by DM activity. Behind every successful persistent world is a creative and dedicated DM or a team of them for that matter. It’s a way to keep a creation new and vital, a living breathing world that players return to again and again.
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The Best in Persistent Play
The best worlds aren't necessarily the oldest. For a list of the best at any given time players can check with the one site that’s been a resource for the Neverwinter Nights community since pre-launch, Neverwinter Vault. But a short description of some of the best are included in this article to get a feel for what’s out there.
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A Top Persistent World - Higher Ground
Currently at the top of the list of Neverwinter Nights persistent worlds is Higher Ground. Higher Ground is a massive game, hosted in several modules in order to allow for more players to participate, and is highly customized. The designers have created a truly epic world capable of hosting up to 192 players. They’ve extended the number of player races and classes available, as well as the level cap. They’ve even created a downloadable optional addon that enhances the look and feel of play. With a dedicated playerbase, the world really lives, with players adding as much if not more to the ambiance of the game than the developers. This is what early community developers envisioned at the release of the game, a persistent world with the complexity and openness found in the best of MMORPGs elsewhere. A preview teaser is available for this magnificent world. And it’s been featured by Bioware on their website.
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Another Great World - Layonara Online
The next example of the best in persistent worlds is Layonara Online. With a DM team consisting of dozens of DMs, Layonara demonstrates what can be created with an attention to story and adventure. The team runs over 40 quests a month which advances the storyline of the detailed world they’ve created. It’s a story that includes aspects of politics, culture, deities, and world lore that the players themselves can add to. Like others of the top worlds, Layonara offers a high level of customization, from items to FX. And the user community is strongly involved in the direction of the game, from a well used forum, to shaping world events. Layonara has existed for years because it always offers something new for its player base, with a never-ending story.
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Worlds of Adventure
There are hundreds of persistent worlds for use with Neverwinter Nights. And the list of worlds is constantly changing, with new worlds being born as old ones die, or transform themselves. Since the day the toolset was announced speculation as to the extent of creation possible began, and upon release communities of creative teams, as well as innovative individuals began to work on their masterpieces. Worlds where the magic of AD&D lives on, with classes and monsters created decades ago lovingly recreated in electronic form.
Neverwinter Nights is available for play on Windows and Mac, with the client server available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. While all persistent worlds are free as a requirement for permission to use Neverwinter Nights development tools, some persistent worlds require the purchase of additional expansion packs from Bioware, or the free download of individual world addons in order to play.
System requirements are:
- Operating System: Windows 98/ME/2000SP2/XP
- RAM (Windows 98/ME): 96 MB Windows
- RAM (Windows 2000/XP): 128 MB
- Hard Disk Installation: 1.2 GB
- CD ROM or CD/DVD ROM Drive: 8x
- DirectX version 8.1
- Video Card: 16 MB TNT2-class OpenGL 1.2 compliant video card
- Sound Card: DirectX® certified sound card
- Multiplayer: IPX or TCP/IP via LAN or Internet
- Multiplayer via Modem: 56k (2 players max)
- Processor: 450MHz G4 or faster processor
- Operating System: Mac OS X version 10.2.6 or higher
- RAM: 256 MB
- Hard Disk Installation: 2.1 GB
- Video Card: 32 MB or higher video card
- Multiplayer: TCP/IP via LAN or Internet