The Game Archaeologist: Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2

    
27

At the end of June 2014, dozens of online worlds flickered and vanished with the flip of a switch. It was a online apocalypse the likes of which we had not seen in quite some time, although you might be forgiven for not having heard of it.

When GameSpy Technology went offline on May 31st, 2014, dozens of EA games that relied on the platform for multiplayer functionality lost their online components. Because of this, Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 found that several of their persistent player-made and -run worlds were in danger. For over a decade, players had poured creative energies and roleplaying enthusiasm into these micro-MMOs.

Fortunately, players swung into action to work around the shutdown, keeping their worlds alive and detached from GameSpy’s umbilical cord. I saw this event as a wake-up call for people like yours truly who are acquainted primarily with BioWare and Obsidian’s single-player offerings and are ignorant of the larger Neverwinter Nights community out there. Let’s take a look at this engrossing online realms and how it came to be.

Power points to the players

At the time, it was one of the biggest projects that BioWare had tackled to date. Created as a spiritual successor of sorts to AOL’s 1991 Neverwinter Nights while being influenced by Ultima Online, Neverwinter Nights took a sizable team at BioWare five years to make.

“Compared to Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights allocated five times the manpower to making the game-creation tools suite,” one of BioWare’s devs noted in a post-mortem. “Our experience online was that we had the most fun when we were adventuring with a moderate-sized group of friends, with a game master creating an adventure for us in real time. This experience was one of the foundations of what we wanted to capture in Neverwinter Nights.”

The scope of the game was staggering: It included not only a sizable BioWare-worthy single-player campaign but also a multiplayer option, modding tools, and — most importantly for the purposes of this column — the ability for players to make and host “persistent worlds.”

BioWare released Neverwinter Nights on June 18th, 2002. The game quickly become one of the studio’s most profitable titles. Between 2003 and 2006, the studio created several expansions and adventure modules before passing the torch to Obsidian (aka Li’l BioWare), which created the sequel. Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansions had a good run and was well-received, although there was a strong divide among players as to which title was superior.

Perhaps the debate between the two was pointless, as both games saw the rise of a very active modding and DMing community. By deciding to bow out (for the time being) of running its own persistent online world and instead empowering players to make their own, BioWare truly opened up a Pandora’s Box of wonders and the occasional blunder.

All of these persistent worlds are yours except Europa

As I mentioned earlier in this column, Neverwinter Nights persistent worlds were, for the most part, micro-MMOs. Player dungeon masters could take on the role of all-powerful developer, setting the rules, enforcing a certain style of gameplay, and molding the world as they saw fit.

It must be emphasized just how powerful these modding tools were. “The packaging of proprietary custom resource packs called haks permitted modders to create and add anything to the game — new tilesets, creature models, item models, music, sound effects, load screens, skyboxes, classes, skills, feats, nearly anything,” EQ Hammer noted.

One of these persistent worlds could host up to 96 people at a time. While this was a number far smaller than traditional MMOs, it still eclipsed traditional small-group multiplayer campaigns in the NWN games. Other than size, the biggest limitation to persistent worlds was the mandate that they be made free of charge for all for copyright reasons.

Apart from that, the sky was the limit, and persistent worlds took off. Dungeon masters had the freedom to create specific game worlds in virtually any genre, guide campaigns personally, and even hop into NPCs to add a little live roleplaying realism. The servers quickly separated into specific rulesets, including action (PvE fighting), roleplaying, PvP, social, story, and so-on. Unlike their sometimes-marginalized status in modern MMOs, roleplayers in these persistent worlds were a vibrant, active force that kept the servers running.

As time went by and the studios began to ignore the games, player-creators found themselves picking up the slack of jury-rigging fixes for these aging titles. As EQ Hammer put it, “Amateur engineers developed SQL database support for the game, which allowed persistent-world servers to bypass hardcoded flaws in the engine and allowed them to introduce true persistence in the form of housing, banking, and more. When BioWare’s master authentication servers for the game went down, players quickly created and freely disseminated their own server-side authentication scripts.”

A sampling of Neverwinter Nights persistent worlds

While many of these persistent worlds have quieted down, there are still scads of them in existence. In fact, NWNList Scry once listed as many 851 persistent worlds spread between the two games, with the first Neverwinter Nights having twice as many as the second.

Here’s are a few of the popular Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 worlds currently running:

  • Ravenloft: Prisoners of the Mist is an immersive, story-oriented roleplay server that takes place in the gothic-themed campaign world.
  • Gem of the North is based around the northern locations of the Forgotten Realms. Nowadays it is placed between Rassalanter (a bit north of Waterdeep).
  • Miss Planescape Torment? Sigil: City of Doors seeks to recreate that unique fantasy setting!
  • Kingdom of Haven is a persistent roleplay world based on Forgotten Realms 3.5. It’s been established since 2007 and offers a wide range of diverse roleplay, adult themes, 25+ custom classes, and monthly content.
  • Baldur’s Gate is a popular Neverwinter Nights 2 shard set in the game world that BioWare first made famous.
  • Realms of Trinity is a story-driven roleplay world set in Forgotten Realms.
Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.

27
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
kohnwn2
Reader
kohnwn2

Yes, NWN2 is still around and kicking. We have an active development community (See discord here: https://discord.gg/YHbCMs) and a small cadre of active servers still kicking around for over a decade now.

You can learn more about our NWN2 server here (Kingdom of Haven) : https://www.reddit.com/r/neverwinternights/comments/90c2wq/kingdom_of_haven_nwn2_persistent_world/

Our Discord is: https://discord.gg/hwKYzEK

Reader
StonerMk2

Good lord, spent something like 2500 hours in NWN1 back in the day. So many great memories roleplaying on various servers and eventually DM’ing on a couple. Great game with all around great communities. Had a server for whatever you were into, wanted to RP tons of servers for that…wanted to just hack and slash, level up and loot, servers for that too.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
PhoenixDfire

As a single player game, I was never a fan of NWN because of the party size restriction, (although hands up all those that like deekin). However, once the party expanded to 4 in NWN2, I really started to enjoy the gameplay, although I did feel that nothing matched the epic feel of the Baldur’s Gate series.

However, Multiplayer was excellent.

I hope that Beamdog update NWN2 as well.

Reader
IronSalamander8 .

I played NWN when it was new, many years ago and beat the campaign a couple of times before playing the vast plethora of player made content.

I never finished 2. It was better graphically but in so many other ways it wasn’t as good.

Mostly played solo and some on a LAN with friends. Never dipped into the online stuff.

Reader
Weilan

The coincidence of this article… I started playing NWN1 a few days ago without ever playing before and without doing any research on it. Pretty solid game. I plan to play NWN2 after.

Reader
starbuck1771

Yes they were good games that I tested for Atari/Bioware and they had several player created moduals you could download to extend their life.

Reader
Tee Parsley

NWN2 skimped on the UI, made much of it unalterable. It was enough to make the game unplayable for me.

I still occasionally dip my toes into NWN1.

Reader
Castagere Shaikura

This was to me the best time for gamer’s. The early 2000’s when game devs really cared and weren’t controlled by shareholders like today. I had many late nights playing in those NW1 worlds and made so many friends in them. Thanks for the memories Justin.

Reader
Bruno Brito

I got the GoG version of NWN for free, the Diamond version. Can i play online with it?

And it’s one of the best games i’ve ever played. I’m not really fond of D&D as a pnp setting ( more of a Vampire guy ) but as a pc game, it works really well.

Thanks for the opportunity, GoG <3

Reader
starbuck1771

D&D had Ravenloft as its vampire setting.

Reader
Bruno Brito

I know. And as a setting, Ravenloft is fucking incredible. Pretty much all of the Forgotten Realms series is.

My problem is the system itself. I’m not fond of the D20 system. I’m actually not fond of systems that dedicate a small space for character conception, and a huge part for numbers.

Vampire in it’s Nature/Demeanor selection, has way more possibilities than D&D tendencies would ever have. Not only that, but you can see your Humanity/Morality as a tendency meter. Not perfect ( a Nature/Demeanor would be better ) but it can work.

Reader
Chris Thomas

Arelith is one of the leading persistent world for nwn. Check it with the nwn enhanced edition and the website at Arelith.com

Reader
starbuck1771

Uh Justin you may want to do a retraction. EA had nothing to do with Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2. Bioware was part of Atari back then for Neverwinter & the KotOR games. Just as Cryptic was for Star Trek Online.