In case you haven’t heard the news: Beamdog, a company known for updating classic older games to run on modern computer systems, has just announced that it has acquired the rights to the Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights (NWN). Here’s the announcement:
Many readers of my blog already know what NWN is, but here’s a quick summary for those who don’t. Released in 2002 and containing a pioneering “adventure building toolset,” NWN is a computer-based RPG based around the Dungeons and Dragons (v3.0) rules. The game modules I’ve released, which tell part of the story of the Sanctum of the Archmage Saga, are built using NWN’s Aurora game engine.
NWN has slowly been fading into obscurity over the years after its heyday during the 2000s. A highly energetic modding community developed then around the hundreds of high-quality full-length adventure games built for it by members of its player community. Beamdog is now resuscitating what is probably the most mod-able computer game ever released — updating it to run on modern systems using today’s gaming technology.
This is a BIG deal, and it has too many implications to address in a single post. So I’ll be following up on my blog with additional thoughts over the next few weeks. In them, I’ll try to lay out what I think this may mean — both for the NWN community, and for the future of the Sanctum Saga. Here’s a preliminary start on that for now.
NWN:EE Pre-Order Beta Test is Already Available
Beamdog timed this announcement to coincide not only with the taking of pre-orders for NWN:EE, but with the availability of a new beta test version of it. More importantly, the two are linked: if you purchase the pre-order now, then you can download and install the current beta version. I’ve already done that, and started testing the latest release of the Sanctum modules in it. The visuals are improved, performance is amazing, and except for a few minor issues, they run without even needing to be re-compiled. I’ll try posting some screenshots later to illustrate.
A Renaissance of NWN Modding — Maybe
A lot hinges precisely on what Beamdog does with NWN. But initial feedback from them suggests to me that they actually understand what made NWN special, and are focused on it in their enhancement efforts. (This isn’t entirely surprising, since several of its original developers are on their team.) For example, I had the following brief Facebook exchange with BD CEO Trent Oster, who was also lead developer for the original Neverwinter Nights:
Tony Donadio: I think it’s less about updating the OC [original campaign] than it is about updating the technology. Modding is what made NWN, and it’s what could make a rebirth of it with a (hopefully) updated engine and architecture.
Trent Oster: That was our opinion as well Tony. There is too much content to update it all, but if we can open up the capabilities of the engine and add support for newer types of content we can move the platform forward.
Given that it gave rise to an explosion of indie game creation after its initial release, it’s possible that an enhanced re-making of NWN — especially with the support of a developer prioritizing its use to develop new content — could lead to a genuine renaissance of the game. This is something that no modder, myself included, can ignore or take lightly.
Continuing the Sanctum Mods
As readers can see here, I originally had a fairly extensive plan for developing modules in the Sanctum Saga for Neverwinter Nights. I ended up suspending those plans in recent years, for reasons that I’ve discussed elsewhere (for example, here). In a nutshell, though, I concluded that the demands of earning a living in my profession as a computer scientist, writing and publishing indie novels, and building game mods, all at the same time, was simply unrealistic. And of those three, building mods for a dying game with a shrinking player base, that its developers and distributors had abandoned (sometimes in bad faith), was the obvious one to cut back.
With the coming release of NWN:EE, that assessment may have to change. I don’t want to lead people on, or to promise anything that I won’t end up being able to deliver on. But what is clear is that I do need to re-consider my plans, now, in light of this news. So I will be doing that.
I’m not sure what the outcome of all this will be. But to give some context to my thoughts, let me share an exchange I had with Stephen L. Knowland, aka Savant, author of the Aielund Saga mods for NWN (and now, also, novels). This was on the NWN Community Facebook Page, right after the news broke.
Savant: Yeah HD textures, HDR rendering for really shiny metal effects… you know, if they did this right, I might even be persuaded to do another pass on the Aielund Saga.
Me: I was thinking the same about Sanctum of the Archmage — if I can find the time! It would add motivation to finally try to finish the module series, though.
Savant: Yeah it’s all about finding time these days! I think in about 6 months my schedule clears up a bit, will see how this project goes forward.
I’ve already decided that at the very least, there will be a Sanctum of the Archmage: EE re-release of the first two chapters of the saga. I don’t know yet whether I will be able to put Sanctum of the Archmage 3: Mission to Rayche back on the table as well. But I am thinking about it.