By Kyle Wilson
Tuesday, July 02, 2002
I apologize for the lack of updates to GameArchitect recently. I've spent the last couple of weeks thoroughly immersed in Neverwinter Nights, which has done a wonderful job of reminding me just how engrossing a well-built game can be.
Neverwinter is an incredibly open-ended gaming system, with clean and powerful tools capable of creating a wide variety of gaming experiences. The vast single-player campaign is rich with dialogue-driven story, puzzles, action, and some downright creepy horror sequences. The game/toolset encourages what Ion Storm's Harvey Smith calls systemic level design -- the construction of gameplay from higher-level gameplay primitives, which Smith contrasts with "special case level design." Systemic level design is a game design philosophy which interacts synergistically with data-driven game engine design.
Neverwinter Nights is catching much flak in the newsgroups for its bugginess. I noticed a few bugs along my way through the game, but I didn't have any crashes or corrupted save games, so I'm inclined to be forgiving. If the game seems to get more complaints than most, I suspect that it's largely because many more people are playing Neverwinter Nights than play most games, and the game has much more gameplay than most games, making thorough testing more difficult, and making thorough regression testing pretty much impossible.
While the gameplay bugs that I encountered were annoying, a more pernicious problem is that the game clearly has a number of hardware/driver compatibility problems. This is, unfortunately, always a problem with PC development. I've read a number of complaints about how quickly Neverwinter Nights was rushed out of beta and onto shelves, which makes me think that Bioware and Infogrames probably made a conscious decision to publish quickly in order to beat Warcraft 3 into stores. As a developer, I find it unfortunate when such business decisions take precedence over good software development practices, but it's certainly understandable. And if PC games are cursed with hardware compatibility problems, they offer one advantage over console games to make up for it --- they can be patched. Neverwinter Nights is a game with legs, and I have no doubt that it'll overcome its initial pains and still be attracting players a year or two down the road.
I'm Kyle Wilson. I've worked in the game industry since I got out of grad school in 1997. Any opinions expressed herein are in no way representative of those of my employers.