– Karly Taylor
Still cruising on a D&D high from my Sword Coast Legends article, it got me thinking about previous Forgotten Realms video games. Blasphemously skimming over Baldur’s Gate, I found myself reminiscing about the lesser-known Neverwinter Nights instead.
It’s a third-person RPG developed by Bioware back in 2002, set in the same D&D universe as Baldur’s Gate, though featuring a different cast of characters with a completely different story, unconnected in any way.
It didn’t enjoy the same critical acclaim as its predecessor, for a number of reasons. The story being not-so-epic in comparison to BG being one of the major ones. It also had a lot of dialogue and text, but it fell rather flat and wasn’t particularly interesting to skim through at the best of times.
The companions, or henchmen, as NWN preferred to call them, weren’t particularly memorable, especially if you compare them to the likes of Jaheira and Viconia from BG. Except maybe Tomi. Tomi Undergallows was a cool little halfling rogue, we were good buds.
All in all, for people who were expecting Baldur’s Gate in 3D were sorely disappointed, and therefore NWN became one of Bioware’s least talked about titles, behind Jade Empire.
It lacked Bioware’s creative, rich story telling; in the turn of that age, NWN‘s personality got lost to “look at the pretty graphics we can make now!”.Disclaimer: They’re really not so pretty these days. I personally enjoyed Neverwinter Nights, not necessarily for its official campaigns (though the expansions, especially Hordes of the Underdark, ended up being much, much better) but for the numerous fan-made modules and the creativity it sparked in thousands of people who wanted to make their own video games but didn’t know where to start.
Yes, the single player campaign for the game itself was pretty average (I’ll die a happy woman if I never have to hear “the Waterdhavian Creatures!” ever again), but the passionate community it spawned still exists to this day, though sadly it dwindles as the years go by.
Essentially, for those of you who don’t know, Bioware released the tool set they used to create Neverwinter Nights and its expansions, the Aurora Engine, for consumer use, for the purpose of distributing these custom-made modules online (for free, of course) for others to enjoy and give feedback on their writing and coding abilities.
Many gamers who created these epic single-player modules went on to become published novelists or become part of an official game development studio. These modules, now available on the Neverwinter Vault, vary wildly in content and quality.
Some are absolutely amazing and it makes me sad that so much work and effort went in to create something so fantastic that only a small group of people will ever see, while others… we don’t talk about the others.
I’ve tried using the Aurora Toolset myself but without some knowledge of coding and how the system works in general, I floundered. A lot. I also gained a whole new appreciation for individuals who could churn out actual, amazing stories using this thing.
Special props to Adam Miller especially for his Shadowlords, Dreamcatcher and Demon campaigns for being epic in scope and probably the best modules I’ve ever played. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of time you invested into those modules, Mr. Miller, and part of me doesn’t want to.
I lament that one day, this community will likely cease to exist. There will always be a community for independent video game developing, especially online, but there was a certain charm to the cheesiness of Neverwinter Nights’ graphics that made these fan made modules so endearing and different to anything I’ve seen since discovering them.
They didn’t need a budget, or a huge talented development team or anything like that. All they needed was knowledge of the engine and an idea. And a little bit of crazy passion, because there’s no way anything was going to get made in that seventh circle of hell known as the Aurora Toolset without some serious time and effort spent.