The developers at Cryptic Studios are working hand-in-hand with Wizards of the Coast, curators of all things Dungeons & Dragons, in making next year's free-to-play Neverwinter MMO. Representatives for both companies appeared on a panel during New York Comic Con this past weekend to offer an in-depth look at their back-and-forth iteration in the development of the game.
Cryptic is not trying to do a "literal translation of the [Dungeons & Dragons] rule set to the video game medium," said content lead Randy Mosiondz, pre-empting questions about which Dungeons & Dragons edition Neverwinter will be based on. Instead, Mosiondz explained, the studio is attempting to distill the essence of the pen-and-paper role-playing experience and imbue the game with it. Chris Young, a design manager in the Dungeons & Dragons research and development department at Wizards of the Coast, added that the point of Neverwinter is to give people nuggets of Dungeons & Dragons lore that will inform and inspire their own unique experience.
That entails expanding on elements that aren't particularly detailed in the existing canon. According to Dan Gelon, senior art director at Wizards of the Coast, the description of Helm's Hold — a small community dedicated to the dead god Helm — numbers maybe 200 words in Dungeons & Dragons' second-edition rules. But Helm's Hold is the basis of an entire zone in Neverwinter.
Cryptic's art team, including art lead Joe Jing, came up with an initial design for the monastery in Helm's Hold. They sent the concept art to Wizards of the Coast, which offered some suggestions on how to tweak the design to better fit Dungeons & Dragons lore. Cryptic's third pass of Helm's Hold included a towering monastery built like a fortress, with the aesthetic of a Gothic cathedral. And the studio's work has even affected Dungeons & Dragons itself: According to Jing, Cryptic's concept art for Helm's Hold influenced Wizards of the Coast's Neverwinter Campaign Setting guide.
Young characterized the company's development as "a bunch of [Dungeons & Dragons] nerds sitting around a table talking about their next campaign," and with Cryptic Studios in on the discussion, both the Neverwinter MMO and Dungeons & Dragons itself will benefit. Neverwinter is set for release in early 2013 on PC; check out our piece on the Foundry, its user-generated content system.