The 'Rebirth' of Neverwinter! Jewel of the North Q&A with Salim Grant (Senior Game Designer).
With Module 21 - Jewel of the North now only one week away from launch on PC, July 27th 2021(Fall 2021 on Consoles), the Neverwinter for Noobs team were given the opportunity to interview Salim Grant, Senior Game Designer for Neverwinter. Salim has worked in the video games industry for over 20 years. He has experience in online game development and project management for multiple online games and has worked on much content in Neverwinter since 2017 including classes, companions, brought back old content to create the Tales of Old event and most recently, worked on the Vault of Stars dungeon and the new Bard Class.
Part 1 - Existing Neverwinter Content
Ennileah: Will future content follow a similar format to those ideas brought forward during the CDP (Collaborative Development Program) periods? ...episodic content, evolving environments etc.
Salim: I think we are still discussing it. It's obviously a question that we've asked internally also, as after years of doing straight module releases, this type of content is recently new to Neverwinter, so I think we're still trying to figure that out.
We are still planning so that we have a general idea of what we're doing for the next module releases, other content and what the general theme is, of which I think we've hinted at what it's going to be in a few streams now. But as to how it's going to be laid out…. We're still trying to figure out what that is exactly.
I definitely wouldn't say that it's off the table, because I think the concept of episodic stuff can be really cool. We are just getting our feet wet on it and trying to figure out our processes on how we could best deliver content like this to you all.
Ennileah: Class Balancing – Various players have asked me if there are future plans to buff/nerf their class, especially Paladins, who have been left behind somewhat in the current ‘meta'.
Salim: At this point I couldn't say anything is concrete. Obviously, we are always looking at making sure that things are as balanced as we can, along with the longer list of other work that we have to do. Our Systems Lead has his pulse on all these things, especially once the Bard is live.
The goal for the Bard is that the class is basically equal in its role to other classes, but once we have the Bard live, I'm sure some things will pop up that we will need to address. I will be having to make tweaks here and there and that may affect other classes.
So, I couldn't say anything for sure, but we try to be pretty diligent in how we look at things, ensure that we understand what's going on in the community and that we hear what players are saying.
Ennileah: In the Sharandar Driftwood Tavern stream in March this year, you mentioned that you had previously worked on Neverwinter during the Strongholds and Paladin launches. With Strongholds in mind, are you currently working on furthering the plans on last year’s roadmap to adapt the current Stronghold content?
Salim: So to comment on the first part of that question, I actually designed a lot of the math behind Strongholds, the initial guild set up system and how buildings progress amongst other things. I am the original designer for that content, but I left Cryptic for a short time during its implementation. As far Stronghold responsibility goes generally, I'm the guy on the team who probably knows the most about Strongholds right now. Jared probably knows a bunch too, as he's had to interact with it here and there and we've talked about Strongholds a lot. We keep looking at where we can put updates onto the Roadmap as it's not a small thing, but we don't think it would be good to just say ‘Hey, we're going to kind of tune Strongholds...' or do this particular thing and ignore the lower level of issues that exist with it now.
The Stronghold system is pretty old. We haven't updated it in a way that I think is good over the past however many years. So, we're trying to figure out exactly how we're going to handle it because it is a gigantic task and it would take a lot of resources to focus on it.
I assume that I would be a part of future updates to the system, but you know, I currently have another ‘giant house’ that I'm working on…..
We have put it out there to the community that we are trying to get it on the Roadmap somewhere. There isn't a recent update on where that would be as we are still in the planning phases. If Strongholds can go in post M21 somewhere, then I'm sure we'll figure it out. If not, then hopefully we look to applying some resources to it in the future.
I really do want to dig into Strongholds more and figure out at what point we are at with it and see how we can refresh it. We could maybe just do a whole new thing you know. I mean, I think all options are on the table. Do we sunset Strongholds and do a whole new system? Do we take Strongholds and turn it on its side and re-imagine it where it is in that spot?...
…Strongholds is big, like it's craziness. Stronghold PvP is a whole other thing to think about because conceptually, Stronghold PvP is a cool thing and when we were making it, it was like, ‘This this is going to be crazy…this is going to be a huge thing’. Some of the initial designs were actually really nuts, but now we have to sit down and disassemble it all and look at what we have and then make a decision on how we want to move forward and hopefully that happens within the next year or so, but it's not my call in that regard. It's up to Matt and Randy to figure out what they want to do.
Ennileah: Stats – Many players I speak to, still remain confused as to what contributes towards ratings, and what other sources go towards the percentages. Would the team be able to clarify this in an official blog post perhaps or similar resource that players can access more easily?
Salim: It doesn't seem like it's out of the question for us to do something like that, you know, kind of pulling back the veil on the mystery behind our stats. So it's just something that needs to be brought up with the team and find the time and resources to do so.
Ennileah: Are there any plans to up the spawn rates of the hunt marks in Sharandar Mended Grove & Dark Fey Mire areas? These seem to remain quite low when compared to Episode 1's spawn rates.
Salim: We recently updated the spawn rates, they should be identical across all of Sharandar but I will look into the rates again in those areas.
Ennileah: With the ever-increasing Zen payout backlogs, especially on PC, are there any future plans to change how the ADX (Zen/Ad Exchange) works? (As this isn't within Salim's area of knowledge, I received a reply from the Community Manager on the subject)
Julia(CM): On liaising with Jared, ideally we need more AD sinks. We have attempted various fixes but none of them manage to really alleviate the problem long-term. Our most recent strategy was putting limited time items in the Wondrous Bazaar like the bag, coal ward, etc. We have more planned and ideally we'd like to get to the point where a new item is in the Wondrous Bazaar every week for a limited time. But basically yeah, getting more options out there where people would be willing to spend AD on them is our current plan.
Part 2 - The Bard & Module 21
Ennileah: Jewel of the North, the name for the new module, was originally used back in 2013 when launching the game. Is there a reason this name was chosen for Mod 21? Do you consider this to be a ‘rebirth’ of Neverwinter?
Salim: I mean, that's an interesting interpretation of the name. I think where we are now with the game, even if that interpretation isn't intended, the game probably does feel that way. Internally, we are definitely trying to breathe new life into things as is apparent with M21, the new Bard class, the way that progression works, getting people to know the core of the game quicker and using the initial few hours of the game to teach you how Neverwinter works more effectively. So, that interpretation, yeah, it makes sense.
As far as the name choice goes, honestly, I think it was our Executive Producer and our Lead Designer who decided on the name for the most part, thinking about what we were doing currently, so maybe that is what fuelled the module name choice. Maybe they wanted to add some nostalgia to it, but they would definitely know better than me as I was not a part of the naming process.
We are making big changes to the game with M21 and we're trying to be bold and move forward, identifying what makes Neverwinter more fun and kind of doubled down on that. Then, we more narrowly defined what our game is, what makes Neverwinter, Neverwinter and what gives the game its identity.
I definitely would view M21 as kind of a semi-soft reset, because we've done some sort of resetting before this, with the combat rework, scaling and Mod 16 changes. So yeah, we've been moving towards this for a while. I think, from here on out, with the team and the way that we're thinking about things… getting past the pandemic and getting used to remote work, we're getting into that stride now. We are all really excited about M21 and what's coming up after this, So yeah, I think that ‘Rebirth’ is an apt way to view it for sure.
Ennileah: With the previous ‘evolving environments’ seen in The Redeemed Citadel, could this be applied to Mod 21 - Jewel of the North to rebuild Protector's Enclave after the Mount Hotenow eruption or any other content in the game?
Salim: That specific thing, No. we've definitely talked about Protector’s Enclave in its current existence, and the status of Lord Neverember, the fact that he's so (financially) broke. Personally, I would love to do an event where we create a new Protectors Enclave, come up with a whole new story, move you to a new area and we just build kind of a new thing out of that. That's kind of insane me thinking that way. It’s probably an extreme solution but I think story-wise, there's a lot of opportunity to do some really kooky stuff there.
This specific example, sounds cool to me. It’s certainly something that we can bring up to our Lead Designer and see if he would like to run with something along these lines. But we've definitely talked about the state of Protector’s Enclave, how it has just been in this current state, and nothing’s moved forward. I think that we should look at that and now that we've cleaned up the older content a little bit, we actually have a little more leeway to maybe make some more changes within the city and make it feel like something has actually happened over the last 8 to 9 years. We've definitely talked about the Enclave and maybe something will happen. I like this, I think this is a cool concept so I will be running it up the flagpole.
Ennileah: It was mentioned in the last Reddit AMA that the team is working on further endgame content. We feel that endgame players are frustrated with there seeming to be no content for them in the upcoming module. At the time this was stated, no further info could be announced, is there anything you can tell us now? Will any more new content be featured in M21?
Salim: I definitely don't want to put anything out there that's misinformation because it's not fair to you, the players or to us and planning is still happening and a lot of it is targeting end game players. If you're saying endgame players as kind of bleeding edge players versus endgame players who are capped level and just doing campaigns and such, I would say that we are focused broadly on the endgame player right now and with the M21 changes in mind, we see an endgame player as anyone who is at capped level and are now in what we effectively call the ‘endgame’. From that point of view, we are not building more content for pre level 20 in the next module, the remaining content we are working on is CAPPED level content.
For in between M21 & M22, we are building something similar to The Redeemed Citadel in essence, but not specifically the same. I'm not currently the design owner of this new content, so I can’t speak a lot on it as things may change, but we're definitely focused on this. We've gotten the initial (M21) changes out of the way now and Elliot Miller, the guy who headed up the Level 1 through 20 content changes, did a bang-up job. Even though the levelling changes are now internally completed, we still have to obviously release M21. There is a level of anxiety behind the changes that are coming, but once we get that out of the way, we can focus on the base of our content being more for the endgame player most of the time. Following on from that, we can hopefully carve out some special things, like in the Sharandar Stream (In March) where I talked about Vault of Stars and having post launch unlockable content as an optional thing that is more so targeting an endgame player.
As an Experiment, I would love to see us doing more of that type of content as it can be pretty easy for us to include if we have the time and resources available and it offers all of the players optional extra content that can be unlocked later on after you've mastered the initial content after release. So, we're definitely focused on the endgame player and making sure there is content for you guys to consume going forward, albeit at a reasonable rate and not overnight!
Ennileah: Many players have awaited the ‘Coming Soon’ class for a long time now. Why the decision to make a Bard, over the more commonly requested Monk & Druid?
Salim: This is probably the most common bard question we have been getting! If you play paper and pencil D&D, and you look at all the available classes and look at what makes the unique, you can probably answer this yourself.
All classes play in a certain way, but in general they can all kind of feel the same. Some do magic, some don't, but the Bard is unique in that it will always be the class that wraps song into its whole existence. It's the core way that it works from a translation of paper to digital medium, the song part of it gave us an opportunity to introduce a new way to interact with our game from a combat standpoint and obviously also a way to include the ability for players to create music. Granted, it is limited to one instrument currently, but hopefully we can expand that out in the future.
I think that thematically, the Bard is more of a challenge to get right and the potential of that for us, ended up bubbling to the top of our list. We discussed all three classes a bunch, over and over again.
The original designer for the Bard really wanted to do something great and he's a huge Ocarina of Time (Zelda) fan and also played a lot of Bard 5e paper and pencil so really just fell in love with the concept.
In the end, I think of these three classes and while I could definitely see a really cool design for the monk and a great design for a Druid, I think the Bard’s execution, will still be better than what we would probably have done with the other 2 classes just because of the potential related to the song aspect of the class.
It also serves us as a foundation, as we had to go ‘outside the box’ when it came to the implementation of how songs interact in combat, the multiple button presses involved and the addition of the quick play slots.
We are now experimenting with this foundation, like ‘Hey, tab powers CAN be a little different’. So, this may translate into a set up for a future Monk or Druid, whereas if we hadn't done this, we may not have thought about them in that way and the results wouldn't have been as cool as they could potentially be.
From the standpoint of when I took over with the Bard’s development, I saw a lot of brilliance behind the class and I’m really excited for it to get into everyone’s hands. I think that players will really dig it.
Ennileah: From conception to now, how long have the team been working on the Bard?
Salim: We broke ground on the work on it, received the first bits of actual data during Mod 18.
Ennileah: What was the teams inspiration for choosing the names of the Bards abilities and what influences did you draw upon to pair those names with the actual actionable spells/attacks?
Salim: The general inspiration for those names are all very musically based and in the case of the Songblade, very ‘Swashbucklery’… based on fanciful of fights of adventure. Thinking about the various musical terms like pianissimo (reducing) and such, some of the names are an extrapolation of the definition of the original musical terms they are taken from.
There's some worry internally, about the naming being a little too Latin, but I think the one thing that's cool, is that is that some players see those words and they don't necessarily know from the naming what it means or what the power does. If you have an ability called 'Hand of Hadar', you don't know what that power does unless you read the tooltip. You just see an ability called Hand of Hadar etc. so the name itself doesn't necessarily explain what it does. Once you learn what the Bard power says and means (in Latin), it may actually tell you more about what the ability is going to do. With the Bard, people who aren't musicians who are curious about the names meanings, will go and search and find definitions and maybe learn something new.
Ennileah: According to certain sources, you were responsible for bringing back old content for the Tales of Old event. It has been mentioned previously, that discussions have taken place about the potential of bringing back ‘vaulted’ areas in the future as Adventures. Are there any specific plans for you to do this, or perhaps make an event out of those areas?
Salim: I think because the vaulting is so fresh, the details of how we would want to reintroduce things isn’t finalised. Tales of Old was a fun inspiration I had when I wasn’t able to sleep one night and implementing it was a lot of fun. I’m glad that Tales of Old was received seemingly well, a lot of people told me they enjoyed it even though there were certainly some issues with the content. If we took that same treatment from Tales of Old and applied it to vaulted content, it would be very interesting, but as far as what we would do to roll that content out, those details certainly don't exist right now. It's all just discussion at the moment and figuring out what we do once M21 is out there and the players response to the new module. If players tell us they miss certain content, then that would be a place for us to start looking at a reintroduction of it and how it would work in bringing it back.
As far as a specific event related to vaulted content, that would definitely be fun! I've been working on event content, almost since I returned to Cryptic Studios, as a side task on top of the other work that I've been doing and like I enjoy putting events in because they're so much fun to include in between modules and depending on the event, we can offer players extra cool items that they can’t get elsewhere.
Our team would like to thank Salim, Julia (Nitocris) and the Neverwinter Developer Team for taking the time out of their busy schedule to chat with us. Hopefully, we can bring you, our members and readers, similar content to this in the near future. Also we would like to extend a huge thanks to Deadmano & Silvery (Content Creator Partners), for being such a great support to us through this Media Event. It's been fantastic to work with them both. Check out their recent interviews with Jared Sears on their YouTube Channels below
Deadmano & Jared Sears Q&A Interview: https://youtu.be/CdAiouwYLkE Silvery & Jared Sears Q&A Interview:
The upcoming major update will return Neverwinter to its Dungeons & Dragons roots by introducing the iconic and multi-skilled Bard class, along with major quality-of-life improvements, including a new streamlined levelling system which will make it easier for all players to experience the many adventures the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons action MMORPG has to offer.
Neverwinter’s next major module, Jewel of the North, will launch on PC July 27th 2021 and on PlayStation® and Xbox in Fall 2021.