As the team at Cryptic Studios gets ready to launch the latest Neverwinter update, Avernus, on PC today, we had the opportunity to sit down with them to catch up on this update, art decisions, new classes, and a lot more. Luckily, we had access to three individuals that could answer just about any question we had for the team! Art Director Bill Yeatts, Lead Designer Randy Mosiondz, and Lead Systems Designer Jared Sears were all gracious enough to take a few moments out of a busy week to give us the scoop on what we can expect in this update…and in the future.
Magicman (MM): Before we dive into the newest module, can you introduce yourself (selves) to our readers and chat a little about what you do day-to-day for Neverwinter?
Bill Yeatts (BY): I am the Art Director for Neverwinter and Star Trek Online. I manage the art staff on both teams.
Randy Mosiondz (RM): I am the Lead Designer for Neverwinter. I manage the Design team for Neverwinter, and coordinate with the Art, Programming, and Production teams.
Jared Sears (JS): I am the Lead Systems Designer for Neverwinter. I work on the game’s core systems, including: stats/ratings, core math, classes, critter setup, scaling systems, level cap increases, and much more.
MM: So, Module 19, Avernus, picks up the Descent into Avernus storyline and brings a new cute flying friend into the mix. What awaits players who continue this journey through, well, hell, story wise?
RM: We wrap up a lot of the story threads started in our Infernal Descent module, namely the Vallenhas story. From there, we delve into the heart of Avernus and focus on the story of Zariel, the ruler of Avernus. You learn a lot about her history, and eventually fight her in an epic battle.
MM: From an art perspective, is it challenging to create zones like I saw in my preview? By that I mean we’re dealing with fire, sand, brimstone…you know, the usual images that people associate with hell…but if you aren’t careful, doesn’t that lend itself to a visually boring environment for players? How do you balance that?
BY: Digging into the Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus tabletop RPG campaign, there is a whole desert theme within it and we chose to anchor our content around that. We did many iterations to get to what you see now. It was a challenge to make it feel infernal and a desert at the same time.
MM: Sticking to art, we are seeing even more iconic D&D characters added in this module. How much freedom does the team have when working with “known entities” in the universe? Could you take a character in an entirely new visual direction if you wanted to do so? Have you ever done so?
BY: Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) approves all known characters and monsters. Some we need to match quite closely and other we are given some freedom to explore. Working with the people at WOTC is great. They both push to maintain the integrity of their IP but also understand we have limitations sometimes and give us leeway in those cases.
MM: In addition to the new story, adventure zone, and heroic encounters (things typical to a module release for Neverwinter), my playtime included time spent in an Infernal Warmachine. It felt very “Mad Max” if you know what I mean. This is a new feature in Neverwinter. Where did this idea come from and maybe more importantly, where is it going? Racing, maybe?
RM: We’ve had the tech to replace the player avatar with a different model with different abilities for a while. When we were researching the tabletop RPG campaign Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, we saw the infernal war machines mentioned there and thought it would be a great addition to Neverwinter: Avernus. We like gauging player response on gameplay like this. We’ll see how much players enjoy vehicles, then we’ll consider adding in new gameplay involving vehicles in future content.
MM: I always ask this when we chat, but just like the last few campaigns, this campaign does seem very linear when it comes to progression. There is only a single divergence right at the end of the tree. Has design decided to stick to this approach more than they had in the past seeing as most players are going to do the whole thing anyway?
JS: There hasn’t been a campaign that had real choice involved with it. In the past we did have some branching paths, but in the end, players did typically need to do all of it. What we found was this was actually creating confusion for some players and frustrations for others if they felt they picked a less efficient path through the campaign. That has led us to removing the pseudo choice and make new campaigns that have linear progression. For Neverwinter, player choice comes more in the form of which campaign to tackle when, how to build/play/gear out your characters, and which type of content someone wants to spend their time on such as dungeons or open zones.
MM: How has the team held up and adapted to the coronavirus? We have seen delays in the original roadmap, are we back on track now?
BY: Before the pandemic, Cryptic was a work-in-office-only company. Somehow, within a couple weeks, the entire company was functioning remotely and people were working again. I tip my hat to our awesome IT group. I would not say we are operating at 100%, but we are still making progress at a good pace — all things considered.
MM: Earlier this year you teased a new class being worked on. Any news on that front? And for my own personal interest: is it a Druid? 😊
RM: We do indeed have a new class in mind! Unfortunately, we can’t share the details at this time. When it’s ready to go, we’ll be sure to let everyone know.
MM: Neverwinter still does not have cross-play and you have recently confirmed that it will not any time soon. Does that mean work has already started on next-gen console versions?
RM: Cross-play support and bringing Neverwinter to next-gen consoles are both things we would love to explore. But right now we’re focused on bringing more exciting content to Neverwinter for new and returning players to enjoy.
MM: What else would you like to leave our readers with as they jump into the Saga of Zariel and the recovering of lost memories?
RM: We’ve just had Neverwinter’s 7th anniversary, and we’re still going strong. We’d like to thank all our players who have helped make Neverwinter the game it is today. Stay safe and healthy, and enjoy playing Avernus!
We’d like to thank Bill, Randy, and Jared and the rest of the team at Cryptic Studios for spending some time with us and if you’re playing Neverwinter on PC you should be able to get this update today…as always consoles will have the update soon.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In our original questions, we included the following question: “Last time we spoke for an interview, you mentioned that monetization is always being looked at and changes are always being considered. I must admit, personally the current monetization does turn me off as a player now and then. Personally, there are things I feel that, as a D&D fan, should be included that are not (like some races) and loot boxes are still heavily prevalent even with the recent backlash against them, even in just cosmetic fashions, in most games. Are there any changes coming soon on that front?” However, this question was not returned to us with the above interview. We have reached out to the Neverwinter team to determine if this was in error or if no reply is forthcoming and will update this piece when we hear from them.
UPDATE: This piece was published on June 30th 2020, the update below regarding our monetization question is from July 7th 2020 given by Executive Producer for Neverwinter Chris Whiteside:
We recently did a Collaborative Development Program (CDP) on VIP (and related areas), which had a great deal of discussion and brainstorming with our community pertaining to monetization in Neverwinter. On top of the ability for players to accelerate some areas of progression in the game, we are continuing to evolve and build on our personalization categories as well as looking into new categories for players to expand on their experiences where every purchase feels like a fun, delightful and long term investment.