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Neverwinter: Behind the Curtain, Part 4
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette

T oday, we continue our interview with the lead artist at Cryptic. Joe dives right into introducing some members of the Cryptic team to us (with their own words!).

The creative team at Cryptic was great to work with. Can you tell us about some of the 2-D and 3-D artists that were involved in the process? How did they participate in the process, and what are their thoughts about working with the D&D IP?

How 'bout I let a few speak for themselves? :)

Matt Highison: I'm the Character Art Lead on Neverwinter. I'm in charge of everything from armor and weapons, to inhabitants and enemies in the world, to customizing the adventurer you choose to play. Along with the rest of our awesome Character team, I found that any one day could consist of sculpting monsters, painting textures, creating material shaders, and implementing new tech.

Dungeons & Dragons has a deep set of lush history to draw from, which has been both a challenge and a pleasure for us to work with. We've had the amazing opportunity to help design a 3-D version for beholders and dragons! And then figure out how to get them working and looking great, while being fun to fight against inside the game.

In D&D, there is not only great precedent for embarking on amazing adventures, but being able to decide just who you will be when you enter the world. We took this to heart and put a lot of effort into making each race and class unique, distinct, and customizable. There's a broad range of appearance customization options for your character, letting you adjust anything from hairstyle and age, to scars and tattoos. You can even choose to have blind or damaged eyes! We made sure that everyone from a dwarf to a half-orc will be able to wear any of the thousands of armor items and have them fit to your unique proportions. This level of customization extends into the Foundry, where you can design your own quests for other players to experience, including customization of all the characters they will encounter.

Mike Cavallaro: I am the VFX Lead for Neverwinter. I'm responsible for the look and feel of all the VFX in game to make sure they support the Art Lead's vision. I am also responsible for the creation of the VFX for player powers and combat. I was really excited to work in the D&D IP, as were most of the guys here. I played D&D for the first time in the 1970s and here I am, 30-something years later, doing the same thing. :)

Joe Garhan: Working with the D&D lore has been a lot of fun! As the animation lead, I get to bring to life what before was only in the imagination of the pen and paper player. I can't wait to see our game in the hands of those players!

Sam Rucks: Hi! I am an Environment Artist on Neverwinter, and I built many of the outdoor locations for the game. I am a huge fan of the previous Neverwinter Nights titles and couldn't wait to bring my own vision to the Forgotten Realms universe. Working in the D&D IP has been a tremendous honor, and getting to design and build key locations like Helm's Hold and Gauntlgrym was a blast. It brings me a great deal of joy to see people interact with the environments I create and tell their own stories within them.

I have tons of fond memories about the development of the title. Is there a fun anecdote or story from the development of the game that you'd like to share with the D&D community?

Heh, well you've seen and read about a funny inside joke already.

A mountain shaped like a wolf. An enormous frost giant mountain. There's also a skull mountain in Pirate's Skyhold. We even made Mt. Hotenow loosely resemble talons to give an even more menacing look to an active volcano. Sooo . . . the running joke is that my art direction for any zone is a mountain in the shape of a big animal or person. "What's the zone? Can we put a mountain in? Can we make the mountain look like______?" It's that sort of creativity that justifies my role on the project. ;)

You have created some memorable "builds" for the classes. What kind of visual challenges did they have when trying to visually differentiate them for a video game title?

First we began the challenge of making their appearance distinct. Again tapping into the source, there are well-established D&D tropes. Wizards typically wear cloth robes, clerics wear chainmail, fighters wear scale or plate. Then we leverage silhouette and proportion. A guardian fighter should have the bulkiest armor, while a rogue should be garbed in more fitted leather. Then we try to get a bit more nuanced and look for a vibe or personality for each class.

Inspiration for armor designs for the devoted cleric stem from medieval holy crusaders. So with the chainmail appropriate for the class, we also incorporate a good deal of cloth over- and underlays. We evolved that idea for some of the higher tier sets taking influence from Catholic bishops. Holy symbols, the devoted cleric's weapon of choice, also got a hefty amount of inspiration from real world Catholicism—the hanging chain is similar to an incensor or thurible.

Simultaneously, it's obviously extremely important to differentiate the animation, F/X, and gameplay for each class. Each class has a personality in their combat stance. The trickster rogue is agile, almost bouncing with energy—like a lightweight boxer. The guardian fighter almost squats in a broad sturdy wide-planted stance. The cleric is perpetually upright and holding a holy symbol high.

The powers and F/X are very specific and true to the class—and this was probably the trickiest part of our jobs in making D&D classes come to life in a game. It is a fine balance of creating exciting animations and F/X that don't become chaos on the screen and hit the mark for what people imagine will work with their favorite classes.

The wizard, though the most diverse with powers, was also arguably the easiest. You're supposed to see crazy wild effects when a wizard casts spells. The cleric was similar, and we quickly locked onto golden and light blue rays and sparkles in many of the powers to represent divine power.

The classes that were most challenging are actually the melee classes. They can't look overtly magical. But they still have to look just as cool as all the flashy wizard and cleric powers. After many iterations, we found ways to give the impression of pure energy and/or power to their attacks. Lots of tricks like hit pauses, almost imperceptible screen shake, flashes, distortion, broad white and/or red sword or dagger swipes all make for impactful and exciting combat for the melee classes.

Which is your favorite boss/monster, and what visual fun facts can you share about it?

Driders! Their silhouette, the way they twitch and move—they're creepy as hell.

Even though we already had drow, and we had giant spiders, making a drider was quite a process. We didn't want to make a one-off and lose all of the armor sharing of our humanoid character. So after a bit of work, we were able to link the two rigs into one. Initially, though, we had no scale control, so the humanoid was huge on the spider. And for quite some time, our driders retained a spider face . . . right in the crotch of the humanoid drow!

Yes, I remember cringing about that . . .

Eventually we got the scaling working and made a special carapace fitting the drow waist to the spider, and they turned out fantastic.

If you could do it all over again, what would you do the same and what would you do differently?

What would I do the same? Hmmm . . . have this team. Honestly, our team right now is outstanding. Everyone is putting in that extra effort to make sure Neverwinter is as awesome as possible.

Along those lines, for doing it differently, I wish we could have had this chemistry and manpower a lot earlier. I think our Preproduction phase could have been a lot more . . . uh . . . productive. Overall the team was arguably too small and wasn't focused and/or on the same page with what the game should be.

Anything else you'd like to share with the D&D community?

There are a lot of high expectations for the game, and we hope all of our work pays off to meet and maybe even exceed them. Can't wait to see you all in the world of Neverwinter!

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at
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