Rise and Fall of a Neverwinter Nights Community Leader
Below is a rather long (also un-funny and un-entertaining) tale of my contribution to the Neverwinter Nights custom content community. I'm posting this here for prosperity.
Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG) originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974. DnD is a game played with pen, paper, dice, and your imagination. DnD (and other tabletop RPGs) are similar to a board games, like Monopoly or Risk, with a set of rules where players take turns making moves and rolling dice to add random chance. However, in tabletop RPGs one player is assigned to be a "dungeon master"; a storyteller and referee responsible for developing the story of the game and enforcing the rules. When I played DnD many years ago I always enjoyed being the dungeon master. I liked creating puzzles and challenges for other players to solve. It was a great creative outlet.
Over the years there have been many computer versions of DnD. In all these games the computer is the dungeon master and and you, the player, are interacting in the preprogrammed world. Some of these games were very good but none of them gave the full experience and freedom of the pen and paper based DnD. And none of them came any where close to allowing for the creative outlet of being a dungeon master.
Neverwinter Nights (NWN) is a DnD based Role playing Game (RPG) game developed by BioWare and published by Infogrames. This game was designed to allow the same freedom and creativity as the pen and paper game. NWN includes toolset which allows players to create and referee their own custom adventures. To create a custom adventures in NWN the game designer first creates a map using one of the built in tilesets. A tile set is a set of map elements that are placed on a grid to create the game planing environment. For example the designer may place a few houses here and there and some roads between them. The designer can then add some creatures, some sounds, and a few scripts to control this or that and have a full game ready to share with his friends and others.
Before the game was published the developers released the toolset for people to preview. I played with it for a while but decided to experiment with something a little more challenging. I tried to edit a tileset. I soon figured out how to extract the files for one of the built-in tilesets, I changed three images, and repackage the files to override the defaults. Pretty cool if you ask me. This actions made quite a splash in the NWN community. Other users began to use my technique to create their own versions. One user in particular known by the moniker of Loremaster Q replaced every texture in the rural tileset with snowy versions. I had my doubts that this would work in the released game.
When the game was released in June 2002 and I purchased it right away. The only game I ever purchased on release day. But instead of playing the included prebuilt game or making a custom adventure I jumped right into tweaking the tilesets. Within days of the release (maybe a couple of weeks, I don't recall) I had managed to create the first user made tileset. Using some fancy search and replace I managed to duplicate one of the built in tilesets (rather then overriding it as I did in the toolset preview). Once I did this I replaced all the images with Kenbooks images packaged it as a hak-pak (package to override NWN defaults) and BAM! New winter tileset ready to use. I brought winter to Neverwinter! I was instantly rich and famous... well not really but it got people started on the custom tileset road.
Tweaking the tileset in this manner was pretty popular even though the method was long and error prone. I soon developed an application to do all the busy work of duplicating a tileset which I creatively called this the NWN tileset duplicator. I can't tell you how many times this application was downloaded (I stopped counting long ago) but it was pretty popular. Soon there was a whole section of www.hypercubed.com dedicated to NWN and my tileset tool and tutorials. This was actually the main driver of eyes to my website for the few years before I stared blogging.
104 nights after the game release the game developers recognized my contribution to the community (look for Labtek near the bottom).
Labtek (Custom Content Builder) - Creator of the Winter Tileset and recognized for his work in cracking the Tileset mysteries, Labtek has made it possible for the community to make for significant changes to existing and new tilesets. There will always be a need for a new and different terrain and through Labtek's pioneering work those new terrains will soon be in created and used by technical artists, modelers and module designers.
Interestingly this was the first step in ending my NWN involvement. For my contribution I was supposed to receive a NVIDIA Jacket and Portfolio set but when the package arrived it contained several PS2 and XBox games neither of which I owned at the time. After several e-mails to the developers failed to correct the miss mailing I decided to trade in these games at the local GameStop for Grand Theft Auto III. GTA3 was such a great game I did something unusual... I actually played it. Even more unusual for me is I actually finished it.
While playing GTAIII the NWN community moved on without me. I made a few updates to the NWN duplicator as requested by the users but eventually the interest died down. At some point they released NWN2 without my noticing it it. As far as NWN community knows I fell off the face of the earth and I have no idea how to create a new tileset in NWN2.
So why am I writing about this now? Well, in my recent website redesign I deleted most of the NWN information, leaving only a placeholder for stragglers that might wonder by. I wanted to capture some of the history that was stored on those pages before it is lost. My experience with NWN holds a place in my heart as my first 15 mins of internet fame. I've had a few more popularity spikes since then but none are ever as sweet as the first.