In 1991 this game became the first MMORPG to display graphics. It continues to live on today in the form of an MMORPG, although the technology has changed substantially over the decades.
That game is Neverwinter Nights, and the game — along with the franchise built on its name — turns 25 this week.
It sounds a bit like a computer replicating short bursts of chalk, but in 1991 the collaboration between TSR, SSI, Stormfront Studios and AOL that brought Neverwinter Nights to life was a marvel. "These games are not just entertainment," Don Daglow, who accepted an award at the 59th Annual Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards in 2008 on behalf of the group.
Anyone who's gone deep in EVE Online, World of Warcraft, Runescape, Ragnarok Online or even something like PangYa! can attest to Daglow's remarks. MMO's aren't entertaining in the same way other games are, courtesy of the way they foster and rely upon communities.
Of course, it can be hard to detect that looking back at the original game all those years ago.
Mentioning the name Neverwinter Nights often stirs up other images, however. My mind will always go back to the traditional RPG crafted by Bioware. It's still one of the more accessible RPGs from that era, and the availability of the Aurora toolset allowed for modders to craft campaigns of all kinds.
I always preferred the original NWN to the the sequel for me, not least of all because of the performance. NWN 2 was notorious for being a resource hog back in the day, and the adjustments to the UI felt a little too much like Obsidian was trying to lift what was popular from World of Warcraft.
More recently, Cryptic Studios and Perfect World (the latter of which has the rights to operate Dota 2 in mainland China) teamed up to transform the Forgotten Realms city of Neverwinter into an MMO. Neverwinter (2013) isn't in the same universe as the Neverwinter Nights games, although Bioware's games, the original MMORPG and Cryptic's version are all based off the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.
Neverwinter's intriguing in that it was sold as an story-centric MMO, going against the grain of MMOs for the time. It wouldn't be alone, of course. Funcom's The Secret World launched in 2012 and is still the benchmark for developer-driven narratives in an MMO, while Bioware earned praise for their efforts with the various quest lines in The Old Republic.
But when we think of the Neverwinter Nights name, chances are it won't be for its groundbreaking roots as an MMORPG but the sheer competency of Bioware's work — and for others, Obsidian with the sequel. Still, that won't take away the fact that Neverwinter Nights turns 25 this year. AOL did shut servers for the original down in 1997, although there is an online home dedicated that has kept it alive through various means.
What do you remember of Neverwinter Nights — and what were some of your experiences with the franchise like?