Tried out the new 3D computer roleplaying game Neverwinter Nights the other day. Actually I’d installed it at work to test it against our video cards and drivers, but I was hooked instantly and didn’t manage to tear myself away from it until some six or seven hours later. NWN is pretty much the computer-based RPG I’ve been waiting for over ten years, ever since I played SSI’s rather poor adaptation of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Pool of Radiance.
At around the same time as those computer-based RPGs (CRPGs) came around, I was an avid role-playing gamer, playing the paper-and-die-based AD&D and Star Wars RPGs with friends and with members of a local RPG club. CRPGs were a big disappointment to me, as they always locked you into fairly restrictive plot lines, and the rigid and crude framework of the computer games themselves took away a lot of the flexibility and possibility that I found inherently appealing in RPGs. Ever since then, CRPGs seemed to be more strategy and statistics-based games than true role-playing.
CRPGs did have the definite advantage of automating some of the more menial tasks of paper-based RPGs: tracking character statistics, automating game data and calculations (e.g. what roll of a die would be required for one’s character to succeed in a certain type of task, etc.), and so on. But to me what was really missing was the ability to have a human arbiter (a “Dungeon Master” or “DM” in AD&D-speak) to run the game and add life and imagination to the interactions one would have with elements in the games (i.e. with other characters or monsters, with various settings and objects).
To some degree, NWN still has those restrictions when played in single-player mode, though I’ve found the game engine offers enough possibilities to keep things interesting and allow for very flexible character development. The big appeal of the game, however, is that it allows players on the Internet to play with and against each other in games controlled by a DM, using game materials (maps, scenery, monsters, etc.) made by third parties. So the “ideal” CRPG I envisioned a decade ago may have finally come to be.
Now, if I could only get it to run on my system at home. For whatever reason the game tries to start up, then exits silently without a hint as to what went wrong. Aaargh!