In the gaming industry, ideas seldom come along that are truly groundbreaking. Sim City may be hailed as the first god sim, but in fact the lowly Intellivision produced the first such game, called Utopia - an early Civilization-Sim City hybrid that was years ahead of its time.
Wolfenstein 3D is often credited as being the original first person shooter. Not so. It may have brought international recognition to the style of game, but the award for the first one must go to - pencils ready? - Monster Maze 3D for the Spectrum.
All that is really left is to tweak original ideas, or to incorporate new ideas into old games...
Pass The d20!
Neverwinter Nights, the latest RPG project from Baldur's Gate developers BioWare, takes a different approach, and instead goes back in time to the days when pen and paper RPGs were king, and takes its inspiration from there, as well as adding some modern features along the way, and a few of its own that truly are groundbreaking.
The game doesn't consist of a single on-going story per se. Instead thirty-two "play modules" are included, each with its own storyline and about four hours of gameplay. If you found Baldur's Gate too short on its own, you're going to go nuts for this.
Also, for the first time on the PC, a player can become the Dungeon Master, as one would on a pen and paper game, and control NPCs and monsters during a multiplayer game over a LAN or the Internet. This has excited many die-hard RPG fans, and it may tempt more pen-and-paper players on to the PC.
They had better bring some friends with them, however. Although Neverwinter Nights is fully playable as a single player game, its true vocation is as an online multiplayer game, and each server can house up to 64 players!
The modules that are supplied with the game are all playable online but, perhaps more importantly, players can also produce their own modules and settings using the revolutionary Solstice Toolset, and then invite their friends online to play through them.
Servers can also be linked together via "portals", which act as gateways to completely different servers. As you enter a portal, details of the target server are given and the player can then choose to jump out into this new campaign if he or she sees fit.
The implications of this are quite amazing. In theory hundreds of individual games, each with their own dungeon master, could be linked, ensuring that the game never runs out of levels or ideas. It is this that has captured the imagination of the online gaming community in general, as well as the RPG fans.
Neverwinter Nights will once again use the "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" RPG system, although as the 3rd Edition of AD&D is due out shortly before the game's release it will adhere to these new standards.
And since it follows the same rules as the hit RPG Baldur's Gate (give or take), you can import your old characters into the game and breathe new life into their cobwebbed armour and robes, and take them to the new experience cap of 20th level.
Neverwinter Nights also marks a return to the Forgotten Realms setting, although this time the game will utilise the Omen graphics engine, which is also being used in another of Bioware's current projects - the incredible looking third person action game, MDK2.
For the first time, the Forgotten Realms will come alive in true 3D. This may upset the purists, but it looks not only functional, but damn pretty as well.
Innovation and tradition have been boiled up with some excellent presentation to make a fantastic elixir, which should go down well with any gamer.
Is it ambitious? Yes, but perfectly feasible. Exciting? Of course - this could revolutionize the way we play games online. Fun? It certainly appears so. Not only will the game offer an excellent single-player encounter, but a fully functional online experience with the ability to create your own settings and share them online.
Add to this the ability to be Dungeon Master, and you've got a pretty near perfect sounding RPG. But will it measure up? I think so, and if it does I'll see you on the servers - look for the level 8 Ranger who can't stop dying...
Neverwinter Nights is scheduled for release by Interplay (distributed by Virgin Interactive in the UK) early in 2001. Look for more information about the game later in the year!