Console video game developer/publisher Atari has a few forays into Facebook games with its arcade-type titles like Asteroids, but until now, it hasn’t brought in any of its more complex franchises. Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter, developed in collaboration with Liquid Entertainment and brand oversight from Wizards of the Coast, will be Atari’s first big plunge into the space with a complete array of monetization and social features.
Heroes of Neverwinter is a turn-based multiplayer role-playing game where players customize a character and then recruit other characters to form an adventuring party. This party ventures into dungeons to kill monsters and collect items from chests, which can then be used to upgrade the character’s combat statistics or to buy new items and equipment for their character. Like EA2D’s Dragon Age Legends, Heroes of Neverwinter also encourages players to recruit friends’ characters to their party, which creates unique social interactions as players “shop” among their friends for those with the ideal character class and level to make up the best possible party.
At this point, the game is in an early alpha testing state ahead of a planned summer release. Atari Social Games Producer Carlos Schulte walked us through some of the available content as we played, explaining certain features that are not currently live in the game yet. The singleplayer experience at launch will include 50 dungeons (here called “Adventures”) with three different difficulty levels per dungeon at Normal, Hard and Heroic. As players complete dungeons, they earn achievements in the form of decoration items that appear in the player’s in-game house. As players gain experience points that eventually advance their level, they also gain access to more items, more weapons and special gameplay mechanics only available above level 10.
The dungeons themselves are laid out with various rooms divided by a grid of squares along the floor. Each dungeon costs a certain amount of energy to enter and energy regenerates over time; as the player levels up, they are given more energy to spend. In keeping with Dungeons & Dragons tradition, players may move a certain distance along the squares based on their character’s statistics. Each character can only perform so many actions in a turn, again determined by their statistics. For example, a rogue character can move across the room and launch a ranged attack, while a wizard character might spend their entire turn on a special attack or healing item use.
A unique feature of the dungeons is an artificial intelligence mode that the player can toggle on and off for both party members and for their own characters. When toggled to party members, the computer controls the other members of a player’s party when it’s their turn. When set to “all,” the computer controls the player’s character as well for a sort of simulation experience. Schulte cautions that the AI will never be “as smart as the player,” as Atari and Liquid don’t want players to rely entirely on simulation to get through dungeons.
When a player completes a dungeon or arrives at a chest or a body that can be looted, the game presents the player with a random chance game where they must choose a face-down card to determine what they collect. Players can remove the element of chance by revealing all the cards with a luck potion, which costs in-game currency. The game also presents players with giftable items at the end of dungeons they can send to friends. Each random chance for loot contains one item of excellent quality, several decent items and several different sums of gold.
Social Features and User-Generated Content
The most interesting of the high level features is the Dungeon Workshop, a mode where players can build their own dungeons using similar tools as the developer. Players can create up to six dungeons of their own and publish them to the game for all players to enjoy and rate. In order to play a player-created dungeon, however, players must pay the creator a fee in the form of the game’s standard currency. This intends to create a unique economy of user-created content similar to what console and PC games have achieved through level-building modes and modding communities.
Another social element available to all players as early as level 1 is a spectator mode where players can watch their friends play through dungeons using the spectator player’s character. This mode was not functional during the demo, but Schulte explains as an example that he could recruit our character to his party and, if we happened to be online at the same time, we could enter spectator mode as he took his party into a dungeon. While in this mode, we have limited means of participation in the form of a chat window and special scroll items that we can use on Schulte’s party to support him in battle.
It’s what Schulte calls a “baby step” toward a synchronous multiplayer experience, which would be true to the Dungeons & Dragons experience. At present, the developer does not plan to extend spectator mode to non-friend players as the spirit of Dungeons & Dragons has always been about playing in groups of friends that know each other intimately. Atari and Liquid are considering adding guild support and other multiplayer features post launch.
Heroes of Neverwinter monetizes much the same as other Facebook RPGs through the sale of premium items, gameplay boosts and shortcuts to advance beyond what the player has already unlocked. The game features a standard currency, gold, and a premium currency in the form of Astral Diamonds, which can be bought with Facebook Credits. Astral Diamonds are also the means to buy “packs” of content for the Dungeon Workshop, such a “vampire pack” that unlocks all the undead monsters for the player to create an undead type of dungeon.
Launch Plans and Cross-Compatibility
Atari and Liquid haven’t set a hard launch date for Heroes of Neverwinter as yet, but they are aiming for a summer release. Advertising support will mostly come from Wizards of the Coast in the form of tie-in promotions with its other Dungeons & Dragons products; and Heroes of Neverwinter will have some cross-compatibility with other Dungeons & Dragons video games like the upcoming online game, Neverwinter, in the form of unlockable items and promotional codes. Schulte adds that while it’s difficult to plan for total cross-compatibility with other video games on different development cycles, Atari and Liquid were careful to keep the story in Heroes of Neverwinter consistent with what players will see in the upcoming Neverwinter.
According to our traffic tracking service, AppData, Atari currently enjoys 6,000 monthly active users and 299 daily active users across its three games. This is Liquid Entertainment’s first Facebook game that we know of.