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Credited as the first graphical entry in the genre, Neverwinter Nights was the product of a union between AOL, Stormfront Studios, SSI and TSR. All previous games of this manner were text-based affairs, so this collaborative project blazed quite the trail when it went live in 1991.
Neverwinter Nights was built upon the Gold Box engine, the same software behind SSI's Dungeons & Dragons titles of the 1980s. Players were fed information about the in-game world through a windowed interface that included stats boxes and a first-person view of the action. Gameplay switched to a full-screen, overhead layout, with icons representing players and enemies, during combat situations.
While today's market leader World of Warcraft has a user base exceeding 9 million, Neverwinter Nights launched with the server capacity to host just 50 players. However, this figure had grown to 500 by the end of 1995, and the game's eventual inclusion in AOL's subscriber package helped it attract much greater numbers in its final years.
By the end of its lifecycle in 1997, Neverwinter Nights had more than 115,000 players. Around 2,000 inhabited the in-game world during peak evening hours, a 4,000% increase on its launch.
AOL pulled the plug on the game in 1997, but that would not be the end of Neverwinter Nights. Impressed by the dedication of the player guilds while the title was live, BioWare picked up the license and began work on its own version of the game. The result was a first-person RPG with multiplayer components that served as a spiritual successor to the MMORPG.
Although BioWare's 2002 take on the property was a far cry from its online predecessor, enterprising fans of the original recreated its world using the Aurora toolset that came with the new release and hosted it online under the banner of Neverwinter Nights: Resurrection. The game successfully ensnared many of the original players, but numbers dwindled over time.
In 2008, Neverwinter Nights was handed a gong at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for advancing the art form of the MMORPG, and we can think of few titles more deserving.
Do you have any fond memories of Neverwinter Nights? Post a comment below.