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Neverwinter Nights (1991 video game)

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Title: Neverwinter Nights (1991 video game)  
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Language: English
Subject: Role-playing video games introduced in 1991, Neverwinter Nights, Stormfront Studios games, AOL, Massively multiplayer online role-playing games
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Neverwinter Nights (1991 video game)

Neverwinter Nights

Developer(s) Stormfront Studios
Publisher(s) Strategic Simulations, Inc.
Platform(s) MS-DOS
Release date(s) 1991
Genre(s) role-playing video game
Mode(s) multiplayer

Neverwinter Nights was the first multiplayer online role-playing game to display graphics, and ran from 1991 to 1997 on AOL.


  • Gameplay 1
  • History 2
  • Sales 3
  • Popularity and development 4
  • Reception 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Neverwinter Nights was developed with gameplay similar to other games in the Gold Box series. Players begin by creating a character. After creating the character, gameplay takes place on a screen that displays text interactions, the names and current status of one's party of characters, and a window which displays images of geography marked with various pictures of characters or events. When combat occurs, gameplay switches to full-screen combat mode, in which a player's characters and enemies are represented by icons which move around in the course of battle.

The game features a hierarchical ranking of players based upon prowess in battle known as a Ladder. The most widely-renowned of such Ladders, the World PVP Council (WPC) Ladder (PVP= Player Vs. Player), "rated as 'the' ladder to prove your mettle in Neverwinter".[1]


Neverwinter Nights was a co-development of AOL, Stormfront Studios, SSI, and TSR. It was the first multiplayer[2] online role-playing game to display graphics.[3]

Don Daglow and the Stormfront game design team began working with AOL on original online games in 1987, in both text-based and graphical formats. At the time AOL was a Commodore 64 only online service, known as Quantum Computer Services, with just a few thousand subscribers, and was called Quantum Link. Online graphics in the late 1980s were severely restricted by the need to support modem data transfer rates as slow as 300 bits per second (bit/s).

In 1989 the Stormfront team started working with SSI on Dungeons & Dragons games using the Gold Box engine that had debuted with Pool of Radiance in 1988. Within months they realized that it was technically feasible to combine the Dungeons & Dragons Gold Box engine with the community-focused gameplay of online titles to create an online role-playing video game with graphics although the multiplayer graphical flight combat game Air Warrior (also from Kesmai) had been online since 1987; all prior online RPGs had been based on text.

In a series of meetings in San Francisco and Las Vegas with AOL's Steve Case and Kathi McHugh, TSR's Jim Ward and SSI's Chuck Kroegel, Daglow and programmer Cathryn Mataga convinced the other three partners that the project was indeed possible. Case approved funding for NWN and work began with the game going live 18 months later in March 1991.

Daglow chose Neverwinter as the game's location because of its magical features (a river of warm water that flowed from a snowy forest into a northern sea), and its location near a wide variety of terrain types. The area also was close enough to the settings of the other Gold Box games to allow subplots to intertwine between the online and the disk-based titles.

In late June 1997, America Online announced it would be closing down the online game world on July 19, 1997.[4] The company also said it would start a new games channel called World Play, which would cost two dollars per hour to play.[4] Neverwinter Nights was the only game in the company's roster which did not make the transition to the new service.[4]


The capacity of each server grew from 50 players in 1991 to 500 players by 1995. Ultimately, the game became a free part of the AOL subscriber service. Near the end of its run in 1997, the game had 115,000 players and typically hosted 2,000 adventurers during prime evening hours, a 4,000% increase over 1991.[5]

Popularity and development

Much of the game's popularity was based on the presence of active and creative player guilds, who staged many special gaming events online for their members. It is this committed fan base that BioWare sought when they licensed the rights to Neverwinter Nights from AOL and TSR as the basis for the later Neverwinter Nights game.[6]

NWN gained incidental media attention from AOL tech and marketing staff by appearing in the Don't Copy That Floppy campaign by the Software Publishers Association.

In 1998, development work began on a clone of Neverwinter Nights called Forgotten World.[7]

After the release of BioWare's non-MMO Neverwinter Nights game in 2002, a group of former Neverwinter Nights players used the Aurora toolset included with the new game to reconstruct the content of the original Neverwinter Nights and host it online as a multiplayer game, albeit with limited player capacity. Neverwinter Nights: Resurrection was modestly successful early on in drawing former Neverwinter Nights players, but player numbers dwindled over the years as online gaming options expanded and the underlying game technology aged. A post on IGN from the game's host revealed that Neverwinter Nights: Resurrection shut down its servers on July 31, 2012.[8]

In 2012 a single-player conversion of Neverwinter Nights was released for Unlimited Adventures after two years of development.[9]


The game was reviewed in 1992 in Dragon #179 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4 out of 5 stars.[10] Computer Gaming World wrote that "Fans of the Gold Box series know what to expect ... and the human element makes it that much better".[11]

According to GameSpy, "with hundreds of loyal players all adventuring in the same city between 1991 and 1997 when AOL pulled the plug, politics, guilds, and alliances quickly formed a social community that was far more important than the actual game".[12]

In 2008 Neverwinter Nights was honored (along with EverQuest and World of Warcraft) at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for advancing the art form of MMORPG games. Don Daglow accepted the award for project partners Stormfront Studios, AOL and Wizards of the Coast.[3]


  1. ^ The Original Neverwinter Nights 1991-1997
  2. ^  
  3. ^ a b Stormfront Studios Honored At 59th Annual Emmy Technology Awards For Creating First Graphical Online Role-Playing Game MCV, January 10, 2008
  4. ^ a b c Chase, John (June 30, 1997). "Lights out on Neverwinter Nights".   – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  5. ^ Gamers Claim AOL Is Playing Bait-and-Switch Wired, June 24, 1997
  6. ^ Neverwinter Nights Interview FiringSquad, September 17, 1999
  7. ^ 12 Forgotten Online Games
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Neverwinter Nights-Offline UA Archive
  10. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia & Lesser, Kirk (March 1992). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (179): 57–62. 
  11. ^ "A Survey of On-Line Games". Computer Gaming World. 1993-05. p. 84. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  12. ^ Rausch, Allen; Lopez, Miguel (August 16, 2004). "A History of D&D Video Games - Part II". Game Spy. 

External links

  • Neverwinter Nights on MobyGames
  • The Original Neverwinter Nights
  • UGO & GameBanshee interview on history of original NWN
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