Neverwinter Nights (NWN) was conceived in 1997 as the ultimate pen-and-paper role-playing game simulation. BioWare's goal with the project was to try to capture the subtleties of a pen-and-paper role-playing session in a computer game, including a fully featured Dungeon Master with full control over the game world as it unfolds, and an extremely approachable toolset to allow nontechnical users to make basic content.
Early in BioWare's development of Baldur's Gate it became clear to us how the evolution of the role-playing game genre would unfold. We saw the explosion of fan-created content for first-person shooters and we rationalized that the role-playing genre was ready for a similar renaissance. It was going to take a lot of work to do it right, but even near the project's completion, we realized that at the start we had greatly underestimated the effort it would take to complete a project of this size.
Neverwinter Nights was also inspired by the early massively multiplayer games like Ultima Online. Our experience online was that we had the most fun when we were adventuring with a moderate-sized group of friends, with a Game Master creating an adventure for us in real time. This experience was one of the foundations of what we wanted to capture in Neverwinter Nights.
Neverwinter Nights was the largest and most ambitious project BioWare has yet undertaken, beyond the 250-hour Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn. Our goal was to create a game with significant impact, while also delivering on all of our goals. As a result, we had an extremely large team working on Neverwinter Nights.
At its peak, the team numbered more than 75 people - with 22 programmers working on aspects as diverse as the game client, independent servers, the Dungeon Master client, and the world creation tools (the BioWare Aurora Neverwinter Toolset). Not only did the final game feature a large number of programmed features, but we also had hundreds of monsters, thousands of custom scripts, and a substantial single- or multiplayer campaign (featuring 60 to 100 hours of gameplay). Coordination of such a large team presented us with a number of unique management challenges, and in retrospect we learned a number of lessons regarding managing huge projects, many of which are described in this article.