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Neverwinter

Developer Blog: Spellplague Dungeon Environment

By Julia (nitocris83)
Mon 13 Feb 2017 07:00:00 AM PST

Hello again Adventurers! It’s Patrick Poage here again, this time showing off some of the environment work I did for the new Master version of the Spellplague Caverns. Some Neverwinter veterans might remember the old Spellplague Caverns and if they’re feeling nostalgic they can run through them again as a leveling dungeon. If they really want a challenge, though, they can take on the new Master version of the dungeon. There, they will chase the wizards of the Cloaked Ascendancy and try to stop them from completing a ritual that will bring chaos and devastation to the city above, if not all of Faerûn. In addition to a new story and new enemies, we wanted to visually update the old map and polish up the art in a few places. In this blog, I’ll be describing some of the changes that I made to the map and going behind the scenes of how we pulled off a few of the more ambitious and exciting changes to the environment.

The first task I wanted to tackle with the old dungeon was updating the lighting to smooth out some areas of harsh light and shadow. I basically turned off all of the old lights in the dungeon, and then turned them back on one-by-one, tweaking the results as I worked.  

This is the hallway before the 2nd boss room. Old on the top, new on the bottom.

The biggest problem areas were places where more than two dynamic lights were hitting a single object. If that happens, our engine tries to pick the two that should affect each asset the most, but it doesn’t always make the wisest choices. Sometimes it’s tough to work within the limits of our lighting engine, but with enough patience we can usually get the results we’re looking for.

As a note to any aspiring environment artists out there, please organize your maps! In every engine I’ve worked with, there are ways to organize the list of assets/lights/volumes/things in the map, and it can make a huge difference to someone else that has to work on your content in the future. Just imagine how much work it would be if every asset in the map was just in one long list, rather than organized by location, asset type, or some other category that might make sense.

On the left, you can see how the lights used to be organized on the lighting layer. On the right, you can see how it looked when I was finished with it.

One of the other things we were able to do was provide some more energy and life to the background with some new fx. As you descend deeper into the Spellplague Caverns, you’ll see coronas of spellplague energy shooting from the walls as the ritual comes closer to completion.

The spellplague corona fx were made by our incredibly talented Principal VFX Artist Michael Cavallaro.  Above is what the fx looks like in our particle editor, and below you can see the fx in action on either side of the spiky bridge.

The lighting updates were important for smoothing out some wrinkles, but the boss room changes are what really marks the difference between the old and new Spellplague Caverns environment. The first boss room actually doesn’t have any changes, but that’s because the boss you fight there will teleport you to his demiplane where he can fight you on his home turf.

Kabal the Flamesoul stands ready to destroy any adventurers trying to stop the ritual.

We basically just had another region of the map way off in the distance that we teleport players to during the cutscene. We duplicated all the geo from the “Kabal’s Caldera” repeatable instance, and made sure that his moving platform was set on the bottom. I actually got to make all of the maps for the repeatable wizard instances too, so it was pretty cool seeing my work used in different ways as the story progressed.

Looking out at the maps together made me realize how big Kabal’s Caldera really is.  The entire Spellplague Caverns could fit easily inside.

Assuming your item level is high enough or your teamwork is strong enough, you’ll eventually make your way to the second boss room where, in the original dungeon, you fought the Mouth of Madness. In order to accommodate the new boss’s mechanics we needed a small arena with death around the edges. The story I came up with is that the floor of the old room collapsed since players last visited the Spellplague Caverns and it’s revealed a spellplague-corrupted mist lurking below.

Don’t fall into the mist.  It won’t work out well for you.

The final boss fight is where I focused most of my time since we wanted to do something pretty fantastic. Doug Miller [@Asterdahl] came up with the idea that Nostura of the Stone Eye would try to escape the players during the fight by plane shifting to the Feywild. In order to damage her and bring her back to the material plane, some of the players would have to follow her across the barrier between planes and fight her in the Feywild. We wanted players to still be able to see the ghostly outlines of their companions on another plane, so what we really needed was the ability to have some players see the Feywild, while others see the Material Plane, while in “reality” everyone is standing on the same pillar of invisible collision.  

Here’s how things looked in the editor.  You can see that the collision mesh is the same for both platforms.

Here’s a shot from outside the fight that I liked.  On the left, you can see the skydome that I made to fade away the background while you’re in the feywild.  On the right, you can see the large evil trees that I placed between you and the walls of the cavern to block line of sight of the rocks.

On the left, in the material plane, you can see the portal that’s involved with the ritual.  Michael Cavallaro made the fx for this as well.  It was a fun challenge getting each dimension to sit nicely on top of one other.  I’m pretty sure that if I can handle plane shifting this well I should be getting access to my 9th level spells soon.

If we hadn’t had success doing something similar for the Illusionist’s Gambit Skirmish, I never would have attempted it. In the end, it turned out to be one of our most intriguing boss fights and I’m glad that we tried something so ambitious!

Whether you’re healing, tanking, or playing one of those great weapon fighters that leaves my trickster rogue crying in 3rd place on the Paingiver screen, I hope that you enjoy the Master version of the Spellplague Caverns. I had a fair bit of frustration and a whole lot of fun reworking an older dungeon and I’m really excited about what I’m working on now. It’s a new kit for when we send you all to… well, you’ll just have to wait and see.  ;)

Best of luck to you on your adventures in M11!

 

Patrick Poage

Environment Artist

 

PS – Some of you might remember the secret boss fight in the old Spellplague Caverns…the one before the Aboleth. I made some interesting changes in that room as well.  My advice? Just be careful. Greed is the downfall of many an adventurer.

 

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