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Developer Blog: River District Environment

By Julia (nitocris83)
Fri 27 Jan 2017 08:00:00 AM PST

Hi everyone! I’m Jeff Miller, Environment Artist on Neverwinter, here to talk to you about the upcoming expansion's new adventure zone, the River District!

When the team first started to talk about heading back to Neverwinter proper for the story, the environment team got pretty excited about it. We really loved the idea of building a new section of the city players haven’t gone to yet. During discussions with the design team it was clear that the area across the river from the cloak tower was best suited for the story we wanted to tell.

(RD – River District, 1- Protectors Enclave, 2 – Castle Never, 3 – Black Lake, 4 – Tower District, 5 – Neverwinter Graveyard)

(RD – River District, 1- Protectors Enclave, 2 – Castle Never, 3 – Black Lake, 4 – Tower District, 5 – Neverwinter Graveyard)

The backstory for the zone was something that was very important to develop. It determines the themes that become the guidelines to build the zone by. The main key points that came from this development were: 1) The River District once was home to the wealthiest merchants in Neverwinter until driven out by the cataclysm caused by the destruction of Mount Hotenow. 2) It must feature access to the river that runs through the city. 3) There must be some visible environmental effects that show the influence the wizards have on the environment.

Once we had the information needed from the backstory it was time to come up with a list of objects/props that will be needed to build the zone and tell the story. This list usually is a mixture of new and re-use. The ratio of re-use and new is determined by the location we are setting the story in. Since this story was heavily set in Neverwinter City, we had a large number of props to choose from and modify if needed.

(Group of props used to build the River District)

Three areas of the map had to be influenced by each wizard. This meant coming up with a look and feel for each of them that blends in with the city. The three themes we had decided upon are corrupted fey, twisted Spellplague, and fire and iron. The fey wizard we decided would take the park area of the map and the other two would have sections of the city. You can see these areas defined in the rough maps below.

Around this time discussions with design begin. The first thing we usually talk about is layout for the map. We get on the same page on where certain story beats take place, player pathing, and other sorts of content like Heroic Encounters. Out of this meeting we put together a rough paper 2D map of the zone layout.

(Paper 2d map of the River District)

From this point it’s time to start building the map. The terrain is created first. The 2D paper map is translated to this terrain while thinking about elevation changes and neighborhoods.

(In game terrain with the general layouts from the 2D map)

After terrain is agreed upon, the next step is to get the map to a “white box” stage. Placing down the big objects that help define play space is very important. Once these are in, design can go in and place temporary locations for combat groups, heroic encounters, and other types of content. These are represented as the multi colored cylinders in the image below. At the end of the whitebox stage you have a pretty good idea on the layout and player pathing will be, places for great composition, play spaces, and distances. 

(Whitebox stage)

From this point the map is done in different passes. There are terrain sculpting and painting passes, big prop and small prop passes, lighting and sky dome passes. The entire environment team gets together at checkpoints throughout the development and review the progress that is being made. Working on larger maps like this one also requires more than one artist building the map. In this case there were two while the rest of the environment team supported with props.

This map was a blast to work on. It was really great to come back to Neverwinter city and play around with new areas to explore story and design wise. The influence the wizard’s magic has on the environment was an amazing challenge to figure out. In the end we believe you all will love this new zone. Looking forward to seeing you in game!

I’ll leave you with a few more shots below.

Jeff Miller

Neverwinter Environment Artist

Official River District Zone (Preview Shard) Discussion Thread

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