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Sundren Persistent World Interview with Saulus (13/06/2008)
by Urithrand

Sundren City

Sundren is a fictional land located south of Icewind Dale in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Although a roleplay server by nature, Sundren prides itself on a diverse balance of playstyles. In Sundren, group/party exploration is encouraged and at most times necessary to accomplish a given goal. Sundren's key style is between Dungeon Master Events & Interaction, as well as detailed rich areas with scripted quests. Player versus Player Combat (PvP) is also possible on the server.

The Sundren Neverwinter Nights 2 persistent world team has been developing the world since October 2006 and is comprised of numerous creative and technical professionals with industry experience in application development, graphic design, video game modding, website development, and more. After spending a few weeks immersed in the world, Urithrand talks to the Sundren Project Lead, Saulus.

1. SP: Firstly, for those of our readers who haven't played a Persistent World before, what exactly is a PW all about? Can you explain a little about Sundren and its roots?

Saulus: The concept of a persistent world isn’t anything new, MMOs can be considered persistent (to a degree) because you usually have the ability to buy a house or build something, and that reflects as a real change in the world. The game remembers the last spot you were in to put you there again when you come back. With Neverwinter Nights 2, it’s a little different.

There’s really no saving, in the sense that if you went to a bank and deposited some money, and the server restarted, or you left the server for awhile – you’d come back and it would be gone. A persistent world makes use of databases on the server backend in order to provide unique features for an online environment that aren’t normally possible. In the most basic sense, we’re doing something NWN2 wasn’t really designed to do, but we enjoy it anyway.

Although Sundren first saw the light of day in NWN2, it was actually envisioned long before that while I was still developing for NWN1. At the time I decided that there were already so many well established servers and a declining interest in the aging NWN1 that I would need to plan ahead for NWN2. This was some time before even the first screenshots of NWN2 emerged on the net. We first went live with our open beta on October 26th, 2006 – not long after NWN2 was released. We’ve been in open beta since and have come very far since the server first launched.

2. SP: Creating and running a PW is obviously an extremely time consuming task. What makes it worthwhile?

Saulus: The community has always made the difference. With every project like this you always get some bad apples, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Our community is friendly and helping to other players, and without the generous donations of our community we wouldn’t have been able to grow and support all the new features and functionality both on our website and the game server. I personally have a passion for gaming and modding, so it’s only natural I combine those elements with the work I do in Sundren, and I think most of the staff feels the same way.

3. SP: It's generally accepted (and demanded) within Sundren that a high level of RP is required. What ways have you developed to implement this requirement, and deter the undesirables?

Saulus: Sundren is not for everyone, people looking for a casual easy game should look elsewhere. I firmly believe that by challenging the player with more difficult rule sets and slower progressions that you make each accomplishment that much more satisfying. I think the best quote to go with this is “Desperation breeds determination”. We tend to lean somewhere between challenging and hardcore, and fully encourage party-play (which in many cases is mandatory to complete a quest). People who are intent on reaching level 20 in a week will find very quickly that it’s just not going to happen. While we do have a high level of RP in Sundren, we also have a very mature community; we do not intend to foster any kind of elitist environment where your RP measures your worth. We’ve had many people come to Sundren who have never role-played at all, but their willingness to learn allowed them to have a lot of fun and meet a few friends in the process.

4. SP: How have you developed ways to avoid thousands of the same popular classes walking around? How did you choose which races/classes were allowed?

Saulus: When planning out the world, we wanted to create a realistic environment (but not so realistic as to be boring), early on it became an issue that people were going to want to play rare races and classes in large numbers. The biggest problem in our eyes (which tied into people levelling too quickly) was people becoming used to demi-god like PCs of some rare offshoot race just casually hanging around a campfire while no one else takes any notice of something odd taking place.

Drow are evil, yet when left unchecked other players of opposing races normally won’t hesitate at all to mingle with them. We firmly believe this ruins the kind of immersive environment we want to provide, so we had to impose scripted limitations on what races/classes people could play. We tried to only pick things that would seriously ruin immersion, like having 20 warlocks running around. We now have a system in place for the role player of the month award, whereby a player’s peers can judge their effort in RP and their contributions to the community, the winners get a token which gives them access to create a character of a restricted race. We thoroughly document this setup on our wiki and our players have reacted positively to it so far.

5. SP: While checking out the statistics on your website, we noticed a number of custom classes such as Ice Fury of Auril or Master of Many Forms. There are one or two players for each one in contrast to over 1500 fighters or nearly 700 clerics. Are they so challenging to play?

Saulus: Keep in mind those are both restricted classes that require DM intervention to acquire. In-game events dictate whether players will be able to use these classes. Also, in some cases we might not have released a class yet because it is either in testing or has some significance to a plot. We are always thinking (and asking players) what new classes they’d like to see in the game, and we plan to add more in the future.

6. SP: Many Persistent Worlds are highly successful when they first appear, then disappear as interest wanes. Sundren has been around for over a year now - what is your secret to keeping them coming?

Saulus: Innovation. Sundren has a master plan so to speak and all the time we’ve spent since first starting the server has been an effort to achieve many of our main goals both in development and storyline. It’s a long process but in the end we will, and have accomplished many things that you just won’t see anywhere else. To date we’ve added to, or enhanced almost every moddable aspect of NWN2 including custom models, music, interfaces, weapons and armor, classes, feats, spells, skills and more. Under the hood Sundren is a complex machine of scripting and database usage that perform countless new pieces of functionality the original game never had (dynamic weather patterns and randomized item stats are just some of the few). Every time we see a player return after some time of inactivity they are always met with tons of cool new features and improvements in Sundren, and they even tell us how cool they think it is... This is the fuel that keeps us building, and improving.

7. SP: With a large number of adventurers at varying levels, how have you had to adjust game balance? How have you avoided the situation where the new guys stumble into the level 20 enemies at level 3?

Saulus: That’s one of the hardest things to properly achieve: balance. We’ve had several character wipes in Sundren since our beta first started, fixing exploits, removing certain items from the player population, tweaking our economy and stores, etc. It takes time to build a stable, finely tuned economy for a low magic environment... and we’ve succeeded in every respect. Generally new players seek the advice of others before venturing too far, and quests usually stray players into the right direction. We actually have plans to slowly reveal the difficult, more high level areas in Sundren when we have enough of the proper introductory quests to ease the player into them.

8. SP: With such emphasis on roleplay, it must be tough to think of different quests to keep people occupied. What methods of "killing time" have you introduced for budding roleplayers?

Saulus: That’s exactly why we are always looking for volunteers, a lot of collective creative input has gone into making a lot of unique dialog and plotlines in Sundren, and it keeps things fresh. To list every possible thing one could do to kill time would probably be longer than this article warrants, but here’s a few things that come to mind:

Fishing, Questing, Crafting, of course exploration is also its own reward. We also have a lot of heavy DM interaction, we have card games and other fun things in the Dice Den, bar-fights etc.

9. SP: Different classes have different requirements. How have you allowed for Paladins to save their damsels while blackguards strike fear into their enemies' hearts? How have you dealt with such diversity of professions?

Saulus: Sundren has a number of core factions which cater to a large variety of the most popular character archetypes, because of that DMs can more easily facilitate the opportunity for players to stretch their legs and do some really evil/good deeds. While it’s impossible to cater to every single profession, DMs do play a large role in making fantasy into reality and if you put forth the effort, you will reap the benefits and consequences.

10. SP: One of the defining characteristics of Sundren is the almost constant presence of live DMs throwing out impromptu adventures for the players. How do you find such talented, objective people to fill these roles?

Saulus: It’s hit or miss really. Some of our best DMs started out as players and proved to us what they were capable of, they were helpful with other players, active on the forums and knew how to make monsters and the like come to life. Sundren is fortunate to have come across such a talented diverse group of people to bring the world to life, and we’re always looking for more. It’s not for everyone though, but for the truly dedicated, many have found their calling.

11. SP: What advice would you give to new players to Sundren?

Saulus: I can’t stress this enough, visit our wiki! It’s the product of a lot of hard work from our staff and community members, and has a wealth of information useful to new players and veterans alike!

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