Neverwinter interview
Here's an interesting thought we've all had from time to time: What if that stranger you've grouped with is actually a developer in disguise? If you've played Neverwinter, you might have already had this encounter and not even known it. Cryptic Studios Lead Producer Andy Velasquez confessed that he plays his main character -- a Tiefling Devoted Cleric -- on a separate, unknown account so that he can enjoy the game like everyone else. "I'm not special there," he said, "I'm just another player."

Now that Neverwinter's had a season to launch, settle down, and add its first major update, we wanted to touch base with Cryptic about the progress of the title. We called Velasquez to chat about the ups and downs of development, the ever-present lockboxes, and a few tantalizing teases regarding Module 2.

Neverwinter's Velasquez on lockboxes, foundry, and Module 2
Self-evaluation

We began the discussion by asking Velasquez to conduct an evaluation as to what the team's done well so far and what needs improvement. He pointed to the behind-the-scenes structure for player feedback and response as a major win for the team. Cryptic's implemented a ton of avenues to gather information on what's going on in-game, from bug reports to the forums to customer service reports, to all manner of play data.

"It really helps to look at graphs and be able to say, this level right here is where people are getting stuck and dying, and this level is consuming more potions than normal," he said. This information is crucial to giving the team direction as it makes adjustments to the live game.

What isn't going so hot, he admits, is communication with the playerbase as to what the team is doing to fix Neverwinter on a week-to-week basis. News releases regarding flashy new store sales or lockbox packages have overshadowed the regular Thursday bug fixes that are addressing player complaints, and it's this information that Velasquez would like to see featured since it shows that the team is listening and reacting to issues.

The players have been a constant source of interest and inspiration to the team. One surprising observation was just how much the PvP community has embraced and played that side of the game while simultaneously calling for new maps and more progression.

Fury of the Feywild fun

Module 1's release was sorely needed and anticipated by both the team and the players. Aside from the crazy folk who figured out ways to get a max-level character on the first day, Cryptic saw a tidal wave of players start to surge toward admittedly thin endgame content. Velasquez said that internal data showed that Neverwinter has "stickiness" -- if a player got to level 10, then the stats showed a high probability that he or she would carry that character to the level cap.

Fury of the Feywild was already in development prior to the game's release to shore up the endgame, and once it was pushed live, Cryptic saw the players strongly embrace the content. One of the praises that it received was the improvement to boss fight mechanics versus the somewhat repetitive fights that had come before.

Foundry nuts-and-bolts

How the game's Foundry user-created mission system has been fairing is pretty subjective. Velasquez is, unsurprisingly, quite upbeat about it. "We've been really happy with the Foundry so far," he said, before going on to mention that a "rabid fanbase" of creators have managed to come up with astonishing works. For his part, Velasquez said he can't stop promoting one player-created mission, Clash of Wills, due to its imaginative psychic battle.

The team recently added the ability for content creators to use a "dragon drop nudger" to manipulate objects in 3-D, much like how the game's environmental artists do with their toolset. As for what's to come regarding the Foundry, Velasquez said that Cryptic is in the early stages of working on a home page to allow both creators and consumers a better way to search for and promote player content.

Neverwinter's Velasquez on lockboxes, foundry, and Module 2
The necessary evil of lockboxes

Our discussion turned to the "necessary evil" (as we posited) of lockboxes. Velasquez admitted that lockbox keys are top sellers, although he put a big asterisk by that when he observed that what the players are really buying is the chance for a rare mount or companion. The value of those mounts and companions is backed up by the straight-up sale of such items in the store.

So, are lockboxes necessary in the free-to-play model these days? "Yes and no," Velasquez said. "They're not a universal truth."

He pointed to League of Legends as a good example of a F2P model that completely eschews lockboxes because what the studio created is working just fine without them. Cryptic obviously loves its lockboxes, but Velasquez said that there are ways to implement them effectively and ways that are "thumbs to the eyes of your players."

Ultimately, the studio wants lockboxes to have appropriate perceived value so that players don't feel bad spending money to open them -- and don't feel bad avoiding them altogether.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Module 2 (except for the things you probably wanted to know)

We were a little disappointed to hear that the specific details of Module 2 are still under wraps, although Velasquez promises that a full reveal will happen "soon." With that said, he did touch on upcoming content, including Module 2, during our discussion.

The team is working hard to get Module 2 out by the end of the year, and it sounds like it'll be a good-sized update. The biggest addition will be one of the two new classes that are in development, and while Velasquez wouldn't confirm what the class is, he said that players have data-mined the truth on the forums already (we're hearing "Warlock" and "Ranger" a lot, but take that with a grain of salt). He did wave a little plastic figure that represented the class in question, but it was so quick that all we can confirm is that it might or might not be shaped like a blob.

Module 2 will represent a progression of the team's development process, including faster and more targeted bug fixes, more interesting boss fight mechanics, and improved features. The brand-new content coming with Module 2 will be chopped up into assets for the Foundry, so content creators will get new environments and monsters to work with there.

Velasquez also spent some time talking about how the team's working on more companions, especially ones to provide strong healing support. It's unclear whether Module 2 will contain these companions or whether they'll just be rolled out piecemeal.

With the honeymoon period over, Neverwinter's real work looks like it's just beginning. We'll be looking forward to hearing what the future holds for this action MMO.

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!

This article was originally published on Massively.