The Aurora toolset (sometimes called the Aurora toolkit) is a set of software tools developed by BioWare for use with the Aurora Engine, the game engine first used in BioWare's 2002 role-playing video game Neverwinter Nights. The toolset is included with the Windows version of Neverwinter Nights, and allows players to create their own adventures and share them with others by using a module (a game made in the toolkit). The tools include a visual tile-based terrain editor, a script editor, a conversation editor, and an object editor. Players using the toolset have created many modules that are available to download.
Aside from using the supplied content built into the default game, aspiring game developers can add their own custom content in supported files called "hakpacks" (or "Haks") using third party tools. Creature and object models can be created using modeling software such as 3D Studio Max, and media composers can create their own music files and intro movies with appropriate software, all stored in the Hak file.
The customizable nature of the game has inspired entire communities of independent scripters and content creators to develop additional tools, haks, and expansions that build on the Aurora toolset. There are also many third-party software programs written by independent developers for Neverwinter Nights. One program of note is the NWNX2/APS package, which allows persistent storage of game server information. By interfacing with MySQL technology, builders can script persistence of object inventories, states, and variables. This package is of particular usefulness to persistent worlds, which require massive amounts of data manipulation above the capabilities of the scripting language.
BioWare no longer supports the toolset after the release of NWN v1.69. The success and longevity of the Aurora toolset (and by extension, Neverwinter Nights) lies in the hands of a dedicated and talented community of hobbyists, custom content creators, and independent developers.
The complexity of creating and writing a good module still creates significant barriers to the average gamer, making the following claim:
|“||That's not to say that the game didn't spawn an active community of people who eventually figured it out. After all, this is our list of overrated games -- not complete failures. But the promise of a universal online role-playing game with a human DM remains unfulfilled.||”|
Despite the technical learning curve, the Aurora toolset still is a powerful and versatile tool, which makes Neverwinter Nights a unique and long-lived role-playing game. As Greg Kasavin from GameSpot writes in his June 24, 2002 review: "Some games are memorable, but years from now, people won't just remember Neverwinter Nights--they'll also still be playing."
However the developers never ported the toolset to the Mac OS X and Linux versions of the game. As a result, neveredit and neverscript have been created as open source versions of the tools for those platforms.
NWScript is the scripting language of the Aurora toolset. The language itself is similar to C and Java, which can make NWScript daunting for the novice scripter. However, it allows for the creation of complex behaviors and sweeping changes to the rules inherent to each module. One set of scripts developed shortly after the release of Neverwinter Nights is the HCR ("Hardcore Rules"), designed to bring the flavor and difficulty of the game closer to the original "Pen and Paper" form of Dungeons & Dragons.
The Aurora toolset of Neverwinter Nights is a piece of software allowing the construction of custom modules by the user. Thousands of these modules have been and are being made by the players and most are still in use by the players.
Neverwinter Nights 2
Obsidian has announced the following enhancements:
- Camera placement options.
- More wizards.
- Conversation nodes will be able to pass parameters to scripts.
- Tools will be "modeless", e.g., the builder will be able to have a dialogue window open and change things on the map at the same time.
- Tabbed interface to easily jump between features.
- Trees will be built using SpeedTree.
- Objects (including creatures) can be scaled (larger or smaller) along one (or all) of three axes.
- Support nearly any TrueType font.
- The GUI will be skinnable.
- Color palette are not used, because everything can be modified with 32-bits of color precision; up to 3 different tints can be applied to objects.
- The toolset also has a plugin ability so module creators can interface their own components.
- Can change and create new palette categories.
Application outside of fantasy gaming
The Education Arcade, which began as a collaboration between Microsoft and MIT's Comparative Media Studies program, has used the Aurora toolset combined with custom content to convert the game into a teaching tool, simulating the environment and setting of Colonial America during the American Revolution. A city in Virginia circa 1773 was recreated, providing a stage for teaching grade school students about the life, culture, and history of Colonial America.
A group of graduate students working in the Computer Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin used the toolkit to develop a prototype version of a game to be used in undergraduate rhetoric courses. The game, whose working title is "Rhetorical Peaks," asks players to come up with an argument that explains the mysterious death of a rhetoric professor. To gather evidence for their argument, players explore the virtual environment and interact with non-player characters in order to gather testimony and other clues. The game builds on case-based pedagogy, which was first elaborated by Lynn Troyka and currently being pursued by a group of researchers and teachers at the Iowa State University.
- Bioware builders community
- Educational Arcade--Aurora toolset used as learning tool
- The Builders Project