Saturday, 24 December 2011

Readable Books (Improved Image System)

This is just a quick post to say that I have improved the way images can be incorporated into the Readable Books system of mine. Note, I have NOT updated the Vault code because I do not want to upset other people's usage of the code to date. However, I will be incorporating images into books this way in the future, as it maintains the "image consistency" of the book and allows for text to be placed on a page next to an image, which it could not do before.

This was something I looked at doing a long while ago, but time was always against me with other priorities. However, I finally decided to do it and I am pleased with the results. For those that want a heads up on the scripting involved, I simply saved a separate background image that was the same size as the original, but with the new image on it, and then held the name of the TGA file in a global variable and updated the background GUI image whenever the page was referenced, deleting the global storage between references. It worked a treat and removes the need to rely on a rather complicated bit of scripting to reference different conversation files and keep track of various tokens. i.e It's a MUCH SIMPLER system!

However, as some people may also like the "zoomed in" feel when looking at images, I have not removed any of my original code, so that the two systems can, in theory, be used side by side. Below is a screenshot of the new book images in action.


Meanwhile,I am continuing to plug away at the conversations and scripts remaining in the mod, and while there are still a few areas left to do, I am definitely on the home straight now.

And while, personally, I do not celebrate the Xmas festivals (due to them stemming from a pagan background), I do, however, wish everybody a Happy New Year if I do not post again before then. (If anybody wants to hear more about the histories of such, or simply wants to chat, I am happy to do so via emails.)

And please, do vote on the poll and leave comments as you like!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Better The .... Gods (Manual Entry)

This week I am continuing to talk about the Althéa Campaign in general and the Better The Demon series of mods in particular. As some of you may be aware, this campaign is the continuing adventure of my D&D days, from its original idea in 1989. Therefore much of what I have written below is simply a moving of pen and paper material into the NWN2 format. If you don't mind seeing a website that is still very much in development, then you can find additional information to what I am about to write at this site: The World of Althéa. (Click on each of the books at the top of the page to navigate to the different sections.) Please bear in mind that the site does not receive much attention compared to this blog, and so will only be updated when I have more time. The material that is currently there is mostly copied and pasted material from my pen and paper days that may need editing. However, there are one or two new bits that I have added to test that I had it working.



Without further preamble, this week I show you the manual entry relating to the gods of Althéa and how the players can expect their relationship to them to work when they enter the game world. Please leave any comments relating to this topic or any other you may read in your travels, and I will answer when I can.

The Gods of Althéa

New Gods: With a new world, comes new gods. Some gods (especially for the non-human races) may remain unchanged. (They were kept as such within the Althéa Campaign.) However, all the human gods will be different - and subject to which god your PC has when they enter the world, they may find the god changed to one appropriate to Althéa, or have their deity name labeled as “Uncertain/Searching”. If you are creating the PC from new, then you will be given a choice of valid gods from which to to choose. (See an example of some in the image below.) If the PC is imported, however, then a check is made to ensure no invalid faith enters the world. If you are playing a cleric, the game ensures you enter with a valid faith (rather than "Uncertain/Searching”) and provides you with an appropriate holy book, which is required to learn spells when resting.

MP Alignment Restrictions: If a MP game is underway, then it is possible that the current party of players has already committed themselves to either a good or evil alignment. If this is the case, then the newly entering PC will have their alignment changed to that of the party, which may mean clerics being out of favour with their god and unable to pray for spells. Therefore, make sure your PC’s alignment matches that of the party leader in a MP game to be sure of having access to spells.


POLL: Freewill v Predestination

And while we are on such a topic, why not give your vote on the latest poll; bearing in mind that some may think they had a choice, and others not. ;)

Very basically, the poll is asking whether you believe if everything follows a predestined and determined path - whether because of the laws of nature or an intelligent design or whether the universe is purely chaotic in nature where man is free to make a choice.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Better The .... Items (The Chameleon Stone)

I thought it was about time that I started to share some information with you about the campaign play itself. From now, and in the coming weeks, I hope I may be able to talk about some of the items that you would be familiar with in the campaign world of Althéa, and some of the gaming mechanics (rules) from the manual I am trying to write. At least this way, any writing I do for the manual will act as a blog post as well, so I am not overdoing it. Subject to how much of a spoiler I determine an item (or placeable) to be, will determine how much detail I give, or whether I discuss it at all. ;)

The Chameleon Stone

For this week, I introduce to you the Chameleon Stone ... A small magikal stone that has the ability to transform into the object which it hides. Check out the description of the item as it will appear in the game, along with an example of its GUI upon its activation.
This is just one example of a new item that the players will find in the world. Hopefully, the sporadic placement of such items will help make Althéa an interesting place to explore and discover.

NEW POLL: Freewill v Predestination

As a quick aside, I wanted to take another poll on how people think/believe. It comes from some of my other blogs that talk about the nature of reality and beliefs. (Search this blog for them.) If you have a minute, just give me your response, and feel free to give your reasoning in a comment.

Very basically, the poll is asking whether you believe if everything follows a predestined and determined path - whether because of the laws of nature or an intelligent design or whether the universe is purely chaotic in nature where man is free to make a choice.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Exciting Progress

I know some of my latest blogs have been more vague about module content than usual, but that's because I do not want to give too much away in the way of spoilers. Sometimes it's really hard not to blurt out the ideas one is having for a quest. Having gone through a period of "writer's block", I believe I have made some exciting progress since. Having some fresh areas to work with from Kamal really helped.

PC Is Confronted By A Combination Locked Door!

So, what can I say ... Well, I can say that the latest quest that I am writing at the moment is a little different from others I have done to date. It's one that some players may not even discover if they are not the curious adventuring type ... and if they do, they may wish they had not discovered it after all. ;) However, for the party of heroes that persevere, the rewards are, hopefully, worthwhile.

PC IS Confronted By A Rune Puzzle Locked Door

In this quest, I have managed to bring together a number of those pieces of puzzle coding that I have written over the last few years: rune puzzles, password puzzles, combination puzzles, visual puzzles ... etc. It also makes use of "real" secret doors, new creatures, readable books and scrolls. I also hope to introduce one or two neat ideas for new GUI concepts.

All in all, I feel that it is the first side-quest that will stand alone as a complete mini-adventure that will challenge the survival instincts and abilities of the characters more than any other I have written to date. To me, it feels like an old fashioned D&D adventure more than most, because of its requirement of emotional and intellectual input from the player. Whether that will appeal to many of today's modern NWN players, only time will tell. However, by the time this module is released, I suspect only the hardened traditional D&D players will remain to download and play it anyway. ;)

Friday, 4 November 2011

Companion Interaction

Just a quick update to say that I am managing to open the toolset a little more this week than I have for the last few weeks. The issues I mentioned in the last post still remain, but in a lesser capacity. Even Daisy is becoming more accommodating when it comes to taking her medicine.

I had the opportunity to take a closer look at some of Kamal's area work, which was encouraging. He has been hard at work coming up with some more great interior designs, which he kindly said I could adapt to use. As there are one or two interior areas that still need doing, this has saved me some time and meant I could look at some other parts of the module that needed doing ... including adding background to potential party members.

Companion Conversations

My goal has always been to allow six main characters within the party. (Henchmen, animal companions and summoned creatures can be added to this number.) The six main characters are made from players, created PCs or companions. However, I also wanted to design a system that had created PCs or companions both react in a similar way with respect to any dialogue they may be offered throughout play. This involved writing a script or two to help determine which type of character was being played (created PC or added companion) and used in such a way that the commentary appeared normal and seamless irrespective of what type of character a player was using. This meant that while there is more flexibility for the player regarding what type of PC they chose to play with, I have to take care when writing specific dialogue for companions in particular. Last week I took my first steps at writing some character background for a companion that the players can find, called Threska.


Is Threska Somebody You Can Work With?


Threska is not the first companion I have written some background for, but is, hopefully, a sign that some of the final conversation scripts needed are coming together at last. (I needed quite a bit of the module to be written before I can start to add companion/PC commentary.) I am trying to include some interesting background for every companion that might encourage players to consider using them alongside (or instead of) any created PCs they might be using.

Player Leadership

I have also designed an influence system that monitors the player's actions against the created PC/companion's own alignment and beliefs. A clever player will be able to work around potential party conflicts, but in the end, what the player does can and will affect their relationship with other members of the party. So, if a player does not lead as they give the impression they will, then they can expect some rebuking from other party members and eventually abandonment if the player still ignores their party members' pleas.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Difficult Times


Daisy When Her Eye Was Good (Only a few weeks ago.)




Every now and then, events in life mount up against you and make things more difficult or stressful than usual. When such times occur, they seem to dominate a lot of your time and thinking, and virtual worlds have to take a back seat, especially if one is not feeling that well themselves. The last few weeks have been like that!

I apologise in advance, but this post will be a little rare on news regarding the module. I have been dropping into the toolset on moments of rare respite, but will now simply explain what has kept me from doing it as much as I would have liked:-

1) First and foremost, Daisy, another one of our pet rabbits has been taken ill. I noticed a small discolouration in her eye about 10 days ago, and since taking her to the vets, I have found out that it may be to do with the Encephalitozzon Cuniculi parasite, which had also given Honey, another one of our rabbits a health problem as well (but had not affected the eye in her case). This time, however, even with treatment, there is a possibility that Daisy might have to have her eye removed, which is a dangerous operation for rabbits. Daisy is a feisty young female rabbit and administering the treatment has not been easy - and is stressful for everybody involved, even when I try to be as quick and straightforward as possible. Time will tell how well the treatment works for her.

2) Both my wife and I have been suffering from "colds". Although while she still manages to get into work, I have been restricted to laying in bed some days. (Having M.E. makes these sorts of things more difficult to cope with.) As you can imagine, trying to cope with a sick rabbit while more sick than usual yourself is not easy.

3) Personal circumstances involving a neighbour have added to the stress levels of late. To be clear, my wife and I get along with the neighbours fine, but (without going into details), their current personal situation has indirectly involved us (as neighbours) and is taking some of my attention to help resolve. Not being well at the best of times means dealing with such situations prevents me from dealing with much else, including my hobby.

4) Lastly, with everything else going on, I have had little or no time to be creative, and so instead have tried to finish reading a book entitled, "Does God Believe In Atheists?" by John Blanchard. This, in turn, added to my interests in understanding more about God's plan of Predestination and Man's Freewill. So, in the little time I have had between dealing with sickness (personal and with Daisy), my head has been spinning with that issue .... unable to think about the module due to everything else going on. Isn't it strange how your mind latches onto certain topics when you are unwell.

At the moment, I am still suffering and taking over-the-counter remedies to help bring relief. Some days are better than others, but I am still not well enough to cope with the other aspects going on in my life at the moment and so (probably) not much work will be done on the module until at least one or two of the above situations is resolved. I think if I saw definite improvements in Daisy, and my wife and I could be rid of our current infections, then coping with other issues will become easier and I should be able to get back into a slow-paced, but steady approach to continue chipping away at it again.

In brief ... I'm sicker than usual ... coping strategies are compromised ... external situations are testing those strategies to the limit ... nothing left in me to do much else ... even if I want to. :(

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Monster AI: Supernatural Abilities v Item Immunities

Over the past few days I have been coding some AI (artificial intelligence) for a creature that the heroes can encounter. As the creature I had in mind was not already included in the game, I decided to script the creature's special abilities myself. In the process of doing this, I realised that my own understanding of the "supernatural rule" with respect to "immunities" may be wrong.

What Is Immunity?

When referring to the 3E core rules, supernatural abilities of creatures are those magical abilities that go away in an anti-magic field, but are not subject to spell resistance. Yet, the rules are a little more vague when it comes to the meaning of "immunity" in general, with respect to either of these other two terms. For instance, according to 3E rules, an elf is immune to sleep. I understand this to mean that an elf will not be subject to any form of magic that will cause it to sleep: whether by spells or supernatural effects!

In NWN, a PC can acquire items that offer various forms of "immunity". However, I am beginning to think that using the term "immunity" in this sense is a bit of a misnomer. The reason I say this, is because when checking scripts of supernatural effects, they do NOT check for items that offer immunity against them. Therefore, this would suggest that the term "immunity" in this sense is better translated as "a 100% spell resistance to a certain spell or type of spell". e.g. Immunity to "death" means a 100% spell resistance to spells and spell-like abilities that result in instant death, as opposed to instant death caused by a supernatural gaze attack. Therefore, an item "immunity" does not mean the same thing as an elf's "immunity to sleep".

Immunities In Play

Having given this some thought, I believe I am going to change the description of an item offering "Immunity" to something like "100% Spell Resistance to xxxx" to help avoid any confusion. Or, maybe try to make it clear that supernatural effects are not counted as those effects covered by immunities.

UPDATE: I believe I have all the information regarding the way immunities handle supernatural effects and have decided to make being immune to something, immune to everything that fits the description, including supernatural sources.

My conclusions are simply that a spell (or effect or special ability) script called from an ExecuteScript function does not allow the immunity check functions to work properly if it uses them. Therefore, any scripts that require immunity checking called via ExecuteScript require their own custom immunity checks added to the code. If the same scripts are called as a "spell" using their (if added) spells.2da row number, then the OC immunity check functions appear to work fine.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Invisibility

I know it was only a short while ago I spoke about the same topic of invisibility, but as I have been working on this in the toolset again, I thought I would blog about it again too. I felt this ability required special attention as it affected the way a PC could interact with the environment more than most other effects. Furthermore, as I have increased the duration of the invisibility spell to 10 minutes per level from its original 1 minute per level, there is a greater chance of its impact during play. (NB: Spells that last 10 minutes per level, like invisibility, are subject to game time warping. i.e. Time passes in game time amounts when lasting longer than ten minutes.)

The idea I have in mind is to try to allow invisibility to make more of an impact in some situations if used by the player. I imagine most players will prefer the direct approach and confrontation to problems in a game, but there may be a few who like the idea of playing more stealthily in some situations if possible. That's the idea anyway, and to this end I have set some "safety-nets" in place. These safety-nets have primarily been set in conversations, where a PC is protected from automatically becoming visible when given the choice to talk to an NPC. I have had to make some amendments to this code, such as allowing a PC to be able to talk to another player or inanimate object, but overall, the tests appear to be quite playable to date.

GetNearestCreature(NOT_MY_PC)

On a side note, I discovered that using the GetNearestCreature with the parameter to not return a PC (NOT_PC), will still return a companion. (i.e. A PC not currently controlled by the player.) I thought this was a little misleading, so mention it now. I had to make my own function in the end to ensure the nearest creature was an NPC rather than a companion. I then checked over all my other scripts that had made the same assumption and corrected those.

Playing Poll Results

The latest poll ended last week and here are the results from 25 voters:

I was most encouraged to see that 40% of the voters will be playing the module as a multi-player game. As regular readers of this blog will know, Better The Demon (and other modules I make) are designed MP from the base up. This is not a SP to MP conversion, but all systems are designed with MP in mind from the very start. I have to say that I have slipped up on occasion. However, as all testing I do involves a MP test every now and then (using two computers), any MP issues that do appear are addressed as soon as they are brought to my attention.

I am also pleased to see that 16% of players will be trying an "evil" approach to the game. It will be interesting to see if any others change their style during play - simply because the "evil" path is easier to play than the "good" path. Also, if their are players who try both "good" and "evil", I will be interested to see what options they take in each case.

Very encouraging is to see players who will play the game more than once - assuming they are pleased with the module in the first place. In these cases, I will be interested to hear if their different experiences were due to playing different alignments or during SP and MP gaming.

In all, the results were very interesting to me and I look forward to getting this beast out (at least this first part) as soon as I can to start receiving some feedback.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Focus & Return (GUIs)

I continue to thrash out the story for Better The Demon, which is slowly coming along in the way of added conversations. However, I have also been looking at some minor issues to do with the new GUIs that will be available in the game. In particular, there are some GUIs that are presented to the player which require a text input. Previously, the player had to click in the text input box and then type what they wanted to say, followed by clicking on another button. This all worked well enough, but I found during testing that it was more natural for me to want to type in information the moment the GUI appeared and then simply hit the Return key to enter my input. To this end, I did a little checking over some OC files to see how it was done ...

Focus & Return In GUIs

In my searching, I discovered that to make the cursor appear in an input box the moment the GUI opened, I needed to add the following parameter to the UISCENE:

OnAdd=UIScene_OnAdd_SetFocus(TextNameInput) where TextNameInput is the name of the UIText box requiring the input.

Then to make it so the Return key worked with this textbox, I needed to ensure the following two parameters were added to the same UIText box:

multiline="false" returnrestricted="true"

Once these two parameters were added, I found I could then add a simple OnReturn section to the same UIText like this:

OnReturn=UIObject_Misc_ExecuteServerScript("gui_textinput",local:0)

This OnReturn does exactly the same thing as if the player clicks on the button which has the same command line, but uses OnLeftClick instead of OnReturn.

The good news with all this is that it makes the game flow more intuitively. And there are also some GUI text input windows where this kind of input is almost essential due to time factors involved.

And so the module continues to be written ....

Monday, 29 August 2011

From Word To Flesh (What Is Reality?)

I wrote this blog some time ago, over the course of a few days. However, I have wrestled about posting it for a while, but have now decided to do so. Please read it with an open mind...

From time to time I have conversations that cross over between my gaming life and my spiritual life. I suppose it should not come as a surprise considering D&D represents "another life" where different faiths and another cosmology exists - and, if you believe like I do, that God works out His purpose in everything that we do, then I am bound to have my hobby used for His glory. In the past, I have come across the arguments disapproving of D&D among Christians, but, I believe this is due to a confusion and misunderstanding of the game. This is not always the case, however, as I strongly agree with the objections raised of mixing real world faiths with fantasy. On the whole, however, I believe the ability to communicate ideas through play is not without its merit, as long as it does not interfere with or replace biblical study and worship.

So what has stirred me to write on this topic today? The answer is a combination of watching another Horizon program called, "What Is Reality?" and being asked by a friend, "What is the point of looking into Christianity if everything is pre-destined?" (In my Christian faith, I believe in God's pre-destination over man's freewill.) Now, while I do not agree with every detail spoken in the Horizon program, I do have sympathy for some of the ideas, which reminded me of both my own cosmology design for my D&D campaign and the reality of life from a Christian perspective. In particular, the program touches upon how maths can be used to describe every aspect of reality. It shows how maths (something abstract and non-tangible) can be used to describe and demonstrate creation in everything we know about reality. If you are interested, I found that you can still watch the program on You-Tube. Here is the link to Part One (I have since discovered this link has been removed .... sorry! - I may try to post a clip from my own copy that I still have if people are interested? - I found this link that has some of the show.) if you want to watch the program for yourself. It is fascinating. The links to the other three parts can be found there without too much difficulty as well.

This blog can be considered the third instalment after the blogs I made on The Infinite & Destiny and Nothing Matters! (Dark Matter). It is my open ramblings as I try to explain how I see "reality". Although, to be clear, this post is just me thinking allowed and should not be taken out of context or as a definitive explanation of what I believe. As always, I would very much appreciate your own thoughts on this matter, be they pertaining to any real world beliefs you may have or for your own D&D cosmology.

Coding Reality

Since the coming of computers, we have been blessed with an understanding and illustration of "life" that was probably once reserved for TV and cinema, and before that, to books and the imagination. With computers, however, we have the ability to take an abstract concept (maths) and make it into something that appears "alive" and "real" in a way unlike anything we could before. Take, for example, art packages and 3d model programs. All the images that we make with them are a complex pattern of codes that have been translated into an image or working object on a computer screen. When you break it down into the simplest bits, you eventually end up with binary code, an extremely complex pattern of 1's and 0's, "on" and "off" switches. In a fashion, old black print newspapers used this concept to provide print and images on the page, which when looked at under a magnifying glass would show how they were made up from many tiny dots (1's) and blank paper (0's) on the page.

The point I am trying to make, however, is that as we have become better at understanding the maths and being able to manipulate the code on a computer, so the images and models have become more "realistic". Take this one step further, like any good sci-fi program does, such as Red Dwarf or the film, The Matrix, and what was once simply images stored in code becomes a "physical reality".






In Red Dwarf, for instance, the complete consciousness of a dead crew member (Arnold Rimmer) has been stored in the ship's computer. This extremely complex code is then made to project a holographic image of the original crew member, who then becomes conscious again as a hologram. In a later series, the crew of Red Dwarf come across a being who is able to recode the existing hologram (made of normal light) into something called "hard light", whereupon the holographic Arnold Rimmer, becomes, to all intents and purposes, a physically solid human being once more.





In the film, The Matrix, super computers have created an image of the world in a super mainframe called the Matrix. Human beings are plugged into the Matrix where their consciousness experiences a "reality" that the super computers want them to live. Although the world of the Matrix only exists as code, to all its "inhabitants", it is as real as can be. Only those outside of the Matrix can see the code for what it is.

I know these ideas have been around for some time now, but the idea that worlds and everything about them (including humans) can be made of complex mathematical code is a relatively new concept. There were comparable ideas in earlier times, such as in Shakespeare's "As You Like It", declaring "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players", but these are not used in the sense I am describing. Interestingly, however, I believe the Bible does allude to something more akin to the latest ideas, but the language is spiritual rather than mathematical. Corinthians 1 C13:v12."For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."





The DM In The Game

I assume we all recognise the idea that the DM or a builder of a module as the "god" of the D&D world he or she creates; in that they design the world and cosmology (if any) in which other players explore and play. To all intents and purposes, the player playing the DM knows everything there is to know about the world they have designed and all the possible outcomes, and governs the players actions throughout a gaming session. To make this point clearer, if we take the builder's role as DM out of the game and simply refer to them as the designer of a computer module, then assuming there are no coding errors, they would know every potential outcome for the players of their module. Take this one step further and assume they also know all the dice rolls ahead of time as well as the paths and actions the players will take and you have a game designer who knows every outcome of all play of their world module ahead of time.

Returning to the film, The Matrix, there is a character in the film, called The Architect, which is the controlling super computer of the Matrix. Imagine a version of this character with the same ability to control everything, but who is also fully human, complete with human characteristics such as love, and maybe you have an idea of the God of our universe (from a Christian perspective). Unlike the film, however, the Christian God (as I believe Him to be) would also know the actions (codes) of every human who lived because He built them too. Therefore, there are no human "variable factors" in God's universe (as there were in The Matrix film) , which would mean God is fully in control and that everything is pre-destined to His will. He is sovereign.

The Great Illusion

In my own campaign, I wanted to try to reflect some ideas I had in mind about how the cosmology of my campaign came into existence. Little did I know at the time (Althéa was conceived in 1988), that the design of my own cosmology was to reflect some of the ideas I touch on above. In brief, the main "God" of my D&D cosmology initially conceives the universe in the form of images only, while in a "Conscious" state of being. There was no substance at first; not until the same God's "Unconsciousness" state used different elements (used other existing codes) on the cosmos to change the images into solid form. There is a third state to this single God, referred to as the "Subconscious" state and is called "Vol" in the game - and who acts as the perfect balance between the Conscious state, called "Adon" and the Unconscious state, called "Eki". (Vol is encountered in my NWN1 module called Soul Shaker.)

This cosmology concept is something that is only hinted at throughout the game play, and is something that will only come to light and finally be revealed in full when the game reaches a specific point in time. In the last 23 years of real time play, only now is the truth beginning to be revealed and is something that I hope to expand upon in Better The Demon.

Returning to my main discussion, however, I wanted to point out that the common theme between everything I have said so far, which is: Reality is far more than what we immediately perceive, especially if we consider reality exists of more "code" than we can currently understand. Whether looked at scientifically (Horizon), demonstrated through humour (Red Dwarf), excited through film (The Matrix), used as a D&D cosmology, or even alluded to in the Bible, we cannot avoid being caught up and being embroiled in the illusion that holds us in ignorance to the fullness of reality.

From Abstract To Reality

With the concept of designing a module in mind, humour me, and let us consider the design of our own reality like this for a moment. Any module idea has to come from somewhere, and, for obvious reasons, I will assume the whole idea is of God. (Christian's call it God's Plan.) You can perceive "God" in any manner you like for now, but for purposes of this thought process, I will take my lead from the Bible and apply some of those aspects (linguistic terms) we have used above. I cannot avoid also using some biblical terms and concepts in the following paragraphs and I hope the reader will not take offence and can appreciate them in the context of what I am trying to explain.

To start with, an "idea" is nothing more than an "image" in the mind of its creator. Note, the image does not have to be a static 2d image and can be imagined in as many dimensions as the creator desires, and can include perceiving this image as if time was passing. For example, as a module builder (or story teller), you can imagine the whole story from start to finish as well as aspects outside and beyond the story itself that may even have an impact on the story. e.g. If you experienced and understood "love", then it can be an aspect you intend to add to your story even before the story is written or fully formed. In other words, the experiences you have had and the limit of your imagination are the governing factors of your initial "image". For God, by His very nature, there is no limit to His creation because He has access to (is author of) the entire "code" (all knowledge) of everything. He is not limited to the snippets of the code that we understand, but, even as the entity behind the code itself, God can shape the image of the code into anything He desires.

I imagine such code as always having been present and to be of God. Man may discover an aspect of this code, but it is nothing new. In other words, E=MC2 existed before Einstein "discovered" it. All mathematical code exists as an abstract non-entity, much of it outside any understanding we have within our time limited existence. God exists in much the same way as the abstract notion of mathematical code, but God, knowing all code and formulae that make up everything we know, is capable of being human, with human attributes, and much more. For this reason, He is recognised as being comprised of all those attributes we consider most dear to us as human, the highest of which is love. God, being the source of all things, has access to all things, including being the personal loving God of the Bible.

Yet, as mere humans, we are incapable of understanding the complete code, the complete entity that is God who is in everything and everywhere. Yet, God can use the knowledge of the code to create something more than just an intangible image. He can manipulate the formulae to create substance and a reality with dimensions, where further creations (us) can be placed within and continue to live according to His will. Or to stick with the module analogy, God writes a program using the code to create the universe in which we live. Later, accessing the same code, He creates humans (us) to live inside the universe where He has used other code to turn the mathematically designed three dimensional objects and images into substance that we know as the elements. Note, if it was possible for a character in a cRPG module to gain consciousness and start to query its environment, how would it explain the rock formations that we (as game designers) have painted down with textures? Would it talk about a God who created the world in which it lived, or start to see patterns and form ideas about a universe that evolved through time? Furthermore, would the same "conscious computer character" understand the meaning of "substance", "pain" and "death" as we understand it in the "real" world? We, as module designers can program in "collisions", "bump states", "hit points" and "death" for these created characters, which would all be "real" for them, but are obviously only a pale imitation of what we mean by "real".

Now most of us are probably familiar with the story of Adam and Eve and The Fall - and most might probably now be arguing the point that Eve chose to eat of the apple implying the "freewill" of man as opposed to any pre-destined plan of God. Yet, we must remember that this is God's Plan, His story! His module if you don't mind me saying it like that. He knew what was going to happen and already had His module planned to play through. For me, the question I struggle with most is: If God has everything pre-destined for everybody (no freewill because He is the source and rules of everything), then how can individual men be held responsible for their sins? However, the Bible (as I read it) is clear in the doctrine of pre-destination, and as much as I struggle to understand it, I am led to believe it and am humbled by the fact that God has selected me, a sinner, to be one of His chosen. For no-one, by any merit of their own, deserves to be saved. To be clear on this point, I believe I did not choose to become a Christian, but that God chose me to be saved through Jesus Christ, His son, before I was even born.

There are clear examples of where God obviously has chosen people for glory or for hell. In Malachi C1 v3 "But Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals." In Exodus C7 v3, God "hardens" pharaoh's heart. In Matthew C25 v31-46, Christ, Himself, speaks of the sheep and the goats. There are also many verses in the Bible which speak of God's pre-destined plan for His people and of people's lives even before they have been born.

The Word Becomes Flesh

You may now be raising the same objection as my friend did that I mentioned at the start: "What is the point of looking into Christianity if everything is pre-destined?" Well, to answer this, I have to answer in much the same way as I did to people who said, "What is the point of playing D&D if there is no end to it?" At least, that was a very common question when I played the game in the early days. And, of course, the answer is similar in both situations: "Because it is a race to be run (or a game to be played)." As participants, we do not yet know the results of the "game" even if God does. The bottom line is, we are part of God's Plan, for better or worse. However, the Bible also teaches us that salvation is possible! Am I contradicting myself? No - to repeat the reason why .... we do not know the outcome of our lives, even if God does.

Ever since God revealed Himself to us, He has given those that He has chosen to believe a means to come to Him. From the giving of the Ten Commandments, through the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, to God coming out from the abstract word of the Bible to living flesh in Jesus Christ, God has been speaking to His people. Yes, I believe God Himself came from His abstract form into His creation to demonstrate His love for us and to show His "sheep" the way of salvation. As a poor analogy, it would be like a module designer creating a character of themselves to enter the module and speak to the player's PCs directly about winning the treasure - A DM revealed! To all intents and purposes, this coded DM character has all the knowledge and power of the original game designer, as it *is* the same person, but limited to the boundaries of the computer module, in a similar way Christ was "limited" in His earthly form. (Not necessarily "limited" in a way one might be thinking though.) To quote the Bible passage I used above again, Corinthians 1 C13:v12."For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." We currently only see a small part of what is real with respect to God and reality with what we have seen through Christ, but this does not change the truth, which Christ claimed to be: John C14 v6: "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. v7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him."

In other words, if you do not believe in the Bible, or what it teaches (God revealed), then, in theory, you have nothing to fear from your own perspective, because everything I have spoken of from the Bible will mean nothing to you. You are "not chosen", but being "not chosen" will not mean anything to you either. You will not have "heard the word" as explained in the parable of the sower (Mark C4 v 1-20). Ironically, the same Bible people claim not to believe explains why they do not believe it. Such unbelief should not come as a surprise to a believer. However, if there is any inkling whatsoever that you feel there is some truth to what the Bible says, then it behoves you to look more into it and to study it further ... and if this is God's will, you will do so. The important point, however, is that if you do begin to understand the concept of sin in your life, then you are, most likely, chosen already and the only reason you struggle to come to terms with declaring your faith (that God has chosen you too) is because the same Bible teaches us that the devil also exists and tries to try to stop you from living out your salvation now. Do not misunderstand me here: It is impossible for the devil to prevent you from being "saved" by God (after all, it is pre-destined), but it is possible for you to not enjoy your salvation while on Earth. But isn't this pre-ordained too? The answer is "yes", and the only guidance I can give you as a response is to read the Book of Job from the Bible. The Book of Ecclesiastes (my favourite book of the Old Testament) is also an excellent book to read about the meaningless of life without God. And as you do not know where your life will go at any time in the future, you must not assume the worst. To do so is to fall for the devil's lies.

And, of course, there is also prayer. If there was any way for a human locked into a pre-destined path to find comfort, it is through praying a prayer that coincides with the will of God. But doesn't pre-destination mean prayer does not change anything? The answer is that it can "change" your understanding of your place in life. If you are praying for God's will to be done, which we have been taught to do by the Lord Himself in The Lord's Prayer with "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven", then your prayer will automatically be answered because it coincides with God's will, which is, ultimately, what we desire as Christians. And the change in you will be according to God's will, which will be a blessing irrespective of what you think now or after any change. The fact is, if you are praying earnestly, then you will begin to recognise God working in your life and your perspective of reality will change! In a debate I was having with a Christian friend when I first came across pre-destination I posed the point that if everything is pre-destined, then aren't we simply like automatons going along with the flow, but conscious of the fact? He answered, "Now, I can’t ‘solve’ that mystery for you, but it is true, and it is wonderful. It doesn’t make us ‘robots’.... we still act and think and feel.... yet we rejoice that God hasn’t left us in the state we were in Adam to sin unto destruction.... but has redeemed us freely in order to bring us into a wonderful salvation. If the only way you can think of that is as a sort of ‘robot’... then I’m happy to be one!! But I don’t think that term does justice to the reality of the situation." And like my friend, I concluded that I too, am happy to be such a "robot", while recognising the term does not do the situation justice.

So Many More Questions

This blog obviously cannot do justice to the huge topic I am trying to tackle here, and I am sure that such writing raises many more questions in some people than it answers. However, one question that I believe might be raised that I can answer now is that I know of no other "faith" that answers as many of life's difficult questions as the Christian faith and the Bible ... nor of one that speaks in terms that, even today, so closely touches upon modern day thinking and reminds me of some of the modern terms used. If I was not a Christian already, discoveries in modern science, and programs like Horizon, would have probably made me start looking at the Bible again anyway, because of some of the verses I recall reading at one time or another in my life. Although, the pre-destination argument I use obviously does not permit that way of thinking for myself. However, if you are of a different faith (or no faith at all), then I would like to hear your own understanding of life and reality. Where and how do you gain meaning? Is the question I just asked a meaningless one for you?

There are so many other avenues I could have gone down, such as talking about the requirement of a blood sacrifice as the reason for God hating Esau and a pointing towards the blood sacrifice of Christ to come. And how we are only saved by the grace of God and not by good works. i.e. It does not matter how "good" you are, you cannot "save" yourself through good works. And then there is the question about all the different "Christian" religions ... not all those that call themselves "Christian" are Christian. In fact, if there is one thing to take away with you from reading this blog, it is that being a Christian is as much about "searching" for the Truth about the reality of life than anything else. It is not about traditions (such as "Christmas" and "Easter" which are from pagan origin), and of which I have nothing to do with. Nor is it about being a crutch to help me through life, but more of a recognition that I am not in control of my life, but someone far greater is. And on the topic of other faiths and pagan traditions, there is a book entitled "The Two Babylons", by Alexander Hislop (1853) that helps put the many world religions into context and times with respect to the origin of the Bible. Basically, it covers how the various other old religions that may be considered "equals" to the Bible have come about with respect to the time of the first human beings, Adam and Eve.

Faith

Finally, I must agree that much of what I have said comes down to a matter of faith, which to a Christian, is another gift from God. Why should I believe that the Bible is the true word of God where other religious texts claim the same? ... Faith! Why do I believe the Bible has not lost something in its translation since it was first written? ... Faith! However, I do believe that I have spent many years searching and testing the scriptures with scripture to avoid being accused of having "blind" faith. However, when it comes to believing the Word of God over the words of men on subjects such as creation, I can only thank God for the insight and mind He has given me to help me understand how His guiding hand is at work in the universe as opposed to leaving me with an image of a chaotic cosmology with only a cold future devoid of life.

Like the character in a module who has just been told that the world in which they "live" is in fact a pale copy of the reality of things and that there was more to existence than what they already knew, the Bible has done the same for us in our world. And like a DM making themselves visible to players to lead them away from a problem, so God has done the same for our world. In our world, however, the Bible tells us that our lives are pre-destined to believe this truth or not. Do you know where you currently stand on this? Even the smallest of faith is a good starting point, as with it you can pray for more faith and, if it is God's will that you should have more (and the Bible tells us that the only reason we do not have more faith is because we have not asked for it through prayer), then it is a given that your faith will increase if prayed for in earnest. This is when the walk with God and growth in the knowledge of reality really begins.

Please ask as many questions as you like, pose theories, post your own ideas and just talk about what I have written here. All comments or objections raised politely will be appreciated.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Wrestling With The Stuffing

Sometimes ... and I am sure many modders will agree with me ... as much as our hobby of writing a story to be played in a module is a joy and a pleasure to create, there are times when the story refuses to play along. Note, I'm not talking about the main path or outcome to the story, but the "smaller" details that take place in between that help flesh out the game as a whole. It's a little like being faced with a blank page to fill between each event of the main story. These pages need to be filled in and made interesting, as they act as the glue between each other, and success in their writing can be the make or break of an otherwise well-built module.

The Main Plot

Let's take The Lord of the Rings (LotR) as an example of a story. The bottom line to the main point of the story is: Frodo has to take a magic ring to "Mordor" where it must be destroyed! That's it. Yet, look at the many books that make up the complete story and it's not hard to imagine that there is much more involved in that story than a simple journey. Writing a plot for a module is a similar task, in that a player needs to be presented with challenges and choices that help flesh out their experience of the story as they uncover it through play.

Side Quests

Note, I am not talking about side quests. It is true that modules can and do provide side-quests that help to give a module longevity, but, in my opinion, these should act as incidental events rather than experiences to replace the main story, which should be the crux of the game. In other words, side quests, while briefly entertaining should be something that, if missed by the player, would not detract from the module/story as a whole. Now, why do I mention this? Simply because, I believe that a good "litmus" test for a module is to remove the side-quests and to see what is left for the player to do to complete the story. If, for example, you find that a good percentage of a module is made from side quests, then I believe the experience of the game as a whole will quickly dissolve into disappointment, especially to experienced players who have played more than their fair share of RPGs.

Main Quest Events

The answer, as I see it, is to break the story into main quest events, which the player can explore at their own pace. However, this is not easy to achieve. When writing a book, the events are predetermined and the direction the reader has to take is controlled by the author. For a module story, however, the writer has to be careful not to railroad a player along a path just to ensure plot rigidity. Many modules are built this way, of course, and to some degree some direction-pushing cannot be avoided, but it should be minimised to allow at least an appearance of choice for the player playing through it. Now, for me, managing these main quest events is where the wrestling comes in. For starters, what makes a good quest event as opposed to an orchestrated plot? Secondly, how will one main event affect another?

Referring back to LotR, we can see how the choice to travel through the "Mines of Moria" after failing to cross the "Misty Mountains" acted as a great event in the course of the main story. Of course, if the same event was written into a module, a writer may like to consider writing both paths ahead of time, to allow a resourceful player the chance to succeed in crossing the Misty Mountains where in the book they are said to fail. Such a second path would, however, take more work and require extra creativity to ensure it fitted in with the spirit of the main story and offered similar pros and cons as taking the path through the Mines of Moria.

Whether both paths are written or not, these are what I would call main quest events - and it is these types of areas that form part of the main quest that I believe require careful attention to detail to ensure the whole story is made memorable and remains cohesive irrespective of the path taken. Note, while these quest events may share similarities to side quests in that they may have their own objectives to complete, they are still part of the main quest, as the player must do these quests to finish the game.

Better The Demon

In my own module, Better The Demon, I have a number of these main quest events already outlined and set in place. From the perspective of the main story, they all link together to move the plot from point A to point B - and I do not mean just in the way of transitions, but also from a perspective of the story as a whole. However, there are one or two areas (with their own main quest events) that currently refuse to work themselves out in my mind. The logical flow of one "internal" event into the next has just not revealed itself to me yet. I could force the issue of course, and perhaps many players would not notice, but I can also be sure that some will ... and that eats away at my need to get it right and not to leave a bad taste with the player.

As a simple comparison to LotR, while travelling through Moria, the heroes had to overcome a number of obstacles, defeat some monsters, and even overcome a puzzle before they could enter in the first place. i.e. The adventure in Moria felt like a whole quest in and of itself and added to the final weight making the whole adventure/story as memorable as it was. And while I have the equivalent "Moria" sections of my adventure in place, they do not yet currently meet my own expectations and are the areas of the module I am currently wrestling with. Once I have these parts clearer in my own mind, I can then start to place the final pieces of Chapter 1 into place. Such ideas and story development cannot be rushed and I thank readers for the time and patience they have already given me. Hopefully, a few more days and night's with the particular adventure locations in mind will help unravel these elements of the story within me soon enough, while avoiding orchestrated or cliched ideas. <- Probably impossible, but I will do my best to add an interesting slant.

In the meanwhile, I continue to write conversations for the NPC's that are already well established.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Art of Conversation (POLL: How Will You Be Playing?)

How much time will a player want to spend talking to a character when playing a module? That's just one question I consider when writing a conversation for one of my characters. This question, however, soon opens into a branch of others:-

1) Should a conversation be succinct or verbose?
2) Should there be many options to choose from or only a few?
3) Is there an option to avoid conversation altogether?
4) Is a conversation even the correct response in a given situation?

Keep To The Point

My wife likes playing adventure games, and I like to join in now and then. Recently, we were playing "The Longest Journey" (which came highly recommended within the adventuring community, scoring around 90%), and I found myself disappointed with the rather wordy and often unnecessary crass comments made by the characters in this game. I suppose some people may consider the responses as "background filling" and "gritty reality", but both my wife and I found them somewhat boring and tedious to work through just to get to the piece of information we needed.

Don't misunderstand me, I enjoy some background conversations, especially if they help me to understand something about the gameplay. However, I believe there is a definite distinction between being verbose (I would even say "babbling on") as I found in The Longest Journey, and giving the player a useful background in as fewer words as possible.

In Better The Demon, background information in conversations is kept to a minimum to avoid "data overload" for the player just trying to get around the environment. However, when it has been "neccessary", I have tried to allow a player to choose options that appeal to them or allow an early exit if possible. Furthermore, I include books (using my Readable Books format) that also cover different sections of background that players can read or ignore as they choose.

Avoid Too Many Choices

Another personal misgiving that I have encountered in many games, is when a conversation starts to branch out in more directions than I can easily remember ... or really need. I know the idea is that the game is offering as much "choice" as the player wants, but there is a danger in this design. For example, many conversations are designed to help move the plot forward and set "flags" along the way to ensure the game moves along as it should. However, if a conversation is both tedious to read and has many branches and options to go down, a critical plot changing flag may be lost somewhere deep within one of the conversation's many branches and be easily missed.

In my opinion, forcing a player to take a certain conversation option to locate a critical piece of information to set a flag and move the game forward can be a real game stopper. Therefore, each option that a player is given should "go somewhere" and not require the player to have to repeat the conversation just to find the option they needed. Of course, there is a proviso here, in that a conversation line that is obviously different from another is not to be considered a "dead option". The guideline here, is to keep conversations focussed on the topic at hand and directly related to what the player is doing or really wants to know. As an example, The Longest Journey also fails in this area, as it often has options where a player can ask characters about each other, and even about themselves! I don't want to read about this sort of thing. This information should be obvious just from my interaction with them. The problem is, as a player, we are forced to follow these lines of conversation because we do not know if the game hides an important piece of information buried deeply down the many layers of conversation.

In Better The Demon, choices are kept to a minimum and cater for skills and/or different plot paths only. In other words, all choices will be relevant to what the PC needs to know, all be it approached by different paths, as opposed to different paths leading to verbose uninteresting babblings ... unless this is a personality trait of the NPC, which the player is trying to "defeat". The point being, the conversation choices will be obvious as to their effectiveness and importance to the situation, and the player will not be overloaded with choices that lead nowhere, or simply try to impart spurious information.

I Don't Want To Talk!

Sometimes, a player may feel like they know what they need to do, and talking is not even an option they want to entertain. In my opionion, if possible, a game should be able to adjust to a player's preferences. In many situations, "talking" should be the default course of interaction between player and non-player character (NPC), to allow the player to flesh out their adventure by learning more about the world in which they are adventuring. However, if during the course of their adventure they have already drawn a conclusion about an NPC and believe a fight to the death is the answer, then hopefully, a system can be included to allow the player to avoid a conversation, be it as direct combat or an option in the conversation simply to say something along the lines of "Attack Mr X". And what about players playing evil PCs, where "killing" and "taking" what they need from an NPC is easier than "talking" and "doing a task" for them?

Now, I am sure any builder worth their salt will recognise that building a module that caters for both good and evil aligned PCs is extremely difficult - especially with respect to such things as conversations and providing the player with the information they need. After all, what happens when a player playing an evil PC kills an NPC before some critical information has been imparted to the player? Regular readers of this blog will know I have touched upon this problem in the past.

In Better The Demon, I have taken as much care as possible to allow as much choice as possible, including the "total avoidance" path wherever possible. This has taken extra time and consideration, and can only be applied to around 90% of conversations. Even then, a player set out to "kill" rather than "talk" will lose out on some XP, simply because they would end up "killing the goose that laid the golden egg". However, for the remaining 10% of conversations where "talking" is required, I have tried to offer a more succinct path where possible.

How Did They Know I was Here?

The last consideration problematic for RPG's in particular, is taking into account actions made by the PC that the builder of the module may not have initially considered, such as a PC being invisible. This is a particularly awkward problem to address, but one that needs consideration if, as a game designer, we wish to ensure logical flow in the game. After all, if a player has taken the time and trouble to become invisible so as to try to sneak past an NPC, what happens if this NPC has been set to "talk" to the PC when they are within range? If the NPC suddenly runs up to the PC and begins a conversation, the logical flow of the game is spoiled.

There is not much to add to this, except to highlight it as a potential issue for all builders and that I have tried to adopt a system to cater for this within my own module, Better The Demon.

The Last Word

The final word on this, however, depends on the sort of game you are trying to build, or, as a player, want to play. However, I do believe that the above guidelines are important for all games, simply because they avoid some of the pitfalls about writing in general. Key aspects such as the following will help to keep the pace of the game flowing:

a) Write about what you know.
b) Use as few words as possible.
c) Show, don't tell.

I have read modules that boast many thousands of words in them as a sign of "depth" and as if a sign of returned hours of "enjoyment" ... which I do hope is the case. I think that as long as the number of words reflects diversion in converstion and viable choices, then the number count can only be a good thing. On the other hand, if it is meant to represent simple length of conversations, then, like The Longest Journey adventure game I describe above, I would be extremely disappointed and may find my eyes glazing over to the point where I would miss a clue at best ... or stop playing altogether.

Have Your Say!

Well, I've waffled on long enough about conversations in this post, and would now like to hear about your own experiences, whether as a player: Tell me of your worst or best experiences with game conversations. Or as a builder: How do you plan your own conversations?

Also, please take your time to answer the poll question this time around: Very simply: (Assuming you will be playing my module) How Will You Be Playing? With respect to single-player (SP), multi-player (MP) or both? And also with respect to a good aligned or an evil aligned PC?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Invisibility & Stealth

A quick update again, just to say that I continue to work on conversations, but have also been trying to consider what options to offer when a PC might be under the influence of invisibility and trying to be stealthy. E.g. What if a player, playing a lone PC, goes invisible with a potion or spell and then tries to do certain actions?

I have looked at the various options where this may have an impact, including trying to speak with somebody, trying to sneak past somewhere, or even just moving around ... and came to the conclusion that many situations required a player option as to whether they wish to stay invisible or come out of their invisible state to do the action they are trying to perform.

To this end, I designed a very simple GUI offering the player a choice in these situations where they may be compromising their invisibility. In such cases, they are given the choice to come out of invisibility and continue with their actions (which may be fine if it is simply to talk to someone) or to remain invisible and forfeit the action they were trying to do. Below is a simple example of an invisible PC trying to speak to a shop keeper (Other situations are worded differently.):


Invisibility and being stealthy to sneak past someone add another level of complexity, and I have tried to be fair in my decisions where such actions may compromise a PC's visibility state, leaving it up to the player if they wish to stay invisible or not. Just the sort of thing I am dealing with as I continue to code the game.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Honey, our upstairs rabbit, has continued to improve in health since I last posted, so that is one less concern affecting my concentration to worry about. However, I have been distracted by having to deal with other issues that are taking some of my time, which may end up delaying posting in the coming weeks. No fear though, I will be trying to do more as soon as I am able to and will let you know in a blog as soon as I do.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Dealing With Complexities

This is going to be a very brief post this week for two reasons:


1) Our upstairs rabbit, Honey, has not been very well again. Poor thing suffers a lot with teeth problems and now she appears to have nasal issues on top - caused either by another hidden tooth problem or some sort of sinus issue. I have had to spend some time looking after her (collecting dandelion leaves every so often - the only thing she feels comfortable eating at the moment) and sitting alongside her, trying to make sure she stays warm and content. She had a stressful last week being taken to the vets. It stressed me too (for her sake). She is still not 100%, but I am hoping she is making a gradual recovery. Time will tell.

2) I am writing conversations for the characters and the whole process is going a lot slower than I had hoped it would do; probably partly due to the above, but also due to the fact that the current conversations are quite involved with journal entries and variable settings. This is probably straight forward for most people, but I have to pace myself when dealing with this sort of thing and so only manage a very little towards it in a day. Hopefully, the end result will support multiple paths and approaches to the conversations and quests in question. Yet, once these ones are done (required as I started to design the module this way), I intend to curb my ambitions in future and greatly simplify them if possible. (See next.)

Looking Forward

There are still quite a few conversations to write, which will gradually get easier as I move away from earlier designed ideas and move toward a more "linear" style of writing. Do I here a "gasp" from you when I mention "linear"? Well, let me just clarify what I mean by "linear": The gameplay should remain "non-linear" (as good as any "non-linear" game can be), but quests will not be so intermixed as I have them at the moment. The problem at the moment, is that many of the quests revolve around a few specific NPCs (as normal), but that every NPC also potentially has an input to another NPCs quest (not normal gameplay design). Add to this items that can be found that open more conversation nodes and .... you get the picture? (It's difficult to describe exactly what I mean without giving too much away.) Future quests and conversations will be reserved to a "one on one" design. That is what I mean I will be changing to be more "linear".

Once I have these conversations out of the way, I can look at finishing the last few areas that I decided to add for greater gameplay of module 1, and then begin tying the whole thing together and look at producing a beta for testing. It's probably still a few months away yet, and really depends on how well I can deal with the conversations and design those areas. One thing I can say, however, is that I am beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel (for module 1 at least) .... Hoorah!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Problems, Problems & Puzzles

It's been over a fortnight since I last blogged, but in that time I have been trying to carry on gradually chipping away at the project. There have been some distractions, including birthday's, minor operations and small hardware glitches, but between all that I have managed to do a little in the toolset.

Scripting (Animations)

On the scripting front, I have been trying to achieve a "simple" animation: make an NPC sleep and wake up when disturbed in some way. Since using NWN2 (as opposed to NWN1), I have found scripting animations more difficult. In particular, the latest animation I was attempting to create would not stop its loop after being disturbed, so an NPC would "wake up and get up", only to fall back to the floor asleep again. Thankfully, Pain (who I have mentioned in blogs before) was able to give me the answer of passing the "%" sign as an animation, which stops any current animation that may be playing. A useful tip I now share with you.

Toolset (Texture Bug)

Another incident that caused me to slow down on the creative front was the need to update my VGA drivers. After doing so, I noticed that an in-game texture (on one square only) was not looking like it did in the toolset. After some experimentation, I was able to track the problem down to disabling the "Wait For Vertical Sync" option in the graphic settings. Removing the cross from the box (which means it does not wait) allowed the texture to display as it should in the game as well as the toolset. UPDATE: DISABLE Normal Mapped Terrain will resolve this issue with more consistency. The previous method often required the game to still be restarted,whereas the latter method does not. The only problem is that the textures do not look as good using the latter method.

Custom Content (Puzzles)

The material I have managed to add in the last couple of weeks includes a new image relating to a puzzle in the game. I won't go into much detail so as not to spoil it, but it involved creating a new image that once found in the game is a clue to solving one of the main puzzles of the module. There are a few more parts to this puzzle that I still need to do, but I do have the entire puzzle outlined in my paper manual already. I am quite excited about its inclusion and look forward to seeing players reactions and responses when played.

On another front, I am continuing to write conversations for NPCs and am now finding myself having to be extra careful in doing so, as my "open ended" design has me having to consider a number of approaches the player may be coming from. As I mention in a previous post somewhere, I intend to reduce these types of scenarios to help reduce the amount of extra writing these type of open-ended approaches require.

Slowly coming along ....

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Fixing The Little Things

Thanks for all the feedback regarding my new area last week. I have taken on board the comments and tried to make improvements where I can. And thanks to everybody who helped me to understand some of the basics behind area design to allow me to even try to build a better area in the first place. I did not spend much more time on this, but decided to look at ensuring transitions remain stable, especially between module changeovers and from areas where having any dead PCs may be an issue.

Respawning The Dead

Unless you are considering programming for multi-player (MP), you may not have considered some of the potential pitfalls that come with the death of PCs - apart from the obvious for the player. If you have altered the way your death system works as well, like I have, then there are even more considerations you need to take into account. The bottom line, I believe I have ironed out all the potential "death" circumstances since I last posted and have employed a system that offers the player a GUI presenting an option to be respawned at the cost of an XP penalty, or to consider a different action, normally to turn around and head back from where they came from. This will normally only be an issue where a player is trying to return to a different module within the campaign and when they carry the corpses of companions or fellow players. Because of the way my system works, trying to do so would lose a lot of vital equipment. There is a similar issue when a player tries to leave an overland map encounter area, which I have dealt with in a similar manner.

Fixing Little Things

1) Visual Effects On Store Items: I recently found out that if you have an item that has a visual effect on it and it is added to a store as a "limitless" item, that when bought, the visual effect does not work. I made a workaround for this problem by replacing the bought item with an identical one upon acquisition.

2) Monster Items Reversion: Another small issue I found was that if you have copied an item to your campaign and kept the ID information the same as the original, then any such item added to a creature at build time will revert back to the original. E.g. If you copy an item to your campaign folder and alter the description to avoid any mention to Faerun and then add the campaign item to a creature, it will instantly revert back to the Faerun descriptive one. NB: Having campaign items with the same name, tag and resref is not normally a problem with respect to any other aspect of the campaign (that I have tested to date anyway). Anyway, I also worked another small piece of code to replace these "incorrect items" with the correct one upon the creature being spawned.

I mention both of these small issues, as I imagine they could be something others may have a problem with and not yet be aware of it. If anybody wants the code that I used to resolve the issues, let me know.

As Big As The Moon

This is just an excuse to post a picture I took of the moon a while ago. However, it is true that my world Althéa works out to be about the size of the moon. Anyway, here is the picture, and you can find a few more here.


Moving Onwards

Fixing the problem with the transitions between modules when the player has a dead PC in their midst was an area of coding I was not going to do for a while yet, as I obviously do not need to worry about it for only one module. However, because it impinged on another area I was working with, it had to take priority. The good news is now that I have that code sorted, I can get on with what I was trying to do in the first place. More on that later in another blog perhaps. What I can say now, however, is that Hoegbo has once again kindly offered his help with some of my work and I will be taking him up on his offer soon, which means area production should benefit greatly.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Scale (Area Screenshots)

I hope you enjoyed my articles on "The Changing Face of AD&D". It gave me a chance to relax and write about something that I enjoy talking about, and I hope readers felt the same. If you still have a comment to make regarding any aspects of the game, please leave one.

This week is going to be a short post by comparison, made up mostly of screenshots of an outside area I have tried making. As regular readers will know, area design is not one of my strong points, but having looked at other peoples work, I thought I would try again. The results were better than before, and so I decided I would be using them in the module. Check out the shots below and let me know what you think. One thing I learned from looking at other peoples work is that scale, when well used, can make an area feel bigger and fuller than it really is. (I don't normally like to give area screenshots as a preview, but I would like feedback in this case as well.)

Module One Increasing

One last note before the screenshots, and also on the subject of scale, I have decided to increase the number of areas of the first module. (The screenshots below are one of the areas.) The reason is due to the decision I made to release the first of the modules before the other two in the campaign. I felt that the first module lacked any real depth without the other two modules and would leave players a little disappointed. Thankfully, however, the new additions do not require much work, compared to the amount of game play they give in return. As much of the core code is already in place, I am simply expanding on the first module with a couple of slight detours.

Anyway, here are the screenshots of one of the areas (Enclave valley) that is nearly finished now, so please do leave a comment.
















Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Changing Face of AD&D (Part 3)

This is going to be my final blog on the series, so normal module updates will return next week, including some screenshots of an area I designed. Yes, I actually took on board all that people have shown me and been inspired to do a new area of my own. That's for next time though. This week I am talking about the 3rd and 4th edition rules of pen and paper D&D. Note that while I have kept the title as AD&D, the game itself dropped the "A" for advanced and became simply D&D after the basic version of the game was dropped prior to the release of these later editions.

In this week's blog, as well as covering the 3rd and 4th editions, I also touch upon the Neverwinter Nights (NWN) and D&D Online (DDO) versions of the game. After all, NWN is probably the prime reason you are even reading this today thanks to the great community of players that has come into existence since Bioware set up the forums for NWN. So, without more preamble, let me now discuss my recollection of playing with these various versions of the game.

Third Edition


Last week you may recall my disappointment regarding the huge expansion of supplemental material that was to quickly come with the second edition rules. For some, the extra materials may have been a great benefit, in the same way I thought of them when I first started playing D&D. However, by the year 2000, when I bought into the third edition rules, I had reached the point where I wanted to keep things "simple". Nuances and rules to the nth degree I had had my fill, and so I made a decision only to buy the core rule books from this edition onwards, which I did at this time. For the third edition rules my wife did buy the Manual of the Planes in 2001, but this was a useful addition (in the same way I felt about it in its original first edition release) and ended up helping me design the setting for my NWN1 module, Soul Shaker, which takes place on a demi-plane. That was the last book I was to acquire for this edition, although I did download and consider some of the core updates of the 3.5 edition of the rules that became freely available on the Wizards of the Coast website (WotC).


Fourth Edition


Towards the end of the 00's, the fourth edition rule set was released. To be frank, although there was a lot of hype and promise around the fourth edition rules, the main reason I bought a boxed copy of the core rules was simply to "complete" my set of the core rules available to date. Now, having glanced over the fourth edition and witnessed the amount of additional "core rules" that have become available for this edition, I believe I have definitely been left behind as a player. The boxed set is very well laid out and of excellent quality, but, in my opinion, the spirit and heart of D&D has been so changed in their coming that I can never see me using them as a means of playing the game. So much so, that I believe the fourth edition will be the last investment I make in such books. Since this edition, the D&D I knew and enjoyed playing has changed to such a degree that I feel as though the game is targeting a new breed of player. I will let you draw your own conclusions here. As you can probably tell by now, I will not be discussing the fourth edition any further in this blog.

The Pros and Cons (Third Edition)

PROS

1) The D20 System: Finally, the awkward number system surrounding the whole game was changed for a sensible one based around the twenty sided die. Attributes now ran along similar values and were no longer capped; experience tables were made fairer for all classes and armour classes improvements went into positive numbers instead of negative ones. Without doubt, this improvement alone went a long way to making D&D much more of an easier game to play without compromising its integrity. It was the "decimalisation" of D&D!

2) Skills (Also listed as a CON): Non-weapon proficiencies of the second edition had come of age by the third edition in the form of skills. I explained how this was to become a positive move in my blog on the second edition, so I won't say anything more other than in many respects it was a well thought out system covering many aspects of game play that could be easily implemented as required. However, I reserve the right to comment on it as a CON as well. (See CONS.)

3) Clearer Rule Definitions: The third edition of the rules did a lot to clarify many of the more vague rules behind such things as effects and conditions. This can be illustrated if one examines the details of creatures and their abilities of the Monster Manual. As an example, one may have once simply associated the ability to "regenerate" with trolls and vampires. However, once this ability had been described independently of the creature themselves, it was easier to recognise it as something that could be applied as an ability of an object with its own rules and definitions in play. Unfortunately, this kind of clarification can also rob us of some of the initial unique and special appeal the ability/creature had when we first encountered it, but this cannot be avoided if we want to also build worlds that work according to some sort of law or reason. There are so many other "clarifications" that fall under this PRO that I could not do justice here in the space I have, but suffice to say, many of the rules that were once inconsistent or vague from previous editions were given clearer understanding and made sensible in this edition of the rules.

CONS

1) Skills (Also listed as a PRO): The problem with the new system of skills that came with the third edition was not its overall implementation, but the way it allowed some of the more archetypal skills to become available to any class. In particular, I refer to the Open Locks and Disable Device skills. These two skills had now become available to any class who was prepared to invest some time in them, which were once the sole domain of the rogue (thief) class. A clause to the Disable Device skill made magic traps only possible to be disabled by rogues, but apart from that (and declaring these skills would be cross class to all classes but rogues) any class could still acquire these skills. In one quick swoop, the importance of the archetypal rogue/thief class had been crippled. If the "rogue" classification that was introduced in the second edition had been adhered to, we could have maintained the archetypal structure and minimised the classes who had access to the skill. e.g. Only other "rogue" classes (like the bard) may have had access to these skills and perhaps only then as cross class skills, leaving the skills as class skills for the thief only.

2) Restructured Class System (inc Prestige Classes): To be clear, I am NOT opposed to certain classes being brought back into the game, or even new ones added (within reason). However, as a game, I believe a structure or framework is required, which "new" classes should follow or fall into. After all, the problem with removing such a structure (that the second edition offered) is that you open the game up to abuse, be it official or unofficial. By abuse, I also mean as an excuse to "officiate" yet another class or sub-class to accommodate yet another style of play. The problem as I see it, is the third edition rules try to accommodate an archetypal system (like the first edition), but then also try to give reason (excuse) to allow more classes to be made or "tweaked" in various ways to satisfy a player's need to be unique in ways that role-playing once used to do instead. What used to once be a desirable style of play and interaction between player and DM forging a unique PC personality through play has turned into an exercise of character building through an ever growing set of rules to cover the many new nuances of classes coming into being.

3) Restructured Race System (inc Sub Races): Like the change in rules for allowing or building new classes, so the introduction of rules to accommodate new races has been taken further in the third edition rules. What was once a simple matter of choosing a particular race to play has now expanded into a selection of races that were once the sole domain of "monsters". Again, I do not wish to be misunderstood in what I am saying here. For instance, I can imagine a DM wanting/allowing a player to choose to play an unusual race in special circumstances (or even a special campaign), but such races should not become considered the norm to the point of being an expected consideration.

4) Magic System Complicated: Whereas the third edition made some good progress in clarifying many of the rules on conditions and abilities (see PROS), it appears to do the opposite when it comes to spell casting. Three particular rules stand out to me in particular: Counterspells, Meta-magic and Touch Attacks. Just out of curiosity, has anybody reading this blog ever played a counterspell, or played the meta-magic spells much? I know our group never did. And while I appreciate the thinking behind introducing the Touch Attack rule, was it really necessary? After all, can't we just say that armour (natural or otherwise) helps a target of a touch spell resist the effects of the magic by some sort of armour absorption? I know there are arguments about how this would make such spells less effective, but hey, guess what, so be it! The rules makes sense depending upon who we are arguing for, the wizard doing the attack, or the creature trying to protect itself! My argument is, having such a rule does more to complicate matters than actually effect any sort of game balance. Returning to counterspells and meta-magic, all I can add is that these just seem to complicate matters, period. If the third edition had just left spells to scale with level (without capping them), then we could ignore some of the power enhancing meta-magic feats straight way. As for the others, they just serve to complicate the rules anyway, and all of these meta-magic feats start to complicate which spell is available from which level. As for the counterspells rule, I do not even have the heart to counter an argument, it's that tedious!

There were, in my opinion, many great improvements with the third edition rules, from simplified combat and basic number calculations using the D20 system, to working with actions in play, through skills. However, personally, I believe the system took a backward step with respect to organising the archetypal class system. In my opinion, the second edition rules had started to lead the way for organising a system that could accommodate many styles of play and keep flexibility in the hands of the players, while being governed by a DM who knew what would or would not work for their world. By the third edition introducing rules on class and race variations, the once reasonably solid grounding for building a PC within known and accepted limits akin to a classic fantasy world environment had changed to one of an imagination that has gone too far beyond the classic and into the realms of "anything can go". While I appreciate the sentiment behind the slogan, "you are only limited by your imagination", I also believe an imagination works best within well established rules and guidelines (simple) where the practice of exercising an imagination can be fully enjoyed. Personally, I do not want yet another class and race "officially" added to the core rules (as a variant, prestige, optional choice or suggestion) just because someone built a campaign with a PC of a new race and class for it, or there was an NPC character with such abilities. The PCs should stick to the core archetypal classes and races and the monsters and NPCs should remain what they are - and "never the twain should meet" unless in conversation or combat.

Imagination Becomes Visual

Around 1988, when computers were starting to get "reasonable" soundcards and graphic cards, I remember talking to my friends at a pen and paper session about the possibility of playing D&D on them. Games like The Bard's Tale (1985) and Pool of Radiance (1988) had come and gone, but they were not capable of allowing more than one player to play at a time, and so did not appeal to us as a group of players. Imagine our excitement when, a few years later around the mid 90's, I found a very small snippet of information in a computer magazine about a game that was being built that was multi-player and AD&D second edition rules compatible, called Baldur's Gate. It was like a dream come true. However, we still had to wait a few more years before the game finally hit the shelves in 1998. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the game, some of my players did not enjoy the change from pen and paper to computer, and, at the time, the cRPG was resigned to a SP game for me and our PnP game continued. For myself, however, I enjoyed Baldur's Gate and many of the genre that followed in those early years of the cRPG. Unlike many other games I purchased at the time, I have kept all of them and consider them a valuable part of my D&D collection.

In 2002, Bioware, the same people who had brought us Baldur's Gate, went one step further with their cRPG software and released Neverwinter Nights. This game not only delivered a D&D campaign in a three dimensional environment based upon the latest (at the time) 3rd edition rules, but also the ability to create your own campaign using a toolset that it provided with the game. Game editing software was not new at this time, but having one that came free with the game and was dedicated to D&D was. For me, this seemed like the ideal package and I was keen to start building, for a couple of reasons. 1) The thought of seeing my world "in the flesh" seemed ideal. 2) My health had declined since 2000 and I was finding it more difficult to manage "live" PnP sessions. The thought of preparing the game in advance at my own pace through using the software seemed like the ideal solution. There were complications and some objections to adapting to this format of the game from my group, but after some alterations to the game through scripting, we settled to a few years playing my campaign using this software.

In 2006, Obsidian Entertainment released Neverwinter Nights 2. This version had greatly improved graphics and its rules were based upon the 3.5 edition. While my group and I continued to play using NWN1, I started to build the next stage of the campaign with NWN2. Unfortunately, in 2007, just before I released my final module for NWN1, which was to be the last for my group before we took a break, the majority of my players left the group to prioritise other activities. Some of those that left had played from 1981. However, I still had one player who wished to continue, and I wanted to complete the campaign for my own accomplishment, so I continue to write the latest chapters of my campaign with NWN2, which I hope to release at some time in the future.

To complete the picture, I also mention Turbine's "Dungeons and Dragons Online" (DDO), based on the 3.5 edition of the rules, which was also released in 2006. Only last year, in 2010, this online version of the D&D game had areas of it that became free to play. As this version of the game chose to be based on real time play rather than turn-based actions, there are a number of differences that affects all areas of the rules. However, having taken a look (it is free after all!), I can see that while the game cannot possibly cater for the role-play aspects of D&D, it does well to cater for the feeling of PC advancement and "dungeon crawling". It has well designed areas and makes good use of a proper "z" axis, which the NWN series of games fails to deliver. A first person camera angle also allows the player to feel more immersed in their environment, which while NWN2 can come close to, the latter has other camera angles which tend to lead the player to play the game more akin to a top down perspective. This is better for managing combats designed in turn-based combat, but comes at the sacrifice of compromising immersion in the environment.

Conclusions

This month, April, marks my 30th year of playing D&D, which equates to two thirds of my life. Having played through the many versions of the rules and encountered it on the computer, I believe there are some conclusions I can draw. Please note that while I have been a player, much of my own experience has been as a DM, so my own conclusions are coloured from that perspective and may differ from players who have had more experience playing PCs than I have.

1) No Perfect Set. No one set of rules has yet accomplished the best set of rules to play by. If I was to choose one edition, it would be the third edition (plus some 3.5 updates) because of the many rules it cleared up and the inclusion of the D20 system. However, ideally, I would choose to remove the complications it adds (mentioned above) and return to a more streamlined class and spell systems of the second edition.

2) Nostalgia. We all wear "rose tinted specs" when it comes to recalling our experiences of the past. Yes, I enjoyed the first edition modules very much, but I also very much appreciate the improvements to the game that have been made over time. I suppose I could give the analogy of comparing the original series of "Star Trek" with "Star Trek: The Next Generation". How could one possibly beat the great personalities of Kirk, Spock and Bones? But, hang on a minute, I like the way the Next Generation has explained the cosmology of the Star Trek universe. In the same way, I love the experience I had playing the A, D and G series of adventures with my players, but I very much appreciate the ability to understand the cosmology of the D&D universe and experience it visually on a computer screen.

3) No Expansions. I would make the rules simpler again. By this, I mean I would do away with the many classes and associated rules, as well as peripheral supplemental rule books for every other aspect of the game. I would make systems more straight forward to allow quicker reference and learning, but without compromising their diversity. If possible, I would play with a DM who can adjudicate where need be ... and ensure players accept the ruling for the sake of the spirit of the game. If this is not possible (if designing a NWN module without a DM for example), then I would be sure to be consistent with the rules. E.g. DDO fails in this department, in that it allows its creatures to have unlimited "mana" to cast spells at the player's PC, whereas the player's own PC quickly runs out when casting spells.

There are many other things I could say, but this blog, which has already taken me a number of days to write, would take even longer. Maybe I will come back and comment in a future blog now and then, or respond to some comments (if I receive them) in more detail, but for now, this blog post ends!