Monday, 31 December 2012

Another Treasure In Heaven

There are some times in life that are extremely difficult to cope with, and the death of a dear loved one has to be the hardest. It is with a very heavy heart that I am led to write one more blog before the end of this year, which I had not expected to have to write: Our dear beloved pet rabbit, "Honey", died Saturday 29th December.


Honey Having A Cuddly Moment With Me

Close Up Of The Cuddly Moment
For those who have been following this blog a number of years, you may even recall the blog I made when she came to live with us. I cannot stress enough how much she has filled our lives since that time. As I suffer with M.E. and do not get out much, Honey became a constant companion for me, because she lived upstairs where I used to rest or write when I could. In fact, apart from my wife, I would say I spent more time with Honey than anybody else in the last few years. And my wife and I would always sit with her in the evening watching TV or reading from around 6.00 p.m. until we went to bed. It's hard to express just how friendly and intelligent Honey was, but you always felt you were fully involved with each other's affections and truly bonded.

In the morning, she would run around the bed and get my wife up for breakfast, and then come over for love and attention before everybody was eventually up and she could then settle down in "her spot" until evening came around again.

I know it may be hard for some people to understand this relationship we had with her, but I hope there are some who recognise exactly what I am saying. For if you do, then you know the kind of love I am talking about, being expressed in such a way that only such a loving creature can.

While we are in much pain now, my wife, Jennifer and myself cling to our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His words of promise of the new earth in Revelation 21:

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 21:2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 21:3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 21:5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 21:6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 21:7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son."


Honey Jumped On The Bed Looking For Us


Friday, 21 December 2012

The Scroll: An End of Year Round-Up

As another year draws to an end, I have to resign to the fact that The Scroll will not be released this year. However, God willing, I hope to finish this module in the coming months and if all goes to plan have it released before the end of next year.

For this week's post, I thought I would take a look at all those things I have been working on for the module since its beginning. So, when I say this is an "End of Year Round-Up", I actually mean a round-up of everything to date for the end of this year, as opposed to only those things I have done this year. Consider this an overview of The Scroll showing some of those things it will have to offer. And while I have taken the liberty to linking to some posts you may have already read, I hope to some people it may be fresh reading, while to others, a reminder of what they have been waiting for.

We All Have To Die: The Death System

Having come from a pen and paper (PnP) background of playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), I have always found the "death system" of many RPGs to be rather weak. Yet, I must immediately add that I can understand why; because dying in an RPG is so much easier and quicker than in a PnP game. With that in mind, I wanted to design a system that kept the immediate threat that death brings, and yet also make it easier to manage at the same time. Thankfully, my PnP campaign (prior to porting it over to the NWN game) was working towards a new era, and I had already in mind the makings of a new magik concept called the Life Essence. This turned out to be the link I needed to help bring about a unique death system to the world of Althéa. For with the new essence, the PC may not meet death as quickly as they could do without it.

Builder's Note: Designing this unique death system was one of my first goals, and it turned out to be much more difficult than I first imagined. Not only were there issues with timing how the Life Essence actually worked during combat, but also what to do if a companion died. The system became more complicated when I accounted for companions being removed from the party bar upon their death and not accessible again until raised from the dead. To enable the player to still be able to access equipment they may have been carrying, I had to introduce the "Tombstone System". Later complications included coding for a player potentially abandoning those fallen companions, and making sure plot items were never accidentally discarded.

Time To Rest: Vigour, Resting & Time

Another issue I wanted to address with the official setup was the passage of time and how often PCs could recover their spells. I found the official campaign's (OC) ease of spell recovery extremely unbalanced, and it seemed to rob the game of its original tactical and careful use of spells, potions and scrolls. For instance, the idea of Scribing Scrolls or Brewing Potions ahead of an adventure was part of the planning that a good player would consider to complement their spells. When time and resting were no longer an issue for any reason, including learning new spells, then it weakened these other aspects of the game as well. So, to help redress the effects of time, I introduced a couple of more ideas adapted from original D&D rules: The hunger and vigour System and an amorphous time system.

Builder's Note: This was another one of those first ideas that I had, which turned out to be more difficult to implement than I first hoped. The problem was complicated further because I wanted to use my world's own calendar system. Add to this the concept of overland travel and quick travels (which still assume the passage of time like on an overworld map) and you have many different alterations to time and all its impacts on the PC, including spell times! Furthermore, due to the nature of the way spells work in time compared to the game world time (i.e. 15 minutes real time equalling 1 hour game time), you can see why all aspects surrounding time had to be very carefully managed, and is why the gaming concept for The Scroll called Time Warped Spells was introduced.

What's An Adventure Without Travel: Maps

As you can probably tell by now, altering or improving gaming aspects of the NWN engine that helped to bring back the same feelings as a PnP game were top on my list of improvements for my campaign. Even from the very early days, maps and their management was one of the first things to be given an overhaul, including having the ability to link between overworld maps. But when the overland map was introduced with Storms of Zehir (SoZ), it introduced a great gaming tool for maps, but one that I needed to make work with my own time systems. Then, finally, as my knowledge of XML coding slowly improved, I was able to develop that golden grail of mapping, the fog of war system, which until this time had not been available to NWN2 - and a reasonable map pin system to complement them.

Builder's Note: I do love maps and the exploration of them. My only regret at this time is the inordinate amount of time it takes me to design an area, which limits my own world and the amount of areas currently available to it. Don't misunderstand me, there are certainly enough to explore, but I don't think I will be happy with the amount until the entire campaign is finished, which means finishing modules two and three. Working with the new SoZ overland maps turned out to be quite a difficult process too, mainly because of timing issues and making new GUIs work as they should. Furthermore, I had to consider attrition due to accelerated overland time travelling. What happened if a companion died while travelling on the area map due to starvation? Finally, I also edited many of the "goodies" and associated scripts and 2da's with the overland maps to make sure only the treasure drops and monster encounters fitted my world design. e.g. The updated crafting system for the World of Althéa uses different quantities of ore/planks/skins that can be found, etc.

New and Exciting: New Challenges, New GUIs

For me, being able to introduce the player to a puzzle or a new way of playing the game was one of my main goals. However, I wanted to make this integrated in such a way that a player could use or NOT use as much of the new material as they wanted to. For instance, when I played PnP D&D, some players enjoyed the puzzles, while others just wanted to simply pursue combats, or concentrate on crafting! Some enjoyed reading background from tomes they would find, while others wanted to pursue a little looting and perhaps capture a spellbook! However, with the ability to craft ones own GUIs in NWN2, a whole raft of events has been opened up to us. So, whether you only ever use the Main Menu, or do take up the challenge of a few puzzles, I hope you enjoy the new look and challenges all the same.

Builder's Note: Being able to code one's own GUIs must be one of the biggest additions to come with NWN2. Not only does it allow the builder to alter many of the OC GUIs to personalise the look, but it also allows the builder a way to introduce many of their own gaming ideas. For me, the way to make a NWN2 game look new and refreshing is to take advantage of this coding system and really make your module come to life in ways unexpected to the player. If you need a guide to know where to begin, then take a look at my own guide. Furthermore, if you like the look of some of these systems, some are already available to download from the Vault. Look at the left hand pane in this blog for further details. For other systems, you will just have to wait until I finish the module! :)

So, that's probably going to be the last post for this year, but I intend to keep doing what I can do to the module until I next write. As a Christian, I do not celebrate any of the seasonal festivals, and so there will not be any "delays" for that reason. And know that I always hope for the best for my readers no matter what the time or season my be!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Module 1 Reaches 90% Completion

The final two interior areas needed for module 1 of The Scroll have been handed over to me by Ryan of Eguintir's Ecologies. Thanks to him, and some conversations I have been working on, I would estimate that the module has now reached the 90% completion stage! And although it seems clear to me now that I will not manage to complete this first module this year, as I had hoped, I am reasonably certain next year looks positive for completion for this first module of three!

I won't deny that this has taken longer than I had first hoped it would. I knew it would take me longer than most, due to my ill-health, but I think my health and some life events have had a bigger impact than even I thought it would have. I think now of those parts that still need doing, and reckon (when I was in better health), that they would probably only take me a few weeks. Instead, they will take me a few more months yet - such is the impact of my health.

GAMEPLAY (The Witcher Review)

On a side note, I finally finished playing The Witcher (Enhanced Edition). I know most people probably finished this game years ago, but .... see above. The point being, however, I do like to take note of things in games I play that may also work in my own module. Here are my "good and bad" points I found with The Witcher (in no particular order):

THE GOOD:

1) Interesting story.
2) Amazing scenery / Excellent designed areas. (I liked the colours and textures used.)
3) Weather system. (Inspired my own weather system.)
4) User Interface system as a whole.
5) Interesting quests.

THE BAD:

1) Travelling became tedious.
2) Unusual mechanics. (I prefer d20 / D&D.)
3) Single player.
4) Alchemy system too complex.
5) Lack of other skills.
6) Lack of interesting items.
7) Use of strong bad language and "nude" scenes.

CONCLUSION:

Considering this game was built using the NWN Aurora game engine (with a couple of extras), I am simply astonished at the great areas and atmosphere the designers of this game have achieved. And while it may still suffer from missing a useful z-axis, I can say that I would be very happy if my own areas came out looking even half as decent as those found in The Witcher. The weather system I designed for my own module was inspired by this game. After seeing it in action here, I felt NWN was missing out on some atmosphere that a well built weather system could bring.

I found the user interface well implemented and especially enjoyed the map system part, which made use of "fog of war" (a favourite of mine in any RPG game). The journal kept good track of my quests, but I found I did not make use of some of the other information in that part of the interface as much as I thought I would. Having come from a "pen and pencil" background, I thought I would have found the extra information useful. However, (and perhaps this is the point), the extra information, while serving as background, it did not serve much in any other way. I think I would have preferred it if it had been presented as a brief introduction to an area, which I could then refer back to (if I really wanted to). The same can be said to some of the other sections here. The point being, I only ever made reference to them after the fact (and if I remembered to go and look), which felt like a missed opportunity to me.

The combat system was "OK" for me, but I missed the D&D system, with which I am comfortable. What really felt lacking to me was the use of spells, but I understand that is down to the design of the universe, and is something you either work with or don't. As I always felt driven to improve my "combat" skills, I felt my "spell" powers were always added as a secondary concern with "talents" I had left over and could not place on more "important" skills. This probably shows me lacking as a player with respect to this part of the game, but I would be interested to hear how other players managed the "spell" usage section of The Witcher. (I believe I only ever used the "wind" to clear some blocked passages and knock down an enemy, and the "fire" one to start a fire or try as an attack.)

I was looking forward to trying out the alchemy system, and while I did use it quite a bit (I guess you have to to play the game properly), I did so with minimal no planning. The problem was the huge number of ingredients and their potential yield, and what was actually required in each formula. It just became too complex to handle, and I found myself just creating the same few potions when I could, with the exception of looking out for a special ingredient every now and then.

I found the inventory system used interesting. It was divided into three sections (ignoring worn items): one section for plot items, one section for normal items and one section for alchemical items. This was quite a good idea, except I often found I "missed" items I had picked up because I did not realise where they had been placed. Occasionally, I would come across an item in one of these sections I did not realise I had picked up. This was especially annoying if the item was a "readable" object that offered more information. Of course, some of this could have been me being inattentive as much as anything to do with the interface. Furthermore, while some of the items I found were interesting, sadly mostly were "not". I say "not" because many of the items I picked up were "food", but just described in a different way, like "bread" or "berry". This was a little frustrating because most of these "foods" did the same thing (restore vitality), but each version took up a different slot in your inventory and could only stack to ten. Personally, I would have preferred just a single "food" item that took one slot and could stack to 100 or more. In this way, the game "appeared" to have more items than it actually had, and so felt lacking for me.

There were the same issues like those I find in a lot of games with respect to logical flow (could take stuff from anybody's home without consequence), and shops being full of "useless stuff" that makes visiting a store a little tedious and more of an exercise than a pleasure. There was even the occasional bug I encountered (a big monster near the end kept having the fight restart after a cutscene replayed), which required me to have to load an earlier saved position to get around. However, all these "problems" aside, the experience was a relatively fun one for me (Final Score), which I believe could have been better if the game was improved in the areas I have already mentioned, but also been coded to allow a co-op multi-player game as well. (My personal belief is that every RPG should allow players to play the game co-operatively.)

Story/Quests: 85%
Graphics/Area Design: 90% (Ignores limited z-axis.)
Sound/Voice Acting: 95%
User Interface: 85% (Presentation and ease of use.)
Stability: 90%
Gameplay Aspects (Personal Experience): 50%

Final Score/Fun: 70%

I am now starting to look at Fallout 3 (Game of the Year version), and from what I have seen so far, it ticks more boxes for me than The Witcher did. I am really enjoying Fallout 3 to date!







Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Day At A Time

Over the last two weeks (when feeling up to it), I have been trying to finish off another area. Hoegbo actually built the area in the toolset for me, but I have been writing the conversations and scripts to bring it to life. This area is a little more unusual in concept, and in my writing I am trying to ensure a balance between logical flow and what may initially come across as absurd. Of course, being a fantasy game, there is always a little room for maneuver and poetic licence, but I still think it needs to be handled carefully so I do not lose/frustrate the player. Hopefully, by the time the player reaches the end of the area, all will become clear and the experience will turn into an interesting one.

Conversation & Sound

During one part of the design, I did run into something interesting, which others may already know, but I will also comment on now for those who may not. If you have a sound object playing and the player enters a NWN2 style cutscene conversation, the player no longer hears the sound object playing. (The sound object is still playing, but it is suppressed during the conversation.) Interestingly, this does not happen with other styles of conversation windows.

A Haunting Flute Sound Comes From The Caravan

For instance, in the scene above the player hears a haunting flute sound coming from the caravan. When they go to investigate, this sound is suppressed (or not) according to the conversation GUI I use.

Smaller Interactable Hotspots

There is another handy tip I picked up when working on this part of the area: I did not want the entire wagon to highlight when approached and so used a smaller collision box to be the target of the conversation. However, a collision box does not have the small portrait picture of a wagon when in conversation. Therefore, I used some script on the collision box to initiate a conversation with the wagon instead (which now had the conversation). In this way, I was able to have a small "hotspot" that worked for a much larger placeable.

Conversations, plots and scripting continues ... all the while I feel up to it.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Back On Track!

First of all, just to let people know that The Althéa Weather System is now on version 1.04. The latest version fixes a bug where the weather changer timer was not suspended when a PC went indoors. This meant an incorrect error message showed while indoors and the weather timer was messed up for a short period. Please report to me if you find any other errors that you believe require addressing.

In the last week I have been getting back on track with writing the quests. I believe I now have many of the final quests that will be in the module in place, and am heading towards the finish line in that department. On top of that, Ryan of Eguintir's Ecologies has been hard at work putting the finishing touches to the final level that needs building for the module. Once I have that area fully integrated, I will be 90% complete, leaving me only the need to finish the quests and upload for Beta testers. However, I don't want that to sound like a release any moment, because there is still quite a few conversations left for me to do, as well as final balancing.

Following Their Marching Orders

In the meanwhile, my goblins are also back on track when it comes to following their waypoints. What it is about the original official waypoint system that makes them fall away from the planned path, I do not know. However, my own system works well, and is now finished, and works with scripted waypoints too. Here are my goblins showing me that they can obey orders:

Goblins Following Their Marching Orders!

And Take On Intruders!
Plugin On Hold

I decided to put my looking at C# on hold. For while I believe creating a plugin may be useful for me being able to create content more efficiently in the future, I do not believe that I should spend time doing that just yet. It would only serve as a distraction to me, and so I will leave this for the time being, and maybe look at it again, or another utility that may be as useful, in the future.

Reality Check

The "level of reality to fun" poll finished a short while ago, and below are the results. I was interested to see the degree of those who shared my own desire to keep the feel of the campaign close to "real" as possible. In translation, I believe that to mean keeping logical flow relatively high, or at least as plausible as possible and to avoid "simple" quests, or those that feel orchestrated. That is a hard task to achieve without spoiling the fun factor, but is something I still hope to achieve.

Erring Towards Realism Is The Preference

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Show Me The Way (Misbehaving Waypoints)

Before discussing this post's topic, I just wanted to let people know that The Althéa Weather System is now on version 1.03. The latest version fixes things such as cloud height and splash heights, and also has other effects added such as fog and dust storms. All these settings are easily adjustable for those with even basic scripting knowledge - and if used in conjunction with a module, can add some great atmosphere to an area.

The Wayward Patrol

I have started to work on creatures that players can encounter. This includes creatures that can be spawned via an encounter trigger and those already placed within an area at build time. As soon as I tested my first patrol of goblins, I encountered two problems:

1) The goblins did not drop what I expected them to drop according to their templates.
2) The goblins had their own ideas of where they wanted to patrol, even after I added waypoints!

Talk about creatures having a mind of their own! Unfortunately, this meant what little time I normally spend trying to build was spent sorting out more official campaign script. After some experimenting, I soon discovered that "spawned" creatures act differently to "placed" creatures when it came to identifying items in their loot drops. Eventually, I managed to update my own creature spawn and death scripts to ensure they only dropped what I wanted them to drop and identify (or not) the items accordingly. There is also a trick I learned from the forums that said to place items you want the creature to drop in their inventory (and mark as droppable) and to make sure all equipped items (like weapons and armour they use) are always marked non-drop. (If you want the creature to drop equipped items, you needed to give the creature a droppabel non-equipped version in their equipment as well.) Now, I just need to add a routine that differentiates between which items I may want the creature to be able to use in their inventory, like potions!

The second problem was more annoying, as I could nto see any reason why my goblins would not follow their waypoint path. And neither could I find out anybody else who had the same problems. So, it meant I had to write the script myself to make sure they stuck to their patrol path. This meant also having to change some of the minor functions that WalkWayPoints (the main function) uses, and so also change the way scripted waypoints worked for some of my other creatures. Thankfully, it is a simple enough task when done over a few days, but it is frustrating that it robs me of being able to do more plot writing. I hope to have the amended scripts finished soon.

Toolset Plugins

The funny thing about both of these issues I had, is that I was pointed to NWN2 Legends and the great work of Marshall as an alternative means to solve these issues. And if my own code had not already been written the way it has been, I think I would have delighted in using some of his systems designed as plugins to the toolset. However, as much as I would have liked to do so, I do not believe I can due to the fundamental differences between how our two games work. That said, however, I was so impressed by Marshall's plugins and what they could do, it did spur my own interest to look at plugins for the toolset again. Not just in implementing them, but maybe (if I ever get the time) actually designing some of my own to help me build the module more easily - and make tasks simpler. The problem is, my health limits me as to how much I can do, and if I do spend some time designing a plugin, I have to weigh up if the time spent making it will be rewarded in the time it helps save me in further module development. Thankfully, MS C# is a free downloadable program nowadays, and so the tools are there ... it now depends on its overall benefit.

The Opening Screen of MS C#
I have enjoyed programming for as long as I have had a computer and still have copies of The Pawn and Adlan (Adventure Language) for my old Amstrad. I even recall a database program I wrote in BASIC once (many years ago when I was fit and healthy in body and mind) that handled monster combat for my D&D pen and paper game. As C# seems very similar to NWN Script, I thought I might be able to try to combine a hobby of old with that of what I can still do now ... but, as I say, I am yet to convince myself that the time spent making a plugin will be worth it. Still, I like the idea, and if I ever have an extra burst of inspiration and enthusiasm, I may have a play and see where it takes me.

Monday, 8 October 2012

What's The Weather Like Outside?

As I was doing a test run on the module, I noticed it started to rain in the area. This was expected (as I had set it to rain), except that I felt it lacked the atmosphere I had hoped it would achieve. So I started to think about how I could improve on the basic rain settings and (thinking to save some time), I decided to check the Vault to see if anybody else had put together a weather system for NWN2.

After a quick search, I was pleased to find a few systems and briefly looked at each of them to see which would suit my needs. I found four systems that I may have been able to use, and thought the Abyssya Weather System seemed to be the best of the lot. However, once I looked at it more closely, I found a few bugs in the scripts and felt it was rather too cumbersome to implement easily. Don't get me wrong, I liked it and gave it a vote score of 7.00 (Very good. Deserves a look.) However, I hope the system I now offer to builders will be more useful from the point of view of being much easier to implement by being less cumbersome in code and more flexible in what it can do with just a little know how. You don't need to mess with the default settings, but if you have just a basic scripting knowledge, it offers a great deal of flexibility.

A stormy day at New Edgeton
The Althéa Weather System

After working out what I wanted the system to do, I managed to write the script as a single include file, called by one line from an area's ON CLIENT ENTER hook. From this call, the weather system is activated for the area in question, and the frequency of the weather checking can be modified from the default of every minute. A GLOBAL variable can be set at any time to change the weather to (currently) one of 12 weather conditions (if you include 0, which means SUNNY and no precipitation). Note, however, the system is flexible enough to allow a competent scriptor to add as many weather conditions as they want. Kamal even suggested a possibility of it raining frogs, which is possible with this system ... if you can design the "frog" VFX.

Furthermore, there are currently two area LOCAL variable settings available to allow the builder to set the weather for "desert" or "snow" regions, which limits the weather types to sun (no precipitation) and "downpour" (for the desert region) or "snow" instead of rain (for the snow region). Although, once again, a competent builder can alter their needs for an area and add it to the script easily enough. The system uses three types of snow: light, heavy and blizzard.

The system also manages seasonal changes. For instance, it is more likely to snow than rain in the winter months. The system also tries to keep weather directional flow as logical as possible. e.g. If it starts to rain lightly, it is more likely to continue to get worse before getting better, and vice-versa. The addition of "rain sounds" and "rain splashes", as well as the sound of distant thunder and nearby thunder claps (with lightning) all add to the immersive feel of the weather, adding atmosphere to any module that makes good use of it.

Note also that the script is very versatile and the VFX's used can all be altered if the builder prefers different settings. For example, the cloud effects (of which there is currently grey, dark grey and black) are all set to a height of 20 by default, which may be too low if you have many tall buildings in the area. It is easy enough to make these float higher, but bear in mind the higher you make them, the less the player will see on their display (unless looking upwards).

I will add this custom content to the pane on the left, under "My NWN2 Material", and for those who want a direct link to the Vault now, here is The Althéa Weather System. Below you can see a couple of video's as I was designing the system. The first shows how simple the weather can be changed, and the second shows the system with its clouds.

Recommendation: Switch to the HD video quality settings and allow buffer to fill before watching. Lower video settings you do not see the rain very well, or such things like the "splashes".



The Althéa Weather System - Showing Easy Switching


The Althéa Weather System - Showing Cloud Cover

Thursday, 27 September 2012

An Organised Inventory (Bag Types)

While not completely settled, things have calmed down at home for me a bit more of late, which has allowed me to do some more work on the module. This has been quite therapeutic. I started to look at the integration of the second module in the series. This is because I want to make sure there is a stable interaction between module transfers for those players wishing to play the series as a whole. There were one or two incidents I had to rectify already, but until I have finished everything in module one, I cannot be certain that I have sorted all requirements just yet.

Stabilising module connectivity aside, I have also been continuing to finish off those quests and related conversations that still needed doing. This has included adding treasure hordes (hooray!) and sorting monster encounters (boo!) to guard them. In the process of doing this, I decided to finish off the "automatic bag" system I had in mind to help keep PC's inventories organised as they acquired all these new treasures. Like most of my systems, this one is also an option for the player to use or not, but I hope they will see the benefits and take advantage of it.

Seven Simple Suggestions

There are seven types of "bags" that will be on offer to the player to acquire for their PCs, which they can use as they wish to or not. They are not forced upon the player, but are useful additions to help complement the "Tome" type holders that the player can acquire to hold "recipes" and "enchantments". These seven new bag types are as follows:


1 - The keyring keeps all keys in one place
2 - A Treasure Bag for all those gems and jewellery
3 - The Bounty Bag for creature part rewards
4 - Specialised Satchel for those with crafting skills (light items)
5 - Another specialised Satchel for those with Alchemy specific skills
6 - A more common magik bag for carrying the more cumbersome crafting components
 
7 - And finally ... The basic bag, which can be renamed to anything you like with the Smith Hammer


The first five bags all work in a similar manner, in that they all automatically have any item found by the PC placed into the appropriate bag if carried. The sixth bag (the Crafting Components Holder), also does this, but does so across the whole party. What I mean by this, is that any PC picking up ore, ingots, hides or planks will automatically place these items into this bag, no matter who in the party is carrying it (or the first bag found if more than one is being carried); whereas the previous five bags work only on the PC who carries them. The player is given notification of when an item is placed into a specific bag.
 
The contents of these bags can be removed at any time, but there are restrictions upon what can go inside these bags to help maintain a neat and tidy arrangement across the whole inventory. The process has been designed to help the player more easily recognise items that will be useful in relation to any crafting skills they are trying to develop. Using these bags, it will be a simple matter of checking inside the appropriate bag for the items required, safely in the knowledge that if it is not there, then you do not have it and it will not be anywhere else in your inventory (unless you have manually taken it out of course).
 
For those players who really like to keep everything in its place, then investing in a Smith Hammer to help rename/organise basic bags will be a pleasure. Feedback welcome!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Large Journal (Updated - Size Now Toggable)

This is just a very quick blog to let you know about my "large journal". After playing around with some other games of late, I noticed that the NWN journal was quite small and I felt would be improved by increasing its overall size for ease of use. Below is a screenshot ... any thoughts?

UPDATED: I have now added a toggle button along the journal's header bar to allow the player to toggle the journal size.

Too big for anyone?

Toggle between size to suit your tastes!
I considered that players will either be viewing their journal or not, so it's size could be increased without any competition for "real estate" in the game screen.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Screenshots (Cave Fight)

I have been able to put more into the module in the last couple of weeks, including some area design touch-up, some conversations, some scripts and some simple bug fixing. I have been varying the topic to help manage it more easily, as my concentration is up and down at the moment. I have also been tweaking the ambient sounds and behaviour a little to try to give a more in-depth feel to an area.

Anyway, rather than say much else at this time, I thought I would share some screenshots with you again on the latest area I am working on. A more in-depth blog another time. Feedback welcome.

UPDATE: For anybody who has been having problems with the CAPCHA system, I have turned it off for the time being. Hopefully, I will not get anymore spam, but also hope it will help regular posters from being able to post without the aggro I know that system can cause.

UPDATE: I have added a single torchlight comparison for those interested in the lighting detail. (The first screenshot is the new one with the single torch light.)









Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Taxing Time

Just a quick note to say that I have had to deal with some real life issues that have taken the time I would have spent on the module in the last couple of weeks. (It was not the Olympics, I assure you!) Thankfully, there has still been some progress on the module, as Ryan of Eguintir's Ecologies has not only been working on another interior area for me, but also a few models for objects that I hope to use in the adventure. Once the area he is working on is completed, I will be able to finish writing the plot/script for it and the module will be another step closer to completion. In fact, if all goes well in the coming weeks (and I can manage the life events a little better), I may be able to update the completion score.

And so, out of character for me, I am showing a few screenshots from an area that I am currently working on (before the life events interrupted me), which I hope to get back to sooner than later. Roger (Hoegbo), of The Demon Melody designed this area for me, which I am trying to complete the plot and scripts to in the coming weeks.


The PC finds themselves in an alien landscape.


Friday, 27 July 2012

Design Changes? (POLL: Realism To Fun Ratio)

It's been a difficult couple of weeks since my last update due to various life turmoils. Suffice to say, the module has taken a back seat as I have had to deal with health issues and other upsets. I'm not downhearted, but simply report this to let you know why there has not been much to update you with today.

Future Design Changes

As I slowly approach the end of module one, I am giving some thought to what I will be keeping or losing in the final two modules of the campaign. Recognising how long this module has taken me (far too long), I have decided to re-examine some of the design concepts I started with for the campaign, and leave out those aspects that are simply not "worth" the time they take to include. Note well, I believe everything I have included is "worth" it from one viewpoint, but I have to recognise that it is not worth it, if it adds too much time to the overall development to the point where some players are no longer around to play it! Here are some of the changes that I will probably make:

1) Simplify Party Influence

One aspect that I am considering losing is the "influence" system I currently use. Please note, that I am not talking about doing away with choices that make differences in play, but about an underlying system that monitors the PCs friendships with NPCs, subject to how they treat them. The problem is (as it works at the moment), is that every step the PC makes can (if used) alter the way an NPC will respond to a player subject to a "score" the party has with the NPC in question. Keeping track of this is quite awkward, especially when it comes to tracking quest states where the NPC may be "required" to have some form of talking relationship with the party. Having to do write around this system slows down other aspects of module building, which I can do without.

2) Immortalise Quest Handlers

It grieves me to have to do this change, but having to work around whether a player will or will not kill an important NPC with respect to fulfilling a plot is another system that eats into time to do properly. At the moment, whenever I create an NPC that handles a quest, I am having to consider potential workarounds should the player decide to kill the NPC for some reason or another. I enjoyed this aspect when I first started it, but soon realised that it becomes almost impossible to work like this without ensuring at least some NPCs remain alive to deliver the story. If this means making them immortal (or plot) from the start, then I believe it must be a compromise to my own design desires to allow the game to work with more stability.

I believe the above two changes are essential if I hope to ever finish the final two modules of the campaign. Thankfully, I already have 90% of the areas for the next two modules designed, by help from other builders; and once this module is completed, I will have 90% of the scripts required for them as well. What I am trying to do now, is reduce the amount of conditional work that only serves to make further module writing spiral exponentially out of control.

POLL: Fun v Realism

I would be interested to hear from other players and builders about what aspects of a module they consider as "acceptable" with respect to what can and cannot be done in a module. With this in mind, I have put up a poll asking what players like (or accept) as fun for their style of gameplay. Here are two examples of my own, which I offer as a guide to readers when thinking about answering this poll:

1) I played Legend of Grimrock (nostalgia), and never questioned its logical flow. As just one example: the need to find a key for a locked door and yet not be able to pick it or bash it. It offered very little in the way of options for overcoming a locked door, but I still found it relatively fun looking for a key I needed. Even more unrealistic, the key could often be found sitting in a small alcove somewhere else. This design went quite against my own, but I still had "fun".

2) I like to drop into and play some of Two World 2 now and then, and noticed they also used a kind of "influence" system where a player might upset the locals if they bumped into them. At first I found that quite realistic and an interesting idea. However, as I have played more, I have found the system quite "pointless" in some ways, because (a) I only bump into them by "mistake" as I run by and (b)unless I do this a lot, it has little bearing. Even when I did have my influence taken to an extreme (I ended up having to fight someone), it just caused difficulty with the game as I had to wait for the system to allow me to speak to anybody else after that. (My own system is a bit better managed than that I hope.)

Let me know what aspects of a game you have played that have been fun or not ... or has even worn off as the game continues. Please vote in the poll and leave comments/examples of games you have played and your own experiences with them.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Locate Or Create!

I have taken a break from writing conversations this week to concentrate on a loot script. The scripts that come with the official campaign are too generous for my tastes, and offer too many items that simply do not fit in with the style and design of the Althéa Campaign. As regular readers will know, this campaign is based upon my world, Althéa, and has nothing to do with the OC setting. This means I have to edit the scripts that give the loot, including any 2da tables that might be used. It is something I have been meaning to do for some time, as this particular loot script I am writing addresses potential weapon and armour drops, among other items.


The PC comes across some weapon racks! Maybe they will contain something useful?

Thankfully, I was still able to make use of many lines from the existing nw_o2_coninclude script that comes with the game, even if I ended up changing many of the items that can be dropped. Furthermore, I have redesigned the way the script works from the base up, as its probabilities are rather convoluted and are strongly tied into items that I do not want to include in the drops. The main thing I wanted was a script that could be made to randomise the chances, quantities and types of drops subject to parameters I set at build time. And while I have not yet completed (made use of) class related code, it is place to make use of if I ever want to come back and do so.

Crafting Reference Lines

Fellow builders may be interested to know that I discovered one needs to add a line to the crafting_index.2da if one is adding recipes to the crafting.2da. You need to add a line to the former 2da file to inform the latter which line the associated crafting item reference starts from. If you do not do this, then the ginc_crafting script will not work properly and always return a failed recipe. This module, The Scroll, makes use of all the crafting systems that have ever come with the NWN2 games, but this is referring to the earlier original system. Hopefully, the compiled image below will help explain.


Make sure you add the starting line for any new craft recipes required in the crafting_index.2da

Build It Or Loot It?

Now, you may be asking why was I editing crafting systems while writing a loot script? The answer is because I have added/edited in items to the loot script that reflects what players can also craft. This includes the various forms of splint mail (darksteel, mithral and adamantine), which I have found missing in the original campaign, but have added back for my own modules. In fact, the whole crafting system has undergone quite an overhaul over the years, which I hope will give the game a fresh feel for players when the time comes.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Runes Revisited

Some time ago I made a blog post about some puzzles I am going to include in the module. One of them involved runes: a fantasy element that lends itself to puzzles and magic. This time around, I have expanded on the idea that the PCs are required to seek and collect various runes that they will need to help with the "puzzle" itself. At this stage, the puzzle acts as a "lock" to whatever the PC is trying to gain access to. However, I have also added the idea that these same runes play another active role in rune magik, which the PCs can learn about in one of the adventures they have. I won't go into detail of the latter, but here are some screen shots that give an idea of the former rune puzzle, which has a gaming element similar to the classic "Mastermind" puzzle.


The PC encounter the "Rune Lock" puzzle and the game automatically presents all the runes that the party have acquired in their adventures to date. (Gaps are missing runes.) In this case, the heroes have found half of the 24 runes that are available.


The player starts to enter possible combination of runes and observes the rune reactions. It looks like none of the first four runes tested are required for this lock! One attempt down!


The player tests another set of runes from those they have available to them. Ah! A bright glowing rune that indicates it is correctly positioned. But now only eight attempts remain and the party only has 4 remaining runes to test. Do they have the runes they require? Unlikely!

In this case, the chances are that the party have not yet even found all the runes they need to unlock this object. So, they must continue their search for runes to help them past this lock. If they fail to find the combination in the attempts remaining, then they can either expend a Life Essence to give themselves another attempt (one Life Essence per additional attempt) or wait a period of time for the lock to reset. Most Rune Locks start with ten attempts, but it may be possible to find Rune Locks with less attempts available from the start.

Module Progression

Along with designing more puzzles/mini-games, I have been continuing to work on conversations that join the areas and story together. As I have reported before, it is a slow process, but it is coming along.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Eguintir of Eguintir Ecologies for helping me with the design of a couple of areas. As regular readers will know, I find designing and working with areas one of the hardest aspects of the game, and Ryan very kindly offered some of his time to take care of a couple of interior areas that were outstanding for this module. He has already returned one area, which is near completion, and I believe is hard at work on the second. His contribution is very much welcomed, and I hope players will appreciate his work in this module as much as they may have in his own modules.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Map Pins For The Player

I have found that another enjoyable aspect when playing an RPG involving maps is not only having Fog of War, but also having the ability to add notes to a map in the way of map pins. NWN1 had this capability, but, for some unknown reason, it was not included in NWN2. Over the years I have been writing this blog, readers will know that I have been looking at a system that allows a player to add personalised map pins to the area map. In the last week or two, I have polished this some more to work in the following manner:-

1) Map Pin controls have been moved to the Area Map GUI itself (rather than be on the Main Menu).
2) The Area Map has had a face lift to complement this, by having the map name moved to a better position.

Map Pin Focus

The Map Pin system is controlled by a player's Main PC only, which means all map pin buttons are only available to the player's Main PC (the one they log into the game with), and pin locations are set according to this PC's location in the game. This avoids confusion of pin placement if the player had been controlling a different PC other than their Main PC at the time of adding a map pin. The Map Pin button are:-

1) Add Map Pin: This allows the player to place the Map Pin and add some text to it.
2) Edit Map Pin: This allows the player to either edit the Map Pin text or remove the pin completely.
3) Update Map Pins: This immediately adds floaty text to the Map Pins on the Area Map. (SP game only.)



Map Pin Text

With my system, when a player creates a map pin using the Add Map Pin button, they are presented with a text input GUI where they can add some descriptive text. When they select the Create Pin option, a small visible pin is placed in the game area with the text the player added, and a small blue pin marker is added to the Area Map at the same time. However, the blue map marker does NOT have the usual floaty text added at this time. All the while the blue map marker does not have floaty text (which is added if the player leaves the area), then if the player chooses to delete the Map Pin, then the associated blue map marker is deleted at the same time.




Area Map Floaty Text

When a Map Pin is first placed, the associated Area Map blue marker does NOT have floaty text like pre-placed map pins usually have. In the case of player created Map Pins, floaty text is only added to the Area Map blue marker after the PC leaves and re-enters the current area where the player has added Map Pins. Furthermore, if a Map Pin is deleted by the player after it has had its floaty text added (by the player leaving and returning to the area with the Map Pin), then the Area Map will not update (have the blue marker deleted) until after the PC leaves the area and returns to it again.

Forcing A Map Pin Update (SP Only)

In a single-player (SP) game, a third button labelled Update Map Pins is available (if not in combat), which forces the PC to immediately exit the current area and return to it again (at the same location). This then updates all the player's Map Pins since their last update by either:-

1) Adding floaty text to Area Map blue makers of newly added Map Pins or ...
2) Removing blue markers (with floaty text) from the Area Map of recently deleted Map Pins.

NOTE: This option is disabled for a multi-player (MP) game to ensure added game stability and to avoid confusion for other players.



Monday, 4 June 2012

Placeable Hit Points Matter!

Thankfully, all matters pertaining to the database issues have now been sorted, and I have been able to return to adding to the module content in general. This has included more conversations, decorating some areas and basically adding content in different areas as I decide to do it. And it was as I was adding one piece of content involving a placeable object, I made a discovery regarding hitpoints of objects: If a placeable is not given any hitpoints, then it can have a different reaction with script.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?


I designed a placeable object that presents the player a GUI when they click on it. However, I discovered (after comparing another placeable object to this one), that where the new object had zero hitpoints (HPs) assigned to it, a PC would not move up to the object (as if interacting with it) before presenting the GUI. On the other hand, if the same placeable was assigned a few HPs, then the PC would run up to the object as if interacting with it just fine.

What Shall I do?

Furthermore, I discovered that a placeable with or without HPs will also elicit a different response from the script attached to it. This is a little hard to explain, but it's as if a placeable without any HPs is treated as a "non-responsive" object compared to one that does have HPs. Now, this may be obvious to some builders (and already known by them), but I had no idea that this distinction of HPs for placeables had, and is why I am now mentioning it in case others did not know either. For instance, in the same test, the placeable with no HPs would not fire another script attached to it when certain variables are met, compared to the placeable that did have HPs associated with it!

The Script Function

The function involved in the initial script I was using is GetPlaceableLastClickedBy. Whether the responses I was having are restricted to this single function or not, I do not know. However, if you do use it, or have found PCs not responding to placeables in the way you might expect, then check the placeable's HPs, as it makes a difference as to whether they have any or not!

New Area Design

On another point, I am pleased to report that Ryan of Eguintir's Ecologies is hard at work finishing off/designing a couple of interior areas for me. Ryan has already designed some areas for The Scroll (Pt 2), but these latest additions will be used in The Scroll (Pt 1). When these two interior areas have been finished, only one or two minor interiors remain, requiring minimal work.

I thank my readers again for their patience with me on this project, and I hope their patience will be rewarded with an exciting module to play. The amount of time to develop a module does not guarantee such of course, but I do hope the wait will be worth it one way or another.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Database Debacle: Transition Crashes!

It came somewhat as a surprise when as I was testing my module it came crashing to the desktop. I had just created an entrance to a small cave area I required and was testing the transition between it and the outside area when this happened:


What had gone wrong? I had not changed any of my scripting and was unaware of any corruption in my files, and so I was somewhat dismayed when I could reliably repeat the crash every time I tested the new transition. I then tested an older transition and all seemed fine, until that was, I tested it a number of times, and then, sure enough, it would crash to the desktop. More investigation was required ...

Deadly Database

I have often heard of the problems people claimed that the inbuilt database functions caused the game, but had never encountered anything specifically wrong with using them before. However, after some investigation, it turned out that the transition crashes were occurring after a database call had been made by one of these functions. Yet, as it turned out, it was not specifically this, but only if the database reference was new. That is, if the database reference already existed in the database, then any call to it did not lead the game to crash. However, if a database line was added to the database during the game, then the game was likely to crash at the next area transition, especially if either of the areas were large. (Larger areas appear to expedite the chance of a crash after the new database call occurs.) Even if you were lucky to get away with one transition, the game would crash at a transition soon after.

The Solution

As The Scroll makes good use of these database functions I needed to find a resolution, or all my efforts to date with them would have been for nothing! Astute readers will have probably already guessed at the solution I finally came up with: Make sure the database is established (initialised) before the player plays the game. So when a player starts The Scroll for the first time, they will now be presented with the following GUI screen:


Hopefully, players will recognise this as a minor inconvenience to help provide a crash free game session thereafter. (That is the plan at least.) Depending upon how one has used the campaign database functions will also determine how you go about setting up your function to set up the database. For myself, there were one or two simple single lines to add a single row reference, and in other instances I was able to use a loop to set aside all the rows (for objects) that I needed. For added security, I added the variable holder reference to the object in question as a local string to refer to when the database variable holder was required. This was just to make sure there was no change in variable holder name between me setting the database up and the time I needed to refer to it.

Conclusion

It may be that you have had some strange transition crashes in the past and wondered what caused them. Hopefully, having read this you will be armed with another potential method to overcome them. I also discovered that Runtime Errors (especially on exiting the toolset) are caused by misuse of Include files. i.e. Different scripts may be calling the same Include that is already included in another Include associated with them (if you see what I mean).

So, if you have any information on what causes a game (or toolset) to crash, which may not be obvious at first glance, then please respond in a comment. Shared info like this is definitely a "prevention is better than a cure".

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Althéa: Party Creation Rules (Manual Entry)

I have been continuing with conversations and the quest journal entries associated with them. It is the crux of the story and so is not something I can go into much detail about, apart to say that it is coming along slowly but surely. So, to give you something to read this week, I decided to show you another page from the manual that I hope to ship with the module. This week, a little more information about Party Creation and how multi-player games affect it. As I said last time, if you have any questions about the module or just wish to leave a comment, please do.

Party Creation

Before the player is finally released to explore the World of Althéa, they are offered the chance to add some more PCs to their Main PC to make a party of up to four characters. The following information screen pops up prior to the main creation screen. As it says, party creation is not required, as their are companions that can found and added instead. However, the player can choose to add some PCs now and add others as companions later when they come across them if they so wish. Once the player presses "OK" to this screen, they will be presented with the standard SoZ style party creation screen, where they can continue to create their party of up to four, or choose "cancel" to play alone.


MP Considerations: When it comes to Party Creation, the players that are playing the game count as "non-player" created PCs already. Furthermore, if the host player uses all three empty PC slots to create a party of four, then later players entering the game will not be able to add any more created PCs at all. E.g. If two players play the module as a MP game, then each player could add another PC at the party creation screen to their specifications, to make a total party size of four. i.e. Two real players, and two created PCs. Alternatively, if a group of players entered one at a time, then the fourth player to enter would fill the last fourth slot and be unable to create any party PCs. Practical usage will demonstrate how this works.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Althéa: A Unique World (Manual Entries)

This week's post covers a couple more pages from the manual that I hope will be completed and accompany the module by the time of its release. For as much of what I am doing at the moment is simply writing conversation lines for the NPCs, there is not much more to say that may otherwise give away spoilers. However, if there is anything more you would like me to discuss about the module, then please ask me in a comment. In the meantime, here is some general information from the manual, which I welcome comments or questions on as ever:

A Unique World

Althéa is a unique world, designed by myself and set within its own cosmology. It has nothing to do with Faerun, or any of the official campaigns that are available to buy (or download) and play. Therefore, there are some restrictions and differences that are immediately enforced, even before the player builds or imports their PC to play. For a start, the following seven classes are not found within the World of Althéa and are not allowed entry:


Furthermore, the following "named" spells have had their names removed throughout the game, and will be referred to without their "name":





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 already 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.