Friday, 13 December 2013

Difficult Days ....

There is no doubt that the events of the last few weeks/months/year with the deaths of all three of our house rabbits, Bud and Daisy and Honey has hit me hard. I mention this here and now to readers to let them know that I do still intend to come back to working on the module, but I need some time to adjust to the changes that have happened.

My wife has some time off work in the next week or so and, hopefully, we can spend some time together, doing different things to help us both move on and into a schedule that does not painfully remind us that our beloved bunnies are gone. They were our "family", and demanded the same attention as playful children. And as I am relatively house bound with my illness of M.E., they had been a source of companionship for me. Their absence takes some getting used to - and while it will never be the same, I am hoping that I will eventually be able to return to working on the module without feeling as though the world is "too quiet" to work in without them being around.

With this in mind, I hope to return to a better schedule in the new year. Until that time, the odd bit I do between now and then will be nothing more than "pottering" around with the toolset just to keep me active in it. I don't suppose anything I do will be worth reporting, and so ask readers to be patient until I post again some time in January 2014.

God willing, the module will be finished ... I just need the time to adjust to the changes in my and my wife's lives.

Until the new year, all the best to my readers ....

And thinking of all my wonderful pets ...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Lord Also Takes Daisy Home

The sad day has finally come when my wife and I are left with no more bunnies; the Lord has taken them all within the space of one year to be with Him. Daisy's bonded mate, Bud, was taken only eight weeks ago, and Honey, at the end of last year. Daisy, the last of our three bunnies, died this morning at around 7.45 a.m. as my wife and I sat with her. We had made arrangements to go to the emergency vets with her, but Daisy was too weak and after a couple of very stressful moments, she passed away. Only our faith gives my wife and I the strength to carry on today, and even then we are still tearful.

A young Daisy Bo enjoying our garden for one of the first times!
Daisy was the first of our three rabbits we were to end up taking care of over the last five years, and she arrived in June 2008. She has such a large and colourful personality that she soon earned the nickname, "Crazy Daisy". In fact, I have so many wonderful memories and pictures of her that this can quickly become my biggest blog post ever! Here is a link to some photos of her early days ... and here are some when Bud first came along.

Daisy (right) enjoying a carrot with here bonded mate, Bud (left).
If you are a regular reader, you may also recall me posting the fact that she had appeared on the front of a magazine called "Rabbiting On". Indeed, I have many fond memories of her, and this link goes to some of my latest photos of her, which were taken this year, also when Bud was still around.

The pictures over the years tell more than I could write, and so I let them do my talking in the links above. Suffice to say, life will not be the same again. It is the end of a great era for my wife, Jennifer, and myself. We hold on to the hope of seeing all our lovely bunnies and previous pets in the New Earth spoken of in the bible. Here are just a few more photos to highlight some of those from the links above.

And may the Lord God Almighty bring her everlasting peace and joy and a reuniting with Bud in the New Earth!

Bud and Daisy ... Always meant to be together!
A very tired and relaxed Daisy!
Daisy testing out both chairs for comfort!
And deciding this is the one she wants to sleep in!
Forever in our memories sweetheart - Love mummy and Daddy!
 
We will meet again on the New Earth!
 
From 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."

These verses from the Gospel of John: "14:1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 14:2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 14:4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. 14:5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 14:7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 14:10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14:14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 14:17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 14:18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. 14:19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. 14:20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him."

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Adding Events

It's been a difficult few weeks, with the last of our three bunnies, "Daisy", being unwell; the other two, "Honey" and "Bud" having died in the last year. Daisy has improved a little, but I fear she may not be around much longer and so I have been spending more time with her of late ... while I still can. As a result, I have not spent as much time in the toolset and so do not have as much to report.

What I can report is that I have been doing a little interior designing to one of the main dungeons the player has to negotiate, as well as adding some encounters and puzzles. For the time being, here are a couple of screenshots from that area, which show some progress, but not as much as normal.

The crypt has some life after all!

This lock is guarded by Rune Magik
I'm not sure how much I will be up to doing over the next few days/weeks, but hope things work out as time goes by.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Adding Depth (Lore and Arcana)

Since the last post, I have been gradually typing up the background to my campaign so that I may add it to the "Arcana and Lore" section of the Main Menu. It's something easy to work on while I am still adjusting to the events of the last month. Originally, I had intended to add much of this material through various other gameplay aspects such as "readable" books and scrolls. However, having recently experienced the way the "Codex" had been implemented in Dragon Age, I considered some of this "background" information for my campaign is better handled in the same way. Note: I already had a Rule Information tab, which acts in a similar way to one aspect of the DA Codex, but I have now included the additional "Lore & Arcana" tab within the Main Menu to cover more detailed lore and background information of the campaign. i.e. The kind of stuff that I have written up as a "Dungeon Master" in a pen and paper game, which would normally not be directly available to the player.


The latest rendition of the Main Menu showing the Lore & Arcana tab.
The various aspects of Lore and Arcana will gradually be uncovered by the player as they adventure throughout the campaign. At each new discovery, a node will be unlocked in the tab conversation menu allowing the player to read as much of the information as they wish. Discoveries can be made through conversation or interaction with objects, and some bring XP awards for the PCs. So, whereas this kind of information may have once been presented in a readable book format, it will now be presented in the Main Menu after, for example, interacting with a book found laying on a podium. In each case, the latest lore or arcana information will be brought to the attention of the player by a new informative GUI.

The PC has just picked up some campaign background lore by reading a book.
Now the player can use the Main Menu to navigate to the information they have just learned, which remains accessible throughout the campaign. This information is mainly background, but does also serve to help give the player clues and information that may help them understand more about their environment and of items that may be of interest to them. At the very least, it may help to explain the reasons behind the way the campaign is built.

Some religious lore indicating how death was not always present in Althéa.
The more astute reader may also notice the new scroll bar I have adopted for some of my menus, as seen in the last picture.

I have typed up quite a few pieces of information now, but still have some to go, which I will deal with as I get the time. However, I hope to turn my attention back towards coding one of the dungeons I was working on before I started this.

Tactical Pausing Combat System

One last point I wanted to mention is that I managed to allow PCs to swap weapons while the game is paused. I did this by allowing the game to very briefly un-pause the game (for 0.1 seconds) when the weapon was double-clicked on from either the PC's inventory or one of their hotbars. This small addition to the Tactical Combat System included with the campaign adds a further improvement for those who like to use the pause facility to slow down combat for more of a tactical approach.

While I am on the subject of the Tactical Combat System, is there anything else readers would like me to consider for this system? E.g. I am also considering looking at "instant potions". And for those that might mention "pause at the start of an encounter", well that is already in, as well as optional hit point bars for enemies.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Journeying Onward

Things remain somewhat unsettled at the house since "Bud" died only a short while ago. It's surprising how the loss of one little rabbit can make the whole place seem quieter ... and so much emptier. Yet, my own journey in this world has not yet come to an end and so I continue with what I can do and hold onto the fond memories I have of Bud from the years of having him in our lives.

Small Distractions

So, what have I been doing regarding the module? Sticking with those parts that need the least amount of thought to be honest. Those parts that simply distract me, and allow me to continue to contribute a few more steps towards completing the module. Things like trying to improve elements of code that needed such. Including making automatons appear not obvious until activated ... and being able to have code that played sounds while the character was moving. (That had been a bugbear for a while for me, but was something I had actually solved in another area of code once before, but had forgotten about.) I also fixed a "ClearAllActions" that was stopping actions every heartbeat, and tidied up the "placeable" bashing code to ensure the PC kept bashing until the object was destroyed. Basically, I worked at small pieces of code that needed addressing and were easy enough to cope with for now.

Conversation Poll Results

The poll asking about conversations in a MP game ended a while ago, and the general consensus was that, even during MP gaming, they remain essential. This confirmed what I already thought, but knowing how some people play RPGs, I recognise that some may have not realised that a story based module, like mine, will have quite a few that players should realise will occur during play.

The Next Steps

As time goes by, I will start to look at those few outstanding points I need to finish:-

1) Finish the couple of main story "dungeons". (Plot realised, just needs coding now.)
2) Add a couple of side quests. (I decided I wanted a couple more minor ones to flesh out.)
3) Add the Lore & Arcana section to the Main Menu. (Tab already added, just need to add data.)
4) Finish the final conversations.

The Notice Boards

For those following what I was doing with the Notice Board, I managed to finish that just before my last post. It works fine and I am pleased that I can also add "image" scrolls as well as plain text ones. Here a couple of screenshots of the opening GUI, but without having clicked on any of the notice scrolls.

Any Work On Offer?
Notice Board - Showing GUI Scale
The Missions of Mercy Board" At The Church

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Lord Takes Bud Home

The Lord blessed us with "Bud", a handsome male Netherland Dwarf rabbit, who came to live with us on 28 June 2008. Last Lord's Day, in the early hours of 29 September 2013, the Lord took him back to be with Himself. When Bud first came to live with us, he was called "Bunny Bo", but he quickly became "Bud" within only a short time ... and it suited him well. He was definitely "Bud". For regular readers of this blog, you may recall that it was only 9 months ago to the day, that the Lord took "Honey" to be with Him. It has been a year of great sadness for my wife and I, as we greatly love the blessings from God, and parting with them is heart-wrenching. Yet while we are exceedingly sorrowful, we still rejoice in the life that God gave us with Bud, and as I have said before, we do live with the hope of being reunited with him in the new earth, which is spoken of in Revelation 21.

Bud Sitting In The Glorious Sunshine Of Our Back Garden!
Only "Daisy" survives from our little family of three rabbits, and she was Bud's bonded mate. Bud and Daisy always followed each other around, exploring the garden or coming into the lounge for "mummy and daddy loving" with their heads tightly placed together so that they could both receive a stroking and tickles from my wife and I. My wife and I are both concerned at how the loss of Bud will affect Daisy, but she appears to be coping for the time being, but it has only been just over the day since Bud died. Daisy was present when Bud passed away, and my wife said that Daisy had one moment of licking Bud before he finally died. Regretfully, I had been too exhausted to stay with him any longer, but my wife did manage to stay with him until the end. I was so grateful that she was there for him, and I am sure he knew how much I loved him ... and still do!

Bud (right) With His Bonded Mate, Daisy (Left).
A couple of month's ago, Bud had started showing difficulties in eating due to teeth problems. (This is exactly the same problem that affected Honey.) However, after an operation at the vets, he came home again and quickly recovered and began to eat again. Both my wife and I had been greatly relieved at the time because Bud was around 6-7 years old and operations are risky at the best of times. Then, only about 2 weeks ago, he started having difficulties again, and when taken to the vets, we were told that he had further teeth problems and had to have another operation. As he had bounced back from the first operation, I was hoping this would be just one more simple step for him to come through. Sadly, he never bounced back from the second operation, and he stopped eating altogether after coming home. All the while he continued to drink a little, I had hope, but I had great anguish being told and having to feed him with a syringe. It soon became obvious that he simply did not want to eat, and the stress it caused to him and me was terrible to endure.

On Saturday, 28 September, Bud even started to refuse water. My wife and I took him to the emergency vets that afternoon, where he had more injections, but over the course of the evening he grew more and more weak, until he simply could not carry on any longer. My wife reports that he made a last trip to his hutch, where Daisy had her last contact with him, and he died in his hutch as my wife stroked him. The moment I heard my wife moving around downstairs (although totally exhausted, I still could not sleep), I got up and met her coming upstairs and she broke the news. That was only yesterday, but it seems like such a long time ago now ... and yet the pain is still very new.

Bud Enjoying a Run Around The Garden!
I share this with the world because I want to show the depth of God's love, and the beauty of His creation, and one way He expresses His love among many ways. If you know the joy of which I speak with respect to a loving pet, then you know what I speak. The loss of Bud leaves the house a little more emptier once again. And as my wife and I have not yet been blessed with children, the loss of our pets appears more poignant. More pictures of Bud found here.

Mummy and Daddy Will Miss You Bud, Until We Meet Again In The New Earth!
From 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."

These verses came to me today from the Gospel of John: "14:1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 14:2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 14:4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. 14:5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 14:7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 14:10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14:14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 14:17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 14:18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. 14:19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. 14:20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him."

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A Few Alterations

I have been looking over some other games of late, just because I like to keep my toes wet and up to date with aspects of gameplay that make the gaming experience more fun for the player. And whether its because I am getting older, or just like a little more leniency in my game, I have decided to make two minor alterations to my original concept surrounding death.

Dealing With Death

Here are some of the changes I intend to make:-

1) Death by attrition will no longer occur. However, penalties to attack/damage will take its place.
2) Falling in combat does not necessarily mean instant "death".

Especially as the player begins at first level in this campaign, I decided that a more forgiving system was called for, and so have adopted one that can be tailored to the player's preferences by the introduction of a few core gaming aspects that are governed by an in-game choice towards the start of the game. When the player is presented with the following GUI, they can take one other "gift" that alters the way the game plays for the player's PC. One combination allows the "death" system to play like the original campaign. i.e. As long as somebody survives a combat, then the fallen PCs will recover after the battle. Of course, there are still other combinations where death of a companion means death!

Vol's Gifts - Choose Another or Not?
Accessible Notice Board

Many years ago now, I created a Notice Board system, which allows the player to click on the board and interact with the scrolls found thereon. The system worked reasonably well, but having come back to it after all this time, I have noticed that clicking on the individual scrolls can be "risky" in that a player may miss one if they are not careful. This, to me, was an unnecessary obstacle, and so I have now adopted a system similar to the one used in Dragon Age (which I have only recently started to look at). An aside: I was quite encouraged to see how Dragon Age played, and it reminded me quite a bit of my own style. So, anybody who likes Dragon Age, will hopefully enjoy my own campaign. The code is currently work in progress, but here is a screenshot showing the kind of thing to expect.

Notice Board New Look - Work In Progress!
Main Menu Makeover

Finally, I decided to change the colour scheme of the Main Menu this week, from black to a scroll background with complementing colours. Hopefully, readers will like the makeover. A screenshot is below.

Main Menu New Look!

That's all to report this week, apart from saying that I have come up with a plot line that I am finally satisfied with for the last main dungeon I need to write up. That was a big obstacle, but now I have a focus for what to do, hopefully, it will flow more readily now.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Game Feedback: HP Bars & Equipment Comparison

I wanted to address a couple of issues that I have with NWN2's interface that have bothered me over the years, both to do with in-game information feedback. The first is the current health state (HPs) of creatures, and the second, being able to easily compare your current equipment with that available in a store. In the past, I thought that both of these "ideas" were "impossible" to accomplish due to the way the engine worked. However, somewhere, in the back of my mind, my subconscious had been slowly working on the problem, and ideas on how I might potentially solve the issue came to me a few weeks ago. Here are the results ...

Enemy Hit Point Bars

Some time ago, I needed a "timer" to represent the passing of time on a puzzle, and I found that the GUI "progress bar" was ideal for the job. For a long while I wrestled with how I might be able to use this as means to present the HP Bar often associated in many RPG games that NWN2 lacked. This GUI has been successfully used to represent one creatures HPs (like a Boss Creature), but I wanted to have a system that would "hover" over all hostile creatures in a combat, and I could see no way of making it work. Note, NWN2 does provide some feedback in a small GUI for a targeted enemy at the top of the screen, but I always found this hard to see (due to being colour blind), and I did not like having to keep switching targets to get an update. The answer, as it occurred to me, was to apply a VFX (visual effect) to the creatures, that would hover above their heads, in much the same way spell effects show on creatures.

PC attacked by a pair of wolves with feat enabled.

A closer shot of the Hit Point bars over the creatures heads.

The trick to overcome was, of course, having the bar update as the creatures HPs went up or down. The answer was to simply have many versions of the same VFX showing different percentages of HPs remaining and removing/applying the correct VFX as required. Make the VFX permanent until I wanted it removed, and this problem was solved. The last thing I wanted to address was how I would introduce it into the game, as I recognised that not everybody may welcome this addition. The answer was to have the player learn this as a "feat" called "Observe Condition" (if they wanted it), which they could then add to a hotbar and toggle its effect on or off as desired.

Observe Condition Feat - Optional. Can be dragged to hotbar for ease of access. (Not shown)
Additional Note: I am also considering adding a "Boss Bar Visible" option on the Althéa Main Menu, which would complement these dynamic bars. This option could be toggled alongside the system above, allowing multiple options for the player.

Equipment Comparisons

When playing a NWN2 game, I talk to a store vendor and ask them to show me what they have for sale. In the standard game, I would then have to right click and choose "Examine" on each item for sale to open a new menu where I can read about the item in question ... and if I want to read about the item I am comparing it to, I would have to do the same thing for that too from my PC's inventory. Basically, comparing items is not "easy" using the standard NWN2 interface, and for those who like to have it more simple, then this might be the answer. Now, when a player opens their PC's inventory, an "examine" window is already incorporated into it, which shows the description of any item they click on within their inventory.

Additional Note: Items "examined" in containers will also open up the "inventory" screen and display item text in this same window. However, I suspect most players will simply click the "Loot All" option while playing and then "examine" the items in the inventory anyway.

PC has started interaction with a store.
1) Information on options available and activity update here.
2) On first open, reminder instructions on inventory use.
3) Store item description. (Will have instructions on first open in the final.)
4) Note, empty categories are made unavailable. This updates dynamically.
5) The best PC for bartering is automatically selected when store first opens.

When interacting with a store, players will notice a new complementary store interface as well. Like the new inventory, the store interface also comes with a built in "examine" window that displays information about an item the player may be interested in purchasing for their PC.

Note that the inventory item window and the store item window work independently of each other, meaning the player can click on items between those carried by their PC and those in the store, and each item will display in its appropriate window.

Additional Note: If a player clicks on an item in the store, which their PC currently has an equivalent equipped, then the PC's item inventory screen will update to show the equivalent being used to enable a direct comparison of items.

The PC is comparing their currently equipped armour with a selection from the store.
1) Notice the text informing you are comparing items.
2) The PC's currently equipped armour.
3) The armour that the PC is considering purchasing from the store.
 

The PC does not yet have a helm equipped to allow a direct comparison. Buy one?
1) Information on item update.
2) The PC does not wear any helmet to compare.
3) Details on the helmet being looked at in the store.

Other Considerations

There were a couple of other ideas I was considering, and feedback on these and any other issue this blog may raise would be most welcome. Here is a list of ideas that I am considering looking into:-

1) Having the inventory screen display another window if comparing an item in the inventory slots to one the PC may already have equipped. Pro: Another direct comparison option. Con: Another window on the screen.

2) New Addition: Have a transparent "Quest" header GUI that has a list of active quests (perhaps the quest title only), which the player can toggle into/out of the side of the main screen as a basic reminder of the options they have available to them. Pro: Nice reminder. Con: Not really required?

I have enjoyed the break from writing the conversations, but now this section is nearly done, I will have to return to them. However, there was one other GUI I am working on to do with the introduction of the game. That will have to wait for another post though!

Please give any feedback that you think may be of use to improve these game feedbacks, or if you have any ideas of other interface changes (or new) that may be of help to your gaming experience.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Dungeon Designs

To clarify this week's blog title, this post is about my work on "dungeon" designs rather than any sort of structured lesson in dungeon designing. However, I do touch on my own feelings about dungeon designs and make various points that may be helpful to anybody wanting to learn about dungeon designs.

COMMENTS WELCOME: What is your favourite dungeon crawl experience to date and why?

I decided to take a break from writing conversations (and their notorious web of nodes) and turn my attention to filling in the details of some of The Scroll's dungeons instead. Thankfully, Ryan of Eguintir's Ecologies had already designed some interior layouts for me, so my focus was to start scripting events for these areas to my design ends. I take this opportunity to thank all the designers of the areas of this module (and modules to follow) for all their great effort in supplying me with designs that have sped up the release of this module - and helped to inspire me with game play. First, a little forethought...

Let's Begin Our Dungeon Descent
Dungeon Definition

While it's true that every aspect of module design has something to do with "designing a dungeon" (in the broadest sense), hopefully, both builders and players alike will know what I mean when I talk about creating (or designing) a dungeon in particular. And in case there is anyone who is not sure what I mean, I am referring to those areas where the PC is likely to feel out of their immediate comfort zone and in a position that pits them against such things as monsters, traps, puzzles and other such problems in the hope of receiving great rewards in the way of experience, feats, skills and especially treasure; from great new weapons and items, to the basic gems, jewellery and gold!

As the word implies, "dungeons" in a traditional sense are normally located underground. However, I recognise that the term "dungeon" may also refer to adventures that take place in above ground complexes such as castles or towers - and can even refer to locations in space or beyond any worldly material plane of existence! With that in mind, let us continue along the way with some "traditional" photos ...

The Obligatory Main Corridor
Dungeon Purpose

There is something both intrinsically exciting and mysterious about a dungeon of the type I speak. For while the player and PC may know a little about the area they are about to travel to, there should be an overriding air of the unknown. Indeed, some of the most exciting dungeons (in my own experience) have been those dungeons I have stumbled across by accident and know absolutely nothing about, nor have any inclination about what to expect. However, I have also played some games where I have stumbled across a dungeon and the whole experience has been rather dull. So what happened? What makes one dungeon exciting and another not?

The Mysterious Domed Chamber
When I have examined the works of other games and looked for those aspects which have excited me or bored me, I was surprised at what I found. As you can see from the photos I found on the internet and posted here, a key factor about many traditional style dungeons is that they can be quite sparse. I know this is not always necessarily the case, but compared with today's modern designs and habitats, the traditional dungeon is still normally considerably simpler in design. I have noticed that many game designs reflect this well, and more importantly, such sparseness of content is not necessarily one of those aspects that detracts from a good dungeon crawl. Indeed, I have found that it is how the dungeon may have changed from its original design and purpose (possibly simply due to the ravages of time) that holds some of its intrigue.

The Dreaded Cell
Dungeon Character

So, what is it about a "dungeon" in a fantasy role-playing game that really fascinates the player and then holds their interest? I think a large portion of the answer lies in the dungeon's history, or more specifically, the element that gives the dungeon its character! For while a dungeon's immediate purpose is very important for a game's logical flow and prime responses from the player, if there is nothing else to it, then it quickly becomes relegated to the pile of "tick box exercise" dungeons that is soon forgotten about. I have experienced this kind of thing in the RPG "Sacred 2", which while very colourful and vast in size, each "dungeon" I have discovered and played my way through is more tedious than the previous due to each dungeon having very little (or no) character.

Adding history or creating character for a dungeon is no easy accomplishment. If successful, a player should be left with a memorable experience, some uniqueness in the dungeon's design that helps it to be one of those reminisced over for years to come. The player may not remember all the details, but they will recall having an exciting experience when playing through / adventuring within the dungeon in question. For myself, I have such fond recollections with games such as Ultima Underworld, Baldur's Gate, and more recently, some of those "dungeons" from Fallout 3. From each of these games I mention, it should now be clear that when I talk of a "dungeon" experience, it can refer as much to a location far away from the ground as to beneath it ... and can be set in any time frame!

Now, I ought to take this moment to differentiate between an entire game experience and only an element of it, such as a "dungeon". In my own examples above, the entire Ultima Underworld game consisted of one large "dungeon crawl", and so, strictly speaking, I should not be counting it as a "dungeon" experience in the context of this blog. However, I wanted to include it in passing, as it is still a good example of a "dungeon" experience, even if it was the entire game in this example. Looking at one of the other examples, Fallout 3, however, I was suitably impressed by the unique feel of quite a few of its "dungeon" experiences.

The Dungeon's Nuts & Bolts

With the above comments in mind, this week I have started to design the remaining dungeons around the raw material area designs graciously given to me by my area designers. The dungeon purpose has always been known to me from the moment I conceived the plot. The dungeon character, however, is the part that takes time to reveal itself as I work with what I have before me. For further clarification about what I am trying to say about the goals for my dungeons I have in mind, note the following category goal differences:-

Dungeon Purpose Goals: Add Transitions, Add Monster Encounters, Add Loot. (Needs.)
Dungeon Character Goals: Type of Locks, Monster Ecology, Treasure Histories. (Reasons.)

When a player enters one of my dungeons (or at least the main ones), I want them to feel that the place has a character, learn that there is a history, and have a sense of difference about the place compared to other places they have explored earlier. Of course, there is no escaping those aspects that are found common to all dungeons, but I hope to pull off at least one or two aspects of uniqueness to each dungeon that will make the player sit up and take note. I hope to achieve this by adding some unique puzzles, background information, and perhaps some unique aspect that ties both purpose and character together. Whether I succeed in this, I can only hope.

Dungeon Designs: My Personal Pros & Cons

Having blogged on about how I would like to design my dungeons, my "Pros" are probably obvious (and thereby the "Cons" too), but here is my list of pros and cons design objectives/avoidances in the broadest sense (in no particular order):-

DUNGEON DESIGN PROS:

1) Medium to large in size to allow a sense of exploration. (Map required.)
2) Hidden areas, using secrets and concealed objects. (Properly hidden unless skill found.)
3) Logically placed denizens, both historically and ecologically. (With appropriate AI.)
4) Lighting attention - including some completely dark to allow PC own light sources. (Atmosphere.)
5) Sound attention - ambient and possible item sounds. (Atmosphere.)
6) A unique aspect to the dungeon purpose. (Logical flow.)
7) Purposeful and useful dungeon history and/or character. (Scrolls, books, info, treasures, etc.)
8) New logical object interactions above any normal interaction. (New scripts for added uniqueness.)

DUNGEON DESIGN CONS:

1) Illogical rooms and general poor design. (Poor logical flow.)
2) Useable objects at all times, even when not currently available. (Poor meta-gaming clues.)
3a) Too many denizens for area design. (A monster in every room syndrome.)
3b) Poor AI for creatures used. (No creature variation due to poor AI. Meet, hit, die, next!)
4) Minimal attention to lighting or sound. (Areas look and feel the same. No real atmosphere!)
5a) All dungeon "purpose" design and no "character" design. (Cookie cutter designs. Boring.)
5b) Even "purpose" design meets only basic needs. (Lacks story depth - "FedEx" style design.)
6) Lack of any "deep interaction". (One dimensional as opposed to three dimensional design.)

Like with most things I say, there are provisos and exceptions to these pros and cons as well. For example, I would rather a "dungeon" consist of only a few rooms (be small) if there is no logical reason for it to be any bigger. However, I would rather see more "medium to large" dungeons to explore and "get my teeth into", as a preference. Also, I would not want to be inundated with "boring and superfluous history" of a place if it had no real useful bearing on my current events. Historical information that gave me some sort of immediate benefit or would do in the near future, is exciting to find as well as giving the dungeon background and character.

And, of course, once you escape the dungeon and are back into the wide open fresh air, there is always the next one to quest for ...

Escaping The Dungeon ... And So Onto The Next!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Crazy Daisy Fame!

When I went to pick the mail up this morning, I saw a picture of one of our rabbits staring up at me. It was "Daisy" and she had made it to the front cover of the UK magazine called "Rabbiting On" produced by the Rabbit Welfare Association, which my wife and I subscribe to. If you look close enough, Daisy is also the rabbit on the right in my blog's logo image. The small black bunny on the left is "Bud", her bonded mate.

This magazine only comes out four times a year and so to have Daisy's photo on the front cover is a real privilege for us, and she has done us proud. I took the photo in question in the spring 2008, just after we got her and is when she was going around the garden picking up all sorts of grass and using her own fur to make up a nest. So while this photo is on an autumn "feeding special" magazine, I can safely say she was gathering the grass for other reasons than to simply eat. It was this frenzied grass gathering exercise, however, that helped to solidify the "crazy" part of her nickname.


The Scroll Update

This is only a quick update this week as I am continuing to write conversations and so cannot say much without it being a "spoiler". However, I can say that I am still making progress, and that once these conversations are done, I will be left with only some "encounters", "treasure placements" and a couple of "dungeons" to finish. The end of this first module is definitely in sight ... and I am so eager to get it to Beta that it hurts.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Logical Flow & MP Conversations (Revisited) (POLL: MP Conversations)

As I was writing a conversation for one of the companions that a player can add to the party, it slowly dawned on me that there was more needed for this conversation than first realised, for two reasons:-

1) Surrounding events needed to make more sense than they currently did.
2) This conversation needed to be common to all players in a MP game.

The first problem was one concerning "logical flow". Without going into detail (through fear of spoilers), it soon became obvious that the event being discussed was too important to be isolated to this companion and the PCs. "Fixing" this "logic" required an additional number of "new" conversations for new NPCs, plus I had to make a number of edits to existing ones.

As I was finishing the templates required for the additional conversation, I also realised that this conversation needed to be seen by all players when considering a MP game, as it was also a pivotal plot conversation.

In this campaign (unlike the official campaigns), different players take control of their own PCs. So, if one player decides to go in one direction compared to another player, then the PCs they "own" stay under their control and follow them, or carry out whatever they were last commanded to do. I give players this degree of autonomy all the while they are in the same area, only requiring them to all move together when going to a new area. A problem arises, however, if there is a conversation requiring the entire party in an area (like the one above), and the players are spread apart when the conversation begins.

I then recalled that this was also an issue in the official campaign, in that all players in a MP game would have a MP conversation start for them even if they had not been the player to start the conversation and weren't near the speaker in question.

After giving it some thought, I am not sure there is any way around this particular style of delivery. Furthermore, as I have used the "MP" switch in a number of conversations, then this conversation delivery will occur for all players in a MP game from time to time. I have looked at adding some checks to ensure players will be in the same region of an area when a MP conversation starts if possible, but there are likely to remain some conversations that will not have such checks.

If anybody has any more builders tips about helping to reduce this issue, then please leave a comment advising.

So, my POLL this time around is to find out what players think about MP conversation considerations. Do conversations starting outside of your control offend you? Do you recognise they are necessary for a MP game? And so on ... Please leave a comment if I have not covered your option, or if you have anything more to add.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Party Helpers: Henchmen

It's been some time since I last wrote about the player's party, so I thought I would bring this blog up to date with some more information on the sidekick, the henchman. As The Scroll is designed for both multi-player and single-player, deciding upon whether to include any henchmen at all and if so, how many, have been in question for me. Note: The player already has the option to design their own party and/or complement the party with companions that are included in The Scroll. Therefore, henchmen may, at first thoughts, appear unrequired.

First, to remind the reader, in the post link above I define henchmen as those NPCs that the player can add to their party, but whom the player has limited access to ... or control of. Whereas the player can possess companions/cohorts, access their inventories and even control their development as they progress in levels, they cannot do so with henchmen. Therefore, at first glance, the henchman may appear to the player as the "poor mans" choice of party members. However, for some players (and especially at the lower levels), the henchman may be the preferred choice of party membership, and here is why:-

1) Henchmen will auto-level as the party increases in level: For players who like to have party support, but wish to avoid having to control their development, then the henchman is the perfect choice. Access to the main character screen for the party member will still be available to the main PC to monitor such changes in development.

2) Henchmen follow basic commands only: For some players, not having to issue commands beyond the basic ones like "Attack Nearest" or "Stand Ground" may be a preference. That said, greater AI control is still available if the main PC "examines" the NPC and alters settings via the "Behaviour" tab.

3) Henchmen support is unconditional: Henchmen, generally, will not object to a player's actions like a companion/cohort might. E.g. A companion/cohort may prevent or advise against certain actions that are against the party alignment, whereas a henchmen is simply along for the ride.

4) Henchmen deaths are at party level only: Whereas companions or cohorts die when they reach zero hit points (unless observing a Life Essence rebirth choice), henchmen simply fall unconscious when they reach zero hit points. If anybody in the party survives the battle, then the henchman will regain consciousness with 1 hit point. As a player has limited interaction/control over a henchman, then this level of "death control" was a good alternative in my opinion.

To remind the reader: Some henchmen may require payment, some may be less trustworthy than others, but in all else the henchman will provide company as the player carries out their adventure. So, whether the player chooses to build the entire party using only cohorts, or find the support of companions who may have their own opinions, or add a few henchmen, then in all cases, the player can be far from alone ... even if only playing single player.

And just to have an excuse to add a few screenshots, here is where the player can meet at least one henchman to aid them in their adventure:-


Coming into New Edgeton on a cloudy and rainy evening.


The rain has not kept the locals from coming out.

The shops look like they are still open.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Lights, Camera, Action!

In 5 ... 4... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... You're on!

I thought I would refocus the area of module development I am currently working on, and decided to start looking at some of the cutscenes I wanted to include. (Hopefully, that will be the only pun I use in this post.) As I have said in the past, my ability with cutscenes comes in a close second to area design when it comes to implementing them (i.e. poorly), but I appreciate the benefits they add. And as NWN2 has "camera objects" to help out the builder, I felt obligated to give it a go.


The Light Problem

One of the first problems I encountered was the "light object tag" problem. I have encountered this before, but during some cutscene testing, this problem raised its ugly head again: A "light object" can lose its tag in certain situations, normally on a reload or (as I recently discovered) when travelling between modules. So, basically, if you have any scripts that rely on acquiring a light object by its "tag", there are circumstances when the tag no longer exists and the light object is not "returned", even though it still exists in the area/module.

My solution was to apply a search for all light objects (that I might later need to reference) at the start of the game, and add a local variable to them which I could search for instead. Add to that a change in the way I searched for lights, using GetNearestObject for a LIGHT object rather than by its tag, and I believe I have now fixed all light references in my modules.

Setting The Camera

Once the lighting was sorted and in place, and knowing the scene I intended could now actually be seen in the right light, I worked on placing the cameras, which I decided would be called from a conversation. After all, I have found that using cameras via conversation to be a straightforward operation. However, what was not so easy, was having the conversation (with the camera views) start at the moment I needed it to, to allow the cutscene to work as I intended. There were added complications about what the player was doing when the cutscene was to play. I was designing some to start on an unusual encounter scene, and others if the PC triggered certain events. Having the cutscene start and allow the events to continue to act out as I intended required careful timing, which required experimentation to figure out. There was also the lowered "sound" issue one experiences when a PC is having a conversation. i.e. I have some effects that play sounds as they occur, which work fine outside of a conversation, but you can hardly hear the sounds when inside the conversation. I overcame this problem by adding some sound objects independent of the effect to play as required.

And Onto The Action!

Finally, after the experimentation and tweaking, I have ended up with some cutscene template scripts that cover most (if not all), of the situations where I hope to give the player the occasional cutscene moment. I am glad that it is something I managed to resolve in the end, because the final results are encouraging, and I hope are something that will help add towards the players enjoyment of the experience. It's true these scenes may come as their PCs are about to meet a grisly end, but that's action for you!

Cut! OK, that's a wrap!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

In Game Help & Information

Things have settled down again here now, and I have had a little time and energy to attend to this blog ... which also means I have a little more information about the module. I have decided that some of my in-game interfaces may need more information for the player when encountered for the first time. Therefore, to this end, I decided to put together a single "Help and Information" script that is called from clicking on a button that these interfaces may have.

I have not yet decided on all the gaming elements that will include this system, but the way I am implementing it is very simple and flexible enough to include for any of those that beta-testers feel require a little more information for usage. A few lines of code can simply be added to each XML script that requires the extra button to link to the "help box", which in turn feeds the relevant help text to the new box that clicking the button brings up, all from a single script. Below is an example of the kind of thing I mean - this is an example of somebody reading about interacting with a "Combination Lock" for the first time:

Hovering over buttons brings basic information.
The player requires some extra information about potential interaction and so clicks the option.
The player can scroll to read all the extra information available.
From my own experience, I have found that some games do not give enough "instructions" for my liking and having a quick discrete button to additional information and help seemed to be the best solution as far as I could see.

I continue to chip away at the final stages to this module ...

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Chipping Away

This is going to be one of the briefest posts I have ever made ... just to say that real life events have caused module building to be placed on hold for the time being (for the month of May). However, rest assured, if I get the opportunity, I will continue to chip away at it as and when I can. Sorry to have to report that.

Furthermore, unless that opportunity comes, it will also mean I may not have much more to add to this blog until next month. Hopefully, however, things should smooth out again by then.

However, now is the time to ask any questions you may have about the module/campaign ... and to make any requests. I should be able to respond to posts made OK still.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Alternative Lock Picking

I have had a little time to look at Kamal's latest module, "Crimmor" in the last week. Kamal never ceases to amaze me with his excellent area designs - and this time, I was also intrigued to see a new lock picking system in his work, courtesy of RWS. (And while I have not had as much time to actually play his module, first impressions look good.)

Followers of this blog will know how much I enjoy implementing mini-games for the player, and I already have a number of lock designs that the player can look forward to. However, inspired by the latest design I found in Kamal's module, I set about looking at adding another lock mini-game to my own module. To this end, I looked again at a released work by Little Baron. I had looked at Little Baron's work a while ago, but recognised it needed some script rewrites to work within my own module design, especially multiplayer gaming. However, inspired by what I had seen in Kamal's module, I decided to go ahead and adapt Little Baron's "Lock picking" system to work with my own. (I have not implemented the trap system at this stage, as I am not sure I will.)

Some of the changes are fairly simple, in that only PCs with any points in the Lock Pick skill can attempt to pick the lock. I have also changed much of the way the system works with reference to results that can occur. In my own system, here are some differences:-

1) Lock DC's altered to fit with my on system values.
2) Lock difficulty alters chance of pick breakage compared to quality of picks used.
3) No "special" picks means additional chance of DC increase on worked lock.
4) Permanent fail simply means a revert to the normal NWN2 lock pick system. (No jam.)

Not all doors and locks will use the system, only some. Those that do use the system offer the PC with the ability a slight advantage in that they can attempt to pick locks normally slightly higher than their ability. Of course, if they fail badly at the mini-game, then the lock reverts to a standard NWN2 lock pick requirement.

Gameplay: A lock can have 2, 4 or 8 barrels, each requiring 1-3 successful "picks" to disable. The higher the lock DC, the more barrels there are, and the more likely each barrel requires more clicks to disable. Therefore, the lowest DC locks will require at least 2 successful "picks" in sequence, whereas the most difficult locks, with the highest DCs, can require up to 24 successful sequential "picks".

Check out the screenshots below for what it looks like in game:

Feedback welcome.

This PC does not have any ability to pick the lock.
This PC has the skill and starts the lock pick. Note all the extra in game feedback.
If the PC fails by a large margin, then the lock will reset and the sequence has to be restarted.
Each barrel (this one has two) requires 1-3 pick attempts (3 in this case) to be successfully unlocked.


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Bashing Objects

Just a quick post this week, as I have had to sort out a few personal issues, which have taken some of my time and energy. Just to say that I have been continuing to write for conversations and quests when I can, but coding in this area is progressing slightly slower than hoped. I was held up for a short while when I discovered an issue when I made my PC bash an object. The screen froze for about a second before continuing. I had not been expecting that to happen, and it diverted what attention I had on conversations to sorting this problem out.

I had not noticed the problem when bashing an object before, and so wondered if it was due to me creating a large number of items on the object at time of being destroyed. (Treasure! - Yes, large treasures might happen!) Doing a few debug checks (complicated a little by the fact that I have coded hardness factors for objects), and rewriting the function didn't resolve the issue. However, when I tested the code in a different area, it worked fine. So, I broke the code down to fire bit by bit, and eventually discovered the problem occurred on a large area with many objects; I was closing in on the problem. Eventually, I tracked it down to a loop call that was not "breaking" out of itself when an object was beyond a certain distance from the destroyed object. So, in large areas, the loop was processing a lot of objects ... and, hence, being frozen "in thought" for a brief moment.

A very simple addition of a break in the code had me up and running once detected. Now, I need to get back to writing the conversations and quests .... :)

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The End of the Beginning (Draws Near)

I decided to take a look over the first module and write down those things that I still want to do before releasing it for BETA testing ... and the list is finally starting to look smaller! In fact, I concluded that I could mark another couple of notches on the "Completion" figure to read 92% complete! To put that into perspective, I hope to start BETA testing at 97%, and release on the Vault at 99% ... (allowing 1% for patching and/or fixes after release). So, one could say that I am only 5% from "completion" in some ways.

Conversations

I can still see work required in at least six conversations. Here are three of the characters involved:-

The PC finally gets to meet the man in charge!
A sudden encounter with a beautiful naked woman?
Does this man control some power around here?
Encounters

I also still have work to do on at least half a dozen creatures affecting as many areas. i.e. Adjust statistics and address AI for them ... and then test for balance.

Quests

Every quest in the campaign journal (apart from those that extend to later modules) now have "completed" stages ticked, which means I have coded for at least one end point in every quest in the module. Note, I may still have one or two "complete" options still to code for here, but the vast majority are done.

There are also two quests that require "fleshing out" completely, and about 2-3 that still need some work. E.g. In the last picture above, even the area detail is a little sparse. This image also reflects the amount of work I feel still needs to be put into this particular quest.

All in all though, I do think I can see the very first stages of an end to this first module in sight. Subject to my health ... and inspiration, I believe the module can be completed in the coming months.