Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Rune Puzzles (Extra)

Regular readers of my blog will know that I like puzzles in my games, and will have already read about this rune puzzle. However, as it has been quite some time since I last posted about them, I thought I would make another post for the end of the year, as I begin to finish off this section of the module.

Scenario Specific

This area was always going to be one of the last parts I worked on for the module, as it involves quite a bit of custom code based around the theme of using runes. Note, some rune puzzles are not scenario specific and will appear throughout the campaign. However, this particular use of them is very much geared to this dungeon. Obviously, I won't go into detail, but it will be clear that the heroes will have to find runes throughout the dungeon to be able to continue their quest.

The hero finds a sturdy bag containing three runes!
Rune bag information displayed in the new inventory!
When the heroes discover an object where they can use the runes they have found, then an interface automatically updates according to the runes they have already acquired. Note, the runes they have found may be useable in different ways, and so tactical use of them with the different objects may be required.

Not enough runes carried to work with this object!
I have made a couple of updates since my last post about this rune puzzle. One particular difference is that, as in many other areas of in-game puzzles, I have added a button that gives the player access to more detailed instructions if need be.

Player has access to detailed instructions for puzzle.
Anyway, it's that time of year when I seem to slow down even more than usual (lack of sun probably), and so will be taking things a little easier for a few weeks (as if I did not take things easy enough already). However, as I have explained before, as a Christian, I do not celebrate the upcoming season festivals, which have their background in pagan rituals and are a man-made addition to what God has instructed us regarding worshipping Him, and so will, hopefully, not be restricted to updates on the module on account of this.

Therefore, unless I have a sudden burst of creative energy leading me to something to report, I will probably not blog again until the new year. I will of course, however, answer any posts that arise between now and then. In that time, and for now:

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Althéa Manual Goes BETA!

Don't go getting too excited ... I did say the "MANUAL". However, this is a reasonably good sign that I am relatively confident that the campaign systems to be released with the first module are now in place and stable.

DOWNLOAD THE BETA MANUAL HERE

I decided to release the manual now (as a BETA for anyone interested) so that players can make comments about anything they read, be it questions on any systems, comments to make things clearer, or simply to be able to provide initial feedback on any presentation. Also, for those who have followed my blog, to let me know if they feel I should have covered anything else in the manual that they recall reading from the blog.

The Althéa Manual Goes BETA!
There may be some areas I still need to cover in the manual, but will leave that to any BETA testers of the module itself to comment on. After all, the testers will be in the best position to comment after having access to both.

As far as the module itself is concerned, I have just started my first play through to polish any of the first areas and general code at the start. All is going relatively smoothly at the moment, but I know there are some later areas that still need a degree of work to finish before a final test. However, if the first few areas go well, then I will most likely release this for BETA testing after updating the final areas that need doing without replaying the whole thing myself.

Things updated over the last few weeks:-

1) Added last of the area music.
2) Completed adding Load screens.
3) Removal of debug feedback that was not of the "toggle" type. (Also removed all test objects.)
4) Fixed AMMO quantities in stores. (Amount increased to 50 at a time to allow better economy.)
5) Added some LORE entries.
6) Improved some early conversations to flow more smoothly. (As I have improved.)

Some things that still need doing:-

1) About 3 areas, with related content and code.
2) Finish updating the Bestiary for this module.
3) Finish adding any LORE that may be required.
4) A few related journal entries still need finishing.
5) More combat balancing.

MODULE ETA: 2015 :)

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Balance: The Final Blow!

Balancing a game! ... What an issue this can be! After all, one persons tactics may make a game easier to play than somebody else's. Different classes have pros and cons that could affect the game from the very start. Then there is simple chance of course ... one battle may go badly simply because of a run of poor dice rolls ... or be a cakewalk with an opposite run of the dice. The big question is, just how much should we consider scripting a game (for difficulty) where a player is relatively free to move their party wherever they like?

While it is true that in a DM controlled environment ensuring balance is easier to maintain than relying on scripts to control the difficulty levels for PCs, the big question remains just how much tweaking should ever be applied? I guess there are two schools of thought:-

1) FIXED: Do not alter difficulties at all and allow the PCs to get what's coming to them, or ...
2) SCALED: Alter the difficulty to allow for character levels and abilities.

Of course, every builder knows that a good combination of "fixed" versus "scaled" difficulties is the best solution to the problem, but, where do we (or should we) draw the line?

So, guess what I've been up to over the last couple of weeks? Basically, looking at difficulty levels for the PCs according to the different ways they could explore the module. I, of course, know the best path to take that will keep the difficulty levels about right, but I am also acutely aware that there are one or two steps they could make that would place them in a very difficult predicament. My current concern is, I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing? After all, while I am all for a "challenge", I am also aware that being "stuck" can be a quick way to frustrate a player (from personal experience).

So, my questions today, to keep in line with my current module updates is, what do you think?

1) Have you experienced a game (or module) that was simply too hard? (Example?)
2) Should a builder always (or never) scale difficulties?
3) What is your preferred style of play? (Relatively linear/guided path or completely open?)

From my own observations, a game that is more linear tends not to encounter these balancing issues, as the player should (in theory) be developing their character at the same rate as the difficulties increase. The "problem" only really comes to light when designing a more open world when the player ventures into a more dangerous region than another. However, what now takes precedence?

4) Should the game adjust to fit the player or should the player get the hint and back off?
5) However, what happens if the player cannot back off for whatever reason? Is the "game reload" an acceptable solution, or should the builder have considered another option for the player?

Too late to turn back ....

I think I took a wrong turning!


Thursday, 6 November 2014

What's The Latest?

I often find myself going "two steps forward, and then one step backwards", but thankfully the net result is always a definite forward movement. This time it was to do with my own walk waypoint system. A long while ago, I discovered that the official system was not reliable enough: Creatures would often stall or simply jump a step when supposedly following waypoints. So, I decided I needed to write my own, and thankfully, succeeded. However, another recent update to the rest system in my campaign highlighted a fault with one of the calculations for the waypoint system and I had to spend some time fixing that this week. (At least tracking down the fault is what took the time rather than adding the 0.1 float value to the code that needed it.)

Fixing issues was not the only thing I did this week, however. I can add that I also finished a rather difficult conversation and improved my own encounter system by making better use of the ScriptHidden function.

I also played about fifteen minutes on one of the new areas, testing the creature AI and my combat system that can be switched between real-time and an auto-pause system at the push of a button. It was great fun having the game auto-pause on enemy sighted, switch weapons while paused and target a new enemy prior to un-pausing. After six seconds the game auto-paused again (as my option had requested) and allowed me to re-examine the combat situation to see what I would do next. The settings I was using reminded me of a style something akin to Dragon Age and/or Baldur's Gate. Not surprisingly I suppose, as these two games (along with NWN) have influenced my own preferences in style of combat play. Of course, the campaign also caters for those that prefer to stick to an all real-time experience, which is the default play style anyway.

I have also started to place more of the unusual treasures around the module now. I don't mean what I call the "main treasures", but what are more like "unusual/interest items" treasures. They generally aim to improve either character or equipment. Here is an example of a page of a book of one such unusual find that the PCs may be blessed enough to stumble across.

Books will contain information that will help the PCs in some way.
For players who may be interested in playing this campaign, please feel free to give feedback about any of the game systems posted here or on my blog (see signature)... or any other comments you want to raise ... or have any questions about the campaign.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Player Expectations

As the years have passed and I have continued to add material to my own campaign, one cannot help but notice the incredible strides in mainstream computer games in both the visual and sound, as well as gameplay and content. Don't misunderstand me, I always knew things could only "get better" as far as the games were concerned, simply because of the improvements made in computer hardware. However, credit must also be given to those designers like Bioware and Bethesda (to name just two of the many fine companies out there who make comparable games to the likes of my own goals), who have really done wonders with the software to take advantage of said hardware to make some truly great games.

My point being, when I first started this campaign, I believe a player's expectations from a fan-based module were not too far removed from what was delivered. However, is it possible that as the time has passed, player's expectations of what to expect from such a module have also grown? Now, I am aware that good gaming does not boil down to just visuals and sound. However, in all fairness, the games I am thinking about also contain reasonable/good content too. Can we (as builders) even be able to offer the players a reasonable gaming experience compared to what can be acquired nowadays? I am not saying we cannot do so, but what would make a player pick up a custom module and spend time playing it compared to picking up Skyrim, Dragon Age 3, or one of the many free MMO games and play that instead?

Now, I know there will be some players who have more time and can, perhaps, spend their time playing both types of game, but my question is, why would/do they? What is the attraction to playing a home-made module, which, even if it has some reasonable gameplay, is not going to be able to compare to a "retail" product which has had a professional design team and many more hours put behind it? I know I am probably asking the golden question that everybody would like to know the answer to .... i.e. What makes a good game? However, I ask it anyway, as such feedback is always good for the builder, and helps encourage them along the way.

So, why do you download and play a NWN/NWN2 module compared to any other game that is available? Is it because of the rules used? Multi-player functionality? You have played all the other games already and it was a last resort?

And when you have downloaded such a module, how much time do you give it? At what point do you give up on a game ... or don't you? Do you keep going regardless?




Thursday, 16 October 2014

Sorry For The Delay

There is no beating around the bush ... I am sorry that this is taking me so long to do, and I apologise for the delay. For while I knew it would take me some time to do, I still had no idea that I would not have finished by now, a good seven years later!

Such A Long Time!
Indeed, had I known the campaign was going to take me this long, my design goals would have been different from the start. And to think, this campaign was originally going to be released as three modules in one go!

There are also the normal excuses, like real life issues, especially health related, but even so, I had hoped to have had the first module released at least a year ago, with the two additional modules a year or two each after that.

On a positive note, I have almost finished all the areas for the first module now, including the new ones I had to design for the two additional side quests I had in mind to add recently. One of the side quests was more involved with the conversations than I first anticipated, which added a least a couple of months more work than I first planned. However, that is almost done now. The second side quest should be more straight forward, and now that I have the areas designed for it, it should be quicker to complete. However, considering I thought they would only take a couple of weeks to add, they ended up taking far more time, even months! Once they are done, I return to finishing off the main quest(s) and will then be ready for BETA testing. (Note, however, not all the time over the last six months has been work on these two side quests.)

If you have any comments or requests, please add them to the comments. As I have said many times before, having comments does help me to stay focussed at times.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Althea Campaign Interface

Another quick update just to report that things are still progressing along nicely. Alongside creating new material, I have been improving existing code and making everything work together more smoothly where possible. I took a pleasing step forward this week, by introducing the "extra buttons" that run inside the main hotbar specific to the Althéa Campaign, including ones for the Main Menu and combat procedures in particular, which I hope will make combat within the campaign both more controlled and enjoyable.

New hotbar buttons and Main Menu options!
The New Interface

To explain briefly, there will be (as it currently stands) six new buttons within the main hotbar that sit alongside (to the right of) the familiar camera angle buttons:

1) Main Menu Button: Basically does what is says, and brings up the Main Menu for the player, where they will have further in-game options. This menu is not available during combat.

2) Party Maps Button: When the player(s) acquire maps throughout the campaign, this button will open the Map Screen when pressed to allow viewing. In a MP game, the map opens for all players so that the map can be viewed and discussed by all players at the same time.

3) Turn Based Pause Button: One of the first combat buttons that player(s) can use. This is a global toggle setting, so it sets for all players in a MP game. When clicked, the game will pause every six seconds, which the player must un-pause. This auto-sets if "Pause on Attacked" is selected from the Main Menu, allowing a hybrid turn-based system to begin.

4) Toggle Player Group AI: The second combat button, which can also be used to simply immediately stop all companions in their tracks if need be, is the Group AI toggle. Note, a "group" is all PCs that a player controls. In an Althéa MP game, each player controls their own group of PCs, as opposed to a normal OC game where only the party leader player controls the added PCs. This AI button does *not* toggle AI for those creatures in the party that are not "created" by the player or added as "companions". e.g. Animal Companions and Familiars cannot have their AI turned off.

5) Observe Condition (HP Bar): If the player acquires the ability and wish to use this facility, then HP bars for enemy creatures can be toggled on or off via this button. Note, it is a global setting, so all players would have this feature turned on or off in a MP game.

6) Statistics Panel: Lastly, their is a button that brings up a game statistics panel giving some information about the PCs in the party. e.g. Number of deaths (and type of revivals), best creature killed and number, etc.

Main Menu Updates

Lastly, just to mention a couple of new additions to the Main Menu:-

A) If a PC suffers a penalty to hit and damage due to hunger, they will now find it on the Main Menu.
B) A new toggle button to pause if a trap is triggered has been added.

Actually, I have made an improvement to Trap Detection as a whole. Now, by default (with or without the above option being switched), a PC will stop everybody in their tracks if a trap is detected. This is *not* using the pause facility, but simply a command to stop, which stops PCs from doing whatever they are doing. The pause option (as mentioned above) is a toggle that sets the pause if the trap is "triggered", when "stopping" is too late. At this point, the player can decide whether to quickly intercept the moment of pause for their PCs or not. (Hitting the AI toggle should do the job.)

I am hoping to move forward on finishing some more quest writing in the coming weeks, subject to some real life events that are occurring. I will try to keep you all updated all the same.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Vigour Sytem (Revisited)

It has been over six years since I last spoke about the Vigour system in any detail, but my latest updates to the campaign have been dealing with polishing this system using the scripting knowledge I now have compared to back then. One update, the effects of vigour are now added to PCs as icons next to the portrait. That is one update that can be "seen", but a lot more has been updated "under the hood". Some news will be similar to before, but there are definitely a few changes for the better I believe. These changes had to be made to make the system fit better with long distance travel and make more sense in general.

THE VIGOUR CATEGORIES

First, I decided to re-align the descriptions and effects of my vigour categories so that the system was more straightforward in application. Here is the new outline of the vigour categories:-
New categories divide between REST and FOOD requirements
As you see from the chart above, the main difference between the old version and this new version is that the 100% is divided equally between REST requirement penalties (> 50%) and FOOD requirement penalties (0 - 50%). The key thing to remember is that eating FOOD will improve any vigour up to 50% and the PC would need to REST to improve the vigour to 100% to remove all penalties.

The campaign also dictate the following rules with respect to REST ....

1) A PC cannot REST without access to food, but they can WAIT.
2) A PC cannot REST until 8 hours has passed from their last rest (unless at an inn).

However, note that the above vigour penalties do NOT begin until it is time to REST after 8 game hours has passed anyway. Therefore, vigour penalties will only ever apply if the PC cannot rest (due to their environment) and/or does not have access to food.

Note, also that allowing time to pass using the WAIT option during a rest, will also impact on a PC's vigour depending upon the number of game hours waited, according to the table above. Therefore, it becomes important for PCs to have access to food if they WAIT for any periods of time.

Five new vigour state (I-V) icons that can appear on a PC
HUNGER

Hunger now attributes to the worst penalties if not maintained. As a guide, an iron ration improves vigour by 25% up to a maximum of 50% vigour score. Other sources of food improve the vigour score by more or less than 25% upon consumption, but always only to a maximum of 50%. Therefore, the game mechanics stop a PC from eating an iron ration (if the player tries) if their PC's vigour score is already 50% or higher. On the other hand, some other food items may be used and wasted if used inappropriately. If the PCs find the Arcaene Magik scroll, Create Food and Water, (and can use it) then suffering from hunger would not be a problem for them again.

If a PC becomes DEPLETED and they carry an iron ration within the player's group, then they will automatically eat it. This check to eat food is made earlier if the PC uses the WAIT command: The system checks if the PC has become FAMISHED during the WAIT time and makes the PC eat a ration if available to stop them from dropping below 20%. The player can obviously continue to use food items to bring their PCs up to 50% if available and need be.

LONG DISTANCE TRAVEL

Travelling on either an overland map or using a map to travel (both available from module 2 onwards) work slightly different with respect to vigour depletion and using iron rations:-

In the former (overland map travel), vigour drops rapidly as the player moves their party across the map, and the system automatically feeds the party with available rations when the leader drops to 65%, boosting them back to 90% unless the rations had to be shared, in which case they get only a proportion of the normal 25% boost. If the food runs out, then the vigour continues to drop to 0%, whereupon it continues to accumulate additional HUNGER damage in the way of penalties to attack and damage every hour, up to a maximum penalty of -5. Any penalties due to lack of vigour are applied to the party members when they leave the overland map and return to a "normal" area.

In the latter (clicking on a map to travel to a destination), the result will tell you if the party has enough provisions to reach the selected destination. Or, if the party could make the destination by sharing the provisions they have. If the party have sufficient provisions, then they make the journey without any impact to their vigour and simply pay the amount of provisions required. If the party have to share provisions, then they will arrive at their destination with vigour penalties for sharing. The maximum amount of sharing can leave the PCs with no less than 10-20% vigour (and associated penalties), subject to how much they had before starting their journey.

The vigour (rest and hunger) rules available in game!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Treasure!

I will post the second part of my "Games" blog at some point in the future, but for now, I wanted to report back on what I have been doing with the campaign.

I have been co-ordinating the "treasure" scripts. That is, those scripts the player probably appreciates most ... the ones that deal out the booty! There are a number of "treasure" scripts in the OC, and I have introduced a few of my own as well in the past. However, I wanted to make it easier to add the scripts to "placeables" and make use of *all* the scripts if possible. To that end I wrote a function that is fired when a player enters an area, which checks objects that have inventories, which in turn, checks what type of treasure to add to it using one of those scripts available to do so.

Apart from having to rewrite some of the OC scripts to work with my own systems (and to remove treasures that will not be available in this campaign), everything went smoothly and the treasures are varied indeed. Note, this system is the one that produces "stuff" in objects that can be interacted with; it is NOT the scripts I have designed for special items and treasures.

Here is a screenshot of the PC opening a crate:

New items have been added to the treasure finds!
This screenshot also demonstrates the "Closed GUI" option in play and the new inventory screen. Note how the item clicked in the crate's inventory has its description displayed in the player's inventory panel.

Things are gradually coming together again now ... There are still quite a few conversations that need doing, which I have to be in the right frame of mind to do. However, once they are done, and I have finished furnishing the remaining levels that need it, then this can go to BETA! Yeh! I dare not give an ETA on that though, as I don't know how involved those final conversations will be.





Wednesday, 20 August 2014

What Makes A Good Game? (Part One)

I have enjoyed playing games all my life. From board games and card games to begin with, but moving to traditional pen and paper AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) and then computer games as time has passed. As my own interest has developed over the years, (and especially after discovering D&D), I found that I began to have a greater interest in game development itself; first as a DM (Dungeon Master) designing my own 'pen and paper' world and scenarios, and eventually onto designing games and modules on the computer as the tools required to do so became more readily available. Writing of the latest content for my campaign, the World of Althéa, has all taken place using the toolsets that have come with the NWN 1/2 games.

It was as I was considering the design of my own campaign, that I reflected upon what had made me "design my game" the way I had. In all fairness, the "game" called NWN, or what I would prefer to refer to as D&D, has been around many years already in one format or another. However, I think I can still use the term to "design" reasonably fairly when referring to "designing my game", because I believe there is enough scope and differences between the many D&D type games and modules already available to be able to do so. With respect to these, I believe I can say there are some that are "good" in their design and some that are "bad"... and there are, of course, many in between. Before I start to analyze the differences within this specific field of "game" (Computer based NWN/D&D/RPG), however, I am going to take a step back and consider all those other types of games that I have found enjoyable in my own life history and see if I can recall those elements which have entertained me within them all. I will also be considering the different genre of computer games that I play, to add another angle, but in my next post.

Board Games

Escape From Colditz: I'll start with board games, because, if I recall correctly, that was my first introduction to "games" outside of normal "child play" and "sport activity" type games. In no particular order, I can recall playing many of the classics, such as Snakes & Ladders, Monopoly, Cluedo, Mousetrap, Scrabble, Backgammon, Chess, etc. However, there was one board game that stood out to me more than any other I played. It was introduced to me by my cousin one day and is called Escape From Colditz. If you know the game, you can probably see why this game stood out for me. At the time, I recall being astonished at how "involved" it was compared to any other game I had played to date. While it has been many years since I last played it, one element still stands out to me in particular: One player was elected to play the Germans, and the remaining players acted out the persons of other countries who had been taken as prisoners by the Germans. These other players had to plan together to escape from the POW castle environment, while the player who played the Germans tried to stop them. It does not take a huge step in the imagination to see an element of "DM and Players" was present in this game.


Before I leave board games, I would like to point out some of those elements that I enjoyed in them, which may have also had some bearing of where I am today in my own design:


Snakes & Ladders: For me, probably the first introduction to the die roll, which also came with "blessings" in the form of ladders, or "curses" if you landed on the snake. Although in the most basic of form, this game had the delight of discovering what a die roll would do for you. I would suggest that this is an element that still thrills (even if only in some minor way) in most games today, and is an essential element in any game where any certainty of game events is called into question.



Monopoly: A game that introduced an element of enterprise and the accumulation of wealth and property. While I do not enjoy this game for its overall goal, I do appreciate those elements that deal with chance, and the ability to try to build upon what you have by careful choices. Basically, it introduces the element of buying and selling stuff, which is certainly well placed in a RPG today.



Cluedo: A game where you are not told where you must travel. i.e. Games like Monopoly or Snakes & Ladders have a board outline that you have to follow. In Cluedo, however, you can choose to move your piece to a "room" of your choice (within the confines of the game itself). This game also allows for more player interaction, where each has to ask questions of each other to help solve the crime, the object of the game. A mystery with interaction! Another essential element for any good RPG.


Mousetrap: This was probably the first game I played that seemed to have lots of props, which the player got to build as they played the game. Not only that, but the props all worked together (usually) to make an elaborate trap, which gave a sense of great satisfaction ... at least when you were young ... and for the first few times. Dare I say, what is a dungeon in a RPG without the laying down of a good few traps.

Scrabble: Word games! The simplest of concepts, but quite intriguing if the person applies themselves to the game idea at hand. There have been a number of spin-off games to this classic, but all have the player work a different part of their brain compared to games of chance. For me, this is a good example of a "thinking" aspect in a game. Not strictly strategy, like I consider games like Chess, but one that mixes chance (of letters drawn) with the player's ability to manipulate what they have with the environment they face. More akin to puzzle-solving. It comes as no surprise to me that puzzles in RPGs can have word related elements to them, even if it is as simple as resolving an anagram to find a password.

Chess: This game must be the all-time classic game when it comes to one of strategy. Now, while I enjoy a game of Chess, I do find, however, that such pure strategy games leaves me wanting. As I say, it's not that I don't enjoy the challenge, but that I feel like I also want to be able to do something else as part of the game ... it's as if the part of my brain that likes to imagine a scene has to take a back seat to strict strategy. The strict logic is certainly something I admire in the game, and a strong element I desire in any RPG. If such hard core elements of logic (like Chess plays) are missing from an RPG, then I believe the RPG game can fail due to such an imbalance.




Board Game Summary

I have only touched the surface of this huge category of games, and I am fully aware that there are many that I have overlooked. I have played many other board games over the years myself, but they usually tend to fall into a similar category as the ones I describe above ... or may be slight variations/combinations of those above. E.g. Backgammon has elements of chance (with dice) combined with a degree of skill/strategy.
Lastly, however, the question has to be this as far as I am concerned: What is it about the game that made it "good" for me? And I suppose when we talk about "good", I mean "fun" or "enjoyable" as much as anything else. In some ways, this question is easier to answer with hindsight due to my own experience with other "newer" games I have played since playing those above. That is, I have been able to compare my experiences and make the following conclusions about games in general, with respect to my own interests in certain games. I'll let you decide which games have which.

Game Player Aspects
1) More Players The Better: I have found games that involve more players have always been the most entertaining. While some two player games can be fun, personally, I find playing a game that allows more players to be more rewarding.

2) Us v Them: Games that encourage teamwork or group co-operation are the most satisfying games, whether there is "one against many" or "many against many".

3) Encourage Personality: Games that allow some element of role-play or quizzing between players can make interesting game play.
Game Mechanics Aspects
1) The Random Element: Having a die (or dice) in a game (or other such random generators) adds a whole level of "unknown", and helps level the playing field with respect to an ability to play a game.

2) Open Gameplay: I have always preferred games that give the player freedom to move where they want to (within the boundaries of the game). Such elements appear to add depth to a game.


3) Character Development: Games that offer some form of growth or development within the confines of the game itself, adds another dimension to it.


4) Props Usage: Whether it's "tiled letters", "chance cards" or a collection of "trap pieces" (real or virtual), having something to represent the game environment is either an essential element or a great way of interacting with the game, encouraging involvement.

5) The Puzzle Element: A puzzle element, be it trying to work out some unknown mystery using logic, or resolving a letter puzzle by careful thought, encourages a player to use a different part of their thought process when playing.

6) Clear Objectives: No matter the game, having a clear achievable goal to bring a game to its conclusion is the main driving force behind a good game. However, a game with more than one objective, or one which may include helping a fellow player, adds fresh dimensions to a game compared to one with only a single objective.

Next time I hope to spend a little time discussing my move from board games to D&D, and computer games in general, and relaying my preferences between the different game genres available. In the meantime, if you have any fond memories of any particular board game, or have something to say about this blog, please leave a comment.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Dungeon Delving

Who knows what accepting an "innocent" task might unravel? One minute you are carefully trying to negotiate a problem and the next you are deep into a dungeon. Every corner could hold surprises ... even corners that you think are safe. Such are the risks that an adventurer faces!

At some point, I hope to go into a more details post about dungeon writing, but for now, I will keep this blog simple with a quick update and some screen shots.

My latest writings have involved continuing conversations and encounters to one of the quests a player might stumble into if their curiosity is piqued. I have to admit, this dungeon is taking far longer than I first anticipated, not due to time required, but due to time available to do so. Personal health issues have demanded more attention, which, hopefully, will settle down again soon. Let's just say back, weight, sugar and ketone levels are all competing with my efforts on the module.

Once complete, I hope this dungeon will add an interesting insight into some of the way magik works in the world of Althéa. There is the "magic" of spellcraft and the "magik" of items. The two types can often be spoken about, but their nature is very different!

The first two screenshots also show the more "open view" that a player can switch to while exploring. i.e. Less chat and quickslot clutter.

The PC explores their surroundings.
And comes across a magik sealed door!
Somewhere a goblin smells elf flesh!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Conversations (Advanced Application)

I realised a better way of writing conversations in the NWN2 editor this week ... or rather, I reminded myself of a way of writing conversations that I meant to blog about before, but forgot to do so. It involves using a "non-accessible" entry on the conversation in question, and is why I thought this might be considered an "advanced" application when writing conversations. After I have described what it involves, this may be something you have always done, or something quite simple, but it does go against the norm for me and is why I am blogging it. It may also be helpful to others.

Natural Unreachable Nodes

The whole concept basically relies upon what I have defined as "Natural Unreachable Nodes" (NUN for short), which basically means having lines of conversation added to a conversation file on nodes that cannot be accessed by any "normal" means during a conversation. I will try to explain that a bit more using a diagram:

Natural Unreachable Nodes
In the above conversation, the large boxed section at the bottom is what I call the NUN. Notice that I have made sure this is the case by adding the gc_false script as a condition. (See point 5 above.) i.e. It can NEVER appear in a conversation by any "natural" flow of events.

Now this NUN section can be accessed by the main conversation at any time with any normal conditions required. Note, in the conversation nodes just above the boxed NUN section, you can see three greyed lines (the first being "Be more demanding!"), each of which jumps the player into the NUN section of the conversation.

What's The Point?

It may be that you can see the advantages of this already, but in case you don't here is the advantage of this type of structure:-

If I wanted to make use of some (or all of the nodes) that are further down the conversation with some of the nodes back up the chain (and without offering the same group again), not only can it get very complicated to keep track of lines in the first place, but can also get complicated with any variables we are trying to keep track of along the way (even if we use the "show only once per game" option for a node).

AN EXAMPLE: In the above, the player first gets the option to choose "Be more demanding!", "Be more persuasive!" or "Be more Diplomatic!". (See points 1 and 4 above.) Once they have selected any one of these, then the link can be to the same node regardless of the player's choice. i.e. If the player chooses "Be more persuasive!" instead of "Be more demanding!", the connected link can be to the same node. i.e. Whatever the player chooses from the first option always goes to point 2 in the diagram; and whatever they choose after that, always goes to point 3 in the diagram above. However, the builder can track variables more easily by noting the "path" the player takes through the choices they make along the way.

If that still does not make sense, below is an exercise you can try to do that (I hope) will demonstrate the point I am trying to explain. Try to design a conversation where the player starts with three choices such as:-

"Be more demanding!"
"Be more persuasive!"
"Be more diplomatic!"

Now, from every one of those options have the possibility of each having three more options that offers the player three new alternate paths. i.e. Every node above should have:-

"More demanding!"
"More persuasive!"
"More diplomatic!"

And from every one of these nodes, yet three more nodes for each node above, such as:-

"Even more demanding!"
"Even more persuasive!"
"Even more diplomatic!"

You should see that the number of lines required quickly escalates, and how controlling access to these lines outside of the natural flow of the conversation is easier to control.

Limitation (Minor)

This system does have a limitation, in that in relies on the response from the NPC or object being the same for each option the player may choose. However, this is NOT necessarily a limitation, for in these kind of situations, we are usually just looking for the "choice of path" the player is making, which can check variables along the way and eventually determines the final outcome based upon those variables on the player's chosen path.

That's all again for this week. I did consider uploading a video to demonstrate something I have worked on this week, but felt it was too much of a surprise spoiler, so decided against it. The good news, it's another step closer to finishing .... :)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Development Continues ...

As I was working on the button puzzle mentioned in the last post, I discovered I needed similar functions I have used in a number of previous puzzles. So, I decided to move those functions into a new library and associate the new library with those scripts ... and all went smoothly! I just had to mention that after all the problems I had with the includes of late.

Other development has included continued work on the bestiary (adding info on the creatures that the first module includes); creating encounters (and reworking the way the encounter system works to allow for better response); continued conversation write up, and puzzle scripts.

That's all I can say this week, as it's all finishing doing what I have already talked about. But that's good right?

So, maybe this week can be one of open comments .... i.e. Is there anything you want  to discuss about the module that I can go into more detail in my next post? Anything you are not clear about? Just want to know more about a specific mechanic? Anything sound like it might be frustrating? Feel free to post your comments ... all welcome!

Monday, 30 June 2014

A Slow Down Moment

To the point ... I have had a rough couple of weeks ... more than usual, and not been able to concentrate much on module building. In the little I did do, I experienced the familiar crash on exit due to altering another include file. This really should be the last time though, as I have no need (as far as I can see) of needing to alter them again. And if I do, I will resort to copying functions into the script in question and slightly renaming instead.

Annoying Include crash on toolset exit ... Again!
Hopefully, I will improve in the coming days and increase what I can do. I am not totally out of the picture, just no doing enough to especially report on.

A quick edit to show a scene I am working on ... This was quite hard to do!

Small statues above and off the normal walkmesh!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Where Does The Time Go ... ?

While putting a module together, it is quite surprising about what can come along both "externally" and "internally" to sway you from continuing smoothly. Life events are the obvious ones that can stop you from having the time or inclination to continue building, but the internal issues a builder can come across can also impinge on their creativity ... and slow building down. I have had a number of events from both camps in the last few weeks; here are some of the internal ones ...

Lighting Problem (Again)

I experienced something similar to this a while ago (in water), and thought I had found a way around the solution by simply adding some "hidden lighting". However, this latest light issue, as I later was told, was due to having too many lights in any one area! Take a look at the screenshots to see the kind of problems I mean:-

Obvious Light Glitch In Water!
Obvious Light Glitch On Land!
In the end, I resolved the issue by approaching the problem from two angles. First, I wrote a piece of code that helped determine if there were too many lights in range of each other, and to prevent creation of the normal light if there was. Secondly, in such situations where another light would have caused the problem, I made an "alternative light" to the one that would normally have been made, which had a much smaller range. The end result was that the scenes still had "lights" which looked good, but the light issue no longer appeared.

Toolset Crash (On Exiting)

I mentioned this last week, but mention it again because I encountered it again this week. This problem relates to "Include" files that a builder can add as "libraries" to their code, which gives them access to other functions they or others have written. The problem is, if these includes are not added carefully, and they clash with other references to other includes (and refer back to themselves), then the toolset gets confused (like that last statement I just wrote) and causes a crash when exiting. Sometimes (if many scripts are involved) it can take a while trying to work out which file is the culprit. Thankfully, after my last sort out mentioned in my last post, it did not take so long to track down this time. Furthermore, I don't think I will be needing to mess around with these for a while now.

New Material

Now, I quickly want to note that having new material is always a blessing! However, when we get it, it requires integrating into material we may already have, and that often involves reworking of existing code. (See also the "Includes" issue above.) As my own module has quite an amount of unique gameplay, I find that I often have to rewrite scripts that come with the new material to make work with my own. I have had to do this with a number of scripts in the last couple of weeks. Also, some new material like that I have been working with this week comes with 2da (two-dimensional array) file changes, which can also affect other related objects you may already have in place in a module. Sometimes these "clash" and lines need to be re-aligned with objects to make work again.

These Buttons Also Glow When Activated!
This is a link to the new material I have incorporated this week: Levers and Buttons. It is a great package to add to your mod, as it allows the addition of more moving levers and buttons that push, as well as pressure plates and trap doors. The buttons are an excellent inclusion, as they also allow scripters to make puzzles due to their ability to have different letters and numbers on their face. However, you have to script the puzzle yourself .... which is another reason more time is required when adding new stuff like this.

Other Things

The above are just some of the more obvious events that have occurred in the last few weeks, but there have been other small issues like:-

1) Poisoned Ammo: Not working as expected when used by a monster. In the end, it required a number of small tweaks with the setup to make the ammunition work as it should! (If you have this problem, I can discuss what I did to make it work.)

2) Fading Between Areas: I use a fade to black between transitions. In the end I had to edit my own function further (and write a new one for conversations) to take into account fades that were interfering with On Area Entry conversations.

3) Missing GUI Information: A simple case of one GUI needing the idleexpiretime adding to allow the default setting to display.

The bottom line is, in the time I am able to put aside for module writing, I find that with each addition I make, I am sometimes having to amend existing material, which affects the total amount I had hoped to get done. As I have always said though .... these kind of internal issues are becoming less and more easily overcome as I get nearer to completion.

As far as I am aware, I really have reached the point where I no longer have anything else I need to add that will require too much additional time to implement, thereby taking me away from finishing the whole module! In my notebook, I now have only a few (about five) major categories left to finish:-

1) Existing area needs puzzles adding & final encounter. (Possibly new button puzzles.)
2) Existing area needs special journal code adding to do with a specific quest.
3) A number of complicated conversations need finishing.
4) Would like to consider adding some more Lore Pages.
5) Finish off last two side quests I just added.

There are some other minor things that need dealing with, but are not the type that require any additional coding as far as I can see at the moment.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Lots of Little Things

Have you ever had the toolset crash as you exit it? If you have used the toolset and know how having the "include" files not quite right causes this problem, then you know what I am talking about. It's a pain to track down sometimes ... and this was one of them. At least, I knew where the problem lay, but did not like the idea of having to go through sorting the various includes to get to the bottom of the problem. Suffice to say, I got there in the end, and now the toolset closes fine again after I finish doing a little more on the project. Furthermore, the code has been cleaned up and streamlined again, with a couple of "module" includes amalgamated into one, which makes changing aspects for the module a lot easier, and means I only need change one file for module differences when I finally get onto my next modules.

The above problem was caused by me fiddling with a number of new additions I am looking at, from 1) adding a bestiary (see latest screenshot), 2) adding Kivinen Item Placeables to my campaign (which required me having to rewrite the scripts to work with my campaign), 3) to making use of some new buttons and levers that Thierry (aka 4760) has been working on. This last addition has the potential to add a lot of classic dungeon puzzles and events, which I am looking forward to implementing when Thierry eventually releases the final product.

Opening Bestiary Page and Animal Selected Page

The World of Althéa Website

I finally decided to abandon Mediafire and close my account with them, as both uploading and downloading files with them was a complete pain and caused issues with my website. I now use Microsoft Onedrive, so users should be able to download my book, "Deep Within", and past synopses more easily now (if interested).

Back On Track

Now that I have the core template code in place for the new bestiary, and Kivinen's item placeables now work with my code, I am finally getting back on track with the main module write up. At the moment, I am continuing to add atmosphere in the way of sound and lighting to some areas that needed it, as well as continue to work at monster encounters. The AI works well from my own tests, and now I am trying to get the balance right.

Cleric defeated! The summoned creature un-summoned!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

"It's A Bunny!" - Added To Bestiary

Regular readers and even new readers will soon come to see that I am a fan of rabbits - and as the 10th-18th May is Rabbit Awareness Week, I thought I would combine my love of these wonderful creatures with my latest module update: The Bestiary.

To begin with, let us look at a picture of Daisy (who has now sadly passed away) when she had first come to us and used to run around like something crazy. Hence, she soon got the name, Crazy Daisy! While certainly not something to be afraid of (cue Monty Python sketch), she certainly knew how to grab the limelight.

NB: The hutch in the picture below was NEVER used. All our bunnies were indoor bunnies and lived a life of indoor comfort - when not playing around outside of course. This hutch was what "Bud" (Daisy's "HusBun")  had come to us in.

Mind your toes - I'm coming through!
The Bestiary System

So, how would Daisy fit in with the new Bestiary system I have planned for my module? Well, just like any new creature the PCs come across, or maybe read about, then there is a possibility that information about the creature will be noted to be recalled from accessing the journal; which has had a new TAB added to its design for such a purpose.

A couple of creatures turned up to help demonstrate!
Two Sizes of Journal

For those who may not be aware, I have also designed the journal so that it can be toggled between small and large scale to allow it to be more easily seen by the player. Here is a full screen image showing how big the larger journal actually is. NOTE: I am still working on the size of text for this larger version.

Bigger journal option for easier viewing!
Show Information GUI Update

A few weeks ago I showed you my new "Show Info" GUI, which helps to compensate for the missing functionality from NWN1, where a player could easily see where certain NPCs are at the push of a button. Below is a screenshot showing its new look, with a draggable top bar and tooltip in action. Note also, some creatures have different colour text to help denote whether they are "merchants" or more "notable" characters.

Note the merchants stand out in BLUE text!
More than this, however, is the fact that the button now also acts as a GUI toggle button to help minimise the amount of GUIs on screen if need be, for times when a larger viewing area (for when exploring or mapping) is preferred. Take a look at the difference when the button is used: It removes all hotbars and chat windows, which are easily toggled back again when needed.

Much clearer without all those GUIs on - Let's go exploring!
Daisy In Rabbiting On Again!

Finally, and not least, I am proud to announce that Daisy made it into the Rabbiting On magazine again this month with the following picture. We had only just got her when I took this picture and it really did look like she was posing for the photograph. :) Did I not mention that it's Rabbit Awareness Week. :)

If you want to help sponsor my wife's activity for it, go here: Bunny Sponsored Walk

Hurry up and take the photo! I want to go and play again!
RIP sweetheart .. and to all my beloved pets I have lost over the years.



Friday, 25 April 2014

What's In Your Inventory?

This is going to be a brief post this week, as there is not much I can report on without giving away spoilers (again). However, one thing I have been looking at this week is increasing the number of items a player can acquire for their PCs. While I started to design a few new ideas myself, I also went in search on the Vault for some and found Apep's "Magical Miscellanea Package", from which I found some useful items that will save me some time. That said, I do need to alter many of those that I may include, simply to work with the rest of my module. However, I believe I will save more time than it loses in adaptation.

It was as I was considering the different items a player might buy for their PCs that I began to think what the average player might like to include as their standard "adventurers kit" for their characters. I think we can take class items as read (E.g. a sword for a fighter, etc.), but what about the other things? Do you consider light sources, potions, healing kits, etc.? I know some of these items might still be governed by the PC's class, feats and skills, but are there items that simply do not fall into this category, or are simply "must haves" before you head out to the dungeon?

Would you prefer the "improved" lantern design sir?
So, have a think and let me know if there is anything you recall as being "essential" items that you liked to have before you went adventuring. .... :) e.g. Bags, light sources, potions? You name it.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Something Old, Something Borrowed, Something New

Progress is slow but sure as I continue to develop the last two quests I had in mind to do. While doing so, I have been trying for a few new ideas, including adding "portly" characters (currently being worked on by Eguintir) and incorporating scenes that use non-interactive "ghosts". Both these additions might be considered "non-essential", but I do think attention to such things can add an element to a game that can make it more memorable.

Anyway, as much of what I have done this week involves material I cannot divulge (due to spoilers), I thought I would simply post a few images showing content that I did a while ago (old), something that was based upon a "borrowed" idea and something that showed something I recently added (new).

Something Old

Conversation demonstrating old influence system and spotlight system.
Something Borrowed

An interactive Notice Board system that alters the scroll images as selected.
Something New

A quick and easy way to check out the surrounding creatures.
 
The Poison Poll

Although there were not many voters for the Poison Usage Poll, the results (below) probably do reflect a reasonable response:-

Poison Poll Results!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Helpful Plugins

I have been enjoying my last few times in the toolset more than I have for some time. Not because I don't enjoy building, but because I have had both a different (read "fresh") part to work on, and new tools to do that work with.

First off, after experiencing the official toolset's Appearance Wizard crash on me for the umpteenth time, I was introduced to Grinning Fools Creature Creation Wizard, and finally have an easier way of producing clothed creatures. And it was while I had been reviewing and downloading this plugin that I noticed that a favourite of mine, the NWN2 Mapper plugin had also been revamped to work with the latest patched version of NWN2. Yes, I know according to the dates these were done some time ago, but I only just found out about them again. It's quite surprising how having a couple of additional tools to help with creation can add a new spruce of life/interest in getting on with a project.

Grinning Fools Appearance Wizard

An Appearance Wizard that does not crash NWN2 - Yeh!

NWN2 Mapper (Taken up by Sothis B)

Look! It looks like a map I used to do in the good old pen and paper days!

Other Stuff

I have been making requests for help with a couple of things in the Bioware forums, such as "portly" NPCs and "Ghost VFXs", and a few people have been putting forward and working on ideas. Eguintir is working on the "portly" models, and so knowing his work, that should yield some good results sooner than later. As for the Ghost VFX's, I have also been given some ideas on how to approach this, but as there are others also looking at doing something with this for me, I will leave my own investigations unless I really need to. Instead, I will spend the time continuing to finish the latest quests I started last time I blogged.


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

More Progress ... More Areas Though!

I know it seems like this module is taking me forever to complete, but I want to be satisfied with the results; and that means I find myself having to iron out the little things I come across during testing times. Fixes can include anything from in-game feedback to scripts not firing quite as I like (normally official campaign ones). Fixing things aside, I am also in the process of finishing conversations and quests. However, I have a confession now .... I cannot escape the frustrating feel that I NEED to design just a few more areas for this module.

Don't panic though! I don't intend these to be exuberant or time consuming areas, but (hopefully) some simple designs to help accomplish and satisfy that design need I have nagging at the back of my skull. We can blame my wife for the desire I now have (she knows I am kidding with her), because she has recently started playing NWN, and I was reminded of some other quests I had in mind to do. I really do feel they are needed to help balance the module's progress design.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that I had originally intended to release this campaign as three modules in one go, but later decided to concentrate on releasing the first module only. As a consequence, I always felt that the content I had was not quite enough for a first module, and so have been adding content over the past few months. These last few areas will be the final few ... I promise. I already have the quests in mind for them, but cannot incorporate those quests unless I add these areas. Anyway, here is a screenshot from one of the new areas:-

I'm so glad they are only statues ...
Area Design Volunteers Welcome

On the back of this latest requirement, I am also welcoming other builders who may like to design some areas for me. I mostly need interiors, but these interiors require minimal detailing. If anybody wants to design an exterior area, I could certainly use it, but it is not essential. I can discuss further needs if you are interested.

Spell Modifications

I have touched on this topic before, but ask again for feedback on spells that people may want to alter in some way. I ask because I have found another spell that frustrates me with its use: Invisibility Sphere. I found it very frustrating to cast this spell on a group of PCs, only to find the moment I moved, the companions did not keep up close enough and the spell dropped off them. I am probably going to change that spell to something like Mass Invisibility Sphere instead, and imply that any party member within the sphere receives invisibility for the same duration as the caster. i.e. If they leave the sphere, it does not end for them.

GUI Tutorial Aids Builder

I was also delighted to receive a personal thanks from Loki_999 who has recently released his "Card Game" project for his PW. He told me that my GUI & XML Tutorial had helped him a great deal when making his game.

POLL VOTE: If you have not voted on the Poison Poll (on the left), please do so.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Splitting Stacks Fix (Revisited & Improved)

For those NOT interested in this scripting fix,
jump to the bottom of this post for Other Module News.

This week I had reason to visit that old problem of split stacks losing their variables. Basically, the official version of the XML code that allows players to split stacks of items is broken: When a player splits a stack of items, if the builder has any variables associated with the stack, then they are lost on one stack when the stack is split into two. This can be a problem if the variables are needed, which is the whole point of them being there in the first place!

I addressed this problem with a fix back in February 2013 with this post, but even back then I mentioned the fix may need to be looked at again. And with my latest work on applying poison to stacked items I found that a more robust version of my fix was required to ensure all items kept any newly added temporary properties as well. This latest version makes use of the CopyItem function (which I mentioned back in 2013), while implementing a temporary storage location as the stack is split.

Fix Basic Outline

1) The official splitstack.xml has been edited to call an edited home function with fixed scripting.
2) The new gui_splitfix creates a temporary inventory placeable to help handle item splitting using CopyItem function (which can be used to maintain variables).
3) The same script tidies the temporary environment after finishing the split.

The XML Changes

Note, the default splitstack.xml already has scriptloadable=true, and so the only change comes at the point when the player clicks on the "split button" and the piece of code that operates there. (See image below and the circled part.) Note the following: The original OnleftClick call has been removed, and two new OnLeftClick calls have been added.

UPDATE: Please note that I have added another line in this XML code, which I have not highlighted in the image. It is the part of code within the "inbox" section:
OnUpdate1=UIObject_Misc_SetLocalVarString(local:0)

This is a newer (changed) version of my previous XML alteration.
The New Gui_Splitfix Script

My earlier version of this fix was based upon recreating a copy of the item from an original template, which was fine if the builder considered the need prior to module release. However, this version did not consider alterations to stack conditions after build time, like in the example of poison being added to a stack of arrows. This new script takes such situations into account by basing all splits on the original item rather than referring to a template of it that now potentially differs. Here is the new script:-

NB: Remove the #include line and use the official
"Random" function rather than my own version.

The more robust script, which uses the CopyItem function. 
The Invisible Inventory Placeable

For this system to work, the builder must create a placeable object that the script temporarily uses to help the script to work. This is necessary because the new stack items cannot be placed on the PC during time of splitting as they would be destroyed along with those we don't need once the script has completed. Basically, this placeable is a very small invisible object with an inventory where the stacked items can be "worked with" before returning them to the PC in question. Here is an outline of the placeable object properties the builder will need to have in their module:-

Note: Appearance, Scale, ResRef, Dynamic Collisions, Has Inventory, Plot, Useable and Walkable.
Pay careful attention to the attributes of this placeable object as described in the caption:- Appearance, Scale, ResRef, Dynamic Collisions, Has Inventory, Plot, Useable and Walkable.

Other Module News

I continue to work at the module, finding and fixing any other issues as I encounter them. For instance, I did a quick test run of an area the other day, and noticed the following:-

GOOD: Encounters and environment all worked as they should.

GOOD: AI worked really well, with creatures intelligently summoning creatures, using missile weapons where appropriate and generally healing and fighting well.

GOOD: New interfaces all worked well, including the new inventory system.

BAD (NOW FIXED): A sound file did not fire. Now also has improved method of working for reliable results.

BAD: (NOW FIXED): A visual effect was not working after I had edited the script to work from a conversation as well. I simply separated the two scripts and now both work as they should.

BAD: (NOW FIXED): Dead body removal effect. I have incorporated my own visual effect for when a body "fades" on death (rather than simply disappear after looting). It was failing if the creature only carried gold rather than any other item. I have now fixed the script to recognise gold as well, which turned out more complicated than I first thought, as I needed to make "gold" a standard item rather than use the "gold" as it stands.