Choose Your Language

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Episode 20: Adventuring Proper!

This last fortnight has seen me delving back into the second module of The Scroll ... and for proper adventuring stuff too! And while module one v1.04E was also released during this time, that was simply as a result of improvements in module two that sorted out some module one AI at the same time. That aside, everything has been about adding new content to the next module, and there were three areas I looked at in particular. Read on ...

CONVERSATIONS

First off, I continued to develop conversations for NPCs to complement both sub-quest and main quest lines. One NPC had quite a number of lines added that works with my newly developed SP/MP handling. i.e. When the conversation required MP (multi-player) handling, it does so, but the minute the content is angled more towards SP (single player), such as purchasing items, then the conversation seamlessly switches to a SP environment, allowing other players to continue with their own actions. Where this system is still quite new (even to me who developed the idea), I am still quite slow while making sure all the variables are being set as I need them to subject to which section of the conversation is taking place. Suffice to say, the ones I have updated so far work well, and include potential companion added comments if the payer has such in their party.

JOURNAL ENTRIES (QUESTS)

Tied closely to the conversations I have written are the (sub) quests that I have also added since last posted. I have managed to start three new quest lines as well as continue to add entries for existing quests. As it currently stands, I have now started around 25% - 33% of the total number of quests I hope to include by the time of release for module two. My goal regarding sub-quests is that they serve to either add more backstory or some form of greater reward for doing them. In this way, I hope such sub quests do not detract from the main story line, but help to give the player something extra to consider as they progress through the main story.

AREA DESIGN

This last week also had me back at area designing ... or rather continuing with an area that I had already started a few months ago, before I was sidetracked with both other material and seeing the Enhanced version of module one released. It's one of four interior designs that are required for the current quest I am writing. (This week's screenshot is from the area.)

For me, area designing is both a "love" and a "hate" thing. The "hate" is due to having to fill an otherwise large empty space with interesting stuff that will keep the player interested in spending time there ... and I do not have a lot of patience when it comes to filling in details like you find in some of the better designed games that can be bought and played. That said, however, I do find that when I start to fill an area with placeables, it can sometimes inspire me for a quest idea, and that is something that happened in the latest area design. This as a definite boon for any would-be player, as these design diversions are what bring an area to life in my experience.

i.e. It's not so much about what an area looks like or the content it has, but what a player can expect their PCs to do while there. A blandly designed area may be a "minus" point, but if the player is too involved with the action/plot/gameplay to notice, then that negative point can, hopefully, be swallowed up in the experience. That is how I find games work for me, and I hope the same applies to others that end up playing my modules. The only downside is I then get side-tracked to work on this new gameplay aspect before finally getting around to finishing off the area design itself. This is what happened this time too. Basically, the area is required for a main quest, but I like to add ideas that make the area interesting in and of itself.

CREATURE VISUALISER

I have also had the opportunity to try out KevL's Creature Visualiser plugin in the last few uses of the toolset, and am please to say that it works well as an alternative viewer to the "Armor Set" tab that a builder may have problems using in the official toolset. KevL says the plugin is still in alpha stage, but if it continues to improve at the rate it has been, then I guess it won't be long before it's good for many others to consider using too. I found it useful even at this stage!

And here on your right is the kitchen!

Monday, 25 November 2019

Episode 19: The Lore of the Land.

Writing for module two of The Scroll is back underway, after the last few weeks of preparing the first module for its "Enhanced" version release has come to an end. Now, at what I believe to be a stable v1.03 E (Enhanced), the first module has been "put aside" to allow me to concentrate on module two once more ...

ANOTHER AREA

I really thought I would not need to design yet another area, but circumstances dictated otherwise. Simply put, I felt reluctant to have a player reach a location where everything took place outside. So, although unscheduled, I designed an area where a player would also learn more about the lore of the land ... a Sanctuary. (This week's screen shot.)

RELIGIOUS TEXTS (LORE)

As a Christian, writing about the lore or religion of the world is something I find quite difficult. Not because I don't have an imagination for it, but because I do not want to write anything that could be taken the wrong way for whatever reason, or do a creation story "injustice". That's all I am going to say on the matter, except that I do think "religion" in a game is an important aspect for any world that wants to become more than something just superficial. Think of Tolkien's world of "Arda" in "Lord of the Rings" and the depth of lore involved in his world design, and you should recognise that is what goes a long way to giving his world depth.

That is the premise I used when I wrote the "history" for Althéa. Even before I wrote the first story or designed my first dungeon, I had much of the lore written down and in place. A complete world map was also drawn up, even though the main thrust of the campaign as it currently stands was only to take place on one continent: In the north-west continent called  Narborantra. I even have a version of the elf language that I use to help name the various places in my world with respect to the elvish names. E.g. Althéa is made from "alt" meaning "land" and "h(éa)" meaning world. So, we get the translation "world of land" from Althéa.

At the time I drew the world map, I also wrote the world history - and I also drew a second world map that showed how Althéa looked before a worldwide catastrophic event in its history known as the Debacle took place. The history written down served to explain what caused the Debacle and the events throughout all time, which included the coming of religions to Althéa. The bottom line: the religions of the world find their roots in this history of Althéa ... and not just from the perspective of what happened, but also from what was believed to have come to pass during that time. These are the "religious texts" I include in my campaign, written from the perspective of those who lived in that time ... and reflect beliefs and attitudes based upon "real" ways of thinking with respect to such. So, careful readers may notice logical arguments being posed around concepts not too dissimilar to our own world ... and not unlike the way Tolkien treated his own work.

However, I live in the age of computers, and while I have written a story about my world in book form, my main aim is to work such background for the world and campaign into the CRPG I am delivering to you in The Scroll for NWN2. And as the main thrust of any CRPG is more about action than cerebral study, these historical information dumps have to be handled in smaller packages than any normal book-reading may get away with. It is some of these parcels of lore/religious texts I have added this week. For those that have played The Scroll (module one), they take a similar format to those found in the Sanctuary of New Edgeton. The text themselves offer a deeper understanding behind the meaning to life in the world of Althéa, and careful readers will begin to see a deeper level of what drives characters in the world to do what they do, beyond the superficial.

I know many players will more than likely skip over these texts. However, I hope they are intriguing or challenging enough in their content to make the odd player or two sit back and think more about life, the universe and everything ... and not just of Althéa!

MOVING FORWARD

I am reaching a difficult point where I need to start bringing some of the plot lines together. At the moment, I have a number of plot lines (which the player may have followed in a number of ways), and I want to now make sure the combinations work. I also still have to finish the mega-dungeon, which is its own plot line, and a major one! I'll see what the days and weeks bring, and keep you updated.


Religious Texts To Study



Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Episode 18: The Scroll, Fixed, Enhanced & Polished!


I have to start with an apology for not bringing you anything "new" with respect to the second module ... although strictly speaking that would not be true, as there is plenty "new" that applies, but it's not so obvious to the player at first reading. It's all to do with improvements that affect the campaign as a whole, and so by default, also impact the second module. So what are these "enhancements" am I speaking about? Well, read on ...

ESSENTIAL FIXES

Let me get this out of the way for module one first: There was at least one game-breaking bug accidentally introduced in an earlier version, and a couple of others that would also break the game if the player took a certain path where the bug would raise its ugly head. The last two had gone under the radar of testing, as they were less likely to manifest. However, it would only take a slight change in direction for a player and they would be unable to continue their game too. So, most importantly, this latest release, called v1.00 ENHANCED, fixes those bugs.

ENHANCED VERSION

But what has been enhanced? This is less obvious to the player, but is certainly one of the biggest changes since earlier versions of The Scroll that the player will experience. It includes such things as:-

1) Repositioning of transitions to prevent "party squeeze" upon arriving at a destination. (Module.)
2) Removal of old scripts and some heartbeat scripts to improve performance.
3) Removed many "minor bugs", which although not game-breaking, did frustrate a player.
4) Updated core files in preparation of additional modules & improved MP support.
5) Update to the way Rules & Lore are first given.
6) Improved monster detection system & AI for more effective combat.
7) Many cosmetic improvements, such as adjusting box sizes to allow text to display correctly.

All in all, I addressed over 100 points with the earlier release of The Scroll to improve it, and as requested by players in some cases.

POLISHED!

Well, I guess builders are forever polishing their work. However, I do think that there will be less polishing of the first module from this ENHANCED version moving forward. I have gone over many scripts where I thought they needed it; my wife has been replaying for about a sixth time testing it, and all in all, I believe between us, we have now covered almost every aspect that needed addressing ... famous last words, I know. The point is, I have now done those things I always considered needed looking at and doing since initial release, and were highligted as issues as I began to work on module two.

MODULE TWO

I have started looking at module two again, as there was some crossover fixes that affected the second module more than the first. So, while new content has been short coming, although I did even add some recently, the important thing is that the campaign files are looking more robust since this latest update to the ENHANCED version.

ENHANCED RELEASE DATE

I am just running over some final transition testing and may allow my wife to reach the end of her latest play through, and then v1.00 of the ENHANCED version of The Scroll should be made available for you to download and enjoy ... I hope.UPDATE: The Scroll v1.00 E (Enhanced) was release on 19.11.19 and there is a link to its download at the top of this post.

New Rule Added To Players Information




Thursday, 17 October 2019

Episode 17: Now Where Did I Put It?

What a fortnight of fixes and updates! For those following the module status, you will know that I have currently withdrawn v2.93 pending some final testing by my wife, which has helped bring my attention to a number of issues that I wanted to iron out. From the simple removal of some debug text to a rewrite of some core scripts. That's why the module has been withdrawn until I have this sorted. At the moment, my wife is replaying the campaign in "hard core" mode, where if a companion dies, then they are removed from the party and replaced by a tombstone. From there, the player must either raise the dead companion with the spell or take them to someone who can raise them. It's been during this play through I have been able to finally track down some of the old issues and even give a little bit of an update with containers. Read on for more information ...

CONTAINER FEEDBACK

Let me start with an interesting update. You may recall that I have feedback given on any recipe book a PC carries if they single left-click on it within their inventory. The code (which required a loop limitation fix) basically checks each of the individual recipe scrolls of the recipe book and gives the player basic info about every recipe the book carries without them having to open and check them individually. So now, as an extension of this idea, I decided to add a single left-click feedback to every container item the PC carries. i.e. Other containers will now (on a single left-click) give named feedback of each item within the container and how many of each there are. This saves the player having to hunt around, opening each bag looking for anything in particular. Now a chat message will simply give you the contents with a single click without having to open the container at all. (Check out this weeks screenshot to see how it looks in-game.)

HARD CORE DEATH SYSTEM

As I say above, the main hold up for v2.93 at the moment is final testing on the hard-core death system, which my wife is currently in the process of doing. So far, all has worked well with respect to companions dying and leaving tombstones since my latest rewrite of the death scripts. (I have now also made any tombstones sparkle gold to make it easier for the player to spot them.) Raising them either by spell or taking the body back to Orechin works fine. Initially there was a problem with odd duplicated items, but I changed the approach and now the system appears solid!

The last hurdle to overcome, which I believe I have now achieved was to ensure any plot items that a dead companion may have been carrying were transferred to the main PC upon the companion's death. This required a rewrite after I realised some players may have stashed an important plot item inside a container on the companion. This had also contributed towards the duplicated items issue mentioned above (with plot items), due to some plot items being left on the dead companion even after they had been transferred to the main PC. This has now been corrected too, and is the final part that requires further testing.

A slight update to the way the system works now, is that if a player chooses to abandon a fallen companion (option given when leaving the area and not picking up their body token), then items left at the tombstone will now still be left available to the player upon their return to it! The body token, however, that had been left on the tombstone will have been destroyed, meaning that companion is gone for good ... or bad. ;)

MODULE ONE UPDATED

The latest version of the campaign will also have an updated module one come out alongside the latest campaign files. This is because I went over a few of the areas that I felt needed their objects checked. Many of the areas had not been checked since their first design and I have learned a bit more about what works best since they first appeared. To this end I did things like remove oddly placed placeables (that were out of view), converted some placeables to environmental objects and removed scripts that were otherwise not being best employed. This included some heartbeat scripts that I felt may be costing more against overall performance than they were delivering in-game. e.g. Door heartbeat scripts simply to automatically close a door, even when not required. Hopefully, these alterations should go a long way to help overall performance for the player.

CAMPAIGN LATEST

So, v2.93 is sitting in the background, almost ready for release. Once again, many of the improvements that have gone into the latest campaign release have been driven by the need to get the scripting right for the addition of other modules moving forward. However, this also means I have been able to address quite a few annoying bugs that affect the first module. Example fixes ...

1. PLOT  STATUS: I discovered some plot items could accidentally lose their plot status in certain situations. Not good, but thankfully rare to never seen.

2. ENTRY SCRIPTS: I did a complete overhaul on these scripts due to the checks required for new modules, and then if SP or MP, and then if importing a PC, and then if starting afresh or coming from another module, and then if .... you get the idea I guess. In brief, I believe these scripts have been greatly improved, and I managed to tidy them up quite a bit. E.g. Before, if a player reloaded a game in a certain place, it would incorrectly assume they had just transitioned from somewhere else. Now a check is in place that stops all this kind of erroneous practice.

3. TB PAUSE COMBAT : I noticed a brief pause during my own testing when trying to unpause a TB combat round. I believe I have now removed this issue (which was rare anyway), and also tweaked the code to help the pause kick in on times when it appeared a bit reluctant to do so. Also removed GUI inhibitor to ensure combat GUI always showed when paused. Fixes here were minor and "cosmetic".

4. ITEM TRANSFER: Another nifty tool that I recommend all players to use is the right-click on an item within their inventory and use the Give To option to enable easy and fast transfer of items between their PCs. It really does make item transfer so much easier, especially alongside smaller portraits (if used). However, all this is also to point out that a minor fix was added to ensure container items did transfer on the first attempt. Previously, such items may have required more than one attempt to transfer successfully, even if told such anyway.

5. INVENTORY CLASS: A quick and simple cosmetic fix that ensured class names of a PC (as displayed within the inventory screen above the mannequin) fitted better and no longer had underscores in class names such as Spirit_Shaman > Spirit Shaman.

6. GOLD WEIGHT : An old problem that came back to haunt for a little while due to me missing an official gold script that was being used within conversations. Basically, I have to use my own gold transfer scripts rather than the official campaign ones due to the way gold works in my system.

And examples of campaign updates that module one also gains immediate benefit ...

1. REST/WAIT GUI: An improved rest/wait system that now works on direct button press (when options available) or cancel. Before a player had to potentially make a selection before confirming with OK. This was both confusing and potentially a backdoor to a rest exploit due to the cancel callback returning zero, which still means something other than cancel as it currently stood. This was required because some rest/wait options may not be available in The Scroll, meaning a proper cancel callback was required.

2. PARTY KEYS: Another small but quite useful update is the update that allows a door to be "unlocked" by any party member, as long as somebody in the party has the key required. Caveat: A PC with the Open Locks skill may still try to pick the lock first (if they do not have the key), but will immediately use any key present in the party thereafter.

3. PC SKILL BOOK: The PC skill book (which every PC receives at the start of the game) has had its look changed to help it stand out. It's a minor alteration, but I often confused it with any holy book a cleric may have been carrying too, so it just helps distinguish the book. (Of course, there is always the likelihood another book will clash in the future, but at least it will be less frequent.)

4. AUTO LIGHT : Players of The Scroll may be aware that a PC could auto-equip a light source if they entered an area that was effectively pitch black. This also used to auto enable low light or dark vision if the PC had the ability. Due to some difficulties, I decided to remove the auto-enabling of low light or dark vision, but ensured another light source was auto-equipped if the players controlled PC entered a dark area and had not got any potential low light or dark vision enabled. This is done as a check throughout the party the player controls, so if they do not have an alternative light source, but another member does, then they will auto-light the area. The code now also ensures any lantern equipped has fuel to burn so it is not quickly removed again.

Let Me Check This Container For It!

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Episode 16: Running Away!

It's been a mixed bag of goings on with the campaign over the last couple of weeks. From adding more content, to fixing bugs and more testing! Unfortunately, I made an annoying discovery while testing some encounters with a party without the Companion Protector feat. The "hard core" death system had another bug in it, which is now patched in the current latest v2.92. It came to light as I tried to run away from an encounter that was too tough for my test party ... This weeks screenshot shows the GUI that was not quite doing what it was meant to do and highlighted the issue.

TIDYING CODE

Tracing the issue I discovered back to its origin, I believe it was introduced when I did a fairly large rewrite of the core transition code, which I did last summer. The problem is, with much of my own testing (and I suspect the same with most players), I tend to employ the Companion Protector feat during testing (or playing), which means I do not see the hard-core death system come into play that often. I only noticed it this time because I was testing an encounter which turned out to tough for me, and some of my party died (leaving tombstones) due to playing in a hard-core death system mode.

Basically, the idea is that should a player have an encounter which they deem to be too tough for their party, then if they are able to have a PC run away from the combat and reach the transition point before being killed themselves, then they will be given the option to end the encounter and respawn their party with an XP penalty (negated if they have another specific feat). See screenshot below.

On testing, the GUI ended the encounter, but failed to respawn the dead PCs! This was because these dead PCs were "dead" in a different way to the "normal" way. Closer inspection of the code also highlighted that the same check would have prevented a player from being able to transition their party while carrying dead companions. My heart sank at this discovery, as it meant any player playing The Scroll this way would have had a real difficulty. It had made the system just a little too hard-core, as I had never meant for a player not to be able to carry their dead companions back to Orechin (the priest) to be able to have them raised if they had the gold.

ENCOUNTER FLEEING

Anyway, I believe I have fixed those transitions for a party carrying dead companions now, and furthermore, an encounter that is fled should now raise fallen companions regardless of the death system used. I admit that I have not fully tested this yet, but the testing I have done appears to indicate all is well. However, this is the kind of thing that other players could help test in the field. Therefore, if anybody is playing The Scroll (without the Companion Protector feat), then please let me know how the death system is working for you.

Note: Module one does not have specific overland encounters of the type I mention above, but does still require feedback with respect to general usage, especially when carrying fallen companions back across areas.

CONTINUED WRITING

As for new content for module two, I have been continuing to write the conversations. These can be quite difficult for me, as depending upon my concentration for the day, I may write more or less. The problem is also compounded by the need to keep track of the variables where conversations relate to one another.

So far, however, I have written two more rather lengthy conversations, and have reached a point where I can add to them without having to recall what came before. i.e. The conversations are not fully completed for the NPCs in question, but at least one stage of them is.

CONTINUED SCRIPTING

Not only have I been writing conversations, but I have also been putting together various scripts to work as a whole event. This required some tidying of some more older scripts, but less seriously than the transition ones, and related to resting instead. The problem I am finding now is that some of the older scripts are not as well written as I would like and so I am put in a position where I am tidying them (and improving them) to work with the newer material. I am keeping any alterations to a minimum, but if I see something that is just plain wrong, it is being updated. I am also adding more comments to the scripts where I believe they were lacking from before.

PLAY TESTERS

This may be a strange request ... well perhaps not after this report, but I am looking for somebody (or more) who may like to consider playing The Scroll module one without the Companion Protector feat. The game would be a lot harder, but I am hoping it would also give me some feedback with respect to the latest updates as well as this way of playing. Any play tester would also have priority feedback and help from me if they needed it. Let me know if you are interested.

Abandoning An Encounter Choice To Continue Onwards!

Monday, 23 September 2019

Episode 15: Making Progress!

It's been a little while since I last posted on the progress of module two of "The Scroll", but there is good news: It continues to be written and I am still making progress. One of the reasons I have not had anything to say is because it would involve discussing a lot of spoilers. That said, here is what I can say to bring you up to date ...

ALL SYSTEMS GO!

I finally finished the new GUI that the player will pick up towards the end of module two, designed specifically to add a dimension to the mega-dungeon on which the second module will climax. Well, it may not be quite the end for the module, but close enough that I am currently assuming this to be the last dungeon a player will play through before module three! (God willing.) The GUI itself works like a charm ... well, not literally being a D&D game ;) ... but I mean to say works well.

Now that it is in place and working, I can now refer to it as a game mechanic and start to increase the amount of material that works alongside its inclusion, which means I can start shaping the conversations, items and placeables required in the module to make the whole thing come together. To this end, I have written the first conversation required for Kiri-Dor, of which I took a screenshot for this post.

OVERLAND MAP

Alongside working the new mechanics and conversations for the mega-dungeon, I have been going over the overland map code, ensuring encounters work and general player interaction is intuitive. In testing, I found exploring the map quite fun! For those that don't know (which I guess may be everybody), my own overland map exploration assumes the PC in the party with the best skills when hiding from a creature or searching for something. This means the player is not penalised on an overland map just because their main PC did not have the skills that the overland map makes use of. Basically, as long as somebody in the party has the skills, then the whole party benefit. This is a premise I work to with respect to all party skills. In this way, as I explored the overland with my own party, I discovered various hidden objects and was able to decide (mostly) which encounters I would face. All ran smoothly and made the whole exploration process quite a delight.

Another aspect I have been working on is also to allow players to be able to "shop" at locations they have previously visited without having to enter the areas with them again. For example, the player may click on the object representing New Edgeton to be able to purchase items from there as if they were in the New Edgeton area.

MODULE COMPARISONS

I thought it might be worthwhile to give some comparisons between my first and second module to help explain its current state of development. Module one was very much designed as an introductory module for the world of Althéa and the many new mechanics. A player could join the game either knowing nothing about the campaign or having come from its "pen and paper" background, which was necessary for my own players. The course of the adventures that followed was crucially about removing the barrier from around the village of New Edgeton so the heroes could continue their journey towards Boran, the capitol city.

In the second module, the heroes will learn more about the main story irrespective of their background. Events that have transpired over the last two years are now learned as the heroes are no longer trapped and isolated within New Edgeton. This liberation means a player can run headlong towards the action, all restraints removed, in the hope of either learning more about the world and its influential characters, or simply getting on with the job that needs to be done (subject to the background chosen). Needless to say, in module two, it is not long before all players are brought up to speed with their own destiny within the world of Althéa.

Module one comprised a number of quests, small, medium and large. By comparison, module two will have probably fewer smaller quests, but rather medium, large or much larger ones, simply due to the importance of the quest in which they find themselves involved. However, I am aiming to design the second module in such a way that may break these larger scenarios into more manageable chunks, so that the player does not feel either overwhelmed, nor left wondering what is required of them.

One of the major differences of module two (and the more difficult to design), is that events are more linked than those of module one, or appear to me as such at this point in design. The problem is, they may start off as isolated events, but end up becoming associated with one another as time goes by. This does add a layer of difficulty in the overall design, but one that will play well if I pull it off ... or so I believe anyway. That all said, I still hope to put in the odd independent scenario or two, as I believe they can make for some interesting side events.

What this means in development terms is that I am having to write different sections at the same time, going from one part, then to another. It makes it easier to ensure all variables are correct for each possible path taken by the player. At this time of writing, I have managed to start 75% of the larger dungeons, and completed only one smaller dungeon. Personally, I would like to achieve at least 5-10 small dungeons/quests, but am keeping my options open on that subject to how long the main quests take to write up. For even though I have started 75% of these larger quests, I would say I have probably only written around 10% of each, of which there are at least 4-5 overall. Time will tell.

EXCITING

The one thing I can say with respect to everything to date is that I am finding it all exciting. Especially as I am now working with a new module where I can work from a background of knowing what has worked or not worked in the past. To this end, even module one has benefited from some of the upgrades of module two, including the ability to stack craft items and trap kits. (This is already available in module one since v2.91, which is already out for download.) i.e. Continued work with module two has given improvements to module one where possible.

Module two has the benefit of better area design ... or perhaps I should say, more practical area design. In that I am doing my best to keep areas free of clutter to enable better PC movement, especially when encountering other creatures for combat.

For myself, it is just great to be able to write conversations that develop the story further. It is frustrating knowing how it all ends, and not yet being able to deliver it to the players. I just hope I am around long enough, as well as the NWN2 community, to be able to deliver it!

From Simple Ideas, Great Stories Grow!



Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Episode 14: The Mega-Dungeon (Part 2)

After resolving the issues mentioned in the last blog, I finally got back to looking at my "mega-dungeon" for module two. The frustrating thing, however, is that as excited as I am about telling you all about it, I cannot say too much for fear of revealing spoilers! However, as I have now finally overcome some of the coding and toolset issues I had encountered for my latest ideas, I would at least like to tell you something about the overall progress ... and so if you are interested, read on ...

MEGA THREE DIMENSIONS!

One of my biggest gripes about the NWN toolset is its inability to deal effectively with a z-axis. (Height in areas.) Please note, I am not complaining, but just note that trying to work with any z-axis idea is somewhat restricted/difficult when trying to give a player the feeling of depth in the environment. Having better z-axis control would be in my top ten updates if it were a dream come true.

So, while working within the constraints laid upon me, I decided to go through with an idea I had in mind to help give the illusion of a greater z-axis with respect to the mega-dungeon I am designing ... and I think I may have pulled it off to a degree with an idea I used. I am not saying anything more, except to say that if and when the player experiences it, I hope they get a minor "wow" factor from viewing the experience. I imagine it won't be a long lasting experience, but enough to show I gave the third dimension some thought, and tried to incorporate it it in such a way that adds a new element of play for the player.

MEGA MECHANICS!

I alluded to this in earlier posts, but will now confirm: The mega-dungeon environment will be more interactive with its own themed mechanics. Not only am I trying to give the player a whole new environmental feel to their NWN2 experience, but there will also be another layer of gaming interaction complementing the environment in which the mega-dungeon takes place!

In other words, players will learn more about their existing story tasks through deeper interaction with the gaming environment of the mega-dungeon, which involves whole new abilities and challenges to overcome, alongside the existing mechanics that the player already knows and loves.

As one small example of the kind of thing I am including, which has already been quizzed by readers of this blog, is how the PCs will be able to acquire or replace items in a dungeon where no stores may exist. POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT: One of the means by which I have overcome this issue is by the introduction of a special device (which shall remain unnamed) with which the PC can interact (as long as they have learned how to and meet certain criteria), to "acquire" items. Basic interaction is quickly learned, but further interaction requires exploration and extra discoveries by the PCs. It's still work in progress with respect to what items will be available, but this blog's screenshot shows a little of the interaction GUI, which I was finally pleased to get working! (NOTE: The area is not finished.)

I was gratified that I managed to be able to include image icons in the new GUI listings. It required more coding than I first thought would be necessary, but, nevertheless, the end result looked good to me ... and the GUI has been tested as working satisfactorily. It just needs to have all relevant items (and their data) added now. Basically, I had to make a LIST GUI in the same way I made the Bestiary listings in "The Scroll", which means having to add data for every entry! A tedious task.

MEGA DEVELOPMENT!

To further emphasise the new mechanics involved, I am also having to script another GUI that will show after the PCs learn about some of the background behind the latest events of the main story, and grow close to the mega-dungeon environment.This GUI shows party development with the knowledge they acquire while they adventure. It will show a "progression chart", with abilities learned or yet to learn, and any requirements to do so. It currently comprises four paths, (each with a number of steps of their own), which are fully explained in the literature that the PCs will discover in the course of their time in this environment. I have already written one of the readable books that they can come across, which covers more details for them.

Current progress of the latest module is relatively staggered, due to personal circumstances more than lack of ideas. Furthermore, thinking about an exciting aspect to include is one thing, but writing the code to put that idea in place is another. The story I had in mind has also "grown" in stature to support some of those design concepts I wanted to include. i.e. A mega-dungeon, by its very name, implies something of larger proportions than your average dungeon. Therefore, I have needed to add a couple more areas to ensure that scale and gameplay can be maintained without compromising the overall story arc.

On a final note, I can add that I am enjoying the results so far, and hope other players have the same reaction to certain events and gaming aspects as I have had, even in these early stages, as that will mean the idea was successful.

If you have anything you want to ask, comment on, or simply suggest as an idea that might be 
worth considering inclusion, then please add a comment and let me know.

Party Are Presented Items In A New List GUI (WIP)





Monday, 12 August 2019

Episode 13: Entering The Module.

As regular readers of this blog will know, part of the time spent preparing the next module is ensuring a player can bring a PC (or party) from the first module into the next. When considering the potential PC/party combinations involved; from a whole party, just an exported main PC, or a selection of PCs from previous games, the preparation for such can become quite involved, especially where existing equipment and any variables are concerned ... that is some of what I have been up to the last week or so.

While I had already written a fair amount of this module changeover code, I recently came across a problem of duplicated items when building a party from a number of PCs that had all played in module one before. An obvious result, but one I needed to cater for in case another player did anything similar. Furthermore, I discovered that "equipped weapons" did NOT keep their variables (as I first thought they had done), which meant I had to rewrite the variable container code to ensure all weapons were also stored between a module change over.

BREAK OR NONE!

SITUATION ONE (FROM A SAVED GAME): The ideal solution is to cater for players continuing playing the first module from where they left off. That is, they click on the world transition (now available) and the new module loads (after updating the campaign and module files) and the party continue on the world map in module two.

This works fine for players playing the first module and straight onto the second module that would be available to them after they finish, or a player who has added the second module and has a saved game from which they can load their last game from module one.

As such, all equipment, PCs and henchmen should, in theory, transfer and play fairly straightforward.

SITUATION TWO (EXPORTED PC FROM MODULE ONE): If a player does not have a complete saved game (recommended), but had kept an exported PC (from version 2.88* onwards), then they will be able to choose to start the campaign from module two (or three if and when available) and import this PC as their prime PC instead.

(*) Earlier exported versions will work apart from weapons losing their "condition" status. In this case, the player would have to "examine" any weapon they carry upon entering the game to ensure a new condition for the weapon was set. Furthermore, "Runic" enhanced weapons lose their property due to variables being lost on weapons prior to version 2.88. NB: Using any final "saved game" version will allow a player to keep these variables due to using new code from v2.88 to store the variables between module transfers.

For those players who may have played the first module more than once and has a number of potential PCs they could import, then I have also catered form a player importing each of these to form a complete party (to a maximum of four in the normal manner).

Some code now checks what level and equipment these character have and adjust them accordingly. So, if all goes well, only the main character will have "The Scroll" and any unique items (like "Betsy") will only be found on one imported character. Furthermore, single container items that are a maximum of one per player, like "Treasure Bags", are now automatically managed to ensure this remains the case. Any items found in containers "removed" are placed in a chest that the player can loot if need be.

SITUATION THREE (NEW PLAYERS): Quite simply, any new PCs will be levelled and offered equipment according to the level and ability expected. This happens after a player selects which module they wish to start from a module selection menu.

After selecting the module from which to start, the player's PC is moved to the appropriate module, XP given and then the player can interact with nearby placeable objects and a local store to buy anything else they require before moving onto the world map.

MODULE TWO OTHER

Another aspect of code writing specifically for module two has been with respect to some "new creature" properties. I obviously cannot go into detail to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say it included a new VFX among some other new properties for these "class" of creatures that the party will meet in the mega-dungeon ... which I continue to work with.

It was while testing combat versus one of these "new" creatures that I realised the variables had not transferred with the weapon I was using, which was an imported PC from module one. Hence, I had to switch from content writing to mechanics fixing ... but now hopefully will be able to return to the former in the days ahead.

Are We ready To Set Off Now?


Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Episode 12: The Mega-Dungeon!

Over the last week I have been considering the "dungeons" I intend to include in module two. In my last post I wrote about another area I was working on that acted as a dungeon between areas. It was as I was working on that, that I decided to start looking at the main dungeons that the PCs will have to overcome during module two ... This, in turn, started me thinking about the dungeons we used to play of old in PnP D&D and those of the likes of Ultima Underworld. It started me thinking about the feeling I had when playing them, and what it was that made them memorable. Then it dawned upon me that it was the "scale" ... They would be what we would refer to as mega-dungeons!

THE MEGA-DUNGEON

Now admittedly, I am looking back with "rose-tinted specs" when I consider some of the "dungeons" I played through in the past. However, considering I still remember some of that feeling of immersion and exploration from all those years ago, then I believe there must have been something about them that captured my attention, imagination and gave me the fond memories of enjoyment I have of them today. If I can recapture those elements in my own "dungeons", without compromising expected gameplay, them I believe the effort will be worthwhile.

Thinking about the shared design aspects that these dungeons (or games) had in common, I realised that it is the areas the single dungeon covered (which you were about to explore) were big! You knew the moment you started the dungeon that it was not going to be over in a single gaming session. In fact, for these dungeons, it meant you would probably only have just scratched the surface of what was coming ... and who knew what else to expect other than its mega-size? Note, the other common aspect was that the "dungeon" was (for the most part) self-contained; in that there was an entrance to the dungeon (or game), and you had to move forward to get out! i.e. It was also about survival!

OLD OR NEW SCHOOL?

Now the very thought of a mega-dungeon as I just described may be a delight to one person, but possibly considered an absolute nightmare to somebody else. However, I am not sure a negative reaction should necessarily be the correct response if we consider how the mega-dungeon has changed over the years. For instance, in its original concept (from PnP days), there were no CRPGs, and so the D&D dungeon was the de facto "game" to play to get your fill of exploration and encounters. Back then, size simply meant more to play, and so you felt safe that the game was not going to end any time soon. At the advent of CRPGs, however, this almost "infinite" dungeon would have to be pared down to a finite game to make it viable. Good CRPGs, like the Ultima Underworld series, would do this in such a way so as not to lose the sense of game length and depth of play. Take the concept forward a couple of decades and you pass through some excellent "mega-dungeon" style games such as the System Shock series and more recently, the Bioshock series.

My point is, all these games of which I have enjoyed the most in my gaming life have involved this "mega-dungeon" feeling to them. It is about their presence and challenge to overcome and win through that holds the appeal to the player. It's the "now I am stuck here, what can I do about it" feeling and the need to survive this epic environment and win through! It was not going to be a quick hack a few monsters, loot the gold, maybe answer a single puzzle and be off again to a complete new area any time soon.

THE MEGA GAME

There is (or should be) more to a "mega" dungeon than purely its size. That is not to undermine the importance of size, as that allows the player to get to know their "adversary". However, as the player gets to know their adversary (the dungeon in whatever form it takes), then this is when the builder can add to the dungeon personality, and even (if possible) add new gaming elements that make the whole dungeon memorable. So what else can be done?

MY MEGA DUNGEON

Before I continue, let me first say this: I am a D&D player through and through, with preference to the 3.5E rules. This is why the NWN2 platform is perfect for me to build my campaign. However, I am also a builder of a campaign that has its own personality and game style. For myself, this means if a storyline takes the player into some different angle of mechanics for the game play, then I will do so, but always while honouring the core rules, or giving a good reason for any significant mechanic changes made.

As an example, the most extreme changes to any mechanics I have made to date were with Soul Shaker (a NWN1 Module) when the PCs were gated to a different realm of existence in the Outer Planes. For obvious reasons, my argument for making the game mechanic changes were to help reflect the extreme change of environment in which the PC now found themselves.

The point I am trying to make is that while my campaign is core 3.5E D&D, I will change, add or remove different mechanics if an environment encourages or demands it. In the case of a mega-dungeon (and I would say any mega-dungeon), I believe such an environment necessitates the need to do something with this aspect of play to ensure the player does not become despondent, overwhelmed or even "bored" thinking about the task ahead. I believe this is of paramount importance if we intend to build a large levelled dungeon with which we hope to engage the player without giving them the same old experience that they may have had in many other dungeons in their gaming life already! (I know some may argue that is exactly what they want, but in my experience, that would eventually become tedious. Sometimes we need to have our familiarity jolted, even if just a little.)

So, that is my aim for any mega-dungeons moving forward. If you want a comparison to something I have done already ... It will not be as extreme as Soul Shaker, but more akin to the "Ancient Crypt" dungeon in The Scroll, which introduced the new gaming aspect with runes. However, I am talking less about puzzles, and more about introducing new PC skills and abilities specific to that mega-dungeon, which the player becomes involved with for their PC to enable them to succeed. Couple this new (and I hope exciting experience) with a mega-sized dungeon to explore, and I hope I have a winning formula to keep the player interested to see the task through.

MEGA INSPIRATION

I won't deny (and have admitted in the past) that I am heavily inspired by such works as the System Shock series (Bioshock series in later years), and to which I will now quickly add the Ultima Underworld series. Therefore, do not be surprised in you recognise certain aspects of those games in the new ideas and concepts I hope to introduce and use in my mega-dungeons moving forward.

In all fairness to myself, I believe I am simply taking various game mechanics ideas but using my plot to make them work in a D&D environment. However, I am grateful to the designers of these games who have helped bring a fresh feel to all mega-dungeons since their first inception!

What Lies Beyond The Collapsed Dungeon Wall?

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Episode 11: Property of The Empire!

A well placed motif is always a reasonable way to mark ownership of an object on which the motif is found. Be it a simple wax printed insignia sealing a scroll, or a metal embossed plate attached to a crate, the symbol it illustrates is often associated with ownership of a person or organisation. The Empire has its image too: The Dragon! In the last few updates I have been working on for module two has included these and a few other visual illusions that I hope will add an extra dimension to the campaign.

VISUAL EFFECTS

When I speak of visual effects, I am NOT just talking about the VFX effects we can add to the NWN game via scripting, but also "illusory" effects that help give a feeling of interaction. By this I mean careful coding of placeable objects that when interacted with give the appearance of movement.

MODULE ONE SPOILER ALERT: A specific example of the effect I am talking about can be found in the quest called "Poor Communication" in module one. In the Fairchilds' residence, the PCs learn they have to move a carpet to reveal a trap door. When the player interacts with the carpet, the coding in place works with the objects to give the illusion of having rolled back the carpet.

A more generic usage of such code is with respect to the way I have implemented Secret Doors. Until a PC finds a secret door, the PC cannot interact with it in the game. However, once the secret door has been detected, the PC can now interact with it, and when they do, coding has been added (adding both visual and sound effects) to give the effect that the door has been opened or closed.

Moving forward with module two, and now that I have ensured the code works reliably, I hope to employ more visual effects this way, to help immerse the player within the game environment. To this end, I have already used such in two places in latest building.

HOME BREW VFX (BILLBOARDS)

A personal favourite effect of mine is the ability we have to build "billboards" in the NWN toolset. This is basically a VFX that allows us to bring in any image file we want, and display it within the game. In the past I have used it in module one to good effect, and is seen implemented in such things as scrolls on display (notice board etal) and the mysterious cave text in the Dimension Vortex area (floating text) or even the floating image displayed within the Ancient Crypt if the rune control object is successfully worked.

For module two, as well as hopefully bringing similar aspects as I have done in module one into play, I have also just used it to create the  Empire Dragon Insignia, which The Empire uses to mark their property. This weeks screenshot shows it in demonstration.

THE PLOT THICKENS

As I have been writing the plot in the last couple of weeks, some of my thinking has been diverted to factions and other aspects that a player may wish to explore. Whether I fully develop this area of play or not will all depend upon how easy it will be for me to implement, as it can cause havoc if done wrong. That said, the framework for such is already in place within the campaign code, and so if I do venture down that route, I am hoping it will add yet another interesting depth to the campaign.

YET ANOTHER ONE!

On a final note for this report, I have to confess to building yet another area! (Vagueness follows to prevent spoiler.) Originally, the connection between one area and another was going to be handled by a simple conversation once the criteria was met. However, when quizzing my wife about her favourite area in module one at one time, she mentioned an area build of a tileset that I had not yet built for module two. Therefore, in thanks for all her hard work testing module one, I bit the bullet and decided to build an area of the same tileset ... with some interesting changes.

Adding the area also allowed me to be able to further develop another plot line that was currently "looking for a home" in the run of things. It also allowed me to add a whole new approach to the storyline, which obviously I cannot discuss! ;)

So, that's all for now, but as module one is now "closed" to further fixes (unless something really bad turns up), then I should be able to give module two my full attention in the weeks to come. I honestly do not know how long it is going to take, but I am encouraged by the fact that the campaign code is robust and in place, but a little nervous about all the conversations that require writing and the handling of all those variables.

Property of The Empire!

Monday, 8 July 2019

Episode 10: Into The Big Wide World!

I had some slow down in the last fortnight due to poor health. However, I am starting to pick up a little again now, and have returned to the core conversations I was working on previously. I did also try fixing a duplicated message text from the official campaign code with respect to Sequencer items, but was unable to do so without potential consequences. More on that later. The screenshot this week is for the Overland Map load screen.

THE STORY

The main story continues to be developed through the conversations the PCs can have with NPCs they can meet along the way. As I stated in previous posts, I am aiming to have these conversations give the player as much background as they are prepared to follow, but without overloading them. Using cutscenes whenever possible, certainly appears to make such learning curves easier to follow, especially as I am also ensuring journal entries also keep up with the information for the player. Compared to module one, in my design of module two, I am leaving five steps between each current journal entry to allow me to add any other steps that I think may help the player as I continue to build. I did not do this with module one, and found some difficulties complementing journal entries at later stages. This is definitely a lesson learned from hindsight.

SEQUENCER ITEMS

As part of my increase in items to be found, I am considering sequencer items. I won't go into detail about their usage. Although some readers may already know what they do, I prefer to leave their description to allow any potential "surprise" for when players find them in the game (for players who have not encountered them before). However, that said, in my preparation of them, I discovered that an Official Campaign (OC) "include" script has a minor "bug" that duplicates any message meant for the player when the sequencer item is used. It's not a game-breaking bug, just an annoyance.

At one point I managed to fix this problem, but had been left with concerns: after editing the official include script, it did NOT compile properly! I hastily add, it was NOT due to the alterations I had made, as that was simply changing a variable to prevent message duplication. However, I was not prepared to risk leaving the updated script as the default one to use, as it may have other dire consequences with other associated scripts throughout the game. So, in the end, I reinstated the original OC script from a prior build (with all associated scripts), and only altered the scripts related to the sequencer property that were not part of the OC include script.

OVERALL IMPROVEMENTS

When I work on module two, I often see things where the new code highlights a potential problem with the first module. That's why I still provide updated files and folders for Module one. As an example for the latest update to date, I noticed that some plot items were correctly being moved to my PC after I had left them in an area. (I was only testing and so had not bothered to search a body for all items.) However, I also noted that a journal update for acquiring said item had not updated with its "forced" acquisition. Therefore, I "fixed" this area of code in case a player ever accidentally or inadvertently left a plot item behind. For while this is unlikely to be the case with an active and attentive player, if it should be required, then associated journal updates upon such acquisitions are just as important as having the plot item itself!

LOADSCREENS

I also spent some time preparing some more load screens. Normally I leave these until last, but I grew tired of seeing the "missing file" image when testing and so updated the screens for the areas I was currently building. Below is the overland map load screen, which shows a much larger map that even the overland map covers, but its supposed to be an indicator that the player is about to enter the overland map. However, it does also help to show that the World of Althéa is actually even bigger than the parts that the player may currently know or is able to explore.

Loading Screen For Overland Map Travel

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Episode 9: A Welcome Break?

Another week, and another chip away at module two. I dare not try to think too far ahead on what remains to be done, nor remind myself how long module one took, simply because if I did, I may falter and be tempted to give up. But, I have a number of quest lines in mind now, and the core plot line is starting to take shape within the conversations ... offering some diversions of their own. That is one of the best things about writing for me, how it can take on a life of its own and lead you along a path of the story you never first imagined would be the case.

AND SO YET ANOTHER AREA!

When the story you are imagining decides to take a detour on its own account, one can either ignore its calling, or see to where it leads. More often than not, as in this case, the setting for the scene in mind for the story's new direction requires its own unique setting. I should quickly add that the area in question did already exist in a manner of speaking, but like a reinstated cutscene from a movie, it managed to escalate to having a renewed area built status. (Screenshot below.)

The good news is, however, with these three latest new areas (since reporting), it shows that the main story is beginning to take shape, and is demanding attention. Furthermore, the various directions it has taken me have been encouraging, helping to fuel my imagination along the way.

To help not venture into "content creep" though, I am considering abandoning a small area (similar to this new one) that had been scheduled, and whose outline I used as a template for the one that may be taking its place. However, as the area is partly done already, I may yet change my mind on that matter, especially as I can already see another good reason to keep it in.

THE PUZZLES RETURN

As I have stated before, the Althéa Campaign would not be complete without its puzzles. And they are set to return in the next module. As in the previous module, the puzzles can be solved in more than one way, and some can be completely ignored if they are not your thing. However, if you are not prepared to use your player's "thinking hat", then it's likely to cost your PCs more in either gold or Life Essences to bypass a puzzle. The choice will be yours according to the style of game your prefer to play.

To this end, I have already created my first "ripped puzzle" for module two, which acts as a clue for the player, which they can choose to follow up immediately, or not. Like module one, the flow of the story and the direction in which it unfolds will be left up to the player to decide. It's not going to be "linear", demanding the player follow a particular path, although will remain a focussed story that the player has to decide the order in which they approach the overall game.

MOVING FORWARD

The latest updates to module two have had me go over some of the PnP (pen and paper) story background of late, simply because I want to ensure I have the logical flow of events that have taken place, and will take place, in the right order. And there is quite a bit of backstory to cover for the player, which needs to be done in a way that does not come across as an "info dump". Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I am looking at writing the first proper "dungeon" that has its history from my PnP days. One could compare it to a PnP conversion, but of my own material. While there has to be some compromise , simply due to missing models I can use, I am looking forward to seeing the results all the same ... and will, of course, keep you updated.

MODULE ONE

I would just like to end on a quick note to say that Module One has had fewer and fewer patches in the last week or so, and v2.77 is beginning to look like one of the last patches (possibly the last) that Module One will need. However, my wife is still playing her third play-through (with another main class and different approach) testing for anything else, and I am still eager to hear if anybody else has come across any issues (at all) with Module One. Please let me know.

A Small Quiet Tavern Where One Can Rest & Eat

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Episode 8: Thousands of Words & A Conversation Picture!

This week, I managed my first big step in a plot conversation that serves to bring the two story backgrounds closer together, and introduce a potential new companion. It never ceases to amaze me, however, just how many words add up when creating a five minute conversation that the player's PC will have. I don't think I had much change from four or five thousand words, which took place over two conversations. And that was just the first intro part of the conversation!

COMING TOGETHER

This week had me looking over old story notes to make sure I had my story "facts" right. I needed to do this because the conversation I worked on is going to be one of the core conversations where the player is made to refocus on the main story; and so the information had to be clear and concise. The worse thing I find when playing an  RPG, is if after having a conversation, I am left with little indication of what is expected of me. And while this can be helped along by a well placed journal entry, even these need to be carefully worded so the player can fully understand the current state of play. I recently returned to have another go at Two Worlds, but felt "lost" within the myriads of conversations I could have and the inability to fully focus on a journal event, because of unclear targets. This is something I hope to avoid without compromising on choice and depth for the player.

This week, I also had the added difficulty of writing from the two different backgrounds that The Scroll supports: those players who have played my campaign before and those who have not. So that was one reason why the wording effectively doubled for the two conversations I covered this week. However, the good news is that I have now reached a point where the two schools of players will have come that much closer together in their knowledge of the main story.

As I say, the conversations for these two characters are not completed yet, but I have reached a good point where one of them can end up becoming a companion of the party, irrespective of the players background. Now, I only have to add conversation nodes that offer additional information, which also work irrespective of the background the player had originally selected in module one.

JOURNAL UPDATES

This week also had me update one of the two outstanding main story journal entries (background one only) that the player is left with at the end of module one. For players of background two, however, this will be their first introduction to that main storyline, which they had not encountered to date. As I posted last week, this module will certainly change the focus of play for the player, and will be the most dramatic for players of background two (not played the campaign before), as it will be their first encounter with the events that background one players will already have been aware. That said, in the latest conversation, I have even made sure players familiar with the campaign will have a new pleasant experience of their own.

The Hero Learns More About Their Destiny

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Episode 7: New Companions & Quests, Same Old Story!


As the need to patch the first module lessens, I have been able to concentrate on building the second module. This week I have gone back to the main plot (continuing from the first module) and looked at some of the main story conversations I need to write to move the plot forward. As it happens, the NPC whose conversation I found myself writing for this week is known to my PnP players of old, and (if they have a good memory), they may recall some of their earlier adventures related to them. This same conversation also offers one of the new companions I hope to bring with the next module.

YET ANOTHER AREA

This week also saw me having to build another unexpected new area. The problem was due to an encounter that the PCs were going to have (in an area I was working on), which, in my opinion, spoiled the ambiance of the area it was going to take place in. So, rather than compromise the atmosphere of the area in question, the encounter was moved to its own new "prelude" area. Thankfully, I was able to rehash an existing area in such a way that it looks fresh and serves the purpose. The screenshot today comes from this new area.

The new area in place, I was finally able to start the conversation. Thankfully, existing code made the encounter conversation start quite easily, and all I have to do is simply flesh out the story. Nearby, I also started another conversation that employed my new dual conversation path system: This basically allows me to start a conversation for a MP audience when required, but fall back to a SP response when the MP aspect is over, with an ability to switch back to MP conversing if need be. I believe it works well, and means gaming atmosphere can be preserved during cutscene conversations, irrespective of SP/MP play.

ITEM SETS

From the very start, the campaign has included some items (including "sets") that I had downloaded with the intention of using at some point in time. I believe the original author was called Apep, but I have been unable to find any existing link to his original work. However, the code appeared to have been written for NWN1, and so I had to completely rewrite the scripts required for the item set system. That is now complete and tested as working, which means I can now make use of these item sets. I already have a quest in mind for at least one set. Other sets may or may not make it into the final release of the campaign, but my hope is that I will include all if possible.

THE MAIN STORY

As The Scroll was written for people of various backgrounds, whether they had played in my campaign before or not, the main story may not have always been obvious from the start when first playing The Scroll. Because of this, I think some players may be left with the impression that the campaign may not even have a main story. That, however, is NOT the case: There is a main story! The first main cutscene when transitioning to the village for the first time is the obvious allusion to this. (My PnP players already knew and have encountered "Morcoss" from my first ever PnP scenario back in 1989. If you want their full background story, then check out my website: The World of Althéa. Click on the Adventure Background book at the top, and then scroll or use the side menu bar to read the content.)

Many years ago now, my original intention was to wait until I had completed the campaign in its entirety before releasing it, so that I could help focus the player on this story as the rest of the game played. However, as the years passed by, and my health deteriorated, it soon became clear that I needed to break the campaign down into a number of smaller parts/modules to be able to deliver anything at all. At that point in time, I had to change the focus of the story to the PC's immediate environment, and true to D&D tradition, I made their immediate problem the main thrust of the current story ... but that was for module one only.

This next module I am writing takes the PC (and by nature the player) outside of their "bubble" they have been acquainted with, and now thrusts them into the bigger world. (Even though the first module also took the player many hundreds of miles from the village in its own way.) When the player plays module two, they will now take a greater part in the main story that my original PnP players already knew about. This plot line would also be more noticeable to players if they ever tried the first choice of background, as that opens up some events that relate to PnP days and earlier events that a new player would be unfamiliar with.

If the thrust of the first module was to introduce the player to the world, lore and mechanics of Althéa, the thrust of the second module is to bring the player up to speed with what my PnP players already know ... The Main Story! Designing the campaign and making this happen in such a way that does not go over old ground for my PnP players, and yet brings every new player up to speed is the difficulty at the moment, and was even more so probably in the first module. The plan is, that by the end of certain events of this second module, every player should be in the same place with respect to what they know about world events and what they are going to do about them. Background one and two should, hopefully, come together, so that by the third (and final) module, all players will be starting from the same place of understanding.

In conclusion, the "story focus" of second module returns to the true main story for the campaign. I hope this will help players to reflect on events of module one, in much the same way as my players from PnP days already witness familiar peoples and events in the first module that new players obviously cannot. Basically, events in module two transform the events of module one into something more momentous. Compared to a simple "barrier" problem, one may even say, epic.

Encounter Along The Forest Path!

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Episode 6: Having A Bad Were Day?

One of the advantages of starting a new module is being able to incorporate new ideas and concepts that are missing from the first designed module. One such idea I wanted to look at including was the Curse of Lycanthropy. For while the were creature has always been a staple from the first edition D&D, it has grown into quite the gaming element by the time it reached the third edition, which NWN2 is based upon. Sadly, although the OC appeared to include the concept of Lycanthropy in its world (and included such things as belladonna to defend against shapeshifters), the actual mechanics for a PC contracting the curse never appeared to make it into the game. That's where my latest additions come into play.

THE CURSE OF LYCANTHROPY

It is safe to say that there are quite a few interpretations of how the curse may be implemented within the game, but I like to take my lead from 3e/3.5e rules, which is quite well laid out at the D20 Resource Site. And while not every aspect of the information there may translate well for NWN2, I believe much of it can and have added the following mechanics:-

1) Any lycanthropic creature has a chance to infect a victim through its bite. (A bitten victim has a chance to save against the curse bite, and a paladin with Divine Health feat is immune.)

2) Once bitten, the victim does not know they are infected (or believe anyone telling them) unless they make another save after recovering from a transition. At which point, they gain the Change Shape feat that allows them to attempt a shape change at any time. Note, this is a chaotic and evil act, and good-aligned PCs would best avoid voluntary changes into the "beast within" or suffer class restrictions.

3) The affected PC will also involuntarily change into a were-creature on the night of a full moon (three of them in a month) or if they drop below a certain number of hit points while in combat. A PC does NOT suffer alignment changes due to involuntary changes. If the involuntary change takes place due to damage in combat, then they also suffer from "rampage confusion" until the combat is over. Fellow party members would be wise to give them a wide berth.

4) While the were-form may offer some advantages in strength and or overall constitution in a battle, the inability to access ones equipment or cast spells while in the were-form, should be a good enough incentive to try to rid themselves of the curse. That and the ever present threat of potentially killing a party member during a rampaging confusion moment of course.

5) Curing a PC from the Curse of Lycanthropy can come in a number of ways:-
  • Cleric of at least 12th level with Heal or Remove Disease within 3 days of contracting it.
  • Remove Curse during a full moon phase. (May take a number of attempts.)
  • Use Belladonna within 3 days of curse, but reduced chance as time passes and attempts made.
Note, if the person administering the belladonna is a healer, their skills are added to the chance of curing the victim of the curse. Furthermore, belladonna is poisonous and would require further treatment to remove its own debilitating effects, even if it successfully removes the curse.

MECHANICS INVOLVED

Even though I may have veered off area design this week, the incorporation of such mechanics takes its own time to include, as I have had to write the scripts to work with the existing framework. Thankfully, I was able to use my spell hook script to work in the cure for the different spells, and even made the OC belladonna now have the ability to "cast" two different options: The original OC protection against shapeshifters ability, and now a second option of attempting to cure a person of lycanthropy when targeted by the user.

The hardest part was finding a place to include the Shape Change feat for the player to control for their PC, as the feat would "disable" if placed in a normal hotbar slot, due to the PC changing form. i.e. The feat would become greyed out when the PC transformed into a were-creature. This was unacceptable, as the player needed to have the option to click it while in beast form to voluntarily come out of the form (if they made the saves). Thankfully, the slots to the far right end of the hotbar (where the camera angles and the Althéa Main Menu are located) remain available at all times, irrespective of form, and so I was able to switch an existing (non-critical) statistics button into the Shape Change feat button all the while they had the curse. And although the button located this way does not show the "cool down" option (of five minutes between shape change attempts), I was able to add an On Mouse Enter callback that does a similar thing of displaying the time remaining as a notice text.

The various aspects also included changes to the spells and feat 2da files, as well as the TLK file, which holds the new feat texts. One of the most important changes affected the displays of the moon phases with the calendar GUI, which needed some subtle changes. Unfortunately, these changes mean the code is not going to work "properly" with older versions of the code, most likely because it does affect the timing. However, all version 2.70 and up will now have the correct code in place and be compatible with future updates. (Unless something critical ever pops up again of course.)

'WERE' TO FROM HERE?

The code now in place, I have done some basic testing, and all appears to work as expected so far. I just need to finish some belladonna item coding and the "cool down" feedback and that is done. Then all I need to do is place the were-creatures ready to infect their victims with a bite! Going forward, I intend to write a scenario based on were-creatures, and then, perhaps, maybe look into that other classic: Vampires! However, in the meanwhile, I hope to get back to area building in the weeks ahead.

Were Creature Gaming Aspects In Detail

Friday, 31 May 2019

Episide 5: What's Over There?

Now that I have taken the decision to stop further testing of v2.65 of module 1, I have been able to become more involved with developing module 2. (By the way, for those interested, here is the link to module 1 of The Scroll. NB: I will continue to upload a newer campaign version if I find any glaring issues with v2.65.) My latest toolset activity has been focussing on a new area that (originally) was not going to be in the module, as I initially considered it would be of little to no interest. However, as I looked at the area map I was currently working on, I kept on wondering exactly what was going on over in that "interesting looking place" on the map. And so I eventually concluded that if I thought that, then other players may well have their curiosity piqued too ... and so went ahead and designed the linking area required. The screenshot today is the loadscreen for the new area.

AREA BUILDING

The last week has been all about area building ... and I had to remind myself of all those aspects needed to build (what I believe to be) a "believable" area design. I am the first to admit that my art design skills in this department are only adequate. However, I do like to think that I put enough thought into other general aspects of area design, such as lighting and sounds, to make an area a cut above the average. Basically, I like to include aspects that give a place a degree of atmosphere, which lighting and sounds (if used carefully) can transform an otherwise dull area, into something quite interesting.

1) LIGHTING: You will probably have a vague idea of the type of area I was building from this week's screenshot. However, I am deliberately skipping specifics to prevent spoilers, and even the screenshot may leave the reader with questions. However, the point being, I like to vary lighting according to the type of area the PCs find themselves in. And, the working line for me is, if there is no light at all, then it should be absolutely black! i.e. I try to avoid using any lighting that does not have a source. Therefore, each area I design must come with its own selection of light sources, or the PC must provide their own light via torch, lantern or magic.

The light source objects are dictated by the area type. If it's a natural environment, like a cave, then I tend to go for glowing flora or (if inhabited) wall torches, or even a combination. i.e I try to avoid man-made (or spell-like) light sources unless they can be justified. The main point, however, is that every area should (in my opinion) be able to be lit or placed into darkness according to light sources within the area. Being caught in complete darkness should be a possibility in some situations, and the player should be conscious of this by observation of the area lighting.

2) SOUND: Another aspect of design and probably just as important as the area lighting, are the area sounds. After setting the lighting, I tend to move on to adding the sounds, including the music and ambient sounds. However, I believe it is the positional sounds that go a long way to helping the player feel immersed within their environment. These can include simple sounds of water (pouring, dripping, splashing, etc), and critters running out of sight. I even try to include sounds that may alter with time or player interaction such as camp fire crackles or claps of thunder and rainfall. This latest area came with its own selection of sounds, which I hope should all add to its mystery and allure.

3) INTRACTABLE OBJECTS: Having setup the area lighting and sounds, I always like to add an interesting selection of objects for the player to interact with. This is what gives the current scenario (or area) the "meat on the bones" as it were. Note, these objects will vary from area to area, but are normally well understood by the player, and include such things as junk piles, bookcases, and chests, etc. However, I also like to use this time of area design to try to develop something "new" if possible, even if it's just a minor interaction. This "new" object would then be added to the collection of objects I can continue to flesh out future areas for the player to interact with. Over time, the collection of objects with which the player can interact should grow bigger or have new variations of such.

4) ENCOUNTERS & EVENTS: In the course of building module 1, I have gone through many renditions of various trigger and encounter events due to the many different requirements I have needed in module 1. Thankfully, now, I have a healthy selection of them to help populate a dungeon in a way that makes combat encounters efficient and (I believe) balanced. Therefore, it did not take me long to quickly add the monster events to the area, and all I am left to do now is add some comment events as I consider what should become available to the PCs. As some of this is tied to the bigger plot, these tend to get added later.

5) BACKGROUND & PURPOSE: Once I have all the basic area design in place (as above), I like to ensure that the player also leaves an area with a feeling of accomplishment, and some kind of memory of an area. It can be a simple as having the player complete a quest stage or acquire an item of importance, or even simply have a tough fight. The bottom line, however, is I want the player to feel they have been satisfied with what they have achieved in an area. My general goal for this is: if I test the area and do not come away feeling I either learned something, gained something new, or simply experienced a different aspect of gameplay, then it has not served a good purpose. Generally, I like to be able to tick as many of these aspects with every area, but overall design determines if this is warranted or not. I certainly try to minimise those areas that feel more of a "grind" than a source of adventure.

AN OLD ISSUE

Just for the record, I experienced an old issue of a placeable object not responding to a player's left click. To remind myself and those readers interested, if a placeable has zero hit points, then any onused script is ignored! I wrestled with a new prefab object for at least half an hour before I spotted this old issue again. Thankfully, however, even though this caused me some lost time, the benefits of building with all the existing scripts available to me helps go a long way to shorten the area build time.

MOVING FORWARD

So, the area that stole my attention is now "finished" apart from some final event triggers (if I decided they are required) and some plot elements that are still in development. I am happy with the way it turned out, as I have employed all those aspects I learned from my first module, including ensuring the PCs have room to move, and any combat zones are reasonably spaced.

In the coming days, I hope to go back to the original area I was working on and to look at other areas that can be transitioned to from it. In all, there are around another four areas that I need to build from scratch that transition from the area I am currently referencing. Once they are all done, I can move onto another area of the module. At this stage, everything feels quite a long way off. However, if I can continue to build areas at the rate I am at the moment, then I am more optimistic that module 2 will see completion one day.

Learning More About The Enemy!