Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Waiting... (haks part 2)

I hate waiting. I love letting others wait for me though, but I demand immediate attention and satisfaction as soon as I want something. I think I've never waited for something as long as for that stupid 1.69 patch. Yes, I know I could use the Beta, but... yes, the whole community is waiting for that darn patch, there's no update to the CEP, no update for the seasonal forest and no update for all the other haks I plan to use until that darn final 1.69 patch is out!

Seasonal forest is no biggie, I'm sure it'll be backwards compatible so I just started playing around with it. CEP is one thing I'm not sure about yet... it will be backwards compatible with itself, yes, but it might screw up all the stuff I tried to squeeze into the tight gaps between the 2da lines of CEP 2.0... I'd hate to do all that stuff again. But now I'm facing the problem of building the main city... or better, the center of merchandise, the place every player needs and will visit regulary, the place where you get your gear and so on. Yes, every module should have a place like this, noone wants to travel the world for hours just to get his first armor, shortsword and shortbow. Fine, so I started building that city long ago with the 169 beta. I tried various tilesets for giving it a more medieval feeling than the standard city.

The only one that really satisfied me was the
CC City Exterior tileset by s030363l & sixesthrice. Ah, of course it has a nasty bug that crashes the game and toolset, also it's all blown up by TNO textures that will become obsolete with the 1.69 patch. I kept watching the site but there was no update, so I finally decided to try other tilesets and, well... ended up with the standard one. Now I'm halfway done and totally not satisfied - the city looks just too modern, whatever dirt I throw at it, and see... there's life on the CC City exterior vault entry again... update will come, but when? No idea. I decided I need it, so the city development won't continue any further. Um.. but that's the base, so what should I be working on now? All my ideas are focused on the basics at the moment, and being forced to concentrate on something else now makes me kinda stuck... I want to work on the stuff I already have ideas for first, not being forced to come up with new ones. Oh well. Well, that's one example.

The other one is my plan for a huge polar region. Think vikings, iceland, scandinavia. I love
this longship hak and always wanted to make use of it. And I did. All of sudden when I was building the docks for Rungholt, it occured to me that there were too few standard bioware ships in the palette.... meh, the longships replaced all of them. I could've gone through that painful hak editing process again (which means, learning by doing) and blowing up my custom hak even further, or... throw them out, which I did. The last update for the longships has been somewhere in 2003, so I don't hold my breath anything will happen to them anymore.

Then there's the Barbaric North. Don't let the rather plain looking screens at the vault fool you, there's a lot of potential in this tileset, and it has longships! So even though I won't be able to add them to my Rungholt docks, I can at least use them up there in the north.
Here's a quick example... I have no idea why weather effects only fire when I start up the mod with NWNX, so... just imagine snowflakes.

But, of course... incompatibilities again. Gah! Why does everyone have to use the same 2da lines or whatever it is?
Figured it must be the doortypes conflicting with either seasonal forest or Sigil or whatever... oh damn, I don't have the energy to fix (learn how to fix) that right now... no further working on the north until I decided if I want to fix it or just throw that tileset out too.

You see where this is leading.. everything I have ideas for either needs updates or fixes or I'm scared to work on it because I fear 1.69 (and it's tail) will screw up everything I do. I don't even dare to make any more armors because I see incompatibilities between the CEP and the other custom stuff coming. GAH! Where's that stupid Witcher toolset, I need something to do.

Oh, because screenshots always lighten posts up, here's one of a dock construction I played around with... those siege placeables make great construction equipment. I hope I can rebuild something like this with the CC City Exterior tileset.

Friday, March 21, 2008


A little more on the aim for this world. Who should enjoy this server, who should better go elsewhere, what should be known before making a character.
Basically, the NWN crowd is usually devided into categories like Roleplayer, Powergamer, Munchkin, Roleplay Purists, Action Gamer and so on. Basically, I don't like any extremes. Munchkins are utterly annoying, as are Roleplayers who have to throw a dice for every single fart they do and consider reaching level 2 powergaming.
I do not like powerbuilds that are only good for making a character as strong as possible, but I do understand the wish to make a character who does good in battle and knows how to survive.
I do understand the fun in making a roleplay character who does nothing else in his life than sitting in a tavern telling stories, but I do not like an elitist roleplayer attitude towards the rest and forcing an hour-long dicerolling orgy on someone who just wants a little fun after a hard working day.

Experience (and the making of it) should not be a forbidden word or thought, but it shouldn't be the main goal either. Everyone likes levelling up, granted, so it shouldn't be too hard to get somewhere into the low-mid levels. Playing should be fun after all, shouldn't it?
On the other hand, this world should be all about atmosphere and immersion, so levelling up is and should be considered a bonus, not more. The main goal in a multiplayer world should always be the interaction of characters, and on a roleplay server, this should be in character and by thinking up nice stories and backrounds for a PC. Roleplay is the focus, but action is by no means forbidden.

Now, as for building a PC: I don't like too many rules, I don't like spoiling a player's fun, but I also don't like obvious munchkin and powergame characters only built for strenght without any "clue" for a class choice in the player's roleplay. That's why I'll go with the Vives rule regarding character builds: At least 3 levels per chosen class have to be taken. That means, no Rogue 19/SD 1, no Fighter 9/wiz 1/AA 10 and so on. I'm really sorry for that, but my personal opinion is that a class should have at least a little meaning and not just be treated as a brick in the building.
On the other hand though, I won't ever ask a player to play along the clichées and stereotypes of a class. Let's say, a player wants to make a character that resembles Connor MacLeod, Emma Peel or James Bond and for achieving that goal, has to choose a class mix that would be considered "illegal" by the classic DnD player. I say, go ahead - mix your CoT with an Assassin or whatever as long as it makes sense and is not just a cheap excuse to build up a ridiculous "über" powerbuild. Usually, I'd consider a Paladin/Blackguard at least "some sort of weird" because obviously, there are a lot of things that stack in such a build and make this a very powerful PC after all. BUT there have been cases of astonishing roleplay of a class mix like that, not to forget that the "fallen Paladin" is even somewhat "legal". This would be an example for a case-by-case decission. If there's a rotten "powerbuild" stench around the PC, I'd call it munchkin, if there's a chance for an interesting character, I'd call it a great addition.

In my opinion, common sense should be the judge, not any rulebooks. The fallen Paladin, fallen Angels and so on make perfect sense to me, so that option will be open, although maybe a case-by-case DM decission.
Assassins have never been truely evil in my opinion, if I'd make a James Bond or any kind of spy character, there'd surely be assassin in the class mix.
Blackguards on the other hand should be evil, Paladins should be good, but there's always the chance for a fallen Paladin or a Blackguard who uses evil means to aid the good (may it be pressed, may it be for an egoistic reason, it all depends on the character's motivation and roleplay). A good Blackguard doesn't make sense, a cooperative evil one does.

I could go on with monks, bards and so on, but these are the most common ad extreme examples. As you can see, alignments are the DnD rules I respect the least, they've always been too black and white for me, support stereotypes and hinder creativity. They will still function as basic guidelines, but will never be treated as main rules.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A few more toolset scribbles

I call these toolset scribbles... a quick area idea, not perfect yet, but something I can keep for future use.

This one is a simple church interior for a village church. Wooden, not too fancy, the priest at the altar is called Father Hein (Hein is a typical name from Germany's northern coast)

The church from the outside. The village it belongs to is called Niederhoeve, a name I made up but doesn't sound too far off for the setting.

And this is an old cemetary, hidden in the forest behind the church. Of course there's something bad in that tomb, I already have an idea what it might be...

Ideas for the setting (influences part 2)

Finding a good setting is much harder than I thought. As mentioned before, existing settings like the Forgotten Realms or anything based on someone else's work are no real options. I have way too many wild ideas and don't want to rule anything out because it might not fit. However, of course there are a lot of ideas based on other people's work, and I hope to find a way to stir them all up in a huge cooking pot and make a good soup of it.

There's the basic atmosphere of the game world, which could be anything from "completely out of there" fantasy (FR, different planes, high magic) to a more realistic, simple setting. At one point I thought about just making an uncivilized forest and nothing else, and players would slowly develop their civilization and build the whole world up on their own. But that'd require players, and I'd have to hold back all the other ideas in the back of my mind.
Anyway, I never liked high magic. I don't like it when only items make a good character, I don't like senseless use of magic, everyone running around buffed up as if there was some sort of neverending archmage congress going on, so the decission to go with a low magic setting was quickly made.

Low does not mean no though and I'm not the type of player who wants to run around with a basic shortsword at level 20. It's not even the item properties that I have the most problems with, it's more the usage of magic, the overdone effects and that the base of a character can be anything as long as there are cool items to make up for all the weaknesses.
So the goal is to have magic at a level where it's still the character that counts and not the items he has. No surprise for anyone who has played on the servers I have played on - there won't be many differences. Expect magical effects to be toned down though.

As for the world's atmosphere I want to go with a setting that resembles medieval Europe without having to be too accurate, but evolves into a more fantastic world the deeper you explore. The setting should be dirty, no rainbow-colored kitsch with knights on white stallions and cities that smell like roses.

I don't need to describe it any further, because while I was planning the setting, another game was released that pretty much did exactly what I want - The Witcher
No need to say that I enjoyed that game very much, it gave me a lot of ideas for what I want to do in my own little world. By the way, it's one of my favourite games of all times already.

There's a quest in Act IV of the game that resembles the basic idea of what I'd like to do, that's the "In the heat of the day" quest based on a novel or folk tale. And we have a lot of old medieval folk tales in Europe, the Grimm Brothers alone could fill quite a few game worlds with quests and ideas. So there's a great source.

European folk tales and legends are also a great source for settings and creatures. Away with the stereotypes, why use a dragon for the thousandth time if you can easily make it a Lindworm instead? Why not think about creating a Wolpertinger?

Ah, the Wolpertinger... of course it's almost impossible to create the "historical accurate" one, but here's another idea giver who played a lot with all kinds of folk tales to create his own, unique wild mix - Walter Moers. His vision of a Wolpertinger has not much to do with the bavarian folk tales anymore, as you can read in the wonderful book Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures.
As great as the ideas in Moers books might be, his world is not a good base for a serious module - his stories are so full of fantasy, wild ideas and ridiculous creatures that it's impossible to merge it with a dark, medieval setting. Imagine The Witcher with a fluffy, cute dog as a protagonist. But as a basic idea or even just a source for names the book works great, and for my module, even more another book of his, Ensel and Krete (not translated yet). Even though as a novel, it's not as good as Rumo or The City of Dreaming Books, it gave me the idea of making a huge dark forest the center of the world, as well as a lot of ideas for creatures that roam it.

Another inspiration for settings are legendary places and sunken cities. In Germany there's Rungholdt, the French have their Ys, just two examples for perfect cities you can create with a lot of creative freedom.

Well, these are examples for lighthearted content, but after all, this shouldn't become a Disney-like, childsafe module, so let's hunt for crime stories, murder, prostitution, blood, deseases, drug abuse, racism and all the adult stuff next...

Haks part 1 (or the shortcomings of the CEP)

When it comes to customization, I think the CEP is inavoidable these days. Actually, I couldn't live without it anymore, and worlds that don't make use of it or at least an equally good solution for character customization are of no interest for me anymore.
Of course there's no need for a whole CEP if you just want a nice looking head on your character or NPC, but if there's ever the need for a special placeable, armor, item that doesn't come with the standard Bioware game, there's a good chance the CEP has it, and it's of course much easier just to grab this package than to hunt down each and every little placeable you need at the vault and stuff it into your own hak.
But that said, there are a few things definitely missing in the CEP. Like some of the best heads from the vault. The CEP comes with a huge load of custom heads for your characters and NPCs, but why, oh why did they include the most ugly heads ever made - tattoed faces in open helmets and such, but left out some of the prettiest "normal" heads available (and well known)?

Well, that's where the work on a custom hak starts. Hunt down the best head haks and add them to the mod. Of course, it's not that easy. Hunt down the head haks, export the model and texture files, add them to your new custom hak, place that one at the top of the hak list.
Still not that easy. Of course you only want to replace the ugly CEP heads, not the good ones... renaming model and texture files alone won't do, the models won't find their texture anymore... *sigh* It's a lot of stupid work, and strangely enough there was no mentioning of it anywhere on the vault, I had to find out all this basic stuff myself... open the model file of each head in a text editor, find and replace the names of the texture files inside the file with the name of the renamed texture... the basics of hak editing I guess, every builder will yawn now, but it's really a pain, especially until you find out how it's done. Every corner of my desk was full of sheets with notes about what files to rename, replace, leave out, etc. pp. It took me days to get something that simple finally done.
However, my module has it's first custom hak and a wonderful selection of heads for each race and gender now...

Of course the heads were only the first step, much more had and still has to be done with that stupid top-hak. Just when I thought I knew how things work I had to learn about 2da editing....

The Base (influences part 1)

That much I have learned already: The hardest thing in the whole module making process is creating a base. The basic module that contains the main systems, haks and so on. Of course I developed an idea of what I want, but I had no idea what a pain it is to get it done. Although I'm already creating some areas, the base is still far from finished, it's just in an alpha stage where it's possible to play around a little.

What I definitely wanted is a system that doesn't force the player into stupid mob killing sprees for making xp, and therefore, making powerful characters in order to get xp. I'd like people to experiment with chars, trying out weaker classes and class combinations without having a huge xp penalty for it.
Well, one server I played on has done that part right, and that's Vives. Of course their system has it's flaws too, but it's still the fairest solution I've seen so far.
XP rewards are devided into:
  1. Combat XP
  2. Questing XP
  3. Crafting XP
  4. Discovery XP: xp granted everytime the player discovers something new or enters a new area.
  5. Ability Usage XP: For picking locks, untrapping, successful skill checks and so on.
  6. Magic-Harnessing XP
  7. Roleplaying XP
Each class has it's own xp modifiers. A fighter will always get 100% xp for killing something, because that's his job. But fighters don't seem to be interested in sightseeing, that's why their exploring modifier is fairly low.
A bard on the other hand doesn't get as much xp for killing as the fighter, but a bard has her eyes wide open and soaks in everything new, that's why her discovery modifier is at 100%.
Bards are jacks of all trades, so even though they can cast a few spells, spellcasting is not their main job, that's why their modifier for magic harnessing is medium. A pure wizard or sorcerer would get 100%.
Furthermore, The XP rewards are not static, the more you do the same thing again, the less you learn. The first time you kil a rat you get a huge load of xp, while the tenth rat is rather boring for your now "seasoned warrior" and will give you just a basic reward.

Well, that's the basic system, for more insight I'd suggest reading the Essential information on the Vives forum.

The problem: That system is an in-house development, and there's nothing at the vault that comes close to it. Solution: Copy, steal, rip off. Well, that'd be a solution for someone who knows what he's doing, and that's definitely not me. Also, this system requires a database. Setting up a database is definitely not a hobby of mine, and reading the NWNX forums is enough to scare me away from the most basic idea of building.

So what are the alternatives? Base mods from the Vault. I tried a lot of them and the most interesting I found was Vuldrick's Base Module. A lot of interesting goodies in there, all very well polished and easy to configure. But sadly, there was not one of the things that I really wanted in any mod.

Well, to make a long story short, while playing in Nexus (requires login) I talked about my plans and frustration to Squatting Monk, and this selfless being of a player made it all happen. Learned MySQL, built an xp system, reputation system, hunger/thirst/fatigue system, spiced it up with DMFI, CNR and HCR, listened to all my ideas and found solutions, and sent me a base module I could adjust to my needs. Phew. But hey, at least I've set up MySQL all on my own!

Well, that leaves almost no more excuses for not starting to build right away, it might seeem. But oh no, there are the haks. The 2nd pain in the a**.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The first screenshots.
As you can see, one of the things I definately want in my mod is haks. A lot of haks. I know those scare the average player away, but the Vault is full of so many great things that absolutely have to be used. And one of the very best is the one I could build the whole module with - WoRm's Seasonal Forest. Actually, I do plan to make this tileset the base of my whole world. It's too good to be true, and with it I can create exactly the atmosphere I want. The Dark Forest will be the center of the world, so to say.

This first area I created (besides some very basic test areas using the micro set) is an Inn at the border of the Dark Forest. There will be a city to the north and some small rural villages, but this should be the last outpost of civilization before the adventure begins. Well, that's the plan. More to come.


So... who needs another NWN mod (especialy a persistant world) anyway? Probably noone, but that's not the point. First point is creating something on my own, instead of just consuming other people's work. Second point is, creating something exactly how I want it, without compromises. If anyone else likes it, even better, if not, no biggie.

Over the last two years or so I didn't really get many ideas about what I want to do, but I got a whole lot of ideas about what I don't want. So let's start with the "no" list:

  • Forgotten Realms. Noone needs yet another Forgotten Realms mod. There are enough. Thousands. Millions. I'm bored of the Forgotten Realms, and I also have no real knowledge about them. I might turn into a real geek some day, but for now I'm only a n00bish geek.
  • The PnP handbook. Ugh. I'm tired to get that one slapped into my face. Shoo!
  • General stereotypes, might it be classes, monsters, the setting, whatever. There will be stereotypes, of course, but I hope they'll be different from those stereotypes known so well from the thousands of other mods and worlds.
  • A child safe, political correct setting. Hmm... no, I'm not gonna censor myself. I don't care about the amount of players (if there will ever be any playing this), and I can live with shutting the door for half of them or more. I don't want to deal with angry parents or kids too young to understand the most basic rules, so I think I'll go for a PG 18 mod just to be on the safe side.
Now for what I want:

  • An immersive world. Main goal. Atmosphere above all.
  • Roleplay focus with a very low Hack and Slay factor. A lot of alternatives to simple mob killing, but without keeping action out at all. Those who want to kill shall kill, those who don't should get their levels as well.
  • A friendly atmosphere with not too many rules.
This is just the basic layout, the details will follow...

The pain of making a Neverwinter Nights mod from scratch

And this is little journal about it, basically just to remind myself that there's work to do. Oh, and maybe I can impress someone with those great screenshots I'm gonna take. Or keep others from trying the same by showing what a pain in the a** it can be to get the basics done, especially if you have no interest in all the technical stuff that keep you from doing the fun things like... building a gorgeous area or such.

Well, here we go, let's see how it turns out.