Monday, December 8, 2008

What's become of Middleforest?

I'm not sure how many people had really been interested in this little project of mine, but I guess I owe the few at least a short update on what has happened to it. 
However, it's not easy to put it into words. I think the main reason I stopped working on it (yes, I did) is that I got used to NWN2. Yes, I know, don't remind me about my bitching about the game, most of it is still true. There are about a thousand things I still hate about this game, but there are a few that changed my view a little. The main on the builder's side being artistic freedom where NWN1 limited me too much, and then there's the simple fact that the graphics can be nice if you know how to do it right, and I just love eye candy. The official game and the first modules and PWs I played just didn't give a hint of what can be done when the builder actually spends some time with things like light and shadows, or shows real creativity in the use of the terrain editor or placeables. Hence my impression that the game looks dull and boring. 

I was wrong, it can look awesome.. it's just a tremendous amount of work to get there.  Last but not least, for me as a player it means also that I can have a more immersive world to play in with a character that looks nicer (yes, thanks to custom content and some creativity NWN2 characters don't have to look ugly) and has much more options to advance (new classes, four classes allowed, etc. etc.). So yeah, as a player I got used to the game and don't want to miss it anymore. I miss building Middleforest, but then, why build it if I spend my playing time in NWN2? The logical solution would be rebuilding it as a NWN2 PW, and that's my dream.
But, now to the downside, I just can't get used to building in NWN2's toolset. The whole thing is such a pile of crap, it's unbelievable. Yes, it is powerful, much more powerful than the NWN1 toolset, and yes, I've done the tutorials and know how to build an area now. There are advantages, I like the dialogue and script editors in NWN2's toolset, but the rest is just an unintuitive mess. One could say, the difference between NWN1's to NWN2's toolset is like switching from the Mac to Windows, but that would be an insult for Windows, because compared to NWN2's toolset it's an awesome, stable and secure environment you can work with perfectly. 

NWN2's toolset crashes like mad, it spits out error messages like mad, your module is getting corrupted every second day, you have to micromanage all those plug ins, spend a day alone to get the GUI into an useable state. It's a science for itself to get that thing just into a working state and learn how to avoid the worst errors before you can even start being creative.
Then there's the second problem, that being the options. You have a lot of options, and that's good. You can scale, you can tint, you have uncountable ways and options to change things. But, it's in no way intuitive or easy to get there. Scaling with a simple slider? Na, you have to do it by putting numbers into a text field... you know, things like that. It's made for geeks. Assign a tlk to your mod? No, an "open file" window would be too easy, please type in the name of your tlk. Just two small examples, but examples for the unintuitive way that thing works. 

Plug ins... oh, yes there are some helpful ones, nobody can live without the famous Sin plug-in for example. But after each and every game patch you have to wait a month for all the plug-ins you use to be updated, because every toolset update breaks them... or you have to learn how to edit xml files. Sure, no problem for the average geek, but I'd just like to build and not spend my time with the pain of managing the toolset.
Another usability problem with the too many options is that it simply takes a lot of time to get something done you really didn't want to spend too much time on. A good example is the area lighting, done with the day/night cycle options. Yes, we have... um.. don't let me lie... 8(?) stages now instead of the simple day and night in NWN1's toolset. Of course that's great, you can control how your sunrise looks, how your noon, afternoon, evening hours, nightfall, midnight look, but it takes such a long time to set up just this that you have to ask yourself where to take the time for actual building.

As for building, I have to admit the terrain editor lowered my self-esteem a lot. Theoretically I can do everything I want with it. Practically, I'm never satisfied with anything I do in there, I'm playing around for 8 hours just to get the basic landscape done, look at it in game and trash the whole area because I finally discovered I totally underestimated this one brush size or overestimated the size of that river or whatever, and that before I even placed the first house into the area. I saw wonderful area building where I play, I often walk around thinking what I'd alter or do it better or different if I built it, but once in the toolset I'm getting one blackout after the next. 
To make a long story short, I think the main difference between the two toolsets is that NWN1 rewards you immediately, you start building and really make fast progress, the preview rewards you quite often enough to give you a reason to pat yourself on the shoulder.
NWN2's toolset takes very long to reward you, much more often it kicks and bites you, and sometimes you think you finally got somewhere, then try it out and notice you messed up so badly it's not worth trying to fix it anymore. It can be very frustrating, and I'm not sure f I can ever really start working seriously on a NWN2 version of Middleforest with that in mind. 

However, recently I asked Squatting Monk how our (actually his) little xp system and the other stuff we thought up together is coming along, in contrary to me he has actually made some progress with his mod. I'm not sure if it would help, but it might be a little encouragement if the systems, especially the xp system, could be modified to work with NWN2. I still think they are awesome, and I think a NWN2 version of it would help making a really unique world for those who, as sad as it is, got lost to NWN2 like me. The NWN2 side of things really lacks good RP servers and unique worlds, and I got to the point where I think this game deserves some love too. If it just wasn't so damn hard.

Anyway, that's it for the moment. To make a long story short, instead of building I'm now dreaming of building... something like that. Still trying to change that again.