Sunday, November 22, 2009

Alright, fine, I hate you Michael. :)

So, if you've read through the comments of my last post, you might see where this is going - I was proven wrong, hmph. Not in the point that NWN2's expansions have a great soundtrack, no, but on my comment that there's no point in using custom music. So thanks to mister Sinclair, I just increased the amount of stuff you players will have to download. If you have any complaints about the file size, blame him (given that I get the autodownloader to work with music, never tried that).
Anyway, I have to wholeheartedly agree that this is some nice music that will add a lot to the atmosphere of.. well, some areas I haven't made yet, but they'll come. :)
Here's the youtube thing from the comments again:

Oh, and for your info, should you ever consider using these files for your mod: There's some typos in the 2das (or files, whatever you prefer) that prevent 2 or 3 of the tracks from playing. The mines and the dungeons are affected, just add the plural s to the bmu's file names and they'll work.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A sidenote on music

File under ramblings...
A few things tonight triggered this post -

  • I was just adding sounds to my areas and was thinking about whether or not using background music.
  • I was sitting around in Dammendrech and thinking about the lack of music.
  • I logged into Khalidine to look at the systems (and if there was something to rip off) and heard the custom music.

Now, point 3 is the one I'm starting my rant with - well, there's apparently a lot, or maybe not a lot but some custom music at the vault. Nothing new, that existed back in NWN1 times too, but I never cared about it. Now, when I logged into Khalidine today I was reminded why I don't care. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to sound negative, but for me personally, it's very weird and almost drops me out of any immersion when I hear 3rd party music, especially in NWN2.
Why especially NWN2? Well, tastes might differ, but personally I think NWN2 has an awesome original score. Especially the two expansions. No, stop... the two expansions have an awesome score and the original campaign just one I'd remember, but not listen to much.

When I first played NWN2's original campaign there was certainly the main theme and some music like the village music that was memorable, it's a score you associate immediately with the game. That's fine, job well done. Not worth an Oscar, but the title theme is certainly original.
Now, when I first installed and played MotB I must say it was quite a different experience - I stopped playing and just stood still to listen. Especially when I entered the village of Mulsantir, I thought to myself "hell, what did they do here, that's really special!"
I think it's the fact that Alexander Brandon, the man hired for doing the MotB score, broke with a lot of the usual conventions. He didn't just stick with the usual epic orchestral score, he added a lot of sometimes a little strange folklorisic elements, swimming noticably against the current and making the whole soundtrack stand out in the masses. Frankly, I don't know why this fact hasn't been praised more on the forums and elsewhere - MotB had one of the most original scores I've ever heard in a game.
And praised be Obsidian, they hired the same man for SoZ and you can hear it. I never finished the game, but I have the score on my iPod. Hey, I never listened to game music outside a game before! I don't even have any movie soundracks, besides Neil Young's Dead Man or such.. but I truly enjoy going through my NWN2 playlist to find new music for my areas. None of the other recent games I played had such an effect for me. Dragon Age could have been even more epic if they hired that guy, but they did not, so it's just average epic. The Witcher's music was certainly okay, but nothing you'd remember for a lifetime either. But Alexander Brandon should make movie scores, really. He wouldn't have a problem coming up with a truly unique score for Peter Jackson's next fantasy movie at all, actually I could imagine The Hobbit with some of the SoZ/MotB tunes. :D

So, my conclusions...
Custom music for Middleforest - no way. I love the music that comes with NWN2 more than anything else I heard on the vault or elsewhere. And yes, I will add background music, it gives each area a very special feel to it, improving the immersion for me. Don't like it? Well, disable background music or turn down the volume, hehe.
For you "NWN1 forever" people, here's some examples from Youtube to illustrate what I'm talking about.

NWN2's original title score (not A. Brandon), unique theme but nothing more

NWN2 - MotB (Mulsantir theme)

NWN2 - SoZ (Plains theme)

P.S: It certainly helped me to have the music available in iTunes to decide on themes for areas (and tracks I like so much that I probably never use them because I save them for "some special area" ;) ). In case you didn't know, all the tracks are stored in C:\Program Files\Atari\Neverwinter Nights 2\Music (or Music X2), you can copy them and just change the .bmu extension into .mp3. Tedious work that's easier to do with some batch programm... I can only name one for Mac, but I'm sure there's something for Windows too.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The areas I'm working on now

Some work in progress screens for you. The first area is a loooong road over a huuuuge bridge and it's the outskirts of Rungholt. I'm still a little unsure about it, it looks better in game than on the screens at least. Hmm.
The second area is one I just started yesterday, I simply wanted to have a forest. Now, forests in NWN2 are not that easy actually, you have to spam trees like mad to make it at least a little immersive. NWN1 was easier with the forest tileset, and much less ressource hungry. Still, I'm not completely disappointed - just don't look too close at the textures and grass, I was getting impatient and sloppy... need to fix that.

Rungholt outskirts - lots of farms and grass

A little closer to the bridge

A lake near the forest

I'm hopelessly romantic, I know....

Deeper in the forest

Oh look, an old mine!

The forest road - no other way south, hope there's no bandits in the bushes...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dragon Age - Some impressions

No, Dragon Age wasn't the reason why I've been silent for so long. And it's also not that I haven't done anything in the meantime - I just didn't think anything of what I've done was worth writing about. Some new areas are done, but frankly, screenshots of interiors are never satisfying to me, and the few exteriors I made are not screenshot-ready yet.
Anyway, this is about Dragon Age, the game I just ran a tour de force through. Typical for Bioware, it doesn't let you go, and now I'm feeling sick and tired and tempted to make another character and start over again. Yes, it's that good.
However, there's one point, and that's the hope for Dragon Age being a NWN replacement for us builders someday. I guess many remember the disappointment about the decission to make it only a singleplayer game a while ago, especially after many of us became frustrated about the NWN2 toolset. However, after playing it for a while now I must say it's maybe for the best, at least for now, because I noticed a lot of things in the game that were quite disappointing from a builder's point of view. There's for one the general artwork. If you aim for realism, I think DA is not for you, because the artwork is even more comicbook-style than NWN2. That does not include the characters, armors and weapons of course, which show a wonderful amount of detail. The placeables and area design though can't live up to that standard, some appear very outdated, some are just, to speak bluntly, crap. Bioware also did a very bad job with the textures at many points, as you can see in some of the screenshots I attached. As a builder, I wouldn't want to use any of this, Dragon Age would need a big overhaul like some of those Oblivion mods, or a Witcher enhanced version (although the Witcher already had extraordinary area design right from the beginning). To make things even worse, Bioware level designers didn't even make the best out of the limited ressources they had - the area design is sometimes just sloppy and rushed with no attention to detail at all.
All this doesn't hurt the campaign much, because you're so soaked into the storyline, but if you take a short break and just look around with builder's eyes for a few minutes, you might be as disappointed as I was. But that's Bioware, they've never been the best in the art department, however they are wonderful storytellers, a fact that saved a lot of their games in the past. It's just a little sad when you read the reviews and all of them mention these sloppy mistakes that could have easily been avoided. Just fixing up a few textures could've earned them a, say, 93% score instead of 91%. Sad.
I must add though that the general atmosphere of the game still works fine for me, if I forget about the details. The lighting is often wonderful, some textures still work great to give places a certain feel to them, and with a little more attention to detail, I think one can make a great mod here. It just won't be the style I aim for in Middleforest, it'd have to be more fantasy.

There's also the toolset I just opened for the first time this week to look around a little, then ignored again because I just had to continue playing. On first sight it's rather intimidating. Funny, that was my first impression on NWN2's toolset too, I thought I'd never learn it nor even understand it's basics. Now after opening Dragon Age's toolset, I have the same feeling again and NWN2's toolset feels like the easy to use one to me. Well, I guess it's too much to ask for a simple toolset like NWN1's again, but the professionalism of DA's was a little more than I expected. The first thought was again: This needs wizards... a lot of wizards.

I have to mention another thing that drags me down, and that's the characters. Why, you ask? Well, because I'd never be able to bring this kind of depth into a multiplayer moddule, not even a singleplayer module. Characters are what make this game again extraordinary, and Bioware even did a much better job here than in Mass Effect. Mass Effect still was too close to the stereotypes, and all the characters were somehow foreseeable and easy to understand. Even though they were great in how they came to life, their background and story was clichée. In Dragon Age though, the characters are rich in every aspect, and I was surprised of how much I cared for some of my companions. More than in every other game so far, at least.

The clichées bring me to another topic, and that's Dragon Age's classes and races. There's one huge problem I have to mention right at the beginning: The City Elves. I sort of saw this coming, started with the City Elf Origin and found my fears to be proven: Bioware did exactly what I imagined the elves in Middleforest to be. Why's that bad? Well, because of course everyone will just think I copied from Dragon Age now. Meh.
Besides that, Dragon Age did a lot of things exactly how I wished them to be in D&D. It was so refreshing to find what you could call an overhaul of the D&D system that gets rid of all the rubbish and makes things easier and better where it can. Many things are very familiar to those used to D&D and games like NWN, but you can expect some surprising changes as well. I had great fun with the overhaul of the rogue class, just to name one. New feats like the "Below the belt" one are extremely fun to have, even if they might not be very powerful. But the animation that goes with it alone is fun enough. Oh, animations... do I have to mention how wonderful animations are? This is clearly the department where Bioware can show Obsidian their middle finger with a huge grin, and proves how much attention they can pay to details if they just want to. My conclusion is, in the level design department they just don't want to.

Let's not forget some aspects of the game that were talked a lot about, like the maturity of the game. There's two aspects of maturity in the game, one is the actual storyline, the other is content. As for the storyline, yes, it's a mature storyline that should appeal to adults a lot more than Mass Effect. The characters in the game are not as naive and simple anymore as they once were, and there's a lot of grey now where once was black and white only. Bioware got finally rid of the simple good/evil axis and decissions in this game are very tough... some had me stare at the screen for minutes or a half hour, some touched me deeply. Job very well done.
But most people probably think of blood and sex when the topic is adult content, so let's talk about that. The violence level in Dragon Age might be 18+, but it's not mature - it's silly. Some might be realistic, I'll take the Witcher for comparison again. I'm sure Bioware looked very closely at The Witcher and adopted a lot of ideas from that game. Finishing moves, severed heads, that was just too familiar. But Bioware has overdone it, and that's where it's not mature anymore. In some scenes the fountains of blood and gore are so silly I fell back into my chair and slapped my forehead, it was not the Witcher but much more the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
This game certainly needs blood and violence, but they've not done it right.
As for the sex, this is again somewhere in between, and again we have to differentiate between storyline and graphics. As for the graphical sex, i.e. nudity, I have no clue where "partial nudity" is shown. In the hottest scenes you see characters in underwear, hardly nude (although parts of that underwear are quite detailed). There are some creatures that show a little more than underwear, but still no partial nudity. A demon and a spirit come to mind, both seem again a little familar (uh... Driad and Bruxxa in The Witcher), but both show as much as the Witcher's censored North American version, with the most delicate parts hidden. So as for graphical nudity, there's not much mature content.
As for the storyline, there are scenes comparable to the one in Mass Effect (Mass Effect's was done better in my opinion) and some "in between quickies". Bioware made sure absolutely every taste is catered to, there are hetero, gay, even options for a mix of all. None of them are very detailed, the main romance plotlines are very well done though, and very tasteful, mature in a positive way. And from my experience, it's not just a "discover everything in the game" thing, your companions can grow so much on you that you really want to get everything out of them. Again, well done, doesn't deserve a "filthy" stamp. Actualy, and you may think whatever you like about that, I'd rather have had partial nudity in the main romance scene, maybe hidden by the camera angles of the cutscene. The silly undies appeared too much like a self-censorship and actually deserve a negative point in maturity. I guess they wanted to avoid the stupid remarks about the Witcher, in which you see a little more and which earned the game an unjustified "sexist" stamp.

Now a last word on the ingame systems. I must say besides the "D&D overhaul" there wasn't much that impressed me. The influence on other characters is the same as in all Bioware games, hardly surprising anymore. Theres no "living, breathing" world around you like in The Witcher, no NPC jobs, no day/night cycles, no weather system, nothing at all. If there are any nifty ideas in Dragon Age, it's in the lore, the story, the characters and setting, but certainly not in any ingame systems. Well, of course there are nifty ideas in the class progressions, feats and spells, but that won't be easy to copy in NWN. But for a living, breathing world The Witcher is still the prime example in my opinion.
You know what my last impression is though, especially with the sometimes very archaic area design? Multiplayer... MMO. This game is made to run on as many systems as possible, on my now 3 year old computer it runs on he highest of highest settings, smooth as silk. There are many aspects ingame and outside that could lead to a multiplayer game, add to that some comments on the DA boards like "we wanted to focus on singleplayer for now" and and and.. it's just a feeling deep in my stomach, but it's not a positive next-NWN feeling, it's more a negative MMO feeling... And yeah, just a feeling, probably best to ignore it.

One "meh" for the textures

Another huge "Meh" for the textures... shame on you Bioware...

Realistic placeables? What for, in a fantasy game... meh.

Sloppy area design, part one... if you just use 10 spots of grass in the whole area (meh), you could at least place those ten spots correctly. Meh.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Autumn's coming, and with it new ideas for areas. I'm currently working on new exterior areas, but thought as a proof I did something since my last post, I'd show you a few of the Rungholt interiors I made. I still need much more, and not all of them are good yet, but to give you a general idea how the houses look like on the inside, here we go...

A noble tavern

One of the simple pubs

Once again from the entrance

A different pub

The Rungholt Brewery

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One of these days

Staring at the screen and drawing a blank. This is one of these days I hate like no other, I'm not satisfied with what I did, I think it's all in vain anyway because the performance of my city is too bad, I look at the scripting work that's coming soon and see that not even a simple script to close doors works properly. I doubt the whole PW concept and think I should've started a singleplayer mod, because PWs never turn out as you want to. I wonder if any player who'd join would actually be fun to roleplay with, or if NPCs might not be the nicer alternative, and even larger in numbers. I see new custom content I want to use, but already lost track of the stuff I already have in my haks and don't dare to touch it. The stupid toolset crashes again when I open Rungholt after working on a different area, I restart the toolset countless times a day. I hate the interiors I made, and how zooming out the camera ruins he immersion, while zooming in in character mode ruins the playability. Did I ever mention there's nothing worse than seeing the person you play with uses WASD walk? I don't know why, but I always think that person has some liters of Coke inside, potato chips on the table and plays a quick round of NWN before returning to Unreal Tournament. Of course that's bullshit, but still...
I think my Roleplay sucks. I'm not up for the task of DMing in the world I create. Talk about finding a lead DM when I also need a lead scripter, builder, custom content guy and what else I'm too stupid for but do anyway.
I want that signed Storm of Zehir copy so I get at least one birthday present this year ( I slept away that day), I want autodownloaders just to work, I want to have a fun and immersive place to RP in (Middleforest? I dunno, I doubt that at the moment), and... meh. I need a creativity dose, some new ideas that I can actually work into the mod without failing miserably or getting bad headaches. Saw an awsome modification at the vault today and wish I had the patience and technical skill to do that - at least I know I could've made the exterior a little nicer, that's already something, huh? But I think I'm making yet another NWN2 mod instead of something unique when I see that. I'm scratching more and more things from the list that I wanted to do at some point, simply because it's way too much work. Talk about custom classes, class changes, rule changes... meh. I cannot even find the patience to update that stupid nekkid-hak I created (what did I create that for anyway when I'm probably not even using it...?).
Windows terrorizes me too. Can't we have a Mac toolset? At least on the Mac side I have that GB RAM more that Windows is too stupid to see, and that's probably the GB Runholt needs to stay stable.
Oh, I don't like chatrooms too... yeah, Dammendrech has one and it's what I mean. While some people are fun to talk to outside of the game, some you wish would just... don't talk when they don't play... it's hard to RP with a character you might actually like when you know the player is someone you'd avoid. To prevent that, I don't want anything like a chatroom for Middleforest, no-ho. But first we need a Middleforest anyway, then players, then we can talk about stuff like chats.
So, enough rambling for today, my computer has finished the disk repair, defragment and whatever routine and is free for toolsetting again. Damn what a day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A little more detail

Bored of Rungholt yet? Well, I'm slowly getting to the point where I'd rather make some screens of new areas too, but, well... perfectionism. As I said in my last post, I'm a bit worried about performance here. It's not unplayable, but I'm getting serious framerate drops at some camera angles, and I'm pretty sure the cause is area size coupled with all the water throughout the city. The framerate doubles when I disable all water options, so that's a sure sign my theory isn't that far off. Of course I'm using a lot of placeables too, but them and the trees and lights and all don't seem to cause that much trouble alone. But at this point I'm just thinking "live with it", the area works, computer systems will catch up in time, hehe. So some more Rungholt pics..

A slum camp just ouutside the walls

An alley with red lanterns

The elven quarter

My favourite "isle"

Again, and yes I see there's a piece of wall missing...

One shot with the standard day/night cycle

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Guess the character

This is probably just for Michael. I had some fun recreating some old friends who might make an appearance in Midleforest (sadly, a few of my favourites just don't fit the setting), an idea I stole in Dammendrech.
Besides that, I still can't show off a lot of areas, but I think Rungholt is really getting great. One downside though, the performance is pretty bad, the area is just too huge. Not unplayable, but noticeable. I'll keep it anyway, not another rebuilt. That'll be another post though.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting somewhere?

After all the babbling in the last posts finally some new Work in Progress screenshots, this time using a very dark lighting. Think I'm getting somewhere.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

And while I'm on it, a reminder

Baking is a pain, especially when the walkmesh just doesn't do what I expect it to do. So while I bake 10 minutes, make a small change, bake again, change again it seems like this is a good time for another reminder of the initial goal of all this. In my last post I already rambled a lot, now I'm going to list a few more specific things about what I would like to do that others don't.
First of all, like Michael said and, I assume, most others would agree on, I want to build the world I want to play in. Now, there are so many Persistent Worlds out there, and I assume a few of them already did things I want to do, but the perfect mix is still missing. So here are the main goals I have:
  • an immersive world. I want to get lost in it, forget about real life for a few moments and be in a different life.
  • a fair world. Where should I start about fairness? It would be a long long rant
  • a unique world
  • a fun world
First point: Immersion. Immersion is the general atmosphere, and the main factors are probably area design, setting and lore, and the quality of Roleplay. The most beautiful world is not immersive when the playerbase only consists of World of Warcraft-kids. The best Roleplayers cannot get into a world if it looks like a child has quickly thrown an area together. One goes with the other. The area design is what I think I can get done, it is not about the technical skill which I certainly lack, but I think I know what I want it to look like. I'm not a "form follows function" builder who makes a list of area contents and quests, then throws in the buildings as it fits. I have an image of a city or area in front of me, try to build it, then "walk through the streets" and consider what kind of interior a house might have, if a corner would be a good place for a market stand and so on.
The other side of area design is the technical side, to be immersive a world shouldn't be full of bugs, the NPCs should act realistic, scripts just have to work. That's step 2, I'm not even there yet. I'd rather have a nice looking base first I can fill with life, the systems behind it are secondary. Not less important, but when I see the world in front of me I can better imagine how I want it to function.
As for immersive roleplay, there are two factors: The world and the player. I noticed that when a someone's thrown into a really well built world, most people automatically adjust to it. If my server is full of exciting baddies to kill, players will focus on killing them. If my world has a lot of stunning areas, players stop and look around, and might even just want to sit at a lake for hours to enjoy it.
However, not every player is like that, and that's why, as sad as it is, there need to be rules. I hate rules, really, and I want to keep them low in numbers. Nexus had just one main rule, that was:
Everyone gets to have fun - Nobody gets to have fun on another one's expense
That's a good rule, however it's not enough. Not even for Nexus it was, for example there was the rule about no evil characters. There might have been many good reasons for that rule, however I think in an immersive world there's no place for such rules. There's actually not even a place for alignments, if we're talking about realism. Alignments are silly, I despise the whole system and it ruins my fun. The rules for Middleforest would contain different things, but I can live with the Nexus main rule above them all. A few examples for rules I consider necessary:
  1. Roleplay. Live your character. Stay IC. Limit ooc chatter to tells
  2. Strict PvP rules. PvP is allowed for realism, however only in rare circumstances when roleplay justifies it and only if all parties agree on it.
  3. Classes are roleplay tools. Be free, experiment, don't think you have to act like a monk only because you took that class. Be a character, not a build
  4. Be an adult, act like an adult. Adult content is not what a teenager considers adult content, it's about being mature and playing a mature game.
  5. (A few rules to prevent munchkinism, like the 3-level rule)
There are not many more that come to my mind at the moment. Middleforest should be free of those hundreds of rules other servers require you to read. Middleforest will not have character applications, most classes will be treated as tools, not require certain roleplay. Players are required to play out their character build, but they are free to do that however they want as long as it makes sense. Why is that? Because the players know their character better than any DMs.

That brings me right to point 2, fairness. I hate unfairness, and there are many aspects of it. And it starts right with the rules above, and not only when it comes to social interaction between players. Unfairness could be that you don't let the other roleplay their character as they think it fits best. You are a rogue, you have to act like a rogue. Utterly bullshit. It continues to fairness in game mechanics, and the main point Michael's xp system is all about. There are many kinds of classes, and they all play differently, however they should all have the same chance to advance, without having to go completely out of character. Here's an example: In Dammendrech, a roleplay world, a lot of people play characters that are not combat orientated. However, everyone wants to advance, that's the crux with the levelling system of D&D. What happens? At some point they all go ooc grinding alone on different sides of the server, hoping not to be seen by others because IC their character wouldn't hurt a fly.
At that point I miss the relaxed fun of Nexus, where people just had a relaxed adventure together, not terribly in character, but it was fun.
In Dammendrech I rarely have that fun, just like in most other roleplay worlds. Adventuring becomes a necessity, you do it mostly on your own unless everyone agrees it's the half hour of ooc grinding of the day.

Now, with Michael's XP system I hope this one problem (My character would not kill, but I have to) will become obsolete. More ways of making xp that are not combat-focused is absolutely necessary. And good RP rewards. Back in Nexus, we could make a 1000xp by grinding for a half hour, but a RP reward for 4 hours was like... 100xp? People, I see that on most RP servers - RP needs to be rewarded, for many servers without a nifty xp system this is the only xp income for non-combat characters. And they are playing their ass off. Reward good RP generously, not like a small nod. The players will otherwise just be grinding again as soon as you turn around.

So, XP system and RP rewards, one thing. The other is encouraging party play in every aspect.
As much as I hate people around me only chatting oocly and grinding like mad like on most action servers, I also don't want to enforce an absolute strict IC rule. Sometimes it's necessary to relax a little, be half IC, but up for adventuring together even if your character might not fully agree. Everyone needs to let some steam of sometimes, and it's more fun together. It's fine, forget about it the next day, but it's a multiplayer game, it's a community game, it's not a singleplayer game. If there are four people on the server who are just in a killing mood, hell, please team up, do it together and enjoy party fun. It's better than seeing it as a monotoneous work and an evil necessity that has to be hidden from others. As long as it does not get out of hand and you don't annoy others with it. When a DM pops up players should be ready to RP, when someone else comes in and starts roleplaying I expect an immediate stop of ooc chatter (which should be kept to tells and party anyway) and appropriate IC reactions. For those who knew Nexus: The dock chatter there was fun at times, but it totally got out of hand. Real Life stories are a subject for tells, or go and look for a quiet room where nobody else comes along and talk there. I hope all this is not too much to ask on a RP server.

Now, for PvP I don't think there's much to say. This won't be a PvP server, PvP is only about realism and a last ressort. PvP is usually a thing that happens in RP, not in brute force. There are characters that don't get along and one might hate the other IC, however, there are almost unlimited ways to play that out without actually attacking the other. If there's absolutely no other way, then the fight must be IC, it must be in consense, and I'd prefer if a DM is around. There's no WoW-style "kill the n00b because I'm an evil rogue", such players are simply not wanted. We're all mature and expect players to behave like that.

Mature brings me to adult content, my favourite subject. 18+ = Oooh, pixelporn? No Sir, 18+ means 1. It's not a kindergarden but a mature game with mature storylines and yes, I'd prefer a mature playerbase. 2. I don't want to have anyone complain if a prostitute shows some skin or a drunken sailor uses dirty language. That's realism, and not pixelporn.
When I say 18+ I mean the average US-american rating by the way, I wrote more about that in an older post. In most european countries it would be 16+. There will be nudity if I decide it fits the context, there will be foul language if it's realistic, maybe even some minor erotic content. But I'm not building a "social" server where players meet to roleplay the act of reproduction, such players are as welcome as WoW-kids trying to get from 1 to 30 in a week. Saying this server will be adult-only is a precaution, nothing more. I don't want angry parents complaining about my content, as I've seen elsewhere. Expect adult content to be presented in a mature way.
Last, for the rules, the anti-munchkinism rules. It's quite simple, I like unusual builds and interesting combinations, but there's just the old issue of cherrypicking for power. And even if it can be explained IC, there's always a foul stench around builds like a Rogue29/Shadowdancer1. A class can mean anything the way you RP it, but it should matter nevertheless. I'd like to see people playing out the classes somehow and not pick it for just a single feat. So there's the 3 levels of each class rule that still stands, maybe I have to redefine that a little for NWN2, I might end with 2 of each, we'll see about that.

Now I think I covered most points of the lists above. The hardest thing is still making a world unique and stand out, and even with all those technical details, it's mainly the setting that makes the difference. Where will Middleforest stand out, if all my plans become reality and I really get all done I want to be done? Well, I think it will stand out in a quiet way, not outshine all the rest. I'm not aiming for an extreme world, I will stay close to what players are used to in NWN2, the differences being in the detail.

  • There's the setting. It won't be on the moon or underwater, it will be a fairly realistic world with some fantasy in it. But much more european than the original game and D&D, with more european (folk)lore and artwork.
  • The system. If I get SM's system in, it'll make a major difference.
  • the quality. I hope.

So what's the point?

First, thank you all for your last comments, they boosted my morale a little bit again. Guess what, I already sat down and rebuild the whole thing. Well, I'm in the process, I have the same old walkmesh troubles again I had every time when I worked on the docks, and the terrain looks still very plain and simple. But I'm on it. And I've had a little success, I was able to configure the autodownloader and from now on could theoretically host the mod whenever I want, the multiplayer side is done. Not that there's anything in there to see yet, but so what, one thing less on the list.
But after all those troubles, I guess the question why I'm still doing this is more than justified. I'm not really sure where to start, there's a lot of reasons, and also a lot of reasons why I don't want to go back to NWN1, which has a stable, easy to use toolset and a lot of very polished community content. And last but not least, I'm envious of what Squatting Monk was able to set up, especially in regard of staff and helpers. NWN1 has a great community, and if I had sticked to it, Middleforest would probably be almost finished at this point. The decision to switch over meant being on my own on most parts. So what's so great about NWN2 then?
At first sight, nothing. When I started playing NWN2 I hated it in almost every aspect. The areas in the official campains looked worse than most NWN1 areas. More polygons, great. Terrain editor, wonderful. But what a bad artwork, so easily outshone by The Witcher for example, which was even built with NWN1's engine that was oh so old and oh so outdated and limited according to NWN2 forum posts. And, NWN2's performance was ridiculous. Such shitty artwork, zero eyecandy but crawling at 10 FPS? No thanks, we wait for Dragon Age.
Now, I think most credit for changing my mind goes to two persons. The first being lowfatpretzels, who I played a lot with in NWN1 and who insisted I should try some NWN2 PWs. The first of them was Abyssya, and my first steps in this world were exactly the same I later saw Michael do: A torrent of hatred against everything NWN2. "Why is the camera doing this, why can't I do this, why is my view blocked, why does my toon do that, why are my FPS so low when nothing here looks good... hell, I crashed" etc. etc. It wasn't really Abyssya's fault, I think that was a well made world, but I just wasn't ready. Neither was NWN2. I saw absolutely no reason to continue playing, went back to NWN1 and done.
A few months later Pretz tried again, and this time it was Dammendrech, the world he co-founded. I was a little frustrated with NWN1 back then, my old server Nexus was growing too old, nothing happened anymore and the few players who were left all fought each other. I was still absolutely sure I wanted to stick with NWN1, but I had no server to play on at that moment, so I gave Dammen a shot. Now, two things need to be mentioned here that are really important: 1. NWN2 had seen a few patches in between, 2. I had a better graphics card.
Yes, NWN2 is very demanding, but nowadays all midrange graphics cards should do the job fine, and boy, NWN2 can look so much better when you can actually enable a few more options and, this was the case in Dammendrech, someone actually knows how to make nice areas. Vulpina is a really good builder, and Pretz knows how to handle area lighting and all that eyecandy stuff, and both together are a very different experience than the areas Obsidian did.
Furthermore, customization. NWN2 has actually a very high level of customization, even though as a player you might only see that you can't change your armor as nicely as in NWN1. Still, it gave me some ideas of what is possible. There's a lot of potential in this game, you just have to dig a little. But there's also one more point, and that was simply Roleplay. After a while Dammendrech was just great to play on, I had wonderful Roleplay there, which hooked me up and made it more and more difficult to go back to NWN1 again where I actually had no idea where to play anymore.
So, three points:
  • Gaming hardware: NWN2 is a different experience when you can actually make it run smoothly (nowadays this is a cheap thrill, in 2006 it was expensive)
  • Players: If you enjoy playing with community one, why building for community two?
  • Customization: NWN2 offers more of it, especially in area design. I just love eye candy.
Now I mentioned two persons, and now we're at Mask's comment about Monty Python's Black Knight. That one has a name, and that's Rob McGinnis, Obsidian's former assistant producer and Community manager(?). I think nobody in NWN2's community was closer to that wonderful example than him. Whatever was wrong in NWN2, if a patch broke the whole game, if your computer exploded after entering Act 2 - Rob McGinnis fought for this game like a cat in the corner and was a good example for what I think was Obsidian's role in this story: They knew they f...ed up at the beginning, everyone knows Atari cracked the whip behind them and made them throw out a half-finished game. Obsidian/Obtusian/Osidiots did wrong whatever could be done wrong when it comes to game development, but hell they had dedication, and first and foremost Rob McGinnis who held the whole NWN2 community together all the time with his countless Developer posts. All that gave me the impression that there is indeed a community for NWN2, and even a likeable one. Hands down, NWN1 has a great community, but there was a lot of elitism there too, and often PW projects only seemed to exists as a show-off of what is all possible and who makes the greatest systems and whatnot - NWN1 just worked. NWN2's community was more like "Hell, this is crap, but somehow I like it, let's try to fix this up as good as we can and make the best out of it". And I think for he most part it succeeded, at this point NWN2 is very enjoyable, even with it's 1000s of bugs I can see it catch up with NWN1 and even taking over. It's like making a sculpture out of garbage.

Now, there's one more point, and I think this is a relict from NWN1 times. Competition. I admit, even with my limited skills I sometimes think I just want to do it better. I've played on some great servers, but I always see room for improvements, things I absolutely not like or that I just would approach differently. Especially in NWN2. I've seen a lot of good area design, but much more really bad area design. Just take all the official campaigns for NWN2: The artwork is just not what I would sell to anyone, I think I can do it better. Yes, it's an immense amount of work, but I want to show that more is possible with NWN2, there's so much potential.
Then of course there's the setting. I want to make a different approach than the others, not quite as different than Michael or Ben, but in details. I want to make the world I want to play in. And of course there's Michaels great S&S core system. Even in NWN1 it will outshine most others, and I'm a huge fan of it, even though in the beginning I just wanted a 1 to 1 copy of the Vives xp system. But in NWN2 I haven't seen anything like this yet, and I think making it work in a PW will immediately set the world apart from any others out there, as long as the quality of the building can live up to it. I like playing NWN2, and there's a system that makes playing a lot more enjoyable, but there won't be a NWN2 world ever using it if I don't. Someone's got to be the first, no?
Anyway, that's why I go back to the toolset now.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rebuilding a city again?

Here's a new Screenie for you:

Notice anything? Like... there's no terrain? No water? No textures?
Well, this is the best result that I could get after reverse-engineering the files the new autodownloader had prepared for me. In the process of preparing the files it was smart enough to erase everything from my module directory, apparently. Well, something did, and and I assume it was the autodownloader, or it's another new toolset "feature".
Want to hear more? It did not happen once, it happened twice. The first time I thought it was a mistake I made, was sure I can avoid it the next time and loaded up a backup - I was smart enough to backup my module folder before testing, uh huh.
Well, I forgot to make a backup of the backup though, and as you can guess, the toolset ruined my backup. Well done.
I honestly can't say how much more I'm able to stand... this is the second time in less than two months I can start from scratch. I consider dropping the whole thing, it's really getting too much.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More WIP

This is going to be huuuuge! :D

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In the flow

(Re-) Building a city... again.

After two days in NWN1, I usually had an area that looked almost finished. Sigh. Not in NWN2. I finally found the willpower to rebuild Rungholt, and progess is very slow, mainly due to the stupid walkmesh issues (see last post). But as a proof that I'm on it, here are screenies of the new layout. I changed the canals a little, the small "island" in the right half (the one the curved bridge leads to) might turn out as an interesting detail once it's populated, we'll see. The bridges are only for testing. I also use different walls for the canals now, the ones before look a little more interesting on the side, but always end in that stupid.. what is it, sort of a sewer entrance? Well, in Rungholt v.1.0 it was a detail that bugged me and I wasn't always able to hide it properly. Let's see how 2.0 turns out. At least the basic layout is done, now I can start with texture and houses.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Did you know...

... that it can take more than 12 hours just to make a f*%!ing dock piece walkable in NWN2's toolset?!
Still working on it, my eyes feel like marshmallows.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Another short cross-promotion

Yeah, again, sorry for no better subjects.
I started rebuilding Rungholt, that means.... I've made a new area and chose a base texture. Great, isn't it? When it came to the new layout of canals, I couldn't decide anymore and instead went on one of those overnight youtube-tours you might know... and that leads me to that cross-promotion, I decided to finally do what I wanted to do everytime after I went on a youtube-trip: Making a music blog. Sort of a diary, ranting about music and stuff, in no specific order, just what comes to my head during treasurehunting. So here it is: Life's too short for bad music - you can also just click on the link on the right side.
Back to business.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A quick cross-promotion

... following Michael's example, I feel obliged to point my two readers at Ben Harrison's blog about his new persistent world project, The End Times. Ben's been a tremendous help back when I was still working on a NWN1 world, which unfortunately never happened (and I still feel bad about asking for so much help and in the end never making anything out of it).
Talented as he is, I'm sure that PW will be one you want to play on.

While you're at it, make sure to visit Michael's blog more often too - if NWN1 is still on your hard drive, you'll definitely want to try out his world once it's public, he has assembled a nice staff of very talented people by now and I'm sure whatever comes out in the end will be fantastic.

As for my building... I'm slowly getting used to the thought that I really have to start over again. My plea for help at the Bioboards was heard and people came up with good ideas, but nothing helped. Well, maybe I can file it under learning lessons for life. At least I learned a lot about the toolset since I began working on the areas, and maybe a new start will be easier, faster and a little more professional now. Just sad to know I should forget about those huge fields and grasslands, pity, I really liked those. :P

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A new area, a sideproject, a huge drop back

There are a lot of news, however, most of them are not good. The worst is the one I ran into two days ago, and it appears to put me back to zero. Let me start at the beginning.
Like a good builder should, I listened to the advise of the elders and always saved my module as a directory, not as a mod file, and also disabled autosave. A good student I am.
Like every true revolutionary should (see Shirt-post below), I didn't always listen to the elders and ignored some of their advise, like e.g. using just soandso many seeds of trees. I didn't run into problems, and that's why I kept walking on that revolutionary path with my fist raised high.
The one problem I ran into though - and there was no advise of the elders regarding that - was a crash occuring when I tried to erase grass. This seemed to happen from a certain amount either of grass on, or from a certain amount of grass types (there are a lot and I used a lot). But since my stuff always ran fine in game, I didn't care much about it and went on.
Recently though, my toolset kept crashing whenever I switched between areas. Loading a new one required to close the toolset, open it up again and load the area I wanted to work on. It was always an out of memory error, so I checked the size of my Middleforest directory which contains just 4 areas: 841MB. Shock. So I thought I'd better save as a mod and check if the huge size remains. And there it all started: I couldn't save as a mod anymore. Great. I tried to export the areas into an erf... crash. I tried to export them one by one - crash. I thought I used too many tree seeds, so I started deleting trees. Ended up with a module with no single tree or bush in it... still crashes, still the same size.
After much trial and error I was then able to export some erfs, but couldn't reimport them without the new mod giving out of memory errors. At least I figured that the crash occurs on importing the trx (Walkmesh) part of the erf, so I tried reducing the walkable areas to a minimum. But again, no change, a treeless and barely walkable module still crashing.
In the end I came to the conclusion that the grass is the root of the problem. I don't think I have to say anything more *points at Grasslands post*. I can't delete the grass in any area anymore, and it seems as if the grass crashes the module and bloats up area size. There is not even a way to tell the toolset to get rid of the grass at all in one step. Conclusion: My whole stuff is unuseable. Yay. That's months of work, and you can imagine how down I am at the moment, starting from zero is the worst case scenario, and I'm not even sure if I can avoid the bug in the future, unless I never use grass again. So that's what put my moral to zero this week, no idea what to do next... maybe new areas in a new module, putting the old stuff on hold, making alternatives.... rebuilding Rungholt is out of question, it took months to get it the way it is now, only an alternative attempt, basically a whole new city, would be possible.
Just to put a little more salt into the wound, here are some screens from the latest version (before I started to delete trees)...

I haven't taken any screens of the new stuff I'm working on, because it didn't pass my self-censorship yet. Basically it was the Rungholt road and the River crossroads from my old NWN1 module, after which the forest areas begin.

Anyway, there's some progress too, even though it doesn't affect the module directly, and that's my little sideproject of making stuff look nicer. I always hated how custom clothes that show a little more skin were only useable for chars that use the default human piggypink skintype - cursed you be if you use any other race or head variation with a different skin type, there you stood with a green head and a perfectly pink human body. Sorry, I'm getting eye cancer from such things, so I made... *drumroll*... a nude patch. Stop rolling your eyes, Michael... let me explain this embarrassing fact. So there's Jester who made a new nude patch, so to speak. It's a new nude model that looks a little nicer than the old one by Zylch001 which already served as a base for huge clothing compilations - basically everything that shows a little more skin (that already means no gloves or boots in NWN2!) is based on Zylch's model. Now, as for Jester's base, you probably notice it's name is New Nude (with Clothes), and what that means is that he made a dress base that isn't equipped in the armor, but in the belt slot, thereby not replacing the "Nude armor" the PC wears. And since the original skin is shining through, you can paint that skin to fit the PC head you use, and that's exactly what I did - after Jester even immediately listened to my request for a model with a little less breast (more realistic IMHO).
Anyway, I'll let pictures speak (cover your eyes kids!):

As you can see the dress the little drow wears is very basic, but what's more important, the original skin remains (and it's not just tinted, there won't be that ugly gap at the neck anymore, or at least the effect is reduced a lot. There are more pics at my vault submission, where you can as well give me a vote or drop a comment ;)
Next sideproject will be, you guess it, making dresses with Jester's base.
That's all for now, cross fingers I'm either finding an unexpected solution for my Middleforest problem, or the will to start over.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Things to learn from The Witcher (the huge comparison post)

Somewhere in the comments of an older post Ben asked me about the NWN2 water, and I compared it to the Witcher there, and got the idea for a comparison of the two games.
Now, I've talked a lot about The Witcher in my last year's posts, I don't really want to repeat all that, and the two games are very different approaches of a Roleplaying game where you can't just say this one is better or not.
However, the two games have something in common, and that's the Neverwinter Nights 1 roots, and it's amazing how different two games based on the same technology can turn out, and even more what CDProject Red squeezed out of the old Aurora Engine (thereby customizing it a lot) while Obsidian decided to make their own partly backward compatible Electron engine for their approach.
But let's start with what triggered this post, the water. Ben told me that water movement was something he was missing in NWN1 and asked if NWN2 had something like it. The answer, to my best knowledge, is no, only a few optical tricks can give the slight impression of a river actually flowing, but in most cases it still looks like a perfectly calm lake. You can adjust ripple and waveforms a little, but that's it. Also, the realism depends very much on the lighting, in many cases the NWN2 water, even though having steep hardware demands when every option is enabled, looks much more artificial than The Witcher's, which is technically the more outdated solution. But see the screenshots.

As you can see, the river gives quite the impression it's flowing, and when Geralt goes for a bath, the water has that slight "flow around" effect. Not the most awesome realism ever seen, but it works. Now for NWN2:

Do I have to say more? Disappointing, isn't it? Now, to be fair, there are more options for water and a few tricks to make it more realistic, but whatever you do, you won't get the movement you have in the Witcher screen 1.
By the way, see the wonderful buildings in screenshot number one? If I could build a PW with the Witcher's placeables, oooooh yes, that would be it. Oh, that reminds me, The Witcher has a toolset too, called Djinni. Have a screenshot:

If you enlarge it, you'll see that it doesn't hide it's roots - you have quite a few sections there starting with "Neverwinter..." or NWN. Sadly, there's two problems: First, you can't play The Witcher in Multiplayer, and you're usually stuck with Geralt as only character (he's not a bad one, but a world full of Geralts would be boring after a while). And, we don't have a terrain editor in Djinni. We have to stick to the prefabs that come with the game, or use a 3D Editor to make our own terrains and import them into Djinni. That just as a side info, for Middleforest I'll have to stick with NWN2, no other way.

Now for a few things I saw in the Witcher and that I'd love to see in NWN2. Some things might be possible with some effort, some things nearly impossible, but since both Squatting Monk and I talked about ambience recently, I'd like to show you a little about the ambient system in the Witcher. So let's visit a country inn:

We enter and look around. It's early in the morning, just very few guests and the Innkeeper is sweeping the floor on the right. Since thee's not much to do here in the main room, Geralt goes around the corner and starts a little fistfight....

After we broke the fat guy's nose we go back for a drink, and see what happened in the meantime: A cat walks up to the window to enjoy the sunlight and a new NPC has entered and took a seat at the table, waiting to tell Geralt a tale for a beer...

We look around and see at the table behind us a quest NPC has appeared too... the cat sits and licks it's paws...
... and the Innkeeper has positioned himself behind the bar where Vesna, the barwench, has just appeared too and prepares to serve. In a few moments, she'll walk about talking to the patrons, and in the evening we'll meet her outside on her way home, where we might have to protect her from some thugs...

Or let's head over to Abigail, the Witch. It's again early morning and she just awoke and prepares to leave her bed and make breakfast:

We're polite and don't disturb her, so she chooses to ignore us and, after some breakfast at her table, starts sweeping the floor until we finally have enough and speak to her:

So this is the daily schedules NPCs have, exactly what Squatting Monk dreams about in his recent Ambience post.
But there's more, again something SM mentioned, and that's the weather system. See what happens when the weather suddenly changes to rain:

Scripting something like this would be a pain in the rearside, but imagine this in a persistant world... one can still dream, no? Or, well... there's an idea I have to look into... mayhaps CD Project Red has done that scripting work for us already? I'd have to dig in Djinni for NWN-compatible scripts.... but before that, a few more ambient things that make the Witcher's world so alive. Like, ambient animals. These are no creatures like in NWN2. In Neverwinter Nights(1/2) everything that moves is a creature and is clickable, or highlighted. You want some rats running around? You have to place creatures there, with factions, they will be highlighted when you point your mouse on them, they are clickable, they block your path etc. etc. etc. In the Witcher, we just have ambient creatures you cannot interact with, they are for the atmosphere. And see how that looks:

We see a few goose and decide to scare them...

They are scared.

Some pidgeons on the path, what do pidgeons do? Right...

The Witcher is full of these... rats that run from you, small frogs at the lake, hens in the Inn, etc.
But now an example for another type of ambience you will find in the game quite often: Random reactions of NPCs. They react to a lot, we've already seen the weather, but another example would be they pass another NPC on the road and make a snide remark, or they see Geralt walking by and make a comment. One example I like very much are the kids you often see playing on the streets, balancing on sidewalk edges or dancing or running about. Here's a nice one:

Kid stops playing as Geralt approaches and looks stunned...

But nosy at the same time....

Other comments include "Your hair is like milk!" Or, if a girl, "I'll become a barwench when I'm grown up!".
It's also amusing to see who suddenly joins you when you decide to rest at a fire. You sit down at a lone fireplace, take a small nap, when you wake up suddenly a few people sit around you throwing around random comments of all flavours from "I need a drink" over "I hate nonhumans" to "My balls itch". The ambience in the Witcher really makes half of the game, sometimes I laughed tears about the behaviour of some NPCs I saw down the road. And I still wonder, if all that is based on the old NWN1 engine... shouldn't it be possible?

Well, so much for my huuuuuge Witcher comparison. As you can see, the game is full of ideas and I only scratched the surface yet. A lot of it's content is worth being ripped off, and if you haven't played it yet. go ahead and get it, it's even running multiple times smoother than NWN2.