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demands when every option is enabled, looks much more artificial than The Witcher's, which is technically the more outdated solution.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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A little theory on races and classes (lore)

It's time to think a little about theory, and since I'm already on it, I'll just share some thoughts and file this under rambling and brainstorming. 
As the first cities and villages soon need to be filled with life, it's about time to decide how this life should look like. That means, I'm considering the different races, classes and how they fit into this world. I already pointed out that going with the standards and stereotypes is no option, however, I'm reconsidering the amount of changes I really want to make. On the server I play on, a lot of classes have very specific lore and places in the world, which first appealed to me and made me want to do the same. However, a very specific place in the world can also be very restrictive, like for example, a lot of prestige classes require the player to join a specific organization or guild, which again comes with a set of rules that might limit the character too much. But that alone isn't the problem, I also figured that some things that sound awesome in theory just don't work in reality. There are a lot of caveats, some caused by the amount of work for the player (requiring an incredible amount of RP time that can't be catered by DMs, feeling of being stuck), some caused by the amount of work for DMs, some caused by game mechanics. Also, I always thought it's not the build and choice of classes that makes a character, the game mechanics should just be a tool to form a character, and what counts is how it's played out. I want classes to blur into each other, in some cases it's even fun when you play for months with someone and never have an idea what his actual class is. 
I thought I'd start loosely rambling about classes and races in between other things from now on, filling you in with some lore and ideas how certain things fit into Middleforest. 
Why not start with races and my favourite race, the utterly adorable elves? A good start because they give me the least problems, I already know pretty well how they fit into the world. So here we go.


Races - Elves:

Elves and Halflings are the most commonly seen non-human races in the civilised lands around the forest. As we know, the game mechanics give us a few options on elves, the most commonly used is probably the Moon Elf, while the special case is the Drow. 
Even though the elven subraces blur into each other and one can use pretty much any base but drow to jump in right away, I might rename the most commonly used Moon Elf to City Elf.

These City - or civilised elves live in human cities, but often as second-class citizens. They might live as gypsies and travel the roads, might live in an elven quarter of a human city and work in human professions which may range from tailor to beggar. Female elves have a certain natural beauty that appeals to humans, so elven performers or, in the worst case, prostitutes, are well received by 
human males, although rare due to the moral standards most elves still share. The male elf has it worse in a human society, as they can't even play the slight advantage of female beauty they are often simply seen as second class citizens or even picked on for their "lack of masculinity". However, elves with a strong will and a talent to impress occasionally gain respect and a good standing in human surroundings.  
City elves still share a certain bond to nature like their wild relatives, however, they are far away from the usual cliché of tree-hugging ethereal beauties. Forget the Disneyland stereotype, they should more be treated as, say, an asian in Europe, different, but not astounding.  
The only exception to this is the dark or "Mountain Elf" (Drow) who is so rarely seen many believe they just exist in tales. 
Game mechanical note: I consider changing the City Elf's favoured class to something more down-to-earth than
 Wizard, this is not decided yet but would make sense if it's not causing too many problems. 


Classes - Barbarian

I chose the Barbarian as my first example not only because he shows up first in the class list, but also to give an example for avoiding stereotypes in Middleforest.
The first thing we think about a Barbarian is of course the uncivilised rude Neanderthal who's barely able to speak but quick in bashing things out of his way. Maybe the nicest thing that comes to the mind is that of a proud, honorable tribesman, maybe a Native American, which already comes closer, but doesn't quite hit the nail. The name Barbarian goes back to the Greek who used the name for everyone who wasn't able to speak proper, which originally even included the Roman Empire, and the Romans adopted the word and used it for anyone not sharing their culture and education. 
For Middleforest this means, Barbarians are Outsiders of all colours. They can be Nomads, they may be tribesmen, but they might also be of a certain education or civilisation "outside the ordinary". Think of Vikings, think of Goths, Saxons, Franks, or simply propaganda about a nearby land. We will not be historical accurate in a fantasy world, so while the "more civilised" lands might have reached the modern age already (cities might resemble a 16th, 17th century atmosphere), the atmosphere further in the wilds or a few hundred miles over the sea might easily drop you a few centuries back in time, and the warriors you meet there would simply be called barbarians even though being a knight in their society. Take this as an example for the freedom of choice you still have with this single class. Or, the other way around, the freedom of class choices you have if you want to be a barbarian in roleplay.


Classes - Red Dragon Disciple 

Unless someone can come up with a very good reason why I shouldn't - this class is easiest to deal with. Out. Disabled. It's a cheesy high fantasy munchkin class that doesn't really fit the setting at all. Winged characters would be considered demons, poked with pitchforks and end up on the pyre anyway. I *might* consider making them a totally evil, outsider demon thing that can hang around with dragons somewhere in a volcano, or somewhere where I store the tieflings, but it wouldn't be fun to play such a thing I assume. No really, sorry, but it doesn't make sense. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Something in between....

Experimenting with textures at the moment, I thought I'd share this little screenie with you. 

Viva la revolución! :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Grass

A little update on my grasslands (I'm still working on it). After adding some more placeables, grass (the toolset crashes now everytime I try to erase it) and trees, and still not being satisfied, I added that old day/night cycle from Pretzel to the area for fun, and what can I say... It's exactly what I wanted it to be. Especially the darker stages are exactly what I had in my head. Just wanted to share these, enjoy. The last one might be to dark, even though I adjusted the curves a little. It's standing on the hill from the first pic at night, the place that will be very important later. :)