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.