Monday, December 20, 2010

Story depth, sexism and equality


"Jeanne, next time just keep the long hair, ask nicely for that breastplate and bring your girlfriend too."



(Edit 21. Dec.: to avoid any confusion, the blog entries and comments I quoted have now disappeared)

Ah, reality check today. This is going to be long again. A few days ago I linked you people to Alazander's community check during my long Obsidian rant. Who would've thought it'd stir up the trouble it did? I don't ask you to read it all, instead I'll quote a few passages that lead to the argument. It raises some interesting thoughts really.

"I see 300+ page threads dedicated to an upcoming companion's chest hair, and I wonder if the earnest D&D or RPG enthusiasts of the past are now huddling in a corner staring in slack-jawed terror at the teenage girls who have taken over the establishment."


Aahh... my my, bad mistake. Seriously, in the whole context of that long post I didn't stumble over that one, or let's better say, I got the bigger meaning without assuming he's actually blaming girls for the downfall of all roleplaying communities. It was a cynical remark, irrelevant. Let's hop into the comments section now...

"But I'm sorry - the problem with the RPG community today is that teenage girls have "taken over"? Are you serious?"

Other points made in that comment are totally valid, it was just that I hadn't read the same into the post as this person did... moving on in the comments it's getting too much to quote really, people got really upset about this one line and that Alazandar called The Witcher's gritty setting "refreshing" compared to Bioware's "we cater everyone" policy.

"I always like to use The Witcher as a good example of game that sails close to the edge to present a believable world, at the risk of offending or alienating significant groups of people. Not that I think that is a good thing in general, but it’s a breath of fresh occasionally."

That was apparently just feeding the fire and even took it over to other blogs with statements like...

"I think I’m most amused/bewildered by the claim that political correctness is so rampant that games with sexist/oppressive settings and content are a “breath of fresh air”. Like tossca said, I… really don’t know where to start. :/"


"I think statements about how misogyny or other sorts of oppressiveness are “a breath of fresh air” are a bit indicative of what the person in question thinks the world should be like.
Which is clearly indicative that nobody should take them seriously, because that’s really self centered thinking and yeah. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t seem to have caught on."


"His breath of fresh air stinks for everyone else."


Now, short break here, to get that part out of the way. Up to the point where the first person argued about the truth behind the "teenage girl" statement I can agree that the words weren't exactly well chosen. The "girls part" was meaningless to me, I think those of us who stare in awe at the Bioware Social Community all get the bigger meaning... those boards appear like a chatroom with so much babbling about nonsense like, cough... chest hair... that one's getting close to a seizure. I was following the boards when Dragon Age was new and yes, they changed faster than lines in a chatroom, with the most frequented topics being about character look and who's the cutest bunny and that.

It's not important if it was teenage girls or males who started those, although we all know girls chat faster ;-) (yeah, joke, but call me sexist now if you like). Moving on to the part about male sexism on those boards and teenage males opening dozens of threads about boob size... all valid, sure, teenage males are horrible, teenage girls too, can we move on? The point is that more serious modders feel a bit lost in the kindergarden, not if it's teenage girls or teenage males who started it.

But, since the sexism topic came up now, let's stay there and look at Alazander's new post.

I don't want gaming to become the equivalent of Mass Effect's medi-gel and omni-tools: all-purpose, all-inclusive, homogenized. I refer to the mechanics, yes, but also the stories, the characters, the themes. This is particularly important for RPGs because they form so much of the experience. When one comes along that doesn't knowingly dull its edges to avoid potentially offending someone -- and even BioWare's games do, on occasion -- I'll stand and applaud the artistic integrity instead of screaming blue murder.

Phew... so much for the background... you might've noticed I left a comment there already long enough for a blog post.

Let's make this part short now. Yes, I agree completely with him and I think the Witcher is a great, great game, to a large part for being so different to the homogenized rest. What are we really looking for in a fantasy game? A truly medieval feel or rather a game that caters everyone at the same level? If the latter, how many opportunities for a great story are really there and how many lost? A matter of taste maybe?

So, if I want to make a commercially successful Middleforest, I'll make sure that the world feels all the same to men, women, lesbians, gays, probably a few more. Yes, that's the Bioware recipe. Modern canadian liberal political correctness, as Alazandar called it. May I add.... boring?

Yes, I think Bioware games get more boring lately. I still enjoyed Mass Effect 2, but I don't feel the urge to play it again.
Dragon Age was great, and I especially loved it for the origins, but it dulls out a bit after those.

Let's not forget by the way that DA:O was years in development, they started long before being bought up by EA. Now, the latest developments though don't really spike my interest anymore. I don't care much for Mass Effect 3, and for sure not for Dragon Age 2 which appears to be just a medieval Mass Effect. And may I add that I have my doubts that these games can be really deep and epic anymore with only one year of development and always following the same successful recipe?

No, a game I want to make would be closer to the Witcher's world than to Bioware's standards now.
Do you read into that that I want to make a world in that only heterosexual male players are catered, that female players, or homosexuals or whatever fun you have in your life, characters are not welcome? No, dammit, they should be strong in numbers! But please, don't expect the same treatment. Why? Because it's absolutely unrealistic, it's boring, it ignores so many opportunities for great stories.

Even Bioware was still doing it at one point - play the female City Elf origin in Dragon Age: Origins.
Sadly, they didn't continue this way throughout the game... but even without the gender now... how many people thought it was a brilliant idea that elves or the lower born dwarves are the outcasts, the scum, nothing but slaves in that game and had to fight against all the odds?

Ah yes, as long as it's just a fantasy race, it's a great idea... but telling a story about a woman who has to fight against the odds in a realistic sexist and gritty world is no good idea? Or a gay warrior who has to keep his orientation a secret in a world that would burn him for his sin? That wouldn't make fantastic stories?
Well, just look at literature and real history. Who'd give a damn f*uck what Jeanne d'Arc has done if every second soldier/knight in the army had been a woman during that time? She'd surely not be holy by now, she'd be forgotten.
Would Mary Read and Anne Bonnie still be remembered? What for? There were more successful pirates at the time, they had no males to fight against, and since female sailors/pirates who dress like males and have a same gender affair are considered utterly normal and plain boring...



"Just a snapshot of some average girls in their day job, nothing to see here.
"


In my comment I took "The Pillars Of The Earth" as an example. Did this book cause an uprise among female readers (who apparently bought it) for treating women not politically correct? The women in this book are usually treated like scum, most of them raped at least once, and yet they are the most memorable characters... because they fight against all odds.

The Witcher created a world that is not even that gritty, but surely closer to medieval society than Bioware's games are. And yet, most players still remember most of the female NPCs clearly because they stood out. And not for their boobs. It's just been three months since I played Mass Effect 2, I barely remember the storyline or the characters anymore. Sure I remember Liara-cutiepie still, but honestly, isn't she just a sweet little modern teenager with not much depht at all? I wasn't really impressed by any of those characters, and if there's anything I remember of that Miranda Lawson in Mass Effect 2, it's surely her rearside and a suit so detailed that I'd call it more sexist than the whole tarot card collection in The Witcher.


"Miranda Lawson (Mass Effect 2) - modelling that gap between her legs was surely a necessity. Honi soit qui mal y pense."


Triss Merigold though, I surely remember her from the Witcher, and I'm sure her character would eat any of the Mass Effect chicks for breakfast.

Last, because I'm only rambling again and will probably edit every 2nd sentence later for making sure I'm not misunderstood - Michael has posted a great blog entry a (long) while ago, he's a much better writer and much smarter than me anyway. Make sure to read all of it, not just this little quote that should conclude this post.

"We can't solve the ills of society in a little blog post. But, by extension, neither can we solve them in a game. And really, should we? If conflict is the center of storytelling, isn't the base conflict of woman versus the limitations of society compelling? I've seen character backstories by the truckload that deal with a woman being driven to a life of adventure to escape the chains of an arranged marriage, and nine times out of ten, the conflict stops there. Women in fantasy, it seems, are only chained by society at some distant point in the past. They make a decision to not be the puppets of men and then everything is roses from there. Surely, fantasy is a wondrous thing!

(...)

Being a woman in S&S takes strength. Being a woman and an adventurer, doubly so. The conflict that births that strength should be played up, not down; such resolve in the face of injustice is the thing people tell stories about long after things have changed... if they ever do."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

There are no words...


.. to describe all the feelings this message causes in me.
Seriously... I want to go on a killing spree, I want to break stuff, I want to...
What the hell do you want from me, autodownloader?
Yes, I admit I've been a bad bad Casa and decided to clean up my Middleforest module. That means, I exported all areas, made a new module by the same name, with all the scripts and blueprints and stuff, reimported everything, used the exact same module properties, used the exact same settings for the autodownloader, assigned the exact same servers, assigned the exact same files to them... WHAT THE FUCK?!

Seriously, I hate hate hate hate hate this thing. It cost me 4 hours so far, all the settings are the same as in the old module and all the files it wants sit on the server just waiting to be used.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rant day: Obsidian, Fallout, Communities, Influences

It's time for some long ramblings again, please forgive me. I should make some general games blog someday, but there are too many of those already. However, this is sort of NWN2 related again, and also very much to my Middleforest, because believe it or not, I'm getting a lot of influences and ideas from other games, even if they seem to have nothing in common with NWN2 or medieval fantasy.
Like, say, Fallout.
Well actually, Fallout has a few things in common with NWN2, first off it's a Roleplaying Game and last but not least the developers.
And that's reason number two for my rambling today, Obsidian. The first one would be talking about the game itself, and the last reason is a post by fellow blogger Alazander over here.

Now, how do I get all this together? So, Obsidian, where do I start?

Over in the Dammendrech chat, they're usually called Obtusian or Obsidiot and whenever something goes wrong on the server, the first line is "It's an Obsidiot game, what do you expect?" and they are generally called incompetent. Well, there's so much truth in that, but the point is, Obsidian is actually a likeable little studio with a lot of potential and a lot of flaws and bad luck. And Fallout New Vegas is an ideal example for this.

Let's first look at Obsidian's game list, maybe over at the Wikipedia because that's my bridge.
That list isn't long and as we all know, mostly sequels. What had all these sequels in common? They were kind of... lacking. What were they lacking? I'll come to that.

The other thing we see is that Obsidian was founded by and employs people who made some legendary games, last but not least the original two Fallout parts (Black Isle/Interplay), Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, Baldur's Gate together with Bioware etc. Also not to forget members of Troika with now legendary flops like Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines or Arcanum. Today all veteran roleplayers still start drooling over these names.

So... what the hell is wrong with Obsidian? They always seem to make "okay" sequels that are said to be less good than the first part, and they are legendary for their game bugs.

But let's be fair and objective for a moment, because I'm getting a bit tired of all the Obsidian bashing. Their games have some serious flaws, but also a lot of strenghts, and with Fallout New Vegas I've found the best example. It shows both sides very well, and the comparison with Bethesda's original Fallout 3 works incredibly well. Because this time, fortunately, Obsidian didn't try to reinvent the wheel on the engine side like in NWN2.
That earned them some bad reviews and "outdated" remarks, but actually, I guess it saved their arses. At least they couldn't mess it up completely. Because yes, it's true, they aren't good at making a smooth engine, not at all.
But the main thing they aren't good at is another, and I think this is what earned them their reputation. It's not the programming, but the Art. I think Obsidian is made of geeks, geeks of the sort like the old veteran roleplayers who claim at some game forum that they don't care for anything else than the text in the game. They still enjoy their text-based RPG from the late eighties and don't need visuals at all. Unfortunately, they have to go with the times, try and... fail.

But now, let's get to Fallout 3 and New Vegas. First off, they are both very high in my favorite games list, but one's the clear winner.
All you need to know about the difference between the two games is the two opening scenes which were also used for trailers. They tell almost everything. So, lean back and start with Bethesda's.




And here comes Obsidian's:



Okay, do I really have to explain it or is it obvious? Does nobody else have this "Meh" feeling after the New Vegas one? They use the exact same game engine and tools, but... is it just me, or does Obidian simply have no clue how to do arts? Atmosphere?
Bethesda's is spot on with the atmosphere, it's rich in detail and sets the dark, gloomy mood for the game. And the music by the Ink Spots was the best marketing move anyway, although I hear kids hate it.

Obsidian though, you just get the idea they try to compete... but they can't. And they fail miserably. The very first seconds are okay, but then the camera moves to the New Vegas Strip and poof... immersion gone. There's no detail, nothing... a perfectly clean, plastic Strip that cries out "I'm rendered!", then comes that soldier guy who's there for the same reason as the one in Bethesda's: "I need to look totally badass so the kids buy the game". Nice try, he's okay, but after all that plastic look of the Strip he can't save anything anymore. Only nice touch: The headshot. It's sort of funny, and that actually is the point where they did something right. But then... I just have to post a pic...



That's the point where they probably lost the young ones completely. Are we watching Toy Story (1)? Obsidian, please.. before you do something like that, don't do any cinematics! You scare off the whole gamer crowd who buy graphics cards beyond $70... it's not that it's not high end, it's that... it's just bad! And let's remind ourselves this is a pre-rendered scene, not ingame graphics... the point is, ingame the characters look actually more realistic than that. Let's move on...


Do I have to say more? This area up there... how can you use it for the intro that is supposed to get players into the mood, how can you use this camera angle, how can you NOT throw some Photoshop filters over it or just use artwork... seriously, I'm not saying that Obsidian should use high end graphics, not at all, that's not the point... it's just that you can get better and more immersive screens in a 10 year old game. And really, it's not nitpicking on one pic here, it's the whole trailer, isn't it?

Lastly, let's take a quick look at Obsidian's recent first own development, Alpha Protocol. As everyone who's a bit interested in games or in Obsidian's doings outside NWN2 should know, this game flopped. Badly. And that was my first impression right from the first screenshot I saw... that it will flop badly.
Ingame graphics are not everything, I agree, and a good game surely doesn't need high end graphics. But there's a certain point at which the bad art design actively ruins the game... the story suggests a serious moment, but the graphics are so unintentionally comical that you actually have to laugh about it.

As an example for small mood-killers you might have seen too... Dragon Age, romance scene... it was supposed to be a really romantic moment, and the game is so well written you were really in the mood. Then they start this "sex" cutscene in those ridiculous undies with rather weird animations and I actually snorted my coffee over the table. Now, in Dragon Age's case it couldn't ruin the game, it was just a bit funny.

The problem with Obsidian's games is, they are worse. And according to all reviews I've seen about Alpha protocol, I think that was what ruined the game completely - the bad marketing surely didn't help too, nothing from the ads to the game box was in any way atractive. All of the reviews said the story's quite great and the game is surely worth playing... if you can ignore the horribly outdated graphics and the comical animations. Most said that some combat animations were unbearable. Reminds you of another game? Maybe NWN2? Let's look at the Alpha Protocol trailer for completition, there's some ingame scenes at the end that don't look totally unbearable, but by no means unique either.



Now... would you say this trailer gets anyone into the stores? Even to a torrent site?
To tell you the truth I was almost praying for Obsidian that this game wouldn't flop, that there would be people less picky than me who'd buy, play and enjoy it. Didn't happen. I was even expecting Alpha Protocol to be the nail in Obsidian's coffin. Glad that didn't happen though, not yet... maybe New Vegas saved them... but who knows how much of the cake will actually be left for Obsidian, given the first big name on the box is still Bethesda.

Now, enough of that, onwards to New Vegas. Maybe I'm an oracle or something, but my gut feeling has yet again not failed me. I like my guts, they always tell me the truth, and they did about this too.

Because, surprise, I totally loved the game. Obsidian failed to ruin it, quite the opposite, they made it a small masterpiece and definitely better than Bethesda's Fallout 3. And that was the first feeling I had when I heard they'd develop it. Why?

  1. They have an engine ready and can't screw up by making a new one, so that's out of the way.
  2. They don't try to change the graphics, pheeeew.

Game magazines gave them worse reviews for keeping the old engine, and yes, on metacritics Fallout 3 scores better than the successor. But hell, well done Obsidian, keep your hands off things you don't understand and work on your strong side. That's the writing. And hands on, on the storytelling side, Bethesda cannot compete.

Fallout 3's wasteland was a great place to explore with so much atmosphere and detail and stuff to do that it outshone the big failure it was on the story side. It had stories and quests, sure... but my, most of them were really lacking. They were short, didn't have much detail, many of them were not much better than your usual Fed-Ex quests.
The main storyline was linear and could be completed in a rush, it offered, wait... one or two choices at the end, and your general influence on the world was quite black & white.. either you do the good thing and earn something good for it, or you do some bad thing and be a bad person.

Bleh.

Now, my personal Fallout 3 trauma is this person, she's called Clover:


Clover was my favourite companion in Fallout 3, and I hate travelling alone. Not because they add to the firepower, just because I like company. I loved the dog too, but the dog didn't speak, so I ran my Karma all the way down to being horribly evil just to get this "crazy slave girl (ingame advertisment)" as a companion. I mean, who wants to travel with a Paladin in heavy armor, please...

Now, the actual trauma is, I could've sticked with the dog.

Miss Clover here could've been a really rich person... she's a little masochistic, very sadistic and was the private slave of the big badass slave trader in the game, one of two girls (Crimson & Clover, haha). She could've had stories to tell you can't imagine, or just doing random fun stuff that actually fit her "crazy" reputation.

She doesn't. She has exactly three one-liners as voice-overs and the same amount of dialogue options to adjust her companion AI. She's a robot. A dog.
Actually, the dog barked more than she had to say. And don't think it was just her, no... all companions in Fallout 3 are that "rich". They are.. aimbots? Meatshields for lazy players? Something like that. It was just sad, but it's one major point of Fallout 3: Even though being a RPG, it's clearly aimed at the shooter crowd a little too much.

What I was hoping for when New Vegas was announced was that Obsidian did exactly that: Leave the working base alone and work on those parts Bethesda failed in. And Obsidian delivered.

Here's one of my favourite companions in New Vegas, Veronica. Veronica is extremely nice and a little bit silly, babbles a lot, even unasked. She has a long background story including a girlfriend (another companion is gay, in both cases you learn it just from a side remark they throw at some time and nothing else follows, which just adds to the realism of the fleshed-out backgrounds). She has her own long questline just like all of the eight companions you can choose from, and was generally a pleasure to have around. She wasn't Clover though, but still, she was fine.


The companion example is just the most obvious one, but Obsidian really played out all their writing strenghts in New Vegas. As for the setting, the Mojave desert, it's not as detailed graphics-wise (surprise!) and hasn't as many "Oooh" effects as Fallout 3, another thing some reviews mentioned, but it's certainly not ugly and still has a lot of surprises.

You really just have to force yourself over the badly done intro and the first hour or two, and suddenly, with the first sidequests, you notice how rich the world is, and how incredibly well the writing is done. Main storyline? Ah, forget it, the sidequests are rich ones. There are some that are just told in a few computer logs and scattered pages, and yet some players put up movies of them on youtube and go on about how great they are.

Some places tell the sad stories just with a room and scattered placeables, you walk in and imagine the big story behind it. But not to forget NPC dialogues... even the small sidequests are often told like a main quest in any other game, characters you meet all have a unique personality and feel truly alive. And last but not least, there's one thing only Obsidian could do: Bring the humor from the original Fallout series back into the game.

That's not to say Fallout 3 didn't have any humor, there were some funny parts in it too, but most of it was actually in the area design, not in what you actually experienced.

New Vegas though does it spot-on, and I can even see Obsidian's writers leaning back with a huge grin thinking "see kids, that's how it's done". There were many parts that were incredibly funny, but yet again told in a way you take the whole story still serious. Fallout 3 had cynism too, but it was too gloomy, too serious. New Vegas is more lighthearted and yet more immersive and realistic as well, never silly.

That's one thing the trailer actually transported well, the one point. Both have the martial looking guy in armor, made to attract the shooter kiddies I guess. But Bethesda's trailer is just gloomy, while, well... the headshot in Obsidian's is sort of funny, and everything is a bit more colorful, and I assume it's meant to be.

Both games have the same violence level and animations, but in Fallout 3 it feels worse because the game feels too serious. In New Vegas there's always that slight hint of humor and being over the top on purpose. Fallout 3 takes itself damn serious, New Vegas doesn't.

I could go on and on about how much Obsidian improved things here, like the unforeseeable consequences of your doings that are at least on par with The Witcher, and in this case it outshines all the negative parts. A few hours in the game and the miserable trailer is forgotten. The area design is not on par with Bethesda's, but since they mostly use the same stuff, it's not bad at all, and lastly, it's different enough to clearly set the game apart from it's predecessor. Where Obsidian tried to retexture things (like, new outfits), it actually is bad, mostly. Not bad enough to ruin it this time though, and there are already mods out that fix these things.



Fallout 3 needed armies of super mutants to scare you, in New Vegas you should better be scared of these little buggers or giant insects...


Now, as for the Obsidian part, here's some sort of conclusion.

Obsidian needs a big brother. Like Bethesda, Bioware, whatever.

Or they really really have to work on their Art and Programming department, although, I think art is the real problem. Yes, Obsidian's games are buggy, but hands on, Fallout 3 was and still is a bug-ridden crashy beast too, I'd call it much less stable than NWN2... just that it runs smoother as long as it actually runs is a major advantage.

New Vegas is of course buggy as hell too... but really, most games are. I played Stalker, I tried to get others to run that failed completely, Obsidian's games are certainly not as clean out of the box as Bioware's latest, but they are not the worst I've ever seen. What they really really need is atmosphere, players are much more forgiving if the crashing game looks immersive and well designed... see Fallout 3, it crashes like crazy but people are forgiving because they're soaked in.

Now, the big news of the weekend was Bethesda's announcement of The Elder Scrolls 5, ask Ben.
While I'm not that much interested in it really (never got warm with Oblivion, even though I tried multiple times), it means one other thing - Bethesda will probably not work on Fallout 4 for a long time, even though it's an extremely successful license.
Now, but since Obsidian already made a successful New Vegas, and Bethesda has a new engine ready for TES: V... one can dream, no?
In fact, I think it wouldn't be a bad thing if Bethesda and Obsidian would cooperate for a much longer time, and if Obsidian's in trouble as a studio, why not even buy them up? A fusion would be good for both sides, together they could do awesome things. Wouldn't surprise me at all if that happened.

Last. I mentioned Alazander's Blog entry above, and I'll get back to that now before I fall from my chair after this monstrous post. The different communities and why we should stick with NWN2. After exploring also the Bethesda modding sites, I think that fits in here well.

Agreed, on everything. NWN1/2 is a special case in this whole modding community pool, and even if we forget about multiplayer, I don't see any alternatives. Even more, I think NWN2 has matured a lot and it's a great base for everything.
Seriously folks, and I mean you, NWN1 veterans, you dropped off way too soon and never really gave the game a chance after the second patch didn't fix everything. Give it a go again... the game is a very good and stable base, it has remaining bugs, but hell, NWN1 has too.

The overcomplicated toolet is actually easy to use once you get the hang of it - I tried The Witcher's Djinni, Fallout 3's Gecko and Dragon Age's toolset so far and everytime I ran back to NWN2 quickly. For multiplayer, I don't expect any alternative anymore. In the long future.
Atari is in the middle of a lawsuit over DnD, so forget it, and all the others will never give us Co-op and PWs for free. The future of commercial online games is only in MMOs with micropayments, I don't expect anyone to throw us a bone anymore.

I wish people hadn't given up on NWN2 so fast, it offers the same modability as NWN1 and much more freedom in design, and now, 4 years later, everyone should be able to play it fine on lower end hardware.

And there's the communities Alazander talked so much about... there's none comparable to NWN's. What he says about Dragon Age is what I also see over at the Fallout and Oblivion modding sites. Take my complaints about Clover up there... I bet if NWN had had such bad companions, it would've taken a few months and someone would've put up a mod that adds dialogue to them. At the Fallout Nexus you will find mods that make them better in fights or turn them into japanese lolitas, but anything that adds immersion and story? Forget it. Don't get me wrong, there are some great and good mods for all these games, but they are all weapon stuff, technical, retextures... an immersive, playable module? Same thing as Dragon Age. Technically possible, nobody bothers. They want some ultra sharp textures, naked Anime companions and a cool machine gun (I'm not opposed to good technical mods nor some nude skins *cough*, but really... anything else?).

Anyway, in case you wait for the next big thing to come, better stop... everything after NWN2 failed to deliver so far, so why not look at this little diamond in the rough again?
And if you ever had the same impression as me - NWN2 looks just ugly... that's Obsidian's area design, they have the tools, they can't use them. But you can.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rumors of my demise have been... etc.


(warning, post contains mild pixel nudity)

Ha! Thought I gave up, didn't you? Well, I won't do you that favor yet. I don't want to say I was terribly active since my last post, but I did a little more than it might seem still. Not everything, or let's say, as good as nothing of it I considered worth a blog post yet, though.

When it comes to area building, I reworked a lot of the existing ones, but you wouldn't see that on a screenshot. For example, with a bleeding heart I split up Rungholt into 4 quarters, because it just seemed so unplayable to me as one giant area. And, it's not half as bad as I feared. However, the performance gain was only half as much as I hoped for too, so... well, that's one. On screenies it still looks the same as before.


I made interiors too, a whole start/introduction base. I'm quite proud of it, but you know how interiors are, they look boring on screenshots, so I didn't bother.
What else... loadscreens. Expect a lot of forest loadscreens in game. Again, no screenies, surprise surprise.

But now, with some screenies that might make some of you literally facepalm, a huge timewaster project of mine lately - the evolution of my nudie stuff.
Oi, you might say, silly Casa, that old pervert, only has nekkid elves in mind anymore.
Wait! It's not that easy. And first and foremost, it's not about nudity, it's about clothing. So let me try to explain my old skin project again, because now I've made a lot of progress with that.


The point is, there's a lot of custom clothes for our characters and NPCs over at the vault, clothing haks almost everyone uses, like, say, Chimneyfishes Always Summer. You know the kind, short dresses showing a lot of skin, some look a bit silly, some are actually quite nice and useful. All of them have one thing in common, they are based on a nude skin, Zylch's Nude.

So, let's keep in mind: Nude skins are not only for running around nekkid, nude skins serve as a base for all those clothes that show a bit of skin.

Right, next step. There are a few problems with this base. First off, it's a bit old. I know, I'm nitpicking, but the quality of Zylch's base is really not up to date anymore. Edgy, low polygon, and very washed out textures. That people who made clothing textures on the base re-jpg'ed the skin over and over didn't help too.
Then there's the problem with some personal taste, like, let's say, a skinny elf girl might not want to carry around those huge bombs... you know. Not to mention the male base by the way (yes, that exists too!), I won't lose another word about it. So, first problem: Quality.


Okay, you might say I don't care for the polygons and washed out textures at all.
But the main problem I've had with all these clothes is: There are other races than humans in the game. Some of them don't have piggie-pink heads. Some of them have blue heads. By default, not by the skin tint you apply as a player on character creation. So if you make a Water Genasi and equip one of those nude skins or skimpy dresses from the existing haks, that looks crap. Totally. You can't tint the ugliness over, no way. Please see the screenshot of the Yuan-Ti further below if you still don't know what I'm talking about.


I know, many people don't care, they claim they started with text-based adventures in the mid-eighties and don't look at anything else than the chatbox anyway. Well, I like eyecandy and some sort of immersion, and I like the head of my character appearing to be somehow related to the body beneath. Huff. Rant over. *exhales*

So, what can we do about the head transplantation? Make retextures of every armor, for every possible character out there? Impossible. But... we can start with trying to make at least the nude bases that cover a lot of the various heads.
Still a hell lot of work you say? Yes, it is, I can tell you because I've done it.. even in various variations for male, female, small chest, large, etc... it's a bit crazy, I know. I started with this when Jester posted his new nude base to the vault, a base that exceeds Zylch's in quality by far. Not only that, he also included different variations and a proper male base, so almost everything is covered. Well, besides dwarves, gnomes and halforcs, but that's nothing new, they never got any love before, why would they now? (actually, I'd welcome them and make skins for them right away).

Anyway, Jester delivered a high quality base, and what's even more fantastic, a solution to make new dresses without having to replace/paint on the actual nude base.


Okay, that's the part I was never able to explain to anyone until they could see it in game. So... the idea is, you have the nude skin, plus a base to make dresses on that does not use the armor slot, but the belt model instead.
Sigh... let me try it like this. You make a new armor in the toolset, you choose a nice little dress, done. To add detail, you change the armor parts then, like boots, gloves, and belt. Now, with Jester's base you make a nude armor, and change the belt part to a whole dress that overlays the nudie skin beneath. Where the belt dress is transparent, the nude skin still shows.

So, that solution opens the possibility to make the base of the outfit the player's own custom nude skin, and the whole dress he/she wears just goes into the beltslot overlaying that base, so the uncovered parts still show the original skin color. Ack, dammit, just look at the pictures.

Sadly, it wasn't just as easy as that. The first big problem was, while you can easily make dresses that show up as armorpart: belt, it was impossible to make an actual item that goes into the belt slot. Just didn't work, technical limitation, NWN2 engine doesn't want that. So back to the drawing board, and Jester played around a little and discovered the gloves slot would work. So, finally we went with a gloves slot solution that works perfectly.

There's a second option though, a scripted one: Run a script that changes armor_part_belt to a specific number, like, when the player equips an item. Sounds like the best solution, no? Haha, if NWN2 would actually do that. But no, NWN2 doesn't want to. There is a NWNX plugin that supports this, however, not everyone uses it, wants to use it or has an idea how to set it up. So, the solution for n00bs like me is using the gloves slot.

Anyway, let's illustrate that whole thing now so you finally get an idea what I'm rambling about:

The first pic here is a comparison of the nude bases. We use the greenish elf head here because it shows the effect Zylch vs. Jester's base and my custom skin best. I think you'll agree the quality has slightly improved and it looks more natural, yes?


Fine, this next pic shows how the skin lands in the player's inventory, so they can actually have it too, not just NPCs made in the toolset. I made a big mirror in a bathroom here that lets the player choose between the various options (and there are a lot!). On the left is Jester's default nude base, already looking quite fine, but not actually a match for the greenish elf, as you might agree. A few clicks further through the dialogue and our little elfie has found one that matches better.


And now our poor little elfie is all naked and will catch a cold! We must prevent that and give her some undies!
As you can see in the pic, her undies are just pretending to be a dress, game-mechanically they are gloves and wander into that slot. The nude skin stays where it is and is not unequipped. As you see in the small inventory pic of the character, our elf has it a bit warmer now.


Well, and the Undies are currently the big side project, actually. They take a while to make and I'm still a noob when it comes to texturing, especially with normal maps I'm still fighting a lot. Below you can see a little collection of working test undies I made so far. But don't think it'll be limited to undies, there are a lot of options to make whole dresses with long skirts, suits and whatnot. It just takes time.


And finally, the last pic to convince some that might be on the edge still... I think this comparison shows the difference best. Left is the underwear as it is currently present in... uh.. Chimneyfishes? Aleanne's? Not sure. The poor Yuan-Ti lass looks quite wrong in it. Right is my own conversion of the outfit to a gloves-slot dress, worn over the Yuan-Ti nudie skin.


Phhheeew... that was a long rant. Anyway, yes, this whole thing has taken a lot of my time lately. And a thousand cudos go to Jester for being incredibly helpful in the process. If you like the whole idea, run over to the vault and give his (1) stuff (2) a high vote, he deserves it.


Besides that... oh yeah, I made some areas too. Did I mention it? I know there might be one or two people in the world who are not interested in nudity, so for those freaks, I'll try to gather some screenies of the few (or rather, two - and it even rhymes) exterior areas I made completely new. This first one is, yeah - call me a copycat - a ship, and even a starting ship. It'll probably be the intro to Middleforest. BTW, what made it impossible for Obsidian to make some f....ing sails? Hello? White Sheets? That difficult? Apparently, because they have multiple ship models, but no sails. Well, a creative builder taught me tapestries and curtains do the job too, if you don't look too hard at it... Oh, and btw, it has underdecks.


Well, and this one... the screenies don't do it justice, but I'm terribly proud of it. I just wanted to try out the RWS cliffs and somehow ended up with this area. Hope you like it, I do.




Saturday, May 1, 2010

Wanted!

Now the time has come to speak it out loud:




I think I could use some help over here!

I was really hesitant to ask in the past and I still am, maybe because I'm scared nobody's interested, maybe because I fear my maxime of "no compromises" can't be fulfilled, but now I guess everything's better than stagnation.
As I said in my last post, I have way too many irons in the fire and struggle to organize it or find a point to continue on anymore. So here's an open invitation to join the cause and help Middleforest to get a little closer to it's initial goals. Exciting, isn't it? Please, not all at once!

First, let me quickly remind you and myself where Middleforest is at this moment:
In one sentence, too early to play, too far to stop. Middleforest has a somewhat solid building base, a base hak set that works well enough, a core system that just needs to be put to use, a solid idea for the setting that is partly in the module plus a solid idea how things should work. Area wise there is the main hub in the form of a main city that is, building-wise, finished, plus it's surrounding lands, along with many interiors. Area-wise, it's enough for immersive role-play, however without quests, adventuring and the like. Rounding up this small base with some shops, quests, low level encounters and first and foremost a good introduction into the module will be the goal for the near future.

Middleforests main goals, now what was that about again? I'll spare you the time to read all my past posts, but let's keep it very short and simple:

  • Immersion. Middleforest's main goal is an unique, immersive atmosphere, a living, breathing world. Immersion always comes first, technical aspects second.
  • The european touch: Not aimed only at the european player, but trying to avoid many of the D&D, "americanized" high fantasy clichées in favor for a setting based more on european folklore.
  • Freedom of role-play: Less rules, more freedom. No alignments, less rulebook discussions, play the character like you envision them.
  • Away with only mob-killing for xp: An xp system that does not only reward the one who kills most and fastest.


So, who am I looking for? Experienced and creative people, first and foremost a scripter. I know, that's the first position any new persistent world is offering, and Middleforest is no exception.
What would this person have to do? No, I'm not just in need for someone I can tell what to do. If my only problem was getting a script top work, I could send an email to someone. No, I often fail to see what exactly must be done in the first place. I have often been offered help in specific aspects, e.g. if I need help with a script I can always ask. That's however not what I need, I need people who actively work and invent inside the module.

So, for a scripter there are two main aspects:

  • The first one is: Not to reinvent the wheel as far as the base goes. Middleforest will use Michael's S&S Core system, and if there are specific issues with the system, I think Michael is the best person to talk to. I'd need someone who finds his or her way into this system, suggest changes and improvements and puts it to good use. I believe in Michael's stuff, but I'm far too inexperienced with it too use it's full potential. There are other ideas for ingame systems I have, however, I do not want Middleforest to be overloaded with custom systems and geeky stuff that might overwhelm a player. First and foremost the world should be easily approachable even for relatively new players.
  • The second big construction site is quite simple and yet so complex: Creative ways to fill the world with life. A lot of this would be ambient stuff, things NPCs do, also thinking up creative quests and the like. If you usually do singleplayer stuff, great! I'd love to include a lot of singleplayer aspects and try whatever possible to make them work in a multiplayer environment. If you have experience with longer quests that tell a story, cutscenes and the like, you are more than welcome. If you can think up a good reputation system, have the time and willpower to make a lot of use of factions, you're the one.
That's for scripting. On which ends could I also need some help?

  • Custom content, to an extend. I think I already managed to make a good base. Middleforest has a somewhat well organized hak set (at least on the outside it looks like it's organized, hehe), class and race changes are in, we have custom gods and all that. But, these things tend to get messy fast and need a lot of maintenance. If you know how to fix an issue with a 2da fast or make a change to allow new content, I can definitely use your help.

  • Builders: Now this is a delicate subject. General area design is what I consider my main strength, and the issue on a lot of servers with more than one builder is that you can immediately see the different styles. I'd like to keep the main atmosphere under my own control, and would like to see all areas, interiors and exteriors, following the same main guidelines. If you think you can build in a style that is close enough (or better) than the areas that are already in, I'd be interested in seeing your stuff. However, I'm very picky there. There are aspects though other area builders might be better in, let's take lighting as an example.
  • What I could definitely use though are people who can make interesting adventuring areas, who like to make interesting encounters, creatures that fit the setting and don't mind if I take the main area and change it's visual style to my liking.

A final warning: A lot in Middleforest might not follow general rules or conventions. There are many building rules I happily ignore, and Middleforest could be described as a creative sandbox - throw in ideas first and fix it later if needed. A classic PnP background might also hurt more than it helps - PnP and the D&D manual play no role in Middleforest and are more often than not ignored.

So, if you think this sounds like something you'd like to be a part in, drop me a message - a comment here, or a private message to casadechrisso at the Bioboards, or register at the Middleforest forums and drop me a PM there.
A tour through the module as it looks now can be arranged anytime, however, plan in some time to download the haks and stuff, it'll take a while (about the size of an audio CD).

Casa out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Now the second part

So here's the second part of the overdue update, and this one's a bit a less shiny I guess. Truth to be told, at the moment working on Middleforest is hell for me, most of the time I'm staring at the toolset blankly and close it again after a few minutes. The one big step in january was soon forgotten and I'm just seeing the other big hurdles again. The point is, I can't really get my mind clear to work on areas as long as those other things are still in the way, and at this points I have way too many irons in the fire and really shy away from them. However, those are things that are supposed top make Middleforest unique and stand out, I can't just ignore them. One by one they might look easy and doable without much effort, however, those things are really not my speciality, and something like an easy script a good scripter would throw out in a few minutes can easily take me a whole night or longer to get working. Let's take a look at the main hurdles I see at this moment:
  • Items and stores. I must say making items in NWN2 is no fun, not at all. I somewhat enjoyed in NWN1, but here it is just painful, stupid work, I hate it. Armors are especially a burden, at least after the stupid Appearance wizard started crashing every 2nd time I use it (it's a Vista/7 thing I assume). The other way, using the standard properties window, simply sucks. I had great plans for armors and items, one being replacing AC with damage reduction, which I learned does not work as supposed - Dammendrech did that and there are multiple problems with armors using more than two different damage reduction types. To reduce every kind of physical damage though, you need 3 different damage reduction types: piercing, slashing, bludgeoning. The last of those is ignored by the engine. Also, the reduction works exactly the opposite way a logical thinking person would assume. I hate it, I don't want to deal with it, but I also dislike the AC standard system. So I kind of set that whole thing to the side, not wanting to think about it anymore.
    I also plan to make multiple useable RP items, like actually edible food and stuff, things at least Michael should know from Nexus (also useable items that turn into placeables). But I just don't know where to start anymore, it's too much and I draw a blank. I won't even go into the weapons topic now.
  • Custom rules, renaming, 2da work, class overhauls. I lost track of this really. I wanted to remove everything alignment-related for example, I wanted to work on skills, renaming things like abilities, working on armor rules, changing base racial stats... it's a long list and I just lost track of what to do anymore. After making the class changes in january, I wanted to puke everytime I saw the tlkedit app... not because it's a bad app, but because I'm soooo f...ing tired of 2da work (and I'm teaching myself doing it on the way, mind you, learning is slow, research takes long, and the very next day I already forgot how I did things the night before.
  • Custom Content. On the side I was working on my nudie skins hak (hey, btw - why do I have a ESBR birth date thingy there while all the really ridiculous stuff does not?) and almost got a nice useable update done, then I ran into some isues and totally dropped it, leaving it unfinished. I was about to make my first belt-slot dresses too with some success (the actual reason I made the nude skins in the first place), but then lost track of naming conventions, had already forgotten again how to make a custom category for them, and gave up because I can't get my mind into it again. Everytime I experiment with custom textures and stuff again I have to relearn from scratch how to use mdbcloner, the naming conventions, how to get it into the game cleanly. If I wanted to continue this, I'd have to take a few weeks off in which I do absolutely nothing else.
  • Quests, dialogues: I have thousands of quest ideas, however, once I start making one I just can't get myself over the easiest hurdles, those often being the very first script needed in them. I also worry too much about how to use persistency I guess - I'm still absolutely oblivious about using the database and Michael's stuff with quests. It's unintuitive, I hate it, therefore I shy away from doing it.
  • Lore and Writing: It's all in my head, I assure you. But how do I write it up? I'm not a good writer, and being german and needing a proofreader doesn't help a lot. There's an insane amount of stuff I need to write down, all the basic information about the world and everything inside it. I have all the ideas, a lot of them just need to be written down, but an awful lot needs a lot of fleshing out too. This alone will take months. And when it's done, it's probably poorly written.
  • Adventuring: I admit it, I suck at making encounters. I hate mindless encounters and would love recreating some of the fun stuff I saw in Nexus, for example, however I can't get myself to set up even the easiest ones. I want some unique creatures, stuff that doesn't just bash hard, harder or hardest on you, but good encounters need some skill, skill I also lack. There's also my plan to make encounters more storydriven, throwing in aspects of singleplayer games, but starting these things are a long way, when so far not a single "red" creature is in the module.
  • Michael's Core and XP system. I know it's a wonderful thing Michael created there, it will help making Middleforest unique like few other things, however, it's still a huge bunch of scripts I have to get my head into and more often than not fail. Michael is extremely helpful whenever I need help with it and have a specific question, but I actually have to be able to voice that question first, and that is already quite a task. Bugfixing the S&S system is not really easy when most of the time I can't say for sure if it even works or not, if I set up everything right, you know... I will always remain a copy and paste - scripter, I can understand stuff in scripts when I look at it, it's like a german reading dutch: You get the meaning because the words are familiar, but hell, you can't speak it!
  • Ambience, the "living, breathing" world. Oh hell, this is one of my favourite subjects... I had so many plans for making NPCs living, but more often than not fail completely. I was looking at Uncle FB's NPC control and the stuff he did is exactly what I'd love to see in Middleforest, however... I couldn't get it to work in the first place, and again completely gave up on it because there's so many other things on my list to do. A while ago the blacksmith I made using his script started working all of sudden... fun to watch, but hey... why did it not work while I tried to get it to? Hell. All is voodoo in my building.
  • Rungholt. Yes, I'm still worried about it. Everyone told me I should leave it as it is, however, I think it's performance is horrible, I just completely messed up there. Rebuilding it again would be like trashing most of the module though. Everytime I enter the city I think "This does not work, players will kill me for this!", and yet the idea of splitting it up, making it smaller or whatever totally ruins my mood.
  • Minor hurdles with major annoyance. Example, my graphics card upgrade. This is just a small thing but as you probably know, it's often the tiniest stuff that causes an explosion. Last winter I had my 2nd nVidia card die quietly and I scratched together the last few coins I did not have and bought an ATI 4870, a card that should easily run circles around my old 8800GT. I bought this one especially for NWN2, because in the past I always prefered ATI's over nVidia's render quality. This is especially true in foggy areas in NWN1 and 2 where nVidia cards show ugly color gradients and ATI just a smooth fog. However... once I got the card I learned that ATI cards do not render point light shadows in NWN2. Not at all. Never did. What the f.... how am I supposed to make nice atmospheric interiors when this stupid thing does not render any shadows? Dammit! Apparently Obtusian was aware of that right in the begiining and included that little option called "ATIWorkaroundForPointLightShadows" in the nwn2.ini, but... yeah, guess what, it does nothing. I tried every Catalyst driver version, nothing. Made forum posts. Finally filed a bug report to ATI, I doubt anything will happen. Why? Because I looked at the NWN2 official website and saw it there: "nVidia - the way it's meant to be played". F*ck you, nVidia, how much did you pay them again for that?
  • Inspiration. That's the big one. All the things up there hurt my inspiration already enough, I only see work anymore and forget about the fun part. The sheer amount of work I just "have to do" drags me down enough already, but there are many more things that don't help either. There's always the issue of "being under the weather", feeling that I can't hold up to the promises I made or not meeting the expectations. I'm a paranoid person - I was showing people around in the few areas I made and got great feedback, but as a totally paranoid and negative person of course I think "they're just trying to be nice". That's me, can't help it. Then there's the influence from other worlds, projects, from roleplay. I'm currently having a total RP burnout, shying away from playing with others very often - that leads me to the question "why do I even bother making a multiplayer world?". Of course you can file that under negative Karma, and once I play a singleplayer game again I already wish again it had a multiplayer side, but anyway. I'm heavily influenced by other worlds and when things in, say Dammendrech go bad, I lose hope in Middleforest too. I see Khalidine hanging around with zero players and no updates anymore and wonder why such an ambitious project suddenly fell silent. I still see the low player numbers in all these PWs, more often than not hanging between zero and two, and wonder if Middleforest will end like that too, a waste of time. Well, that's just some examples.
  • Real life: Yeah, that too, but I guess everyone knows that. :)

So, do you see where this is going to? I guess you can, but I still hesitate. I told Michael two or three years ago that I don't want to make any compromises, but as it looks I will have to, whatever option I choose. I guess I finally learned my lesson that working on a PW alone is just too much, it's an impossible task especially with NWN2 and if you are aiming for quality. Quality is still my main goal, and I'd hate to give that one up. I'll probably ask the question soon, just not sure how to approach it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An overdue update, first part: Screenies

Hey there, long time no see. Before I'm finding long excuses and rant away though, I thought the blog could use some screenshots again. I'll spare you the rants until the part two. Some of the pics are from new areas, some are from interiors I already made a while ago, but never bothered to post about. The new exteriors you see below are still unfinished, but I guess you can already see enough for now. Both are connected to the farmlands I showed you an eternity ago, both are designed to transition fluently to it, like a so-called "super-area" (is that what it's called? An area that could be one, but is split up into 4 quarters?). Anyway, I'll come to that further below. Let's start with the St.Magnus Heights:




As you can see, another rural area. The cloister St.Magnus is located on a small hill with some surrounding farmlands, the second pic shows the cloister brewery - every good cloister should brew a good ale, right?
Now, the next one looks rather dull, while it's quite giant. I think you have seen enough grass in all my past pics, so here's ionly the north side of the area, the coastline:


Right, a long beach. Not much to say there, other than that I really hate NWN2's water. I left it out of the screenshot on purpose.
But what I wanted to say about the transitions, super-area like: It's quite a simple trick I first saw in Cipher's A Game of Thrones module, and the actual trick is the wonderful and totally awesome TerraCoppa plug-in. Simply copy the terrain (with all placeables and stuff) from the borders of one area to the unwalkable border of the next one connecting to it, and the transitions are as fluent and seemless as possible with this game. Look at the screenie below:


As you can see, the street behind the transition continues into the distance, you can see those far hills and all. Well, that's exactly what you will see in the next area, copied 1 to 1. It's a huge improvement in game and I wish I had known this trick right from the beginning. It's also a good idea giver for the next area connected - use the transitioning copy&paste on your new empty area and you already have a border of two tiles done, from there you can easier work your way to the next tiles than if you'd stare at a "blank sheet". Wonderful plug-in, highly recommended.

Next some interiors, I know I haven't posted many of these, that's mainly because they usually don't make good screenshots. But as a proof I have some, here you go.
With interiors I'm quite picky, especially the lighting of these is something I often don't like in other modules. Plus, these stupid tiles are just too big. A tavern that mainly is a 4-tile hall, located in one of these tiny buildings, that doesn't look right. Of course the interiors are always too large for the building, whatever you do, but I like to keep it as tiny and realistic as possible.
For example, this is an apartment house floor in Rungholt:


There are 4 apartment doors connected to his , plus two doors for the stairs up and down... all of that is on less than two tiles and I hink it looks okay. If I just used NWN2's default doors and tiles though, I'd end up with a 4x2 tile area your tiny little PC would look totally lost in...
Anyway, some more interiors...




As you can ee, I tried to make the lighting more atmospheric and realistic than NWN2's defaults - the areas are usually pitch black and only use hand-placed light sources. Furthermore, those have their own little day/night cycle, although I kept it simple. I use the Scripted Lighting System for it which comes with many useful prefabs already that don't need too much work anymore - far easier than making your lights from scratch. And here's what you can do with that:


Above is the dawn light: It's not black, but there's a very low blueish light near the curtain, this one is used in the early morning hours and in the evening, for 1-2 hours. In the evening it transitions to pitch black, at which stage a candle is lit on the table (and yes, SLS2 also adds and removes the candle flame effect):

... and finally, during daylight hours, the room looks like this:


And below is a van interior, just showing it as another example for a cramped little interior (maybe a third of a tile). Oh, and as you can see, I use Kemo's Animations here - no worries, it'll be the PG version ;)

Speaking of Kemo's, I also found a way to use these animations on NPCs (they are usually just meant for player characters who fire them via a custom UI). Was a pain to find out how really, but somehow I got it to work:

Okay, that's enough of screenshots and wannabe-updates that are actually already in for a long while. I'll have to rant a lot too and explain my current lack of inspiration, but that's for another post.





Friday, January 22, 2010

Races, classes and deities in Middleforest, part 1


Base Races:


As you can see, most races sound quite familiar. The major changes here are the Halflings, who are Islanders in Middleforest's lore, The Spiritual (formerly Planetouched) and the Eglean.



The Dwarves:

These might remind you of Dragon Age, and I admit that in this case it was indeed the influence. We have the nobleborn dwarves who's favoured class has been changed to priest, the lowerborn ones who could be considered "working class", and the outcast ones that could be compared to the surface dwarves in Dragon Age, dwarves that completely left the dwarven society behind them. The Lowerborns still serve best as armsmen, the outcasts as Hunters.


The Elves:

The elves are changed from describing their bloodline to describing their favourite style of living.
The major changes here, short and sweet:

The Mountain Elf would be the drow in the original game, however in Middleforests lore they are all but the drow. They are dark, but usually have dark hair as well. They do not live deep below the surface, but in (as in: on the surface of) the mountains. They might be outside the society, but are not considered evil per se. Favourite Class: Scholar.

The City Elf, yes, I know what you think. Yes, they are almost exactly like the City Elf in Dragon Age, and no, they are not ripped of, Bioware simply had the same idea as I had, apparently. Sue me if you don't believe it. The city elf are based on the Moon Elf, their favourite class has been changed to the Scout.

Gypsie Elves: Based on the Sun Elf, and the name says it all. They are free, but stick close to urban areas. Their favoured class has been changed to Artisan.

Nomad Elves: Again, the name says it all, they are travellers, but usually stay far away from urban areas and meet strangers with suspicion. Their favourite class has been changed to the Shaman.

Forest Elf: Closest to the original, the Forest Elves prefer the forest and keep to themselves, their favoured class remains Hunter.


The Gnomes:

The main change here would be that the Urban gnome likes being a scholar (I just hate that bard from the NWN2 campaign!), and the Mountain Gnomes are more like nomads from the Mountains, and not somewhere in the Underdark. :)


The Islanders (Halflings):

Halflings in Middleforest are called "Islanders", because all of them descend from two islands named after the old clan families. This would be the smaller van Panhys Island, actually a formation of smaller isles with one main Island, and the large Claycomber Isle. Although Islanders have since moved to many other places and are a common sight around the forest, all of them can track their bloodline back to one of these two clans.

The Half-Elves:

The Half-Elf is just that, the offspring of an Elf and a Human. Even though sometimes met with prejusices, they are not unusual, since Humans and Elves meet often.
The Halfbreed is usually the unwanted, outcast child of a human and a mountain elf, the main reason they're met with suspicion and almost hatred is their dark skin and the fact that they're usually bastard childs. Often suspicious folks mistake them for cambions.



The Spirits (Planetouched):

The Spirituals are creatures that need a little more explanation, however, just for the game mechanics and some very basic info:

Fylge: Formerly Aasimar, favoured class "Blessed", as this is what they basically are - blessed.
Cambion: Formerly Tieflings, the favoured class remains. Also known as changelings, the bastard child of a humanoid and a dark spirit or daemon. In common lore, usually a succubus or incubus' doing.

Deva: Formerly Air Genasi, a Spirit of the element air, with their favoured class changed to the shaman and some adjustments to make that class worthwhile for them.

Faun: Formerly Earth Genasi and also known as Troll, Dryad, Tree nymphes and a lot of other things. Favoured class druid with adjustments that don't cripple this choice anymore.

Salamander: Formerly Fire Genasi and their favoured class changed to sorcerer with appropriate adjustments.

Nereide: Also known as Nix, Nekk, Water Nymph and others. Favoured class changed to Artisan (yes, the clichée of the singing mermaid ;) ) with appropriate adjustments.


The Classes:

The classes in Middleforest remain basically the same, with mostly cosmetical changes to overcome the D&D clichees and fit the Setting better. A major note, though: No class has any alignment requirements anymore. There are still RP requirements and rules of thumb, but alignments should not play any role in Middleforest.
You might wonder where the Red Dragon Disciple is hidden - well, it's gone, it's the only class that really has no place in Middleforest.
Also noteworthy is that some classes require serving "The Allseeing", the Templar and the Crusader. And what the hell is a Hanse Guard? Well, it's the old Neverwinter Nine class which serves now as the class for guards and soldiers of the Hanseatic League.






The Gods:

Gods in Middleforest can be tracked down to gods that are part of european folklore, however don't expect them to be accurate. There is one main Deity in the civilized areas, which would be the Allseeing. Most humans pray to him, and his "real life" counterpart should be obvious. He is changed in a way that keeps him a fictual god, however he's obviously based on the christian god, on purpose.
Most of the other gods are "minor" and there for "heathens" to choose from. A human who believes in one of these is usually an alien to his kin, since these gods are almost forgotten in human society. Someone who mentions believing in another god than the Allseeing would be considered strange at least. Some however still serve as patrons to some, e.g. it wouldn't be surprising to find a symbol of Lugh in a carpenter's house or the symbol of Eira in a medic's.