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.