Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Custom content, LOTS and LOTS.

Have we all survived the winter so far, yes? A while ago I actually thought I'm a winter person, lots of thoughts and inspiration during the dark season. In fact though, I couldn't get myself to even open a single area during the last month (good riddance, December) and spent most of my time with long rants, as the blog proves. What I managed to do though was updating some haks and cleaning others, and only now I'm actually starting to make use of the new stuff.

Speaking of that, and my older post about autodownloader problems, I need to rant a little again. When you read through the various Persistant World-related posts at the Bioware boards, one of those things you constantly hear is that you should go with the times and use the autodownloader-ready haks from the vault as is, so players don't have to download the same content twice. Sounds fair enough, but the reality looks more like builders having to manage a neverending list of haks (who wants to assign, say, 72 individual haks to their module?), having to find out which content overrides which, and if the next of tiny hak #57 update won't conflict with larger hak #62 below. If it does and, say, a new model in hak #57 suddenly overrides that awesome model in #62, it's time for fixing. But hold! And that's the problem number two, you can't fix the original hak, you need to pull the content up into a custom hak, because the next time the autodownloader is used the fixed hak would be overwritten again...

And that's the next problem I already ran into sometimes... a good example is Heed's PC Tools. The original hak has a bug, and there are two different fixes for it. One is a fix within the hak itself, the other is a fix in the script. Now, both fixes seem to work, so some builders used the hak fix, the others the script fix. The result is, if you go server hopping, chances are good the PC Tools are downloaded and replaced over and over again, or even worse, if you come across a server that doesn't use the ADL, players suddenly can't use their PC tools there anymore (because they played a different server before) and can't figure out why. It took me a long while too to figure out why all of sudden my PC Tools in Middleforest stopped working, even though I was sure I fixed them... after a long time I remembered being serverhopping and found out I had a different version, but hell, that took me some days. Anyway, fixing these things is a major headache because more often then not you first have no clue why things suddenly go wrong, then you need to track down the culprit.

Next thing is, bloat. I shouldn't really rant about bloat, given the size of Middleforest's current hak set (it exceeds old 3C). However, that doesn't mean I just grabbed everything fancy out there and made a giant compilation, no, I DO care about the content and it's quality. Some of the largest haks I use are armor compilations for instance, and a huge amount of outfits in, say, Aleanne's or the Always Summer clothing haks simply neither fit the setting nor do they meet my quality standards anymore, they are bloat. I recently cleaned up all the clothing haks and was able to reduce the size by over 300MB, plus making room for other outfits again.

Last but not least, I do believe that a 500MB download or even a Gigabyite (hey, I'm not there yet!) is not too much for a PW anymore. These days kids download Gigabytes of Free2Play games all the time only to install them once, try them out and delete them again. Singleplayer modules are a different matter though, if I made a singleplayer game, I'd carefully choose every single model and only add what I definitely need in this or that scene. For a PW project though, I think it's important to have a good base which gives you much of building freedom right from the beginning, because you intend to use it much longer. A PW admin doesn't try to attract players for a single quick playthrough, but for a long-time game with an open end. I think players who are really interested in a certain Persistant World understand that and don't mind a single huge download, especially in times of terrabyte harddrives and broadband interwebz. But massive hak changes later, while the server already runs, that's much more painful.

Anyway, that's why I decided for a custom Middleforest hak set. Mainly because I don't have to manage more than a dozen haks, because I know pretty well what content is where in case of trouble, no sudden hak updates that break something, and because I can decide what of a hak's content I want to use and what not.

Moving on to what's inside the haks. So, why has nobody ever told me that there's a NWN2 conversion of one of my favourite NWN1 tilesets at the vault? Tsk. Now that's one of my latest additions, and even given it's higher fantasy content, I must say I'm quite pleased with how good some of the buildings fit into Rungholt's elven quarter (and not only there). I love Tupoun's City hak, but as nice as it looks, a whole city only built with it doesn't offer that many surprises anymore. That's where the CODI buildings can really make a difference, I think.

There are some minor problems with them though, that's why they need to be used with care. First, they are not tintable. Not such a big deal because the City Hak buildings are and can be adjusted to match the CODI buildings. The next, bigger problem is that the buildings apparently don't block the line of sight, which can lead to game mechanical issues. There's also the point that they don't fade the same way as the NWN2 buildings, I'm not sure if that will lead to big camera troubles or not - in the toolset it was a little strange though because they fade out at some angles and I'm always scared I accidently deleted one... anyway, still a wonderful addition.

The next thing that kept me busy last weekend was skyboxes, and that's not a success story. Initially, I got very excited about them - they are very easy to make technically, and Google helped me to find some panorama skies that look great in game.
Before you know-betters ask, no, it's not the fact that Obsidian decided for some utterly silly double-image-wrapping thing... what's that, the non-know-betters ask? Oh, the image is used TWO times on the skybox in game, so if your image has a sun or moon or tower or other landscape feature, it'll show up 2 times in game, once in front of you, once behind. Yeah, silly. It's okay with a mountain, but not so much with a sun. However, no, I found images that work well enough.

No, the big big problem is that the stupid skybox doesn't change in game. You might have a skybox option in every single day/night cycle stage, but nuh-uh, if you want to use different skies for different times of the day, forget it - the game only uses the default one. That's not the worst, the worst is that the game has no options to actually darken or brighten the image, so if you have a bright blue sky picture during the daytime, you'll have the same bright blue sky picture during the night. Bye bye immersion.

As you can see below though, I found a way to darken the scene during the night still. It doesn't look like midnight, but at least like nightfall, say, 9pm. But, this is only made possible by using the bloom options and lowering them a lot. That means, a player who doesn't use Bloom doesn't see any of it and still faces a bright sky. Plus, lowering the bloom options that much not only darkens the sky, but every highlight in game, including all light sources like torches, fires, the nightvision effect. Long story short, it's unusable for a PW, a weekend wasted. Anyway, just to show you what could've been:

Yeah, I shed a tear about that... the default sky now looks so terrible to me...

A last thing I found at the vault recently is not a hak, but some scripts. Thanks to my excessive Fallout playing, I grew fond of the idea to have a realistic resting system that, doh, uses beds. Yeah, no "I feel so exhausted, let me kneel down for 10 seconds" anymore. Na... I like the idea of having to look for a nice place to spend the night... a free bed, a rented bed or a simple sleeping bag. Additionaly, (I admit I got that from an adult mod in Fallout, but liked especially that functionality) I want to animate the process properly. Not just click-rested-done, na, a proper animation has to go with it. And, if you use a sleeping bag in the wilds, the chance to get disturbed by a thug.

And hooray, it's already been done long ago by Patcha! Isn't that nice... now, the problem is, Patcha's system contains a little too much, I only want some of the basics really. I know many players cringe when they hear "bedroll", the first thing coming to mind is HCR with the mean resting restrictions. I don't want that, I'm no friend of rest timers, rations, partial or no spell/feat/hitpoint refreshment and all that. I just want something more immersive than kneeling down for a few seconds, that's all. Anyway, yeah, that's the plan for the near future, I hope I can use Patcha's scripts as a base for something more simple and convenient, however knowing myself I'll cry for scripting help again as soon as copy and paste won't do it anymore.

Well, so much for now, as you can see I haven't given up building completely yet.

P.S. I almost forgot, after all my Fallout tallking lately I must point you at Mr. Nixon's project here. Looks awesome, I'm sure I'll keep an eye on it.

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