Thursday, 31 July 2008

Deep In The Dungeons (ADV)

Play once again went smoothly with no errors or problems to report. Myara was dispersed once, but that was down to some solo adventuring in a dangerous environment. ;) As followers of the adventure wwill know, the heroes managed to gain entrance to the lich's dungeons last week, and this week saw them enter some deeper chambers. They also learned of the lich's phylacteries and to keep an eye open to destroy any they should find.

As a side bit of news, my boxed set of 4th edition D&D books turned up today. I have had a quick look at them and noticed some changes in particular, like the ways spells and powers are now allocated. I am not sure if I like everything that has been done, but as I only ordered them as a source of inspiration for some ideas for myslef, I won't worry about that. And for those interested, D&D Insider looks interesting and while currently unavailable, does offer some things free for the time being. Let's hope it all goes that way.

I have also managed to get my scrolls working (artwork by Quillmaster) and may add an extra post about them at a later date. Now that they are ready, I can start to add some more details to the next chapter of the campaign. Books and scrolls will play a fair part in the future, and is why I wanted a good GUI interface to play them with fun. I have a few ideas already, but at the moment, they remain simply as ideas until I have the time and energy to put them into something more solid. Hopefully soon.

SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: 8th) REALM TIME: 30 Hours 40 Mins

"Upon entering the eastern chambers, the heroes were confronted with a rune circle etched into the tiles on the floor. It immediately raised all their suspicions, especially Karasten who warned everybody that they may be in for an imminent attack. And sure enough, the moment Myara first entered the circle, imps were summoned to attack the intruding heroes." Read the full synopsis here.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Combination Chests

I finished one of the placeables that I wanted to include within the new era today: Combination Chests. Players of Soul Shaker will have already encountered a version of these and so will be familiar with the concept, even though the new era version is completely revamped. For starters, NWN2 allows me to use a GUI interface rather than a conversation box for input from the player - and while programming the XML code is harder first of all, working with the input from a GUI is actually a lot easier than trying to work around a conversation with many tokens. Furthermore, the GUI makes the whole interaction much more visual and fun! I had to design the GUI background myself, and so while the artwork may not be as good as some, at least it is practical and serves well for the job. Take a look at the edited screenshot below to learn more about the way Combination Chests will be played.

Even before the PC interacts with the chest (or any object with a combination lock), they can examine the object to get an indication that the lock users tumblers in a combination lock. They can then either continue to interact with the chest or do one of two other things first:

1) They can try using dedicated Tumbler Picks to force the tumblers open. The chance of success is based upon the DC of the lock, the players Open Locks skill and the quality of the picks being used. There is always a minimum chance of 5% success, no matter who tries to pick the tumblers, but there is also a maximum chance of 95% for success no matter how good the PC or the picks are. Picks only have a single use like normal Thieves Tools, and the combination will lock again after the picked object is closed.

2) If the PC has the Knock spell, then they can cast it on the chest to allow anybody to try to work the tumblers that can only otherwise be worked by a PC with a high enough Open Lock skill to interact with the lock.

Alternatively, a PC can simply try to interact with the lock. When they do, they will be presented with the following GUI:

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE


At the top of the GUI is a standard message that the player's PC is about to interact with a Combination Lock. The digits (A) show the current tumbler setting. These change as the player interacts with either the plus or minus buttons (B) above and below these numbers. If the combination is known, the player can enter it via these buttons and then click on the "Try Combination" button (C). If it is the correct combination, the object will open. Extra information about the lock and interaction is provided (D) as the player continues to interact with the lock.

An eye should be kept on the extra information section, as it gives you feedback about the lock and the person trying to interact with it. In the picture shown, the lock is said to have a Tumbler DC of 4 and that the current PC's Open Lock skill is too low to have any feedback when they interact with the lock.

Interaction Feedback

If the PC who interacts with the lock has an Open Lock skill equal or higher than the DC of the lock, then they will receive Tumbler Feedback with each attempt of a combination. The feedback says how many of the tumblers are correct, and so after a few attempts, the lock picker should eventually be able to ascertain the correct combination and open the lock.

If the chest has had the knock spell cast on it prior to any interaction, then the working DC will be zero, which means anybody working the lock will receive the same information as a PC with an adequate Open Locks skill. NB: The knock spell only keeps the working DC to zero for a period of 15 seconds per level of the caster, and the time is constantly displayed and updated in the Information Feedback area. Therefore, time is of the essence when using the knock spell at lower levels. Once the combination has been found and the lock sprung, the knock spell ends.

Along with the Try Combination button, there are also two other buttons: (1) Abandon Interaction. This abandons the current attempt to open the object without testing the current combination setting. (2) Use Life Essence. Note that this button is disabled if the PC does not carry any Life Essences (as in the picture), but if they do, the PC will have the option to use this button to force reveal a pair of tumblers. A maximum of two Life Essences can be used to reveal two pairs of digits, which are always the first four digits. Forced digits remain forced forever.

A couple of final points to note are: (1) There is pop up help reminders for each button if the player hovers over the button. (2) The tumblers can be relocked if the player chooses. (This was not something I allowed in earlier renditions of Combination Chests.)

I like these locks as they act as a kind of mini-game for the player who is prepared to spend just a little time trying to work out the combination if they have the skill or spell. Alternatively, there are a couple of ways to bypass the testing altogether: Either expend a couple of Life Essences to reduce the testing of four digits or acquire a number of Tumbler Picks to bypass it altogether. Of course, the PC could also just try to find the correct code in the first place.

Toolset Tip

During my making of these, I came across an issue that took me a while to discover the answer to. Basically, it is to do with the Default Action Preference button for an object within its properties. When using the chest, a PC with the Open Lock skill will automatically try to lock pick it by default unless this option is changed to USED. I needed to change it to this to allow the interaction to bring up the GUI rather than the PC try to unlock it, which of course would always fail.

Artwork & Voice Acting

On a different subject altogether, I am pleased to say that I have been able to acquire the services of Geoff Cordery (a.k.a. The Quillmaster), who provided some great artwork in Soul Shaker, to help out with some more artwork for another idea I have for the new era. It involves some scrolls that will work in a similar fashion to Readable Books, but with scroll artwork rather than book artwork. I hope to have something to show you in a later post.

Geoff has also agreed to help out with some voice acting for me with some of my NPCs. While I may be able to pull off one or two weak personalities, Geoff has quite a flexible voice, which I hope will add to the list of characters players will meet.

On the back of this, if there is anybody else who believes they could contribute towards other art work or voice acting, then please drop me a comment and we can take it from there. Can you help?

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The Tower's Secret (ADV)

Week sixteen and all is well! Tonight went smoothly again with no real bugs to report. A typo was noticed in one of the journal entries, which I have now corrected in my own current build, but it was not enough to warrant a public update yet. There was one other issue, which could be more of a problem, but I suspect it unlikely to happen for most people and even then, only likely in a multi-player game: Having the refugee gate guard accidentally lock himself out! I could write some code to ensure this does not happen, but I suspect that it was a one-off and I will wait to hear if anybody else encounters the problem before I do anything more about it. In theory, there is still a work around, but again, I won't divulge that unless I really have to, as it is a bit involved.

I have also decided that I will no longer be doing detailed synopses after Soul Shaker has finished. It takes me quite some time to do, which could be better spent either writing new material or elsewhere in general. Instead, for the new era, I will write brief synopses, but include instead, more information that the PC's might find during the gaming session that can be read online instead of during the gaming session. E.g. If the heroes find a book, I will upload the book information as part of a session write up. This way, a player can still be reminded of what happened, but also have more hot points as reminders of what they are trying to achieve.

I am pleased to report that I have been more constructive this week than I have for a long time. I have also had one or two more ideas that I want to script regarding new era Combination Chests. I liked the way these worked in Soul Shaker, along with the various skills and spells, and I have come up with some similar ideas for the new era, but in a way that fits better with the new mechanics. I have not even started to script this yet, but I am hoping to use some of the scripts I have already written (with some minor adjustments), and that it all works out as planned. I will go into more details about these in a future post.

SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: 8th) REALM TIME: 28 Hours 50 Mins

"It did not take long for Transafin to concoct the potion the heroes required to use against the giant gelatinous creature. After giving thanks to the old wizard, the heroes immediately made their way to the cavern that marked the secret way. Grimbold volunteered to take the potion and use it against the creature. He found that he had to get quite close before he could risk throwing the potion at it. Once he did, however, the creature noticeably weakened and everyone in the group started to attack with either melee or magik. In its weakened state, it did not take long for the creature to fall against the heroes, leaving the way clear to continue." Read the full synopsis here.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Living v Dead Weapons

I have managed to script a fair amount of the system I want in place to differentiate between the two types of weapons that will be found in the new era upon Althéa: Living and Dead Weapons. The main difference between Living and Dead Weapons is that Living Weapons (from the old era) do not lose quality through use and appear to have a self-maintaining quality about them, whereas weapons of the new era, called Dead Weapons, gradually degrade with use.

The system works differently from any used in previous adventures, and reflects a quality of a weapon rather than any sort of direct damage as such. That said, a weapon used in combat will gradually lose quality if the PC does not maintain it and feedback currently still suggests that a "weapon is damaged". At the moment, the system only relates to weapons, but I may consider expanding on this to cover armour as well.

Dead Weapons can currently be in four states: Poor, Moderate, Good and Exceptional. Their current quality determines how many properties they can hold during enhancing. Poor weapons cannot be enhanced, moderate ones can hold one property and good or exceptional weapons can hold two properties. Only a Living Weapon can hold more than two properties. Furthermore, if a weapon has a property and the weapon degrades through use, then the weapon will lose a property. Therefore, it is wise for a fighter to ensure they keep their weapons in the best condition. This is something they can do themselves with the correct skill (Craft Weapon) or take to a Weapon Smith with the same skill.

There will be different levels of skilled Weapon Smiths around and it may pay the PC to keep track of where the best smiths are as they require better skilled smiths to keep their better weapons in good condition.

If a PC fails to have their Dead Weapon maintained and it reaches a quality score of zero, it will break and become useless. Therefore, it may pay the PC who wanders far into the wilderness to have at least some skill in Craft Weapon, to ensure they do not lose their weapon along their adventures. On the other hand, if they are fortunate enough to find or win a Living Weapon, then weapon degradation is one less thing for them to worry about.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Debut Author AME 2007 NWN Award Winner!

I could not be more proud than to announce that I won the AME Golden Dragon Award for Debut Author for Soul Shaker! I was extremely pleased simply to be nominated from among all the great work that had been produced in 2007, but to then win this category is truly a great honour and probably the most satisfying award I have ever won. There is also a podcast that speaks about the finalists to be found here: podcast.

D&D has been a near life-long hobby of mine, and for many years I have written material for the same group of players. They have always said they enjoyed my work, but I have never known how it compared with other authors. Soul Shaker was my first tentative step for a larger audience and I did not know how well it would be received. The award has made everything I have done worthwhile, as it comes from a group of people who share the same love of a hobby as I do, and to be recognised by ones peers in this way is truly a delight.

Thanks to everybody who supported my work over the years, from the oldest players to the newest. I hope I am able to bring new works to more players in the years to come.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

It's All In The Art (ADV)

There was a last minute panic before we started play this week, as I realised that I had not yet updated two of my computers with NWN to v1.69. Thankfully, I had already downloaded the critical patch and so abandoned the "update" method I was using (because the time to start play was approaching fast) so that I could update the two machines in time. The updates went fine and were ready just in time.

I had tested my own computer with v1.69 and everything played OK with Soul Shaker, but the real test would come tonight when we played another session with all computers. Thankfully, again, everything went smoothly, update or otherwise. The only thing I noticed was that if a player joined a multi-player game and was missing a plot item, then they would be given it. This is fine as a safety net against plot items being lost accidentally, but the problem arises when another player may join later who does have the plot item. You end up with two plot items in the game. However, I have decided this is not a major issue as the code does correct for the extra plot items after a quest requiring the plot has been finished. I could add extra code to sort all this out, but I don't think its really necessary. I have, however, made a note about this for future multi-player modules and plot items.

SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: 8th) REALM TIME: 26 Hours 50 Mins

"Inside the small tower, the group discovered a strange device. Myara, the most proficient when dealing with Realm devices took a closer look: It seemed to be some sort of communication device. Myara then decided to touch the device to see if she could discover something more. Within seconds she heard the voice of the Dark King communicating with her by telepathy through the device." Read the full synopsis here.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The New Era and Arcaene Lore

As you may or may not know, the Althéa Campaign has been running for many years, originally starting out as a Pen and Paper game. The campaign continued within its current era throughout the life and course of NWN1. Since then, a number of events, including the release of NWN2, the story conclusion of Soul Shaker and the change to the current group of players all contributed towards my decision that a new era would begin after the Soul Shaker module.

A New Era

The new era is marked by an event that the people will call "The Changing" or "The Darkening". Life will have changed for the new era and it will be a time for old and new players alike to learn of the world of Althéa. Plot lines from earlier years that remain open will be reintroduced in a fashion to appeal to new players as well as remind older players of their current objectives. Even before the player begins, they will be able to select their "background" to represent whether their PC's are supposedly familiar with some of the characters of the world already, or whether they prefer to play as if they knew no-one. Once the player has set their PC's background, they can then begin to explore the world within its new era.

Arcaene Lore

The players will soon learn that The Changing has brought about some differences to the world they once knew (or are supposed to have known). One example will be how people will now refer to objects made from a knowledge prior to The Changing as objects of Arcaene Lore, or "secret knowledge", because the knowledge once used to forge or create such items has been lost since The Changing that marked the start of the new era.

Objects of Arcaene Lore ranges from weapons that were once considered relatively simple smith work to spells that could be cast any number of times without having to learn them beforehand. Basically, any object whose knowledge of creation has been lost since the Changing will be referred to as an object of of Arcaene Lore, or more specifically by a reference that describes it better. E.g. Weapons that survived from the previous age would be refereed to as Arcaene Weapons, and spells would be referred to Arcaene Spells. Both use Arcaene Lore.

Objects of Arcaene Lore work and behave differently to those of the new era, and the player will gradually get to learn about these differences as they play. As an indication, the people of Althéa also refer to weapons made prior to the Changing as "Living Weapons" and those of the new age as "Dead Weapons". This is because the people have learned that the new age Dead Weapons are subject to damage and decay, whereas those weapons that survived from the previous age do not suffer from such degradation.

With the new era comes many changes, and not just to the objects mentioned above. However, the differences already mentioned have an indirect impact on the old order of things, and the new forced social structure upon the world of Althéa will be new to both old and new players alike.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Citadel Survivors! (ADV)

Tonight saw the heroes escape the citadel and find the refugees hiding away in some nearby caves. The timer showed nearly a healthy 25 hours of play as well, and if we take into account the slight error due to WAN traffic, then the module has lasted quite well according to my own original estimates. It will be interesting to see what the final time records for a MP game, especially as most single-player games are normally coming to a finish around now.

Tonight played without any problems at all. There were no errors found and all conversations with the refugees to date have gone well and the logical flow was as good as it could be for a complex setting like this. I just hope the flow continues to hold true and reliable as the game play continues. This is always the hardest bit to test and assume OK, as people approach NPC's and conversations in a different order to what you may expect, and so opens up the largest window for errors to creep in.

Neverwinter Nights IRC (AME)

Today, I was contacted by Tybae of the AME website about my nomination with Soul Shaker and he asked me to be part of an IRC (chat) on Saturday 12th July at 1700 Hrs GMT with other nominees. I said I would be delighted to take part, and so I hope I am able to answer any questions they may ask of me. I will let you know when and where the transcript will appear.

UPDATE: 13th July: IRC chat log can be found here.

SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: 7th) REALM TIME: 24 Hours 50 Mins

"For now, all the group wished to avoid the tower and followed the citadel wall around to the west, along its outer wall. The heroes could see that the citadel stood atop a cliff that overlooked a raging water. And yet, somehow, the citadel appeared too close for comfort in places and they were reminded that this was not the original location where the citadel once stood." Read the full synopsis here.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Althéa New Era Differences

I decided to give writing for the New Era of the Althéa Campaign in NWN2 another go today. I have now divided the current work into two modules, but have not yet removed anything from either, which will be the point to the dividing eventually, so that things run smoother than they do at the moment. However, as there are a number of scripts that are used between both modules (Campaign Scripts), I have also been shifting a number of scripts from the individual modules to the Campaign folder. I could see no easy way of doing this other than by copying and pasting the scripts from one section to the other and then deleting the original. If anybody knows of an easier way, then please let me know.

There was also a very scary moment when I went to save the changes and the tool set crashed, and failed to reload properly on a reload. Thankfully, all the scripts had saved to the Campaign folder, and all I had to do was alter one or two objects from a slightly older module to get things up and running again.

Today, I took a closer look at the Enchanter's Satchel. It is a means by which items can be enchanted (while mobile in the field) by using certain essences. The satchel was introduced with MotB and makes the process a bit simpler than it was with the original NWN2, but goes slightly against the grain of how I wanted the campaign to run. I don't mind having the equivalent to a "mobile workbench" for enchanting items, but I believe there should be an additional price for making such in this way. Therefore, I have made it so that using the satchel costs additional Life Essences to enchant an item, compared to enchanting items at a static workbench.

This involved editing the original i_nx1_container01_ci script, but as I don't use the more complex TAG editing styles, I was able to edit my own nx1_container01 script to intercept the spell being cast at the satchel and check to see if sufficient Life Essences were being carried by the caster. It's a simple enough check and works well. It took me a while to work it out though, as it has been a while since I looked at the scripting for the new objects and I was a little rusty.

I also managed to get the Spell Book check in place: A script to check if the wizard or sorcerer is carrying their spell book to be able to learn spells. Resting without one now causes the PC to lose all spells but their cantrips, in the same way a cleric will lose all their spells except Orisons if they rest without a copy of their Holy Book.

The whole basic mechanics of the game is now looking good and working quite well. I obviously still need to test it a bit more, especially over a LAN, but most of the main effects and requirements I was after are now in place. And it was all these scripts that have had to be moved to Campaign scripts so that they work across all the modules I build from now on.

Hopefully, I intend to start working on a conversation or two next and possibly an opening "Background Option" GUI, which allows a player joining the campaign to determine if they are playing a PC who has some background association with Althéa already, and may have some knowledge of some NPCs they meet, or are starting from a background of someone who has never left their home village and knows very little about the world. Depending upon their choice here will determine the kind of options and/or reception they may have with some NPC's.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Tower Beckons (ADV)

We managed to get back to playing Soul Shaker again this week. And while we have not played, Soul Shaker has continued to rise through the charts and was last seen holding at a healthy position of 6th place. Furthermore, this is also the week that AME will be announcing their Debut Author for the 2007 Golden Dragon awards for which I have been nominated alongside a couple of others. As I said previously, even to be nominated is an honour, and I can only hope for anything more against such excellent competition.

This week I released SSPatchedScripts v1.08 to allow the Spiritualise spell to give the correct number of spirit fragments when used against damaged items. I had done this for the Spirit Disruptor last time, but neglected to alter this script as well. It is not a major fix, but one that I feel needed to be done.

At one point during play, I did think my Realm Soul Sword was not working as it was meant to. i.e. I thought that using its abilities was supposed to drain a charge like the magik versions, but realised after checking the code that Realm Weapons are only supposed to lose integrity if a miss-hit is made. In other words, it is supposed to be one of their major advantages over the other weapon types by not losing integrity so often. Anyway, I was glad that I did not have to do anything there after all.

Finally, I think I may be having problems with my computer, as it appears to be getting slower over the last few days. At the moment, I am suspecting overheating of some kind, possibly the graphics card, as I even had some display corruption at one time. I guess I will have to open it up and check it out at some point. That new computer is definitely looming closer ... ;)

SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: 7th) REALM TIME: 23 Hours 20 Mins

"Stepping onto the balcony, the heroes were sheltered from the rain by the walls of the citadel. Through the pouring rain ahead of them they could see an ominous looking tower beyond the reaches of the citadel itself. Was this the lich's tower? Was Terrell being held captive here? The heroes current search of the citadel had proved futile up to now, and unless Terrell was being held somewhere on the top floor, then they would have to extend their search to the outer areas, and very likely the tower as well. Whatever the situation, the tower was not a welcoming sight and somehow appeared out of place here." Read the full synopsis here.