Friday, 28 May 2010

Altars (New Era Mechanics)

This was another week of simply writing more conversations and debugging code. However, rather than leave it at that, I thought I would add a screenshot and talk about how altars will work in the game. I also thought I might use this as a start of a series of posts that touch on some of the gaming mechanics that will be available when playing. Subject to feedback, these mechanics may undergo minor alterations, but eventually will also be set aside as sections of the website ... when done.

Altars play an important role in the world of Althéa and there are three types that can be interacted with: good, evil and neutral. It is possible for a PC of any alignment to offer a sacrifice at any of the different aligned altars, but there are obvious reasons why they would not. For instance, although all altars reward the sacrificing PC with bonus HPs according to the value of the sacrifice they make, the party's alignment is also altered in accordance with the altar sacrificed at. (No alignment alteration for neutral altars.) In some cases, a shift in alignment may be what the PC desires (to help rectify a previous alignment shift made in error, or to deliberately alter their allegiance), but for some (clerics and paladins), this kind of shift would come at a price of being cast into disfavour with their god.

Therefore, the carefree fighter interacting with the altar simply to boost their HPs must think carefully before offering any sacrifice, as it could mean their fellow cleric will no longer be able to heal them. Note, the benefits for the sacrifice are given to the one making the sacrifice only, whereas alignment shifts affect the whole party simply because of the association with the one making the sacrifice. This will also help to reinforce character class associations and party relationships: no more evil clerics in the protection of a paladin ... or even a paladin being healed by the evil cleric in the party!

Along with a temporary boost to HPs (which are permanent until lost) and alignment shifts, certain sacrifices will also boost experience points. The idea is to give the player good reasons to want to make sacrifices in the first place and these three potential game play aspects should help encourage the player to make note of where the nearest altar of their alignment choice can be found for future interaction. Mind you, the item used to reward experience points has many other uses, and so a player must once again weigh up the odds of sacrificing an item that may be of better use elsewhere.

Not everything offered at an altar will be accepted. For instance, items of low value or those items deemed important pawn pieces in the unravelling of the fabric of time (plot items) will be rejected. I was also considering other specialised sacrifices, but that element remains unused at the moment and may be something I look into more at a later date, or for a later expansion of the the campaign.

Poll: Policy Ratio Preference

A reminder ... if you haven't voted in the poll yet (on the left hand side), then please do and feel free to comment.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Logical Flow

It's been one of those weeks where I have felt as though I am just writing and writing and getting nowhere fast. I write more to a conversation (giving what at the time feels like more options), just to see it fly past when testing. And all this addition is to ensure that the player experiences good logical flow when they play the module and speak to NPCs they encounter during a quest.

This week, therefore, has nothing fancy to show for itself. No module screenshots, no fancy bits of code, nothing but an update to say things are progressing. I had hoped to complete one of the side quests this week, which would be the first quest actually finished all the way through, but the arrival of a new plasma TV (Panasonic Z1 54") took up the day for me yesterday, so I was unable to finish it. That screen is a dream by the way. ;)

Subject to what I actually do over the coming weeks will determine if I do have anything more exciting to say or visual to show, other than "I did more work to the module". I will, of course, make reference to the poll when the time comes.

Ronnie James Dio (R.I.P.)

Off topic, I was saddened to hear that Ronnie James Dio died last Sunday of stomach cancer at the age of 67. A great singer, heading such bands as Black Sabbath, Rainbow and Dio, I enjoyed much of his early work. I am still moved when I listen to Stargazer and A Light In The Black, which come on the Rainbow Rising album.

I feel Stargazer captures the futility of man very well and how dreams can come crashing down, but with the hope of a "rainbow rising" still pertinent in this great song, quickly followed up by the A Light In The Black, which talks about "coming home". As a Christian, these elements of death, a hopeful rainbow and a coming home are very powerful and emotive.

I hope Ronnie found his way home.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

A Barrel Of ....

... Money? Not likely in the world of Althéa. In other campaigns, one might find some gold or the odd gem, but the chances of such in Better The Demon will be slim. I am not saying it will be impossible, but extremely unlikely. On the other hand, I hope to make the contents of barrels to be more useful in other ways. I have already coded two types that can be found: The exploding barrel and the oil barrel.

The atypical (yet quite typical in the fantasy world) exploding barrel, will be marked with the usual characteristic flaming emblem on its side. At the moment, its offers little more use than a potential threat to nearby enemies caught within its blast range than anything else, but it may be something I put to greater use in the future. The satisfaction of seeing one of these barrels blow up when attacked, however, is quite cathartic - even if it does take a couple of hits to break past its hardiness to resist such dangerous knocks or blows.

The oil barrel, however, may be of more use to the adventurer. This is because this campaign will be using an adaption of Amraphael's Alternative Handheld Light Sources Pack, which contains lanterns. Lanterns have a longer burn time than torches and can be refuelled with oil if purchased or located in barrels such as these. Oil barrels start off with a random number of "flasks" of oil that must be gathered in flasks, which in turn can be used with the lanterns available in the module. The player will know how much oil remains in the barrel when used.

I have made it that oil must be gathered via a a flask before used with a lantern because a flask of oil can used in other ways as well as refuelling lanterns. A flask of oil can also be used as an oil grenade, keep a campfire burning, as well as one or two other ideas I have in mind.

POLL: Gaming Policies

It's good to see that the latest poll has had a reasonable response already, after only one week. I have deliberately not gone into detail in my responses to date as I did not want to potentially bias other voters. However, when the poll is complete, I will make a more detailed analysis of the data then and add my own personal comments and preferences.

In the meanwhile, if you have not voted, please do so, and add a comment if you wish. Every comment and piece of feedback do help me to understand what a player likes or dislikes and does (however slightly) help me to write in such detail and game play that may appeal to more players.

Hidden Maps

An interesting point I managed to include among other things this week (in my opinion) was the ability to keep complete "open maps" hidden on the game map until the PC had moved closer to the area in question. It always frustrated me that a complete map of an area would be given to the player the moment they walked into the first chamber (unless blocked by a door). This, to me, seemed unrealistic, unfair and stole some of the "exploration" fun out of a game. So, by making use of a special "door blocker" object, I have now placed "doors" in hallways or passageways that would normally be open that means the player's map does not reveal that part of the map until the PC is close enough to the door, which then destroys it and allows the map to update. It's still a work in progress and does require a few more minutes placing these "doors" at build time, but the result (in my opinion) is quite good.

And Finally ...

Building continues in other areas. I am working on a new area, and Hosa has sent a couple of screenshots on his own work and hopes to do more this weekend. I am also working on conversations and general plot.

Friday, 7 May 2010

A Module Referendum (Poll: A Hung Module?)

For those that may not know, the election for the British Government took place yesterday and the results have been coming in all night. I watched some last night and have been watching other results come in throughout today. The result is a "Hung" parliament, where no single party holds a majority of seats. Talks will now start about whether a minority government will be formed by the Conservatives, or whether a coalition government might be formed.

But that's enough about politics ... However, the whole idea of percentages of control of power raised an interest in me about how a module should run. That is, how much should be combat oriented, how many puzzles, how much exploration and how many conversations? This question is not too dissimilar to the last poll I held, but I hope this poll will crystallize more of what I am trying to find out about players preferences. It also brings together some of my last blogs. Let me first look at the "policies" in question:

COMBAT: How much combat should there be in a module? A fight every area, or every other area? Should there be many minor uncommon creatures (e.g. goblins) or only the odd major monster in unusual circumstances (e.g. a vampire)?

Should the player always have one or two puzzles to be solved between moving the story forward, or reserved only for minor non-essential situations. Puzzles should always make sense in the story or simply be added for fun?

EXPLORATION: Exploration and many areas is a core requirement to a module's longevity or does need not have many areas to enjoy? Exploration is about travelling to distance lands or searching the minutia?

Interacting with the world's NPCs is more important than exploring an abandoned dungeon? More conversations with minor comments is better than concentrating on important conversations only?

Poll: Policy Ratio Preference

This latest poll, however, is not so much about the differences between these "policies" (which I am still interested in your preferences by the way - please comment), but is more about the ratio of play between them. For example, do you prefer more combat (regardless of type) and conversations in a module compared to puzzles and exploration? Or would you prefer a module with more puzzles, combat and exploration but little conversations other than minimal requirements? Or, do you want a completely even split: A Hung Module? ;)

Look at the options available and choose the one closet to your own style of play. And if you get the time, please clarify your game choice by detailing your preferences of your choice by referring to the four "policy" descriptions above.

BLOG FLASH UPDATE: I thought this was an interesting chat going on between Robin Hobb and Sara Creasy about writing. I think every mod writier should have a read: Babel Clash

Campaign Flow

This week I spent some time reorganising the flow of the campaign. That is, I determined how the campaign was to play out and ended up dividing the campaign into three modules/parts. I don't think I am giving too much away with the current working titles for each part, so I will tell them now and allow me to describe work progress on each:

Part 1: Containment: This is the first module where the PCs start their adventure. This module is around 75% complete and is where most of the core scripts have been designed and will be used as campaign scripts for the other two modules.

Target: Around 10,000 XP bringing the PCs to around 5th level on average. (*)

Part 2: Spreading The Word:
The second part sees the PCs making headway with the main quest. This part has had some maps prepared and uses some prefabs. Hopefully, Hosa will be creating one or two unique maps for this section of the campaign.

Target: Around 66,000 XP bringing the PCs to around 12th level on average. (*)

Part 3: Learning The Truth:
The third and last part in the current module sees the PCs dealing with the situation as they see fit. This has had little work done on it to date. Hosa is currently creating areas for this part. Other prefabs are also being used.

Target: Around 105,000 XP bringing the PCs to around 15th level on average. (*)

(*) Actual XP value may vary according to quests played, the number of PCs in the party and some simple luck. Furthermore, these are projected targets and will require beta-testing to confirm actual results.

Please keep up the current polling flavour and cast your vote! And if you want to clarify your vote, please add a comment. (YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!)

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Cook Bakes New Areas!

I am delighted to say that during my search for prefabs I came into contact with Marcin, who you may know better as Hosa, the creator of the Forgotten Village prefab. He has been away from the NWN2 scene for some time and has recently been putting a lot of work into his Fuel4Health blog, a site dedicated to offering recipes for healthy food. If you are into healthy eating, take a look at his blog as it is professionally presented and an excellent guide to those who like to cook.

In the past, Marcin has also contributed to the Polish persistent world, "Aeris", which has some stunning area designs and has received some great feedback to date. And so it was to my great delight that Marcin agreed to come back to the NWN2 scene and help design some areas for Better The Demon. If all goes to plan, I hope he will put together a good handful of areas that will help complement those prefabs and my own already included. It's early days yet, but we are discussing requirements now.

Having decided to use prefabs and now also having Marcin on board means the project has had a large boost towards its completion rate. Although I have not yet worked with the areas, the very fact they are now included adds a good 14% to the overall project. If all goes to plan, there is now a reasonable chance that the project might be completed by the end of the year ... or next year the latest. :)

With Marcin working on the areas that remain, I hope it will free my time to start working on the plot once more. Subject to what I do will determine what future blog posts will reveal. Hopefully, there may even be one or two screenshots from the new areas of Marcin as he builds them. Time will tell. For now, I would like to both thank and welcome Marcin aboard the project and hope our joint efforts will be a success for everyone.


The poll, What Turns You Off A Module, is now finished and the final result (from the 19 results) suggest that at least 31% of the voters felt levels of interaction is a key element to what keeps them interested in a module. This would have been my own choice out of the ones listed as well, because I can live with most of the other issues as long as I am kept involved with the game with interesting interaction. From this perspective, I hope Better The Demon does offer the player plenty of interaction over and above the normal expected with a NWN module with its many additional systems (new GUI interactions) and style (offering a more realistic environment).

Unfortunately, I am unable to glean much more from the other results as the feedback was probably too low to represent a fair argument. Furthermore, some of these options were asking for feedback to help explain the choice made, which was not clear from the feedback I received. That said, I do appreciate all the feedback I did receive and am grateful to those who did vote as it does help guide me during my module development.