Friday, 25 June 2010

Staying On Track & On Target

Since last week, it has become even more apparent that weekly updates are the overall preference for readers according to the poll results to date: hence, I bring you another update. This week I offer some general advise and some tips when designing a module and using the toolset.

Before I do that, however, I would like to report that I am continuing to write conversations and ensuring NPCs react in an appropriate manner depending on a PC's reaction to them. In Better The Demon, this process is over and above the normal different conversation responses available and also involves how an NPC might react to suddenly being attacked and the consequences with faction members. Thankfully, I have quite a few well-established systems in place now that help make this type of behavioural AI coding easier to do. That said, I still have to tweak the odd script here and there for any given situation. Anyway, now for the general advise and tips I mentioned earlier ...

Avoiding The Tangled Web

There is, without doubt, a risk of becoming too deeply involved with a campaign project and it seem to become never-ending. I refer you to Kamal's latest blog entry that raises the same question, "When is it Done?" I think every builder asks this question eventually, but I believe if one has set out clear design goals and sticks to main objectives, then a project does remain manageable. Self-discipline and sensible pacing are crucial attributes to possess if you want to prevent the project from turning into a tangled web with no clear end in sight.

Of course, avoiding the tangled web is the plan of every builder, me included. However, subject to personal circumstances, some people will aim to finish their project by a date deadline, while others will only say their project is complete when they are satisfied that their design goals have been met - and many builders will fall somewhere in between. Personally, I recognise I am unable to work on this project as much as I would like due to ill-health and, therefore, I have not set myself a deadline to work to. The upside to this is that I should be able to achieve a well-designed module, meeting all my personal needs by the time it's finished. The downside, of course, is that there may not be many people left around playing NWN2 to download and appreciate it by the time the module is done. My hope is that there will at least be a handful of patient people still around who will.

Avoiding The Black World Map

If you have ever tried to view a TGA or DDS world map image with the map editor, and you are using Windows Vista or Windows 7, then the chances are you will only have seen an empty black image. I noticed this myself after I switched to using a Windows 7 computer instead of Windows XP. This is a problem, because you need to be able to see the map in the editor to place map icons on it in the correct place. Here is the workaround to be able to see the map in the editor:

1) Load the NWN Toolset. (Do NOT load the module yet.)

2) Load your world map in the editor. (You will still not see the map image yet.)

3) Reload the map image you are using into the map editor. (The image should now show.)

4) Load the module and continue working on it.

5) You will need to repeat this process each time you load a new map into the editor.
Working With Prefabs

Prefabs are a group of placeable objects grouped into one larger one. The idea is to make new, larger objects that can be moved around as a single placeable object. The problem is, if you have ever tried to make a prefab, you will probably have noticed just how awkward they are to work with. Here are a few useful prefab tips that I hope will prove useful to other builders. If you do not intend your prefabs to be interacted with, then you can ignore the first few tips referring to scripts:

1) Of all the objects you intend to group, ensure only one object (the easiest to interact with) is made useable with the useable flag ticked, and has the name and description set for the entire group. (Sometimes, it may be easier to add an "invisible" object placeable somewhere in the group of objects and make that the useable object for the group.)

2) Ensure you add any event scripts required to the same single object of the group (from 1 above) as it acts as the main object that will be interacted with for the entire group of objects.

3) Select each and every object either in turn or by drag selection (if enabled) and, once selected, right click on any of the currently selected objects and choose "Group" from the menu.

4) In the naming menu that appears, choose a name that describes the prefab and select OK when done. (Whatever you choose will also be the default name for the prefab file name when we come to saving it as a prefab.)

5) To make this group into a prefab that we can reuse whenever we need to, you now need to right click on the group of placeable objects (now a group) and select "Export Group". You will now be given the option to save the prefab (with the same default name when naming the group) as a .PFB file in the Toolset Prefab subdirectory. You could do this, but I would recommend changing the save directory to a sub-directory of your own project files. This is because when you reload your module at a later date, the prefab is not reloaded from the Toolset subdirectory. It is, however, reloaded from your module's files subdirectories. And since the idea is to reuse your prefab during building, you will need to ensure this PFB file is available to you from your module files.
That's all for this week. I hope the couple of tips I mention are useful to some of you, and I do hope to bring more playing/player information in the next post. But, if you have any personal interests regarding any aspect of Better The Demon that you would like to know about, then please leave a comment and I will see what I can do about it in a future post.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Alignments (New Era Mechanics) UPDATED 20/06/10

From the results of the Blog Update Poll so far, I can see there is still quite some interest in a weekly blog. Therefore, I will try to bring some information on a weekly basis, even if it means just giving an insight to some of the game mechanics that can be expected in the module. As it happens, I have been doing a little more work on the module in the way of conversations and monster allocations with respect to crafting materials. However, as this is material I cannot easily divulge, I will spend this week discussing the alignment arrangements for the module.

Before I go any further, I would like to point out that the blog entitled Alignments & Influence already covers a good deal about this topic. However, this week's blog goes into a little more depth about the specific role of alignments within the module in general.

Alignment Aspiration (Good or Evil)

One of the key aspects about alignment in Better The Demon, is that early in the game, the player has the opportunity to determine how they believe they will play the game with respect to being good or evil. (This early decision is governed by another gaming element that I will not comment on until the game is played.) To be clear, however, the player is given the opportunity to determine whether their PC (or party of PCs) are aspiring to play either an evil or good path in the game. Once this decision has been made, it is assumed the player will continue to play towards that aspiration, with consequences of going adrift. i.e. Good or evil actions that lead the PC(s) off their chosen alignment path will have consequences.

What About Law & Chaos?

I looked at the alternative axis of the alignment spectrum when considering the mechanics, and after comparing it with real life behaviour, came to the conclusion that the law-chaos axis was simply a sub-division of the good-evil one. Now, I know all the arguments for and against this additional axis within the game, and having examined the rule ever since the very early days of 1st edition "Pen and Paper" D&D, conclude such for the following reasons:

When examining the reason why someone obeys or ignores laws, it normally (insanity aside) falls down to the reason of a good or evil response again. For example, in all aspects of law/chaos, a good person would choose to obey (lawful) or disobey (chaotic) a law depending on how much they have faith in the law and how it is supposed to benefit everyone. On the other hand, an evil person is more likely to choose to obey (lawful) or disobey (chaotic) a law depending on how much it gains them. (Because they are selfish/evil.)

The bottom line is, however, alignment shifts will still occur on both the good-evil and the law-chaos axes. However, whereas the good-evil are shifted for more obvious reasons, the law-chaos shifts are shifted in the following way:

CHAOTIC: Behaviour that verges on the unsocial (evil) or insane (good or evil).
LAWFUL: Normally rewarded as a complementary shift of a good act that supported the law as well.

The important thing to remember when playing is that the actions you make with your PC(s) can have an impact on alignment. And if you are playing a class very much dependant on alignment (cleric or paladin), then you should be sure of your actions before carrying them out.

Alignment Mechanics In-Game

As stated in previous blogs, the players actions (for the PC in question) will be representative of a party response for the PCs. Therefore, a party will be expected to work as a party towards the alignment of good or evil that they chose to aspire to in the first place. It is not possible, nor would it be practical, for a player to play a party of mixed good-evil alignments. However, this is not the end of the matter. For just like in the real world, following every law does not make one good, and by definition, neither does breaking certain laws make one evil. Specific examples of this do not come easy, as it begins to encroach on what I am aiming at: a party conscience! And just like in real life, consciences are personal and are arguably open to personal interpretation of what is the right or wrong thing to do. (E.g.s Abortion. Homosexuality.)

This could easily become very complicated very quickly in trying to explain, but what it boils down to is having to include an absolute reference of good-evil to help govern all alignment movements in the game. And all of these "decisions" are of course going to be "governed" by my own interpretation of what a player decides to do in the game, based on my own experiences. Hopefully, however, most players (short of being sociopaths) will play along and agree with the decisions I make in the game with respect to the actions they play with their PC(s) and accept what I decide to be correct alignment shifts for said actions. At worst, even if they disagree, they will just have to accept that these are the "rules" of right and wrong for my world. ;)

Alignment Changes In Action

After reading the above, I can see players may raise the concern about not being able to have as much "fun" while playing due to their actions being against the alignment of their class. A player may want to bash down a door to a room or walk off with an item they find, only to find their alignment shifted due to what is considered a chaotic action (bashing a door) or an evil one (stealing an item). However, I must stress that these actions are only considered as such alignment shifts when in an organised society. For instance, bashing down a door to an abandoned dungeon (or needing to rescue someone inside the room beyond) would not be considered a chaotic action at all, and would not cause an alignment shift. There are even circumstances where a rogue may be asked to pick a lock or "acquire" an item for the good of all. The bottom line is, the party's actions will be based upon the reasons they are doing something and not specifically what they are doing. It is quite possible that picking a lock to a chest is considered evil in one set of circumstances, or quite normal in another!

If a player does not want to be "hampered" by having to role-play their party accordingly, then I would recommend playing an evil party, as they would not then have to worry about any of the consequences. (Apart from having to avoid a good path now and then.) After all, if stealing loot and bashing down doors is something you want to do as a matter of course (regardless of where you are), then it will soon become obvious that your party is a Chaotic Evil one. On the other hand, if you want to play a party that sticks within the rules of society wherever possible, and try to overcome issues by sticking within the law and not causing chaos, then it will soon become obvious that your party is one of Lawful Good.

The Neutral Zone

Finally, while it is possible to have shifts that will eventually bring you into a neutral zone, you will find this to become a disadvantage in the long run, as the gaming element I spoke of earlier requires a definite good or evil alignment standing one way or another to gain benefits. Furthermore, this is not a problem to those classes normally associated with neutrality (like druids), because in the Althéa Campaign, these classes are generally seen as neutral as an overall class as opposed to individuals, and that they can easily sway from good and evil, law or chaos over time, alluding to an overall neutral behaviour in a lifetime. In the Althéa Campaign, remaining permanently neutral is only possible by the god Vol. (See Soul Shaker.)

The Henchman

I have added this last section to the issue of alignment after Kamal's comment. (See comments.) I felt that he raised a point that I had not explained too well about the "party" aspect and decided I should give a highlight to it in within the main blog. He raises the question of a character "using" an opposed alignment party for their own benefits. In this, he also points out how the same character can become a part of the same group of PCs. However, I have tried to explain that the "party" is a defined group that reflects the aspirations of the player and that some characters that become attached to the party (as henchmen) do NOT qualify as a member of the party in this sense. By definition, a henchman is a NPC of its own mind that could betray the true "party" at any time. This will be when the DM takes control of the character and reveals their true nature and perform actions against the player's will. True "party" members cannot turn against their aspiration/alignment in this sense. I hope that helps explain the party alignment mechanics better and I thank Kamal for raising the issue.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Communcation Breakdown & Stuff! (POLL: Blog Updates)

I have come to the conclusion that the breakdown of communication has to be one of the top reasons for stress and pain in the world. (I probably knew this already actually.) Personally, in the past two weeks, I have encountered it in at least three forms: First, through misinterpretations (see last week's blog); secondly, through forgetfulness (my mother) and thirdly, through complete breakdown (Internet loss while on Skype). I could make further comment and start referring to biblical misinterpretations, but for now will leave it at that. However, ask yourself the last reason for any stress in your life, and I reckon there is a reasonable chance it boils down to a communication breakdown of sorts.

The Module

AREA DESIGN: Anyway, back to the module .... I did manage to do some design on an interior area this week. It's still a work in progress and much of it will depend on what I finally use it for. Hosa has also contacted me this week, showing me an update to his current work on an area map he is doing for me. From the shots I saw, I would say its at least 75% done. When I have access to that, I will be able to start the scripting for it and hopefully ask Hosa to design some other areas for it.

BOOK: I also put together another book the PCs can come across in the game. It goes into more background about the Life Magik Stream and is something that helps flesh out some of the main story.

SCRIPTING: Finally, I also managed to do a little scripting towards traps. I wanted to add more options for interacting with a trap's potential on/off switch and have begun work to this end. I also decided to rewrite the official Trap Projectile script because it was limited in options. My own script works with other alterations I have made with spells and allows greater flexibility in power of the trap/spell than the original. I have also coded in some more randomness.

Blog Update Feedback

Lastly, on the subject of communication, I would like to ask how often people like to have blog updates? At the moment, I write once a week. However, as much of the main coding is now in place and its a simple matter of writing the plot to fill out the game, I am not sure how much I will be able to reveal from week to week, without spoiling the module. Therefore, I am considering changing my updates to once a fortnight. However, it may be that readers prefer once a week just to hear the latest comments regardless of how much or little there is to report. If this is the case, then it may be that I will fill some weekly blogs with "gaming info" rather than actual module work updates. Please let me know your preference by voting in the new side poll, and do leave a comment if you have a preference on what you like to read/hear about.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Celebrations & Frustrations!


Nothing to report this week as it was my wife's 40th birthday and she has the week off, which meant spending time with her. I had hoped to do a little towards the project in the last couple of days, but once again I have had to spend what little time I have writing a letter to the FOS to complain about the way my company's Health Insurance people have rejected my claim for having to give up work due to ill-health.

*** RANT START ***

Would you believe they are trying to say that because I write a blog once a week (what you read now), that it as an indication of my health being good enough to do the duties I did when I worked: drive around in a car and get under desks to repair computers 32 hours a week! The irony is, I even told them that I wrote a blog and work on this module at the time of the claim, knowing full well this had nothing to do with the problems I struggle with when working.

I am, of course, hoping the FOS will see through the facade that this company (who will remain nameless) are putting forward as a excuse not to pay up and vote in my favour. It has been two and a half years now since I first put forward a claim for loss of earnings and I really want this to come to an end.

Get this: I spent more time writing the letter to the FOS than I do normally on my module. That puts this into perspective of just how much I manage to do normally. You guys know how long this thing is taking me and the problems I have had in the past (if you read regularly). It's just insulting to compare what I do now in my time with what I had to do for work.

*** RANT END ***

Hopefully, normal module work will resume next week.