Saturday, 24 July 2010

Polls & Quest Permutations!

This week's blog is a little bit of a ramble I'm afraid, simply because all material I have covered in building this week cannot be revealed without giving spoilers. However, I can say that I have been continuing to write the story and cover coding around one side quest (now complete) and the main quest (work in progress).

The Polls

Before I ramble any more, I thought I would talk about the polls. The poll asking about how often I should blog came to an end last week and the results were significantly in favour that I should continue to blog weekly, scoring 73%. I am quite happy to do this, but I would encourage feedback from readers in the way of questions about the module that may help inspire certain topics from week to week. The second poll (currently still running) is asking for player's preferences when it comes to style of gameplay and finishes at the end of the week. If you haven't voted yet, please do. I will discuss the results of that one next week.

Quest Permutations!

My rambling topic this week is about the number of paths a quest can take and just how quickly the number of permutations can grow when allowing the player just a few different options to take along the way. For example, I have one side quest that can "start" in no less than 4 ways. Furthermore, the first two ways involve a potential split in direction. The same quest also involves a number of NPCs. Depending upon the order the PC encounters these NPCs also adjusts the conversations, with each node varying according to the way the quest started in the first place.

If you take every possible permutation the player could take to resolve the quest, then I think there are easily over 20 different ways, if not more! Of course, this could have easily been brought down to a couple of paths by restricting player options, including limiting access to certain areas and/or dealing with NPCs. However, as I wrote the quest, I tried to include all the various options I believed a player might want to take and that would be considered reasonable.

The bottom line is, however, I have learnt a lesson since writing this quest: Keep design tighter and involve only one or two NPCs per quest. This lesson may appear obvious to many already, but there is also a danger in the process of sticking rigidly to this design in that a builder could inadvertently railroad the player along a path of limited choice. Knowing how to balance this design is the trick to learn. Consider some of your own designs for a quest. What design limitations tools do you use to help keep the variables under control? Which options do you use here:-

1) Are some areas restricted or are they all available from the start?
2) Can quest NPCs be killed at any time or never be hurt?
3) Can locks be bypassed with certain skills or do they often require a certain key?

Personally, I try to limit restrictions in all these three areas, but have had to recognise I needed them in a couple of circumstances. However, I have only used them as a last resort and in a way that I hope will not impact of the majority of players. I would be interested in hearing the opinion of both builders and players with respect to game design:-

Builders: I would like to know how involved you make your quests? Do you cater for the less likely path and events or do you ensure players play by the rules you lay down and have only one path through the quest? (I am not just talking about different quest ends, but different quest paths to various ends.)

Players: I would like to know how involved you like your quests? Do you like simple and straightforward quests or more complex tasks? What has been your favourite quest (in any game) to date?

Basically, I want to here about your quests! If you are a builder, tell me about your preferred design technique. And if you are a player, tell me about your favourite quests.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Writing: The Blessing

Most of this blog's readers will know that I suffer from an illness called M.E. It causes me grief in one way or another all of the time. Over the last few years, I have suffered a great deal more from aches and pains, especially in the back. This week has been no exception and the frustrations and incapacities it causes are most infuriating. I no longer work, so I am in a position where I can rest as often as I need to, which is far more often than I would prefer. However, the beauty of a having a hobby like writing a module for NWN or for this blog is that it is flexible with my condition. If I am in too much pain or too tired, I can simply go to bed. On the other hand, if I have an hour or two where I am in less pain and feeling up to it, I can chip away at the story of the module I am creating. I can also update this blog.

This week I have added to the conversations and fixed some of the code to help move the plot forward. I don't know how much word counts help give an indication of progress, but one conversation (that I have been working on since day one) has over 6500 words - and is not even finished yet! This does come from one of the main NPCs of course.

I am also spending some time looking at bringing together the last few quests of the first module. While separate quests, they do have some cross-over in play and I am doing my best to ensure all the variable states stay correct at all times.

I am a little concerned about HOSA at the moment (who is working on some of the areas for me), as I have not heard from him since 27th June. I know he had a problem with his computer's graphic card, but he has not responded to a number of emails since then. His last email was optimistic though, so I hope it's just an ongoing issue with his computer that is simply taking a while to fix.

A lot of my ongoing work now is continued writing of the plot with conversations and scripting. Therefore, I am opening up the blog to readers to ask what they would like to hear more about with respect to gameplay. I believe I have covered a number of the module's gaming aspects already, but if there is anything readers are not clear about, then please contact me.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Professions: Earning A Living

Every adventurer knows that to earn the most gold you have to go into the world and face danger by encountering dreaded beasts and looting ancient tombs ... mostly. There are, of course, many other ways to acquire great amounts of gold, but generally, you need a bit of experience behind you before tackling the more dangerous tasks. So what about when you have only just started your adventuring career? Is there something just a little less dangerous to start along the path of earning a living before stepping into the great wealth of heroic adventures? Later in this blog, I will cover some of the ways a player can earn some basic gold for their PCs. It's not all plain sailing, but at least it's a living!

First, I must apologise for a late blog entry. This should have been posted a couple of days ago at the latest, but time slipped away from me as I had to attend a couple of important appointments. However, in the time I have had, I have been using it to finish off some of the earlier quests the player will find in Better The Demon. I have now finished nearly 50% of the quests to be found in this module, which is one of three for the campaign as a whole. The ones that remain, however, are some of the larger ones (but maybe not as complicated) and so may still take me a few weeks to finish yet. Once they are finished, however, I can move onto the second chapter (of three) of the campaign. It will be a huge milestone overcome.

All In A Day's Work

As mentioned above, I will now cover some points about earning gold in Better The Demon. Followers of this blog will already know that I spent some time going through all the 2da files related to costs of items and reworked the entire economy for the game to reflect a more realistic level. Even though I recognise this is a fantasy game, I still prefer to keep within the realms of a realism when it comes to what a shopkeeper can afford to pay. After all, if every shopkeeper was able to buy as much as they did in the OC, what would be the point of adventuring for rare items and great hordes of gold? The shopkeepers already had this market wrapped up!

Furthermore, it goes against all my better reasoning to allow a PC to carry (up to) millions of gold around with them to purchase an uber weapon at the local wizard store. Therefore, to this end, not only is a PC limited to the amount of gold they can carry according to their strength (and magik containers they may have), but a PC is also limited to the items that they can sell or buy. And even when they do sell something (if they can find a buyer), the item will now only reward the player with a respectable amount of gold rather than the insane amounts they did in the OC. In fact, the purchaser will be very strict on the maximum amount of gold they are prepared to pay for an item, and will have limited gold for purchases at any time anyway.

With this background in mind, where does this leave the PCs when it comes to them earning a living? Firstly, I must reassure the player that adventuring and finding gold through tough and heroic deeds is still the best way to bring in great wealth and items of desire. However, in Better The Demon, every PC can still earn a little gold from practicing their profession, much like any other NPC is recognised to do. Listed below are some of the ways PCs will be able to earn a good wage without having to step too far from the safety of their home and making good use of their skills. As the campaign develops, I may add other ways for other classes, but for now, I believe the following list covers the most useful professions available to PCs. If, however, there are other professions you would like me to consider, then please let me know in a comment.

Bounty Hunting

Probably the most common form of earning a living is by tracking down a few hostile creatures and bringing back trophies from them to someone who can issue a reward. Any class of PC can take part in this form of gold earning, but it is best suited to melee classes who can go head-to-head with the hostile creatures with least risk to themselves.

Rewards vary according to how many trophies a PC can return with and what particular creature is killed. More dangerous creatures bring greater rewards. Furthermore, some NPCs will provide greater rewards for trophies than others and so it is worth learning which traders like to deal with which trophies.

This type of living is the most hazardous of the professions, but also requires the least specialised skill. As long as the PC can earn more gold than it takes them to recover from wounds of previous sorties, then there is profit to be made.

Magik Crafting

The second most common form of earning a living (for PCs anyway) will be selling items they have crafted. The most common crafted magik (*) items will be scrolls (scribe scroll) and potions (brew potion), but most crafted items can be sold for profit with the right buyer.

Magic (*) using classes will lean towards this type of profession, as long as they can find someone who is prepared to buy the scrolls or potions they can make. Local wizards and healers are often a good source of income when selling crafted items with this profession.

While not hazardous (compared to bounty hunting at least), the magic user does have to recognise that they will lose the use of the spell they used to craft the item in question for the rest of the day. Therefore, they will need to weigh up the benefits of the extra gold to the use of the extra spell.

(*) Magic and magik are two different ways of referring to a source of power and how it has been used. In general, magic (with a 'c') refers to magic that is cast from a living creature and is personal to the caster. Whereas magik (with a 'k') refers to magik embedded in an item.


Putting on a performance in a local tavern is one of the new professions that can be used in Better The Demon. Basically, as long as the PC has the perform skill (Bard class), and the local tavern has a stage (most taverns will), then the PC can opt to put on a performance.

The typos in these screenshots have been fixed now.

A performance is judged on a number of factors as well as the perform skill. E.g. a PC can easily overdo an act if they try it too often. However, if they get the balance right, between the number of shows and giving good performances, then they can continue to bring in a wage all the while the audience like their work. A bad performance may mean having to leave it a few days before performing again, while an atrocious performance may lead to a ban from performing at the venue until the performer improves their skill.

The performance results are shown in a new GUI.

The Crooked Path

(Images do not show all options available.)

For those PCs that prefer to let their tongue (communication skills) do the work or their light fingers pick the profits, then there is always the crooked path. The ability to pick the pockets is available to those with the sleight of hand skill and some houses will be suitable for burglary for those with the open locks skill. This line of "work" is obviously frowned upon and affects the alignment of the PC who steals any property. Other skills, such as listen and move silently will also benefit the chances of success for this profession.

Success in this profession will vary according to the PCs skills being used and eventually upon how much wealth there is left to "acquire" this way. After all, a property can only be relieved of its wealth once, and is one reason why a thief may move from place to place.

The biggest risk to this profession is being caught. Often local guards will do random checks on PCs to make sure they are not carrying any illegal booty. If caught, the PC would have to pay a fine and have the goods confiscated or risk a fight to keep hold of their loot. Often, however, a village or town will have a local Thieves Guild where a PC can get the traceable property they have looted laundered. Doing so makes the goods untraceable and not be detected by guard checks.

In the end, however, the amounts of gold to be made with these professions compared to the greater possibilities that come with adventuring will draw the PC away from the general treadmill of everyday work to the darkest depths of some strange land. At the start of their career, however, the relative safety of a simple profession is exactly what they need to keep hunger from the door and have a good night's rest.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Main Menu (New Era Mechanics)

It's been a while since I last updated you about the Main Menu that will be available in Better The Demon for players, and so I thought I would post this week about it again. Before I do, however, I can report that this week I have been writing more conversations and correcting code to expand possibilities for player's actions. Wherever possible, I have tried to keep the responses "real" according to NPC motivations and subject to the PC's skills at bluffing, intimidating or using diplomacy. The code correction I mention related to monster drops and now differentiates between bounty item drops and alchemical distillable item drops. The difference being, the former items are always recoverable, whereas the latter items require ranks in the alchemy skill to have any chance of recovering.

The Main Menu

The Main Menu is a GUI that the player uses to play extra mechanics for their PCs in Better The Demon. It can be used as little or as much as the player wants to. It is activated by clicking on the Main Menu button (a newly added feat on entering the game) that has been moved to the quick slots for easier access. (See screenshot.) The Main Menu cannot be accessed during combat.

From the same screenshot, you can also see two other newly added feats/buttons to do with game play in Better The Demon: The Sorry button (used to pacify hostile NPCs who have reacted to a PC attacking them) and the Auto Pause button, used to turn play into a simulated turn-based combat mode, which pauses every six seconds allowing players to determine their PCs actions ahead of time and at a more leisurely pace.

Basic Information: For those who will have seen the last version of the Main Menu, they will see there have been a few changes. First, the menu now has four tabs (this screenshot is currently on the first tab, Basic Information). The renaming of a weapon was incorporated into the new Rename Equipment tab. Secondly, a new combat Auto-Pause option has been added to allow a party of PCs to be automatically paused (and placed into turn-based combat) if attacked and the option is on. Other changes include a Session Time and Total Time for players to note how long they have been playing the module. This page also has the Map Pin buttons and Game Test buttons (when a test is available) and shows the PC's current Vigour level, as well as the Current Game Date.

Rule Information: Accessing the second tab opens up a conversation window at the same time. The conversation window then has a list of options for the player to choose which rule they wish to check on. This Rule Information is given to help clarify the differences in game play in Better The Demon to a normal NWN2 game. The list of rules also updates if and when a player encounters a situation that introduces a new rule. Once a rule is understood, then this section will probably not be visited by the player as much as the others sections. However, some of the information presented here also gives some reference figures that the player may need to refer to now and then. (E.g. Crafting ranks required for working with certain materials.)

Improve Dead Weapon: The third tab relates to a new system used in the Better The Demon: Some weapons, called Dead Weapons, can deteriorate with use. Such weapons can either be maintained by a blacksmith (or PC member with the appropriate skill) at a repair workbench, or, if in the field and far from a workbench, by the use of sacrificing a Life Essence. This function of the Main Menu is where the player can use their PC to repair a Dead Weapon using any Life Essences they might carry.

Rename Equipped Items: The fourth and final tab is used to rename items that the PC can equip. Only items that the PC can equip (and is not stolen) can be renamed. This is just a simple interface to allow players to help personalise their equipment.

If you have any questions or comments you would like to raise about this interface, then please do. Furthermore, if you have any questions about any of the other systems Better The Demon will use, then please let me know in a comment as well.

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.