Monday, 31 December 2012

Another Treasure In Heaven

There are some times in life that are extremely difficult to cope with, and the death of a dear loved one has to be the hardest. It is with a very heavy heart that I am led to write one more blog before the end of this year, which I had not expected to have to write: Our dear beloved pet rabbit, "Honey", died Saturday 29th December.

Honey Having A Cuddly Moment With Me

Close Up Of The Cuddly Moment
For those who have been following this blog a number of years, you may even recall the blog I made when she came to live with us. I cannot stress enough how much she has filled our lives since that time. As I suffer with M.E. and do not get out much, Honey became a constant companion for me, because she lived upstairs where I used to rest or write when I could. In fact, apart from my wife, I would say I spent more time with Honey than anybody else in the last few years. And my wife and I would always sit with her in the evening watching TV or reading from around 6.00 p.m. until we went to bed. It's hard to express just how friendly and intelligent Honey was, but you always felt you were fully involved with each other's affections and truly bonded.

In the morning, she would run around the bed and get my wife up for breakfast, and then come over for love and attention before everybody was eventually up and she could then settle down in "her spot" until evening came around again.

I know it may be hard for some people to understand this relationship we had with her, but I hope there are some who recognise exactly what I am saying. For if you do, then you know the kind of love I am talking about, being expressed in such a way that only such a loving creature can.

While we are in much pain now, my wife, Jennifer and myself cling to our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His words of promise of the new earth in Revelation 21:

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 21:2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 21:3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 21:5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 21:6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 21:7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son."

Honey Jumped On The Bed Looking For Us

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Scroll: An End of Year Round-Up

As another year draws to an end, I have to resign to the fact that The Scroll will not be released this year. However, God willing, I hope to finish this module in the coming months and if all goes to plan have it released before the end of next year.

For this week's post, I thought I would take a look at all those things I have been working on for the module since its beginning. So, when I say this is an "End of Year Round-Up", I actually mean a round-up of everything to date for the end of this year, as opposed to only those things I have done this year. Consider this an overview of The Scroll showing some of those things it will have to offer. And while I have taken the liberty to linking to some posts you may have already read, I hope to some people it may be fresh reading, while to others, a reminder of what they have been waiting for.

We All Have To Die: The Death System

Having come from a pen and paper (PnP) background of playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), I have always found the "death system" of many RPGs to be rather weak. Yet, I must immediately add that I can understand why; because dying in an RPG is so much easier and quicker than in a PnP game. With that in mind, I wanted to design a system that kept the immediate threat that death brings, and yet also make it easier to manage at the same time. Thankfully, my PnP campaign (prior to porting it over to the NWN game) was working towards a new era, and I had already in mind the makings of a new magik concept called the Life Essence. This turned out to be the link I needed to help bring about a unique death system to the world of Althéa. For with the new essence, the PC may not meet death as quickly as they could do without it.

Builder's Note: Designing this unique death system was one of my first goals, and it turned out to be much more difficult than I first imagined. Not only were there issues with timing how the Life Essence actually worked during combat, but also what to do if a companion died. The system became more complicated when I accounted for companions being removed from the party bar upon their death and not accessible again until raised from the dead. To enable the player to still be able to access equipment they may have been carrying, I had to introduce the "Tombstone System". Later complications included coding for a player potentially abandoning those fallen companions, and making sure plot items were never accidentally discarded.

Time To Rest: Vigour, Resting & Time

Another issue I wanted to address with the official setup was the passage of time and how often PCs could recover their spells. I found the official campaign's (OC) ease of spell recovery extremely unbalanced, and it seemed to rob the game of its original tactical and careful use of spells, potions and scrolls. For instance, the idea of Scribing Scrolls or Brewing Potions ahead of an adventure was part of the planning that a good player would consider to complement their spells. When time and resting were no longer an issue for any reason, including learning new spells, then it weakened these other aspects of the game as well. So, to help redress the effects of time, I introduced a couple of more ideas adapted from original D&D rules: The hunger and vigour System and an amorphous time system.

Builder's Note: This was another one of those first ideas that I had, which turned out to be more difficult to implement than I first hoped. The problem was complicated further because I wanted to use my world's own calendar system. Add to this the concept of overland travel and quick travels (which still assume the passage of time like on an overworld map) and you have many different alterations to time and all its impacts on the PC, including spell times! Furthermore, due to the nature of the way spells work in time compared to the game world time (i.e. 15 minutes real time equalling 1 hour game time), you can see why all aspects surrounding time had to be very carefully managed, and is why the gaming concept for The Scroll called Time Warped Spells was introduced.

What's An Adventure Without Travel: Maps

As you can probably tell by now, altering or improving gaming aspects of the NWN engine that helped to bring back the same feelings as a PnP game were top on my list of improvements for my campaign. Even from the very early days, maps and their management was one of the first things to be given an overhaul, including having the ability to link between overworld maps. But when the overland map was introduced with Storms of Zehir (SoZ), it introduced a great gaming tool for maps, but one that I needed to make work with my own time systems. Then, finally, as my knowledge of XML coding slowly improved, I was able to develop that golden grail of mapping, the fog of war system, which until this time had not been available to NWN2 - and a reasonable map pin system to complement them.

Builder's Note: I do love maps and the exploration of them. My only regret at this time is the inordinate amount of time it takes me to design an area, which limits my own world and the amount of areas currently available to it. Don't misunderstand me, there are certainly enough to explore, but I don't think I will be happy with the amount until the entire campaign is finished, which means finishing modules two and three. Working with the new SoZ overland maps turned out to be quite a difficult process too, mainly because of timing issues and making new GUIs work as they should. Furthermore, I had to consider attrition due to accelerated overland time travelling. What happened if a companion died while travelling on the area map due to starvation? Finally, I also edited many of the "goodies" and associated scripts and 2da's with the overland maps to make sure only the treasure drops and monster encounters fitted my world design. e.g. The updated crafting system for the World of Althéa uses different quantities of ore/planks/skins that can be found, etc.

New and Exciting: New Challenges, New GUIs

For me, being able to introduce the player to a puzzle or a new way of playing the game was one of my main goals. However, I wanted to make this integrated in such a way that a player could use or NOT use as much of the new material as they wanted to. For instance, when I played PnP D&D, some players enjoyed the puzzles, while others just wanted to simply pursue combats, or concentrate on crafting! Some enjoyed reading background from tomes they would find, while others wanted to pursue a little looting and perhaps capture a spellbook! However, with the ability to craft ones own GUIs in NWN2, a whole raft of events has been opened up to us. So, whether you only ever use the Main Menu, or do take up the challenge of a few puzzles, I hope you enjoy the new look and challenges all the same.

Builder's Note: Being able to code one's own GUIs must be one of the biggest additions to come with NWN2. Not only does it allow the builder to alter many of the OC GUIs to personalise the look, but it also allows the builder a way to introduce many of their own gaming ideas. For me, the way to make a NWN2 game look new and refreshing is to take advantage of this coding system and really make your module come to life in ways unexpected to the player. If you need a guide to know where to begin, then take a look at my own guide. Furthermore, if you like the look of some of these systems, some are already available to download from the Vault. Look at the left hand pane in this blog for further details. For other systems, you will just have to wait until I finish the module! :)

So, that's probably going to be the last post for this year, but I intend to keep doing what I can do to the module until I next write. As a Christian, I do not celebrate any of the seasonal festivals, and so there will not be any "delays" for that reason. And know that I always hope for the best for my readers no matter what the time or season my be!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Module 1 Reaches 90% Completion

The final two interior areas needed for module 1 of The Scroll have been handed over to me by Ryan of Eguintir's Ecologies. Thanks to him, and some conversations I have been working on, I would estimate that the module has now reached the 90% completion stage! And although it seems clear to me now that I will not manage to complete this first module this year, as I had hoped, I am reasonably certain next year looks positive for completion for this first module of three!

I won't deny that this has taken longer than I had first hoped it would. I knew it would take me longer than most, due to my ill-health, but I think my health and some life events have had a bigger impact than even I thought it would have. I think now of those parts that still need doing, and reckon (when I was in better health), that they would probably only take me a few weeks. Instead, they will take me a few more months yet - such is the impact of my health.

GAMEPLAY (The Witcher Review)

On a side note, I finally finished playing The Witcher (Enhanced Edition). I know most people probably finished this game years ago, but .... see above. The point being, however, I do like to take note of things in games I play that may also work in my own module. Here are my "good and bad" points I found with The Witcher (in no particular order):


1) Interesting story.
2) Amazing scenery / Excellent designed areas. (I liked the colours and textures used.)
3) Weather system. (Inspired my own weather system.)
4) User Interface system as a whole.
5) Interesting quests.


1) Travelling became tedious.
2) Unusual mechanics. (I prefer d20 / D&D.)
3) Single player.
4) Alchemy system too complex.
5) Lack of other skills.
6) Lack of interesting items.
7) Use of strong bad language and "nude" scenes.


Considering this game was built using the NWN Aurora game engine (with a couple of extras), I am simply astonished at the great areas and atmosphere the designers of this game have achieved. And while it may still suffer from missing a useful z-axis, I can say that I would be very happy if my own areas came out looking even half as decent as those found in The Witcher. The weather system I designed for my own module was inspired by this game. After seeing it in action here, I felt NWN was missing out on some atmosphere that a well built weather system could bring.

I found the user interface well implemented and especially enjoyed the map system part, which made use of "fog of war" (a favourite of mine in any RPG game). The journal kept good track of my quests, but I found I did not make use of some of the other information in that part of the interface as much as I thought I would. Having come from a "pen and pencil" background, I thought I would have found the extra information useful. However, (and perhaps this is the point), the extra information, while serving as background, it did not serve much in any other way. I think I would have preferred it if it had been presented as a brief introduction to an area, which I could then refer back to (if I really wanted to). The same can be said to some of the other sections here. The point being, I only ever made reference to them after the fact (and if I remembered to go and look), which felt like a missed opportunity to me.

The combat system was "OK" for me, but I missed the D&D system, with which I am comfortable. What really felt lacking to me was the use of spells, but I understand that is down to the design of the universe, and is something you either work with or don't. As I always felt driven to improve my "combat" skills, I felt my "spell" powers were always added as a secondary concern with "talents" I had left over and could not place on more "important" skills. This probably shows me lacking as a player with respect to this part of the game, but I would be interested to hear how other players managed the "spell" usage section of The Witcher. (I believe I only ever used the "wind" to clear some blocked passages and knock down an enemy, and the "fire" one to start a fire or try as an attack.)

I was looking forward to trying out the alchemy system, and while I did use it quite a bit (I guess you have to to play the game properly), I did so with minimal no planning. The problem was the huge number of ingredients and their potential yield, and what was actually required in each formula. It just became too complex to handle, and I found myself just creating the same few potions when I could, with the exception of looking out for a special ingredient every now and then.

I found the inventory system used interesting. It was divided into three sections (ignoring worn items): one section for plot items, one section for normal items and one section for alchemical items. This was quite a good idea, except I often found I "missed" items I had picked up because I did not realise where they had been placed. Occasionally, I would come across an item in one of these sections I did not realise I had picked up. This was especially annoying if the item was a "readable" object that offered more information. Of course, some of this could have been me being inattentive as much as anything to do with the interface. Furthermore, while some of the items I found were interesting, sadly mostly were "not". I say "not" because many of the items I picked up were "food", but just described in a different way, like "bread" or "berry". This was a little frustrating because most of these "foods" did the same thing (restore vitality), but each version took up a different slot in your inventory and could only stack to ten. Personally, I would have preferred just a single "food" item that took one slot and could stack to 100 or more. In this way, the game "appeared" to have more items than it actually had, and so felt lacking for me.

There were the same issues like those I find in a lot of games with respect to logical flow (could take stuff from anybody's home without consequence), and shops being full of "useless stuff" that makes visiting a store a little tedious and more of an exercise than a pleasure. There was even the occasional bug I encountered (a big monster near the end kept having the fight restart after a cutscene replayed), which required me to have to load an earlier saved position to get around. However, all these "problems" aside, the experience was a relatively fun one for me (Final Score), which I believe could have been better if the game was improved in the areas I have already mentioned, but also been coded to allow a co-op multi-player game as well. (My personal belief is that every RPG should allow players to play the game co-operatively.)

Story/Quests: 85%
Graphics/Area Design: 90% (Ignores limited z-axis.)
Sound/Voice Acting: 95%
User Interface: 85% (Presentation and ease of use.)
Stability: 90%
Gameplay Aspects (Personal Experience): 50%

Final Score/Fun: 70%

I am now starting to look at Fallout 3 (Game of the Year version), and from what I have seen so far, it ticks more boxes for me than The Witcher did. I am really enjoying Fallout 3 to date!