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A Whole Lot to Say in One Editorial

Author: 
Deva Bryson Winblood

Well, I had been planning on trudging into the editorial world to discuss what is evil and playing evil characters as was done last month. You know how it is though I got side tracked by all my Neverwinter Nights projects. Then lo and behold a continuous stream of editorials continues to hit the vault discussing epic levels. It is the entire to be or not to be discussion. So, in this editorial I will touch on those two topics and will also discuss some suggestions for making this game “fun” to play.

EPIC LEVELS:

Epic Levels are one of the currently most heated discussions I can see in the game at the moment. There is a lot of shouting “why do we need this” and a lot of counter shouting of “we need it for this reason.” I can offer a simple answer for the first question. We need it to tell stories; plain and simple. There are some stories that just need them to be told. Though they may or may not need to be implemented exactly as they appear in the epic level handbook.

Not all low level modules are “bug hunts” as Gestalt has stated. However, the vast majority of modules released on the vault are very formulaic. They follow known tried and true paths. There are some exceptions but, they are few and far between. The rarity of these exceptions is NOT due to a fault in the toolset or a fault that we can lay at the feet of BioWare. It is simply that making a module that is not formulaic and at the same time interesting takes a lot more effort on the part of the module maker. The dialog must generally be better thought out, and there is a substantial increase in scripting requirements when making such a module. It is much easier to make a hack and slash game, just as it is much easier to make fedex quests. By human nature most people tend to take the easiest path even though it is often the least rewarding of the paths to choose from. The toolset being so easy to use has put this ability in to the hands of many humans around the world. Therefore, we are doomed to see many such modules. In fact, making such a module is the easiest way to learn the toolset before moving onto something more challenging. So, please realize that the “bug hunts” and “fedex quests” are common not due to a deficit in the toolset or because, we lack bug hunts. It is simply because, they are easy to do. Thus, people do them.

In support of epic levels (implemented however anyone wishes to do them) they offer something else. They offer endless growth for your character once they reach 20th level. Many people hung up on epic levels being a bad thing are approaching it from one perspective. The perspective that we want more and more powerful characters without end. When in fact we just want our characters to be able to grow in some noticeable form throughout the game rather than hitting 20th level and just stagnating. Many people like to play their same character for a long time. This is easy to do in PNP D&D but, it is not so easy with Neverwinter Nights. So, it is not really the issue of wanting their characters to be able to kill more and more goblins with a single blow. It is an issue of wanting their character to continually grow. Epic Levels are the EASY path to solving this. Thus, as stated before it is human nature to want to walk this path. People want their characters to stop being throw away recycled characters who when they reach 20th level suddenly lose any of the excitement that comes with advancement.

Opponents to Epic Levels often say things suggesting it is only the people who put the least amount of time into NWN that want them. That is so, untrue and in the world of logical argument would be classified as a GLITTERING GENERALITY. I for one have only made it to 13th level once because, I am too busy building to play. I would love to see epic levels implemented anyway that someone wants to implement them. I have watched my family members go through the original campaign and toss their characters aside because, there was nothing left to do with them. I could tell they were frustrated by that. I have seen people stop playing NWN for this frustration alone. Neverwinter Nights is NOT about one group of people. It is about all of us. If there is a problem that limits the enjoyment of the game to a large amount of people then it should rightly be addressed. In addition, fellow builders like myself should really not be complaining as it gives even more opportunities that can be used if they like or ignored if they do not wish to use them. In defense of the fellow builders I think the main reason you see any of them like Gestalt arguing against Epic Levels is simply that they would rather see BioWare’s “ZOTS” applied to other uses. Personally, I think the only other task more important than EPIC LEVEL implementation in some fashion or another is removing more hard coding and providing additional ways for us (builders and custom content creators) to make what we want. If they did that then I could implement epic levels myself and you would not have to worry about them wasting precious zots on a project you deem less important than something you would prefer. In fact, one way or the other I will offer some semi-epic level features in the up coming module ALOE – Birth of The Old Ones. I will wait to see what happens with HoTU before Jeremy Greene and I move forward with any such plans.

Epic Levels only threaten one thing; ZOTS of BioWare. Other than that fact none of you really have anything to argue about since it will be yet another feature you can choose to use or ignore in any modules you use or play.

The final thing I have to say about epic levels approaches this from a different angle than others have discussed and you may or may not have caught hints about it earlier in this editorial. Epic Levels simply seek to provide ways for continued growth of characters. I have long been considering adding additional skills, and abilities either by undropable inventory items or by new radial menu entries. The purpose of these skills was to provide powers that could be purchased by spending experience points on them. The practice of expending experience points to make magic items and such is already utilized in 3E Dungeons & Dragons. Another consideration is that a level is just another way of showing what you gained through experience. So, why not simply provide powers that can be purchased by expending greater and greater amounts of experience points? If this is done then really there are lots of ways to provide continued growth for characters and in a fact it would be a pseudo-level type thing. You would still be gaining something for your experience. Furthermore, there is no reason these have to reach god like proportions unless you want it as such. Using such a technique it would be possible to provide a community accepted epic levels (use a different name if this one is still hitting a mind block). It is all about characters that continually grow. If you add some of these abilities as accessible to characters even at 1st level if they want to purchase them then it will also slow down the actual advancement while still providing character growth. If I am a 1st level wizard but, I keep spending XP to learn some new magic abilities then it is going to take me awhile to save up enough XP to actually make it to 2nd level. So, next time you get on the TO EPIC LEVEL, or NOT TO EPIC LEVEL think of alternatives rather than shooting it down or supporting something blindly. Most of you arguing are also taking the easy path. Take a gander at some of the other nearby paths.

THIS IS MORE FUN TO BUILD IN THAN PLAY WHAT CAN BE DONE?

For quite some time I have been seeing the phrase that basically says “this is a lot of fun to build in but, not that fun to play.” I tend to agree in most cases. Generally, I lose interest fairly rapidly in most modules. Something is missing. It is not about how cool the graphics look, or what new models or tilesets are out there. Those things alleviate the issue for only a short period of time. In fact, even the best modules still feel as though they are missing something. So, on the NWN Builder Guild board there was a similar discussion saying “What can I do to liven things up?” I went ahead and posted something there offering some POSSIBLE paths to try but, I will extend upon that here in this editorial.

Most of the issues that seem to be that certain something missing are related to the way the game handles, the way the NPCs behave, and many other small things that when taken as a whole really take away from the immersion. Most of these issues I think WE as the community and module makers can overcome. I do not think tilesets, and models are the solution. They are the spice, the salt and pepper. I by no means am suggesting custom content makers stop working on these things. I do not think you are wasting your time at all… Keep it coming! However, I do not think these things have the ability to change the SOMETHING MISSING problem. There is only two tools that we have at our disposal that I think might be able to solve this problem. The first is scripting, and the second is imagination.

Scripting provides us with a way to change the behavior of the game in ways that are only limited by two things. The first is the imagination of the scripter and the people he/she is working with. The second is the hard coding in the BioWare engine or the lack of certain scripting commands. The second one can often kill a good idea when you basically run into a dead end where a very vital command or way to access an engine feature is missing.

Scripting is fairly easy at a basic level; as can be seen by all the short and sweet scripts that are released on the vault. I do not release many scripts but, the ones I do are usually (not always) very large. I am not suggesting everyone should do this. Sometimes the smaller scripts are just what we need. In fact, when making a module lots of smaller scripts will generally be what is needed. My large scripts are designed to fill a deficit I see in the game. I always try to make them very flexible and changeable by other module makers so, that it is not only a tool for me but, for them as well. It is not about fame. It is about the fact that I love to play D&D and I very much love to program and design games. So, the tools I make for myself are also useful to you. Anyway, I kind of got side tracked there… What I meant to really get at is that NOT everyone is going to be really good at scripting. So, I suggest you pair up with a good scripter and bounce ideas off of them. If they say something can’t be done tell them to kick it around for awhile and see if they can find a workaround. Many scripters give up way to early before actually striving to find a solution.

With that in mind I want to discuss a problem I see with the way modules are being developed which is directly relevant to this entire fun thing. Many of us played and loved “Baldurs Gate I/II”, “Diablo I/II”, “Ultima IV” and any other RPG we could get our hands on. Some of us (myself included) still think fondly of the old text adventure games before there were any graphics for making a decent game. They were novel and fun at the time. I went back and tried a number of these and they were all lacking something compared to todays games. They all had something though. They had new FRESH ideas and REPLAY VALUE. The biggest things missing in modules is replay value. Diablo I/II only thrived due to the shear replay value they had to offer. It may have been mind numbing after awhile but, it was replay value in WHAT AM I GOING TO FIND THIS TIME. If you want to make the game fun shoot for replay value. DO NOT copy these other games to do that. These other games did not copy a previous game and that is what set them apart.

Early on (age 11 or 12, I am now 32) when I was making computer games for my friends and myself to play I learned a valuable lesson. If I made text adventures they were no fun for me to play because, I already knew everything. They were fun for my friends one time until they too knew it all. The solution was randomness. If you add random elements of all kinds to a game you make it VERY REPLAYABLE. So, I suggest module makers look into adding more random placeables, NPCs, dialogs, you name it… into their modules. Don’t throw them in without thought. A good scripter can give a rhyme and reason to these random things. This will make the module replayable and I think you will find it solves a big portion of these problems.

Jeremy Greene and I actually used a tad bit of randomness in the module RTS – Harvest of Souls. HoS was an experiment by me (then I brought Jeremy in to help me test, polish, and add to it) to see how a new concept would work out. As such it was a rough module and was not focusing on this well written story. The experiment worked beyond my wildest hopes. I placed many random things around the maps including 14 magic items from a list of 38 which were unique to the module. Many of these items had custom scripts that did nifty things. It quickly became, apparent that the game was a lot of fun to replay just to find the new stuff (same technique Diablo uses for replay value to great success… without this feature Diablo would not have had the following it achieved). Admittedly, many of you are ANTI-DIABLO which is a shame. I too like more depth to my RPGs but, I do not really consider Diablo an RPG. It is a good and fun game. I like games of all types. However, really HoS is in no way similar to Diablo other than they both had random items. HoS was so different in fact that most people who first played it were very confused on what to do. So, we released a strategy guide to help them out. I do not typically plug my own modules and would not do so if it were not for one thing. This is the most fun I have had playing NWN. I still play it frequently and have fun and I designed it. So, the experiment was a success. Jeremy and I have moved onto a bigger project which is the sequel to HoS and so much more. It is us taking what worked elsewhere and putting it into a module. It is us coming up with new never before seen anywhere else things and putting it into a single module. We will harp about it a lot on here once it nears completion. Anyway, this was more or less to discuss there are new ways to go.

Gestalt recently released his Good Vs. Evil which is rather new and seems to be generating a lot of interest. Good Job it is something new at least. Harvest of Souls also enabled control of armies but, it was across multiple areas and not as focused on tactics plus, it could be played without worrying about armies at all if you preferred. It was not however, a good single player game. So, I already informed Gestalt I’d be watching what works in his design and maybe scripting my own version soon. Anything MUST be done to make these modules more fun and replayable.

So, my summary of this suggestions is… Quit following the known path and try some new ones. If they fail… try something else. If they succeed great!

EVIL:

We had a great editorial a few months ago on what is evil. This was commented on with other opinions and seemed to generate some interest. I intended at that time to write a response and am only just now getting around to it.

Playing evil characters is something that should be actually more difficult than people realize if it is done properly. Evil is not something that most people can consciously play because, most of us are not evil by nature.

Evil can be signified in MY opinion as self-interest above all others. This interest can be in attaining power, inflicting pain and destruction, or any other self serving goal. This can and should be taken to extremes if you want to play a convincing evil character.

The distinction of Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic by some role players is frowned upon. However, it offers a guideline. In my world view what most people play as evil is LAWFUL EVIL. They follow their own rules in their society but, are generally very self serving. This could also be used when you think of evil people in our world who serve their own self interest without regard to others but, still follow the laws.

CHAOTIC EVIL is the one where I think few people actually work it out very well and it is actually the one where I wish to spend the majority of my focus. Chaos is the disregard of order and laws. These people do not care if they are breaking a law or stepping out of law. They are not consciously doing so… they just do it without thinking about it. Any society founded on Chaotic Evil would tend to collapse and be in a lot of strife at most times. The only thing that will stop or temporarily control a chaotic evil person is self preservation. If they are in threat of being killed by a bigger or meaner thing then they’ll step in line. This is one of those out of sight, out of mind situations too. If they are out of the control area of the bigger meanie then they will probably do whatever they want. For a large community of chaotic evil beings to work/flourish together it usually means one of two things. The first is that they have something really powerful making them all do as it wants, or two by working together they are getting enough chaos and self-interest satisfying things that they find it beneficial to remain so.

I remember my Dungeons & Dragons players stating they wanted to play a Chaotic Evil character. I never quite felt they were doing it justice. Eventually I happened to stumble upon this fantasy novel by Mark E. Rogers with the name “Zorachus”. To this date this is still with out a doubt one of the best Dark Fantasy books I have ever seen. It has the best evil society I have ever read about. So, from that point on I would hand that book to players who asked to play evil or chaotic evil and I would say “Read this… if you still want to play an evil character after reading this book let me know.” Surprisingly, I don’t think anyone wanted to play evil. I have recently been re-reading the drow books by R.A. Salvatore which cover the life of Drizzt Do’Urden. I’m sorry this evil society is very TAME compared to that written in “Zorachus”. I reread “Zorachus” at least once a year and it helps me recover some ideas on how to make a seriously evil society and villain. If you can get the book I highly recommend it. It is available through Amazon.com. WARNING: The book is not for the faint of heart. It is violent to the extreme, and has some really twisted ideas in it.

NEUTRAL EVIL I see is a people that tend to at times act chaotic, and at others they follow the laws. Not much to say about this one really as it is a melding of the two other evils.

I know I have rambled on for a significant length but, now that I have done so I should not have to write any editorials for at least 6 months. LOL

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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