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Ready for Action ? Well, nearly . . . (8)

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” 

― Dwight D. Eisenhower

That boy knew his stuff ! 


For anyone following this rambling account of our preparations for bringing NwN into the classroom a milestone was reached a couple of weeks ago. You will recall how we were struggling to meet up as real life and school stress was taking its toll on Matthew, the computing PT,  while all I have to worry about are the seemingly endless ways to miss a three foot putt. However, the diaries of Matthew and I finally collided and the result was four or five hours of quiet time to sit and take in where we stand and then what we intend to do. Now this could take forever, so I've summarised quite a bit of it.  If anyone wants more details feel free to ask away in the comments. I'll apologise for this again appearing on the front page when it is probably not of major interest to most, but I know of no way to prevent that. I'm leaving this blog here as a possible aide to anyone thinking of trying to introduce NwN to their own school.


We did have an agenda although it was, as an old literary pal of mine once observed " more honour'd in the breach than the observance". Our agenda was:


1. Any issues Matthew wanted to raise. Remember, he is just learning the toolset and having to juggle a job, family and other RL events.

    As it turned out Matthew is getting on quite well. He's enjoying the toolset, sees the value in itself for games design but also how well it dovetails into the Scottish Games  Design course. He'd started Fern, finished a simple floor decal tutorial we plan to use and got used to the concept of haks and how to improt them.  So all was well there. He did, however, have one issue. We had originally been planning to use NwN with two classes, one a large S4 ( about 14/15yrs) class and the other a much smaller S5 ( 15/16yrs) class.  Since the last time I had seen him there had been a timetabling change so he now had to share that class with a colleague and we both felt it wasn't fair to parachute them into something they hadn't been part of. Our idea was to try everything out this year then cascade it, if useful, out to the rest of the dept. in a sensible way. so, we've decided that we'll have to tell the older class that we won't manage to use NwN for their main game this year but will give them a run at it towards the end of the year when most of their other coursework is finished. I'm guessing they wont be best pleased as they had started learning the toolset pretty well but needs must. We  did agree to look at the possibiltiy of introducing the toolset to a younger year group at some point during the year to encourage them to choose Games Design in their later years to build up the numbers taking this. 


2. Preparations - Any digital materials we would need before starting (printed, digital, UI etc)

We agreed that we both wanted a UI mod that improved the look of the fonts by making them bigger/clearer. We have been using Yeneko's ones from the Vault which I quite like because they don't take up too much space although we later in the meeting discovered a problem in that we don't seem to have a chat box for communication in MP. I've contacted Yeneko about this to see what can be done.

The next issue and a linked one was directory space. Matthew reckoned that pupils at the school only get about 200mgbs for their personal directory. We agreed he'd put a case forward for doubling that for Games design classes but it still isn't much. We've also been talking to Tarot and Proleric here about how we can link the game to a hak folder elsewhere on the network to save using up all the kids' space in the first five minutes ! There is also the possibility of moving some of the kids' other work into the cloud.

We agreed that we'd keep printing down and use digital materials for tutorials as it's cost effective, good for the planet and that's pretty much how kids learn anyway. 


3. Haks / scripts we wanted to use. This was difficult as there is just so much and we have so little space. However, for various different reasons, we've decided we want to use :

a couple of the old Bioware tilesets facelifted ( partly because they look better for an old game and also because some of the interiors have ceilings. It was interesting the kids before the holidays picked up on this. It's not huge for me as I can't play over the shoulder so to speak and top down you dont see ceilings anyway).

Lord Worm's seasonal tileset and Estelindis' high forest city tileset ( still my favourite) to let them see, and use, what is possible in tileset design

possibly also Lord Worm's interior travel mod although I'm still looking at other ways of showing travel from one area to another

we want the kids introduced to some scripts including dialogue over the head of the PC for back story etc ( one I'm especially keen on being an old English teacher and determined there shall be storylines to these modules !) Also , we plan to introduce them to Lilac's Script Generator and encourage them to look at using at least one script they have generated in their finished module ( another tick box for the course assesment ). Time and the abilities/ wishes of the class will decide how much time we have to spend on more than this.


4. Structure of the Course

This was the meat of the meeting so to speak.  

1. We quickly agreed there would be a short intro about the history of the game, D&D and the notion of the community which has survived for many years and indeed, judging by the number of new members on the Vault daily,  is thriving. We also want to talk a little to them about the concept of building up a folio of work in games design that they can point to for entrance to further education or even just the possibility of being picked up by a games firm because of their work in a community like this. I'd also like to highlight to them the satisfaction they can get from a place like the Vault where everything is shared without any reward other than gratitude. We plan eventually to showcase some of their work through the Vault. Despite the fact they are beginners I know they would receive positve feedback as well as some advice from the community here. 

2. The main tutorial. This would be the main starting element in the course. Although the S4 class already have a good working knowledge of the tutorial we felt that they needed to begin the new term working through one on their own to firm up what we have covered so far. Up till now I've been in class kinda leading them through the basics. Biggest issue still to be decided is whether or not we use the Conversation editor or go the Plot Wizard route. Matthew hadn't reached the conversation editor in Fern when we met and I could tell he was leaning towards Fern. On the other hand, having experienced the conversation editor I'm firmly in the Plot Wizard camp at least to begin with. Conversation editor would require the kids to spend some time on scripting and coming to grips with the unusual layout of conversations whereas PW does all that for us. I've a feeling Matthew might change his mind after ploughing through the several pages in Fern dealing with that ! I've created a tutorial with printed materials and videos demoing the Plot Wizard called "Returning the Book" but will be happy to go with whatever Matthew decides. I can see an argument for Fern being the gold standard in tutorials. 

3. One of the main requirements of the Games Design course is that the pupils create a custom object which they can then import to their game. We had already decided on our approach to this which is to begin with a simple Floor decal tutorial incorporating mosaics ( thanks to Tarot !), then move on to Custom shields ( another of Tarot's which btw, is excellent and looks really good in game ) and finally once they are further on in the course using Blender to create a custom Snowman of Doom™ using The Barbarian's excellent tutorial which will be updated for the new version of Blender. We have had quite a coming and going trying out different image editing programs and things are complicated as I work on a Mac !

4. Remit for building own module. We talked about this and tossed some ideas around. I'm keen, as I said before, that the modules they create are more than just hack and slash efforts which I suspect will be the kids' favourite genre so I'm quite keen that we give them a brief. Matthew quite likes this idea so we may go with it. We talked over historical events in our own town from Scottish history which would have relevance and possibly even a use for visitors to the town. Another was environmental topics which might ge them into a more moral dilemma kind of narrative and away from the:

"Bring me the head of that  commoner across there."

"Why, what is he guilty of?"

"Villainy !"  ( My favourite line from Bohemian Rhapsody. Had to get it in) !   But you get the gist about pointless quests. . .

Also, I've had a bee in my bonnet ( Scottish expression) about the search for new antibiotics since I saw a UN game ( which I can no longer find !) which set up scenarios where pupils found out how antibiotics work then were put into a plague situation and had to work out which antibiotics might work and in later levels had to go in search of materials to make new ones. Anyway, we've talked these through and may well give the kids a menu to select from. 

5. Multiplayer.  Both of us were dreading this. Firstly because we both suck at playing games and secondly because we know the vagaries of the school IT network. To be fair, Niv at Beamdog has been great in offering us any help we need so we put these thoughts aside and had a go. I tried to join an internet MP game but couldn't get past the first scene where I was given a rules test and promptly failed it, leaving me with no idea what I'd done wrong. Really? Do you want me to play it or not? The next we tried had us running about in the buff trying to find some clothes top preserve our modesty but dying horribly before we found a stitch of clothing ! So, we decided to create our own which worked really well ( with the caveat as I said that Yeneko's improved UI had no Chat bar which isnt great for MP ). however, creating a MP game in my house and creating it on the school network may be two entirely different things. Our thinking was to bring in MP once they start to build so they can play eath others' modules as a way of reviewing their modules ( another requirement ticked off). 

6. To dos.  We finished with Matthew going off to tussle with the rest of Fern and get back to Blender and me to finish off tutorials on the floor decals, shields and custom music. I've also to have a look at lighting as we agreed we want that to be up front, especially if we don't use Fern which has a great section on that and sound. 


. . . and that's where we are at present. Scottish schools go back in a couple of weeks and that's when our course will begin in earnest. We've had an awful lot of help to get this far from Tarot, Barbarian, Niv and others like Proleric with advice and without them we would have floundered so big thanks to them and all the folks at the Vault who have been just great. Once we pull everything together for the kids I'll do another post including all the tutorials/ materials  we are intending to use. I said from the start that the toolset is ideal for Games Design, either in a bespoke Games Design class or even general Computing. It could work really well as a cross curricular project but the age old issue there is getting the same kids in fron of you in different subjects so we'll leave that well alone for just now. 


First Release: 
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Tarot Redhand

Hamlet? Really? I would have thought Henry the 5th more aposite. No, not "Once more unto the breach..." but "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;" from the Saint Crispin's day speech in act 3.


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We actually never do Henry V in Scotland. I'm not that familiar with it myself and know nothing of Agincourt. However, I vaguely, maybe wrongly, remember him ordering executions right left and centre. Not sure I want to go into the new term with that thought hanging over my head ( no pun intended). 

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