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Bringing Star Wars back to Neverwinter - Fixing a Legacy of Legends

For probably as long as Neverwinter Nights has existed, Star Wars was a topic that had only a few, though grandiose, outings. It didn't help that BioWare had to crack down on Star Wars mods for NWN for quite a while due to their partnership with LucasArts in order to make Knights of the Old Republic. I intend to bring it back, for at least one last time. With the popularity of KOTOR 1 and 2, and the fact that the three games practically share the same engine, it's no surprise the topic has kept coming up.
 
Neverwinter Nights has been given the gift of exploring the Star Wars universe with servers such as Rise of the Rebellion, The Last Jedi (they had that name first!), Star Wars Aftermath, Star Wars Contrition, and of course the French Star Wars mod that pretty much the aforementioned servers relied on to get their start. Forgive me, everyone involved with that initial project, as your work and prominence with the community was before my time as a fan of NWN, and I sadly never learned your name. 
 
Today, I have not been able to find any information about the whereabouts of these servers. Likely a combination of life, apathy, and low population for some, and a general failure to keep interests in their late games. Having played RoTR, TLJ, Aftermath, and Contrition, I personally have longed for a server in the Star Wars Legends universe that would actually hold up, and stand on its own, all while using the latest technology and discoveries available in the NWN1 Community.
 
Using the parts and pieces left behind by the ancients, I've started a new project called Star Wars Sovereignty. My goal is to discover the key to success in creating an interesting and engaging Neverwinter Nights server, and creating a center for Star Wars roleplay. Today, it can be difficult to find a good, decent quality source for roleplay in the Star Wars universe, especially the extensive, though now abandoned, Legends canon. I want to see if I can recreate some of the magic that existed in the old NWN servers, as well as the roleplaying servers that were incredibly prolific on the Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy multiplayer servers back in the day.
 
Looking Back
 
I've been trying to observe some of the pitfalls servers have had, particularly in the Star Wars neighborhood, to see where I can improve, and do better on the idea. Namely, here's a few of my observations.
 
1. Broken or Imbalanced Game Mechanic redesigns cause strife among players
 
To date, every Star Wars server I've personally seen has rewritten the classes to try and accommodate the setting, as you'd expect. Most were based off the d20 modern mod, with their own adjustments. Contrition stood apart from this, having simply renamed and re-skinned the existing Neverwinter Nights classes. Every server had its flaws. Contrition for example, had implemented Psionics as their Force powers. Being the only custom prestige class, paired with powerful Lightsabers, made Force Users the only real way to survive. 
 
My theorized solution: Dice only. Since I am creating a Roleplaying server and not an adventure module, it would be better to overall use a dice system as the primary means of combat. Yes, this does lose the ability to do non-roleplay adventures (without scripting them, of course) but it makes it easier for players to get into their character, not overly worry about having the preferred class, and let combat be at the pace of turns, rather than real-time. On the topic of the non-roleplay adventures, however...
 
2. Grinding Destroys Roleplay
 
Theoretically, grinding exists in a server to be an action that the player can do while there is low population on the server, or no active roleplay going on at the time. Theoretically... You would expect players to stop grinding the moment another player comes online, and start roleplaying with them. Now, I can't say that this never happens, but I've rarely seen it happen. The primary problem with this is the fact that in a server that deals with genuine combat for dictating a character's life, many players will feel like they need to be max level (or nearly just) in order to actually have any weight. Unless you're playing a character who will likely never get into real combat (which is rare), you're going to want to defend yourself if the time comes, ergo, you're going to want to grind before you roleplay. If everyone's grinding, then everyone is grinding. Grinding isn't what the server is about, and no server has really made grinding fun (Hopping from planet to planet killing the same enemy, or Getting lost in an insane amount of empty areas, do not equal fun.). 
 
My theorized solution: No EXP gain through combat. Wait, what? Some of you might think, "Well that sounds more like a Social Server than a Persistent World or an Action Server." Perhaps that is the solution. A structured social server with a Star Wars theme. Countless servers have utilized methods to count and calculate messages sent in order to grant exp. By using a custom dice based system, I may be able to actually reward roleplay rather than grinding. If the levels are low enough and easily achievable, limited at 5 levels, there is reward for playing, but you're not punished for not going after grinding before anything else. By the time you are in serious threat of dying, you should have been in the server interacting with others enough to have a signifigant level in order to fight off anyone who might come at you. You still have to think about who you insult, but now you don't have to have 40 levels, a min/max build and four million npc corpses behind you to feel like you have a chance.
 
3. Trying to be an MMORPG, without the 'RP'
 
Now, not every server suffered from this, but a few did. Most notably, there was a heavy influence of the late MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies. SWG was a very powerful platform for roleplay, with an incredible chat system, numerous emotes, powerful tools for city building and home decoration... yet, it was still an MMORPG with its own limitations. There's nothing wrong with taking the good from SWG so long as it can actually be implemented. One server in particular emulated too much of the MMORPG aspect of the game, and in the end, you got all of the work, but none of the interesting parts. Grinding missions in the wild, but no real player housing, or a feeling of impact on the world. Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy had some of the most amazingly active roleplaying communities, and all they had were maps on a rotation. What made them so popular? Considering combat was more often than not a rarity in those servers, it couldn't have been the playstyle alone...
 
My theorized solution: Make characters and their levels simple, use NWNX development to establish true player housing and potentially even city building, and consider focused areas for Roleplay in the style of JKA maps, as opposed to sprawling worlds full of areas that no one will visit more than once. Focus the players so they can easily find eachother and be exposed to active roleplay. Allow players to have a greater deal of creativity when interacting with the world. I've constructed designs and implementations of all of these thus far, and hope that I can recapture some of what kept the roleplay going in Star Wars Galaxies and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, without the limitations of either. 
 
4. Too connected to canon
 
Upon acquiring the Star Wars franchise, Disney deemed that the existing canon and Expanded Universe was now 'finished', and renamed to the Legends canon. Disney now toils away at creating their own canon, which will undoubtedly become as thick and convoluted as its predecessor. Disney's Star Wars is still in its infancy, resembling the Star Wars canon shortly before the release of the prequels. I am a major fan of the Legends canon, and intend to keep my server rooted in Legends, because the universe presented in the old canon is easy to reference, with as little guesswork needed. The fewer guesses and assumptions one has to make, the easier it is to establish that Star Wars feel that has existed for forty years. There are just too many gaps and plotholes in the Disney canon as of today. 
 
That all said, there is a certain problem with adhering to the canon as though it is written in stone and can never be changed. A few servers have gone with the idea that the canon is changeable from the day the server launched, but these servers still have untouchable or too important characters or factions that have to survive, in order to keep going. It isn't easy to try and become the Dark Lord of the Sith when Darth Vader is walking around with the ability to beat you down with DM buffs and a desire to kill. Sure, the story is still yours to play out, but you're sharing that real estate with characters who have pre-determined roles, that almost always need a DM to play. Want to kill the Chancellor? Well, Chancellor Joe Blowpatine is an NPC. Hopefully the DM in charge will play fair. Regardless, there becomes a disconnect between player and canon, and the Legend never really becomes your own. 
 
My theorized solution: Alter the canon, scrub the characters. I've decided that my server will take place 10 to 15 years after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Using my knowledge of the Legends canon, story-line, and the characters within it, I've created a starting point for the server based on the question of: "What if the Empire lost Palpatine, but never fell?" What if the New Republic just wasn't that successful, because Luke and Leia weren't that great at their jobs? Some of the earliest expanded universe canon for Legends was written for the story following Return of the Jedi, as you'd expect. Because there weren't many characters to work with that held the same emphasis as Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and the others, a certain degree of hero worship surrounded them. The O.G. O.T. gang fought countless unique enemies, and came out on top of them all. If you threw in some realism, and tore down this hero worship, things get really difficult for our heroes. 
 
So what if they never succeeded, or fell into obscurity? What if they never became a factor? What if every active character of any notable importance was a faceless character ready to be replaced by a player with the desire to take control of that particular part of the story? What if we started making our own legends? This was a successful point for several JKA RP servers, where most of the themes remained the same, but replaced with a new version that was entirely player driven. I believe doing the same for this server may really breathe in new life for the prospect of Star Wars Roleplaying. 
 
In Conclusion
 
I'm hoping to see if there is still some life in this old game to truly explore and discover a new way to present Star Wars roleplaying within it. Chances are, there's not many players still about that would still have interest, but I'm taking a bet on some players having interest. My reason for this blog post is; I want to try having this adventure be shared openly with anyone who might want to do the same, now or down the road. With how much NWN has kept itself alive, I foresee it being around for many years from now. 
 
For now, I just want to have a real place to roleplay in George Lucas' fascinating universe, and to explore new ways to make NWN tick. I welcome anyone who has comments or advice, and I thank you for taking your time to read this quite lengthy blog post.
 
For anyone interested in seeing progress on Star Wars: Sovereignty, check out my (as of this post, under construction) forums at: 
 
 
As I discover new things or make further observations, I plan to write more blog posts to share. 
 
 
 
Thanks again for reading!
 
-Tyrus
First Release: 
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MonsterTrainer

Talk to Slyssk, comrade! Guess you two got the same interests.

https://neverwintervault.org/forums/general-natter/any-interest-star-war...

EDIT:

Just had an idea:

Offer the player a "civil career". Weapon smith, armor maker, dokument forger, herbalist, alchemist, gem maker and so on. Let them roam the world in search for their special components and give them the possibility to craft unique items that players can´t find or buy. If that´s something for you, keep an eye on my upcoming icon projects!

Cheers!

 

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Tyrus

Thank you for the heads up! I got in contact with Slyssk, and he has been very helpful with obtaining some lost concept modules that were available. It will really pay off in the long run, as some of them contain themed nature areas that I can re-use.

As for your idea, I do love it. One thing that had crossed my mind is to implement something similar, with inspiration from Fable 2 and Fable 3's professions. The two games from Lionheart Studios allowed you to perform a job that was almost a mini-game in itself, that crafted certain things (such as pies, weapons, or serving beer) for small amounts of money. I could certainly look into potentially adding a lite crafting system and economics to make the module a bit more interesting!

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MonsterTrainer

Hehe, well to be honest, I snatched the idea from "ultima online" and its derivates. I found it interesting that they don´t force players into the hero role, offering them instead the the life of a peasant, a random guy. Though I never liked the concept of the ultima games, I must admit, that the devs had great ideas over and over again.

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Tyrus

I've personally always loved the "life of a peasant" style of gameplay, and for roleplaying. The only problems you face, however, are 1. Making peasant life interesting, and 2. Offering ways to rise above it eventually. For some, peasant life is awesome to play, where others like to try and be the hero, for better or for worse. Because of how prominent story has become in modern MMOs, there's very few MMORPGs standing today that actually let you be anything but a hero (or villain, in some cases.).

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MonsterTrainer

Of course it´s difficult to keep it interesting, most servers of today scratch barely 20 players together, if we´re not speaking of the big plumpers like sinfar, ravenloft, puerte de baldur and so on. But if a player is a allowed to have a second character for example, it might be possible. But regard this as nothing else than brainstorming.

Speaking of players, the question is: How big is the range of your project? There are dozens of jedi fansites accross the internet, you should offer them frequently some sweets to increase the fanbase over the months. Screenshots, concepts, polls, that kind of stuff. Too many servers, even with great ideas, scripts, player options and all that have packed up because they couldn´t reach more players. More and more players left over the months, and after a while: Boom. Zero players, server goes down the drain, all the work futile. That must be a bitter experience for every PW owner.

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rjshae

Personally I'd be concerned about a take-down order from Disney.

Why not use the Star Frontiers setting instead?

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Tyrus

I remember when Disney first purchased Star Wars, a number of Star Wars modders were afraid that it was the end times for their projects, as Disney is notorious for its protection over its franchises. Oddly enough, however, Disney has been incredibly lax on enforcing this on game mods. The reason for this, is that Disney is relatively disinterested in video games as a whole. One of their first actions when buying Star Wars was to disband LucasFilm's home game developer, LucasArts, and give Electronic Arts a 10 year exclusive contract to make Video Games for any and all LucasFilm properties. 

Electronic Arts has ordered a couple of take-downs on a few Star Wars projects, but they all share two common traits: 1. The doomed projects were all standalone games, and 2. The doomed projects directly conflicted with games EA was actively making. Notably, a few years ago, a group was working on recreating the original Battlefront III, using the Unity Engine. It was highly controversial after Valve agreed to allowing the mod onto Steam. Interestingly, Disney and LucasFilm stated they were open to working with the independant studio for the franchise, but, their exclusivity with EA, and EA's Battlefront project, meant that the project had to die.

What's this mean for Sovereignty? SW:S isn't openly competing with any of the current projects. You could wager EA BioWare's MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic is competition, but there are so many differences that it would be vague. There are a number of Star Wars mods out there today, that have been thriving in the Disney environment: Thrawn's Revenge II: Ascendancy for Sins of a Solar Empire, Freewrolds: Tides of War for Freelancer, and even ModDB's Mod of the Year 2015 Bear Force II, for Mount & Blade. Most notorious of them all is SWGEmu, a massive fan project to bring functionality back to the MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies. Thus far, all of these have been ignored by Disney.

With all that said, I feel like I do work with a little protection considering SW:S is for NWN, a game developed by BioWare, who is owned by EA. Considering EA has full rights to make whatever Star Wars game they wish, there's no gag order on specific types of games as BioWare suffered back when KOTOR was made. I plan on sticking to Star Wars due to my personal love for the franchise, and the interest of others. Should the worst come to happen, I've designed the module to be 'soft' enough to switch to another franchise if I desired. Most likely, however, if a take-down was issued, I would simply release the source code and let others use it as they see fit.

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Low_Light

From my memories of playing Contrition, it was a fairly confusing server to engage in. As I stepped out of one area I was met with enemies that were painfully higher level than my brand new level one. They appeared to be level 6-10 or more. If I remember right, the server let me choose where I originated and perhaps that was the plan. There was a lot of things in there that seemed built more for an extremely DM-active server with a large playerbase; I would recommend instead designing your server to let players level up alone. Even if they have to do so carefully and slowly, if the server is enjoyable enough and the players like the content, they will level and that will draw new players.

As for Jedi/Sith, I have a few recommendations. If possible, allow players to slot Force powers similar to the way a Sorcerer does. In the movies, Force powers are used sparingly by most Jedi and Sith and in some cases - like Yoda lifting Luke's X-Wing - they can appear to struggle. Allow Jedi and Sith to be powerful in melee, but not grossly overpowered.

If you want them to be stronger than other classes, you might want to consider instead making it so that players have to do a quest to determine whether their character is Force Sensitive similar to the way Star Wars Galaxies did it. You could likely script it so the end of that quest has a chance to award them a feat which is a Requirement for the Jedi presige class, or something along those line.

I'd also consider limiting the max level of the server to 12-16 at most. The less levels players have, the easier it is for a developer to balance combat encounters, custom classes and prevent powerbuilding.

All this said, it's easy for me to make these recommendations while I have practically no knowledge of scripting or tinkering with custom classes. Is this intended for NWN or NWN2?

If NWN, I might also recommend trying to get in contact with Eurgiga and see if he's willing to port the outfits from Bear Force II or at the very least tell you how it's done, if you're wanting to go that far. Eurgiga's mod - from what I can tell - ripped those robes from another Mount & Blade Warband mod, A Clash of Kings.

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Tyrus

From what I recall, Contrition based a lot of its design around the MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies. From its mission system, to its world design, etc. Star Wars Galaxies suffered several redesigns in its history because one of the major complaints players had, was that the game was too complicated to figure out. SWG quite literally did just drop you in a Galaxy, with little to no information handed to you, even if you had played the Tutorial. Contrition ended up falling into the same pitfall during its hayday. I've had friends who also played Contrition voice the same issue: It was a confusing server, and it seemed the creator(s?) didn't quite know what direction to take it in.

One thing I've really observed with Jedi and Sith, is that most, if not all, try to follow in the original SWG idea that it needs to be special, powerful, and hard to obtain. This ends up with a lot of players playing solely to unlock Force Users, becoming way too over-powered, and ultimately be disapointed by the role after giving it so much hype trying to unlock it. I plan to change that simply by allowing it to be obtainable from Minute Zero. As for their powers, I haven't given much thought into actual powers (or feats) yet, but have opened my current design to allow rewrites or updates in the future, that won't require players to lose their progress. Every server I've seen, no matter what game or how flawless their systems are, will eventually encounter issues that need to be fixed or rebuilt from the ground up.

I really appreciate the suggestions and observations. To tell the truth, I am relatively proficient with NWscript and programming in general, having written code for some projects in the past (but never championed one myself). I intend to build this project for NWN1, for the two reasons of 1: There is little Sci-fi content for NWN2 out there, and 2: I have a long bloody past with NWN2. I really wanted to love NWN2, but personally, it has been frustrating for me to work on. 

I'll definately put Eurgiga in my list of contacts to reach out to, however. Thank you for the tip. I've got a great deal of content that was given to me with blessing from its authors to use, as well as Project Q and CEP. I've also got a few models and such that I ported myself, and I am looking into porting more in the future. 

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MonsterTrainer

Let me add another user to recommendation list: Mondego

He´s a big fan of the dune setting and made some splendid tilesets. Unfortunatly, he decided to leave, what was a bitter loss, but I saw a comment from him these days. So, I guess he´s still here occasionally. PM him, he´s a nice guy and is sureley willing to help you. But don´t mention my name! He would throw his flip flops after you and would swear the rest of the day. ;)

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Eurgiga

Nevermind, see you're moving to NWN2! Best of luck!

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E_H_Bonner

Woohoo!  Star Wars stuff!   - I just finished reading your roadmap, and it sounds as if you have a phenomenal project a-brewing!  I must say, Tyrus, I will be following the development of SWS with anticipation of the highest degree!  Thank you so much for embarking on this adventure!

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