Sunday, 16 February 2014

Builders Journal: Entry #2

I'm going to talk a bit about the companions this time round. A topic that I have gradually gained more interest in as I have put them together for this series, including the development of our NWN1 version of The Indanthrine Prince, or "The Pilot" as I keep calling it... in my mind...

Truth be told, I am very wary when a game provides companions. If the writing for that NPC is not up to par, I turn off very quickly. I know that the gameplay role of these guys is to hit things and carry excess items - but I don't like being reminded of that by poor writing and immersion. Then there are the NPCs that just turn out to be very irritating, be it their immersion breaking whining/personality disorder or ridiculous appearance - see Dragon Age 2, that utter, irredeemable abomination.

Now I do not claim to be any kind of guru on the subject. I simply enjoy making modules that I would want to play and then hope others enjoy the experience too. If it's not Adam's cup of tea, there's plenty more free gaming to be had out there. I find my tastes to be rather straightforward. I want companions to perform a valued role - they can do something that someone else can't, or at least not nearly as well. That their personality, whilst displaying differences, does not grossly contradict others in the party to the point that they are standing in the way of things and taking over. I like a party to actually be a team and work as such when needed. Even if it is simply chiming in with warnings, advice and subtle hints. The time spent together can also be a good factor in just how helpful companions become.

Indanthrine Prince (NWN2) dipped it's toes in some of these topics, but not very far. I suppose my thoughts and opinions have matured over time, so much still remains to be seen. The companions in IP certainly had moments were they offered insight, the opportunity to explore alternative tactics and on some occasions, choices, should the player be inclined to trust them. But admittedly, these features were generally limited. With the upcoming campaign, plans are already afoot to ramp this up.

First off, the party restrictions are going to become more relaxed. Meaning, at certain points (do not read as rarely, this will assume a large part of the campaign) you will be able to choose which Companions accompany you. Assuming of course that you have met them and that they are not unavailable for any reason. Couple this with some new companions in classes we haven't covered yet and you will be able to gather a party suitable for anything. The new companions will include other races. At this time, Act 1 of the new campaign will continue with the restricted party make-up of IP, whilst Acts 2 and 3 will be (mostly) fully down to the players selections.

In a further relaxing of restrictions, it will be possible to multi-class your companions from amongst a prescribed range of classes. It should add a nice personal touch to your companions and strengthen their specific roles in the party or allow a weakness in the party to be plugged. With the upper level estimate of the campaign to be around level 20, there is plenty of room for building your companions into exactly what you want them to be.

Crispin can branch out into a Weapon Master

Jamot can specialise further as an Assassin, making him extremely useful on one particular level.

More incentives for teamwork and exploiting the skills of companions will appear in the new campaign. The simplest introduction of this was to enable the SoZ party dialogue feature, allowing the player to choose which party member speaks a line in a conversation. This feature is being used selectively - primarily in dialogue that is not central to the main story. This feature will allow your followers to speak up when you wish to speak a line that may require a skill that your character does not possess. Other developments include larger pieces of the game where stealth pays off and where previously little used skills get to take centre stage. Already we have some parts of the campaign with a spotlight on crafting, listen, sleight of hand and search. Some bigger pieces of work planned in the future are some puzzles and problem-solving pieces that require a party-based solution.

One final thing that is helping to make your party feel more like a team of comrades than ill-fitting merchandise mannequins is another relatively simple step. An influence system is being worked up. Rather than using it to engineer pixelated titillation through "romances", it will be used to influence decision-making, certain outcomes and the level of spoken insight (and possibly bonuses) provided by a companion. Jamot will be using this system in Act 1, so he is currently the test subject before I decide whether or not this is worth continuing with. We also have some companion personal quests planned to aid in player-to-companion immersion. We don't intend to turn these into major quests, nor do we wish to make them into the sort of quests that can make or break your primary quest, ala Mass Effect 2. These quests will also come coupled with increased general conversation that you can have with your companions when compared with IP.

I think that'll do for this entry. I'm sure I'll have more stuff to say later. To sum it all up, the party for me, in this series, should have some real camaraderie about it. It should make you smile, think differently, laugh and perhaps most importantly, remember!

One last shot. The party gathers in a sewer area during the events of Act 1.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Weekly Shot

It's time for the weekly shot of completed content. This area uses the RWS sewer tileset and is one of the last few areas to be explored in the Act 1 module.

We will be using the RWS all-in-one hak again and it will be used more heavily than it was in Indanthrine Prince. We don't plan on adding any other tileset haks at the moment. It may change, but we would prefer to keep file requirements to a minimum and stick to packs which we know we will use heavily.

Party moving with caution in the sewer area

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Builder's Journal: Entry #1

*Ding* Journal Entry Added...

It's been an enjoyable few weeks just recently. A chunk of work has been completed on the first of the three modules comprising the campaign that will be the next chapter in our series. We have learned a lot during our work on The Indanthrine Prince which is allowing us to be much bolder with the new offerings and give the content a much better finish.

The premise of the next chapter is already plain to those who have completed IP. Things are going to be pretty grim at the beginning, resources will be scarce and that will call for some resourcefulness on the player's part. I love games that do this; those breaks in the game where the usual norms of gameplay are suddenly changed and require the player to make every decision, resource or special ability count. I like games that make me think - I don't need a brainteaser or be made to feel that I'm a contestant on University Challenge; I want something that makes me stop and consider my situation and allows me to formulate a logical way through. Naturally, this little interlude will come to a close and normal service resumes. It has been fun to kick off the next chapter with something a little different, rather than charging on as things were. The final part of IP had a lot of action in it, right from the go of Act 3, so I felt it was important to slow things down, change the environment and allow the story to catch up and basically set the stage for the rest of the game as we will be raising the stakes...

So I thought of how we can change things up for players at the beginning of the next chapter to facilitate this little diversion. The first choice was obvious and also made perfect sense, given the ending of IP. We confiscate all of the party's equipment! Easy. They'll hate that, all gone. Gone forever. All that work and time invested in IP, all washed away. Haha, idiots. Alright, alright, it hasn't gone forever, but I won't help you get it back. You'll have to do that when you play. So right away there is a lack of resource for the party. But no lack of experience; this under-equipped, level 12-ish party has to call upon every trick they have, and that's a good thing. Perhaps some of those abilities and skills you didn't get to use much towards the end of IP will get a chance here. Conversational skills especially can help a great deal, providing tangible benefits. Your History Feats also step in at times to influence the direction of a plot and even to provide one-off bonuses in certain combat situations; your reputation is a weapon too.

Another choice ties in with the introduction of crafting and trade-skills in the next chapter. This is a very broad system and does not simply involve turning components into items. We have our own in-house system written up and ready for action which includes so far; Weapon Smithing, Armour Smithing, Leather Working, Mining, Smelting and Repairs. Repairs is the topic of interest here. Using Craft Weapon/Craft Armour skill, the player character or their companions can restore a damaged item back to it's normal properties. Damaged equipment will be common to begin with; weapons with penalties, armour with vulnerabilities or reduced AC. Repairing basic items is a simple process, with even the untrained having almost a 50% chance of success. Ah; you didn't take crafting skills or feats in IP because we didn't support crafting? Not a problem. It will be possible to re-assign your characters feats and skills in the new campaign, along with those of your companions. Exceptional circumstances can change people, so it seems justifiable to let you guys tinker with your team. The Repairs system suits the start of the new campaign well, but we will maintain it's usefulness throughout the series. For instance, why is it that every "ancient"/"lost"/etc piece of equipment you find is always in mint condition? I see a dynamic here to introduce a few items which are in a bit of a sorry state when you find them - functional, perhaps, but not at their full working-best. Pull out that repair hammer and get to work! Or alternatively, pay someone to do it for you. I'll talk at length on crafting another day - very proud of this system.

Other choices I made to encourage this resourceful-mindedness was small touches, but all offering the player some advantage or access to things they otherwise wouldn't have. For instance, utilising the search skill to reveal hidden objects, allowing taunt to be used before certain fights break out, to get an immediate advantage. Crispin will be overjoyed, his head gleaming with delight. Making basic conversation with background NPCs and doing the occasional favour will yield useful information and support.

I think I've emptied my head of thoughts on this subject for now. The start of the next campaign certainly does not solely rely on your tactical acumen in battle. Players need to be resourceful, they need to explore to have the best chance. But most importantly, think.

Think on your next move...

Facebook Group's Weekly Shot

[As posted on Facebook Group "MERP UK"]

The party grows during the events of the first part of the next campaign. We will likely be keeping the general companion limit to 3 at a time, but situations will arise where more, or even less will be permitted. This does mean that from a certain point in the game onwards, you will be able to utilise the companion roster screen and choose the companions who travel with you, whilst others wait for you at their regular "hangout". We plan to at least double the companion count in the next campaign, all of which will be of a different class, some will be a different race too. Elf and Dwarf are planned - we would love to add a Hobbit, but there is a lot of difficulty in making a credible character as we all know that the adventurous Hobbits were rather rare... Anyway, we will try.

So in this spirit, here is this weeks shot. Some familiar faces there either side of the PC, along with a new one. The party are standing in one of many beautiful Easterling interiors made by Sophy Urchin that you will be able to explore in the action packed start to the campaign which serves as an entire module itself - that is currently just over half completed.

PS: The characters shown (except the centre elf) in the shot were from a client using the NWN2 Facelift Pack which I provided a link to some time ago. This is an override which improves the quality of the character heads and makes them look less cartoonish. The campaign is being developed with this pack assumed to be installed by the player. Regardless, we recommend that you get it. It's a tiny file and adds a great deal to the look and feel of things:

From the left: A new face, Jamot, Player Character, Ivan Balros, Crispin

Friday, 7 February 2014

"Lets Play" The Indanthrine Prince

It's been really exciting to see the module being shown through a "Let's Play" series on YouTube by AhTravesty. Thirty half hour episodes later and he still has a good deal of module to play through. I've been watching daily to take note and generally enjoy watching someone playing the module and having a good time.

As we put content together, we do a lot of testing. We start with the main structure of the plot - do all the routes to the outcome work? Once that is put to bed, we start with the content built around it. Think of all those different activities and ways of completing them, the different ways a player can approach a situation - it all has to be checked. So when there is only two of us working on the modules, we invariably miss a small detail. Sometimes we are lucky enough to rope a friend into playing the game right in front of us and this reveals errors and oversights we have made, but the best thing about it, is that we can see how another player approaches the game. This is also true of this video series.

As a builder, I can recommend to other builders the usefulness of watching videos players make of their experience playing your modules. A lot of their reactions, and style of play can tell you a lot about what is working, what isn't. It can even give you new ideas or allow you to build on existing ones. For those who have played through the Indanthrine Prince already, the videos may give you the urge to play again - maybe you missed something, or want to see how things plan out with another character. For those who have not played the module, try taking a look at the videos. They will give you a very good idea of what to expect.

Thanks to the reports from players and this excellent video series, I will be putting together a large update for The Indanthrine Prince, to be released once the video series has finished. In it, there will be many corrections and fixes along with a collection of improvements and adjustments to sharpen things up further.

Meanwhile, work will continue apace on the next module in the series. There will be plenty of commentary on this soon, along with a selection of building tutorials for those who have been expressing interest in building with NWN2's Electron Toolset.

Do check out the videos and you may also be interested in some of AhTravesty's other video series covering other fantastic NWN2 modules such as Baldur's Gate Reloaded, Icewind Dale, Fanglewood and The Wizards Apprentice.

And to finish, here is today's installment of "Let's Play UTT: The Indanthrine Prince"

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Welcome to the blog

You are reading the blog for Middle Earth Role-Play, the team behind the Untold Tales Of Tolkien series of modules for Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2. Our module series is an adaptation of Middle Earth using the DnD ruleset provided in the respective games.

Whilst we have used Facebook as a group "hub" for the last year or so, we have many players of the modules who do not use Facebook. The increased support has also given me the motivation to setup this blog which will serve not only as a builders diary, but hopefully also a source for news, discussion and some articles covering building with the NWN2 Electron Toolset.

So I hope this blog proves of interest and allows players to "keep in touch". Do make use of the comment feature and feel free to share your experiences and thoughts. Enjoy!

Indanthrine Prince Artwork by Dave Oliver.


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