Nuts and Bolts
By Dwip March 4, 2008, 4:11 pm Comments (5) RSS Feed for this post

By now, most of you gaming types in the audience will have heard that Gary Gygax has died.

I don’t want to dwell on this a whole lot, but it should be obvious to anyone who knows me that his great creation, Dungeons and Dragons, has had a great and profound effect on my life since the day in 6th grade when I found my brothers’ old 1st Edition Player’s Handbook and started running around in my Macbeth costume for the summer. Thankfully, I no longer have the costume, but I do have that PHB, shipped to me at some expense from accross the country, sitting on my bookshelf next to some 3.5 Forgotten Realms books.

But I’ve told that particular story quite a few times, so I’ll just move on to something tangentally related – my Weye mod for Oblivion. Some of you have played it, and I think liked it quite a bit. Let me just say that this new version should be orders of magnitude better, once I get it done, which I assure you is happening at speed.

There have been interesting things about its development that I want to talk about, and in some fashion talk about what it means to be a game master and a designer of interactive fiction. I’ll start by saying that there are, to my mind, three basic parts to this: Worldbuilding, or designing a setting for one’s story; designing the actual story, by which I mean coming up with a plot; and actually telling the story, which happens around the game table, or in the case of Weye, through a keyboard and monitor.

Now, as it turns out, I’m a pretty good world designer. I should be – I love maps, and the creation thereof. As a history major, I love watching cultures and peoples clash and come together, and do their thing. I like fiddling around with the nuts and bolts of systems, trying to fine tune them to make them do what I want. The ultimate expression of this is probably Alsherok, but some of you remember Almriven and Tharavel and a few other skeletons in my cosmic closet as well. I am also, I find, fairly adept at adapting published settings – I’ve done a lot with the Forgotten Realms country of Amn, for instance, and tinkered with both Morrowind and Oblivion to some success. I’m also apparently quite good as a character designer.

Too, while I’m not quite the teller of stories I’d like to be just yet, I’ve come a long ways since that infamous day where I mind blanked for 10 minutes trying to get a servant to take the players to his master. I’m getting better at creating dramatic moments, describing action, doing good dialogue, and what have you.

Where I really fall down, interestingly enough, is the part where I have to actually design a good story. I’m great at designing characters, I’m great at designing places for them to play in, but it’s an ongoing battle to come up with interesting things for the interesting characters to do in the interesting worlds. This has always struck me as odd – clearly other DMs do this well, but plotting for me is incredibly hard. I can barely do a short campaign arc, let alone a novel. Considering how many novels I’ve read, that’s a bit strange.

I’m not entirely sure why that is. Perfectionism is one part of it, and the complexities of trying to put it in a game is another. Lack of practice, perhaps. In any case it’s hard for me to come up with a good game plot that isn’t five guys in a tavern heading out to go raid the dungeon.

What I’m ultimately getting at here is that I find that I’m really happy with where I’m going with Weye. I’m not sure if it’s the computer environment, or the fact that I’ve been thinking about it for well over a year now (including at least two story rewrites), or what, but I like it. I feel like I’ve crafted a good solid story that fits in well with the rest of that world, and I’ve managed to create a real living, breathing town with interesting people who do interesting things and have interesting stories to tell and live. I haven’t written Baldur’s Gate 2 by any stretch of the imagination, but I like what I have.

More on this subject later, perhaps, and if you want maybe some screenshots.

I also have a photoset I want to post, which I promise you will recieve eventually. For serious.


Computer Games - Elder Scrolls Series, Dungeons and Dragons Comments (5) RSS Feed for this post
Comments on Nuts and Bolts
avatar Comment by Samson #1
March 4, 2008 at 9:38 pm

While I was never the avid fan you and your friends were, I did enjoy many of the D&D games that had been translated to computer platforms over the years. The old Gold Box games are still some of my favorites. Gygax will be missed by many.

I’m definitely looking forward to the new Weye mod when it gets to a point of being playable. The current one is already pretty good and you’re making it sound like the new one is going to be even better. So please, lets see some teaser shots :)

avatar Comment by Whir #2
March 8, 2008 at 12:36 am

I bet I beat it in under two hours. Oblivion is so wuss.

avatar Comment by Samson #3
March 9, 2008 at 12:10 pm

Where’s the fun in rushing to see how fast you can “beat” it?

avatar Comment by Weave #4
March 10, 2008 at 3:59 pm

You might like the Neverwinter Nights building tools. Haven’t done so much myself, but some really good servers came out of community development. Haven’t tried NWN2 either, so dont ask me how that is. But its kinda that jump from text based MMORPG to 3D of your own making.

avatar Comment by Dwip #5
March 10, 2008 at 5:20 pm

Short answer:

NWN2, and its tools, are essentially what NWN1 should have been in the first place, and are quite good, with a couple of exceptions, the main one being that NWN2 is. a. very. slow. game. to. run. That aside, it does have some advantages over Oblivion as a platform:

– Multiplayer, as in it has it and Oblivion does not. If you want it, this is the way to do it. Also in here is much better party AI and combat.

– Much better dialogue handling, which is to say that it handles PC/NPC interactions in a way that is much superior to Oblivion on any given level, and so far as I’ve used it seems to lack that whole bending spoons with your mind difficulty that is Oblivion dialogue.

– As a set of rules, D&D 3.5 is superior on some levels to Oblivion’s set, though to be fair as a game engine Morrowind is probably superior to both of them. In particular, NWN2/D&D integrate skills much better into the conversational roleplaying (by use of Diplomacy, Bluff, etc).

– It’s also built for do-it-yourself worldbuilding, which is a huge plus. To get that far in Oblivion, there’s a particularly stupid amount of scripting that you have to rip out and sometimes replace.

– It’s also built for ease of use, which is also quite nice.

On the other hand, Oblivion has its plus sides, too:

– Singleplayer. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.

– As an engine, the architecture of Oblivion is infinitely superior to NWN2, which is very very slow, offers very constrained camera angles (as opposed to Oblivion’s sweeping vistas), and fails to offer Oblivion’s free-ranging world. In particular, I find the way NWN modules work to be a fundamentally wrongheaded way to do business – it’s choppy, slow, and often very kludgy.

– As a set of worldbuilding tools, Oblivion happens to be manifestly better within a certain range, which happens to be wider than the range you get with NWN2 out of the box. With community content, all things are possible, but at the end of the day, whatever environments you build in Oblivion are going to look much better than whatever you’ve built in NWN2. As much as we all like to trumpet that gameplay is better than eye candy, let’s face it – sometimes the eye candy really is all that.

– So far as I can tell, Oblivion’s editor is much, much more powerful than NWN2’s, and in ways that are not nearly so kludgy. While the learning curve on either the Morrowind or Oblivion construction sets is intensely steep, once you figure it out, anything is possible.

—————-

At the end of the day, for all projects I’ve ever felt like doing, the advantages of the Morrowind/Oblivion editors have outweighed those of either NWN. In particular, while I would love some better dialogue tools, I would much rather have a free-ranging world/camera, and I would much rather have the greater numbers of environments.

And have I mentioned NWN2’s slow, chopped up world? It’s an annoyance.

Also I prefer SP to MP, and so I BUILD for SP, which makes Oblivion generally a better platform.

—————-

That having been said, I have been tempted towards NWN2 a couple of times. I have a D&D-themed world/plot that’s been floating around in my head for a few years now, that may make a better game than the pencil and paper world it is currently. I’ve been strongly tempted to try something, but I’ve always held off, suspecting that NWN2 may not be the right set of tools. We’ll see.

(yes, this really WAS the short answer. The long one generally takes me days of thought every time I have an idea.)