AFK_Weye Commentaries: Main Quest, Part 3
By Dwip April 6, 2019, 1:26 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

In this post, we’ll conclude our discussion of AFK_Weye’s main questline by talking about the final two quests, Property Rights and When You Wish Upon a Star, as well as the epilogue miniquest The Priory of St. Serranus.

Property Rights

Having sort of brushed the matter aside at the end of Death and Taxes, eventually it was going to come time to circle back to the idea that Maxentius Alosius was well-connected in the Imperial City. Having dealt with the Camonna Tong and enjoying a few days of peace and quiet, it should be pretty exciting to the player to suddenly have a squad of Imperial soldiers outside their door. If I’ve done my job correctly, this should be a giant oh shit moment that has the player wondering what’s going to happen when they pit themselves against the full might of the Imperial government.

I’ve always enjoyed this little play on the standard arrest dialogue. I’ve talked before about giving the player choices and trying to establish several different ways to go about solving a quest. Sometimes, though, you need to have that fight, and this is one of those times, hidden behind a bit of false choice. No matter what the player answers here, they’re going to fight it out with Aelius Sejanus and his guys. The difference is whether or not they’re going to do so in the middle of Weye or in some other location.

This is not necessarily the wisest decision for me to have made, for the simple reason that getting in a fight mid-Weye has an excellent potential for various random Weye NPCs to wind up dead, potentially breaking all sorts of things. Great idea, but I’ve always wondered how many people ended up breaking their games because of it.

Of course, that said Weye has a significant number of fairly high level individuals along with your own guards, so for those who had trouble fighting three combatants at once fighting in the streets offers the potential for some outside help.

Fortunately I think most players end up taking the go to jail option on the assumption that they’ll be able to work something out later. Of course that’s not going to happen, given that Aelius Sejanus will later turn out to be a charmed vampire thrall, but it’s not an unreasonable idea. I suppose had I thought of it at the time there could have been a third hidden way to solve the fight using charm magic to break the spell on Sejanus, but honestly I kind of like it better this way.

I talked earlier about my use of landmarks for various things, and one of the lesser thought about ones for using the standing stones is that they’re a whole lot easier to find in the Construction Set than some random cell, meaning that if I ever need to go edit something I’m looking for a standing stone and not some random tree or whatever.

Also it looks cool, so there’s that.

This part should feel sort of familiar.

Having decided to go after the player, it made immediate sense to me that Sejanus’ crew would also choose to go after Publius Candidus, who by his own admission provided legitimacy for the coup that killed Maxentius and installed the player in Weye Manor. So we get this short little combat where you and Publius can tag team a bunch of Legion guys in a straight up combat that only sometimes gets interrupted by one of Publius’ sheep eating a fireball.

Nobody ever accused sheep of being smart. That goes double for AI sheep.

I’ve talked about this before, but the decision on my part to make Publius team up with the player here introduces one of the biggest plot holes in the mod to my mind, which is if Publius comes with you now, and if he’s a total badass to boot, why didn’t he help you take down Maxentius and the gang back during Death and Taxes?

Originally, the idea was twofold. I wanted the player to have to do the Maxentius fight by themselves, a decision that I do not believe withstands even the slightest bit of daylight; and I wanted the idea behind Publius to be that he really is this old retired Legion guy who can barely lift a sword but is doing so out of duty’s sake, which is an idea that seems neat in theory but which I do not support in even the slightest way. As I said previously, I really should have just had him help you out with Maxentius, which would have totally fixed the problem.

Another thing I probably should have done, and this is the sort of thing I spent a lot of time nitpicking over during development, was to have Publius not start in his armor, and have him walk back inside to go put it on after fighting a bunch of Legion guys in farmhand clothes and a rake. I do it elsewhere, and it solves a lot of problems with his Legion gear just suddenly appearing. Somehow I don’t think I ever thought to do it, though, despite being annoyed by that very problem. Oh well.

I always thought about having some sort of longer questline with you and Publius and the Watch commander, but I never could figure out something that seemed cool enough to actually make into a quest, which is why this section of the quest is sort of abbreviated. Fight some guys, talk to a guy, go to the dungeon. Simple.

For those of you playing along at home, Giovanni Civello here isn’t the usual Watch commander – that’s Adamus Phillida, who has the unfortunate potential of dying during the Dark Brotherhood questline. You will no doubt be shocked to discover that my test character, whose name is Twitch and who was the main test character for every incarnation of AFK_Weye, has completed the Dark Brotherhood questline, so we get the backup guy.

As it turns out, I didn’t go far enough with backup guys here – it’s actually possible to kill both Adamus and Giovanni and be left with no Watch commander and no way to complete this quest. It’s only happened to a small number of players, but it is a legitimate issue that never got corrected because I never thought it could happen.

Quality control is really hard, you guys. It’s why I give Bethesda a lot of slack for bugs like this – it’s hard to think of every possible permutation of what the player might do.

One of the perennial problems with modding in new locations is that the architecture you have available to you doesn’t always fit the locale very well, which is why a lot of modders will stick a Cheydinhal house in Anvil or whatever. The Imperial City area is especially difficult for this because of the utter lack of freestanding IC buildings – it’s literally Umbacanno Manor and that’s it, which is why Weye Manor is so gigantic.

Adapting to and overcoming this problem was a major design goal for AFK_Weye from the very first, and a great deal of time and effort went into making AFK_Weye’s locations look like they could potentially be places Bethesda would have made. The reasons for this are simple – you as a modder are working within Bethesda’s world, and deviations from that make it easy to take the player out of the illusion that they’re really roaming around Cyrodiil every time they stop to wonder what that Cheydinhal house is doing nowhere near Cheydinhal.

Like I said, though, there’s not really a lot of complete Imperial City architecture, nor is there a lot to be done if you want a ruined, boarded up, abandoned house. You pretty much go straight to Benirus Manor in Anvil. Fortunately, Anvil architecture is at least somewhat like IC architecture, but what you see here was painstakingly hacked together with texture replacements inside Nifskope, well before I had any sort of modeling skill to make my own houses.

By the time I did, I looked at the existing house, looked at the amount of time and effort it was going to take me to make a whole new house, and kind of shrugged and said Eh, good enough, I think. It’s not perfect, especially on the inside, but man, houses take forever to make. I could make the house better or I could write a couple more quests, so I chose to write a couple more quests. I think I was correct in doing so, but every so often I look at Verres Manor and say You know…

Also, such is the crowded nature of the Imperial Isle that there’s an Oblivion Gate right next door to the manor, which has the potential for Publius to run off and banzai charge some daedra. Mudcrabs are another common threat.

I confess that I have never been entirely happy with the interior of Verres Manor. On the one hand, the dark and destroyed nature of the thing is really cool and atmospheric, and I really enjoy that part. On the other hand, I really wanted it to be something a lot more like what you’d get exploring a ruined building in Fallout 3 or a dungeon in Skyrim. This is the sort of place where you’d have vampires getting up off coffins or under beds or something, but of course we don’t yet have the technology for that. The idea behind the manor was to have a sort of running fight with vampires while you explored, and absolutely none of that came through.

I remain disappointed but I’m still not sure what I could have done about it – maybe a bunch of triggers to spawn vampires as you go room by room perhaps, but that feels a bit cheap.

I’m also not particularly pleased about where I hid the key to the catacombs, nor am I particularly pleased about the catacombs themselves – this is the most ripped straight out of Oblivion dungeon I’ve made, with very little that’s particularly special about it. If I had done this like I’d done Kerrach, for instance, there would be some sort of deeper use of environment – maybe a grotto attached to the catacombs, some sort of twisted vampire laboratory, something.

Or maybe that would detract from the pacing, where you really want to find Gaius Verres right now. I think I could have done more, however.

This cutscene and dialogue with Gaius Verres was one of the most complex parts of the entire mod, and easily one of the most problematic to make work correctly. Among other things:

  1. I had to redo the paralysis effect because the original way crashed the game;
  2. Gaius Verres could get stuck in place and never actually talk to the player;
  3. Even now it’s sometimes possible to get stuck in paralysis mode

That’s just the tip of a very deep iceberg. I didn’t make it particularly simple on myself by making two entry points to Verres’ chamber, one of which features stairs that it’s very easy for him to get tripped up on. I remember being very adamant about that design choice during development, but among other things I would change about the catacombs, I would definitely change this entire chamber around to make it easier.

Bugs and nitpicks aside, as the big villain reveal and emotional climax I think this mostly works out. I pretty much establish who Gaius Verres is, and it should be reasonably obvious that he’s the guy that’s been pulling strings this entire time, both Maxentius’, Aelius Sejanus’, and to a certain extent even the player’s. I’m sure I could tighten up some dialogue or do some things slightly more effectively, but I’ve always been very happy with this little reveal.

Too, while animation-wise I’d like to make Publius Candidus’ death a little more dramatic and a little less like people in the Matrix just slumping over dead, I’m overall pretty happy with killing him right here – of all the AFK_Weye NPCs, Publius is one of the ones the player has spent the most time with – he’s helped you out several times, and you should have a pretty good sense of who he is as a friend, father, and soldier.

So, like all (hopefully) good supporting character deaths, Publius’ should make the player anguished and angry, give them a sense of loss, and drive home a bit that Gaius Verres is the big bad villain of the mod who the player will want some revenge on. Whether or not my writing skills were up to the task I don’t know, but that’s the general idea.

In most stories, the writer is left with a certain dilemma – on the one hand, the villain needs to have certain elements of their story told in order to not just be a one dimensional murderpuppet. On the other hand, having the villain monologue his backstory to the captive audience is excruciatingly lame. So in a quest like this, it’s possible to leave some notes or something around to provide the player with that backstory without boring them with it or shoving it right in their face.

As far as that goes I’m fairly happy with how I solved it here – a series of notes that chronicle Gaius Verres’ tragic backstory and descent into madness and evil.

However, I’m not entirely sure that the best spot for them was in a dark corner where the player may or may not find them. I did my best to provide environmental cues, but I sort of wonder if, since I want to redesign the entire catacombs anyway, if maybe I shouldn’t make the portal room into a lab and put the notes there. A little more in your face, perhaps, but not painfully so.

This is not entirely the most elegant way to end this quest and transition to the next one, but I suppose it’s about as good as anything else. In the event, we’re well past the need for elaborate setup – the villain has made his escape, and it’s time to go chase him down and kill him. Good enough. Let’s go do the thing.

When You Wish Upon A Star

It seemed fairly obvious, having set up the various moving pieces of this puzzle, that Morrowind was necessarily going to feature in the endgame. And, having decided that, it seemed fairly obvious that I’d want to bring back the Camonna Tong, who if you’ve read Madron Orali’s journal you’ll know have somewhat similar goals to the player, or at the very least are doing a sort of enemy of my enemy thing. I’m not sure that any of this is a plot twist, per se, but once I got into actually plotting out AFK_Weye’s questline, I quickly came to the conclusion that I wanted to try something a little more circuitous and non-obvious than a single badguy you chase after for the whole thing. I like to think I’ve succeeded in that goal, and feedback I’ve had suggests that people really enjoy the twists and turns I took.

Nevos Urns here is actually a Morrowind NPC that I’ve repurposed to welcome the player to the neighborhood and deliver a bunch of exposition on Saint Dranas (who I invented), the Star of Suran (likewise), and why Gaius Verres is a bad bad dude for stealing it. In one possible path he will also serve as a final fight if the player decides to take the Star of Suran for themselves, and more on that later.

One of the biggest early technical challenges of AFK_Weye’s life was actually getting this Morrowind section to work correctly. I knew it could be done, and we’d all been to Oblivion realms and the painted world and other worldspaces by that point, but as it turned out early versions of the Construction Set made worldspace creation…tricky.

For instance, there was a bug where land collision didn’t work and you’d just fall through the world. Original versions of the land were actually made with giant rocks until I could finally figure out a way to make worldspace generation work, which took extra tools and some pain. Since nobody back in the wild days of 2007 knew much about worldspaces, the techniques used were somewhat primitive and wonky, meaning that even now AFK_Weye generates false cleaning reports when run through TES4Edit. Monumental pain in the ass, and given that level of pain I maybe should have done more with the concept, but here we are.

Like Verres Manor, the Tomb of Saint Dranas is not a particularly complex dungeon. Unlike the Manor, however, I don’t think the Tomb needs to be more complex than it is. There are no great twists left, no more backstory. You’re here to fight the villain, and while a winding cavern full of vampires you have to kill on the way to some summit battle would look cool, it’s not really necessary. You’re here for the boss fight. Let’s get on with it.

That said, I don’t think I ever truly elaborated on what Gaius Verres is truly doing here in the first place. At least in my head, it turned out to be necessary that he bring the Star of Suran back to the Tomb to do whatever ritual he needed to do, but I can’t recall as I ever explained that anywhere whatsoever, which is a mistake on my part. On the other hand, nobody ever called me on it, so I guess we can deal with minor plot holes.

This fight, among other things, is also the culmination of the Metal Box quest way back from Death and Taxes. Perceptive players will have killed the black robed courier you were supposed to have met back in Verres Manor, and actually delivering the box gives Gaius Verres a spell that makes him a significantly more dangerous opponent, which I would guess very few players ever picked up on. That’s fine.

While this quest of all the quests is about as straightforward as quests get, I did feel that a little bit of choice was warranted – do you put the Star back, or do you take it for yourself? Was everything you accomplished for noble and good ends, or were you in it purely for yourself?

On its own, I think the choice with the Star is fine, even pretty good. As a representative of a line of altruistic versus selfish choices, however, I’m less sold, and I’m not particularly sold on my ability to sell the more evil of those two lines, frankly because I’m really terrible at playing evil.

Here’s what I mean by that. In a game like Mass Effect with its paragon or renegade choices, or Baldur’s Gate (my actual inspiration) with its choices to give into your heritage of murder or not, the player is presented with a whole line of these sorts of choices, which builds a cohesive narrative about who the player character is. AFK_Weye offers no such narrative. You can’t choose to, say, kill Maxentius Alosius and then rule Weye in exactly the same fashion he did, which is something the sort of player who might take the Star of Suran would conceivably do. Your options to, say, extort money from people are pretty limited. Thus, there’s nothing really there to hang the choice to take the Star on, no cohesive narrative. It just sort of dangles out there in the wind based on my assumption that the player will basically choose to be a hero when presented with the opportunity.

Could have done more with that, I think.

Either way, I’ve always found returning the Star to the tomb and getting to talk to Saint Dranas was always a much more satisfying ending than cleaving your way through another pack of Camonna Tong guys. It’s a little gratifying to get to meet a saint and then to have your former enemies basically take a knee and tell you that you’re actually pretty awesome. Again, I could have done a lot more work to make the selfish ending work better, but I would hazard the guess that most of want to be the hero.

As a final coda to the whole adventure, I wanted to make it possible for players to talk to Publius Candidus’ loved ones, either Lucius Decimus or Julia, and for them to erect some sort of monument to the closest thing AFK_Weye has to a real companion to the player. He’s one of two AFK_Weye NPCs to get that treatment, the other one being Milos Dranilu if you tell Mireena about his death.

Poor Publius. I could have been nicer to him in life.

The Priory of St. Serranus

This little coda to the main questline came around when I started asking myself what to do with Verres Manor. After the end of When You Wish Upon a Star it just sort of sits there, and while you could go back and farm vampires there were probably better uses for it. So, in 2.0 I set about to fix that.

I’m not entirely sure how I came upon the idea of an order of monks dedicated to the forgiveness of sins. There were a number of pieces of fiction I was going through at about that time that might have provided the inspiration, of which Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books may have been the trigger. No man has walked so long in the Shadow that they cannot return to the Light sounds a whole lot like the ethos of Saint Serranus.

Either way, giving the manor over to some monks solved the problem nicely with a minimum of fuss, and it allowed me to play around with monk robes and the like.

Thematically, all of this allows the player to give some closure to Gaius Verres, who while a villain was a very tortured soul by his writings, as well as bring a bit of closure to their entire journey. Mechanically, it also allowed for a way for players to mess around with their infamy points, which was not something you could do. You could go the other way, but not this way, so I solved that little issue. Whether or not it was actually necessary I don’t know, but there it is.

As a final note on the monks, I always considered doing another little quest for them, but never came up with anything I liked, so here they remain, doing holy work in an unholy house.

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April 9, 2019 at 4:41 pm

[…] Part 1 History, Part 2 Main Quest, Part 1 Weye Manor Main Quest, Part 2 Main Quest, Part 3 Kerrach Side Quests […]

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