AFK_Weye Commentaries: Weye Manor
By Dwip April 4, 2019, 4:17 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

For this post, I’m going to talk about the second quest in the main AFK_Weye questline, Weye Manor. Since that quest isn’t really much of a quest, the bulk of what I actually want to discuss are the design issues surrounding player houses, and why I made a lot of the design decisions I ended up making over the course of AFK_Weye’s development, and some of the major changes I ended up going through.

At the end of Death and Taxes, Publius Candidus rather cryptically tells the player to go talk to Lucius Decimus, who thanks them on behalf of the entire town, gives up the manor keys, and tells the player to talk to Thalonias, who offers to sell the player house upgrades.

I was trying to do a number of things here. First, set up the player as the sort of unofficial town mayor with Lucius as #2. Second, I needed to set up Thalonias as being the guy to sell upgrades, which was supposed to be the primary way to ration new NPCs and quests to the player – Family Ties via the servant’s quarters upgrade, The Fastest Blade in the West (and ultimately Orlando) from the training area upgrade, and Maeron after purchasing the garden upgrade.

While more or less functional, I’m not wholly satisfied with any of this. As an epilogue to Death and Taxes, the Publius->Lucius->Thalonias progression is kind of a lot of running around for the player to do just to talk to people, and none of these people are Hagal and Yrsa, the actual questgivers and beneficiaries of the player’s effort. In fact, both of them pretty much fade into the background after the quest, which does not seem like a storytelling success on my part.

Too, I never quite followed through on the idea of player as mayor very well. While NPCs are relatively deferential to the player, and quests open up to go and do, not very many of them are particularly related to the player being in charge of Weye. I attempted to address some of this in AFK_Weye 2.x, but I don’t know that it comes through to the player very well.

Were I to do things over again, I suspect that I would attempt to do some sort of ceremony once the player kills Maxentius Alosius, thanking them for rescuing Weye from its oppressive overlord. Lucius gives you a speech, hands over the keys, townspeople cheer, and all that. Unfortunately, the awkward transition between Death and Taxes and Weye Manor was one of those artifacts of the very earliest versions of AFK_Weye that just never got fixed up for 2.0. Evolutionary quest design has its benefits, but the drawbacks are quirky little sections like this that don’t quite work out how they should.

Now, as to the idea of Thalonias selling upgrades to the manor, that’s an idea that seemed very logical at the time that I don’t think entirely works in light of later experience. It was a decision I made very early in the design process for AFK_Weye, probably sometime in 2006 or 2007, both because I needed a way to ration out quests to keep the player coming back to Weye, and because I thought the upgrades ought to have some consequence beyond a bit of domicile cosmetics. Tying everything to a system that was half purchased upgrades and half quest upgrades seemed like a nice cross between Oblivion’s house system and Morrowind’s house system, and for the most part I think it works well enough, but it has a couple of fairly glaring issues to my mind.

The smaller of the two is that actually rationing the quests correctly took a whole lot of behind the scenes work to avoid spamming the player if they were rich enough to afford several upgrades at a time. At one point, it was possible to show up to your house to find Maeron, Orlando, and multiple other NPCs all standing around waiting to talk to you. The amount of work I had to do to even that out tells me I maybe should have found a slightly better system.

More importantly, the idea of a gutted manor that you have to rebuild just isn’t sold very well on my part. There are a couple of throwaway lines about how everything was damaged in some sort of fire that took place during your fight with Max. Only, no fire ever appeared, nobody in the house except possibly the player is using anything related to fire, and it’s pretty improbable that any such fire would damage all the furnishings in the manor beyond repair. I’ve never found it a particularly credible handwave, but never really took the trouble to fix it because there was always some more pressing issue to be dealt with. While all of the reasons the fire got instituted were sound, I ultimately think I should have found a better way.

Furnishing a House

Since the beginning of AFK_Weye, the manor was meant to be one of the central pillars of the mod. It began out of dissatisfaction with all of the existing player homes – places I thought were cool, but could have been way cooler with a little effort. In particular, I really liked what Rosethorn Hall in Skingrad brought to the table, but there were several things I wanted besides:

  1. A servant that was an actual character;
  2. Various things useful to adventurers, like training areas and alchemy gear;
  3. Display cases. I love displaying my stuff.

The first I solved by inventing the character of Mireena Dranilu, who I will talk about in slightly more depth later. As time went on I also wanted to expand the population in the house, which is where Maeron, Orlando, Macrinus, and others came from. In fact, things ultimately got a little out of hand from what I originally intended, but that’s feature creep for you.

Rather than go room by room through the rest, I’ll cover a few major points in turn.

The alchemy room was always something I wanted to include, especially after seeing the one in Frostcrag, but I could never figure out a spot to put it. After some aborted attempts to put something in the master bedroom, I belatedly realized I could make the basement as big as I wanted. Sometimes I’m really not as smart as I think I am.

Of note, that shelf of alchemy jars is one of my more complex Blender creations, and one of the ones I’m most proud of. It, and this room in particular, really came alive once people started clamoring for a COBL version. Doing that version was a real pain, involving some weird .esp merging and scripting, but I think it was worth it in the end.

My original vision for the entry hall of the manor was about like this. Who wouldn’t want a great big room full of display cases to show off all their cool loot? I’d been doing so every chance I’d had since Morrowind, and this room was one of the primary reasons I made the manor in the first place.

Thus, I was more than a little surprised when one of the very first feature requests I started getting was for some sort of more traditional furnishings for the main room. It took a while, but I ultimately figured something out.

With the benefit of hindsight I’m not entirely happy with either room or the way I implemented the choice between the two – a hackish bit of dialogue with Thalonias that could be skipped and probably didn’t make a lot of sense. Moreover, display cases in Oblivion were a mess, with tons of physics issues, and Oblivion never quite got a good way to add weapon racks and mannequins, which I had modded in for Morrowind and desperately missed here. In a more perfect world, I probably would have combined and redesigned this area heavily. The only problem is that that perfect world wouldn’t arrive until Skyrim’s Hearthfire DLC, which did a lot of the things I wanted to do here better, 2 years after I did them. Oh well.

I always knew I wanted a library in the house. After all, the bulk of AFK_Weye was written while I was in school to become a librarian. It’s what we do. I always wanted somewhere to store all the skill books and unique books I picked up, so why not add some shelves. What I wasn’t really prepared for was the utter pain of adding shelf after shelf of book clutter. There are a lot of books in the Elder Scrolls games, but it turns out to be not enough at the end of the day. Also, moving each book individually in the Construction Set is extremely onerous and time consuming.

This is another one of those things that Skyrim would eventually solve fantastically a few years later.

I’m showing you the dining room to make this point: one of the themes of AFK_Weye such as they are is the growth of communities, and I think one of the more satisfying things that can be done with the manor is to grow it from an empty home with just you to a little community of its own in parallel with the one you should be growing in Weye itself. I’ve always gotten a kick out of coming home to watch my people sharing a meal, and from the feedback I’ve gotten, I think a lot of other people appreciate it too.

We’ll talk about this door more later, but one of the things I always wanted to do with the manor was establish the idea that this was a place with secrets that you might reveal more of over time. Thus a door that remains unopenable until halfway through the main questline.

One of the things that always annoyed me about player homes is that the lights never went out. Initially I solved this by way of some scripting, but it occurred to me at one point – why not have the maid do it? So I added some AI and scripting to Mireena to make her turn the lights out at night. It’s a small little touch, but I’ve always been really happy with it.

Another pet peeve of mine was the lack of a fireplace for IC houses. How do these people keep warm, for the love of the Nine? It took kitbashing a modder’s resource to do it, but I worked out some fireplaces and then made it so you could turn them on and off. Again, one of those little details I’ve always been very happy with, and that I think always set Weye Manor apart from the rest a little. The only bit I don’t like is that intense glow, but Oblivion’s lighting system was never particularly wonderful. You go to mod with the game you have, not the game you wish you had.

Another little detail note came about when (I think Arthmoor) discovered a neat way to make use of the zillion screenshots we’d all been taking of the amazing scenery Oblivion had to offer – make paintings out of them and stick them in your houses. So all the paintings in Weye Manor are custom based off of various screenshots I’d taken while playing. One of them even has an easter egg from testing if you activate the right one.

So, Maeron (and Orlando) came about as part of an effort to attach rewards and quests and such to the various manor furnishings so that you never knew when you were purchasing something if it was just a room or an adventure. For the most part, I still think it was a pretty good system for doing things – there was always something new to look forward to, it let me ration out the NPCs and quests a bit, and it let me grow the manor staff in a fairly organic fashion.

As to the garden Maeron’s attached to, well…

This is what the original garden looked like. I’d always known I wanted a garden, and the large open area behind the manor gave me a chance to do something. This is what I came up with. It was quite an achievement at the time, and put to the test all my modding skills at the time I put it in. And it’s…ok. It worked. But by the time I was writing AFK_Weye 2.0, I knew for a fact that I could do a better job.

And so I did. I’m deeply proud of this garden – it’s my favorite place in the manor, and I’ve spent far more time than I should admit bunny hopping through it with a giant goofy grin on my face. There are certain times that we create a thing and it’s as good or better than the thing we originally saw in our mind, and this is one of those times for me. I love it, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to recapture it in other projects. There’s a lot about Oblivion that looks dated in this modern age, but this garden will always be magical to me.

It also let me add a little roleplaying moment where you can choose to let the people of Weye wander around and enjoy it or keep it for yourself. It’s not a big thing, but I thought little touches like that really added something to the experience.

The Fastest Blade in the West

Come to find out I’m a really big fan of Highlander. Who knew.

This is kind of a weird quest – a bunch of cool ideas that, at least for me, never quite coalesced into a smooth whole, and Orlando himself offers some hints at something larger that just never quite happened. Let me explain.

The line of thinking that went into this quest went about like this:

Well, I’m going to put in a trainer. It would be pretty cool of you had to duel him to pick him up, right? Yeah! And let’s do it on the bridge to the Imperial City! That would look sick!

And that’s a pretty cool idea and a pretty cool locale, with a couple of problems. First, I never actually block off the bridge at all, so if there are bystanders to that duel, well, hope you don’t hit one I guess? Second, like every other combat in Oblivion, the whole thing devolves into a long dragged out fight where you kite Orlando across the bridge until he falls over and hopefully doesn’t die or drop his sword off the bridge or a few other things – Fighting NPCs to yield in Oblivion got a little weird and a lot of scripting went into that sequence. I’ve always thought I could do slightly better, but never quite figured out how.

Either way, the Orlando that you see is actually only a fraction of what I had planned for the character. His and Mireena’s dialogue about each other was supposed to turn into a Cyrando de Bergerac-esque quest where Orlando attempts to proclaim his (rather boorish) love but needs the PC’s help to woo the fair maiden. That fell apart because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to write it engagingly – great idea, never figured out the execution. That, in turn, was supposed to spark a quest where Orlando gets kidnapped by his family back in Hammerfell and the PC and Mireena would have to go rescue him, which would have given both characters some pretty cool development and something resembling an arc.

Unfortunately all of that fell apart because by the time I got around to writing it, I was utterly burnt out from the ludicrous hours I had put into the mod already. I still love the idea, though, and always wish I had done something with it – I think both Orlando and Mireena would have greatly benefitted.

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April 8, 2019 at 8:48 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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