AFK_Weye Commentaries: Main Quest, Part 2
By Dwip April 5, 2019, 3:43 pm Comments (1) RSS Feed for this post

In this one, we’ll be continuing our examination of AFK_Weye’s main questline by discussing the middle two quests – Family Ties and All That Glitters. As always, spoilers and other such things abound.

Family Ties

As I’ve said previously, Death and Taxes was the first quest I wrote for AFK_Weye by a long margin – by months if not a year if my memory is to be believed. When I came back to the mod to actually make something of it, I knew I was going to have to expand the plot a little, as well as explain some of the backstory. Oh, and I guess maybe something about a maid for the maid’s quarters.

On the one hand, I’ve never been entirely sure that the whole note slipped under the door thing was entirely the best idea. At the time I wrote this originally, I didn’t yet have the skills to make the sort of activator mesh you’d need to stick a note actually on the front door (which I will do in much later side quests). Milos actually approaching you to give the quest if he’s alive was something I thought about but rejected for complexity, though now I sort of wonder if that wouldn’t be the best way. Do people just skip right over the note on the floor?

These are the sorts of things I worry greatly about.

In the event, I’m pretty happy with what this letter and its subsequent dialogue do – establish that there was intrigue in Maxentius’ entourage that you didn’t know about, and if Milos is still alive he’ll even give you a bit of backstory on he and his sister trying to get out of Morrowind.

Also, the Camonna Tong are kind of dicks.

As I said.

The choice of the Dranilu family and subsequently the Camonna Tong as antagonists was a pretty early choice for a few reasons – I like Morrowind tie-ins, and it allowed me to use lore from that game along with the odd location without having to invent a faction from whole cloth or use a faction from Cyrodiil that you’ve probably already done a billion quests for. Since feedback seems to be that people universally love the Morrowind callbacks, I think I made the right choice here.

As far as the Steed Stone goes, I wanted an outdoor combat arena that wasn’t likely to have a whole lot of NPC traffic or monsters, but was still a recognizable landmark. Thus, I use a lot of stones and wayshrines and things. I also wanted the ambush part of things; though suddenly loading two more combatants is kind of cheap of me. You can, if you’re particularly violent, simply murder Orvas Arethi there from range and he won’t spawn his helpers, which is a thing I did very often during testing when I’d already heard him curse out Milos a zillion times.

I talked a little bit about quest design in earlier entries, and I mention having the ability to dialogue your way out of things. I didn’t do that here, and I sort of wonder what that would have looked like – it could have possibly added more depth to the encounter, and seeing Orvas Arethi show up later would have been kind of interesting.

I also wonder if it wouldn’t have been interesting to bring Milos along as a companion, once I gained the skills to mod that sort of thing. I made a fairly conscious choice to not have him help overly much, since he’s very afraid of the Tong, but it might have been an interesting Speechcraft challenge. Oh well.

There are a couple of ways the conversation with Mireena can go depending on whether or not Milos survived Death and Taxes or not. The way where Milos lives and she joins your service out of gratitude is pretty natural, but the way most people probably saw where she sort of forgives you for killing him and joins up anyway never quite felt right. It’s a problem I was never quite able to write myself out of, and I’m still not sure I have a good solution even years later.

One of the things I got in the habit of doing with travelling NPCs going to and from Weye is to have them run away from the player for a certain radius, then just teleport out. Doing that solved a couple of problems, in that it was entirely possible for the player to fast travel to Weye faster than the NPC could run there, which in this case would have left the player not even knowing that Mireena was supposed to be standing around waiting for them.

That said, it was not without the odd downside from time to time in testing.

Poor Mireena. There are certain ways to script paralyze and then script move NPCs that somehow collapses them into some hideous mockery that you cannot then get your way out of. That’s what happened to Mireena here, and it took me a while to figure out a reasonable way out of the situation. Oblivion scripting is filled with weird little edge cases like this, where something that seems easy enough turns into a series of hackish kludges and workarounds. You grow to love it after a while. It’s one of those things.

Or maybe it’s just Stockholm syndrome.

I’ve always found it slightly odd that I just sort of make Mireena the maid without much player input, unlike every other time you can actually decline people’s quests and such. I even make a joke about it in the journal text. Of course, sending Mireena away pretty much derails the entire rest of the questline, but the principle of the thing and all.

In the event, Mireena does a couple of things the Skingrad maid does – provide food and drink (with a bit of Morrowind flavor), but she also does something else, which is turn the lights on and off. I talk about this more in the manor discussion, but I always thought it would be neat to have the lights turn on and off automatically. So I scripted in some things to make it look like Mireena turned the lights on and off, then gave her some functionality to make it player controllable. Took maybe an afternoon, and I’ve always enjoyed the results.

Mireena isn’t the only new addition. Maliq serves a bunch of purposes for Weye. On the one hand, he’s a solution to the problem of how to add a town blacksmith without having the room to put a smithy in. He’s also there because khajiit humor amuses me greatly. He’s also there as a subtle illustration of Cyrodiil’s class differences – notice that almost all the lower class people in Weye are non-human/non-mer with the exception of Hagal and Yrsa? I don’t much call it out here, but I wanted to get away from the happy fluffy Cyrodiil thing and bring back some of Morrowind’s bleaker outlook. I’ll get a bit more explicit about that, and do a bit of social commentary later.

In any event, with Mireena safely at the manor, let’s move on to

All That Glitters

All That Glitters is a complicated quest that’s doing a whole lot of heavy lifting. In previous installments, I’d set up a number of moving pieces – the Camonna Tong, hidden areas of the manor, the Dranilu siblings, Maxentius’ goals – and it was time to start paying some of those off. By the time the quest is over, all of those are mostly dealt with and the player might even think that’s it for the questline.

It’s worth pointing out somewhere in here that this is where I really started getting serious about AFK_Weye’s main quest arc. I’d never written anything particularly narratively complex before, and much of this is me attempting to see if I could pull it off – depending on how you want to count it, there are at least three antagonists in AFK_Weye (Maxentius, the Camonna Tong, Gaius Verres) and several other factions (the player, the Dranilus, the government, the people of Weye, just to name a few), and weaving all of them together was quite a challenge (and a whole lot of fun). If I managed things correctly, every quest should be filled with surprises for the player as they find new things and discover new and exciting new plot elements.

Hopefully I pulled it off. For the most part, I’m pretty happy with AFK_Weye’s main quest and think its writing is one of the high points of the mod.

By this point, what’s behind that cabinet in the basement will have hopefully been bothering the player for a while. I suppose it obviously had to be a secret passage, but to what? We’ll find out.

A couple of random notes. First, I’m not quite sure I really needed to put that arrow trap in like that. There was probably a better way, and I’ve always felt bad about this one. On a larger note, I’m not really happy with a good portion of my traps in AFK_Weye, many of them in this quest. A lot of that has to do with how Oblivion traps were handled in general, but there are places where I probably could have added cutoff switches and things and just didn’t. Live and learn I guess.

Also, for as generally successful as I was with kitbashing together various tilesets, making the prison set work correctly was a slightly painful experience.

Things that should not be a reveal by this point: Maxentius was not altogether Lawful Good on the alignment chart.

I’ve never been entirely happy with this little dungeon area for a few reasons. Firstly, as I just alluded to above, while a cool tileset, it was extremely awkward and annoying to work with, with very limited combinations, forcing me to make the best of a number of bad situations. Most of my memories of working down here are of being frustrated.

Second, I could have done a bit more with what I did have. I’m not sure the undead really added anything to the atmosphere other than a generic enemy or two to murder. Which is fair enough, but what if Maxentius’ torture dungeon was down here, or what if he had some other captive that had starved to death because you didn’t know to rescue them? What if Maxentius had a journal or something?

The point I think I’m getting at here is that despite the massive amount of overthinking that went into every single quest stage of AFK_Weye, sometimes you don’t overthink enough. You think to yourself Hey self, let’s use that dungeon tileset nobody ever uses for anything! Yeah, sounds cool self! And then you never quite follow up. Such is life.

I admit it, about half the reason I wanted to use the dungeon tileset was to use the player’s cell from the beginning of the game because I thought it was a cool piece that never got the time it deserved.

That said, I’ve never quite been sure if I relied on the player’s familiarity with that trick a little too much here. Is that dropped torch enough hint? I’m not sure, and in any event I think me questioning that has a lot more to do with my general feeling that I could have done something far more interesting with this little section of the manor.

Setting up that red glow from the storm atronach room down the tunnel remains one of my better bits of lighting, however. I haven’t talked about it very much, but lighting in Oblivion is really hard, and I spent a frankly absurd amount of time trying to get it correct.

And now we have the central MacGuffin of the whole questline, though the player may not yet realize it just yet.

Attacking the player with Tong thugs straight off the mark might have been a touch inelegant of me, and were I to do things over I might drag things out a bit more, but that’s mostly just me nitpicking – this bit works ok.

That said, this is one of the places in the mod that really suffers from some of the things I never got around to adding. Mireena was never supposed to be this much of a damsel in distress, and I wanted there to be a lot more strong female characterization in the mod, and then that never quite happened. That bugs me a lot more than it probably ought to – nobody’s ever actually called me on it or anything.

And then there’s Madron Orali…

There’s a lot going on here with the search for Madron Orali.

For one, I needed a big bad for this section of the arc, which is fairly self explanatory. It also became pretty obvious early on that exploiting the already existing connections between the Orum gang and the Camonna Tong would be the best way forward and the path of least resistance. It also allowed me to further tie into existing storylines within Cheydinhal about that very sort of thing – the guards will actually give you different dialogue depending on how you complete Corruption and Conscience.

One of the things I was always trying to do with AFK_Weye was to play around with existing quest structures and tropes, in this case asking around town about some person. That’s usually a minor stop on most quests, but I wanted to make it a major thing here, heightening the idea that Madron Orali is a bad dude and that Cheydinhal is very much a mob town where very few people are inclined to trust you. From the feedback I’ve gotten, this part worked pretty well.

The part that doesn’t necessarily work like I’d like it to is the Savesh Arem and Walker Camp bit. It’s a cool idea – stealthily follow this courier from the contact back to their hidden lair where you unravel the mystery. Indeed, in original versions of this quest that’s exactly what you had to do – follow Savesh Arem all the way back to Walker Camp and puzzle things out. Unfortunately, there are a couple of really big problems with it:

First and foremost, Walker Camp is like, way the hell over there. Given Oblivion AI, that’s a whole bunch of opportunities for something to go totally sideways. Savesh takes his damn sweet time. Savesh fights like, 500 mountain lions. Savesh falls off a mountain. Whatever the possible cause for Savesh not showing up, I’ve probably seen it. And that’s not really optimal.

Second, and this is all my fault, having the quest critical NPC only show up for part of a single day probably wasn’t the best possible design decision, because who wants to stand around in Borba’s shop for a whole week waiting on some guy? I could have probably handled this a lot better right out the gate by having him show up way more often.

Instead, what I actually did was just have Borba tell you all about Walker Camp, and you can chase Savesh Arem around if you want, but it’s no longer necessary. That takes quite a bit of the fun out of things, but also lets people actually finish the quest. As the great Kalten once said, it’s a shame that so many great ideas have to be abandoned simply because they won’t work.

Now, as it happens, there are still a number of ways to go with good old Savesh. You can still follow him, and he’ll lead you everywhere he’s supposed to, or if you’re a bit too obvious about your intentions he’ll try to kill you, but overall moving the critical quest stuff to notes was a better idea.

One of the things I tried to do with AFK_Weye was limit its impact on Oblivion’s aboveground map. That sounds a little silly in light of a mod that messes with one of the most popular areas of the map, plus Anvil, the Imperial Isle, and the Cheydinhal area, but a lot of thought went into limiting things I might need to patch. Which is why I’m sitting here adding a piece on to Kingscrest Cavern instead of just making my own dungeon somewhere.

What I didn’t really expect was that my not incredibly well-hidden switch for the hidden wall would confound quite so many people. This isn’t the best hidden switch in this dungeon, but I’ve watched more than one person clear all of Kingscrest Cavern before accidentally finding it. Maybe could have done this better.

This is the best hidden switch in the dungeon, indeed in the whole mod. I’ve had more questions about this switch than probably anything that isn’t that runestone puzzle in Kerrach. This too was not necessarily by design. The whole goal of the first bit of the smuggler’s cavern was to have a false door that dropped rocks on you coupled with a slightly better hidden switch to open the real rock door. It’s not that big of an area. How hard could it be?

Apparently pretty hard, as it turns out. Sometimes it’s easy to be too clever for your own good. Always with the little things, too. Attention to detail turns out to matter.

I’ve talked before and will talk again at some length about trying to do different things outside the norm for Oblivion dungeons. Stick a Bravil house inside a cave for some extra flavor? Why not? Originally it was a Bravil house outside on a lake in the middle of nowhere, but it quickly became apparent that this way was better.

This whole area, of course, is meant to evoke a whole host of dungeons from Morrowind where you bust the door down and kill a bunch of slavers and rescue some slaves, which is basically why Ajee-Ma exists. I always really liked that about Morrowind, and like so many things about that game wanted to bring it back in some form.

A funny thing about me is that I’m on record, and was on record at the time I wrote AFK_Weye, as saying that I didn’t much like boss fights. Despite that, I spent a lot of time working on boss fights for AFK_Weye, of which Madron Orali is a particularly nasty one for the unprepared, with his chameleon and paralysis.

Here’s the thing about boss fights, though. I’m opposed to boss fights with gimmicks. You know what I’m talking about – the sort where you have to do a sequence of things you wouldn’t normally do just to defeat a boss. Flip three switches to lower the defenses, use the One True Weapon in the precise combination, that sort of thing. It’s very hard, unless you’re Valve, to write that sort of fight in a way which doesn’t leave the player frustrated. Moreover, I don’t much like things that don’t obey the normal rules of the universe without some good explanation.

Madron Orali here isn’t cheating the player. He obeys all the normal rules. He’s just got a couple of extra tricks up his sleeve. That’s always seemed fair to me. At least as fair as an enclosed arena with an enemy with chameleon and paralyze can be, anyway.

As an aside, there’s an arrow floating in this screenshot. That arrow is always there. I’ve never been able to figure out what its deal is, but it’s always there. No idea.

Something I tried very hard to do with AFK_Weye’s various antagonists was to humanize them and given them understandable motives for acting in the ways that they do. Madron Orali’s journal is meant to do that for the Camonna Tong. On the one hand, these are some bad dudes. Skooma dealers, slavers, and what are pretty much Dunmer Neo-Nazis. It’s pretty strongly implied that Mireena was physically and/or sexually assaulted by the Tong, to say nothing of what Milos went through. These are not guys with whom a person with normal morals might be generally sympathetic.

That said, some other dude did sort of steal a holy Dunmer artifact, and wanting to get it back is a fairly understandable, sympathetic, and even laudable goal. I find that sort of moral grey area to be very interesting.

Part of All That Glitters is a sort of unmarked little side quest where the player can choose to recruit some guards for the manor, which begins upon talking to Thalonias after defeating the Camonna Tong thugs inside. This sort of made it here for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because there just physically wasn’t enough room in the manor until this very moment, nor was there an obvious need.

That said, there are a couple of little details that trouble me. This is not the most elegant intro, and maybe I should have just had Thalonias send a note or have Mireena say something.

The other bit has to do with Milos here. It somehow made sense at the time to have Milos not ever really join up with the player despite several obvious opportunities to do so, whereupon after all the Tong guys are dealt with he suddenly changes his tune. The obvious inference was that he was too scared of the Tong to really help you out, but on further thought I’m not really sure it holds up – they already want him dead, so why not work with the player? I think there’s a very interesting case to be made to have Milos join the player either during Family Ties to rescue Mireena or during All That Glitters to track down Madron Orali.

One of the big reasons none of that happened, it should be noted, is that it’s literally right this moment when I first figured out how to actually make NPC followers, and it just never really occurred to me to make it happen. That’s part of the problem with learning new tricks as you go along, I suppose.

Speaking of tricks, Milos disappearing there is one of mine. There are actually three different versions of Milos Dranilu with different stats and inventory and such – his incarnation as a guard for Maxentius Alosius, a second for when he’s just bumming around town, and a third for when he joins you as a guard. To switch off between the three I give him some AI to jump down into that cellar and load up a newer version.

Said cellar, by the by, is my answer to the problem of what to do with adding so many new NPCs and not having nearly enough space for beds. Add a cellar and stick some more rooms down there. Not elegant, but it works.

The last thing to be said about Milos is that he is the one manor guard who can actually die permanently, which I’m not sure is the best thing I could have done. It adds a grave for him in the garden and gives Mireena some things to say, but I think there’s a pretty strong case to be made that Milos is actually one of the central characters of AFK_Weye, around whom much revolves, and that I would have been well served fleshing out his redemptive arc with the player better.

In my defense, keeping him alive past Death and Taxes was never supposed to be anything other than an easter egg that grew well out of proportion as time went on.

One final thing on All That Glitters. Redecorating for the guards was an interesting challenge. I’m not sure it ever quite works given the cramped quarters, my hackish attempt at bunk beds, and Oblivion AI being what it is, but it’s a neat and cozy little area that polishes off some of the rough areas Maxentius left for the player.

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April 9, 2019 at 5:01 pm

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