Monday, June 01, 2009

The project that never was...

...has rightly been put out of its misery. Yep, this is the project-that-I-didn't-want-to-admit-I-was-working-on-because-it-was-unlikely-to-go-anywhere-but-really-was-working-on-regardless-and-making-the-same-overambitious-mistakes-all-over-again. I might make parts of it available on the vault - we'll see. Beginning to think it must be a conditioned behavioural response amongst modders - that's it's impossible to make a short, simple mod. I know that there are plenty of short simple mods out there, but I'm talking about proper modules rather than someones dabbling with the toolset. It does make me wonder
  1. if we modders are partly to blame for how the NWN2 community developed
  2. if the same mistakes are going to be repeated with Dragon Age

We all know the reason that's rolled out every time someone asks why so few modules for NWN2 are out there is the longer development time in NWN2 and the increased complexity of the toolset. But rather than tackling these problems, are modders acknowledging their presence then just carrying on regardless? How long have some projects been in development now, and how many of the players that we sought to cater to have long since gone?DA is only going to make things more complicated and involved from what I can tell...

Back on track, the main reason I've abandoned the-project-that-never-was is to help out with the writing on BouncyRock's Shattered Dreams. There's some interesting ideas in this and it's a different setting to writing in which is proving a fresh challenge. You'll have seen some of the development reported on Elysius' blog to give a hint of the effort going into this project.

So in case you thought this blog was going to turn into me sharing my holiday snaps and poorly-formed opinions on things, rather than anything related to building for the NWN2 community... afraid you ain't gotten rid of me that easily.


Amraphael said...

Great news Wyrin! On question 1&2 I answer Yes on both. Hope you got time to try out Zork a little bit even if you will have your hands full. // this poorly written message was produced on my iPhone//

Wyrin said...

Hi Amraphael!
Hehe I wasn't looking to point any fingers with the long developmnent comments!
I've got next weekend scheduled to try and have another go at Zork unless you've launched by then. I spotted so little wrong last time I'm not anticipating much more

Jclef said...

1. Perhaps... but remember, the engine itself drove a lot of people away, initially. Not the fact that there's not enough modules to play.

I also believe the new exterior area creation method drove a lot of modders away, resulting in lower vault counts. It really does take a huge amount of time to create something decent. And if one doesn't find the process fun, the player will notice.

2. Hopefully we've learned our lesson with NWN2, and won't repeat this. Going forward, teams will be the order of the day. As these toolsets become more complicated and give more power to the developers, it will force us to function much like a real game company would.

Developing a proper module for NWN2 is a balancing act of ideas, time and technicalities. You need to know what the engine can handle, what ideas are too much to nurture and how much time you actually have available to embark on a project.

If you can't get these straight beforehand, you'll wind up in one of three positions: dumping the project, dumping your life for the project, or be stuck in weekend development cycles until nobody cares you've released the module but your wife and/or mother (and even then, they're just happy to finally hear the end of it hahahaha... haha ... *sob*)


Anonymous said...

Jclef hit it on the head. Game development costs are rising at a rate faster than movies(iirc my pop-stastics), and the reason is due to the development of art instances within a game. It isn't a coincidence that NWN2, which can make design comparable to 'real games', should be difficult to work in. Area design is the number one thing which drove people from the game(hell, it drove me from it for over a year).

And teams are the order of the day already, I think(unless you're crazy like me). I'm pretty sure DA is even harder to mod for, and it's only the start--I think--of the direction PC games will be going. Only time will tell.

tybae said...

I also agree with Jclef. I gave up on building in NWN 2 when it took me all day to build 2 average size exterior areas. That really turned me off. In NWN1, it rarely takes me 30 minutes to build a huge area. I don't have the time to sit around and spend 1 day on 2 areas. Almost makes me want to make the entire module interior areas.

Word is that DA:O will have similar area building. It sounds like painting and placeables will be the way of things in DA:O as well, which means that it's going to take me way too long to build a module in DA:O as well.

In NWN1, I'm used to scripting taking the most time, but with NWN2, it seems that they are equally long to do. I miss tilesets for everything. :(

Jclef said...

The beefed-up tools caught a lot of people off guard. You know the old saying? "You can't manage what you can't measure". Static-burn was destined to occur for some projects!

A lot of modders didn't realize that teams were the way to go when the game first came out. It seems they have definitely become the necessary vehicle of development these days, but this is occurring rather late in the game's life. The only team I can think of who began developing right after release was Rogue Dao.

When DA is released, these teams which have formed under the NWN2 banner can begin with new DA projects from release and hopefully produce quality content for the community at an earlier stage in the game's life.

Wyrin said...

I guess that's the crux of what I'm wondering - did we / the modders fully heed our own advice well enough. Not just teams but use of prefabs etc. Isbthe message about teams enough - you mention rogue dao nut they haven't released act one of three, three years in to the life of the game. I think your right there's a lesson that also needs to be learned - that the hobby needs to be handled much more like a proper business to actually deliver. Is that a good thing?

Ps your weekend comment is scarily accurate!

Wyrin said...

Not to say rogue dao didn't plan professionally of course...

Anonymous said...

Here my thoughts on it, We are currently beginning our own project. We immediately realized that 3 of us was no where near enough for the magnitude of what we are wanting to do. After revisiting our game plan we decided to release "regions" of our world so that we could get the product out to others sooner. This is only a partial answer to this huge planet/wall we are running into, the other aspects are man power and knowledge base. From my PM experience I realize this is a 10 to 15 person project. Also the learning curve is "up there" for core members, not only do you need to know the tool set, you need to know how to model, and code. Granted this could look very daunting. I say we learn from our misunderstanding of the huge tasks and move on, one very good way to help solve this is to jump in like you have Wyrin and help others complete a small portion or a large one depending upon your skill levels. So to practice What I am preaching, even though I have a project going I plan to help Slowdive get his 1st chapter done. So NWN2 lurkers out there! Jump on and help where you can :) See ya around,


Tybae said...

I think it's a good and bad thing at the same time. It's a good thing that typically teams produce more polished work than solo ventures, on average. It's a bad thing that teams have a tendancy to have 1, or more, members that drop off the project making the project take more time. It's kind of a catch 22.

Prefab areas help immensely, but the problem with those is that you can have a bunch of modules using the same prefabs making them look and/or feel the same. Personally, I don't like using prefabs as I get much more gratification by doing things myself, but the flip side is that it takes so long to build exterior areas that it becomes too time consuming and projects just take too long.

I think there's a bigger problem here in that since some modules take so long to produce that it can exceed the life of the game itself. Say you start building an extensive module that takes 2-3 years to build. If the game loses interest publicly by the time that the module is released, it seems like a whole lot of work down the drain.

I think NWN1 has had so much life to it because of the ease of building and the fan base of the game. People still are building new modules for NWN1 and plan to for many years to come. For me, NWN2 becomes so tedious to build in that I lose interest really fast. I assume that I'm not the only one who feels that way. :/

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

I think I will always be releasing my mod(s) towards the end of (or possibly even past) the major life-cycle of the product. :( As Tybae said, I also prefer to make my own areas rather than rely on prefabs that may have done the rounds. However, doing so adds a huge amount of time.

I think the key to any venture of this sort is probably three-fold:

1) You have to want to do it no matter how long it takes.

2) You have to be prepared to learn how to use the toolset adequately.

3) You have to have at least one player who is looking forward to playing your module as much as you want to make it.

Fortunately, I still have a player from PnP days who patiently waits for my module to continue playing the campaign which we started many years ago. I just hoped that there would be some others around by the time I finish it who will also want to play it. ;)

That all said, I do miss out on the fact that my artist skills do not help me a great deal when designing outdoor areas. ;)


E.C.Patterson said...

Glad to hear about your involvement in SD Wyrin! That’s great news.

Here are some random thoughts on the other topic:

1) The toolset (its complexity, its stability) is a barrier to starting a project for real : the learning-curve is steep. But, except for area building, it’s not much more complex than NWN1’s. In fact, my understanding is it’s better designed (e.g. access to multiple windows concurrently).
2) However, once one is familiar with the TS and its quirks (NWN1’s must have had its own…), it, the toolset, is no longer by itself a barrier to completing a project. The complexity and scope of the project is, just as it must always have been.
3) My guess is that NWN1 quality areas can be designed in NWN2 in more or less the same time as in NWN1: two-three textures, one pass of the flatten tool for “hills”, tree cards around the area and a few trees and stones here and there, a bit of grass… So: don’t blame the toolset itself for the increased time it takes (well, you could blame it for making its power available to you…), blame yourself (as builder) and the expectations (of the player).
4) With all the NWNx mods that have been released in the last 7 years, there’s likely been a “ramping” up of builder and player expectations. Most builders’ I’m ready to wager want their mod to stand out, and that takes more time now than it used to (otherwise it’s just more of the same…).
5) A pure hobby-builder must have fun building, that to me is the golden rule. If that means working slowly, by oneself and putting out a mod at a time when only 1000 people will dl it, so be it.
6) Turning the hobby into a “business” will drive even more hobby-modders away.
7) If player’s come to expect “near-pro, team-level quality and breadth” out of all their mods from now on (ramping up of expectations…), then we can be certain the number of mods will be even lower in DA (regardless of its TS). We can blame ourselves for that, but I don’t see any way to stop that movement if it does get started in earnest.
8) Prefabs are great, as long as they meet the standards of the builder and the requirements of the adventure. To see them used more, builders would need to lower their standards (sometimes), adapt their mod to the areas and give up on the “fun” of building their own areas (that last one’s a stand-out culprit I’m sure). To me, the fact that players risk seeing the same area in different mods is a non-issue. The risk is small and I doubt the players will mind/notice.
9) There are too many NWN2 SP mods out there as it is for me! NWN3 will come out before I’m finished playing all those I want. So what’s the problem really? I’m sure only a small fragment of NWN2 fans “suffer” from the quantity of mods out there.

Tybae said...

EC Patterson - I'm not satisfied with just a few textures and placeables. The environment of your adventure is just as important as the story. Maybe I find it to be too many options at times and maybe a bit too much control over the environment. That and I tend to be a perfectionist at times, so that gets in the way too, but in the end, it's the toolset that gets me every time. Call it what you want, but that's how I feel.

gabe said...

BTW anon was me... GQ

Josh said...

1) Partly, yes, but not fully. The learning curve for building exteriors is alot steeper than NWN1. Everyone goes into the toolset expecting to be able to make a high-quality game like the pros using very user-friendly tools that'll make their lives simple.

This is something that we as human beings all experience: striving to make a high-quality product that others will enjoy (or not depending on intentions). If we didn't, well our society probably wouldn't be nearly as far as it is today. This expectation does limit the lifetime of the game however as does it's user-friendliness.

If the toolset were to reduce the amount of time it takes to create an area (and even custom content) without forfeiting quality, the game would have lasted longer. I've looked at other toolsets and have taken notice of several features that are very appealing and, of course, the inevitable flaws of each toolset.

The main flaw I think is the complexity of texturing. Look at any newcomer's work and the first thing you notice usually is blandness of their texture work. NWN2 forces you to work with one texture at a time, forces you to figure out what blends together and what doesnt, forces you to use the circle tool for texturing. Age of Empires 3's toolset hit texturing an exterior on the head. It didnt take a genius to make a very attractive area because the texturing tools were simplistic and yet powerful. Being able to combine two textures before hand and the editor will do the honors of mixing them together for you. Its random enough to appear natural and doesn't take very long to do. Mind you, one of the biggest drawbacks of the toolset is its complete lack of scripting capabilities. You can only build maps in the stupid thing.

Terrain modding is not as important to make an area appear nice although it certainly can be a factor in some cases. YATT has made this as simple as possible. You can easily make a Mass Effect sidequest area in 5-10 minutes with YATT (and even 3DS Max barring you know how). Heightmaps make this extremely easy and painless. The problem is most newcomers probably don't even know what the Vault is unless they ask on the NWN2 forums. There's still no obvious links to the website like there was with NWN1.

2) DA depends on how easy it'll be to make an area in the toolset and how difficult it'll be to add additional custom content to the game (ie creature models).

Anonymous said...

some things are alot harder to do by one self....

Qk said...

ey Dunc, I'm feeling identified with your thoughts in any way.

I could feel lucky cause I had all the material for great success: i had team, i had the knowledge and the initiative... but it never worked as intended.

Is sad cause it seems there is no more room for fan videogames building. Nowadays only the strongest, the awesome teams and the will to make this a job will grant a success.

Only if you're gonna sell your stuff to big companies. Taking a look to Sims3, Fallout3 and the upcoming Dragon Age it just only leave us an option: to be the peak of a top videogame. Only a few chosen of Mystra will achieve this plan... poor modding worldwide community.

All my bests to your new nwn2 project,