Neverwinter Nights 2: Admin’s Corner: Persistent Worlds in NWN 2

We have coerced a new opinion writer into the halls of NWN 2 WarCry. Lanessar joins us as a parttime editorialist. Titling his column the Admin’s Corner, Lanessar takes on the hot topics of the day. This week, he takes on the provocative issue of persistent worlds and Neverwinter Nights 2. It’s been a hot issue on official forums.

Admin’s Corner: Persistent Worlds in Neverwinter Nights 2 by Lanessar

Lanessar (Jason) has been a PW Admin for close to 4 years, and is currently working as the Vice President for QA at a CAD software company.

Opinions. Everyone has ’em. The problem for the layman attempting a PW project for NWN2 is simply determining whether the doom and gloom is a load of horse crap or whether there are valid problems that cannot be overcome in creating a persistent world.

A majority of the “doom and gloom” posts stem from people wanting a specific thing from the NWN2 engine. They expect the same performance as was available within NWN1, with flashier graphics and a few new classes. This is, in large, an unreasonable request from Obsidian itself.

Obsidian merely had the source code from NWN1 and a list of customer complaints, really a wish list, when they started. They are not the original developers, which leads to problems listed below.

One of the fun things in software development is to be given a project as Lead Designer halfway into the game; the focus changes, and the stuff you want to do is sort of limited in scope by your predecessor’s work, no matter how skilled that predecessor may have been. I believe Josh has been doing a stunning job for the situation he’s been in. I’ve been there for CAD software; it is not fun.

Then there’s the fact that OE did not have access to all the design documentation, decisions and know-how that Bioware had when they finished the project back in 2000. I’m sure some consulting went on, but a majority of that work force went off to Blizzard, decided to retire, or were not consulted. And so lots of good information was likely lost.
Does this make it easier for the person attempting to make a PW for NWN2? Not really. But there are certain things that are neither right nor wrong; they simply are. Understanding the “why” sometimes makes someone a bit calmer about the subject as a whole.

So that leaves the erstwhile PW admin-to-be in a bit of a sticky situation. Even if you have developed a successful PW in NWN1, there is still a large amount to learn or re-learn about the new engine.

Here is where the cries of anguish come in. This happens with almost every software version that is not released in yearly installments. Things change up, and sometimes the improvements leave people in the dust.

With NWN1, you did not have to know texturing, graphical design, or be an artist. Placement of buildings was pretty much hemmed in for you by the tilesets you used. Literally anyone could toss together a passable area within an hour or two after some tutorials.

Those days, my friends, are gone. Face it. It’s over. It’s like your high school crush on Suzie Floozy. I say this: Let it go.

The new toolset is designed for the artist, for the guy who can take a real-life picture and recreate the detail of it. Your average guy is probably left in the dust with all the millions of options, all meant in good faith by OE to allow greater control over how appearances look.

While there are a lot of cries over this, and people claiming NWN2 is step down from NWN1, this is simply not the case. It’s different. It’s not the same game with better graphics. It’s not a “weekend warrior” program anymore. One guy simply cannot build pWs anymore. If you want that level of ease, as time goes by, I’m sure there will be more area prefabs, modules to rip areas from and added functionality both from patches and plugins to make things a bit easier. This is when the entrepreneur (read: vulture) comes in and makes a PW, and not immediately after release. I’m kidding about the vulture part.

However, we had just as many issues with NWN1, and many bridges to cross in making persistent worlds. Anyone remember the old crash days prior to patch 1.27 NWN? For modules over a certain size (was it 80 Megs?), no matter how well designed, haks or no haks, the server would go down every 45-50 minutes. How about the fact that we HAD no database or NWNX at release? Do you remember the “five hundred trinket inventory non-droppable” days? And the fact that when SoU did ship with a Dbase, it did not actually work?

We’re actually past a lot of the problems that plagued the initial release of NWN due to support, and I think a lot of people have been spoiled by the support. Even though many of the features that were in NWN are actually in NWN2, the few that are not (or the difficulties that have changed) have people up in arms, crying about the end of PWs. And that simply because there is something they do not like or cannot think of how to overcome, in the new software. Whether it’s a feature or just something OE did not have time to put in, it’s “the end of the persistent world community!”

Okay. Take a breath. Take a few more.

Now, there are hurdles to overcome which were not present in the original game. There are walkmeshes to download, it takes time to make a decent area, so on and so forth. And yes, to validate those crying out in agony, there are a lot of hurdles. BIG ones.

Is it possible?

That’s the question that’s important, and the one everyone asks and really, gets different answers on. People are simply answering or asking the wrong question, each time they spout their litanies (pro or against) on the forums.

Let me let you in on a little secret.

There is nothing preventing us from making a PW for NWN2. Nada. Zip.
I’m sure I’ll get all sorts of hate mail, woes, and so forth on saying this. But whether or not you believe me, the fact remains that it is possible.

The real question that every person is trying to ask or get answered is “Can I make one?”

And therein lies the rub. That answer is truly different for everyone who is making a PW for NWN2. I mean, hell, I can toss three areas together in a few weeks, link em together and call it a PW.

Of course, very few would want to play it. It reminds me of people telling me they would have their PWs up within weeks of inception. It rarely happened, especially with all the “radically cool features” they want to have present.

Or, you could have a different definition of PW. Maybe your idea of a PW is a near-WoW experience. You want vast expanses of land where any player can roam freely experiencing the beauty of nature, with a few spawns to keep it interesting.

So, another question the community as a whole should answer is “what is a persistent world”, as everyone answering yes or no are answering a different question, really.

Let’s get this straight, right off the bat:

Making a PW takes work: A lot of work. And unless you want to take a year or more in designing it, it takes a close-knit team. Whether it’s four kick-ass people or ten, it does take a team. You will not want to play a PW made by a single person coming two weeks after release.

I’m not going to address every single complaint I’ve ever heard about the game or toolset, because that would take weeks. Instead, there’s an exercise you can do, regardless of your definition of what a persistent world is. Let’s start with some basic agreements, shall we?

We all agree that a persistent world has to have a server center, a populated area, and a start town, whatever. That is one of the defining factors for a PW: there’s a place where players can gather, beat each other on the head and shoulders with shiny, glowy weapons, cyber, or whatever we do in our worlds.

Well, then, here’s a little test:

Decide to make a final-quality town. A small one could be about a population of 80, At least 16×16 in size. You’ll need at least 8 interiors in this town as well. And it’s got to be done within a week.

Start on building the exterior. Place all the NPCs; start making the merchants and conversations, etc.

Make sure to texture up to “NWN2 screenshot” level of quality; we do not want bland areas here. We need magical potion merchants, weapons dealers, armor merchants, cloak merchants, wands and scroll merchants, a temple, and all those little things that make a player hop with excitement.

If at this point, you feel very daunted at the prospect of creating this town within a week’s time, then you’re probably not going to like all the other problems (spawns, etc.) which are coming up. If you’re ready to throw in the towel instead of coming up with bright ideas on how to make things faster (without losing quality), then I’d sit back and wait until things get easy enough, because they will.

Here’s why.

There are two basic types of community members: The pioneers, or trailblazers, and those who come after and make improvements to already-existing things. The ones screaming right now are the come-afters of NWN1. The ones quietly working (and rarely seen or heard from) are the pioneers.

This is not to say the come-afters are bad or lesser in some way. In fact, the come-afters keep the game alive after the pioneers run off to another game, get burned out, or whatever. And let me tell you, the number of people who I remember from the first release who made PWs that are still around… not too many, very few, in fact. I’d say less than 10%. So yes, the come-afters are VERY needed.

The fact remains however that the come-afters are not suited to work with a raw program and make it happen. The pioneers are the guys with the duct-tape and super glue. It might look pretty whack, or run like a rickety rust bucket, but by gum, it runs!

The come-afters take the rust bucket, and make it into a Rolls Royce. There are shades of gray on these two types, do not get me wrong. But just like Elvis versus the Beatles, there’s always one you like more.

Don’t try to be the wrong one. Play the game, play modules, get really familiar with adobe or VBasic, see what comes out, wait for patches, then get involved and become a Stradivarius. Take what was there and become the savior of the masses with hundreds of new options and doohickeys and so forth.

Or, get in there and get your arms dirty and come up with nifty little plugins and miracle programs for walkmesh download. Here’s your time to shine, if you’re a pioneer, a Papillion, or Archaego. Your name will be remembered throughout the game from time immemorial, even if you’re not around anymore to hear the adulating cries. Heck most artists are famous after death. Didn’t you know that?

And when NWN3 comes out, I can tell you that those people who were creating some great stuff for NWN2 will be making the same cries about NWN3 as they do now (presuming they still hang around). And I can guarantee that by that time, the pioneers (like myself) will be few and far between.

Like death and taxes, new games arise. Things change. And so does the impossible become possible.

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