Neverwinter Nights 2: Papermonk’s Open Letter to Future CC Teams

One of the most respected and well-known of the various custom content teams was the CODI (City of Doors Initiative) group founded by Papermonk. In this piece, Papermonk postulates on the future of custom content development and team formation. Warcry is proud to host this excellent article:

An Open Letter to Future Custom Content Teams by Papermonk

The idea of custom content teams is one of those lightning rods in this community. There are advantages and disadvantages that have to be looked square in the face and not everyone comes to the same conclusions. Having headed up one of the largest and most well known of these groups, The City of Doors Initiative, this is an issue I’ve given a lot of thought over the years.

The argument goes something like this: custom content groups don’t produce as much, release as much, etc as the individual content creators do. Once they join the group, they don’t release anymore. Generally, the reason for this is they are working on bigger projects than a new version of orcs, or a tileset retinting, and the work they do produce will be better than anything individually released (generally.) And for lots of content makers, the support mechanisms involved in group work are well, great. You have people that can help you improve your texture work, or how to do specific mesh issues, people who can QA your work, and just generally “be a team with.” And you see that; the teams have generally produced most of the earth shattering things in this community. Whether it is the PRC’s prestige classes, CODI’s various new types of content, tilesets, or the character creator, or DLA’s NWmax, models and other stuff. It takes longer, perhaps too much longer, but the result generally bears it out.

Part of this “wait” has to do with the goals of the group. Most of these people are working just insane amounts of hours for the community for free, and their payment is satisfaction, knowing their work is appreciated and used, or just generally enjoying the process. Anyone familiar with most custom content knows the last one is a bit iffy at best. It is satisfying, but it’s also enormously aggravating, but hugely rewarding when you break some barrier that had been badgering you. But the wait, generally, is because they are working on some big release – there’s something about releasing a huge pile of content, a mini-expansion, for example, that is just enough to contain your excitement about releasing them individually. That can be a mistake, but it depends on your goals.

If I were doing it over again today, I’d be focusing a little differently. There’s certainly a feeling of “if I knew then what I know now.” And that’s what I want to talk about. I don’t plan on running any big projects this time around. I plan on helping wherever I can, and playing ‘mentor’ to whomever may desire it, and I’ll probably do a few “small group” things, but big group? Nope. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be done, or that someone doesn’t need to step up and do it. It just won’t be me. The community needs “teams.” Teams help individual artists, who would otherwise wander off, stay here. Teams produce things bigger than individual content creators can. There’s a good reason to have teams.

The problem with teams is they can’t generally just be “generic custom content guild.” Ideally, that’d be best. A group of connected guys all working on their own stuff, or together, as they see fit. Unfortunately, the unifying vision behind that doesn’t do a lot to inspire the troops – and generally, the troops need inspiring. The work involved in custom content can be very, very grueling at times – and a shining result is what gets you through.
What I’d like to do is suggest to you, and hopefully inspire you, what I feel would be the best way for a team to tackle custom content this time around.

Generally speaking, you see custom content rise around specific ideas: Spelljammer, Planescape, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Eberron, etc. As mentioned earlier, this gives the team a goal, a unifying vision. These are worlds that are known and loved by potential custom content members. Love goes a LONG way. Now, with the right leader, you could possibly do something different (and honestly, I think, more useful for everyone) if the team could focus on specific “settings” in the traditional understanding of the word. I’d love to see a team that goes out and creates lots of jungle content, then does some abyssal content, then some frozen north, etc. I think that’d be a marvelous set of goals for a custom content group, but… it’s not quite as inspiring as the towers of Sharn, the elven towers in Dragonlance, the peculiar architecture of Sigil, etc. But wow, how useful would that be? These brave men and women would be heroes to the community.

But, now I shall pass along what little knowledge I’ve accumulated along the lines of running a CC group (Yare of the new Eberron group may recognize some of this):

  • Meetings. Have them. Regularly. About once a week. Hell or high water. If you can, use a voice system so you can actually talk – this actually has a big impact on morale and speeds up the process.
    [li] Figure out what you’re going to do and do it. Don’t overreach. It’s great to have big plans, but focus on things on a small scale. For instance, in Eberron’s case – Warforged would be the top priority – once you have Warforged you can do a pretty decent job of making Eberron modules. They are kind of the “star” of the new races in the setting. From there – whatever else. Lots of prestige classes and classes are actually not too hard to do, so that’d be a good next step.
    [li] Modeling is the most intensive time sink there is. And for NWN2 it’s going to be worse. Avoid creature models as much as possible – the ones you do, try to use existing animation sets (like, for instance, warforged can easily use half-orc animations.) Placeables in NWN2 are going to be hugely beneficial, I’d focus there as much as possible.
    [li] Recruit early, recruit often. Other people WILL grab them up, or attempt to, if you don’t. And when you recruit, be personal about it. Sure, put a notice on the vault – but talk to the people individually. Try to create a very welcoming environment.
    [li] Goals are important for a team and for individual members. Set them. Use them. You need to always be giving clear instructions and guidance towards anyone in your group. Don’t just say “create placeables.” Tell them what placeables.
    [li] In your dealings with the community at large – be friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Don’t slip off to your website and ignore the community. The community is your biggest asset and you have to take care of it. Obviously, this point isn’t as important if you don’t get big. If there is something you can help the community with that is a big deal and you’re capable of doing it – do it. Even if it’s not your usual thing.
    [li] Keep everything as organized as possible. Use design documents for any modules you do, and set up technical documents for models/etc. Some of that you can find on my new site. Technical documents are essentially setting up standards for polycounts/textures/etc.
    [li] Whenever possible, help community builders. If you end up having a pretty solid modeling group and someone like Adam Miller or someone asks for help – try to do it. Working with Adam Miller on Demon was very fulfilling and some of the stuff I’m most proud of. There’s very little more satisfying than seeing your work well used.
    [li] Don’t worry about recruiting too much yet. Try to get yourself and make a very solid game plan for now. Until the game comes out there’s not a lot for other people to do and you don’t want people doing nothing – it’s the best way to lose someone.
    [li] Make sure anyone under you is engaged and involved. Try to get everyone’s opinions, but make sure you or whomever is in charge is the one making decisions. You can’t mod by committee, no matter what people say. It’s like any other business, you have to have people clearly in charge. Obviously, everyone needs to be on the same page and you should, in no way, take that to be “play a tyrant.”
    [li] Centralize your resources as much as possible, but don’t get too bureaucratic about it all – you need people to know what’s up, easily, and you need to know what people are doing – but avoid having your “talent” dealing with paperwork too much. Most of them don’t like it. If you’re lucky, you’ll attract some people who LIKE doing paperwork and you can let them go to town.
    [li] Don’t ever, ever, ever release substandard stuff. If it’s not good enough to release – don’t. Give anything you release at least a few days to a week of QA. At minimum. There are some very solid QA people in the community (RedR, of NWConnections, is among the best.) Use them.
    [li] But here’s the biggest, and what I’d use a guiding light. One of my big regrets is that we decided to keep a lot of content until Foundations was ready, and we really shouldn’t have. Release content. Release as often as you can. No matter how great it sounds to hold on to stuff and release things all at once – don’t. The community generally resents this behavior a lot (rightly or wrongly) and it’s best for everyone if it’s out there. Whatever gain is gained by “mass release” is mitigated by the constant good will and rep gained by constant release. This is no way a stab at anyone in the CC community. CODI did this, as has just about everyone.

A lot of this is pretty obvious. Some of it may not be. I’ve thought a lot about what went right/wrong with CODI and these are the big ones.

So, I say good luck. I’ll probably repost this after NWN2 comes out and we start seeing things like this being created. If you are starting a group and there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. I’m fairly busy, but I try to make time for anything that will help make this community great. So make it great.

Recommended Videos

The Escapist is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article James Bond Continuity Is a Blessing and a Curse for No Time To Die
James Bond Continuity Is a Blessing and a Curse for No Time To Dies Daniel Craig films
Read Article Black Widow Is Stuck in the Marvel Formula Just as the Rest of Marvel Is Expanding Beyond It
Black Widow spy movie fails because of its bland neutral Marvel formula overpowering the James Bond Moonraker influence MCU Marvel Cinematic Universe
Read Article Opinion: Is Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s Mesoamerica an Homage or an Exploitation?
Related Content
Read Article James Bond Continuity Is a Blessing and a Curse for No Time To Die
James Bond Continuity Is a Blessing and a Curse for No Time To Dies Daniel Craig films
Read Article Black Widow Is Stuck in the Marvel Formula Just as the Rest of Marvel Is Expanding Beyond It
Black Widow spy movie fails because of its bland neutral Marvel formula overpowering the James Bond Moonraker influence MCU Marvel Cinematic Universe
Read Article Opinion: Is Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s Mesoamerica an Homage or an Exploitation?