Ted's RPG Rant

A place to rant about RPG games, particularly the Temple of Elemental Evil. Co8 members get a free cookie for stopping by. Thats ONE cookie each, no seconds.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Today in Tedland

Just posted something about making the game 'more interactive', and it has triggered this blog (something I have been meaning to write about all day).

Today was the usual, what with working 12 and a half hours (yes, I get a few minutes to post at Co8 now and then from work. Not something I want to abuse, you understand). I can work the long hours because the work is not hard. Today, for instance, I took a fella to the movies: by the grace of God (and an inaccurate website) we ended up watching Meet the Robinsons. Damn, what a great movie! I mean it was very much stuff you have seen a million times before (large chunks of design and action from Epsidoes II and III, interestingly enough) but it all just went together so well that by the end, I was just loving it. Turns out that the big message of the movie, "Keep Going Forward" (Ie don't let stuff get you down lest you become a bitter villain, but instead learn from your mistakes and become an inventive hero ;-) ) is actually a comment from... well, that'd be giving it away. Suffice to say, if you have kids, drag them to this movie.

There is a scene (Ted subtly moves to the reason for this blog) where Lewis, the inventive little star of the story, sees a lab. The lab of an inventive GENIUS. A place where genius can run free. He loves it. TED loves it.

And so we return to a theme that I have harped on about many times: the creative place. The place of learning, wisdom, genius, creativity. Leonardo's Workshop, for the Civ players. Edison's Lab. Shangri-La (it had a great library - I've got a book-mark that talks about it somewhere from a Shangri-La hotel Yvy and I stayed at). Monasteries (I spent more time in the library at the Priory than anywhere else). A man's study, a bloke's garage, a woman's sewing room. A place that enhances and fosters your attempts to create: where things are where you want them, where testing or research can be done without having to rearrange crap, leave the house, or buggerise around (nb: that is an Australian expression with no connotations of sodomy. Get used to it).

The place where things happen.


Seriously (and I HAVE spoken about this before, if about nothing else I am rabbiting on about quite so clearly) is there any more enduring image in Tolkien than Rivendell? The Last Homely House? The place that has something of everything, except the sea? (Peter Jackson's two great sins of ommission - he left out Aragorn raising Arwen's standard on the Pelennor, and he left out Frodo's dream of the tower and his conversation with Sam about the sea, that foreshadow the ending).

Tolkien was an academic - he understood the value of a place like Rivendell better than anyone. Tolkien touched on this theme elsewhere: Lorien. Rivendell was the place of learning, of remembrance, where the earlier ages were kept alive in song and story (the Cottage of Lost Play if you will). Lorien was the place of play regained, the place where the earlier things still walked the earth.

Lorien was the place without blemish: a place where you could create things and (thanks to the ring) they remained as they were created. A place where the ravages of time had no meaning: imagine a painting that never faded. Or, if you will, painted miniatures that never faded, never had their paint chip or flake off through nothing more than the actions of time, never got dusty. Recorded music or video that was never corrupted: records that didn't scratch, cds that didn't jump, tape that didn't stretch. Things made and kept forever. What a dream.

The digital age, I guess.

Which brings us to modding (of course). It struck me today, even as I watched the movie and gasped, with Lewis, at the Lab, that this is something I love about modding: not just the idea that mods can be kept as outputs of 0's and 1's forever (should we want to - I have no need for such longevity for DH ;-) ). Its the fact that in modding, you don't need a big workspace: you just need a PC (the room where I currently mod is a disaster area, and soon to be turned over to baby, but the modding will go on :-) ).

Best of all, from the perspective of being able to create things, I can achieve things relatively quickly with a few Python commands. A new 'spell', a new item, a little bit of scripting, and wa-la [SPOILER FOLLOWS!], I have a shrine that, when doused in 'Holy' Water, shakes, groans and erupts with undead :-D Now, in the past I could never do such a thing because I would have had to write an engine first. I have started such things many times over my computer-using history, going back to the 80s and my first computers (a Z-80 powered 24k little beasite called a VZ-200, then the inevitable C-64, both of which I tried to program at great length in both BASIC and machine code). There is a blog somewhere (link to follow ;) ) of my pretty much one-and-only game that was ever finished (the others were far too ambitious - even back then I needed a team of grpahics and sound folks around me to help out ;-) ). Nowadays I can start with the engine and just got for it. Modding is great :-D

(Off on another tangent). I spend a lot of time telling myself how wonderful I am for pushing the engine to its limits, such as with the animations in KotB: I have certainly blogged about my frustrations with THAT before (characters who won't sit, won't lie down easily, and can't simply be scripted to perform this or that animation: they just stand unless laboriously waypointed otherwise). Scripted animations would allow us to gel animations, effects, sounds and outcomes in one line of script - now, it is a hit-and-miss affair of trying to time everything to happen consecutively, all the while aware that if the player clicks on the target halfway through the script the animation might get interrupted but the timed script might still fire and the whole thing would look ridiculous (I do take steps to avoid that, but again, it is laborious). I have also spent a lot of time cursing the engine.

But lets face it, we all know it is a great (if flawed) engine, and I gotta admit, I simply have different intentions than the makers of the game had. They were making a D&D game. What is D&D? It is a bunch of folks sitting around a table, talking and rolling dice for outcomes. The engine delivers exactly that: it gives us a great combat engine, and a great quest-and-skill based dialogue engine. Everything you could want to re-create classic table-top moments, and a grpahical experience that more than compensates for the visual moments of D&D (ie, moving your miniatures around). Really, the mobs (yes, I do know the damn word, Ted's ironic comment backfires again) are just that - computerised miniatures to be moved around. No, they don't sit, or pick things up, or sleep, or anything else that a miniature can't do: but they do come with some swanky spell effects, and they do hit things.

Aside: easily one of my favourite RTS games was, ummmm, I forget its name but the Warhammer one, where you didn't just move units around, a la Age of Empires or Command and Conquer (two games I loved) but where you moved squads around, got them to charge etc. Loved that game. Pity about the final combat, which was entirely against Undead: that was just stupid. What the hell is the point of charging a bunch of enemies that know no fear and never break? May as well just walk your squad into combat and save on the fatigue element. Missed the whole point of wargaming, imho.

Now, where was I? O yeah, the engine: so ToEE, for all my whining, is really a damn fine D&D engine, great for making D&D games.

But the thing is, I don't WANT to just make D&D games, I want to make great CRPG games. Sure, I am more than happy to be bound by the tried and true 3.5 D&D rules, and I have as warm a spot for the old tabletop KotB module as the next fella, but I wanna push the adventure element to its limit. I want lots of different sort of adventures, different sort of quests: fedex things around! Root out secrets! Uncover hidden areas! Get to the bottom of plots! Work out puzzles! Fight! Explore! Plan! Strategise! Get betrayed! Experience random elements! Interact with your environment! Have an impact on the gaming world!

I guess, to point out the obvious, I want the Ultima experience ;-)

ULTIMA V, for those who never played it (the original, not the masterful Lazarus mod, God bless those genii) was wonderfully interactive. You could push things around, sit on chairs, lie on beds. If you stepped in a fire, you got burnt; if you manoeuverd an enemy into a fire during combat, they got burnt, and if you then pushed something in front of the fire so they couldn't step out, they got fried!It had a wonderful mechanic that functioned consistently according to its own laws (in a way that perhaps only tile-based games can). You could, therefore, do things in multiple ways. Need to get over the mountains? Use a blink spell - OR, use the grappling hook - OR, use the balloon. You were only limited by the objects you had found and the level of spells you could cast - ergo, leveling up meant something and going on quests meant something (not just XP for a better to-hit bonus and more HP). You wanted to go on the quests, that was what you were playing the game for.

That, of course, is what I am trying to achieve with KotB. Time will tell if I pull it off.

Enough waffling on about Ultimas, I do it too often. For something more interesting, keep an eye on Kecik's blog (in the list of favourites on the right). I will soon start posting there :-)

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Well I just had a few hours sleep after a 17-hour workday (across 2 jobs). I am leaving myself plenty of time to sleep and the work is not hard but it certainly does cut into my modding time.

O well, back to it :)