Field Journal: Floundering in Neverwinter's Foundry

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Field Journal: Floundering in Neverwinter's Foundry
It's surprisingly fiddly to have objects lie perfectly flush with the floor.
Given that I'm a roleplayer, you might think that I find Neverwinter's Foundry an amazing expressive tool that I relish wholeheartedly. To that I respond with a resounding sort of! I love that it exists and seeing all the neat, even mind-blowing creations of others. Actually using it to make something of my own, though? That's pretty daunting, and I'm not talking about the interface.

I am a very creative person, but there are many kinds of creativity. I've long since given up trying to be the game master in tabletop games given how painful it is for me to prepare and how I bring so much more to the table as a player. I'm the expressive sort, coming up with great ideas on the fly that make things more fun for everyone, drawing everyone's characters, that sort of thing. I'm not the constructive sort, so I have a hard time building worlds compared to inhabiting them. That might be why I had to stick a cameo from my own Trickster Rogue in the quest I designed.

Without story, we have nothing

I decided right away to keep the story simple and short for four reasons: to avoid tripping over my own weaknesses, to not get caught up in minutiae when I'm trying to focus on learning, to get most if not all of the quest finished by the time this goes live, and to acknowledge that my recollection of Forgotten Realms lore is shaky at best.

A simple idea sprang to mind almost immediately: a cowardly band of nobles? Merchants? Retired adventurers! Wanting to make nice with the game's overall villain Valindra in case she wins, they've been kidnapping people who've had some success against her plots to offer as tribute and fodder for her undead armies. Their next target is you, but someone else is watching them and tips you off. You then of course proceed to slaughter all the baddies and free the captives because I don't have the time to construct a complex narrative about morality and heroism.

The baddies are not particularly impressive. There are eight straightforward encounters in total. With more time to learn about the vast array of potential enemies, I could have picked more interesting enemies and then swapped their models for something more fitting to my story -- not that I haven't customized the models anyway. I'm not bothered, since what I have works well for the story. I simply bring it up because the idea of fighting, say, a dog that's a Wizard amuses me no end.

Even a fairly basic conversation can have a tree wider than the screen.
Not quite fully featured

I have to say, dialogue has been my greatest source of frustration for a variety of reasons. To begin with, I found that apparently there's no way to create loops in the dialogue, something so useful for extended Q&A sessions with NPCs in a great many classic computer RPGs. I didn't quite want to go to those lengths anyway, but it was something I was interested in for future projects. I could easily jury-rig simulated loops to an extent by copy/pasting certain responses into different parts of a dialogue tree, which as it happened was the best way for flow in this particular quest.

Another issue was with the bad guys. As much as I would like to have them talk to the character while fighting, the options that should allow for that, or any behavior save attacking, simply won't work. They're there, but they just won't do anything when I select them. Not even the dialogue boxes will appear, nor is there any change in the AI. It might be possible to first make NPC versions appear who can use the dialogue tree system, then despawn them and replace them with hostile versions at the end of their conversations. Even assuming that's possible, it would mean compartmentalizing the quest goals further and sacrificing player freedom in what order to fight, and that doesn't suit the feel I want.

Dialog is a tree, story is a line.The captives also presented dialogue issues. For them, I thought some brief face-time as you free them would be nice. Unfortunately, while I can use the dialogue tree system on them, it requires either forcing the player to rescue them in a specific order or never being able to turn off the conversation option. One is immersion-breaking arbitrary restriction; the other results in an aggravating amount of accidental conversation as they get in the way. I suppose I could have them not follow the player, but I really like having them do that. They're set so enemies won't attack them, so the flavor of an escort is preserved without the frustration.

I'm glad the option for those NPCs to simply talk outside of conversations works, more or less. Whether phrases will trigger properly is a bit glitchy and inconsistent, as is the pathing when they follow the player, but it works well enough. Between a couple of lines each and an animation or two, I felt I was able to give each of them a distinct personality, which made me happy. Generic captives in MMO quests always annoy me. I want to care about the people I rescue.

On the positive side, the quest proper is complete. I have only to furnish the hideout with a variety of props to make it feel fully realized, and I'll be ready to publish it, assuming I don't find any more problems in testing. This is perhaps the most daunting part of the process, though, because while I can spin a story and fiddle options until things start working, interior decorating is hard. For example, I have three large rooms that use the same map tile, but I want to give each of them a very different feel, appropriate to the baddy hanging out there. And there are so many detail objects to choose from!

Testing is also a little weird. I was automatically assigned a level 1 male Human Guardian Fighter to test on. I didn't notice any options to change class or level in order to be more thorough in testing, but I did gain experience and loot as normal while testing. In fact, that stuff carried over between tests, so now Author (all testing characters for any player are named Author) is around level 8 from repeated testing.

When this is really complete, the whole thing will be bristling with icons.
On the whole, I learned a lot and had fun during this whole process. If a more complex story that the Foundry can handle comes to me later, I feel more confident about giving it a shot. The structure it provides does help me focus, just as the unlimited freedom of a tabletop game won't. If you want to check out this quest, search for You're Next by @Overture. Hopefully it'll be published by the time you're reading this.

Either way, I'll be putting aside Neverwinter for RIFT shortly. After all the work I put into just this little quest, I've got a hankering for some quick and easy Instant Adventure. Let's see if this feature is finally something RIFT can use to sink its hooks into me.

There are so many weird and wonderful destinations to visit within the MMOscape, and Massively's Matthew Gollschewski hopes to chronicle them all for you every Thursday in his trusty Field Journal. Grab your camera and your adventurin' hat and join in on his next expedition, or just mail him some notes of your own.
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