Saturday, 13 January 2018

Commentary on Beamdog's January 12 Livestream Recap: NWN:EE

Commentary on Beamdog's January 12 Livestream Recap: NWN:EE

Updated Player Character ModelsOne of the things that moved from the Input board to the Roadmap board this week is the card for updating the player character models. More than 160 people voted for this feature and we're investigating the request.

◦ I think Beamdog are wise to prioritize visual enhancements for their Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition, regardless of votes. High-visibility improvements are very important when NWN:EE is officially released. Steam players who can't see a difference are going to complain; it's bad for the launch. Problem is, high fidelity display resolutions make low polygon models and low resolution textures look worse than they do already, and ultra high-res skyboxes are going to clash with them, too. Adding to that, there is little point in just updating player character models without also updating creature models. I would suggest hiring professional 3D artists/animators to redo the full array of art assets, as well-paid professionals work efficiently and maintain a consistent high quality which would go beyond the cartoony Gunner's/TheBarbarian Heads, and even beyond Project Q and Alternate Combat Animations.

But once Beadmog redoes models, the low poly, low texture res placeables/tilesets are going to clash with them, too. Thus, placeables/tilesets can't reasonably be ignored. More work! As with models, Beamdog could go with Project Q, something like Zwerkule's Facelifts (recently added to the Aielund Saga), or hire professionals down the track. Anyway, I guess I just don't see the point in updating PC models/skyboxes and leaving creatures, placeables/tilesets at the Nintendo 64 level.

Pic: Vanilla creature models (top) vs. Project Q
Pic: Vanilla inventory icons (top) vs. Project Q
Pic: Vanilla tileset (left) vs. Project Q
Criticism of Project Q
Pic: ACP crafting menu / ACP in action (Best general visual mod for NWN, fullstop. Can be made to work with CCOH.)

There was a comment by Trent something to the effect of "I want EE to be NWN2, NWN3, NWN4 etc." Well, unless Beamdog can employ FPC and make NWN look as good as this, the EE will always be in competition with NWN2.

Director's Cut of the OC. To those voting for the "Director’s Cut" version of the original Neverwinter Nights campaign, - be very cautious for what you’re asking for. Trent's vision for it has an emphasis on "Cut".

◦ One of Trent's fave classes is the Barbarian; roughly-shaven, he looks like one on the Twitch streams; plus, he is talking about "taking an axe to the OC". So yeah, I would love to see the results of his "Great Cleave" of the OC. My views on how to improve it are posted here. tl;dr: downsize the sprawling areas, remove 70% of the lootable receptacles, and mix up the mobs so that it isn't a snoozefest. Perhaps remove the party size experience point penalty to incentivize the use of companions, summons, familiars and animal companions. And what do you have against Pavel? :P

User Interface. We're waiting on the investigation on the UI rework options: one option is to make the existing UI fully moddable, and another option is to rework the UI from scratch and provide a mod support.

◦ I think it's better to rework the UI from scratch and make it fully moddable as per Electron XML. This would include the ability to drag any window around the display space, an also resize any window.  Even Morrowind had that in 2002! I wonder if Beamdog have seen what Lance Botelle achieved with the Electron UI in his campaign, The Scroll? Anyway, here are my ideas for reworking the Aurora UI:

Electron Quickcast menu (F-key)
1. Removal of radial menu in favor of Electronesque right-click, context-sensitive dropdowns. Beamdog have already set a precedent for this with the removal of the portable pop-up in PST:EE. Off-hand, besides a certain tactility and charm, the only advantage I can think of in regard to the radial menu is that every single thing is contained within it, but it can be a hassle finding what you want as a result of that, so I still think context-sensitive dropdowns are superior, overall. So yeah, I don't think many people will kick up a stink if the radial menu is replaced with context-sensitive dropdowns. Obviously, don't employ anything that decreases responsiveness and robustness of UI; f.e, don't employ the fade-in/fade-out and right-click-hold delay of context-sensitive dropdowns, as in Electron.

2. Employment of general Electronesque context-sensitivity, which halves the clicks it takes to perform a lot of actions (e.g, unlock a chest). For example, my character has the ability to pick locks. So, when I mouse-over a locked chest with that character selected, my cursor will automatically change to the "unlock cursor". Thus, in Electron, it's one left-click to unlock a chest as opposed to two clicks in Aurora (either two left-clicks using the quickbar or one right-click and one left-click using the radial - which also requires more mouse movement).

3. Ability to drag n drop skills, feats and spells directly from charsheet/spellbooks to the quickbar, as in Electron. I think that is clearly superior to right-clicking on a quickbar cell and searching a radial menu in order to find the ability to set in the cell.

4. Employment of Quickcast menu (F-key) complete with meta-magic switches and draggable to the quickbar, as in Electron.

Below pic: To illustrate the above two points (3 and 4), here is shown dragging feats from the charsheet to the quickbar, and spells from the Quickcast menu to the quickbar.

5. Auto-sorting of inventory items, as in Electron.

6. Allow for in-game resizing of applicable UI windows, including journal and examine item/NPC. This improves readability.

7. The inventory icons for items are a work of art in themselves. Thus, they should not be messed with or downsized to all be equal size like in Electron.

8. Transparency of UI modes should be configurable in-game.

9. Font-size for feedback window, journal and charsheet should all be separately configurable in-game.

10. Entire hypertexted D&D rulebook accessible in-game, at any time, a la The Temple of Elemental Evil. Possibly hypertexted from combat log, a la ToEE.

11. Map menu should be resizeable; not just a useless mini-map or a too-big-map like in Electron.

12. Should be able to copy-paste into console, not just text entry field. Should be able to up arrow in console to call up last console command.

In regard to any FPC UI:

1. Marquee selection is a must; it's second nature to PC gamers. Baldur's Gate, NWN2, Dragon Age: Origins; they all have it.

2. An equivalent to Strategy mode cam is a must for party-based tactics. You don't want to be wrestling with clumsy story-mode cams. Electron cam and control is the most powerful and flexible ever seen in an RPG. Take the following example from Harp & Chrysanthemum, a module that features complex undulating terrain. See where my character is positioned, having just exited a cave in the top-right? I can click where that blue asterisk is and have my character move there in a single click. The cam will smoothly auto-track and follow her the whole way; down the sloping path (pulling backwards as she moves towards it), across the river at bottom-left, and then all the way along the opposite shoreline of the river to the asterisk in the woods! You can't tell me that isn't impressive, and you can't do that in Aurora, Odyssey or Eclipse.

Also, clicking an NPC to enter dialogue mode should never forceably change your cam's perspective. Dumb idea by BioWare: in NWN, it tracks down to the blocky NPC and you have to wait for that. Player should always be in full control of cam, scripted cutscenes excepted.

3. Preset positional/movement formations are a must. This is where Obsidian dropped the ball: party moves around in a retarded clump. Not only that, but without formations your tank might get boxed in by backrowers after an area transition; ergo, he is unable to tank and the squishy party members get killed. Formations should not only be rotatable (a la Infinity Engine) but should also be entirely customizable by the player rather than just through default presets, to allow for "spreading"; f.e, you want the wizard in the backrow but you should be able to tailor her distance from the rest of the party (how far back she is). Basically, you set your preferred formation and spacing and then click STORE. The party then positions/moves itself in the stored formation, terrain/placeable-permitting. Surprisingly, only Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor allowed for this.

4. All party members should have their portraits stacked vertically on the right of screen. Just like in Infinity, Electron and Eclipse. Unlike NWN2, you should be able to drag portraits up and down to change party order. The portraits should be the same size and left-click-selectable (right-click for a drop-down that opens access to inventory, char-sheet and other oft-used modes). You should be able to shift-click portraits to group them for when the party is spread out and marquee select is not feasible. Status effects should appear on the left of the portrait, not over it.

◦ In regard to any world map/overland map (as suggested by Fester Pot): It would be best to allow modders a proper real-time OLM with stat checks and roaming monsters, as in Storm of Zehir (pic of OLM) and select modules such as Bedine (pic). But the Darkness Over Daggerford world map would be better than nothing; it's got waylays. Time should pass (telling player how long it takes to get to their destination) and you should be able to mouse-over a destination to get info on it (maybe allow for skill checks like Lore and Survival). My Aurora UI mod write-up can be found here.

Legacy of White Plume Mountain OLM

General game-play issues. In my opinion, the most important things that need to be addressed in this respect are 1. the pathing routine 2. the "bounce delay" and 3. spawn stutter.

1. Pathing Routine. Aurora pathing can be glitchy even on simple tilesets; Electron has way better pathing. Thus, we need an improvement similar to what BG2/IWD offered over BG/PS:T (which wasn't just about increased nodes but also an optimizing rewrite). The worst part is: your character can get stuck on placeables/tileset geometry.

2. The bounce delay is awful. When your character hits a placeable or other NPC or monster, they just awkwardly bounce-stop before getting into the dance of death. This was mostly fixed in Electron.

3. Spawn stutter is immersion-breaking. What happens is, as you explore, the framerate drops to spawn a mob that you can't yet see. Aside from simply being annoying, it's a dead giveaway that something is around the corner. Electron does not suffer as severely from this issue (and it seems to be symptomatic of low-spec PCs rather than an engine shortcoming). 



  1. Reading this now. Looks like I'll have to watch this.

    Thanks for the info on the update haks. I think I'm going to need to look at adding the head and facelift haks you cited to Sanctum:EE. NWNCQ was a great improvement when I incorporated it in 2010, but it may be time to try updating them.

    1. Both Zwerkules' and NWNCQ employ ceilings, but I didn't find the latter as visually pleasing as the former. That said, I think NWNCQ was designed to be used in conjunction with NWShader...

    2. As I recall there's an option for using it with NWShader, but it's not required and I didn't use it.

  2. Ugh. I hated the Electron dropdowns. HATED. Honestly, one of the things that keeps me from enjoying NWN2 is everything in its menus goes slower than NWN. For all the hate on radials, I could navigate them in 2 right clicks, max. Of course, if they go back to NWN's shortcut menu, instead of NWN2s version, the menu style won't matter.

    1. As said in the article, I'm not arguing for the fade-in/fade-out and right-click-hold delay that plagued Electron's dropdowns and UI generally. With the radial, you have to right-click to bring it up and then SEARCH for what you want (left- and right-clicks). It's not a huge deal, and I don't mind if they want to keep the radial, but I do prefer context-sensitive dropdowns.

  3. Personally I'd just added quickcast functionality to spellbook. For example uou can choose or clean spells by left\right click and cast on right\left click. I never liked quickcast being separate menu in electron - spellbook itself is not exactly very oftenly used menu, especially for sorc style casters.

  4. It will be nice to sort the spells in the spellbooks alphabetically, just like in NWN2.

  5. I really don't think Beamdog should meddle much with the way the core of NWN works, or any of it's OCs. It would be like George Lucas going back and ruining Star Wars with goofy CGI additions, and making Greedo shoot at Han.

    So I am against "fixing" the OC, or adding Full Party Control, and a bunch of other fan requests like meddling with Rule Sets, Feats, Classes, Spells etc, even if some people consider them broken (like Parry- leave it).

    It should still be the same core game as it is today. Less is often more appropriate.

    What it primarily needs are fixes to run better on modern computers, and a UI update to handle more resolutions more gracefully. More readable Font options, but otherwise a light touch. Perhaps redo the 2D assets in high res, and scale down(instead of scaling up the old resolutions), but have much the same look as today.

    Beyond that provide new tools to mod builders, whatever can be reasonably added that don't break old modules.

    Much of what made NWN1 a great success is that the core of the game is mostly right, and after more than a decade, what is wrong, can be viewed as charming quirks. I never really considered any of the "Bugs" in 1.69 to be a concern, let alone showstoppers.


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