What the fuck is a .plan file? I think they came into vogue after John Carmack started publishing his in a sort of weird quasi-open sourcey let-the-future-customers-know-what’s-happening sort of deal, and as a cheap way to get advance publicity. Nobody needs it anymore, since you know as soon as you let some crappy site like Gamespot know you have some sort of an inkling of an idea for a game, they’ll be hyping it up at least 4 years before it comes out anyway (if you give them enough press junkets and free food). So now .plan files tend to be pretty much primitive blogs. "I’m the lead designer of Pirate Cavemen in Space the MMORPG… wow my big toe really hurts today… don’t buy KFC food, man I hate that guy at the drive thru near the office… Hootie and the Blowfish really rock…"

So this is not a .plan, since a .plan would seem to imply that any of this has been carefully .planned. Nor is it pre-release hype, since I really don’t personally care if anyone ever plays the module. Rather, I figured that as long as I haven’t slept and am hopped up on sugar and nicotine and pretty much useless for any sort of productive work, I may as well enumerate the sorts of insane shit we’re trying to do in our new senselessly complicated NWN project. Hopefully, if I publish this before I fall unconscious, I will wake up, look at my page, realize in abject horror what I’ve done, and shame myself into actually getting stuff done on the module. Shame is your friend.

7/4/03 – After dicking around with the kit a lot, writing a bunch of new systems, and pushing the engine as far as we could, we’ve pretty much abandoned the idea of a server. The fiascos surrounding the latest updates to NWN and the promise of more headaches fixes the bugs that crop up in every new patch make it totally not worthwhile. Maybe I’ll post some of the wacky code here; maybe not. Let me just say that the NWNX SQL shell app is pure genius.

4/30/03 - Kynn visited the house for a while, under the pretense of doing some work on the module. Actually we just played a lot of Generals and smoked my cigarettes. Well, okay, maybe there was that whole migration troubleshooting thingy.

In any case, a brief update for myself so I don’t forget what the hell I’m supposed to be working on:

AUX SPELL SYSTEMS. These work, both mana and faith-based systems. Need to finish editing all spells (I got halfway through the alphabet so far). Finding lots of entertaining little bugs and bits of useless code that never got edited out before the game went final. Slapping head over anomalies like lesser mind blank, which has a script that does absolutely nothing but works, until you modify it with anything at all (even a comment), at which point it does absolutely nothing. Rewriting it. Faith casting subsumes everyone except sorcerers/wizards and causes your spell faith to shift along an alignment axis which is not related to your character alignment (since this just sucks and has no real effect on anything). All spells have alignments, and your current faith rating for that alignment affects your potency. Sorcerers/wizards use stored and area mana (long since tested) and are considered seperate from the forces that govern faith-based casting.

DEATH AND INHERITANCE. This just occurred to me today. We’ve been bitching back and forth over what makes for a good death system; while everyone seems in favor of a permadeath system, I’d like to moderate it a bit because of horrible lag and bugs causing meaningless deaths, while Kynn wants to instakill everyone 10 seconds after character creation. Needs some testing, but I think I have a way to handle character inheritance of experience and property from a guy who permadies, or retires, to a new character on the same account, which makes me feel a little better about people dying a lot.

SERVER BOX RAM PROBLEM. The KG7-R just doesn’t like more than 2 slots populated unless everything is ECC buffered. Best I can do now is pull a stick of 256 from my own box and shove it in with the original stick of 256, and plug the slow 256/128/128 into my personal PC to get half a gig on both boxes. This may not be enough.

IMMUNITIES. Another bitchy topic. Immunity items are really stupid, but counter a lot of the cheese that plagues NWN PvP like spamming death spells. Having them in the game "balances" PvP by requiring everyone to get the same goddamn equipment and removing whole slews of spell categories from being useful. Not having them makes casters gods. Currently targeting a middle of the road solution with no permanent items but availability of consumable immunity items for all classes. Will probably not work but best idea we’ve had so far.

INVISIBLE SCOUTS. Weirdly enough, the first thing to be implemented vis a vis monster communities, though it was sort of an afterthought I had while really tired. Monsters that become established in an area train scouts to look for PC parties and try to sneak back to alert the camps. If the monsters maintain their initiative, a war party is dispatched to deal with the players. Haven’t screwed with monster camp placeable spawns, camp treasure, or breeding yet but it’s on the list.

4/23/03 – According to the most excellent NWN Lexicon, which is usually right, about the function GetHasSpell: "Prior to patch 1.28 this function did not work properly with spontaneously cast spells." Here’s a fun exercise for you would-be scripters anxious to use this feature. Set up a little test module with a usable object that tells you how many uses of Cure Moderate Wounds you have left with GetHasSpell. Bring in a 5 cleric, or some sort of cleric with 4 level 2 slots open to him.

Memorize 4 Bull’s Strength (or any other level 2 spell), it tells you you have 16 uses of Cure Moderate Wounds available. Every time you cat one, it goes down by 5. Well this seems almost logical…

Memorize 4 Cure Moderate Wounds, it tells you you have 20, going down by 5 per cast. Okay, maybe there’s something useful here…

Memorize 3 Bull’s Strength, 1 Cure Moderate Wounds. You get 11 uses of CMW.

Memorize 2 and 2, you get 10.

Memorize 1 Bull’s Strength, 3 Cure Moderate Wounds, you get 13.

Sure am glad that got fixed in 1.28. Except for this little problem about being unable to count, which I’m fixing now, our system for determining the number of spells you had memorized on logout is working perfectly, for all those cheesedicks who like to relog to rememorize everything. Kynn might have something to say about this, except he’s been playing AC2 while saying it’s terrible and watching some sort of weird thing on TV called hockey all night.

4/22/03 – Current projects and stuff…

KYNN: Break my computer. Iron the bugs out of the migration system so monsters get consistently chased from high desirability areas by tougher monsters. Work out the grouping/time tracking system so monsters can form colonies, spawn town fixtures and town loot, train leader types and breed. Established colonies send out scouting parties to look for PC’s to victimize. Trading system is basically done, need to make a huge goddamn database to determine how much the various merchants want various bartered goods. Waste lots of time playing bad games. Write a neat spawner that requires little clock time that isn’t obvious to an observing player, keeping track of how many monsters of various types the land can support. Tradeskill shit. Buy Mu some RAM in exchange for teaching him the difference between ham and bacon, a mystery to most Canadians.

WI: Recover from doing the overland maps in preparation for doing more overland maps and transitions. Learn about the physics of Bussard ramjet engines.

MU: Fix the computer Kynn broke. Offline activity time tracker basically complete, can now track stuff on players when they exit the module despite the fact that the retarded OnClientExit event fires after they leave. Can tell how many game hours a player has been offline and how he’s been using his time, waiting on tradeskill systems to be shaped so the PC can apply his offline hours to tradeskill improvement. Currently working on a way to track how many spell uses of each spell or special ability a character has on logout, plus his HP at the time of logout, and restore these on client re-enter to prevent cheesedicks from relogging to get all their shit back without resorting to that "set everything to zero" sloppy ass solution everyone else uses (almost done). Figure out why the server doesn’t like certain combinations of RAM. Mana system is about done. Rewrite all spells. Make about 9 billion custom items. Shoot self.

4/7/03 – Unfortunately Iraqi information minister Muhammad Sa’id al-Sahhaf is currently unavailable to entertain me with his fascinating spin on reality, so I may as well update with the progress that I’m aware of on the mod. I’m probably unaware of a vast amount of it, since I’m AFK most of the time in developer chat.

KYNN: Created a fully working migration system so monsters wander around looking for spots they like, band with other critters of their type, consume food, get kicked out of areas if something more aggressive and powerful forces them out, react to PC action trends, etc. The ability for established mobs to form little communities with placeables and such is forthcoming (if we stay sane that long). Currently wrestling with an all-barter merchant system where the value of goods fluctuate from market to market and merchant to merchant, and you make deals by offering items in trade rather than just paying with a bunch of gold nobody could have ever minted. Almost done I think.

WI: 204 overland maps done with correct database information for migration, custom climates, etc. This is an ASTOUNDINGLY tedious job. Also came up with a good system for mapping to subterranean and other removed areas in a way that doesn’t break our migration code. I haven’t talked to Wi in a while so it’s quite possible he’s shot himself out of desperation after dealing with the incredibly lousy toolkit for this long. Have to find something fun for him to do soon. :P

MU: About 20 system abstracts that may never get done, all of which break all rules of the NWN system’s "limitations." Created a successful level/class control system that will only allow you to progress in class types that are dictated by your affiliation (think "nation"), whether you are leveling in the field or are swapping affiliation, causing you to lose your forbidden classes, and not totally break your character file. Almost completely finished on the mana system based on a mana broadcast and personal storage system, with bad side effects for nonmages who screw around with it; individual spell event tweaks are left. Currently working on Faith systems for clerical casters. Tradeskills down the pipe. Trying to avoid making really dumb mistakes in code that cost hours of debugging time.

We are all going swiftly insane.

On a side note we’ve had a couple of offers to help with the module, from primarily writer-types. Unfortunately, the lore/writing aspects of the mod are about the last things we’re worried about right now, since we have to force NWN to do about 50 more things it’s not supposed to do before stuff like in-game lore and conversations get implemented, and besides I’ll probably wind up doing a lot of that stuff, allowing better code guys than me to do the heavy lifting with scripts.

It brings to light, though, a big reason why game companies tend to blow off writers when doing their plans, resulting in a lot of shitty writing. The base lore for a world (enough so you can do systems within a stated set of parameters and expectations) can be done very quickly by a competent writer, plus time to research things if you care enough to research, plus some more time for idea refinement. Then not much happens except some fleshing-out of the history and such while the code takes form. Once the product is besically done you’re ready to start installing a bunch of your writing, which usually take the form of a bunch of cut and pastes from your old text files and (maybe) some spellchecking. In production, you’d think that the writer would take on more importance as new quests and events are needed, but generally you can implement these a lot faster if your "quest dude" is also a codemonkey, so the job goes to a code guy. There really just isn’t a whole hell of a lot for a dedicated writer to do in a development/publication cycle. You generally hope that some of the dudes on your team can write, and hell, let them write even if they’re not all that good at it. The best deal a dedicated writer can probably hope for in an MMOG dev environment is to get one of their books licensed for the game, then maybe hired as a story consultant in production, for not a whole hell of a lot of money. The margin is pretty thin these days, and a writer is more or less an optional accessory in the world of pushing a working product into a glutted market.

4/3/03 – (First installation of this nonsense.)

WHAT SORT OF TOOLS WILL WE STEAL

In Three Towns we took Palor’s NWN Spawn System and some of Kovi’s spell modification scripts, and modified them a lot; everything else was done from scratch. This as a good thing. This time, we’re going to use the most excellent APS/NWNX ODBC wrapper, and nothing else. Well, unless you want to count MySQL. In fact, we sorta have to use APS/NWNX, since it started this whole nonsense about doing the other impossible systems.

WHO’S GOING TO DO ALL OF THIS CRAP

Me, Kynn, and Wi so far. Who would have though Wi would be good at anything game related based on his performance as a player? But he has the toolkit knowledge, PERL automation, and most importantly, the willingness to do hundreds of big ass maps that make me want to shove splinters into my eyes. I know we should probably get more people, but damnit I just don’t like anyone. Not even me. We will though. MAYBE EVEN YOU! (Don’t count on it.)

WHAT’S THIS THING GOING TO BE CALLED

Fuck if I know.

WHAT SORT OF INSANE SYSTEMS ARE PLANNED

This is a lot. In addition to the systems we used in Three Towns wih some modifications and improvements, we’re planning the following: migration system AI layer for monsters based on desirability and crowding of areas and proximity to more powerful monsters, variable mana system, faith system, complete NPC barter-based system (no NPC standard vendors), offline activity system, monster homesteading system, quest for classes system, about 15 or so craft systems, dynamic quest system, in-depth faction system, inter-settlement trade route system, sea travel system, dynamically updated global quest reward system, class restriction based on affiliation system, fully interactive dynamic forestation system, and a bunch of other crap I’m too tired to think of. Kynn has already finished a working model of the migration system and is halfway through barter, and Wi has insane amounts of mapping done (there are 215 overland areas planned so far). I’ve made some pretty lights.

WHAT IS THE LOCAL TECHNOLOGY RANGE

Flint knapping to ironwork and crude pattern welding.

WILL THERE BE A HAKPAK REQUIREMENT

Not if I can help it. Unless we all get tired of looking at the rural set.

WILL I STILL HATE ALL PLAYERS

Yes.

That’s enough. I’m going to try and sleep now.

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