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| Design Your Own Online Roleplaying Universe (8 comments )|
by: chentsen (41) | Posted in cluster Editors Challenge Sponsored by Intel Round 2
Posted 75 months ago ( edited 75 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
In 1991, the first graphical MMO to ever be released- Neverwinter Nights, was ushered into existence. it gained a cult following- and enjoyed great commercial success. A pioneer in its day the original NWN has become somewhat forgotten. In 2002, Neverwinter Nights was reborn,
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released under Bioware with yet another revolutionary purpose- to bring the table top roleplaying experience to computer games. This reincarnation received both great critical reviews as well as a huge fanbase. In 2006 Neverwinter Nights 2 was released by Obsidian. NWN2 promised to build upon the foundation that made Neverwinter Nights (by Bioware) so successful
Unlimited potential. Infinite possibilities. These are words that are not to be brandished lightly, yet all indicators show that Neverwinter Nights achieved all of the promises that its press relations groups could come up with. Even today, it has a huge fanbase that continues to enjoy high-quality mods that are still being created everyday. How is this possible? How can a game survive for so long when its graphics are so dated and the game play mechanics so archaic? It's simple: take the power of creation and put it in the hands of the player.
This year at the Game Developers Conference, the buzz was all about player creativity. In the Sony keynote, Phil Harrison spoke of the coming iteration of games as the third generation. This generation of games, Harrison implied, would be an age of unparalleled age of player creation and creativity.
Judging by Neverwinter Nights 2, the revolution has already started.
Why am I reading this?
If the concept of designing and playing your own Online Roleplaying Game has ever interested you, if you've ever looked at a game and said “I can do better”, if you've always loved writing stories or loved listening to them, then you are in the right place. This guide will give you all you require to begin creating your own Persistent World. By harnessing the power of the Electron toolset included with the game, you will learn how to create areas, populate them with interesting NPCs and how to put all of it online for your friends to experience.
What will I need to run my very own Persistent World?
The closest thing to a catch would be this: to create a truly cohesive world, one must realize the limitations of the platform as well as the technical aspects to running a server. Do not expect your server to run the battle of Helms Deep, with thousands of units on the screen at the same time. It will not. It will cry and demand retribution on you for committing such a horrible travesty upon it, but it will not run.
You also have to realize the limitations that computer games have as a platform. At the end of the day the player still wants some monsters to bash and kill. Don't create your world based on what you think your players would like to play, but don't fail to utilize the tools that the gaming platform has, either. Try to find a happy medium.
On the technical end of things, in order to run a persistent world, it is preferable to have a stand-alone server. How powerful your server or your connection has to be depends on the scope of your world. If its just a small universe where close-knit players get to know each other very well (think pen and paper) then a simple rig with a P3 processor and one gigabyte of ram using a broadband connection will run fine. However, if you want to run a persistent world with hundreds of areas and hundreds of players you will need beefy servers, linked together all running on T1 connections. Generally, Persistent Worlds will fall someplace in between these two types. Now that you've got a general idea, lets go more in depth.
First of all, in terms of options, you have many to choose from. The definition of a server, at least in NWN2, is a broad one. Anything that you utilize to host your mod can be called a server. This can be your gaming rig, your homebrew server, or a collocation service hosting your module. Deciding what to include in your server is not as complicated as you might think. Basically, there are three routes you can take. The first, and most conventional, is to use a collocation service (have a professional game service host it for you) If you go this route, expect to incur a smaller initial investment cost, but to pay more in the long run due to recurring costs. The second path is the most daunting: creating your own server and hosting it off your own connection. This path requires the most initial investment, but the rewards pay off. The third path is to just run the server on your current rig.
If you want to take the second path but are afraid that you lack the knowledge necessary to create and run a server, don't fret. Building and maintaining a server is not as hard as it might seem, In fact, if you have experience building your own gaming rig, then you already have the prerequisite knowledge required to build a server.
Let's say you want to run a normal persistent world, It will have approximately seventy medium sized zones, and it will host a load of fifteen to twenty-five players. What will you need to get this server up and running?
>>>The following data is obtained from a series of tests from a standard HP NC8430 Laptop, a T3 university connection, a 768 kbps upstream cable connection, and a mixture of benchmarks conducted by the NWN community. Many thanks to all that contributed.
The biggest and most expensive bottleneck is without a doubt: bandwidth. Let's get one thing straight: Neverwinter Nights 2 is not optimized for bandwidth efficiency. As a result, expect Neverwinter Nights to eat up your bandwidth faster than Baxter eats up meow-mix. How much bandwidth NWN2 consumes depends on the complexity of the area as well as the amount of data being transferred between the client and the server. As a sidenote, NWN2 requires only trivial downstream speeds- about 25 kbps to initialize and run. On average, each player will consume roughly 38 kbps of data upstream from your connection. We obtain this number, because players idle or chatting in the game take up approximately 25 kbps of bandwidth, while players that are active, fighting monsters and such, take up about 50 kbps. This means that the typical 384kbps DSL connection will only be able to host about ten players. What are your other options? Well, there are plenty of other connection speeds. You may consider upping your DSL to the 768kbps version, which will allow you to host twenty players. Cable is also a great alternative, with upstream speeds up to one mbps. The most important thing you need to know is the upstream speed of your connection. Many ISPs produce false advertising that can lead you to believe your upstream to be a different speed than it really is. The ideal connection would be Fios. If you haven't heard of it, Fios is the latest from Verizon R&D. Utilizing fiber optics, it offers upload speeds of up to 2 mbps for about the same price as cable. Fios, however, has not achieved the widespread market penetration that cable has, therefor there is a high probability that the Fios won't be offered in the area you are living in. Also, make sure to get a static i.p address. You don't want your server address changing every time the server crashes. Ultimately, the choice is left to you, however, don't skimp if you can afford to pay more. Bandwidth is the biggest bottleneck in terms of performance.
The second barrier lies in the ram. It is important to realize the limitations that insufficient ram could impose on your game. In comparison to NWN, NWN2 uses a huge amount of memory. For our seventy area module, we will need a minimum of one gigabyte to run it, not factoring in the overhead of the OS. (which for now is limited to XP and Vista, no linux or mac servers are planned on the horizon). Note that that as a rough estimate, you can expect your server to require about three fourths the amount of ram compared to the actual physical size of the module, though this statistic can vary greatly. For a Persistent World of about 70 zones, we need at least 1.5 gigabytes of ram, preferably 2 gigabytes. If you can afford it, spring for PC5300 or PC6400 sticks.
Last, but not least, you must also consider your processor. When deciding which processor to choose, you should consider two things. First of all, you should factor in stability when making your decision. Many of us, when constructing our gaming rigs, go for the fastest ram and processor. However, for servers speed is not always the top priority. Stability takes precedent. To increase stability invest in larger heatsinks such as those from Zalman, or Coolermaster. With PC cooling as large a business as it is, it shouldn't be hard to find the best heat sink to suit your needs. The next thing to consider is the fact that the NWN2 server does not take into account dual or quad core architecture. This means that the potential of a dual core processor will not be fully utilized. If you have little to spend, a Pentium 4 or an older Athlon 3600 should serve fine for the purpose. Of course, even without the advantage of dual core processing, the architecture of the more modern dual core units still lends to faster processing speed.
Designing your Persistent World
Now that we've gone over the technical aspects, its time to get our creative juices flowing with some brainstorming!
While it is entirely possible to design a World of Warcraft type Persistent World, the NWN2 platform allows for much more than that. If you wish, you could create an entirely story driven world, where leveling up only occurs when players complete major quests, and slaying monsters yields no experience. You could create a world where religions, politics and intrigue are abundant, and flavor drips from every pore. You could create massive multi-level dungeons where players form groups and fight to the death. Basically, with NWN2 you can design any sort of RPG your heart desires, as long as it falls under the basic DND ruleset.
I therefor leave the concept design up to you. There are however, tips and tricks that can make design as pain free and fun as possible.
First of all, always create a design document. No matter what. A design document will help you focus your ideas and give you the motivation required to complete your project. I suggest dividing your design documents into sections that detail small portions of work that can be completed on a weekly basis. This way you get a sense of accomplishment whenever you finish that section of your design. Maps are also useful when designing your world. A rough sketch of the world map is usually fine to begin with. Later, you'll want to add additional maps of localized regions and areas. Maps and sketches are an integral part of visualization. Refer to Example 1a 1b and 1c for pictures of a design document. Great design documents are one of the hallmarks of a great Persistent World.
Too often, modders think that persistent worlds are easy to create because the players are expected to generate the fun by interacting with each other. This is a false concept. Persistent Worlds can be harder to design and script then single player modules. When you're designing your world, be sure you incorporate enough fun things to do for the player to want to stick around. What exactly is fun? Well, that's up to you. Fun could mean dragon slaying, fun could mean Dungeon Master led dynamic adventures, or fun could just mean beautiful well conceived areas for the player to explore.
Ultimately, realize that you are designing a Persistent World. Realize that you will have to balance loot and treasure much more than you would have to in a single-player mod. Realize that you will have to consider things such as memory leakages, and persistent database systems that survive after server crashes. Factor those things into your design. Remember that you will have to implement respawning treasure and monster systems, and other things that are needed in a online RPG. Soon your design document will become the DNA of a living, breathing Online Roleplaying Game.
Take a deep breath, and prepare to plunge!
Note that due to the breadth of this article, there is no way to completely explain how to create a Persistent World, rather this article attempts to serve as a springboard for novices that wish to begin using the Electron to create Persistent Worlds, note that the rest of this particular section is a step by step tutorial. To actually follow along, I recommend purchasing NWN2.
By now, you, loyal reader, must be wondering when we're actually going to get to some real game design done. Well, sound the trumpet, because the time has arrived! The best way to design your first area is to just jump straight in and get your feet wet. This tutorial will ensure that your first step into the Electron Toolset doesn't send you off running.
>>>Step 1 Area Creation :(refer to picture 2a) Open up the toolset. Whew. There's a plethora of toolbars that might seem overwhelming to a novice builder. For now just click File-->New--->Area Name the area Starting Zone, make no changes to the drop-down menu that says Exterior(Terrain). On the next screen where it says “Area Size” just click next; small is the perfect size for a starting zone. Click finish. Voila! You've created your first area. It looks a little bit boring though, doesn't it? Let's spruce it up. Your screen should look somewhat like this (refer to picture 2b) The players spawn at the red arrow encapsulated by a circle.
>>>Step 2 Textures:(refer to picture 2c) Textures are what separates grassy hills from towering mountains, and icy tundras from fertile plains. Let's say we want the players to start at a crossroad, this symbolically could mean the beginning of a new journey for the players. It's a great way to get the players into the mood. Alternately you could have the players start in a dark dungeon, a church, or the edge of a volcano. Your imagination is the limit. But I digress. Let's take a look at the texture brushes. For now, all you need to know is that these brushes paint textures onto the terrain and give your world definition. On the right side of your screen, press on the terrain tab, after that, click on texturing, the pink box near the top right. In the middle of the newly opened sidebar, you will see many textures. Let's pick a texture that resembles a road. Choose TT_GD_Dirt_19 for a nice earthy tone. The brush size is a little too big, lets make it smaller. Under the Brush section of the opened tab, select the S button. Paint the texture so that a crossroad forms at the middle of the area (refer to picture 2d) Congratulations, you've added your first texture!
>>>Step 3 Elevation:(refer to picture 2e) The players have arrived at a critical juncture: they are about to enter your game world. As such, they should be elevated so they can see their surroundings. Let's make the crossroad higher than the road around it. This time instead of selecting textures from the textures tab, select the red button, terrain. You will see that the brushes subsection has been changed to various height descriptors. Make sure raise is selected. Now let's take a look at the brush subsection instead of clicking “S” for small this time, make sure to click M for medium. Then under pressure move the slider until it is at 30 percent. Now raise your crossroad. Don't click for too long, or it'll be too high for the player to scale. (refer to picture 2f)
>>>Step 4 Placeables: (refer to picture 2g) Now that you know some basic commands, lets spice up the landscape a little bit. Close the terrain tab, click on the blueprints tab, then click on the placeables tab. Once you've done that expand the Building Props tab. Lets place some structures and make the area look more lively. Scroll three-fourths down the page until you see rural houses. Click on any of those and place some down around your area. Placeables breathe life into your area. There are thousands of them, and all give a distinctly different feel. Feel free to place down more buildings. Alternately you could click on the tree tab under the blueprints and paint some trees. Your end result should look somewhat like this (refer to 2h)
>>>Step 5 Creatures:(refer to 2i) The area looks nice enough, but what about some interaction? Let's make our first NPC conversation. Go back to the blueprints tab, instead of clicking on placeables, click on creatures, expand the npc category, and select commoner near the top of selection. Select him and paint him on the top of the hill. (refer to 2j)
>>>Step 6 Conversations:(refer to 2k) As of now, the commoner does not speak, lets make him say something. Go to File--->New--->Conversation. Look at the screen, take everything in, but focus on the middle portion. Right click root, and select add from the drop down menu. You will see a pop-up that says “Enter text here”, replace it with: “Hello, adventurers, welcome to the world of Generic!”. Press okay. Close the conversation screen. The toolset will prompt you to save the conversation. Select yes. You will now be back at the toolset main screen. Select your commoner, right-click him and select properties(new window). On the menu that pops up, scroll down until you see Behavior. The first box under behavior will say Conversation. To the right of conversation will be a blank box, click on it, and from the drop down menu select conversation1. (refer to 2l). Now, you have attached the conversation you just wrote, to the Commoner you just placed. Close the menu.
>>>Step 7 Baking and Saving: (Refer to 2m) You've done all the hard parts, all that remains is to bake and save your game. To do this, first go to file-->bake current area. Baking the area creates a walkmesh, which is basically a series of calculations detailing where the ground is too steep for a player to walk, or where a solid object that obstructs the player is located. Basically, its responsible for the pathfinding. Now, all thats left to do is to save your fledgling world. Go to File--->Save As and type in a name.
>>>Step 8 Take your mod for a spin: This is the fun part, go to file--->Run Module and select the module you just made. This will run your module in game. Be proud, you've just constructed your first mod, and are well on your way towards creating your own Persistent World.
In the end
Obviously, theres a lot more to running a Persistent World. However, as you have seen, with the Electron engine and a bit of ingenuity, there is no limit to what one can create. If what you have seen here interests you, there are plenty of online resources you can visit. A few famous ones such as nwvault.ign.com or nwn2.com have tutorials and forums where you can learn more from like minded peers.
What are you waiting for? The next great Online Roleplaying Game has yet to be designed!
|8 User Comment(s) • 4 root comment(s)|
| suibhne (65) Mar 16, 2007 - 11:22 am | Edited on Mar 16, 2007 - 11:23 am|
|Grammar and style are rough around the edges, but it's pretty clear and straightforward. In fact, it was a helpful introduction for me, personally, to the NWN2 toolset that's been sitting on my drive unused for the past three months. :)|
You mention single-player modules only once, and I think they deserve some attention in your introduction. Most users of Electron will probably create SP modules, not larger and more complex Persistent Worlds, so I started this article with the assumption you'd be dealing with that. Despite your focus on PWs, it would still be helpful to acknowledge SP modules (particularly since your step-by-step tutorial is also applicable to those).
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| xens (11) Mar 11, 2007 - 05:06 pm|
|Very useful article, serves as a good entry-level tutorial for anyone wanting to venture into designing a persistent world. Thumbs up!|
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