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Homeland progress report


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Omigosh, I haven't played BoA in so many years, and this will be just what I need to get back into it. I've yet to play through Bahssikava and Exodus, so I'll probably need to dig into the whole trilogy. 100 towns... sounds like this series is substantially larger than Jeff's own games! Will be keeping an eye on this - amazing work!

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Given the recent level of activity in the BoA forums, I thought now might be a good time to announce that I am in the early stages of designing Homeland, the follow-up to Bahssikava and Exodus!  

I'm way ahead of you.   EDIT: To be a little less flippant, as the other posts earlier in the thread say, Homeland involves a complete combat rebalance. Every monster has been modified in at

I was hoping to come back and say that everything through the end of Chapter 2 is done, but it's not happening as quickly as I'd hoped. What I'm doing now is creating all the stuff that didn't go righ

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I've yet to play through Bahssikava and Exodus, so I'll probably need to dig into the whole trilogy.

 

Why not dig into Bassikava and Exodus (and The Magic, which is relevant) when you next have a run of free time, mikeprichard? These scenarios are some of the real high points of the output of BoA, and come very highly recommended. Indeed, there’s some speculation as to whether Jeff himself referenced these scenarios in the 2011 Escape from the Pit remake ...

 

Although there’s a fair amount of time before Homeland reaches a testable stage, there’s no harm in getting started on the first games in the series early (especially if you've got Queen's Wish to work through first!). If you really stop and smell the roses, there’s an awful lot of meat to these scenarios, both in terms of the detail Kelandon has put in to the setting, but also in the continually interesting and varied combat situations. One of the things Bahssikava, Exodus and The Magic do really well is constantly putting the player into new and interesting battles, meaning that you may need to try a series of different strategies for different fights. Some of the fights might require some experimentation! Oh, and there are some extremely fine beam puzzles in Bahssikava, although most people don’t get quite as excited about those as I do ...

 

To top it off, these scenarios are long. At least in my experience, they really benefit from a slow and steady playthrough over a long period. In fact, before diving in, I might suggest maybe warming up with a simpler scenario first – maybe something like Diplomacy with the Dead – just to get your BoA senses tingling again.

 

Since you mentioned length, let’s put this into context. Homeland will have ~100 towns when it’s finished. Exodus was 60 towns long, with a vast outdoors. Bahssikava is formed of 22 towns and The Magic, the smallest of the bunch, has 13 towns overall.

 

Avernum: Escape from the Pit has 80 towns in total. So, when taken together, the Homeland games have about two and a half times the number of towns as the first Avernum game! In fact, in terms of raw real estate, the series will probably be somewhat larger by comparison – this is because Kelandon’s towns seem to be more on the larger end of things compared to Avernum, and I imagine that won’t be changing in the third instalment.

 

Do give these scenarios a try at some point. You won’t be disappointed!

Edited by Ess-Eschas
Adding some slight clarification.
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  • 3 weeks later...

I am losing my mind. I figured out how the second (and, by far, the longest) part of Chapter 5 can work, and it's... nuts.

Spoiler

It's based on everyone's favorite scene in the Wheel of Time: the Book 4 ter'angreal that reveals the history of the Aiel. Essentially, you live a bunch of historical scenes in reverse chronological order, tracing something back to its origins. There are five scenes, some involving combat, some involving puzzles, some little more than cut scenes, all building to the final puzzle: What does it all mean? What do you need to do to fix everything?

 

I created the first and third scenes, skipped the second because I basically know how it will go but need to work on the details, and am in the middle of the fourth (which is kind of involved). I am hoping that this sequence creates a very strong sense of the uncanny in the player, because that's its effect on me. You live out some of the most important moments in the lives of some of the most important figures in my canon's history.

 

In the first scene, you're Legare.

 

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The first rule of Rhuidean Club is you do not talk about Rhuidean Club.


I remember beta-testing Laz's Dilecia, which originally had two back-to-back cutscenes of the same event, first with an unreliable narrator and second with the actual events. We decided that it worked better pacing-wise to separate the cutscenes. Are your flashbacks going to be spaced out as well? It might not be an issue for your scenario, since it sounds like there's going to be more interaction and gameplay in your flashbacks. Even if it's just a brief interlude to decompress and interact with companions.

 

Edited by Dintiradan
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Yeah, I learned the dangers of overly long periods of no interaction while designing Bahssikava.

Spoiler

The first and second scenes have combat, and you walk around a bit, and there's some dialogue. The third scene is not much more than a cutscene, but you still walk around a bit and there's some dialogue. And so on. There's also a little bit between each scene — another character is going through the same visions, and you talk with him about what you're seeing — but that's basically just a cutscene.

 

It's interactive within constraints. The sequence is completely linear and railroaded. You do stuff, but what you can do is really tightly constrained.

 

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While I can’t speak from a design perspective, this sounds awesome! Man, Kel, how do you keep making this scenario more exciting? :)

 

Spoiler

At least in my book, you’ve already shown that you can do excellent 'memory' sequences with constrained interactivity in The Magic. I can’t wait to see how something like that will play out on the grander canvas of slith history. It seems nicely fitting that we do this when approaching the climax of the trilogy, too.

 

It opens up all sorts of possibilities. From what you’ve said about the combat, I imagine we’re not going to see Mahanyakshetra here, but who knows? There's lots that we could see. I do hope that the companion on this voyage is who I think it is – but I’m having a hard time thinking of anyone else it realistically could be.

 

And actually playing Legare. Woah!

 

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I just wrote the ending. Like the ending of Chapter 3 (which is probably the most pivotal moment in the scenario), it's going to go through a few drafts before I'm happy with it. But holy moly, I wrote the ending.

 

There is a ton of filling in to do. The scenario has 93 towns, many of which are only partially complete, and there are a few more to create. There is a lot of combat to put in, much of which is pretty elaborate scripted combat and will take a lot of work. But this is a major milestone. I've been designing frantically for the past couple of days because I knew I was close, and I finally got there.

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Yeah, this does keep getting more exciting. :)

 

Congratulations, Kel! This is a major milestone indeed, and one worthy of celebration! Even if it’s in a slightly skeletal form, the Homeland trilogy (in four parts) is now in some senses complete from beginning to end. That’s a great thing – something I don’t imagine many on here would have anticipated even a few years ago – and it's a testament to your hard work. Hooray!

 

While it would be unfair to say that the end is in sight, at least the top of the mountain range is coming into view ...

 

Obligatory clipart below:

 

Celebration-balloon-vector-download-vect

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

I was hoping to come back and say that everything through the end of Chapter 2 is done, but it's not happening as quickly as I'd hoped. What I'm doing now is creating all the stuff that didn't go right the first time—e.g., there was a space where I figured that I wanted something of general nature [x] to happen, but I couldn't come up with the details for [x], or I started to write [x] and it was bad, or whatever. I'm making progress, but I probably need another month or two.

 

I'm also filling in minor details everywhere. For example, yesterday, I added area descriptions to every town in Chapters 1 and 2 that was missing them.

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  • 2 months later...
Posted (edited)

What now, Kel! How is it going? I am eager of your this scenario as your two others were excellent. Combats were tough with blessing but going through difficulties was a real adventuring. 

I am waiting but no replies for 2 1/2 months. 

Edited by Warrior Mage
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Patience, Warrior Mage. A badgered artist produces poor art – it’s much better to let a creative person work at their own pace!
 

To put this into some context, Homeland is approaching one of the main Avernum games in size. Each of these games took years of work by Spiderweb Software, and that was their main occupation. Kelandon is working on this scenario in his spare time – he has to fit it in alongside his main occupation, and in amongst his other projects, not least helping to maintain these boards! That’s not to mention the current public health issues being faced around the world, making the climate for creative work that much more difficult. Homeland is going to take some time before it’s completed.
 

As someone who is also working on creative projects of a not dissimilar scope, I can assure you that a few months here or there is nothing. I’m sure Kelandon will post an update here when he has something interesting to report!
 

If you read through this topic, you’ll see that Kelandon has made excellent progress on this scenario. We’re on the home stretch, but we’re not there yet. Homeland will be completed, of that I’m sure, but it’s not going to be right away – it won’t be this month, or the next, or even a few months after that, I imagine. It’s going to take time, but it will happen. Until then, we need to be patient!
 

So, why not use the waiting time in a constructive way? You’ve been learning to use the engine, so why not write your own scenario in the meantime? It could be anything you wanted. You could even write something in Kelandon’s own universe if you wished. How about a scenario looking at the original residents of Vasskolis, and how they dealt with the sudden arrival of the dragon Galthrax? Or looking at a Bahssikavan slith adventurer caught up in the chaos of the demon invasion of the city? Or a slith servant working in the ancient vahnatai empire before the fall, one who gets to see the demonic summoning by Vylas-Ihrno – the one that created the Lava Ocean – first hand?
 

See if you can beat Kelandon – can you finish your scenario first?

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Posted (edited)

Hello Ess-Eschas! Good to see you again. I too wondered 93 towns is a huge... amount! Even avernum didn't contain so lot of towns!!! I just wanted to know the progress. I am glad that blades of avernum is long living. Coming to your point, I can't use any of Kelandon's plot, which would create copyright issues and I won't disturb his world. And also I am a novice designer, how can I finish a small scenario before him? Even though I finish, it should be eligible to release! Developments for me... SDFs, special encounters, dialog nodes are now very simple. ALSO I AM JUST GETTING 50 MINS - 1 HR TO DO ANYTHING.

Edited by Warrior Mage
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Yeah, the reality is that while the coronavirus situation left some people with more time on their hands, it left me with less, at the same time as my side job picked up speed. So I've been able to work on this only a handful of times in the last few months. We've got a three-day weekend coming up, though, and I don't have anything scheduled. My hope is to spend most of the weekend on this and to make some real progress again for the first time in a while.

 

And yeah, in terms of size, Homeland is 18-19 outdoor sections and, at this point, 100 towns. I don't expect to add many more, but I still need to fill in a lot of details in a lot of towns.

 

I will say that for a scenario that draws its inspiration from the scandals and failures of the Trump Administration, waiting around a few months does tend to give me more material to work with.

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Thank you for replying, Kelandon. I have a suggestion for you: Try to include considerable amount of arrows and missiles in your scenario as it was unusual in your last two epics. I trained characters well in that area and I use them regularly. Who knows, some more people may be thinking like this. 

 

Also, don't think it odd to be receiving messages from me at late nights! I'm not an American and I live in a very different time zone. So, that's why I am not active during your daytimes mostly..

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22 hours ago, Warrior Mage said:

I have a suggestion for you: Try to include considerable amount of arrows and missiles in your scenario as it was unusual in your last two epics. I trained characters well in that area and I use them regularly. Who knows, some more people may be thinking like this. 

I'm way ahead of you.

 

EDIT: To be a little less flippant, as the other posts earlier in the thread say, Homeland involves a complete combat rebalance. Every monster has been modified in at least some way—often in very substantial ways. The level progression has been changed via new spells and abilities. Together with that, I've controlled what items are available in each chapter.

 

One thing I'll be paying attention to during testing is whether I need to modify the items more deeply. Right now, I have special, magic items that are new, but a lot of the regular items are the same as what you find by default in the core files. It's possible I need to change that, though I think it's unlikely.

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Best of luck in whatever you do, Kelandon! I have one more suggestion that you should train yourself in luck, arcane lore, intelligence and endurance. Also have a bit hardiness for a perfect best scenario. Connect the skills I mentioned with designing and find out what I mean.🙂

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Doing some alpha testing this weekend. I started afresh, and I still love the Prologue. Chapter 1 is getting there, but there's still a lot that alpha testing revealed that is problematic. Some bugs, but more just details that I forgot to fill in at one point or another. Their absence is not conspicuous when you're looking at the scenario in the editor, but it's conspicuous when you're playing.

 

Right now, I'm puzzling over whether I made the Chapter 1 combat too hard. I'm doing the quests in a different order than I did in my initial testing, and it's taking some reloading. If I do some of the dungeon, back out, sell loot and buy spells, and go back in, I can totally do it. But is it too much? I don't know.

 

BoA has an issue that is common to a lot of RPGs, which is that you gain power quickly in the early going. A level 1 party is much, much weaker than a level 5 party, and you jump from level 1 to level 5 fast. So if you do the quests in one order vs. another, you can end up with a radically different party at different points. Which I guess suggests that I should make all of the early dungeons pretty easy, but it seems fairly tedious if I do that.

 

I probably just have to keep an eye on this as I do further rounds of testing.

 

EDIT: After further testing, yes, the sequence of quests is a bit of an issue. There's really one that you should do first and one that you should do last. I probably should make this obvious, though I guess not mandatory.

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Jeff, when remaking his games, is doing more plot hammering of quests to deal with that problem. Having an NPC to suggest the order might help even though players just like to do their own things.

 

Good luck with it.

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From what you’ve said, it sounds like you have a fairly solid feeling about how to approach this problem already. However, I just wanted to add my own voice against the idea of homogenising the difficulty of the early dungeons, or of providing too much direction for the party.
 

As you say, the power of a party rises rapidly in the very early game. This is a problem, certainly, since it means that the party can come up against a difficulty wall pretty quickly. But it’s also something of an asset – when a party comes back to an area that they couldn’t previously deal with, and then gets through it, it serves to really highlight the growth of the party.
 

For my part, I think dungeons of varying difficulty can provide an additional puzzle/strategy element to a game. The party needs to explore what they’re presented with, push and probe a little, and find how which paths will lead to success. When they figure it out, it’s rewarding in the same way that, say, solving a riddle is.
 

In some respects, I imagine this could have some interesting consequences for Homeland in particular; after all, it would imply that the party is gaining strength so rapidly through the help of the superior knowledge and experience of the people of the Homeland itself (either directly, or indirectly through interacting with the Expedition).
 

It also works against the problem you mention, where certain dungeons will by definition become too easy. That can potentially become a narrative issue; after all, if certain quests are fairly straightforward, why didn’t the people in the Homeland do them themselves, rather than waiting for an unexpected group of Exiles? Of course, there are plenty of ways around this point, but ensuring that missions are consistently challenging, and sometimes overwhelming, is one fairly general solution.
 

I also counsel against providing too much direction. Direction is good, and your idea seems a solid one – in particular, providing a strong hint for where the party should go first works against the potential frustration of hitting too many impassible dungeons right at the beginning of the game. I think that might be best being left as a hint rather than something forced on the party, since it allows some freedom for those who want to potentially try to do things differently, but there are plenty of arguments for the other approach.
 

However, I’m not sure providing a guide for the order in which every mission should be played is necessarily the right approach either. It’s practical from a game-design perspective, but there’s a danger of it wearing away at the narrative and mimesis a little – it can come off as a little convenient, demonstrating the mechanics behind the world, and therefore potentially breaking the immersion a little.
 

Perhaps the best example I can think of is the difficulty ‘gating’ Spiderweb tends to employ in its later games. It provides for a much smoother experience, yes but from experience of reading accounts on these boards, it can sometimes break immersion for some players in putting the mechanics before the plot. Of course, this is a tradeoff – had it been done the other way, people would have complained about difficulty! – so in the end it’s down to what you prefer, and what you think players might prefer.

 

One other possible way around the issue is to provide advice, rather than necessarily direction. So, for instance, you could have a character suggest that the party try out a series of missions, or not necessarily try to complete each mission in one go. Or, if that came across as a little convenient, you could put that as a Tip of the Day (if you worked at it, you could force that Tip to be shown the first time a party reloads during Chapter 1, I think).
 

That’s my two-penn’orth. In any case, it’s good to hear that things are going well – particularly that the Prologue is in such a good state! (Of course, it seems to imply there’s no fighting in there, too, which is interesting in its own right ...).

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There's combat in the Prologue, but it's totally linear, so the difficulty is not dependent on player choice and thus easier to control. I guess another option would be to add more combat to the Prologue, so the player does the initial level-gain in a linear fashion. It would take a little rewriting, but it could be done. I think that's a decision for a later day.

 

I think the easy solution, for now, is to drop a fairly conspicuous hint to the player at the end of the Prologue, and then throw in a small warning when obtaining the hardest quest (just in case the player picks it up too soon).

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  • 2 weeks later...

One unexpected thing about alpha testing is that I have to relearn how to play BoA. I don't really remember how to allot skill points and that kind of thing. It's fun, but it's a bit weird, like speaking a foreign language for the first time in many years.

 

As of this test, the party ends up around level 14 at the end of Chapter 1 if you do all the side quests. That's probably not going to change much between now and the beta version.

 

I have a list of about two dozen things that I need to fix in Chapter 1 based on this round of alpha testing. I'm now ready to go into Chapter 2 for the first time. I'm not exactly looking forward to it. Initial alpha testing is usually pretty rough. But the capital awaits.

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25 minutes ago, Kelandon said:

One unexpected thing about alpha testing is that I have to relearn how to play BoA. I don't really remember how to allot skill points and that kind of thing. It's fun, but it's a bit weird, like speaking a foreign language for the first time in many years.

You have the problem that there are many ways to play any Spiderweb game, so how to allot skill points is more personal preference. That's why Jeff needs so many beta testers. Then you add in some don't feel like doing all the side quests to have different experience levels at the end of each chapter.

 

Good luck.

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Ess-Eschas just helped me with a bug that I was realistically never going to track down by myself, and I figure I might as well let everyone know about it.

 

Evidently, using the set_terrain() call in the outdoors prompts weird behavior when used on the eastern end of the outdoor section, if the party is currently located in the (north-?)western end of the section. The problem manifests for x-coordinates greater than or equal to 37. There are some safe regions with x = 40 and y = an odd number greater than 26, x = 41 or 42 and y = and odd number, and x = 43 and y = and odd number less than 38, among other potential safe areas. But otherwise, using set_terrain() in the outdoors can mess up the first PC.

 

The bug initially manifested when I had a supply cache at (41,46) and was setting it to be a found supply cache if the player had already opened it and was re-entering the outdoor section. While wandering in the northwest corner of the section, I ended up with 141 copies of whatever was in the first PC's fifth inventory slot. Moving the cache to (41,44) changed it to adding pears (item 397) to the first PC's fifth inventory slot. Moving the cache to (41,45) fixed the bug as far as I can tell.

 

Ess-Eschas can explain why this is happening better than I can, but it's one of the weirdest bugs I've ever seen in BoA. It seems to involve memory errors not unlike the old staining technique.

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For the curious, here’s what I think causes this rather odd behaviour. I’ve placed the explanation in spoiler tags (just so the length doesn’t snarl up the flow of this thread):
 

Spoiler

As I understand it, the BoA engine processes the outdoors by splitting it into two different portions of the program’s memory. The most important part of the outdoors from a gameplay perspective is the region in the immediate vicinity of the party – think of this as the ‘active’ part of the outdoors. This is where all the interesting stuff happens, such as your party moving, triggering encounters, seeing outdoor groups move around, etc.. This ‘active’ part of the outdoors is stored in one part of the memory.
 

However, far away from the party, not much happens. Indeed, it’s wasteful from a design perspective to make anything happen there. The party can’t see it, and doing any calculations there only eats up computational time and slows everything down. These parts of the outdoors need to be in the memory somewhere, since the game has to know what it looks like for, say, drawing the automap, or connecting walls up correctly, but those regions don’t have anything like the same priority as the ‘active’ region.
 

What BoA does is that it stores this part of the outdoors, let’s call it the ‘inactive’ region, somewhere else in the memory. It’s different from the active region because no code is run inside it – it just exists for the reasons I stated above.
 

Think of the ‘active’ part of the memory as a big rectangle placed around the party. This region, incidentally, is about the same size as an outdoor section. Everything inside is in colour – active – and everything outside is monochrome – inactive. As the party moves, the rectangle moves with it, with squares at the boundary moving between being active and inactive. Your detailed, colourful region moves along with the party, leaving inactive squares behind it.
 

set_terrain() works by looking up a set of coordinates, and changing the terrain; it does this by changing the memory cell associated with that terrain to a given value. That’s all well and good when the target is in the active region. But what happens if you use set_terrain() to alter something in the inactive region? What happens if you try to alter some terrain that’s a long way away?
 

What happens is that the call looks up the memory cell, in memory space, that would correspond to the coordinates it’s been given. But the crunch is that the inactive region is stored somewhere else in the memory entirely, and set_terrain() doesn’t compensate for this. Instead, it overwrites a memory cell in that portion of the memory adjacent – in the program’s innards – to the active outdoor region.
 

That region, for the situation described by Kelandon, is the party data.
 

Instead of changing a terrain, set_terrain() in this case will write whatever number it’s been given into some part of the party data. This could be the number of charges of an item, or what item is being held in a certain slot, or what value is given in a certain skill, or what level the character has, or what traits they have, and so on. Every single piece of information about the character can be overwritten. Even their name.
 

This usually happens with the first player character, but with large enough x coordinates, you can start to affect the others in sequence.
 

Some really nasty things can happen. Choose a bad spot, and you can crash the game, or even permanently delete a character. It’s not pretty.
 

It’s also not always obvious when this happens. For instance, for certain coordinates, you can permanently change a character's attitude with respect to the party. This isn’t obvious in the outdoors, but enter combat or a town, and it becomes quickly apparent that this party member has now become hostile to the others forever (despite the player having full control over them – it’s different from charming). This is a subtle effect, not at all obvious at a first glance, but one that entirely ruins a party. There are others like it.
 

This overwritten memory only seems to be a problem on the right side of an outdoor zone. The call will start overwriting the party data when the party moves far enough away, in the same outdoor section, for this region to move into the inactive memory. In other words, they need to be on the left side of the zone. Thankfully, whatever memory is being overwritten on the other borders, it doesn’t seem to have any noticeable effect.
 

Those safe zones with odd y coordinates, by the way, come from how the item data is stored. Each item definition has some buffer memory associated with it that serves no purpose, possibly as a holdover from the structures of previous Avernum games, or from some alteration of the code over the course of the design. This memory is never used for any computing, so can be overwritten without any consequences.

 

To be safe, and to avoid nasty problems happening with your party, follow the conditions in Kelandon’s post. These conditions apply for Mac BoA, but might be different for Windows BoA. If so, I’ll post an update to that effect.
 

To summarise, be very careful when using set_terrain() at the right edge of an outdoor section!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Per my investigations this morning, I have determined that I don't like the standard magically locked door mechanic and am going to change it for Homeland.

 

I don't particularly like that the magical door script and the regular door script are two separate scripts, so I'm going to unify them. And, per my usual approach, I'm going to set good defaults but allow customization through memory cells, such that you can set magical lock strength, mechanism difficulty (for picking), and physical strength (for bashing) separately.

 

Some doors will be only physically locked, so you need picking/bashing/a strong Unlock spell. Some doors will be only magically locked, so an Unlock spell is all you need. Some will be both, so you need an Unlock spell plus picking/bashing/a second Unlock spell. And some will be much easier to bash than to pick, or vice-versa. Obviously, in-game dialog boxes will need to give clues about the nature of each door.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm going through my third alpha test of Chapter 1, and it's generally in a good place, but it's making me realize that I really need to sit down and restructure the special skills/abilities that I designed way back at the beginning of the scenario creation process. Now that I know the structure of the main plot in much more detail — all the core quests have been designed at least in principle (and almost all implemented in a basic way), and all the side quests in Chapters 1 and 2 have been fully designed and implemented, save at the very end of Chapter 2 — my initial ideas for how the special spells/abilities would work don't really pan out.

 

In particular, the skill requirements (e.g., you have to have a minimum Mage Spells of [x] before you can cast this spell) are all set wrong. A few spells were made Mage Spells that should have been Priest Spells and vice-versa. And, much more importantly, the skills/spells are being listed in the wrong order. The other two issues are just matter of tweaking my notes and two states in the scenario script, but that last issue requires moving a whole bunch of things around. It will be a mess to fix. But hopefully I can get it done today, finish the last alpha test of Chapter 1, and finally get into the first real alpha test of Chapter 2. (I tried to alpha test Chapter 2 a few weeks ago, but there were so many bugs/missing pieces I uncovered from both Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 that I didn't get very far.)

 

A while back, I worried that I was creating a Nethergate scenario: there's a main quest line, but a lot of the cool stuff is outside the main quests. Now, much farther in, I'm pretty sure of it. There is a ton of content outside the main quest sequence, and if you're not looking for it, you can easily miss it. At the end of each chapter, you get an update on how many of the side quests you've started and completed, and Chapter 2 is structured such that you can backtrack into Chapter 1, so at least people should be aware of whether they're missing a lot of stuff or not. After Chapter 2, though, each chapter is self-contained: in Chapter 3, you can't backtrack into Chapter 2, etc.

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3 hours ago, Kelandon said:

At the end of each chapter, you get an update on how many of the side quests you've started and completed, and Chapter 2 is structured such that you can backtrack into Chapter 1, so at least people should be aware of whether they're missing a lot of stuff or not

 

I really like the sound of this. That’s a great idea!

 

One of the potential difficulties of creating a game in the style you’ve described, where there’s a lot of content outside of the main plot, is that it can sometimes be difficult for a player to know how much they’ve really explored. Having a periodic indication of how much extra material the player has seen gets around that quite neatly, particularly if some of the quests take a little digging to find; I know I for one would find it helpful!

 

In fact, I’d argue that this would give you a little leeway to make some of the quests slightly more difficult to find than usual. In some sense, these update screens are hints in their own right, albeit it vague ones, that at least point out to the player that they need to look around a little more in a given area.

 

Allowing the player to backtrack after the first update screen in Chapter 1 is a nice touch, too; as you say, it gives the player an indication of how much they’re exploring the game’s world. Given that Chapter 1 is a little shorter than other chapters, though, I wonder whether there might be some merit in extending this ‘grace period’ a little? I get the feeling this might not be possible given the game’s structure, but I wonder whether there might be some way of presenting the summary given at the end of Chapter 2 just before the point where the player gets locked in to Chapter 3? You could perhaps combine that with a classic Spiderweb ‘be careful going any further, since you might not be able to get back’ style of message.

 

My thinking is that this would give the player a much better indication of how much material they’re seeing before they get locked in to the self-contained chapters. It also gives the player a little nudge that the remaining chapters are self-contained, something which isn’t perhaps made obvious by the free boundary between the material of Chapters 1 and 2.

 

That’s just a thought, and it might not be practical to implement. I could see it really getting in the way of the drama, for instance, if events happen the way I think they do.

 

In any case, it’s great to hear things are going well! All the best for moving your spell code chunks around. Hopefully that won’t be as messy to fix as you think it will – your coding has always seemed pretty clean, so hopefully the chunks should move around without too much material getting tangled – and at least the outcome should still save a lot a work compared to a non-centralised solution!

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To give you some idea why this all takes forever, my plan for the rest of today was exactly what I said: fix the special spells/abilities, and keep alpha testing. But as I was fixing the special spells/abilities, I realized that some of my early choices about when you learn the special spells/abilities were irrational. They were rewards for very minor quests when there were much more major quests with altogether too modest rewards. So I sat down to document all the side quest rewards and all the places where you learn special spells/abilities (plus all the magic items that are found/earned).

 

This doesn't sound so bad until you realize that, right now, there are 29 side quests that you can complete within Chapters 1 and 2, 16 special spells/abilities that you can learn in Chapters 1 and 2, and 24 magic items that you can obtain in Chapters 1 and 2. 

 

Then, once I'd documented the relevant info in spreadsheets, I realized how haphazard choices I'd made so far about these things had been, and I decided to make them more logical and systematic. First, I had to figure out what I want to do (changing the spreadsheets), and then I had to go back into the scenario and implement it.

 

So what seemed like a fairly simple, basic task ended up being a lengthy documenting process that took all day, and I didn't get to any additional alpha testing. But in the end the scenario will benefit because things will be a lot more planned and balanced, and I can go back to alpha testing when I next sit down to work on this. (It looks like the changes to the special spells/abilities worked, thank goodness.)

 

Anyway, with regard to giving the player some indication of how much they've missed before the end of Chapter 2, there will be extensive help/walkthrough information available, so anyone who wants to know can know. Given the way the scenario is structured, it would be sort of intrusive to give the same kind of update before the end of Chapter 2 that you get at the end of Chapter 1. But it is fairly obvious at the end of Chapter 2 that you will not be able to backtrack. There is at least one "finish your other business before proceeding" warnings.

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You’ve mentioned before that Homeland is big, and you’ve given a lot of information about how big it is, from the huge numbers of towns you’re working with, to the vast size of the outdoors. But, at least to me, it can sometimes be the smaller details that really put things into perspective. That little comment you made about the special spells/abilities helped drive home to me just how big Homeland really is. In the first two chapters of Homeland alone, you have nearly as many spells and abilities as the whole of Exodus. And that’s not even in the first half of Homeland. Wow.

 

That there are so many new spells/abilities is good in its own right, too. Given that, historically, special spells and similar mechanics seem to have generally been used for scenarios involving high-level parties, I’ll be interested to see how they play out for a low-level one. I imagine that having all these new mechanics available early on will slightly change the feeling of low-level play, both in terms of the gameplay itself and in terms of the atmosphere, and I’ll be interested to see how that plays out. It makes a lot of sense, after all. The Homeland will have access to a different pool of knowledge and specialisms compared to those that have been developed in Avernum. Seeing that is one thing, but actually having that directly affect the party is even better!

 

And, in danger of sounding too much like a broken record, I’m still impressed by your holistic approach to this scenario. Yes, it’s slow going now, but you are going to be saving yourself so much time in the long run. I can only imagine how much of a nightmare it would have been changing all of the rewards around on a case-by-case basis during alpha testing proper, and yet here you with it all sorted before the testing of chapter 2 has even started!

 

If you keep on putting such good work into solving these problems, you’re not going be giving your beta testers anything to do! :)

 

19 hours ago, Kelandon said:

Given the way the scenario is structured, it would be sort of intrusive to give the same kind of update before the end of Chapter 2 that you get at the end of Chapter 1. But it is fairly obvious at the end of Chapter 2 that you will not be able to backtrack. There is at least one "finish your other business before proceeding" warnings.

 

As for this, I would much rather have the slight inconvenience of missing something than have the plot jarringly interrupted by the game mechanics. After all, a player can always just reload if they find they’ve missed something. Hey, I did that with Exodus after my first run, and then ended up playing through most of the scenario again afterwards just because I was having so much fun. So it’s not really a problem! A progress warning in such a situation should be more than enough.

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2 hours ago, Ess-Eschas said:

Yes, it’s slow going now, but you are going to be saving yourself so much time in the long run.

I really hope so. I think that creating the main plot sequence (which I've already done) and filling in absolutely everything in Chapters 1 and 2 will clarify quite a lot for Chapters 3 and 4. There are some special areas — such as the end of Chapter 2 in the capital, and basically all of Chapter 5 — that don't work the same way, but most of Chapter 3 is really the same type of thing as Chapters 1 and 2. So the same notes, the same design process, etc., will work there.

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21 hours ago, Kelandon said:

I really hope so. I think that creating the main plot sequence (which I've already done) and filling in absolutely everything in Chapters 1 and 2 will clarify quite a lot for Chapters 3 and 4. There are some special areas — such as the end of Chapter 2 in the capital, and basically all of Chapter 5 — that don't work the same way, but most of Chapter 3 is really the same type of thing as Chapters 1 and 2. So the same notes, the same design process, etc., will work there

 

I have some experience of this myself. I appreciate I’m getting a little off-topic here, so I’m going to put this in a spoiler section to avoid snarling up the topic too much. However, here’s a little anecdote on this point, just in case it turns out to be helpful:

 

Spoiler

Almost 20 years ago now, I created a game mod, ‘Gateway’, for a little action game released by Ambrosia Software. It was a game I liked, and I thought the engine had real potential. I wanted to play around with it, to try experimenting with some ideas I had about how the engine could be pushed in a few new directions. The mod came together quite quickly, and was wrapped up in neat little story. I really liked it.

 

But I was very inexperienced when I wrote Gateway. I’d focused a lot of my attention on its creative side, and not enough on the gameplay. Critically, I also didn’t really test it properly. The result was a mod that was amazingly creative, but played very poorly. Gateway was interesting, but really not very fun. I picked this up pretty quickly, and I learned some important lessons for later work.

 

But, despite all its flaws, there was something I really liked about Gateway. Even though it worked on old technology, and it was a mod for a game with an audience that was niche even in its time – and is largely forgotten these days – I came back to it every now and again. I always wanted to see if I could fix it, and to make it into the mod it had the potential to be.

 

Every time I tried to do so, though, something wouldn’t quite click. I’d hunt down a problem, and fix all the instances where it occurred. But, in doing so, I’d find ten other problems that needed fixing. I’d fix those, and another ten problems would rear their heads. The scope of the project never really seemed to diminish. Some issues required heavy remodelling, and when I tried to make the changes, I wouldn’t be happy with them; they wouldn’t feel in the spirit of the original game, or they’d end up not fitting in with the new idea of what I wanted to mod to be. Some levels needed to be completely bulldozed and remade, and I wasn’t confident enough in my ability to recapture the spirit of the original – so the levels never got made. I finished plenty of other things in the meantime, but Gateway always eluded me.

 

A few months back, I came back to Gateway after a long absence. I deliberately tried a new approach. Instead of trying to fix problems as they came, and darting around the scenario problem-solving and putting out fires, I took an approach much like the one you’re describing here. I focused on one level – just one – and I decided that I would do everything that was needed to fix it. It took a little while, a whole load of testing runs, and bashing my head against some tricky brick walls, but I eventually came up with something that really worked. It had everything I wanted it to have, including a real sense of harmony with the old version. Even more helpfully, I’d picked up a whole arsenal of tools to help with the other levels.

 

After I’d fixed that one level, everything fell into place. I had a template, the tools, and a design process I knew worked; all the was needed was to implement them. After almost 20 years on the back-burner, I fixed up Gateway in only a few weekends. Now it’s complete, playable all the way through, the bugs are gone, and it’s fun. Had someone told me a year ago that I would have managed this, I wouldn’t have believed them.

 

Now, this is a very different thing from Homeland. For starters, Gateway is much shorter, and much simpler. Homeland’s timescales are never going to come close to weeks, which is quite right for a work of its scope. But I hope it demonstrates that this sort of approach really can work. Had I kept picking at problems as I had before, I have the distinct feeling that finishing Gateway wouldn't have happened a few more years at best. But, armed only with the template and strategies I’d developed from working on one part of the game intensely, fixing the mod took only a few weeks. Here’s hoping that such an approach saves you time too! :)

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 1 is done. I've tested every side quest, played through every combat (many times), talked through every dialogue, activated every special, and done everything there is to do. Chapter 1, like the Prologue, is 100% done and tested. The quest count at the end appears to be screwed up, but I'm going to fix that when I pick up again testing Chapter 2.

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So here's a weird bug. I have a trainer in the scenario who sells skills in an ordinary shop. The skills are added correctly and shop up in the shop, but they don't have prices. I set the price level to 2, so they shouldn't be free, but for some reason they are.

 

The node is below. I've tried changing the price level, which shows up in the "Prices here are Pretty Average" (or whatever) description but doesn't change the fact that the skills are free. I've tried changing the nextstate, but that doesn't seem to work; no matter what, the next state appears to be the state that the character is coming from. All the other shops in the town work fine.

 

Anyone have any idea what is going on?

begintalknode 41;
	state = 25;
	nextstate = -1;
	question = "I would like some training.";
	text1 = "You finish shopping.";
	code =
		begin_shop_mode("Dorethen's Training","Dorethen will train you in a wide variety of combat skills for a fair price.",18,2,-1);
	break;

 

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I came across an old report of this issue when researching the set_terrain() bug. Bain-Ihrno describes behaviour that sounds identical to yours, and posits that it might be due to the value of the shop number:

 

http://spiderwebforums.ipbhost.com/topic/4040-boa-bugs-v60/?do=findComment&comment=258804

 

One possible solution might be to change the number of the shop. If Bain-Ihrno is right, and skill shops with a shop number higher than a certain value trigger the bug, lowering the shop number to a very small integer should fix things (although I appreciate that would probably tangle up your shop order).

 

If I have a moment later, I might just check this out quickly. It should be simple enough to set up a dummy scenario with a whole bunch of skill shops, and verify if the shop number is the problem. If it is, there might also be other solutions. For instance, there may be a similar workaround to the old BoE 100-town bug – it might be that high shop numbers also work.

 

I’ll post an update if I come up with anything more!

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I’ve done some digging, and I think I have some idea of what might be causing the problem. The bug only affects certain groups of shop numbers. In order for your shops to function correctly, you should make sure that shops selling skills are not given any of the following shop numbers:

 

18
31 to 63 inclusive
95 to 127 inclusive

 

I have not tested this exhaustively, so it’s possible that there are more one-off problem numbers that I have not identified. Given what I think is causing the problem, I think that’s unlikely, but it’s certainly not impossible!

 

This is a little bit of guesswork, but I think this may be another memory problem. I think something dodgy is happening with the memory assigned to skills in shops. The fact that the problematic shop ranges involve critical powers of two (32, 64, 96, 128) might suggest something like this.

 

This issue could be explained by one digit in the memory representation being misread. All of these problematic numbers (with the exception of the 18, which I still don’t quite understand), have their 6th binary digit as a 1. It’s possible that digit is getting garbled in the storage medium somehow. Alternatively, depending on how the number is being stored, that 6th digit could be causing some form of overflow – a little like assigning a ‘short’ a number that’s out of range. Either of these two things could confuse the program, not enough to cause it break completely, but enough that it doesn’t understand how to completely parse the skills – hence the lack of a price! That’s one possible interpretation (although it doesn’t explain the 18, so I’m not entirely satisfied with it).

 

In any case, in order for shops selling skills to function correctly, be sure to avoid the list of numbers above!

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3 hours ago, Ess-Eschas said:

In order for your shops to function correctly, you should make sure that shops selling skills are not given any of the following shop numbers:

 

18
31 to 63 inclusive
95 to 127 inclusive

I'm glad that you figured that out, because there was no way I was ever going to. It works now.

 

The prices seem absurdly low, but that may just be because they are, not because of a bug. I'll do further checking.

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11 hours ago, Kelandon said:

The prices seem absurdly low, but that may just be because they are, not because of a bug.

 

That’s an odd quirk of the game engine. If a character has never increased a skill, either by spending skill points or using a trainer, buying the first level of that skill is extremely cheap. Indeed, the first few levels of that skill will be on the cheap side. Depending on the price level of the shop, skills will only start getting reasonably expensive after the player has acquired 2 or 3 levels of them.

 

It’s not a problem that comes up much with most scenarios, since many established parties will already have trained in a lot of the important skills. But it’s something that crops up much more frequently in level-1 and low-level scenarios – after all, most low-level parties won’t have had too much opportunity to train. It can be a problem, too, since a careful player can buy a lot of skills, making them a touch more powerful than they’re really supposed to be.

 

It’s possible to get around this by making skill shops, at least early on, one or two notches more expensive than their equivalent shops. This makes early-level skills more reasonably priced, but has the downside that players probably won’t be able to afford more than a few levels (which can be a problem if they’ve already trained those skills themselves). It's possible to alleviate that issue by placing cheaper trainers of those same skills deeper in to the scenario, but that's not always practical. So it’s something of a balancing act, I find.

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Yeah, the party is level 15 (give or take) when they get to a trainer in Chapter 2, and it seems like it doesn't work very well. Or maybe it does — cash is a little tight around that point, so maybe one has to make some strategic choices.

 

I'll fiddle with it. I think it's okay, but I need to tweak it a bit.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The first two (of four) core quests in Chapter two are tested and finishable, with at least reasonably acceptable combat balance.

 

Some of the more elaborately scripted sidequests are in Chapter 2, and I haven't tested those yet. I think that's up next.

 

I'm starting to wonder if I need to rebalance the warrior abilities. It seems like there's one that I use constantly, and I haven't really had a need to use the others. This makes me think I need to change some things.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I have had less time than I'd like to work on Homeland, but basically I've been debugging the "more elaborately scripted sidequests" that I described above. I had a lot of good ideas when making sidequests in Chapter 2, and, broadly speaking, none of them actually work as coded. They're not even close. So I'm debugging and, in some cases, rewriting them altogether because BoA can't easily do what I intended.

 

I'm almost done with the side quests and will pick up the main quests again shortly. The third main quest is pretty short, and I'm hoping I can get that done in a day. The fourth (the capital) is longer and will probably take a few weekends.

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