Sunday, 16 February 2014

Builders Journal: Entry #2

I'm going to talk a bit about the companions this time round. A topic that I have gradually gained more interest in as I have put them together for this series, including the development of our NWN1 version of The Indanthrine Prince, or "The Pilot" as I keep calling it... in my mind...

Truth be told, I am very wary when a game provides companions. If the writing for that NPC is not up to par, I turn off very quickly. I know that the gameplay role of these guys is to hit things and carry excess items - but I don't like being reminded of that by poor writing and immersion. Then there are the NPCs that just turn out to be very irritating, be it their immersion breaking whining/personality disorder or ridiculous appearance - see Dragon Age 2, that utter, irredeemable abomination.

Now I do not claim to be any kind of guru on the subject. I simply enjoy making modules that I would want to play and then hope others enjoy the experience too. If it's not Adam's cup of tea, there's plenty more free gaming to be had out there. I find my tastes to be rather straightforward. I want companions to perform a valued role - they can do something that someone else can't, or at least not nearly as well. That their personality, whilst displaying differences, does not grossly contradict others in the party to the point that they are standing in the way of things and taking over. I like a party to actually be a team and work as such when needed. Even if it is simply chiming in with warnings, advice and subtle hints. The time spent together can also be a good factor in just how helpful companions become.

Indanthrine Prince (NWN2) dipped it's toes in some of these topics, but not very far. I suppose my thoughts and opinions have matured over time, so much still remains to be seen. The companions in IP certainly had moments were they offered insight, the opportunity to explore alternative tactics and on some occasions, choices, should the player be inclined to trust them. But admittedly, these features were generally limited. With the upcoming campaign, plans are already afoot to ramp this up.

First off, the party restrictions are going to become more relaxed. Meaning, at certain points (do not read as rarely, this will assume a large part of the campaign) you will be able to choose which Companions accompany you. Assuming of course that you have met them and that they are not unavailable for any reason. Couple this with some new companions in classes we haven't covered yet and you will be able to gather a party suitable for anything. The new companions will include other races. At this time, Act 1 of the new campaign will continue with the restricted party make-up of IP, whilst Acts 2 and 3 will be (mostly) fully down to the players selections.

In a further relaxing of restrictions, it will be possible to multi-class your companions from amongst a prescribed range of classes. It should add a nice personal touch to your companions and strengthen their specific roles in the party or allow a weakness in the party to be plugged. With the upper level estimate of the campaign to be around level 20, there is plenty of room for building your companions into exactly what you want them to be.

Crispin can branch out into a Weapon Master

Jamot can specialise further as an Assassin, making him extremely useful on one particular level.

More incentives for teamwork and exploiting the skills of companions will appear in the new campaign. The simplest introduction of this was to enable the SoZ party dialogue feature, allowing the player to choose which party member speaks a line in a conversation. This feature is being used selectively - primarily in dialogue that is not central to the main story. This feature will allow your followers to speak up when you wish to speak a line that may require a skill that your character does not possess. Other developments include larger pieces of the game where stealth pays off and where previously little used skills get to take centre stage. Already we have some parts of the campaign with a spotlight on crafting, listen, sleight of hand and search. Some bigger pieces of work planned in the future are some puzzles and problem-solving pieces that require a party-based solution.

One final thing that is helping to make your party feel more like a team of comrades than ill-fitting merchandise mannequins is another relatively simple step. An influence system is being worked up. Rather than using it to engineer pixelated titillation through "romances", it will be used to influence decision-making, certain outcomes and the level of spoken insight (and possibly bonuses) provided by a companion. Jamot will be using this system in Act 1, so he is currently the test subject before I decide whether or not this is worth continuing with. We also have some companion personal quests planned to aid in player-to-companion immersion. We don't intend to turn these into major quests, nor do we wish to make them into the sort of quests that can make or break your primary quest, ala Mass Effect 2. These quests will also come coupled with increased general conversation that you can have with your companions when compared with IP.

I think that'll do for this entry. I'm sure I'll have more stuff to say later. To sum it all up, the party for me, in this series, should have some real camaraderie about it. It should make you smile, think differently, laugh and perhaps most importantly, remember!

One last shot. The party gathers in a sewer area during the events of Act 1.

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