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A critique of Obsidian from KOTOR to NWN2


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I hope it's clear that numbers and stats we speak about are not things like character's position in 3d space or the color of his hat in RGB. We speak about directed scales that are used to model something conceptual, something that is not usually measured by numbers.

 

With that in mind, there are many games that do not use directed scales. Some of them are highly non-liner, like Blade Runner. Some other games use scales in a limited way, to create a computer-driven interactive background, in front of which the main events of the game unfold (e.g. Pathologic).

 

Personally, I consider overuse of directed scales the single most damaging phenomenon in the modern gaming industry. The topic is big enough for a very long article, if you take it in the abstract, so it's hard to discuss it on a forums.

 

First, let's clarify why I use the term directed scale. Scale is something that measures things, it is universal. Same number on the scale is supposed to mean the same thing in different situations. I call them directed, because they have "good" and "bad" side. More is usually better. More experience is better than none, more strength, more levels, more money. Influence is a directed scale as well.

 

The quality of interest to us is this: as an input, the influence scale takes in-game events, like conversation choices. Afterwards, the number supersedes the event, becomes more important, and so the meaning of the original event gets lost. Instead, we get yet another characteristic to improve. It is like putting a price tag on everything you do.

 

Ideally, I would model attitude towards the character as a number of connected states. You start with "unknown" state, then proceed to "known", then there would be several paths of development, individual to each NPC. This system would allow to avoid rating everything as either positive or negative.

 

But even then I would not show that state diagram to the player. Ambiguity is natural, and thus obtaining information should be part of the game. It would be interesting if instead of looking at stats you could actually ask your companions what they thing about you.

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Do you propose that your system is simpler than a "directed scale?" I like the idea of the directed scale and I accept your definition. The thing is, I don't see the strength of your substitute system as simpler or easier to grasp. I see it as more robust and complex. Putting a simple numerical value on something lessens the chance of misinterpretation, right? The strength of your directed scale is that it simplifies the experience. The weakness is that it tends to oversimplify. It is far simpler for the player to know that positive numbers are good and negative numbers are bad than it is to interpret a set of variables, no matter how intuitive those variables might be. Unfortunately, people don't interact with each other by attributing scores to each exchange.

 

I'm actually closer to you folks that you might think. However, at the end of the day, your directed scale is simpler for folks to understand. Perhaps its so simple that the objective of conversation is lost. As you say, it tends to put a price tag on every exchange. However, players grasp simple numerical rewards quickly. If the argument is that directed scales are somehow harder for the player to understand than the method you've described, I'll let you get the last word in our particular exchange and give you a score of -2 influence. :Cant's friendly grin icon: However, if you'll agree that a simple directed scale is easier for the player to quickly grasp in terms of reward and effect, then I'll concede that such a scale is not necessarily better. Only simpler.

Edited by Cantousent

Fionavar's Holliday Wishes to all members of our online community:  Happy Holidays

 

Join the revelry at the Obsidian Plays channel:
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Remembering tarna, Phosphor, Metadigital, and Visceris.  Drink mead heartily in the halls of Valhalla, my friends!

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But even then I would not show that state diagram to the player. Ambiguity is natural, and thus obtaining information should be part of the game. It would be interesting if instead of looking at stats you could actually ask your companions what they thing about you.

 

See, this is what I like about your system. It's also what I consider risky. I hope you'll pardon the double post, but I was reading your comments again and the damned board won't let me edit my post.

 

Anyhow, the amiguity is good, but it leaves more to interpretation. The idea is that we know, playing MotB, that an increase in influence is good. There is nothing simpler. Folks will always understand that better than trying to interpret non-verbal cues. Part of what makes communication between two people so entertaining and engaging is that we don't always know what the other person is thinking at any time. ...Or do folks think that women always laugh at a guy's joke because it's funny? Sometimes, people laugh at a joke because they think it's polite. ...Or because it's a habit. ...Or because they want the other person, man or woman, to like them. ...Or because they want to get laid. Interpreting these cues is part of normal communication, but it's not simpler or easier to understand than a system in which the gamer knows that an increase is always better.

 

Now that you and I agree, as it seems to me, that you're not aiming for simple, and that you don't believe that your method will be easier for the player to understand, I think we can address what I've been saying all along. The problem is with feedback. Unless we make the non-verbal cues nearly as simplistic as numbers, there will be some room for the player to misunderstand the game mechanic in much the same way that people have been misinterpreting non-verbal cues throughout the history of mankind. So, if the point is to create a more robust experience for engaging the player in conversation, we're going to risk confusion. That might well be worth the risk. However, it is not necessarily worth the risk for every game depending on your goals during development.

 

Do I think it can be done? I think so. I even think it can be done in a way that most RPGers can enjoy. Nevertheless, it's going to require more creative investment to fashion such a system, which doesn't make sense unless the game has a lot more dialogue. The half assed, "this is actually as simple as just attributing numbers to influence" approach will not do the idea justice.

 

Frankly, most RPGs don't have particularly complex dialogue. I like MotB. I think it's a great game. Still, most of text is meant to be simple enough that the majority of players won't be confused. That trend is one of my beefs with computer games in general. Writing floating text or inserting text into the dialogue to convey non-verbal cues will probably take as much time and effort as writing the dialogue in the first place.

Fionavar's Holliday Wishes to all members of our online community:  Happy Holidays

 

Join the revelry at the Obsidian Plays channel:
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Remembering tarna, Phosphor, Metadigital, and Visceris.  Drink mead heartily in the halls of Valhalla, my friends!

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I can't even consider 30 hours "short." Suikoden II is only about 20 hours, if I recall correctly, and it's one of my favorite games of all time.

 

I think you might be thinking of Suikoden I, which is considerably shorter than II. I would be amazed if a 'first-time player' (no prior knowledge, no walkthroughs) could finish S II in 20 hours (no way in hell they do it getting all 108 Stars of Destiny... I'd still be amazed if they did it while getting only 80 or so SoD...)

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He meant to say "heartfelt appologies".

 

Obsidian is doing good work.

 

The influence system is working well - better all the time.

 

The stories are improving.

As dark is the absence of light, so evil is the absence of good.

If you would destroy evil, do good.

 

Evil cannot be perfected. Thank God.

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As for the NWN franchise, that franchise started at least ten years before Bioware made their game, and honestly, are you really saying NWN was better than NWN 2? NWN is the only Bioware game I've played that I've never finished because it was just so bland and uninteresting.

 

I agree completely. I loved the Baldur's Gate series, but I too have never finished NWN 1, even though I bought the Platinum Edition of the game. Heck, I did not even finish the first campaign...

 

NWN 2 was/is vastly superior to NWN 1, and the Mask of the Betrayer simply blew me away - it is an outright excellent game and one of the best CRPGs I have ever played.

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I just found time to finish Neverwinter Nights 2 original campaign. I have to say that I LIKED the influence system a lot more when I saw what it was leading up to. in retrospect it made a lot of sense throughout the game, and introduced some much needed thinking into my interactions with the other party members. Above all it made me think a lot harder about who my character really liked and believed in. Which is awesome. AWESOME.

 

Other than that I don't think there's much point telling them to be better project managers. It's like telling me to eat more pies.

 

However, kudos for the feedback.

"It wasn't lies. It was just... bull****"."

             -Elwood Blues

 

tarna's dead; processing... complete. Disappointed by Universe. RIP Hades/Sand/etc. Here's hoping your next alt has a harp.

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  • 2 weeks later...
As for the NWN franchise, that franchise started at least ten years before Bioware made their game, and honestly, are you really saying NWN was better than NWN 2? NWN is the only Bioware game I've played that I've never finished because it was just so bland and uninteresting.

 

I agree completely. I loved the Baldur's Gate series, but I too have never finished NWN 1, even though I bought the Platinum Edition of the game. Heck, I did not even finish the first campaign...

 

NWN 2 was/is vastly superior to NWN 1, and the Mask of the Betrayer simply blew me away - it is an outright excellent game and one of the best CRPGs I have ever played.

 

True, the NWN single player campaign is worthless... Most fans of NWN 1 like it because of it's editor and multiplayer capabilities, I think. Why they don't like NWN 2? Well, if they actually played through the entire NWN main campaign, that should say something about their taste in story and dialogue.... Maybe they would really rather be playing Diablo, anyway. Or perhaps their conservative instincts influence their opinion when a new company takes over, who knows?

"Well, overkill is my middle name. And my last name. And all of my other names as well!"

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  • 3 weeks later...

I gotta say I am not a big fan of either Bioware's NWN1 and KOTOR1 or Obsidian's NWN2 and KOTOR2, however MotB is really great! It is the best RPG I have played since PST and shows that the folks at Obsidian still know how to make a game. I am now eagerly looking forward to their next game.

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  • 4 weeks later...

**SPOILER**

 

I'd say MotB is the best of Obsidian's games, except KOTOR2 and NWN2 are games that have gone horribly wrong. I'd say the quality of the current expansion is still not comparable to that of HotU and BG. To support my position, I'd draw a few contrasts:

 

User Interface: Even after hours of playing through the OC and expansion campaign, I still find the UI rather irritating. Often times, I find myself wasting a round or spell because I examined an enemy and did not deselect him before clicking on an AoE spell. I also do not like the "smart-targeting" feature (is it optional?) that makes casting AoE spells cumbersome when large groups of enemies are involved.

 

The quick bar is better than that of NWN1 in that there are 10 rows instead of 3, but it suffers from not having NWN1's radial menu or allowing users to select specific features of an item/spell (i.e. the many abilities of Silver Sword). Likewise, I greatly missed the radial menus for chars and such. They were so easy to use and aesthetically pleasant compared to the ugly drop-down menus we have now (which for some reason also forces the user to hold the right mouse button before they appear).

 

The inventory system is still disorganized even though there's this sort button. Considering the amount of loot available in the game (99% of which I didn't even use because I didn't bother to look at them), more advanced inventory management features could've (easily) been implemented. An option I would've liked are sorting algorithms that sort items based on their usability, value, or weight. It'd also be nice if multiple items can be selected at a time so that you don't have to do 99 mouse drags to the Bag of Holding. "Put all weapons/armors/whatever type into Magic Bag" is also a nice feature to consider as are interfaces that allow exchange of items between bags and multiple characters.

 

Graphics: The character models and the non-MotB companion portraits are all very ugly. there are very limited physical attributes to customize (can't even make a fat person for example). The environmental appearance is okay for MotB but disgusting for OC (considering the graphical requirements, which is comparable to that of Oblivion). There's more, but I am pretty sure many have said much about the graphics already so I'll leave it at there.

 

Gameplay: The largest flaw of the game is that the PC and companions automatically resurrect after battle (borrowed from KOTOR, no doubt). This is a totally cheesy design and should only be implemented for the Easy difficulty.

 

The influence system is okay, but I prefer it to be done implicitly. Although it is not a very bad feature, the way it is used is not always appropriate and sometimes defeats its meaning. For example, almost none of your NPC's will change their worldviews for you despite how much you "influence" (which is different to "being adored by") them. Kaelyn will always between you if you side with Kelemvor and Safiya will always leave you if you do not sacrifice yourself or restore Akachi. On the other hand, a few praises and reassurances of Kaelyn's goal will make her forgive you for devouring Myrkul's spirit, which is ridicules no doubt.

 

Aside from this, another comment I have for the companion system is that dialogues should not be allowed to be repeated. If I asked Safiya about her mother, that dialogue tree should be closed after it is done. She's not supposed to appear to act like a computer database. If the designers want the characters' background info to be easily retrievable by the player, then they should perhaps save the dialogues or a summary of them in some character page (i.e. like a personal diary or something, separated from quests).

 

There are yet more issues I have in mind in terms of gameplay, but I'll leave it at that for now.

 

Plot: The plot of the OC is terrible and companions are poorly characterized. MotB is slightly better in that compartment, but it still lacks a bit of depth. In BG2, there are tonnes of NPC's laying around especially in large cities. Many of them have interesting dialogues and or subplots (like Xzar, Garrick, and that annoying pirate). There are also many others that serve to provide intersting backgrounds to certain places (like the drow matron who killed her son, the intellectual courtesans in Fall-From-Grace's brothel, and the tavern patrons who talk about the local areas). I mean, MotB doesn't necessarily lack these features (i.e. there's this girl and her spirit bear friend), but the volume of content in BG2 and PST is many many times that (to the point that I can't keep track of all of them).

 

As for the overall story, NWN2 OC's is cheesy (King of Shadow? wtf?) and MotB's doesn't make too much sense (there are numerous topics on that in Bioware forum). Plot elements of both are quite predictable too. Aside from Safiya's identity, I pretty much guessed Akachi's punishment and the PC's role in early Act II. It is also obvious that Ammon Jerro is not the King of Shadow before you even reach his Sanctum. There's also a lack of suspense and feeling of threat in the game. When I played BG2, Irenicus and Bodhi periodically pop up and do annoying things to you (like stealing your soul, unleashing hordes of vampires, or kidnapping your companioons). However, I never really get that feeling in NWN2:

"King of Shadow just cleaned out Highcliffe? Like he's not just goiing to sit there until the final battle."

 

Anyway, I wrote enough. I hope this shows enough of a difference between classics like BG2 and the supposed masterpieces such as NWN2 and MotB.

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What can be said honestly about NWN2... To be honest I rarely find myself being annoied by the game itself, it's more other small gripes.

Such as the engine performance upon release...

 

The UI is fairly glitchy, well to be honest it's totally bugged, but it's not game breaking in any manner, more an annoyance.

 

The camera is slightly annoying for me, but that has more to do with the fact that I had to spend so long setting it up, its a double edged sword, on one hand you've alot of power when it comes to the camera, but that in a way is counter productive as the user has to invest a certain amount of time finding an optimal camera solution...

 

The particle and effects system is impressive, infact I've not seen many systems that are as functional, it's a major improvement over NWN's and better than alot of FPS's.

 

I'm not 100% sure how the mesh heads are shaded(I'm assuming a texture, but there seems to be some vertex colouring and normal mapping), but the results certainly better than NWN 1, but I'm still not a huge fan, I suppose I've been spoilt by games such as DM:M&M... But then again, a cheap yet good looking method in regards to processing has been achieved so I can't really knock it, as there is certainly a requirement for alot of meshes on screen along with the fact that they're fairly high polygonal there certainly seems to be some good technology under the hood.

 

As I mentioned earlier in the thread, the lighting and shadowing engine is some extremely good work, the down side of it is the expense in regards to processing, though naturally it's fully scalable.

 

I'm shocked about the lack of HDR, and the somewhat poor result that is achieved from the bloom.

 

Now that I've come back to it after giving the dev's chance to fix it's badgerness I'm rather pleased from a technology stand-point. Sadly I have to admit, The Witcher looks alot better, and runs better on my machine. As the core underlaying technology is the same it certainly gives me pause for thought in regards to the negative effects of all the added extra's nwn2 provides.

RS_Silvestri_01.jpg

 

"I'm a programmer at a games company... REET GOOD!" - Me

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I'm currently replaying KOTOR2, and I have to say that it's a *lot* better than how I remembered it. I always preferred it slightly to KOTOR1, but after playing through both games now (well, I'm not quite finished with KOTOR2 yet, nearing the end) I think KOTOR2 is a lot better than 1. The main things I don't like are the remnants of KOTOR1, mostly the combat system which is such a snore. I do find combat more fun in KOTOR2 though.

 

I'm playing Dark Side (which I've never done in KOTOR2 before) and I'm very pleased that the influence system actually allows the player to, yes, influence the companions. While it's not perfect (for example, companions still sometimes react with their "original alignment" which can make for rather weird character interactions), I find it to be very enjoyable and I wonder why that part of it was more or less scrapped from NWN2 and MotB. Perhaps it's simply to ambitious for the devs to feel that is worth implementing? I don't know. I can understand it in the case of NWN2 since the game is rather massive and complex as it is, but it would've very nice to have it fleshed out in MotB (to go with the new revamped "scores").

And granted, since we have the Force in Star Wars it probably makes more sense to have the PC really be able to affect the companions, but I still would've liked it in the other games (perhaps to a lesser degree).

 

I'm also one of the people who would've preferred if the influence numbers stayed in the background of the game, as it feels a bit to "gamey" to have them in front of you at all times. I think it's fine to have it like in KOTOR2 where it simply says "Influence gained/lost", but I don't think even that is needed.

 

I still feel Mask of the Betrayer is the best Obsidian has released, it's excellent. But after playing KOTOR2 again, I have to say that it has been "bumped" up quite a lot on my RPG list, it's much better than I remembered it.

Listen to my home-made recordings (some original songs, some not): http://www.youtube.c...low=grid&view=0

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Well, I am not much of a poster in these forums, I rather prefer to read from time to time but this topic picked my interest and as a follower of Obsidian, as well as good old Black Isle and BioWare releases, I thought it would be nice to write some stuff as well.

 

It was discussed so many darn times all over the net that it does not make much sense anymore but I have to admit, the 3D system still looks fuzzy / irritating when it is compared to good old Infinity Engine.

 

If you check KOTOR II or the new comer of BioWare, Mass Effect, this 3D stuff is absolutely good, and it pulls you in directly to the game but when it is games like NwN or BG or IWD (etc.), the atmosphere is missing somehow. Perhaps they don't show that colourful feeling of Baldur's Gate II (due to still background paintings? etc, I dunno). I am not telling that people should turn back to Infinity, at this point, I don't think that it would be profitable (at least not for people who are willing to see everything in 3D) but I definetly believe that a "visual" revision is necessary to re-gain that colourful feeling with a better application of new tech elements that come with a 3D engine (zoom, cam view etc -> this will be "hard" to implement with still backgrounds perhaps, I dunno, you are the experts, I am only a customer and follower hehe)

 

Also, the user interface of KOTOR (1 & 2) and Mass Effect and Jade Empire etc (the games in that fashion) are quite "friendly" when compared to Neverwinter Nights stuff. So many times I feel lost in the game menus that I want to go back to desktop and find some easier game to chill out after a long hour at work. It is NOT because of the storyline and intellectual properties created, it is NOT because of long/detailed/various dialogues but seldomly because of a chaotic user interface. Baldur's Gate II (and I, if you set aside the graphical disadvantages of it's production year) was a WAAAY better design in means of accessibility and ease of use.

 

I don't know if I am an oldfashioned fool (perhaps I am lol) but as you know, RPG games like NWN or BG are based heavily on storytelling and user reactions, so we actually don't need a full 3D application new menu designs etc to get into it. It does not help us to get into it better, it pushes the user out. I believe, it is something that has to be taken care of in future designs.

 

I also understand that publishers, consumers are demanding new looking stuff even if they are actually willing to see the quality of a stationed release but just for the sake of having it re-designed, a designer does not necessarily need to make it complicated. This feels like having the versions of a program with all the menu locations changed. You KNOW that what you seek is there but "seeking" becomes a "sickness" after some time.

 

Enough of NWN / BG kinda games, lets focus on KOTOR (2nd installment particularly). We all know about the missing content bla bla thingy and we discussed it here and on other forums for years now. Yep, we all want a bigger and a "complete" content but we also kew that this was NOT a doing of Obsidian. So, how woud I want KOTOR kinda games (KOTOR II focused) to be improved as an average user?

 

Hmm, the good part is, it is EASIER to play the games in means of menu design etc and due to the "lesser content" of those games, when compared to games like NWN (lots of spells, etc). Dialogue's were a bit problematic but it seems that it has moved a step forward with BioWare's Mass Effect (I especially liked the idea of disabling certain options in reflection of your general character behaviour) and Obsidian is a company that understands and evolves the outcome of games. So, I am very fond of dialogue and interface options. The part that can be improved is (as some people stated), the influence system. You don't necessarily need to see "+5 influence for the alien chick" kinda messages, it can be smoother with face expressions or a small change in the music. Also, certain "different approaches" should change more than a few dialogue options and a video or two. I know, what I ask is NOT EASY but you know, we consumers love to consume and ask for more, constantly and increasingly :D.

 

Anyway, Obsidian (after BioWare is sold to EA) is the ONLY company that I follow with true passion (I don't even check my own company website that much lol) and I just wanted to share my opinions regarding Obsidian games and genre in general.

 

Have a happy new year Obsidian people :)

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  • 3 weeks later...

well i red some of the posts around..to be honest i don't have time and will to read all of them. i might not even know what it is all about now. i red last post though :thumbsup: and i know at first that there was some discussing about influence right? well i don't agree it should be removed. i don't mind it at all..gives the game bit replay value. especially in kotor 2 where you can't have good influence on all characters..you have to choose carefuly. and i liked playing it again with slightly different approach, i think it was best implemented in kotor 2..yeah..but i agree however that we don't need to see "gained + influence" (mantioned on last post) ..i totaly support that quote "changing face mood or maybe something little more discreet like change in music" ...if there is however no need to know exact number of influence points...and i don't see the part where we need so ...

 

but this is all less important than what i basicly stand for..DON'T EVER THINK that MOST OF US enjoy better graphics...i've read some articles about KOTOR III (now call it a fake or selling whatsoever) but there were actually words that if KOTOR III is out it will be on most advanced technology in graphics and will use new engine ...ant those kind things...i fellt so SRY for it...and i though "PLEASE DON'T LET IT BE TRUE" or else i allready see "great game potential is f-C*d up with poor...you know the rest :) as far as i'm consirend and i think most of expirienced games (an ones who truly understand the quailty of the game) will agre with me...IF THERE IS GOING TO BE KOTOR III...don't ever change nor engine nor graphics nor nothing from KOTOR II...i can't say i liked first more than ohter sequel..for me both were just simply the best.. all we need is NEW STORY AND MORE SEQUELS ;) i wouldn't mind if 10 years from now, when all other games looks like we're livng inside..and we can actually talk with the games and maybe even go inside , i play kotor IX - name it how the hell do you want it...that did't changed a bit...just added more storyline and still have to click ok on "you move towards the light side" lol.

 

that much from me!

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