Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mind Your Manors

Bloodstone Manor is the home of Gareth Dragonsbane, king of Damara. A paladin and cleric of Ilmater, Gareth donates no less than half his earnings to his church. Despite that, Gareth is a rich man, thanks mainly to the bloodstone mining operations that are the lifeblood of Damara.

For "Faithless," I had to create a couple of rooms from Bloodstone Manor using the TSR module Bloodstone Pass as my reference. The map in that module dates from nearly twenty game years prior to the start of "Faithless," so there's plenty of leeway for artistic license if I needed to draw upon it.

I figured that because of the twelve-year war that troubled Bloodstone Village, the king's manor would be made of sturdy stone for proper defense. The furnishings and decor would have to be elegant but not ostentatious, as befitting a rich paladin and king.

I imagine that with the winds blowing off the Great Glacier from the north, Damara would still be cold even in early spring. To keep the heat in and the cold out, the spacious stone manor would have many tapestries covering not only the walls but all the windows as well. Even in the daytime, candles would be lit throughout the manor to provide illumination and a little warmth.

What of Gareth Dragonsbane? What would he look like? Gareth was already a high-level paladin towards the end of the Bloodstone Wars, so my guess is that he would be in his late forties to mid fifties by now. In peace time, he'd eschew ceremonial armor over elegant but comfortable robes, not like that pompous bald guy down in Neverwinter.

Even in his middling years, Gareth has little need for security. He's a charismatic leader, well loved by the Damarans, and an epic-level character to boot. You'd need a sizable army backing you up if you want to mess with the hero of Damara. He'd still have a few guards keeping watch in the manor, mostly to screen visitors and to escort unwanted guests out. It would be unseemly for a paladin and king to do his own dirty work.

Celebrity Trivia: Gareth started life as a pre-generated player character in the module Bloodstone Pass. His original stats are based on the first edition AD&D ruleset, which, being defunct, gives me plenty of leeway to make up my own set of stats.

The Challenge: Creating an Interior Area
I've been hearing rumors that interiors are easier than exteriors to make. Whoever espouses that view probably doesn't have great-looking interiors.

I would say that the challenges in making interiors are different but no less difficult from making exteriors. Building interior areas is done with tilesets, which does away with beating the terrain into shape like sheet metal. The use of tilesets is why many module builders feel that interiors are easier to create. One issue that is less of a problem in exterior areas, however, is lighting. For exteriors, it's perfectly fine to use the default lighting scheme. In the case of interiors, however, the default lighting scheme is ugly.

There are two ways to illuminate an area. One way is to change the area's global lighting scheme. Another way is to set point lights in specific places within the area. Both methods may be used at the same time. There is less need for placeable lights in exteriors than in interiors, which may receive point lights from lamps, candles, and other sources of illumination.

There's nothing to prevent a module builder from brightening an entire interior area using global light settings. In my first pass at creating Bloodstone Manor, I did just that, but I wasn't happy with the result. My way of gauging whether an area looks good is to take several screenshots of the area from different places and angles. I then look at my screenshots in thumbnail view. Thumbnails filter out most visual details, leaving behind color and contrast information. If the thumbnail image does not look good, I go back to the area and try to improve on it. Globally brightening an interior is a surefire way of getting bland thumbnails. Balancing light and darkness to achieve a chiaroscurro effect is one way to put the "wow" factor into an area.

Using different degrees of illumination is a subtle way of getting players to go where you want them to go. Like moths to a flame, human beings are naturally drawn to light. Darkness, on the other hand, is dull at best and terrifying at worst. Either way, it's something to be avoided. As a general rule of thumb, there should be more light where you want your players to go and less light everywhere else. (Like all "rules," this one may be broken at times, but doing so should be done judiciously.)

Another related issue is color coordination, which is an important aspect of interior design. Some module builders don't bother changing the color of any of their placeables, which is unfortunate because color and lighting are important ways to set the mood of an area.

For the throne room, I decided to use placeable, tintable floors. The first set of colors that I chose for the floor was painful to look at when viewed from thumbnail images. I agonized over the color scheme of the floor for some time until I was satisfied with the result. The dragon tapestry behind the thrones was another placeable whose colors needed adjusting. Depending on the chosen colors, the tapestry may look heroic, sinister, or ridiculous. Needless to say, I was going for the heroic look.

I don't know how many module builders realize that there is a technique for "tinting" the ceiling. This is done by setting the DiffuseColor of the GroundLight in the area properties to the desired color. There are many different ceiling colors that one may set using this technique. Of course, this detail will be lost on players who run the game primarily in strategy mode, but it can make for better-looking screenshots.

The Sitting King
At the furthest end of the throne room are a pair of thrones, one of which belongs to King Gareth. The other belongs to his wife, Queen Christine.

Celebrity Trivia: Gareth rose to a position of political power by marrying the daughter of Baron Tranth of Bloodstone. On the day of the wedding, Tranth abdicated his postion in favor of Gareth. Nice wedding gift, if you can get one of those.

Because he has a throne, it behooves Gareth to fulfill his kingly duties by sitting on it. As the module builder, I encountered some minor difficulties in getting him to sit. The throne is placed on a raised platform (which is actually a stage placeable with a carpet on top), and the throne itself is higher than a normal chair. The challenge for me was to bring Gareth's royal butt to the level of the throne.

My first step was to make the throne walkable so I could push Gareth a little into the throne itself. This way, when he sits using a call to PlayCustomAnimation, he'll look as if he is sitting on the throne rather than on an invisible chair in front of it. Nevertheless, this solution by itself does not raise Gareth's feet off the platform, causing him to look as if he had sunk into his seat. I needed a way to set his feet slightly above the platform to raise his butt to the right level.

My solution was to temporarily push another placeable under the throne. I tried several placeables, including docks and stairs, but the only placeable that worked for me was the stage. I had to change the stage to the proper size by setting its scale to (0.15, 0.5, 1.5). This was the right dimension to fit under the throne and the right height to raise Gareth to the appropriate level. After putting the resized stage under the throne, I baked the area, after which I deleted the resized stage. I ran the module to check if my solution worked and found Gareth sitting perfectly on his throne.

Sit, Gareth, sit. That's a good king.

Edit, May 7, 2008: Shortly after posting my chronology in this blog, I found a number of errors pertaining to game dates in some of my previous postings. I edited this particular post to correct those errors.


Liso said...

An amazing sneak peek into your progress. Thank you for all the wonderful writes for each screen shot. very much looking forward to this module!!

Josh said...

I still say interiors are easier than exteriors by far :) I make my own placeable prefabs so I can usually fly through interiors like nothing these days. Very detailed without blank walls and the like. Starting from scratch is tedious, but I feel its not nearly as tedious as exteriors.

Oh, and you'll ifnd that most of the people that would disagree with you also consider exterior lighting harder because there's 7 sets instead of the 1 for interiors :)

And I can't argue with the Point lights. Interiors by far require more point lights, but I find that often to be the best part of the whole interior phase.

This is all my opinion, but I feel like I wanted to add that tidbit since you brought it up :)

You have done an excellent job with creating the manors. I've never been that savvy with the castle tileset to be honest. Far too blocky and dull for my tastes. If the textures were improved to have a shinier marble floor or richer textures, I might use it; otherwise I'll stick with the Estate and -maybe- Crypt tileset.

PS: Illefarn is even worse.

PSS: Your module sounds like its really starting to come together. I have to say from what you originally had in mind with the pure hack and slash to this version, you have come a long ways. I think I might have another module to look forward to :) Good luck, and holler if you ever need assistance with anything.

Frank Perez said...

Thanks, Liso. I love it every time people say they look forward to my module. It encourages me to pour my best effort into it. :)

Hey, Josh, good to see you here. :) In retrospect, I'd say that I was too quick to pass judgment on the whole issue on interiors versus exteriors. Everything I wrote is just my opinion ATM, and I realize that most modders probably don't feel the same way as I do. I may revise my opinion after I'm a bit more experienced at creating areas.

Thanks for your encouraging words, BTW. It's always good to hear feedback from expert modders. :)

Wyrin said...

great post - including the puns ;)

Frank Perez said...

Heh=heh. :D Thanks, Wyrin.