Summer '21 update (Part 1)

It has been about a year since the last post in this forum so I’m feeling an update is about due, lest any wandering teachers who come across this looking to do something with the game think it has been abandoned !

Although when talking to Niv about this he was clear that he didnt see it as a forum that would see much traffic, he was keen that such a place existed that teachers could find if they came to the Vault. Also, I suppose it is fair to say that it has been a year unlike any other so there is maybe an excuse if any were needed.

So, what has been happening?

Well, as far as Matthew ( the PT computing I was working with) and I’s games design class is concerned very little. When lockdown came to Scotland last March it was about three weeks too soon ( that sounds like understatement )! Our class’ final projects were proceeding well and they were all capable of and on their way to creating a module with at least three areas. However, overnight the school was closed and that was that. We managed to have a look at the unfinished projects in the absence of the kids and gathered the following thoughts -

  1. It was disappointing to see that the games were virtually unplayable. Although some had completed the areas and most of the conversations, there had been no time to look at bugs etc. With even another week or two the situation would have been much brighter.

  2. There was a lot of good stuff. Various pupils had used their own resources ( shields, decals, sounds, voiced conversations, even a couple of new models - one a great looking ballista) so that was pleasing.

  3. One of the groups who had achieved the most had done so by working as a team with each doing a different area and exporting as erf into the final project. It seemed to have worked although we couldn’t check with the pupils concerned.

More importantly what did we learn from the project? Well, Matthew and I had lunch in the garden one day over the summer holidays and we discussed the course. He began by saying that he reckoned it had been a big success, both in amount covered and in the enjoyment the kids had taken in the project. That was good to hear.

There were various other positives but being Scottish and Calvinist by nature we soon moved onto what we could have done better which is probably more use to anyone thinking of starting a project like this.

Firstly, Niv kindly offered us free educational copies of the game for our project but we didn’t really push this. I suppose we thought the kids would jump at the chance but this was at the start of the course and they didn’t really know what it would be like. It also let us see the inequality in terms of hardware and internet connections the pupils in the class had. That made setting homework impossible. That has since been emphasised by @BlackRider with his project where his school machines only barely coped with the game itself. I think if we did this again we would try to ensure they all had adequate hardware. The Scottish Government has promised to improve things for every pupil in this respect so it may have improved over lockdown.

The second thing we took from this was that the final project took a long time. The kids had at least four weeks as it was, to tackle their final projects and with the other three that were taken away from them by the pandemic that would’ve been 7 weeks in total. A lot of time to take out of a course. In hindsight we felt that we could have had a narrower remit for the final project and maybe started them thinking about it once they had seen what the toolset could do so they could work on it throughout the year.

Over the summer we agreed to see if anything was possible in August when the schools returned with the new games class. I offered to help remotely as I wasn’t going in in person being unvaccinated and Matthew suggested Microsoft Teams and sharing my screen was a possibility. To cut a long story slightly shorter, we tried this and it worked to an extent although it was weird. I shared my screen with Matthew’s laptop which was attached to the whiteboard and we managed, slowly, over a few weeks to introduce them to the toolset and build an area or two with transitions but not much more before we were locked down again.

Since then we agreed that Matthew was having enough work coping with staff self isolating, class changing in front of him etc. so we decided to put NWN on the back burner till things improved. And they haven’t really so far . . .

However, I very quickly got a bee in my bonnet ( Scottish expression meaning to become obsessed?) about how we could have done the final project better and in particular managed to get the final project done in less time. At that point I was occasionally childminding my 7/8 yr old granddaughter Ruby who was getting into stories about wizards etc. It occurred to me that maybe what the kids needed was a much narrower focus plus something that wasn’t entirely new to them. What if we had set them the task to either remake an existing children’s story or else give us a plan for a new one which we could ensure only had a few areas ? I started checking to see if there was much in the way of childrens’ story modules on the Vault and found very little. I had a look at a very old module on the Vault, Jack and the Beanstock, and reckoned that would be a decent task for them. Simple story/ they know it already/ we could stack up the resources they would need.

Btw, could I give a shout out here to @Olivier_Leroux and his kid friendly modules page. A great idea.

It would all have ended well if I had stopped there but I then reckoned that we didnt want to be too prescriptive so what if we offered them the chance to make up their own childrens’ story. Could we still keep it manageable? As fate would have it, Ruby saw me playing with the toolset one day when she came over for a meal and asked me what it was. I showed her briefly, she was entranced by how easy it was to create a 3D world ( not her words !), did I have any dragons, could we have a little girl saved by a pink dragon . . … and we were off down a rabbit hole !

But a useful rabbit hole I think. It gave me some ideas , got me building ( which is always good for a teacher to be able to show you can do what you ask the kids to ) and ended up with a module, a short story and a granddaughter who is now writing some ideas for the sequel she wants to help me build.

More of that later and some thoughts about what I’ve learned on the way and how it might change our course - if we even get the chance to resume our lives.

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Thanks for the update, jimdad55 :slight_smile: I’ve done a couple of Java lectures at a local school and used a very, very basic D&D-style text adventure as an example, and it certainly engrosses the students more than ‘theory’ (at least that’s what I choose to believe)

But that did lead me to think of the possibilities of NWN in education, and I had some other approaches in mind that I will throw out there in case they prove useful to you.

I envisaged a ‘Nirvana’ where a NWN game was developed by a ‘school’ - with English students writing the story and conversations, art students contributing to the models, drama students doing voice acting, music students composing some custom music, etc, etc - and (in my not necessarily correct opinion) that also gives them the chance to experience/realise that their skills can be useful in the computer industry. It also lets the ‘programmers’ focus more on their core interests. As a programmer myself, I have absolutely no artistic talent, so while programming NWN at school would have excited me, trying to produce models would have resulted in a lot of time spent and little produced.

Maybe clear ‘roles’ on a team might benefit the project as a whole, and it’s probably closer to ‘real world’ experience where programming/music/graphics tend to be specialisms. But of course, it depends what experiences you want your students to gain, and they may unearth hidden talents by trying everything. Working in a team is key for their futures though, and it sounds like you’ve got that ‘team’ aspect nicely embedded.

You could also look into SVN or similar for ‘group working’ as NWN does support a ‘way of working’ where people upload their individual files to a ‘master project’ (although that may be more effort than its worth). Perhaps you can consider other ‘ways of working’ like a dedicated tester, or encouraging more ‘early and often testing’.

Anyway, it’s fantastic what you’ve done, and what you’re trying to achieve. I’m absolutely not trying to suggest you adopt any of the above, I’m just throwing some ideas out there and if anything is helpful, great :slight_smile:

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@jimdad55

:slight_smile: Have you seen the title of my latest module? Predestinated Days. Anyway, I digress.

Have you considered doing a single area module that may look at some interesting puzzle for the player to solve? A long while back, there was a competition that asked builders to concentrate on telling a story in one area. It has a number of advantages in your situation I would have thought …

  1. You have your pupils set into teams … Those who like to design areas and objects.
  2. Those that like to write conversations and story.
  3. Those that like to write code … Script.

That way, the whole class is aiming to provide a completed module together and allows them to concentrate on those aspects they prefer to work on or are best at.

Then, allow each team to present their own work to one another about the pros and cons of what they worked on, helping others to appreciate their own sections.

Don’t forget, just because you are working in one area, it does not mean you cannot learn about transition code. i.e. Transition from one waypoint to another within the same area.

As for the type of puzzle, have one that allows the coders to really work their maths perhaps? A random event with random objects kind of thing.

i.e. Have your class understand more about working in a team where strengths and weaknesses of one another are respectfully appreciated.

From someone with Scottish ancestry and definitely Calvinistic. :+1:

By the way, I found my single module area that I did at the time … It comes with design notes.

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There is one such module on the kid-friendly modules list mentioned above, btw, Skullington Falls**. From what I recall it’s one huge open area with a couple of different activities, puzzles and conversations.

** (Disclaimer: Not entirely kid-friendly, maybe, depending on the kids, as it also makes mention of a serial killer as Halloween trope, though without going into any gruesome details, just as a “harmless” scare or something, IIRC. It’s so long ago that I made that list, and I’m no educator or parent, it was just a fun project at the time, so it’s to be treated with caution; I should maybe replay all the games on it one day and comment on them; right now it’s the task of the adults to find out whether the modules are suited for their kids or not.)

Also, one of my favorite mini-modules of all times is The Sunken Shrine of Ahmenkatja. It has more (but not much more) than one area, but contains about everything you’d find in a full blown module condensed into less than half an hour or so, proving that you can make something great without aiming for epic proportions.

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Or there are the gog contest winners… (rules included these limits - 3 areas, 10 monsters, 3 talking NPCs, 1 Big Bad (and in my case, his pet)). FWIW, if there had only been only a single winner it definitely wouldn’t have been me.

TR

Wait, they did? I certainly don’t remember intentionally adhering to these rules … :sweat_smile:
I thought about those modules, too, since they were made in 2-4 weeks with limited scope and turned out alright. But nowhere near The Sunken Shrine of Ahmenkatja, and I feel they are somewhat tainted as demonstrative examples now due to the awkward promo theme. But that’s going a bit off-topic now, sorry! :grimacing:

Here are the “guidelines” for that contest (via wayback machine - link is under Related Projects on the page linked to above) -

  1. 3 Areas: an interior starter area, an exterior transition area and a final interior.
  2. No custom content. You can only submit a module file (no haks), a character file (see #5) and screenshots (see #8).
  3. Up to 3 friendly NPCs
  4. No more than 10 hostile creatures
  5. Include a premade character capable of surviving the module
  6. No more than 5 conversations
  7. 20 minutes playtime max.
  8. Include 2 to 5 screenshots

and the time limit rule rules was -

  1. The Contest ends on November 24th. That is four weeks folks, so get cracking.

Hope that clears it up.

TR

Thanks for taking an interest, guys. A lot to pick up.

Yeah, that would be Nirvana. Unfortunately, we have the Games Design class which isn’t timetabled to come at the same time as the Drama class or the English class etc. The Drama class have their own course to pursue and it’s pretty hard to shoehorn voicing characters from a computer game into it , even if the Drama teacher felt it was a good idea.

There is a bigger point that schools are (in my opinion) way behind the curve in terms of employment opportunities. During lockdown voicing for computer games was a huge industry with actors unable to get “proper” parts or act on stage. The way computer games are becoming massive commercial enterprises requiring all the talents you mention hasn’t quite worked it’s way through to schools figuring out the changing pathways for employment. I think Scotland isn’t bad with a bespoke Games Design course up to the highest levels but we still have a few issues to sort out. We came across one in that the distinction between coding and scripting isn’t clear. At top levels there is an expectation that it would be coding not really scripting but nobody can tell for certain it seems. Looking at some of the scripts from modules that seems a bit harsh.

Not sure entirely what you mean here but we did encourage pupils to band into groups, although only two groups did so and on the basis of friendship rather than different skills. Those two groups did successfully use erfs which were imported into the master project which was a start.

Never worry about making a suggestion. We were starting from scratch and winged some of the year. We would make changes if we decide to do it again. however, even in a Games Design class where pupils opt for the course, you will have at least a third only did so on the hope of playing their own games on the computer for as long as they get away with. Another third will go along with you happily but without the enthusiasm to carry it beyond what you ask them to do. Thanks for your suggestions. They are here for us and for any others in education who choose to use NWN.

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@Lance_Botelle, @Olivier_Leroux, @Tarot_Redhand.

Hadn’t thought about using waypoints rather than physical transitions to new areas. I started looking at the toolset through the “Fern” Tutorials from Mr Hansen on YT so I kinda followed his lead and we aimed for three areas. The completion of their first transition to a new area was a big moment for the class which they seemed to enjoy. Will have a look at the module you mention.

A good idea and I suppose our three areas were arbitrary. The idea of one large area appeals to me. However, one of the reasons we were able to offer the toolset to the games design class was that it covered so many of the required aspects of the course. Plot, custom assets, conversations, music, etc. The course required everyone to complete all of the aspects so cut across the notion of individual expertise. Remember time was a huge challenge throughout the whole year. There were other non-NWN aspects of the course Matthew had to cover as well.

One of the issues we came up against was that no knowledge of coding at all was required to take the course. That was great in that we got one of the best English storywriters in the class but she was in the same class as a guy who created a beautiful ballista on Blender. We couldn’t assume anything till the class appeared in front of us. Will have a look at the module.

@Olivier_Leroux, first of all, thanks again for having a look at the Ruby module and finding things I’d missed. Will have a look at the modules you suggest. I wasn’t kidding when I said your kid friendly page is a great idea. I wish I’d known about it when starting off. The more I thought about building a module for myself the more a children’s story seems the logical starting point, apart from the fact that Ruby was also badgering me to show her the toolset. Kid’s stories need a strong plot, a variety of characters, some of whom they have to identify with, some eye candy and a satisfying ending. However, the great thing is that that doesn’t translate into needing to be long. That would certainly be in my mind if we have another year at this, so please do update the page !

I have already mentioned to Tarot that I think ( as well as the CCC which I think is awesome!) we should have a kids module contest here on the Vault. . One of my ( admittedly small ) gripes is that so many of the modules I come across on the Vault are very old and look very old. There aren’t an awful lot using the latest custom content and showing a more modern look to the game.

Thanks for looking out the rules, Tarot. The requirements mentioned there look sensible - although i’m not sure about the no custom content.

A children’s’ story module building comp would to my mind have roughly the following guidelines.

  1. Can be either based on existing children’s story or new one - but aimed solely at kids 12 and under (?).
  2. Should be playable within 45/50minutes.
    3… Should have at least one outdoor, one indoor area
  3. No permanent deaths ! Find a way to incapacitate the hostiles.
  4. Must attempt to use some custom content from the last 10 years .

There are probably a lot of builders like myself lurking here - can’t do modelling, not wanting to put our early building efforts up for scrutiny or not having the desire or knowledge to put forward a full module. It might encourage them to take part here on the Vault.

All the finished efforts could be given a bit of positive feedback about how to improve (from those here learned in such matters) and be put onto Olivier’s kids page which would make that a bit more extensive.

Anyway, just a thought. Btw, how did anyone get it finished in just 4 weeks ?

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I actually finished mine in half the time or less (the reason for that is another, not very glorious story … :sweat_smile:), but tbh, IIRC I hardly did anything else but work on the module for at least a week - it was a full time job with long hours, I asked for help on the forums whenever I needed to know something I couldn’t figure out myself, and I also borrowed some custom scripts from others (not sure if that was allowed, but the rules don’t seem to say anything about it). Plus, I had some basic knowledge of the toolset (more or less what is taught by Bioware’s old Fern tutorial, since I had already gone through that before the contest came up). I did not really have a planning phase either, I just jumped right into it and did whatever came to my mind, doing most of it on the fly.

Sharing is good!

With the Ruby module, the testing at the end took as long as the building ! If it hadn’t been for Tarot’s help with testing it and your own comments after I put it up I’d still be working on it.

I asked about using script systems and was told it was OK, so I used gestalt’s in_g cut-scene stuff in mine. For a simple brief like that 4 weeks was certainly enough for the results achieved. Don’t take my word for it. Download the gog contest winners and play through them (be warned mine is in equal measure crazy, humorous and sarcastic). If you do, then remember to use the provided PCs. If you want to see somewhat more polished versions of a couple of them there are links in the related projects section.

TR

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