Summer '21 Update (Part 2)

This is the second part of an update on what I’ve been up to educationally with the game. The intention is to leave some kind of trail behind me for anyone in education planning to use the toolset with a class. Apologies in advance for the stream of consciousness nature of what follows . . .

In the first part I talked about our disappointment with the way our year ended ( small beer really compared with what was happening world wide !) and first thoughts about how we could improve the offering should we take it up again. We still haven’t talked about this - after the year Matthew had I’m not ruining his holiday just yet.

So, I thought I would maybe just complete my update by mentioning some of the things I’ve been looking at since and my thoughts on where, if at all, they might fit in.

As some of you will know, my main occupation after the year ended was the construction of my own first module “Ruby and the Last Unicorn”. This came about for 3/4 reasons, and probably needed all four for me to decide to go ahead with it.

  1. Improved graphics. One of the limiting factors for the class was the look of EE. I know not everyone will agree but I could see that although the toolset was a great motivator - the kids really couldn’t believe how easy it was to create a 3 D world - their views of the graphics were less complimentary. They needed to be better. Looking around the Vault I saw very few modules which looked much different from the ones from when the game came out.

Around the same time I was finishing off my module I managed to get NWN2 working on a partition on my Mac using Bootcamp. Immediately, and even for me, everything looked fresher and more realistic.I wanted to try to build something which used the most modern assets I could find.

  1. Ruby ! Ruby, my granddaughter was now aged 8 and my son had introduced her to Diablo2 which he remembered from his youth ! So she was interested in games, plus she had started writing stories of her own in her notebook.

  2. Children’s Stories. I searched the Vault for modules that might be aimed at, or appeal to her age group. I found very little although once the Ruby module was finished and @Olivier_Leroux had commented on it he mentioned that he loosely curated a best kid friendly project page here. This was a real find for me. As I said above, there is no way in the time we had in school we could do more than a three area brief story. With kids’ stories being naturally shorter in time span and very focussed on the main events this struck me as a very doable project for our classes. I’ve already said to Olivier that I hope he continues to update that page and I’d like to see more folks turning their attention to this genre, even once. Anyone thinking of a class project should really consider this to fit in with time/resouce constraints.

  3. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I got the building bug. It started when I came across the Mr Hanson Toolset tutorials on YT ( excellent) in preparation for the course. Then, when we started, one of the most interesting parts of working with a class was the freshness of their eyes on the toolset. They continually came up with the "Can you . . . " questions and I would scurry away and try to find solutions, often ending up at the door of @Tarot_Redhand and he would come back with a way of doing it. So, by the time the course finished and I was locked down, building a module of my own seems like a great idea.

What I finished up with, although flawed in many ways, was something I was happy met the reasons above.

The graphics in the module look, to me, a lot better than those in the original game. This was due to @Zwerkulesfacelift tilesets

and @BlackRider’s Witcher area conversion.

BlackRider also kindly made models of Ruby and Grandad


while @Tarot_Redhand provided me with a Scottish element for Mad Maurice MacDonald and his soldiers

As I learned that all of life can be found on the Vault I also came across the “Corpulent commoners”, “Triss Merigold’s head” and various other models that appealed to me.

However, the module ( something I thought I would knock up in a month or so) took the best part of 6 months to complete ! And even then I learned perhaps the best lesson of all in that Tarot agreed to playtest it - and my troubles began ! :grinning: :weary: :pray:

It was a great lesson in not settling for second best, paying attention to small things and the importance of version control ! In some way, I now feel that was the biggest loss from our class not having time to look over their work with a critical eye and playtest each other’s modules.

Even after the module was finished there were issues, largely because i’d used so many custom assets. Folk were having trouble downloading the correct haks for the project as there were several different versions of some of them. At this point thanks to @Olivier_Leroux for pointing out ways round this and staying positive about the module. The biggest thing I learned at this point though was NIT or Neverwinter Nights Module Installer Tool. This is an excellent resource and much underused I suspect. It allows you to download all the correct files needed for any module - automatically. You just start it off and it does the rest. I’d like to say that it impressed me so much I bought the company ( that was an ad but I’ve forgotten which one) but at least I made a short video for @Surazal in case folk were finding NIT daunting. you can find it on the NIT page or on YT.

The final part of this Ruby project came to me as a total surprise. One of the reasons I became involved with Matthew and the school was because, being an ex English teacher I have a great belief in the importance of creative writing for kids. As I’ve already said, Ruby, without any prompting from me, had started writing her own stories but I wanted the Games Design class to regard their story as being essential rather than a way of getting from combat A to combat B.

Their way of spending time each lesson before we got started was to hurtle into the class and start up Minecraft then dash through a bleak landscape shooting anything that moved until we asked them to open the toolset. Where possible I tried, and Matthew encouraged me, to make them stop and think of storytelling elements. With hindsight, I would now ask them to outline their proposed storyline early in the course, agree it with them and make sure that way there was enough plot there to interest the player.

This applied equally to characters and their conversations. This was another aspect almost completely ignored in the standard games design course. We set them the task of bringing out their characters’ personalities in the standard author’s way of

  1. what they directly say;
  2. what they do;
  3. what others say about them
  4. what the writer says directly about them.

Again, this was something which suffered due to the sudden collapse of the modern world but it would certainly be built in better from the start if we did it again. In the ruby module I tried to bring in some humour but the biggest innovation came from Ruby herself who asked me one day why she couldn’t say her lines. It was one of those Paul Newman in “Torn Curtain” moments for me. Of course, she should say her lines and I should say mine, as should Grandma. We had devoted a lesson in the games design class to using Audacity ( a brilliant and free audio program) to get the kids to work with a partner to voice a conversation and it was total fun.

Where I struggled was with the NWN dialogue system with the constant clicking to continue so I came up with a way of parcelling line and reply in the same audio file - which worked fine if you aren’t giving a list of options.

Having spent a lot of time on emphasising the storyline/conversations etc. it still came as a surprise to me when Tarot suggested that I turn the Ruby storyline into a story myself. Immediately it appealed to me, firstly from my old English teacher past but also because my biggest hindrance in the past has been a complete inability to draw anything. Now I had the game to proved any illustrations I needed. I set off to writing the story to go with the module, then played through the game and screenshotting everything that moved for later use. Some from the game were rather dark so in keeping with the fantasy element I found free programs online to lighten the pics and give them blurred edges. The result is now also on the Ruby project page in the form of a pdf.

So, to wind up, a lot has come out of an initial idea to try to do something with the toolset in my old school. Although there were (many!) problems along the way, I thoroughly enjoyed it and according to Matthew so did the kids. The toolset is actually as far as I can see unique in its ease of use when compared to what it produces. Matthew has toyed withy Unity and Unreal but both have massive learning curves given the time possible in school. With the toolset every kid in the class had produced two areas with transition within a double period ( about 70 minutes).

If we continue into next session and anything new comes up I’ll continue to post. I hope we do as Beamdog are certainly seem to be trying to make good on their efforts to keep the game moving forward.


Seeing the date of that Ad. you musta bin a wee lad when you saw it…


Nice piece of writing, @jimdad55. I have a one, a bit off-topic comment:

I use it too, but anyone who’s not up to date should read at least this:


It’s already been forked without the anti-features :sweat_smile::fu:

1 Like

what i do to their ‘precious’ songs is none of their biz :|

sorry Jim,
back to our regularly scheduled interests

/great stuff.

1 Like

I had no idea what you just said so had to go look it up …. :smiley:

We used Audacity in the class because it was available on both PC and Mac and it is free. Not really up on the ins and outs of the open source community. I tend to use GarageBand for my needs.

1 Like

You wrote that your students used this software to record and process their voices for convos, which is really cool.

It is indeed a nice, free and multiplatform tool, but its current and future versions - with trademark now owned by a commercial entity - may possibly spy on its users (upload local files, build profile, etc). Hence the middle finger.

At some point they even had this in their PP (after wiki):

The new draft Privacy Policy also claims that the program is not intended for use by minors under the age of 13 due to COPPA regulations, which contradicts the requirements of the GPL license on the software, adding to the controversy.

Now they backtracked on most of it, but the trust is already gone.

Final advice: you should be good if you stick to telemetry-free pre-3.0 releases or use the forks, but I cannot vouch for any of them.

I’m afraid in schools we can rarely persuade our IT depts to upgrade anything so we would have no plans to do so with our Audacity which is now almost two years old.

As a small point our kids are all about 14/15.

Thanks for the info.

Oh, I did not even realize you had custom heads tailored to the protagonists. I guess I just assumed Ruby’s was a common head because I recognized the hair, and I did not zoom in to look at the face. Very nice!

The custom quality head aficionado in me can’t help but think about adding them to my head collection, but if they were made in your and your granddaughter’s actual likeness, I suppose that would be inappropriate. Anyway, kudos to BlackRider for these, it makes the module even more special. :slightly_smiling_face:

Thanks for the comments.

@BlackRider is not only supremely talented, he’s also very generous. When he heard it was for my granddaughter, and despite seemingly working 45 hours every day(!), he offered to make me a Ruby model ( which was utterly realistic, trust me!, freckles and all) then we both decided it was too realistic to go online so he set about removing features and trying different things. So Ruby has actually played the one with herself ( said she found it weird, especially when hostiles were attacking her - she kept running behind Grandad). I suppose that was a tribute to BR’s model !

Below are just a couple of the alts we looked at. Cant remember which one we used on the Vault eventually but I liked the one with the hair up ( although she looks maybe a little severe for what I wanted - feisty but not unlikeable). On both you can see how some features were removed.

Ruby alt

ruby hairup

He even worked on different versions of Grandad, including a great one with wavy silver hair, till we agreed on one.

Another large element of the models in terms of the final look of the module, though, came from @Tarot_Redhand. When he heard I wanted to make it a Scottish themed module he went off and came back with the kilts ( based I think on Lisa’s clothes horse hak?). That gave me the option of the clan tartans and differentiating Mad Maurice from the soldiers. Very nice of him ( I saw another stricter side as he (rightly) became exasperated by my constant silly errors :grinning: :see_no_evil: )

In general, as I said, I wanted to make it look a little better graphically ( now that I’ve played NWN2 I suppose a little way towards that look). I wanted something that the kids in our next class can look at and say - you know that doesn’t look like a 20year old game. Despite its many faults I think it goes some way to doing that, while keeping the main thrust of being something Ruby would want to play.

The one element I regret not doing more about was the violence. Your comment on the project page about the graves etc. was spot on and something I’d been blind to. If I went back to it now I’d not just remove those elements ( which I have done) but I’d also work to choose spells which didn’t result in the hostiles dying. It might even be more fun having to incapacitate them then leg it before they recover. ( apart from MacManaman of Montrose who, as Grandad rightly says, deserved “particularly nasty spells”) !

The lack of violence was something I concentrated on while writing the story to go with the module ( now on the project page in pdf although I’m working on putting it on the Apple book Store etc.) It was also more fun to write that way. I made more use of the Bigby spells and avoiding enemies etc.

Back in the classroom that was one of our challenges. Some of the kids just wanted bigger and badder fights in their modules and it was difficult to steer them away from that and back onto the story.

One of the biggest downsides of this ridiculous heatwave we’re experiencing in Scotland ( yes, Scotland!) just now is that Ruby and I were going to sit down and turn one of her many stories in her notebook into a module over her school holidays but with the sun out I have hardly seen her - and that’s as it should be…

Moi? -

Tomorrow she’ll need mask and flippers to swim to you if the weather forecast is right… :diving_mask:


1 Like

Nope. Sun still shining here ! Forecast in low 20s for tomorrow. Not that I can see the sky for all the massive motor homes working their way up here​:minibus::minibus::minibus::minibus::minibus:

Have English school holidays just started ? Five minute run to supermarket took me almost 40 minutes!

Depends on the school, the area, etc. One local school broke up Tuesday last week.


Regarding the heads: Well, I took this as a kind of challenge, if I can actually create heads based on real pictures. Of course, I was a bit economic and used NWN1 vanilla heads as a base. One reason, why the hair of Ruby very much looks like from a NWN1-head. I didn’t do much to Ruby’s hair. So basically, I worked the photos into a texture and reshaped the head. It seems to have worked good enough, so that they were recognized! :smiley: And it was a good learning and fun project, too!

1 Like