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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !
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
- what they directly say;
- what they do;
- what others say about them
- 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.