Monday, June 21, 2010

When is it "Done"?

So 6 of the 12 modules in my campaign I consider "done". These include the majority of quest content, since four of them are city centered modules and these are where most of the quest action takes place. The rest is for the overland maps (2 modules), two more city centered modules, and small modules for the endgame (four areas) and companion quests (10-12 areas).

The two remaining city centered modules need a few more trips through them trying to break stuff and catching those small things like typos or putting [] instead of <> in a conversation node so it doesn't show in the right color. The endgame module should be all done but for balancing, but I want another pass through to check for bugs. The companion sidequests are relatively straightforward, but the least tested. Everywhere I've put on the overland map functions fine, but the overland maps are sparser than I'd like.

So, fellow builders, when do you consider something "done"? There's the temptation to keep adding, whether more locations and quests to a sandbox style adventure, or more depth in systems (I'm loooking at you Lance Botelle :-) ). Then you start wanting to go back to stuff you worked on early in the adventure and bring it up to your later standards. If you let it, it never ends.


  1. Well, I think something is done when it feels full and robust(I know, talk about exact language). Does any part of your mod feel sparse? Does something feel tacked on and, well, of lesser quality?

    As for me, I'm just a (quasi)perfectionist, so I second guess myself at every corner. Hence they, shall I say, extended delays and silence on my part.

  2. Hi Kamal,

    I felt drawn to this post, even before I noticed my name. ;) And what a good question! ... Here is my own take on it ...

    Ultimately, a world, by definition, could be considered as never completely finished. However, there are definite areas within the world (campaigns) that can be considered complete sections of themselves. Then, within each campaign, there should be a good amount of scenarios and gameplay to make the player feel as though they have stayed and played for a while and that there was more to do if they had played it differntly.

    And that is where (for builders) it becomes extremely difficult to accomodate. In PnP (pen and paper) D&D, a DM could "wing" a situation to make the world feel more fleshed out. However, in a CRPG, the builder has to add elements (which I refer to as systems) that help offer the same feeling of "depth".

    I suppose what I am saying is not too different to what Chaos Wielder is saying. For myself, I believe I have found a level that works when I play test my own module and come across a gaming element that I forgot I included and feel as though I am now playing it rather than testing it. :)

    E.g. When I went to play test a transition, I had an NPC start a conversation with me because I had not met a certain criteria before leaving. I had forgotten about that part and felt drawn into the game.

    On a more basic level, a campaign should definitely have a good ending - or a good final scenario that leaves the player with a sense of closure, even if there is a hint of more to come. And from experience, I have found that at least 25 areas are needed to make a reasonable size game (subject to their size and type). My NWN1 module, Soul Shaker, only had about 25 areas, but it felt bigger than the number of areas suggests due to their design. In other words, a large number of areas does not equate to "depth". Personally, I find that having 5 things to do in 1 room/area more interesting than having 1 thing to do in 5 rooms/areas. If design of gameplay is too sparse, then the module becomes boring for me. It is to do with setting good pace and design.

    (Continued in next post.)

  3. (Continued from previous post.)

    Finally, being innovative/different is probably the hardest thing to do within th egame, but brings the best results and interesting gameplay. This is where well designed systems also play a big part. If well designed, you offer the player greater gameplay choice, which can even surprise the builder on their use. Half the fun for me (as a DM) is watching how my players will use the systems I have included in the game and how they will overcome problems I have set.

    The bottom line then ... when you are satisfied that your module has enough difference/depth to it to keep the player interested in playing. If the player does not see something different in the module you are designing within the first 2 hours of play, then (in my opinion) you have not included enough material to be different from any other module. That may be fine for many many players. However, if you want to stand out from the crowd, then it is only done when you feel you have done enough to make it different.

    WARNING: You are absolutely right about the danger of it never ending. The problem for us builders, however, is that (if you are like me) to get one "simple" idea to work (e.g. crafting), it suddenly opens up a can of worms if you want to improve or alter the system to play differently. However, (if you are also like me), you cannot help but ensure this bit is fully up and running as a completed system before you can move onto the next part of the design. Eventually, however, things do start to settle down, and once you have enough material in place to make your game feel different, you can go back and write the story around the what you have already done.

    HOPE: There is an advantage of writing "systems", however, and that is you can usually always use a system in any part of the game. So, when you see an earlier area that could do with improving (compared to later areas), then the newer systems (if designed and used correctly) can be added to the older areas to bring in extra life and depth.

    CONCLUSION: It's a hard one to define really, and just like PnP D&D, it may well be that your design will never truly be "done", simply becaue you know there are still many things you would like to include, given enough time. The key points to include, however, as an absolute minimum in no particular order (in my opinion):

    1) Minimum 25-50 areas.
    2) Good robust ambient AI systems. (Keep it real.)
    3) Good NPC/companion conversation AI.
    4) A number of different systems to the norm. (*)
    5) A PC dependant main story. (Plays the hero.)
    6) Plenty of optional side quests. (**)
    7) Support for different styles of play. E.g. Crafting may be essential for some players.
    8) World maps - Also gives a sense of scale and depth.
    9) Multiplayer possible for friends to play together.
    10) Encompassing 1st - 20th levels if possible.

    (*) I cannot go into too much detail, as each campaign will create these for its own purpose. As an example, however, I consider the "readable books" (and variations) and "combination chests" (and variations) as two examples of differences.

    (**) As many intersting and different to the norm as possible, but without neglecting some basic ones.

    I think that is enough for now .... I believe I am "done". ;)

    I hope that helps some.


  4. Well, I think you can get by with fewer areas or no world map if you're really tight and linear. Trinity had 10 areas iirc, and I certainly enjoyed that. All "rules" are open to being broken of course.

    As CW said, I think they need to feel "full". My complete things do feel full to me. They lack some of the finer scripting things like npc's going home at night or store hours, but I consciously made that trade to make time to make for more elsewhere.

    On the OM, I think there is a "correct" distance apart to have things to have the map feel full. Too much and it feels empty, too close and it's jammed. SoZ had it about right I think in terms of how long you had to travel between OM locations. So I'd say there's a definite amount of material you need to have for a given OM size.

    I think giving the player different "looks" can do a lot for scale/depth. Neverwinter looks a lot different from Samarach looks a lot different than Mulsantir. I've tried to go with that and give my cities different feels. One can do the same with dungeons etc. BrianMeyer has talked about this on IRC with regards to his PW.

  5. Hi Kamal,

    I did think Trinity felt a little too short, even though it was a good module. It felt more like a single scenario than a campaign.

    A module can still be good/great with fewer areas if it is only aiming to meet certain criteria. I think the goal posts are made higher when a module is labelled a "campaign", because I think a player expects more from it. (I know I do.) The word "campaign" makes me think of a more involved and deeper game.


  6. I my initial brainstorming of the campaign, there wasn't a tremendous amount to do in some cities. Around Thanksgiving (actually I remember it was over the Thanksgiving holiday because I had to work), I did a second round of brainstorming to add content where I felt I was thin. Looking at places where I was happy by the content amount, I came up with a design "rule" that my cities should have at least 20 quests each to feel full enough, based on where I felt I was already full enough.

    Now my cities are one central external area and the associated internal areas. There are some associated outside the city areas as well (graveyards, ruins, farms and whatnot). Probably 25-30 areas total for each city module.

    The other thing I decided was that each city should have at least one quest chain where you work for one npc or faction over a number of quests (or one many quest that has many parts). So in my Calimport Muzad that was the big add, a nine quest chain. Without a quest chain you just feel like you're running around doing small tasks constantly, which might be fine in a hamlet or something, but I felt a city should have "bigger things".

  7. Yes, I agree, a "campaign" should be bigger than a module, following a pc over a larger level growth that pretty much necessitates some movement around the land or through a very large city (multiple distinct districts).

  8. Hi Kamal,

    It sounds like you have managed to do a lot of work there, even more than I would do for a campaign. At least, in numbers of quests by the sounds of it. I am considering adding a few more elements to help fill my own campaign out, but I don't think I will ever reach the amount it sounds like you have. ;)