The map won't scroll.
Normally admissions of complete incompetence are something to be avoided when writing about games, in favour of cultivating an aura of general infallibility. Obviously I completed the game on Expert, blindfolded, while having Rossignol flick my earlobe in an attempt to distract me from the task at hand. Do you think I'd dare write a review of Totally Average Ultra-Hyped Big Franchise Game Which Has All The Fanboys In The World without having done that? This is a little different. We're having a look at the toolset that comes with Neverwinter Nights 2, which we deliberately didn't consider. Here incompetence is absolutely key to my qualifications in writing this.
You see, the Neverwinter 2 toolset is enormously powerful. Clearly, as Obsidian actually made the game with it. However, almost all major PC games come with some manner of editing tools that they used to make the game with. It's not actually just the top-end of the power that's relevant. The promise with Neverwinter Nights is towards the bottom end, the level of power it puts in the hands of those of us whose native language isn't assembly.
To see how good NWN is at that I did the following. Firstly, work my way through the basic tutorials including, skipping anything which looks like a bit like hard-work. Secondly, start a clock and see what manner of adventure I can construct in two hours precisely. And thirdly, write about it.
Admissions about my prior skill in these: I once programmed a game in Easy Amos back when I was teenage and had more brain cells. I was kind of Project Lead on a moderately successful Deus Ex mod, but didn't actually do any of the map editing or similar (just did all the conversations). And I know the Dungeons and Dragons rules with a splash more than a layman's familiarity, so I won't be wasting time wondering what's the difference between Constitution and Strength. Finally, I have a splash of experience with the Neverwinter 1's Aurora construction kit, where I spent about an hour and a half fiddling with it when it came out. Clearly, I remember nothing of that, and certainly not how to scroll the map.
Anyway - onwards.
The top of the actual tutorial document helps by providing a big list of what's new to the toolkit, handily divided into World Creation and Usability sections. In the first, elements like Terrain Painting, uniquely generated trees, weather control, dynamic day cycles, increased armour customisations (but they spell it "Armor", because they're uppity colonials), an editor for the special effects, the ability to scale objects (which I kind of fall in love with later), Global Scripting (which I read and know in my heart of hearts I'll never get) and better camera controls for cinematics. In terms of usability, there's a lot of streamlining going on. For example, the customisable workspace element allows you to place tools better, and a better conversation editor allows you to "pass parameters to scripts and assign multiple conditional and action scripts", which sounds terribly exciting. Yes. Also, you're able to have multiple working areas open at once - for example, typing a conversation while having a couple of maps available, which even for a newbie like me is an obvious boon. Also, there's the ability to create plugins a la Photoshop, which has the aura of something considerably beyond the boundaries of this little piece.
Skimming down past the "What is a Module" sections - it's a module, of course! - I hit the important issue of making a first area. Create an outdoors area, eventually locate the "Start Position" function and save. Load up the game and... OMFG!!! I'm in a game within five minutes. Marvellous.
The tutorials progress through the basics of placing objects, scenery, putting things in containers, putting down monsters, setting up basic conversations, creating custom objects and... well, seriously. You'll have noticed by now that we've actually got the absolute basics of getting an adventure working. Which is what I was hoping for. When I was conceiving this exercise, I knew that we'd be able to make something in two hours. If this was Valve's Source Engine, I'm sure I'd have worked out how to put down some corridors, some guns and a few people to shoot - the perennial joy of constructing a first-person shooting game is how relatively easy it is to create something which, at some ridiculously reduced level, resembles the game proper. Conversely, the problem with - say - editing Deus Ex is that just lobbing some things down in a mass doesn't actually create something that works in any noticeable way like the main game, since it's so much more reliant on exploration, plot and so on.
A role-playing game like Neverwinter Nights is in a similar situation. Sure, a dungeon could be easy to do, if the underground levels work in the way that NWN does (insides are made from having large squares which click together, in some manner of subterranean-despot interior-decorator Lego-esque manner), but a dungeon isn't an adventure. An adventure needs a situation, a plot, a twist, a reason for doing things. And already, in the hour or so I've been working through the tutorial, I have the skill to do something at a basic level.
Well, at a very basic level anyway. There's a section on scripting, which looks a little too much like programming to me, and I just page-downed past that. And despite all this information I've been given efficiently, I still don't know how to scroll the map. The only guidance in how to do it is a note near the top saying that you can rotate the map with by holding down the third-mouse button, and zoom in and out with the mouse-wheel, but that can't be the only way of moving around the view, surely? I'm tempted to go hit a NWN forum to see if I can get more help, but that'll be breaking my self-imposed rules. Instead, I work from one side of the keyboard to the other, desperately pressing each key. None of them seem to do anything which I'd like to. Man!
Still, it doesn't matter. I can actually get it to do what I want to via this bizarre rotate and zoom approach, so I set a time. 8th November, 10pm. Finish time, 12 midnight. Let's go!
I've already got a vague conception of what I want to do. Basic "find object for reason" sort of set-up. To do that, I'll need two zones, one external and one internal. By 10:35, both are constructed to my vague satisfaction. Despite the instructions saying that making a decent outside zone is much more work than an internal, my outside - er - turns out far better. Experienced with the bio-lab floor in Startopia, the raising and reducing of ground, then retexturing it is very familiar. A small lake. Some trees. A tiny village - in fact, a hamlet. A cave. What a veritable world of fantasy clichés I've created!
Underground is more problematic, which makes me feel dumb when it's clearly far easier. My problem is that I basically skimmed over the section on clicking together tiles, and my resultant dungeon has some visible holes in it where I've put the wrong pieces in place. Still, aesthetics are secondary here, and I haven't time to be perfectionist. I connect the two with area transition bits, as I haven't time to work out how doors work, and boot up to test. It works, but I discover that the doors work just the same way as area transitions. No time to fix.
Next sweep adds the NPCs to the world. I've got two major speaking characters, one which involves creating my own villager template and the other involving gleeful experimentation with the object-scaling. Both are set up so they'll wander up to the player when they reach a certain area. Since I haven't read the section on scripting, I end up having all the adventurers' weapons in a closet in the village. Why a closet? Chests just seemed a bit played out. Assorted unimportant villages are lobbed down for colour. I wonder how I could make them wander around? Probably something with waypoints, but... well, minor details. Heading underground, I select the lizardmen and lob down half a dozen or so to guard the treasure, which I make (a unique plot item "thing") them store in a chest. Yeah, chests are back in. Deal with it.
This has actually taken longer than you'd think. The thing with the toolset is creating big-scale content is easy. Zones can come together, in a remedial, undecorated sense, enormously quickly. But having someone chat to you, that's content that requires an actual degree of work. Still, I've got enough time to made some secondary conversations for the main NPCs - including some branching and moderately clever stuff - and playtest it a couple of times. I discover I've been a bit too optimistic in how hard a level 1 NPC is, so remove some of the lizardpeople and add some healing potions to the closet in the village. Also, there's a major graphical problem in the dungeon which I haven't the time to read the documentation to work out how to fix, so instead I do something I do know, and set a third conversation to a Lizardman NPC.
The two hours click around and... well, I'm finished, and a quest - of sorts - remains. The basic fantasy story arc's there - villagers in trouble, you going to solve the problem, end up having to retrieve an object from a place of peril. If I had another hour, I'd have actually read the scripting and got it to do the very basic thing I needed it to - that is, recognise when you were holding the object you had to rescue, and only run the victory conversation then. Oh yeah - and actually entered a Quest dialogue in the player's journal. They'd have probably been time to elaborate in a few other areas. The dungeon's incredibly bare, but stocking it with interesting objects - pots, perhaps. Or maybe pans - would have been as easy as clicking. Traps would be another simple thing, a case of marking the area and selecting what's hurting. More jokey NPCs...
And that hour would have been eaten up. Role-playing games devour content, which is where the strength of a toolset like NWN is. Rather than wrestling with the toolset, you're wrestling with the enormity of the task you've set yourself.
Anyway - my adventure. Two hours. Forgive me. It's not exactly Planescape Torment.
And the toolset generally? It does exactly what it promises. It won't make it easy to make your own adventures. Nothing will, as it's always going to be a lot of work. But even for the total layperson, there's the ability to incarnate your fantasy into some manner of digital flesh. Just wasting a Sunday afternoon in a pleasurable way, never bothering to learn how to make the map scroll because that'll involve reading the documentation. And for someone who's more serious - well, it's probably your first step to being the next Chris Avellone.