The Darkening Sky: Prologue
A Neverwinter Nights 2 Campaign
Before I get into the details of this project, if you want to download it and play it, you can get the campaign in one of two places:
You can see some screenshots from my mod here.
The Journey to Amateur Video Game Modder
About a year ago I decided to fire up my old copy of Neverwinter Nights 2. For the uninitiated, Neverwinter Nights 2 is a computer video game based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons world and rules. I felt like playing in that world again; building a character, enjoying a story, running around slaying monsters and saving the world. It’s always a good time.
As I was playing the campaign that shipped with the game (known as the “O.C”, or “Original Campaign”, to the NWN2 community), I kept having thoughts like, “I’d do that scene differently“, or “I’d have done that encounter differently.”
I knew, from way back in 2002 when I first purchased the game, that NWN2 shipped with the toolset that the original developers used to generate the game content for the OC and subsequent expansion games. Everything you need to create your own story was inside that toolset: dialog editors, terrain editors, a quest journal, and even a very robust scripting engine. I am a software developer by trade; I figured I could do this. Certainly I would be comfortable scripting, and everything else I figured I could learn.
It was time to build my own video game.
This was something I had wanted to do since I compiled my first working program as an undergraduate in college. It is, after all, video games that lead me to my chosen profession. Way back in the late 1990′s I was an Electrical Engineering undergraduate. I spent the first two years of that profession taking general studies pre-requisites and math classes. When I got a taste of the real work in the EE field, however, I wasn’t interested in the subject at all. I was bored. I knew I didn’t want to be an electrical engineer and spend my entire working life wishing I had chosen a different profession.
Fortunately for me, at the University of Idaho, an introduction to computer programming course is a mandatory part of the EE curriculum. And as soon as I got into that class and started to learn about programming (with Turbo Pascal no less), I was hooked. I was good at it, for starters. I understood the principles immediately when others in the class were struggling to understand concepts like arrays and linked-lists, and it was (most importantly to me) fun. I enjoyed the work of writing code; I got a kick out of it.
Almost immediately I switched my major to Computer Science. I had found my calling. I had found something I enjoyed doing, and something I was good at.
And secretly, what I desired most in the world, what I knew programmers could do, was make video games.
My career arc never went in the direction of video game development (despite a close call), but the desire to build a game never left me. It’s something I have always yearned to do. And now was the time to do it. I just had to learn how to use the NWN2 toolset.
Back in 2002, when I first bought NWN2, I opened the toolset for a brief time. I had a burning desire to create my own campaign back then, just as I always had. But I immediately found the toolset daunting; it intimidated me, quite frankly. I was an inexperienced programmer and had not reached my potential yet; I didn’t have the confidence to tackle it. I quickly closed the toolset and decided that maybe I wasn’t cut out to build video games. Maybe I was just supposed to play them.
Then, last year, playing the game again, I got that itch; I wanted to build my own game and I knew the toolset would be a way to do it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I could figure it out. Lots of people – many of them not programmers – have used the NWN2 toolset to make their own games and tell their own stories. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?
When I opened the NWN2 toolset last year, I realized that I could do it, and it wasn’t nearly as daunting as I thought it was. I started scanning the internet with Google, looking for tutorials, learning the toolset and figuring out how to build my dream game. Sure, it was going to take time, and there was a lot I needed to learn about using the toolset, but I was determined to do it. The programming and scripting aspects I knew I could do. I was less sure about my artistic abilities. After all, a large part of a video game is art and dialog. But I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. And so I fired up the toolset and started building a world; I started to tell my story.
The intent of The Darkening Sky was to build a game I wanted to play. I had no other audience in mind but myself. The story was something that had been sitting inside my head for many years of playing Dungeons and Dragons games. I went straight to work. During the day I wrote code for my real job. In the evenings and weekends I created The Darkening Sky…
The result is the “prologue” to the story. This is very much a “beginning” mod. I intend to keep working at it, building content, and releasing chapters until the story is complete. I have a definite beginning, middle and end in mind. Everything is written down, outlined, planned and ready to be built. Now it’s just about continuing to put in the time and effort to make it real.
This week I released the prologue officially on the Nexus and Vault 2.0 web sites. It’s been a really good feeling, to spend that much time on something and release it into the wild. People are downloading it and playing it. There’s a great sense of satisfaction in that.
But the story isn’t finished.
Time for me to get back to the toolset…