There really is no greater feeling then that eureka moment when all of your writing and scripting crunches together and you get a successfully compiled message in Weidu. Finally, I have emulated the masters and…gotten a tiny bit more successful content in a NPC Mod (Three of them, actually) that are all half-way done now.
The Infinity Engine really has captured my passion in a way no other experience with modding has in a long time. In the past, I’ve attempted several unfinished projects in the Aurora Engine, NWN’s Toolset, always only a few hours of work in a very beginning of a story, far from finished, before I stop. Everything is rather set up for you, and you can go as far as your NWNscript skill lets you go. Thus, creating in NWN is very user friendly. Unlike Baldur’s Gate though, you need to create fresh areas for your story, there is no already existing Baldur’s Gate campaign to plant them in, and my perfectionism has always been frustrated at my area designing results. The work then enters the abyss of hiatus, very rarely re-visited. I realized this one day and wanted to try a different creative project, and wanting to play Baldur’s Gate, I thought of making five custom NPCs (I love a party of my own six), and fleshing them out. Easy right?
The difficulty is immediately perceivable when I start. I.E is different in that there is no toolset. I’d have never have tried if Weidu didn’t exist, which really makes the whole thing possible. The entire process requires creations of files containing your scripts, your dialogue, your character file converted to a cre, with tpa’s telling the installer what to do. There’s no GUI interface to type in your dialogue in, it’s notepad work, and the modding process is generally not user friendly. But the challenge has really invoked my creative passion. I majored in creative writing, but my day job has nothing to do with writing. I minored in computer science, but I don’t ever write a line of code in any computer language. And I initially started studying musical composition, but I’m definitely not making orchestral pieces either. But modding offers an opportunity to put every skillset to use. I can write a story, of a character, script all sorts of things around it, and, if wanted, even write a small song that plays during certain events, by converting the mp3 file of a basic music creating program into ogg.
My first real challenge was just spawning a character in. I had used the second floor of the friendly Arm Inn. Nothing I would do, would get this character to spawn in. It was absolutely frustrating. The question “What is wrong with my code?!” was asked a lot. Starting off modding is full of these frustrations. The first error can be a turn off for a lot of would be beginners, and this is a very immediate taste of reality breaking the fantasy of an easy journey. You cannot just create a masterpiece like all of the previous masters have done. I strongly recommend working on a small piece of your mod at a time, then testing to see if that small piece functions. It is a lot easier to fix a little at a time then a lot and not be sure where to start.
Eventually I figured out, by studying other modding virtuosos (Specifically Lava’s Rakasha NPC, which you should check out if you haven’t), as this one was spawned in the third floor. I toyed around with their spawning location, and found I either was a goof with area code, or the second floor simply didn’t work in the way I was executing it, as changing their spawning location to anywhere but the second floor worked. I applied this to my NPC, and viola, it worked. One day I might crack this mystery, but for now, I was very pleased.
This pattern of failing and failing and failing before succeeding continued a lot. My NPC wasn’t saying anything. The NPC’s selection lines broke, and they stopped saying their lines after a click or two. I was controlling the NPC when they were not supposed to be controlled until they joined your party. The soundset wasn’t playing. There were a large number of my NPCs in one square. My item wasn’t spawning in with the correct string. My string was invalid. My PC’s tra file @ was duplicated, and they were saying the wrong line. My mod was failing to install because I had nearinfinity opening a file it was trying to install, and so many more. Each mistake was like a puzzle to solve, and sometimes the fix would take hours. The advantage of working on three NPCs at once is that I can repeat and master the process of getting it right.
There is definitely a disappointment in starting to mod so late, the question, “Will anyone even download it?” entering my head now and then, which is accompanied by the question “Will anyone like it?” But I remind myself that this project really began with me wanting to make a fleshed out party of five custom characters with my protagonist, with their own mini-stories and personalities. Plus there is an advantage to being last, you get to read and look at everything already done. I’ve downloaded and examined the files of just about every NPC Mod, from the really old Brawen Mod, which is a great guide to starting off, and the closest thing to a template NPC there is, to the present day Aura mod, which is another mod you should check out, as I love artificers. There’s so many ways to mark a mod as yours like that. You can look at all of these mods to figure out how to fix your own mistakes, or ask the mod creators themselves, though I am too shy and I get that silly feeling I’d be wasting these great virtuosos of modding’s time.
TL'DR: I’m not sure what inspired me to share this long essay/story, after all, my work isn’t complete yet. In a way this is a big thank you letter to those who have inspired me, to the I.E. engine, and its creators. I really recommend anyone else interested in modding to take the plunge, and I can’t wait to have my own work available for others to play or witness a beginner’s experience into the fray. I haven’t felt such creative passion in a long time, and I don’t think I would have ever expected it to come from a childhood game.