Month: March 2016

CRPG GOTY, 1998 vs 2015

I’m looking at the 27+ gb of install files for The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt sitting on my desktop, and it’s a bit intimidating.  I got it from GOG last week on sale for $25.  It’s been a while since I’ve bought from there.  My most recent purchases of modern/current games were all on Steam, where the size wasn’t so apparent.  It’s startling how much… more there is between W3 and BG, both equally lauded for everything from gameplay to visuals.  I wonder:  will it be easy to mod;  will I like the mechanics;  will the story be interesting and something I can get into.   I use “BG” to indicate the entire series, though I rarely need to discuss either expansion, as I find them quite superfluous and ostentatious — an all-star game instead of the playoffs.  BG’s humble installed size of about 6gb seems inadequate by comparison, but I know better.

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weight, encumbrance, inventory

This is one of those areas where I definitely want to effect a change, but the manner for doing so is slightly unwieldy.  Let’s define the terms.  Weight is simply how heavy an object is.  Encumbrance describes how restricted you are by a combination of an object’s weight, its fragility, and the ease with which it is carried.

A small metal vial containing poison antidote might weigh about half a pound.  In BG, there are no fractions.  This potion has to be either weightless or twice as heavy.  Its encumbrance is almost negligible.  These facts combine to make this potion more encumbering than it should be, a due paid for its translation into a computer game.

At the other end, we have a suit of plate mail:  large, heavy pieces of thick metal.  It is exponentially more encumbering to carry than to wear, but there is no way to represent that in BG.

Then we have BG’s inventory system.  On one hand, it wants to be realistic:  STR-determined carry limits, a finite number of slots for equipped items, and a finite number of slots for carried/unworn items.  For convenience, they also allowed for the stacking of certain items — ammuntion for missile weapons, scrolls, and potions mostly.  Unfortunately, the limitation of the engine once again makes something inconsistent, and both unrealistic and inconvenient.  You can stack arrows, but only arrows of the same type.  You can stack spell scrolls, but only of the same spell.  Unique scrolls, such as quest clues or notes, can’t be stacked at all.  Then they added in portable containers, where like-item-stacking was not a concern, but also completely obliterated the point of limited carrying capacity in the first place.  In other words, it’s an incoherent mess that serves no purpose other than to clumsily and impotently limit what and how much a character can carry.

There are very good reasons for wanting to limit how much a character can carry.  You don’t want them to be able to horde potions and spell scrolls, saving them for the otherwise really tough encounters, by deliberately not using them for the numerous token battles.  But inventory restriction is the wrong place to address this.  The encounters should be designed to need those assets more often, and they should be harder to come by.

On the other hand, in P&P, players would have the option to hire porters and henchmen, hirelings that wouldn’t necessarily affect the outcome of an encounter, but would allow the party to lug around much more loot and equipment.  As it is in BG, one of the biggest restrictions on this — the weight of coinage — isn’t even an issue.

I’m not quite sure why I would restrict inventory, even if I can figure out how, but I do know I don’t like the idea of a character carrying multiple suits of armor, or an entire collection of weapons like a portable armory.

weidu

The first computer I played BG on only had a 2gb hdd.  I didn’t even install the movies.  Until weidu came along, mods were usually pure overwrites.  If you wanted to revert to the pre-mod state, you had to make your own backup of the relevant files:  bgmain.exe for any kind of hacks (no cd, or Taimon’s early stuff), dialog.tlk (most likely for the Baldurdash fixes, though other mods also used that as a base), and the override folder.  Besides requiring a strict mod install order (similar to Elder Scrolls modding), the mods would necessarily be independent of each other:  Later mods could only ignore anything already present.

Weidu was a remarkable advancement in BG modding because of two characteristics:  it was non-destructive, and could account for other mods already installed.

Non-destruction meant that reverting to a prior state was as simple as running the installer again.  Every file changed, including dialog.tlk, was automatically backed up, so reverting was simply a matter of taking that backup and throwing it back in the override folder to overwrite the mod’s now-unwanted file.  With some of the larger mods, this can certainly produce space concerns.  In some cases, maintaining the mod’s backup takes up more space than simply keeping a backup of the game’s pre-mod state.

Accounting for other mods seems to be the holy grail of the current scene, with such a variety of mods, all with different focuses.  Now your item mod can play nicely with your NPC mod.  The still painful exception is that AI mods, by necessity, cannot account for the innumerable variability of item and spell mods that might be installed.  Besides that, most mods are compatible, and install order is rendered somewhat less important.

Sometimes, though, with weidu making these two things possible, mods utilize these features even when it doesn’t make sense to.  Let’s use the BG2 Fixpack as an example.

For all intents and purposes, the FP is both the literal and spiritual successor to Baldurdash.  These pages, from way back in 2001, show how the game was patched up fairly quickly by the community.  Over the years, more things have been fixed — not without controversy in some cases — but the function remains the same.  What also remains the same is the requirement for the FP to be the first mod installed post-official patch.  This means that, other than for language translation, there is no need to use weidu to patch the files.  The old method of blunt file replacement would work just as well, and faster.

The second issue is its backup:  it is huge.  This is where keeping a backup of the three targets mentioned earlier is better than keeping a backup of everything the mod changes.  When you factor in how well-discussed and thoroughly tested the FP is, there’s certainly not the same likelihood of uninstalling as a kit or NPC mod.  The final nail in the coffin is FP’s status as essentially an unofficial patch.  Barring some real concerns over its more subjective changes, or duplication by multiple other mods, this mod is almost a required install.  The ability to cleanly uninstall it is virtually superfluous.

The point is that the larger comprehensive mods, those that make wholesale changes to one class of assets like items or spells, do not need to use weidu.  These mods are making changes to the fundamental resources of the game, not adding extraneous content that can exist outside of these changes.  Further, these types of mods are the ones that still need to pay attention to install order;  and even then, there will be cracks in the pavement.  An item mod that applies a change to longswords will not account for a later-installed NPC mod that includes a new longsword.  The only advantage weidu had in cases like these mods were the decreased size of the download, a minimal concern nowadays.

[edit]  Someone wondered why I was criticizing the FP.  I think the text contains sufficient explanation, but I’ll reiterate:  An early or first install mod doesn’t need to use weidu, and in some cases, is less efficient for both the player and the modder.