Community Interview: Zwerkules (Custom Tilesets/Models, Neverwinter Vault)

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    Orion

    Has anyone ever looked at some of the Zwerkules tilesets? They’re absolutely beautiful… – NWN Ravenloft Forums

    Pretty much the best custom tilesets for NWN, in my opinion… – NWN Ravenloft Forums

    I had the great privilege to interview Zwerkules in November 2020, who is one of the most active and prolific custom tileset and model creators for NWN.

    Many custom NWN modules have used Zwerkules’s tilesets, which includes premium modules, many persistent worlds and the Ossian Studios/Beamdog DLC Tyrants of the Moonsea. Zwerkules has been active since the beginning of NWN in 2002, and is a current and active contributor in the Neverwinter Vault and Neverwinter Vault Discord.

    Question:

    Firstly to begin with, what got you interested in NWN at the beginning? Were you involved with pen and paper DnD for example? Or did you graduate through computerized RPGs such as Baldurs Gate 1 and 2 for example? Or was it friends introducing you to it?

    Zwerkules:

    I’ve never played pen and paper D&D, nor did I play pen and paper The Dark Eye. I own the Arborea tabletop RPG but haven’t played it either. Ultimately I came to NWN because of Baldur’s Gate, but I don’t want to ignore all the D&D computer games that came before it like the goldbox games and Eye of the Beholder or the ones that weren’t D&D like Shadows over Riva, Stonekeep and Lands of Lore. One of the special ones that is extremely underrated is Albion by Blue Byte (it has nothing to do with the MMO Albion). If you haven’t played it, you still can. It is available at GoG.

    After playing Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 and their expansions, I was waiting for another game like those and bought Neverwinter Nights as soon as it came out. I got to say I was very disappointed at first, especially since unlike promised by Bioware you couldn’t import your characters from Baldur’s Gate and then there was the writing that wasn’t nearly as good as I was used to from Baldur’s Gate. It didn’t bother me as much that there was no party but just one henchman at a time as it bothered me that the henchman were nothing like the companions in other Bioware games.

    I could have played the original campaign to the end and then put the game away and never touch it again, but I discovered the toolset and found out why NWN despite its lackluster OC was the best RPG of its time.

    I was aware that some other members of the NWN community were also working on “Tyrants of the Moonsea”, I just didn’t know about all of them. I was quite surprised when I saw the credits play at the end of the module. There were some people I talked to at the NWNVault discord chat almost every day and I had no idea they were working on ‘Tyrants’, too. – Zwerkules

    Screenshots from the Keep Interior Tileset (top left and right) and Roman City Tileset (bottom left and right), Neverwinter Vault

    Question:

    I’m curious how you got interested in custom content creation. Particularly tilesets. Did you just wake up one day, and say “I want to make some awesome custom tilesets” and make it happen? Or was it you saw a default tileset and think “I want this feature, or that feature added”? Or was it a fellow NWVault contributor who created a tileset which looked awesome, and inspired you to go forth and create tilesets? What was the trigger all those years ago?

    Zwerkules:

    After playing the OC I made my own module which was to be part of a series. Then I didn’t have time for NWN for a couple of years and then I finally did and wanted to start the next module in the series. But the premium module “Wyvern Crown of Cormyr” came out and compared to its graphic style the old vanilla content looked too bad. When Ossian Studios released the cancelled premium module “Darkness over Daggerford” the tilesets used in “Wyvern Crown” became available and I wanted to use them together with Stilgar’s “Castle Construction Set” for my next module, but the CCS didn’t use terrains and crossers like other tilesets and was rather limited in its use, so I thought “What if I combine the two and exchange the rather bad textures of the CCS with textures from TNO?”. So I did that and also turned the CCS tiles into proper terrain and crossers. I did a lot of fixing gaps and tears in those tiles, but hadn’t done any real modelling work until then. I started making my own models when I made a few medieval houses (they are still in the “Medieval City” tileset, the ones that are a bit bigger than the ones I made after those). The first real tileset I made was the “Roman City” tileset I made for the Custom Content Challenge.

    Screenshots from the Mountains and More Tileset, Neverwinter Vault

    Question:

    Was it hard to create tilesets at the beginning? What were the barriers to you learning the technical skills to create custom tilesets? Were there particular frustrations that you encountered when making them? Did you get help from other community members to refine and hone your craft?

    Zwerkules:

    When I started to create my own tiles instead of combining existing tilesets, I had to learn how to use Gmax. Fortunately the GUI is pretty self explanatory and right and left mouseclicks do what you expect them to do from other programs (can I just use this moment to glare at Blender?), so it wasn’t too hard to learn that and I never read any tutorials on how to use Gmax.

    But knowing how to make models is only part of the process, you also need to know how to get them to work in the game of which creating working walkmeshes is perhaps the hardest part. Some people of the CTP (community tileset project) like Christopher, Bannor Bloodfist and especially Estelindis helped me figure out how to make my own tiles and told me about the vertices along the edges of a walkmesh that should be at exactly 5.0 and such things. Bannor explained the use of path nodes to me when I couldn’t find any information on them and gave me a PNG that has all the pathnodes on them which I use to this day.

    Screenshots from the Arabian Nights (top left and right) and Early Winter Tilesets (bottom left and right), Neverwinter Vault

    Question:

    With tilesets, I understand there is both the physical form aspect, about making the tileset beautiful, and the functional form, which is making it run without bugs. Are the two aspects, the physical and functional, easy to manage when creating a custom tileset? Do you have any tips for any budding custom tileset creator?

    Zwerkules:

    There are some things the NWN tileset system was never made for and while you can work around those limitations instead of letting them dictate what your tilesets will look like, you’ll get some in game behaviour that people will consider bugs in the tileset. For example if you have stairs leading up to a second story of a house and there’s a door there which you can open, you need a lot of space in front of the door to not make the door push the PC to the ground level when opened, so much space, that it will look bad and also might mean you’d have to put a house that fits onto one tile onto two tiles instead with lots of empty space around it. I’m not going to let my view of what I want a house to look like be destroyed, because under a few circumstances a PC opening a door can be pushed to ground level.

    Another thing the vanilla tilesets were not made for is proper scale. The doors are 2 x 3 meters which is far too big and if you use that scale for all your buildings they will be too big, so big that even elves can hardly reach a doorknob and gnomes can’t look into a window because it is too far from the ground.

    Many people complain about the lack of tilefade in newer tilesets like TNO and all of Six’s tilesets and mine as well. This is because of another engine limitation. Animated meshes do not tile fade, so if you want to have lit windows at night in higher stories, you can’t use tilefade. Personally I think tilefade looks bad anyway and destroys immersion, but since it can be turned off by a game option, I would still have made it available to people who want it if it had been possible, but I won’t let my aesthetic view be ruined by an engine limitation.

    New tileset creators have to ask themselves if they can live with those engine limitations or if they want to work around them.

    As for feedback, of course I enjoy reading feedback like the lines you quoted, but bug reports are equally important. – Zwerkules

    Question:

    I understand you worked with Beamdog with one of the recent massive updates, patch 81-8193-15 which implemented new lighting effects, shiny water, better looking armor, improved pathing. I understand you helped from the Tileset aspect (but please correct me if I am wrong)? Can you tell me what the experience was working with Beamdog and the project you worked on in the patch? Was a very time consuming process to help out?

    Zwerkules:

    I never worked with Beamdog directly except for the legal part. I worked with Ossian Studios who created the premium module “Tyrants of the Moonsea”. I had to replace some third party content in my tilesets, especially textures of which many had to be replaced with new ones. I gave Alan Miranda a list of textures I had to replace and marked those I couldn’t create myself so that Fernando who is Ossian’s Tileset Texture Artist could create those.

    There were also a few models from NWN2 that I had to replace and I like the result, except for the windmill in Medieval Rural all the models look better than they did before.

    I also worked together with Ossian Studio’s Bill Harper who created the extra tiles for the forest tileset and the palisades for the rural snow tileset override.

    Those three were the only ones I worked with, but I was aware that some other members of the NWN community were also working on “Tyrants of the Moonsea”, I just didn’t know about all of them. I was quite surprised when I saw the credits play at the end of the module. There were some people I talked to at the NWNVault discord chat almost every day and I had no idea they were working on ‘Tyrants’, too.

    Just like the 1.69 patch included custom content from the premium modules “Wyvern Crown of Cormyr” and “Pirates of the Swordcoast”, the Beamdog patch included custom content from “Darkness over Daggerford” and “Tyrants of the Moonsea”.

    I had nothing to do with the patch itself, just with the content I created for “Tyrants of the Moonsea”.

    3D model creation. Screenshot courtesy of Zwerkules.

    Question:

    What does it feel like when you see your tilesets used in custom modules. For example, in Ravenloft, or Aielund. Do you enjoy reading the feedback from the community about your tilesets? Some of the comments I have found include:

    • “Has anyone ever looked at some of the Zwerkules tilesets? They’re absolutely beautiful, and I feel like interiors and exteriors [of Ravenloft PW] would flourish under them. […] They’re easy to work with in my experience though. – Ravenloft PW forums
    • Pretty much the best custom tilesets for NWN, in my opinion… – Ravenloft PW forums
    • Zwerkules tilesets excel not just in how they look, though, but how well they play. Form and Function are well linked in his work. – Academy for Modding Excellence, Zwerkules’s Roman City Tileset was nominated as a finalist for Best Tileset for 2010.
    • I would like to know what it would take to get Zwerkules to play my Persistent World, World of Greyhawk – Old Gith (DM Wise)

    Zwerkules:

    I don’t play on PWs, so haven’t seen my tilesets used in places like Ravenloft or World of Greyhawk. I only play single player modules and “Aielund”, “Greenlaw” and “Sinister Secrets of Saltmarsh” are the only ones that used my tilesets so far apart from the premium modules “Tyrant’s of the Moonsea” and “Dark Dreams of Furiae”.

    As for feedback, of course I enjoy reading feedback like the lines you quoted, but bug reports are equally important.

    Screenshots from the Medieval City Tileset, Neverwinter Vault

    Question:

    Finally did you want to give a shout out to anyone in the community, or any particular project? There are many, many contributors in the NWN Community who have given so much over so many years. Do you have any particular projects of your own you are working on.

    Zwerkules:

    Oh yes, I’m very exited about what Toro is doing. His work will come in handy when I get to work on my modules again, as will Merrickdad’s caves.

    My latest project was finishing the tilesets used by the cancelled premium module “The Survivor” by CODI. While I have permission to release the tilesets and creatures, I don’t have the permission to release the module, because it is very unfinished. I really would like to see someone finish it though. Maybe Malthusian can be convinced to work on it again.

    I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do next. For my modules I need an interior tileset that matches the Medieval City tileset, but also a number of module specific placables like signs for shops and so on. I also work on making it possible to import Witcher 1 models in gmax and export them as NWN 1 models. This is based on Michael Darkangel’s Witcher import scripts for 3dsmax.

    Images courtesy of Zwerkules, via direct communication or from the Neverwinter Vault Projects Zwerkules has set up.

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