Trying out the NWN2 toolset for the first time? Here are the results of my explorations on building an exterior area, combined with the wisdom of several others…
1. After you have sketched out or designed your area in your mind, you’ll probably want to start out by adjusting the terrain. The first thing you’ll need to know how to do, is how to move the map around in the main window, because it isn’t very intuitive – use CTRL + Left click to drag the area view around, and the mouse wheel/third button held down will allow you to change the camera angle. Tip: In the top right of the screen you will see a little pin symbol. You can use this to keep a panel open, or to make it hide itself. When you first open the toolset, click on the pin for the ‘Properties’ panel so that the terrain panel gets more room.
2. Go to the drawing tools for the map, and select the one marked ‘terrain’. The general consensus on building a map quickly, is to make heavy use of the flatten tool. Still, you first select the raise or lower options, and adjust the height of one corner of your map.
3. Select ‘flatten’ and then ‘eyedropper’. This is why you raised a corner of your map – the eyedropper tool allows you to select the exact height you are going to use as a default. Zoom in to your piece of raised terrain, and click on the exact height you want to be able to draw at. Now when you paint, you will get a sort of flat-topped hill/plateau. Use this to lay out all of the raised terrain on your map. You can do several heights if you wish. You may also want to use flatten for sunken terrain, such as the path of a road. If you’re planning to build steep terrain, don’t lay down vertical faces – it stretches the textures and looks bad. You either need to step it or find other ways to break it up (see later on rocks).
4. You’re going to probably do a lot of fine tuning on the terrain over the next few hours, but start by making manual adjustments to create your terrain features using the raise/lower tools. Build your hills, drumlins, lake beds, or whatever else you need with these. Don’t worry about errors for now. If you want gentler features, increase the radius of the ‘outer’ setting of your brush, and decrease the ‘pressure’ setting.
5. Once you’re happy with the rough layout of your terrain, use the ‘noise’ tool to add general bumpiness to dull/flat areas (only).
6. Use the ‘smooth’ tool to reduce the harshness of your terrain. If you have jagged edges or a lot of cliffs from the ‘flatten’ tool you used earlier, smoothing is a good way to remove such harsh features that you don’t desire. You should also use the smooth tool to check the tile edges – noise will sometimes cause these not to match heights properly, and you can smooth these oddities out.
7. You’ll be using these tools a lot as you build to make finer adjustments, but I’m not going to be mentioning them much, since I’ll assume you now have the hang of them.
8. Now place any water. To do this, use the eyedropper tool as before to select the water level you want, and then lay down the pancakes of water to fill your hollows/seas as desired. You will need to fiddle with smoothness, ripple and refraction settings as well as colour to get your desired result (setting all 3 levels of water in the panel to similar properties gives you a more wavelike pattern, others give a windy look, etc). A word of warning, surface settings for water apply to the whole tile. If you want two bodies of water to have a different surface or colour setting, make sure they are on different tiles. Remember you can show or hide water using the top menu bar whenever you like. In addition, you can save your water settings – I recommend you do. It’s very easy to inadvertently adjust your water without meaning too, so once you have the settings perfect, save them.
9. I find that it is easiest for me to lay the larger areas of textures next. Go to an unwanted area of your map (or another area) to test textures. There is no undo function for textures, and replacing textures is done on a whole-map basis. It’s a good idea to work out the 6 or 7 textures you are going to be using for the whole map, before you start any texturing work. There are a max of 6 textures per tile, so try and select 4 or 5 you are likely to use everywhere, and leave 1-2 for individuality in specific areas of the map. Test out all your selections in an off-map area, using the swapper to replace textures you don’t like. Only once you have made all of your selections should you then texture the map.
10. I find it helps to lay down accent (like cliff edges) or dark textures first, and then lay the lighter textures on top. Another way of looking at it, is to build up in the same was as life: stone then earth then grass for example. Don’t worry too much about painting ‘outside the lines’, by the time you are finished it will rarely matter, and you can touch up later. On the other hand, don’t use giant paintbrushes – you can’t delete textures, only replace them on a map level, so big mistakes are painful (as there is no undo). For large areas of single textures, start with a high pressure, then drop it by increments at the edges to ‘fade’ the texture out. In addition, you can’t paint two textures at once, so break up larger areas with spotting other textures, or with colours, as well as adding placeables later.
11. Go back to the terrain tools and select colour. At this point I do much the same exercise as I did with textures, I start with darker areas and accents to dips and crags, gradually lightening them at the edges if necessary, then I apply light textures to exposed areas.
12. Whether you paint grass, trees or objects down is up to your preference but I prefer first to go and select feature objects from the blueprints menu, and lay those down. I start with rocks, where I build a set of blueprints in the corner of the map, and then tint (properties) the whole selection as desired to match the textures they will blend with. I then take copies of these and apply them as I wish. The larger rocks are particularly important for using to break up those ugly cliffs you made earlier (check out the OC for many examples of this in action).
13. Placing placeables can be tricky. You’ll want to know a few key combos to help you: arrow keys will move placeables about, while using CTRL + cursor will rotate them. Page Up/Down will adjust the height of your placeable – if you’re going to do this you need to switch on ‘height lock’when you’re done so that the placeable has no chance of adjusting it’s own height if you change the terrain. Height lock (‘Z’) is very useful for blending placeables into terrain – if you don’t set it they will always default to being on the mesh.
14. Once I’ve laid out all my rocks, I then add any major features of the map. I tend to do this before I add trees because I find they get in the way, but you can hide them via the menu at the top.
15. Next I select 5-6 tree types, again using a corner to test out. There is a limit on trees of 6 different trees; each seed or tree counts as one. (The random seed is set on the properties of a tree, and changes it’s dimensions and shape). From these 6 examples, I copy and paste individual or groups of trees around the map as desired, then I break up groups by shifting some trees around, and adjusting the dimensions of others. To do this open the properties of the trees and you will see that by default they are set to 1,1,1 – if you want a taller tree for example, try 1,1,1.2 (the other dimensions control x and y and can be changed also). Note you cannot rotate trees.
16. Last of all I go to the grass settings. Once again I go through the list, trying out each type in a corner of the map until I am happy with the selection of grasses I am going to use. I start by selecting a single or pair of grasses (you can paint multiple grasses at once) and handling larger areas. I use different combinations to match different terrains, or to blend one grass type into another at the edges.
17. You don’t need grass on the whole map (and don’t worry too much if grass often looks bad in the toolset – zoom in for a more realistic idea of what it looks like in game). Use thickish patches, adjusting to the terrain (I fill hollows for example) and place it around objects, particularly rocks and trees, for a better look.
18. Congratulations, you’re probably about half way through! Likely you will need to do many of those steps again now, as you blend textures around placeables, tweak terrain, etc…
Ben Wynniatt-Husey (B G P Hughes)