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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Game Day: Bloggers of the Old Republic

by Ken Newquist / November 14, 2008

[img_assist|nid=2750|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=163]Three weeks into our new Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic campaign it became obvious: we needed a blog. Or at least, I needed a blog.

Even without leaving the Vargis Tau star system and its binary world of Zebulon we'd still managed to accumulate a dozen-odd NPCs, three or four ships, three adventure write-ups, a handful of locations. While I had references to all this stuff on my computer, it was in the form of adventure notes, and not readily browseable.

Thus, the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Blackrazor Edition) blog was born.

It's a WordPress blog, and there's a reason I went with that instead of a wiki: I'm looking at rolling out WordPress Mu at my day job and I needed to quickly get up to speed with the standalone version. I have a lot of questions about how to effectively use WordPress to manage a large-scale web site (and by 'large scale' I mean several dozen pages that you actually need to be able to find stuff on, rather than just a stream-of-life style blog).

What's the difference between a post and a page? What about categories vs. tags? How do you manage photos within WordPress? Is there an easy to way link to other pages within the site? And perhaps most importantly, how the heck do you build a theme?

The KOTOR blog attempts to answer many of these questions, but it's very much a work in progress. The theme is an original one, built from scratch based on traditional XHTML/CSS design. I've learned a lot about theming from this project, but I still have a lot more to figure out (those visiting the site will notice that the home page doesn't include any links to browse older posts; that's because that part of the theme is missing).

The devils are the details, and I'm a paladin in blogging hell.

That said, I think the theme's coming togehter nicely, and WordPress itself is easy enough to use. I'm still trying to nail the taxonomy (e.g. the category vs. tag debate) but the project's going more or less as I intended.

A Galaxy on my Mac

The blog -- and my new Windows XP install on my Mac Book Pro -- has also given me the chance to dig out some of my old RPG tools. In particular, I've been mucking about AstroSynthesis 1.0 by NBOS Software. It's a cool app which allows me to generate solar systems -- heck, entire sectors -- with a few mouse clicks. I've used it to mock up the Vargis Tau system and the aforementioned binary planet of Zebulon (comprised of the worlds Zebulon Prime and Zebulon Beta).

It will automatically generate the contents of a solar or planetary system, but I've been using it to add individual stars, then hand build the planets I want to include. I then let the system populate those planets with moons and asteroids. I also used it to create rudimentary planetary maps for the Zebulon twins.

You can check out the finished product on the Vargis Tau page of the KOTOR site.

AstroSynthesis 1.0 is a fun little tool, but I'm quickly reaching it's limitations. It will generate world maps that I can then open for tweaking in Fractal World Explorer 1.5, but unfortunately I can't then take those maps and open them in Fractal Terrain v6 for further editing (e.g. adding in icons for towns, text labels for terrain features, etc.). Completing that loop would allow me to add cities and geographic notes to the maps that AstroSynthesis created, which is essential for making them truly functional.

My understanding is that AstroSynthesis 2.0 and Fractal Terrains v8.0 offer this level of integration, so I may just need to bite the bullet and upgrade.

Another option that I'm seriously considering (mostly because the maps are even prettier) is buying ProFantasy's Fractal Terrains Pro. Although a little long in the tooth (and pricey at $40) it does produce some beautiful-looking globes, and its maps can be exported for editing in Campaign Cartographer 2 Pro, which I already own (and have been considering upgrading to v3).