Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy 2008!

Yes, I am 1 day early... Oh, well.

Here's a new screenshot of The Maimed God's Saga to whet your appetites... maybe. It's the first shot of the VanGhaunt mansion interior, and it's a section I'm very happy with. I call it "The Gallery of the VanGhaunts." Most of the major figures from the dynasty of Navatranaasu have either statues or portraits in this room. There are some interesting clues here for those willing to take the time to think them out and piece them together (along with strands from other places).

The more I write of TMGS, the more I realize it will be a thinking-person's campaign. There's a rather involved mystery here going back generations, and it's not all going to be handed to the player on a plate. I guess some people will hate it, but the people who like this kind of module are going to love it.

Progress Report
Keep on writing, keep on writing... I now stand at over 56,000 words on Act II alone. I estimate I have another 12,000 to 13,000 to go, not including journals. The biggest piece I put into place since the last update was Jellica VanGhaunt herself, though I'm sure I've missed a few lines I need to add to her. I feel confident that Jellica is a more complete and intriguing character than any I have written in a released module to date, and she's only #3 in this campaign. There are several layers to her, again, for players willing to take the time.

I'm also back to a toss-up on my remaining sidequest. Yes, I was going to do the xvart village idea from BG1. Then I started the map and realized there were no suitable thatched-roof hut placeables and ditched the idea. An xvart village looking similar to dock-row houses from Neverwinter would be silly... although I could 50% scale them and do what in essence would be a midget Neverwinter with blue gnomes running about... That might be cool... Naw, back to square one there.

Non-Player Characters
One of the things I think Harp and Chrysanthemum did very well that I am also doing is to give the town fully individual characters. Navatranaasu isn't that big of a town; the population is said to be in the area of 140, and only a dozen or so will be present in the town constantly with maybe a half dozen others coming and going at various plot points. But all of them in the game will be important to some degree and have their own personalities, agendas, and dialogs... and schedules. Some will ask you weighty theological questions, some will view you with suspicion, some will see you as the town's last hope.

Can I Have a Scripter Please?
First, let me say this. I can script just fine. I'm an electrical engineer. I help get satellites into space for a living, so I can sure as hell handle a little C++. That said, it is not my favorite part of mod building.

You wanna know what is most kick-ass about working for Ossian? Getting paid? No. Collaborating with other cool members of the community? Close, but no again. It's being able to write my characters, make up the blueprints in the toolset so they look the way I like, and then telling a scripter, "OK, you finish it up for me!" THAT rules!

Alas, I'm not getting paid for TMGS, so I ain't paying anyone else, so a-scriptin' here I come!

I will say that my work with Ossian has changed the way I do mod building. In the SG series, I did a little of this, then a little of that... Now, I do all my areas at once, do all my blueprints at once, all my dialogs, and so forth... I think it's probably faster, as there's less trying to remember what I was doing a couple weeks ago at this point or that point...

Mysteries of Westgate
What was that again? Did I work on that?

I hear it's a January release for sure. Hey, it's out of our hands, so if it ain't January...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Or Happy Hanukah, or whatever it is you celebrate. I'll probably post once more before New Year, so I'll hold off on greeting 2008 for another post.

Vote Inflation Comes to NWN2
Let the weeping and gnashing of teeth begin! One recent thread on the Bioboards lamented how people were giving too high a scores to recent mods. My one post on the subject is as follows:

Is the voting system screwed up? Yes. The attempt to restructure it was a noble effort, but because it couldn't be restructured "too much," according to Maximus, the effort was always doomed to failure. Whether or not it's happened yet, the votes will inflate before NWN2 is all said and done. From what I hear, we have a minimum of four more years before NWN3 and maybe five, so we'll have a page of modules all with perfect 10s by 2010.

The way to unhappiness as a builder is to concentrate on votes and scores. The way to near suicide is to concentrate on other author's votes and scores. Happiness is building what you believe in. Some people will think you're the best ever, some will think you're the worst ever, and most will be in-between.

Two paragraphs, two ideas... they're pretty self-explanatory. As for the first paragraph, the causes of vote-inflation were discussed ad-nauseum in the closing days of NWN1, and it is frankly to0 damned boring for me to want to rehash here. Suffice it to say that vote inflation will occur, and those who ever thought otherwise are naive.

The second paragraph is more interesting to me. Honestly, I'm not surprised that people are interested in scores. To assume that they wouldn't be is naive. I will confess that I am not unaffected by scores, but I also know that they are entirely subjective and beyond the author's control; in short, the way to quickly ruining a hobby.

At this point, any author that proves they have the actual ability to pop out a mod will gain some sort of following. Yes, scores and HoF inductions create a momentary high, but that quickly wears off (or is dashed when someone votes you a *gasp* 6!), and then you need another one. On the other hand, if authors would just concentrate on having fun, telling a compelling story, and enjoying the interaction (e-mail for the most part) with their fans, I believe they would have more lasting fun.

And what's the cause of all this wailing and crying...?

Harp & Chrysanthemum
I've said it before, but I'll say it again. It's not often that I actually play NWN2, and it's even rarer for me to play non-"official" stuff. I'm simply too enamored with authoring. But "Harp and Chrysanthemum," by Ossian-mate (?) Maerduin caught my eye the moment it was released. It was only yesterday that I got around to downloading and playing it. Today, my ranger just finished beating that Theophilus ass, and the whole romp was as good as advertised.

I remember in one of my e-mails to Zach, I noted that he was probably the greatest external area designer in the community; I actually think he's better than the professional Obsidian map designers. And while I'm very high on the guys we had doing Westgate, the maps there were almost entirely city-based, and so I don't know if a comparison is valid... yet. Anyway, I'm simply blown away by Zach's visual artistry, and I weep when I think how far behind I am.

As an aside, when he played through Chapter I of TMGS, one of Zach's comments was something to the tune of "It's nice you opted for simple maps... It makes people concentrate on your story!" I think he was trying to actually say something positive with that note, but... well, you just have to laugh sometimes. Yes, I'll study his maps and revise again before release.

Of course, there were many other great aspects of the module too! The sidequests were well-designed, especially the Castle Joyous episode (see picture). They each tended to support the main storyline threads, either the main quest directly, or by exploring different aspects of the module's principle theme, love.

The characterization was first-rate as well, with each of the main townspeople having a distinct personality, never mind the three companions! So all-in-all a very satisfying module.

My one complaint is that there was one battle, the ambush with Marcellas and the Cyranites, that was outright crazy tough. I got to that point still level five, though, so it probably would have been better if I waited for it. But even at level seven, where I finished, it would have been a frickin' bear. You see, I'm wimpy, and if I die more than three times in a battle, I get pissed and just cheat. I was a little... peeved here, but that's it for the negatives.

By the new voting standards, it's definitely in the 9.00 range and probably higher. By the old NWN1 standards, it's undoubtedly a 10.00.

The Maimed God's Saga
Yes, I've done a little more but not much. My aim is to have all the pieces for Act II
(i.e. all the maps, dialogs, blueprints, journals) finished by January 1st with the "glue" (i.e. scripting) starting to be applied for the new year. I'll be honest... I don't think I'll make it. Tomorrow, I leave for the in-laws for four days and will be without the toolset. I still have 20,000 words of dialog to write, all the journals, and one exterior map to make. That's a ton to do, so maybe January 7th or so is a more realistic aim.

Next time, I'll post a picture of TMGS. I haven't done that in a while...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More Musings

Today I added two more dialogs totaling about 3500 words. Both were extremely complex. One was a so-called "Flirt point" for Tancred. Yay! Thirteen dialogs estimated at 27,000 words left... in Act II.

I'd like to get through a couple quick bullets on some topics I've discussed in the past.

  1. I was waiting for inspiration for one remaining sidequest, and it came... I'm going to blatantly rip off one of my favorite encounters from Baldur's Gate I. As a reminder, there are two potential sidequests to be handled in Act I, though the player can only do one or the other. Successful completion of each of these in Act I will open up a separate sidequest in Act II, but I wasn't happy with one of the two I had initially conceived. Though I would consider TMGS more roleplay-heavy than anything else, I am trying to give tastes of many different things during the playthrough. This is partially why the one sidequest I was happy with is essentially an intricate map with a very tactical battle. Therefore, I'd like to make the second sidequest similar. And so... SPOILER ALERT... I have decided to do something similar to the xvart village in BGI. Since my earliest idea for a diviner's series, I've thought of xvarts as a new low-level monster. I think a whole village of them with various defense points would give two 5th-level characters a good fight. END SPOILERS.
  2. To date, skill checks that are used in conversations include: Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate, Craft: Alchemy, Appraise, Taunt, Lore, and Spot. I have plans to get Listen and Search in as well. Attributes that are checked already are Strength and Dexterity. I'm assuming a high Wisdom, as the PC is a cleric, but I've got plans to include Intelligence as well. Spells that already can be cast from dialogs include: Bless, Lesser Dispel Magic, Dispel Magic, Hold Person, Endure Elements, Scare, Resist Energy, and Protection from Energy. I also have an encounter planned which will allow for Bull Strength, Cure Disease, and Remove Blindness and Deafness. So there will be plenty of opportunities to utilize many different Cleric builds.

I'm still struggling with how to deal with the whole romance thing. I'm beginning to think that having a companion so closely intertwined with the story maybe should allow for the assumption of a romance, though not the enforcement of it, of course. If I go with this, though, there goes the whole two-axis model. *Sigh*

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Busy Does Not Begin to Describe It...

Yeah, I haven't updated in a couple weeks (or more). Life has been busy in a good way. In a very condensed form, a big dream of mine is beginning to take off. About ten months ago, I started my own consulting / R&D company as a side job, and I've been working on it pretty heavily in between my day job, modding, house chores, and spending a moment or two here and there with my wife. Anyway, I just landed my first major six-figure contract, so I'm very stoked. The last couple weeks have been all about meeting with lawyers and accountants, trying to turn my sole proprietorship into a corporation, negotiating contracts, figuring out the means by which I'll pay corporate taxes, figuring out ways to minimize said taxes... There's a lot going on, so updating the blog has taken a bit of a back seat.

Dialog Status Update
What hasn't taken a back seat is The Maimed God's Saga. When last I updated my status on November 25th, I had completed 28 dialogs covering 17,132 words. My tally now stands at 55 dialogs and 37,967 words, and I have some work done on an additional 3 dialogs. I estimate I have 15 dialogs left (including the 3 I've already started) and about 30,000 words left in Act II. Yes, that means the big ones - Tancred, Verona, and Jellica - are still left.

Romances?
I mentioned a while back that ever since reading some of the (well-deserved) criticism for the romances in MotB, I have been struggling with how to do the influence system "right." This is becoming even more important the more I weave the companions into the story. As of yet, I am still allowing the players to park the companions in the tavern and conduct the investigation in Navatranaasu by themselves, but I have to admit that the experience in that case would be so butchered that I'm heavily contemplating necessitating the companions. However, I hate companions being forced on the player when it happens to me, so I'm very conflicted.

That said, I am forced to admit that, given the situation the PC and companion find themselves in, the PC would almost have to slap the companion regularly to produce a truly soured relationship. The main mechanism I'm using to provide a plausible quick development of a relationship is the fact that the two are isolated away from civilization against heavy odds with only each other to rely on for support. As the pair pushes past certain obstacles, it is only natural that rapport would build quickly, quite independently of any words.

I'm actually in a stream-of-consciousness mode now because I really don't know how I'm going to do this. I'm easily spending 50% of the development effort on these two characters, and I can see why others opt for the "say 6 nice things and you can bed me down" paradigm, but I so loathe that that I will not cave. The answer simply must be found!

So I come back to my two-axis idea. On the x-axis is "Trust," but this will almost certainly continue to rise as the module plays out, obstacles are overcome, and enemies are defeated. If we have the x-axis on a -100 to +100 scale, maybe a word here or there would result in a +/-1 shift, but every completed stage of the quest would result in +5. By the end of the adventure, this would result in, say, a +50 bias to the axis, which would make it almost impossible for the player to be mistrusted. And that's not a bad thing; after all, the two would have been through a lot together. So if the trust will always develop, why have the axis at all? Why not make the companions get more trusting after each sidequest - i.e. plot-point dependent as opposed to influence-point dependent?

Then, of course, there's the romantic aspect. There are certainly what I've begun to call "flirt points" being written into the different dialogs, and I'm careful to make them different for Tancred and Verona. For example, there's a time where the PC may want to examine a broken-down wagon in town, and this will lead to a potential flirting session with Tancred for female PCs, though there is no reciprocal at this point for Verona, as she handles that particular investigation differently. If the player partakes, they get one "flirt point." Get enough flirt points, and a romance can start.

But the real bastard is that, if the x-axis is quickly found to be irrelevant, as I think it is for the reasons outlined above, then the flirt scale on the y-axis simply reduces back to the "say six nice things to me and you can bed me down" paradigm... AHHH!

So let's take a step back. Stream-of-consciousness here, so stay with me.

What makes people fall in love? Oh, wait. We'll make that a new heading.

Why Do We All Fall in Love?
Damn if I know. I'm going back to Saleron's Gambit...

Now, seriously. And I mean "adult love." Porn fantasies need not apply. I guess I could go for the "quick and dirty lust romance," but I kind of envisioned something better for my mod, so without further delay, here's my brain-storming.

  1. Trust (pretty much automatically covered).
  2. Physical Attraction (maybe shallow, but obviously true) - unfortunately, I don't know any way to check in-game if the PC is considered "ugly." Half-orc might be clear, but what if someone is role-playing the ugly pock-marked priest? I guess to maximize player experience, we need to assume this... or I could have the DM at the beginning ask, "is your character ugly?"
  3. Shared goals - obviously must be the same at least as far as this mod's concerned.
  4. Shared interests - Ahhh, now I have already defined my companion's interests in their character docs. I could glean the PC's interests through conversation. However, if they answer wrongly, do I quit the romance? How fair (and crappy) would that be?
  5. Laughing Together - I know every list puts "A sense of humor" high on the attraction qualities, and I think I've been covering this in my "flirt points" thus far.

It occurs to me that much of that is a given in this mod or must be assumed. Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe I should assume that the romance will develop unless something happens to stop it, like if the PC ever says, "it's not you, it's me" or "let's just be friends." Those would get "cool-down" points that would end the romance if enough were accrued...

Well, I'm in no way closer to an answer than when I started, but it's late now and I'm tired. Fortunately, there's enough plot-related dialog to write that I don't have to have the answer this moment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Farewell, Verity Lambert

I was saddened a few days ago to learn that Verity Lambert passed away on November 22nd. Her obituaries will note that she was the first female television producer at the BBC (for the sake of completeness, I have seen that some people dispute this; either way, it was a rare feat) and that she is still to this day the youngest producer in the station's history (28 at the time of her promotion). These are both notable accomplishments, but most importantly to me is that she was the first producer of Doctor Who, and it is one of those ironies that she passed away on the 44th anniversary of the very first broadcast of the very first episode.

It is a funny thing. I sat on the news a few days trying to figure out why it saddened me so much. She was long gone from the show by the time I was even born, much less became a fan, and, though she was a well-respected television producer right up until the past year, I'm hard-pressed to find anything else she did that I cared about. Nevertheless, the news of her passing has hit me harder than I would have expected.

I was in 3rd grade (about 8 years old) when I was first introduced to the adventures of an eccentric time lord who traveled through time and space in his rickety old blue police box, and I was hooked from the very first adventure (The State of Decay - still a favorite of mine). For years, Doctor Who was an important part of my childhood. Every Saturday at 10:00 pm from the age of 8 to around 11 or 12, I would settle down in front of the television for another adventure, and I'll remember those times with great nostalgia for as long as I live.

The fact is that my experience, in one form or another, was and still is shared by millions of children world-wide, and for that we all have Verity Lambert, among others, to thank. Reading as much of the "behind the scenes" information as I have in the past several years, it is clear that she was one of the driving forces that shaped the show in its infancy. Most importantly for Doctor Who's longevity, it was Lambert who fought for the inclusion of the Daleks in the second serial when her boss, Sydney Newman, was adamant that there would be no "bug-eyed monsters." By all accounts, their relationship was frigid for a while following the serial's production and transmission... right up until the viewing figures rolled in, and Newman admitted his mistake. Though the Daleks are far from my personal favorites, there is no doubt that they are the quintessential Doctor Who foe, and they are credited with making Doctor Who a phenomenon... AND they owe their very first appearance in large part to Lambert. I truly believe that she was the right person at the right place at the right time. Without her, Doctor Who almost certainly would not have survived, and my life would have been different for it.

I have also enjoyed Lambert's commentaries on some of the old classic series DVDs I have purchased. They are almost always clear and interesting, and they exude a clear love of the show she helped create. Her camaraderie with the two surviving original stars, Carol Ann Ford and William Russell, was still evident all these years later. And I really think this is key. There were probably around fifteen people who formed the core of the creative team for Doctor Who, people who were truly in a position to know about the events surrounding the show's genesis back in 1963. Unfortunately, forty-four years later, the number of those fifteen that are still around to tell that tale is small, and the passing of Lambert makes it one smaller still. In a very real way, her passing severs yet another link to the past of a show that is itself an important link to mine.

So thank you, Verity Lambert, for your contributions to a wonderful series, and farewell. I shall miss you.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Well, That Was Not Fun

Yes, the Seminoles got smashed by the archrival Flori-duh Gators. They're still a bunch of clowns at a second-rate university... And at least our boys broke Tim Teabag's hand. I hope it hurts... Oh, sorry, was that mean?

Moving on to happier things...

Mysteries of Westgate
Has anyone noticed how quiet things are about this? I've heard next to nothing... One poster somewhere claimed a release of November 27th? That's a poster on the Bioboards, so I wouldn't trust it too much. Anyway, hopefully it's by the end of November as promised. Let's play the game already!

Well, you guys play the game. I've played it a dozen times already. Suffice it to say, for me there are no more "Mysteries" in Westgate...

The Maimed God's Saga
Since my last post relevant to TMGS, I've written 17,132 words in the conversation editor covering 28 dialogs. I had originally estimated those same 28 dialogs would take 3620 words, so I'm just a little tiny-bit off.

The reason for the discrepancy is two-fold. First, new ideas have come forward as I've been writing. In many cases, the town NPCs will ask you questions as they get to know you. My goal has been to make a town full of interesting individuals with no one named "Commoner." As such, they each have to have at least some semblance of an individual agenda.

Secondly, I've moved some conversation around, so some of the dialogs I've yet to write will actually shrink. One example of this is in The Hall of the VanGhaunts, which I will post a picture of eventually. Anyway, there is a room in the mansion that contains several statues and pictures of the members of the line of the VanGhaunts. Originally, I was going to allow Jellica to take the PC around and give the player an overview of each if they desired. This would have made Jellica's dialog substantial. Now, however, I have moved her individual comments to the actual statues themselves. So each statue was supposed to be about 50 words, but they are now in the 500-600 word range. Meanwhile the 500 words per statue will now be removed from Jellica's dialog. All the painting and statue conversations have been written whereas Jellica's has not, hence the large overshoot at this point.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Tribute to Timmy Teabag

Before I get to the main thrust of this post, check out the latest "interview" on the MoW forums. My fellow designers, Mat Jobe, Alex Hugon, and I provided the answers to the story-related questions posted on the forums a week or so ago. For once, us design-monkeys took central stage, but I don't know if that will continue with the current companion-related questions or if Luke Scull will take those. (He was busy when it came time to answer this last round, so we all got to be substitutes.)

Some Good Old-Fashioned Hate!

Warning! If you're a Gator fan, turn back now!

Even if you hate college football, this might have some funny stuff to it... or it might be humor that doesn't translate well to the non-fan. Do as you will. A Maimed God Update will be posted in a few days.

Now, in the southern USA, there's a saying that college football is an exercise in good old-fashioned hatred, and at no time is that more obvious that rivalry weekend, the Saturday when 95% of the college football annual rivalries are played.

Unfortunately for the Seminoles, we have two rivals: The Miami Hurricanes and The University (sic) of Florida Gators. The Gators themselves, in addition to the Seminoles, have rivals in the Miami Hurricanes, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Tennessee Volunteers, the Auburn Tigers, and more recently, the South Carolina Gamecocks and Louisiana State Tigers. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Gators are hated by everybody.

Anyway, the 'Noles lost a humiliating game to rival #1 a few weeks back. This week, it's time for the Gators. Now let me be clear; I have no illusions that we will win. I estimate that we have something like a 95% chance of losing this weekend, and I'm not happy about that. Nevertheless, I will not let that spoil a perfectly good opportunity to do some "hatin'."

Timmy Teabag
Target #1 on the hate parade is a tool named Tim Tebow, who fans of all the schools that hate the Gators have nicknamed "Tim Teblow" or - my favorite - "Tim Teabag." This is often changed to "Timmy" because (1) he's the "special child" of the Gator head-coach, Urban Meyer (more on him later) and (2) he reminds us all of Timmy from South Park.

It is clear at this point that Teabag is truly thought of as Superman by the Gator-faithful. Every trailer in Gainesville (more on that later) is decorated with a blue-colored #15 jersey, and you can't talk to a Gator anywhere who does not think "Tebow" is the solution to any problem. Yell "Timmy" in the South Park voice, and you have a reasonable facsimile of a conversation with a Gator fan.

This same line of thought is true to a lesser extent of a player named Percy Harvin. I mention this only by way of explanation for the upcoming picture. Suffice it to say that other than Teabag and Harvin, the Gators don't have much. Some ridiculous percentage (like 95%) of their plays go to one of these two fools. In a game like football, in which injuries are a weekly occurrence, to rely so heavily on two players is idiocy, but that only means it makes perfect sense for the Gators! (Incidentally, it cost them one loss against the Georgia Bulldogs already this year when Teabag had his shoulder mangled). It is with this in mind that one of the many people who despise the Gators photo-shopped the poster for the movie "Unbreakable" into the following spoof.


The movie poster is only moderately funny, but there is something about that middle image of Teabag, arm in a sling, clutching the football and limping down the field that just causes me to crack up. The sad thing is, I think they'd ALMOST run him out there in that condition.

There's No Crying in Football
Tom Hanks' immortal line in "A League of Their Own" was, of course, about baseball, but if it's true for baseball, it's DOUBLY true about football. However, that didn't stop Teabag from crying a river when the Gators lost yet another game against LSU. Of course, the fact that national TV picked it up led to a non-stop barrage of photo-shopped goodness.

The next picture is a rip-off of the awesome despair.com posters, which are themselves rip-offs of crappy motivational posters you see in every office building in the US. Two such posters, I like are:


So put all that together, and you have a photo-shopped despair.com poster illustrating the good work of a LSU fan who desired a way to memorialize forever the scene following their historic ass-kicking of the Gators.


Urban "The Cryer" Meyer
Last year, the FU (Florida University (sic)) Gators got to play for the the National Championship. This was due mostly to a heck of a crying job on national TV by their head coach, Urban Meyer. (And, btw, what the hell kind of name is "Urban?") Since then, he has been nick-named "The Cryer" or "Urban Cryer." Incidentally, some of us also call him "The Pope" because some people in Gunsville seem to think he's the direct pipeline to heaven...

Anyway, this sparked yet another photo-shopped movie poster.


The Gunsville Rap Sheet

Gainesville, the (let's be generous) "town" in which the University (sic) of Florida is located is often just called "Gunsville." Why? Well, that would be because of the ridiculously long list of felony counts attributable to Gator football players. In just the last off-season, the Gators were responsible for 17 arrests. In their defense, only 85 scholarship players are allowed on the team, so that's only 20% of the team arrested in a 6 month period...

Here's a blog entry that more clearly outlines Florida's attempts to overtake the thug image the Miami Hurricanes abandoned a few years back - right before they also abandoned winning. But I digress. This is, after all, about Gator-hatred, so let's get back to it.

Looking over that list of offenses on the referenced blog, I have to argue with one of the entries in that rap sheet. That blogger states:

Guard Ronnie Wilson was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor for an April incident involving a gun in a parking lot near campus. Wilson was suspended indefinitely.

What that doesn't make clear is that the so-called "gun incident" was actually firing an AK-47 into the air, ostensibly to frighten a man who had followed him home after they had been in a fight already that night at a local night club. With just that one sentence to examine, let's see if we can count the number of offenses attributable to one player in only a single night... Sorry, but I can't count that high... and I'm an engineer.

Hence the revised name "Gunsville."

By the way, if you want to look up any of the Florida Gator football players, I'd start here.

I'm Not Saying All Gator Fans are Tools, But...
Earlier this year, the Gators lost to the Auburn Tigers in thrilling (for me and everyone else who hates the Gators) fashion. With the game tied at 17 and on the verge of overtime, the Tigers lined up to kick a 50+ yard field goal that would hand them the win. For those not familiar with football, 50 yards is a long way, ESPECIALLY for a collegiate kicker. Anyway, the ball was snapped and the kicker belted it clean through the uprights... AUBURN WINS!

Only not. You see, Urban "The Cryer" Meyer (Gator head coach) had grabbed one of the refs and literally sat on his ear until he sensed the ball about to be snapped and then he called time out, so the kick didn't count. The video footage showed him with his hand on the ref's shoulder licking his lips in anticipation of calling time out right before the snap. And the stupid refs let him get away with that crap! Anyway, get all the celebrating Auburn players off the field, bring the 21 year-old kid who just thought he made the amazing kick of his life back on, and try to settle him down to do it all over again.

Thirty seconds later, the play is run again, only this time... the kid drills the ball through the uprights a second time! Amazingly, he made an extremely difficult game-winning kick twice in a row.

With this explanation of the series of events, check out this YouTube video of a Gator fan watching the final moments of their loss to Auburn. The sound is a little off, so you'll need to turn up the volume a bit. Other than that, I'll just leave you to decide (1) how much of a super-tool this guy is and (2) if he has ever known the touch of a woman.

Again, Not All Gator Fans are Tools, But...
Here's another YouTube video of a Gator fan doing a cheer. Any words I type will simply not do this justice.

OK, Maybe They All Are Tools...
A final YouTube video. What is left to say?

Priceless... The Cycle of Hatred Continues
Yes, the Mastercard "Priceless" commercials have been worn about 15 years past their welcome. Nevertheless, clever Gator-haters can still get a smile or two out of them.


And That's It
The regular season ends with the tilt against the Gators this Saturday, and the 'Noles will finish either 8-4 or (more likely) 7-5. Of course, I'll comment now and again during the bowls (post-season), but for the most part, NWN2 matters will get my undivided attention
thereafter.

Until then...

Go Noles!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

All Good Things...

Well, I knew it was too good to be true. I normally wouldn't post after a loss, but I made such a big deal after the win... Anyway, never let it be said that I only post good stuff. A week after upsetting the #2 team in the nation, the 'Noles hit the road again to try to down the #11 team. Unfortunately, they couldn't get it done this time. Despite losing their starting quarterback in the first half, the 'Noles held the lead early in the 4th quarter before the inexperienced backup began making critical errors. In the last few minutes, the whole cart came unglued, and the Virginia Tech Jokies (actually Hokies) defeated the forces of light and goodness to the tune of 40-21.

*Sigh* Actually, I'm not too upset with the result. I still saw some fire and fight from our team, despite a ton of injuries and a crowd that was so classless that they apparently cheered when our players were injured. Anyway, despite the loss, I'm still optimistic the team is heading in the right direction... at least offensively. The defense suddenly has some serious question marks, but that's a whole 'nother topic.

On to...

Mysteries of Westgate
I just noticed that there's a neat pre-release screenshot posted on the Vault. I've bragged about our area designers, and this will give you an idea of one of the seedier districts at night. Click here for the goodness. Notice that there's clearly an ogre walking down the street and an orc standing off to the right a bit. As has been said on the forums, Westgate is a cosmopolitan city that accepts riff-raff of any type... Should be interesting, right?

The Maimed God's Saga Update
Over the past week, I finished up the two interior maps of the VanGhaunt mansion. By interior map standards, they are incredibly complex. The player will spend much time here, and there are two major sidequests rooted here and several more that will lead here along the way. In addition, the house chapel and guest suite will form the players' "home base" where they will rest and recover spells. Beyond that, there are just a great number of details (relevant and irrelevant to the main quest) that can be uncovered about the family's and town's pasts. My goal was to make several interactive objects that should keep the player interested as they explored some rather large interiors. As a reminder, here are the original plans for the mansion floors. That's 16 ground-floor rooms and 18 upper-floor rooms that all have to be filled with meticulous detail. The library on the second floor took forever, as I wanted to make it a place crammed from floor to ceiling with books in a stereotypical Victorian mansion feel.

But that was the work of the last couple weeks. This weekend, I completed two rather intricate exterior maps and made up all my item blueprints. Pictures of everything will leak out slowly at this point... I've got only so many maps and several weeks/months to fill!

It's been a while since I've posted some real metrics on my progress. I still need to finish up Act I to incorporate the comments I received from my testers. I was waiting until MotB came out, but obviously I can do that whenever... As for Act II,

Maps
I have determined I will need either 19 or 20 maps. The 20th would be for a specific sidequest that I am still debating. The truth is that I'm not 100% happy with the current plan, but I need to have something. There are two branching paths through Act I. In each path, as the PC approaches Navatranaasu, they will be able to thwart one of the many schemes the enemy has put in action. Based on which operation is put out of action, the enemy will have to adjust their regional operations to make up for it. Of course, in Act II, the player can deal with the adjustment as well, but it is one of these two adjustments that I'm not happy with. So I've decided to put this section on the back burner while I work on things that I am 100% happy with. Hopefully, in the interim, inspiration will arrive.

In short then, I have completed the 19 maps I'm sure of, which incorporates 9 exterior and 10 interior maps (counting the upper lighthouse as exterior). I am sure that I will make minor tweaks to all of the maps as I continue working, but the vast bulk of the work on each is done and there's certainly enough to allow me to start pulling in all of the other pieces. Therefore, if the final map count is 19, I am 100% done. If it ups to 20, I'm only 95% done. I'll split the difference and say 97.5%.

Blueprints
Several dozen of creature blueprints have been completed as well as about two dozen item blueprints and a couple placeables. That brings me to 99% finished. The 1% remaining is a creature blueprint that still doesn't exist. Therefore, I will either need to change a minor detail of my story or hope that the community eventually makes up for the needed creature model. For now, I'm just going to use a dummy creature and look again at the available haks as I get closer to completion.

Dialogs
I have completed nothing in the toolset, though I have several thousands of words written in a Word document. I have no reasonable way of determining a percentage, but it's pretty low. Without anything better to go on, I'll say 5%. This is really my next major thrust.

Progress Matrix
I've already explained it, so here it is.

TMGS Progress Report (in %)

Act I Act II Act III
Area Design 98 97.5 0
Dialog 100 5 0
Blueprints 100 99 0
Scripting 100 0 0
Journals 100 0 0
World Map
100
Intro Movie
5
Music
10

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mask of the Betrayer

After the last post about the one-week resurgence of the Seminoles, I hope I don't have to eat my words this coming weekend. The new coaching staff already paid huge dividends last week - last year we'd have never won a game like that - but now it's time to have a little consistency, and boy do we have a chance to prove that coming up. This weekend, the 'Noles again hit the road to battle the #11 team in all the land, Virginia Tech. I think we can win; we just need the "good" 'Nole team to show up. If the bad one rolls in to Blacksburg... well, I don't want to have to think about it.

Mask of the Betrayer
Allow me to continue the sports-themed commentary while I note that Obsidian really hit a home run with the first expansion pack. I've made no secret that I hated the NWN2 OC probably more that the NWN1 OC for a number of reasons. One, the first act was essentially nothing but dungeon-romp filler, and it wasn't even good filler. It was essentially the same encounter trigger over and over until I just wanted to shoot myself. Two, the companions were generally bland and under-developed with the exceptions of Khelgar, Neeshka, and Sand (all of whom were obviously one of the designers' "special projects"). Three, there was a total lack of sidequests. Now this is certainly a viable strategy, but only if you're going to provide a tight central story... which there wasn't. It seemed only to be a conglomeration of locations thrown in so that different tilesets with blah encounters could be thrown into the same campaign.

I don't write the above simply to get off trashing other people's work. It was merely to show what I don't like so that, in comparison, MotB can be seen as the jewel it is. Everything Obsidian did wrong with the OC, they did right with MotB.

Oh, and fair warning. I discuss many spoilers about MotB here, so stop now if you are still playing.

First, my PC
A build that I first played around with when testing Mysteries of Westgate was a Dexterity-based Rogue 3/ Fighter 4/ Weaponmaster X character with maxed out Parry and feats including Whirlwind Attack, everything needed to get there, Advanced Parry, Weapon Specialization in rapier, Power Criticals, etc. The character premise was to use him alongside a high HP and major damage (i.e. Greatsword or similar) meatshield tank. The two charge in. If the enemies focus on the PC, I switch to Parry mode, making me almost impossible to hit, riposte when able, and allow the second tank to switch to Power Attack and take them down fast. The moment, the enemies switch focus to the second tank, I switch out of Parry mode, flank, and allow the +2d6 sneak bonus from my rogue levels, and allow my weapon-of-choice rapier to carve them up. I really fell in love with the concept, and so I brought it forward to MotB.

Therefore, my starting character was a Rg 3/Ft 4/WM 10 tielfling, so I was -1 level adjustment away from the 18 levels. I did switch my weapon of choice to shortsword and added a Weapon Finesse feat. I ended (I believe) as a Rg 5/ Ft 13/ WM 10 and had long since abandoned the need for a second tank to join me on the front lines, though Gann did accompany me in quite a few battles for old-time's sake.

So now let's discuss what MotB did right.

Good Stuff

1. No Over-Long Dungeons. OK, I'm a bit obsessive here, but I hate dungeons that can not be completed with one full-days' use of party resources augmented by a reasonable amount of one-shot items (potions, scrolls, etc.) with "reasonable" defined by the economy of the module. Nothing kills the immersion for me faster than having to rest (ostensibly sleeping, eating, and memorizing spells for eight hours) right outside the dungeon boss' door because - let's face it - after rampaging through a dungeon full of his minions, he probably wouldn't notice a group of four camped outside his bedroom, right? For the record, for anyone who thinks my bosses in the SG series were light-weights, this is the reason. You were supposed to face them with the tank "half-full."

Anyway, the OC did a horrible job with this (the githyanki compound anyone?), but I didn't notice this once with MotB. It made for a much more enjoyable game.

2. Companions. OK, light years better here. Again, Safiya and Gann were obviously the favored characters, as they were central to the main story, but even Kaelyn and Okku were integrated in well and had plausible rationales for both aiding and opposing the PC at various junctures. I especially enjoyed the (surprisingly) complex characterization of Kaelyn. After meeting her, I thought I had her pegged as the typical cleric and was pleasantly surprised to find several layers to her character centered around a non-selfish, yet nevertheless raging ambition. Plus, Obsidian just plain did a better job of having the characters interact with the PC. They spoke up in conversations where appropriate, disagreed with PC actions on occasion, and made several interjections in areas where they were more expert than the PC.

For completeness, I should mention that I don't generally go for the "freak" companions; Deekin pissed me off, for example, but this group didn't really feel like the freakshow to me. My party was a tiefling PC, a human, a half-celestial, and a hagspawn, so that was objectively a freak circus roaming Faerun, and it would have been worse had I added a bear-god or (dear me) One of Many.

Finally, the voice-acting was also pretty good for the companions I took with me: Safiya, Kaelyn (before the little wench betrayed me!), and Gann.

3. The Story/Sidequests. There weren't a ton of sidequests in MotB, though there were a few. But what few there were (such as the farmer's crazy daughter) were pretty well-integrated into the main story. And where MotB really shined was that story. It was first-rate. Not only was it "epic" without being a "shake the multiverse" story-arc, but it tied in a well-thought-out historical tragedy that combined the all-too-human elements of pride, betrayal, vengeance, mercy, and love. Two souls trapped by a dead god in an eternal torment that ensnares the PC, sending him (or her) on a planar journey that allows the hero to (1) save him/herself, (2) forever lay to rest the doomed lovers, (3) shatter the power of a vengeful god, and (4) end the "curse" that had been stalking the Rashemi wilds for generations. A pretty epic storyline without many of the traditionally epic fallbacks. To Obsidian and whatever writers/designers came up with it, I can only say bravo!

Maimed God (Potential) Part 2 Spoiler Follows
However, I have to say that I really grrrred when I saw the inclusion of Myrkul. It doesn't mean anything for Maimed God 1 which I'm currently making; I already have a specific deity in line for that one. But I have a 1-2 page story outline for a potential second part in which a king, returning from an adventure into the depths of Faerun, had suddenly gained the power to prophesy the death of mortals. Creepy enough, but when he prophesied the death of Helm at the hands of Tyr, it was a step too far. The hells themselves break loose, throwing the church of Tyr (and the PC) into action.

Who was the villain deity slated for that adventure? One able to grant the power to predict death? You guessed it! A not-quite-dead himself Myrkul! And it would have involved a bit of dream-scaping too and an attempt by the god's remains to re-establish his own life! What a pisser!
End of Spoilers

4. Spirit Eater. I have not the first idea how canonical this is. I suspect the answer is not at all, but what a great idea it was. It was both meaningful enough to require thought and planning but not so omnipresent as to be frustrating.

5. Area Design. Outstanding. The Astral Plane was a true work of art that was a real highlight of D&D games all time. Beyond that, Mulsantir was a well-designed town, though it, like the original Neverwinter, felt a bit sparsely-populated. (I think we did a much better job of making Westgate come to life, but I digress....) Finally, the shadow plane was a fabulous use of toolset lighting.

6. New Creatures and Tilsets. This is more from a builder's perspective, but the addition of treants, new dragon models, big cats, and more was greatly needed. Several new placeables and two new tilesets, especially the estate tileset, and new snow texturing were all welcome additions. I am already having to redo much of my previous Maimed God work just to take advantage of the new content.

Bad Stuff
Compared to what I liked about the expansion, what I didn't like will really be nitpicky.

1. Epic Non-Epic Monsters. What do they feed gnolls in Thay to make them such bad-asses? When I was a 1st-level pipsqueek in West Harbor, thank all the gods that those gnolls didn't attack! And really, with an army of foot-soldiers like that, how can Thay not conquer the world? Especially when you note that every one of the students in their academy can spam Horrid Wilting spells! It takes the PC an epic adventure to defeat the King of Shadows to learn spells of that power, but apparently every apprentice in Thay can fling Meteor Swarms at a whim.

Seriously, one of the things that turns me off of "epic" adventures normally is stuff like that. A well-done epic adventure requires a lot of creativity to frame challenges appropriate for the PC without doing stupid stuff to the monster manual. In my opinion, it is a sign of extreme laziness to just up the power of monsters so far beyond what they should ever attain. I could buy into a "hero" boss gnoll just like the PC is a "hero" human (or tiefling in my case), but a veritable army of them? Mercifully, this was rare in MotB.

2. Love Interests. It's not that I'm against them; it's just that they're so rarely well done, and MotB didn't do any better than most. It felt like the whole game, I got to say a couple nice things to Safiya, and then at the end I had earned enough goody-points and so she professed her undying love. I assume Gann is the same way. Needless to say, I'm hoping to better these "romances" by several orders of magnitude in TMGS.

One comment on the Bio-boards was also unflattering in this regard; the poster asked how, after surviving many encounters and near-death experiences together, the fact that I said something Safiya didn't agree with suddenly caused her to hate me. It's a good point. One would think that battling alongside one another would naturally build trust that would survive the occasional philosophical disagreement.

So I'm rethinking the way I'm going to track (hopefully more subtely) my own goody romance points. I'll further outline my thoughts later after I've thought through them a bit more, but the gist of it is that I'm considering a two-axis tracker similar to the spirit hunger bars from MotB. One axis will be "trust," which will build over time as obstacles are mutually overcome, and the other will be "romantic interest," which will be much more action and conversation-dependent. If just the first is high, friendship will develop. Both would need to be high to progress through the romance.

3. Music. This wasn't really all that bad; it was just blah. I actually listened to the music in the toolset as I worked before I actually played the game. In-game, I didn't notice it at all, but in the toolset, I just thought the tracks were... well, uninspired.

Summary
The negatives in MotB I think are all minor. By and large, I loved MotB. I loved it so much, in fact, that I've started it again (an aasimar Favored Soul 8/ Battle Priest 9), and second play-throughs for me are very, very rare. I'm looking forward to bringing Okku in lieu of Gann and joining Kaelyn in her crusade against the wall this time. If I was using the Vault scoring system (the new one), I don't know exactly where I would rate it, but it would be at least a 9 and maybe higher.

Of course, Mysteries of Westgate would be a solid 10, no doubt!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

FEAR THE SPEAR!

Sorry, NWN fans, I was planning on putting my write-up of "Mask of the Betrayer" in this space, but I'm going to hold off a day. (Hint: it will be very positive.) However, right now, I am positively STOKED, so I'm going to diverge this once into one of my other favorite hobbies. Yes, I mean American Football.

My favorite collegiate team, the Florida State Seminoles, has been down so long that my morale had frankly begun to flag a bit. Ten years ago, as I said a few posts ago, the 'Noles dominated college football as has never been done before or since. For 14 consecutive years, they were one of the top 4 teams in the country, averaging 10.9 wins per season, winning 9 conference titles (out of 9 chances) and 2 national titles in the process, and sending dozens of players into the NFL.

Then, staring in 2001, they began a precipitous fall that led them all the way to 0.500 last year. I don't need to go into the whys of it; let's just say that nepotism is a bad thing - a very bad thing. Last year, the head coach's inept son was forced out along with several assistant coaches, and a revamped staff was assembled. Now, I have faith in the new staff, but the turnaround has been a bit slower than I had hoped. Things came to yet another low two weeks ago when we lost to our arch rival, the Miami Hurricanes, in humiliating fashion. It wasn't just the loss, but the absolute ineptitude of the team that was astounding. Unfortunately, such has become all too common anymore.

Until, that is, last night. For the first time in a long time, the echoes of past glories were reawakened. For the first time in at least two years, I was proud of the team. Yes, they traveled all the way from Florida into a tropical storm-drenched 40 degree (F) Boston into the stadium of the #2 ranked team in all the land and crushed their dreams of glory to the tune of 27-17! It wasn't just that they won, but the manner in which they dominated the line of scrimmage, hit Boston College in the mouth early and often, answered BC's counter-punches with counter-counter-punches, and generally played like the teams of old.

So I include two pictures of the 'Noles beating that BC ass! In the first one, tailback Antone Smith (#6) busts it to the outside and tears upfield as the BC defenders pursue. In the second, wideout Preston "Playmaker" Parker (#5) is helped up from the endzone turf after making one of the most beautiful TD catches I remember.

Way to go, 'Noles! Now please don't drop the ball next week against VT!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Finally the Lighthouse!

But first, the second part of the Ossian interview with Alan and Luke is officially up on Warcry and will almost certainly soon be on the Vault. Make sure you read that goodness.

Now for the Lighthouse
I've been promising this for days. I'm really proud of this map, the upper level of the lighthouse interior. The lighthouse, as I mentioned several posts ago, is in ruins, so I needed to have the roof somewhat open to the sky. In the NWN1 toolset, this would have been trivial, but after messing around with the interior tilesets for a while, I was utterly frustrated as to how I would do this. In desperation, I tried an exterior map instead, and I'm pleased the way it came out.

The only things I may still play with are (1) introducing some appropriate MotB placeables and (2) finding a way to get a roof that is both visible from below and will fade from above. The one there now only handles the visible from below part. It makes it awfully difficult to explore the one interior room.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mysteries of Westgate Presses are Rolling

Not only did the first part of the Ossian interview with Alan Miranda and Luke Scull get posted to the Vault today, but it looks like we got our very own forum on the Bioware website to discuss the Adventure Pack. According to the Vault posting, part two of the interview goes up as soon as tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it as well. I was asked for a very minor amount of input, but by-and-large I'm in the dark here as well.

Bad on Me
I realized a day late that I made the point to name all the designers and writers for Ossian and yet did not name our area designers despite praising them highly. So let me rectify the blunder. Ossian's area design gurus are Alex Wagner (called Shadovar and EvilShade in various places) and Raphael Faccioli. Both are supremely talented, as a whole bunch of people are about to find out (if they don't already know).

Mask of the Betrayer
At long last, I got my copy of MotB, and I am right now in The Death God's Vault, so I just started. Already, I'm favorably impressed in comparison with the NWN2 original campaign. My first impression of the companions is that they are far better done than the original group outside of Khelgar and Neeshka. They seem to interject more and have more to say in conversations... a great improvement. I also think the new lighting evident in the Shadow Mulsantir bit is quite nice. I'll post more impressions as I progress.

But this in conjunction with general MoW excitement and discussion will explain why "The Maimed God's Saga" is a bit on the back-burner for the next week or two. However, tomorrow I will work on it a wee bit, and I promise to (finally) post the long-talked-about lighthouse interior shots.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

NWN2: Mysteries of Westgate! (MoW)

Before being brought on board for this effort, I knew nothing about the city of Westgate, having spent most of my Forgotten Realms life on the Sword Coast. However, the Dragon Coast has made a nice little switch, and I thought I'd provide a bit of background on the setting for the soon-to-be most talked about event in the NWN2 multiverse.

I've included a close up of Westgate's part of Faerun and a map of the city itself. It's interesting for me to gaze at that map and see where we placed a bunch of... uh, secret stuff.

I want to say that I was blown away the first time I played through the campaign. The talent in the team is amazing. I even wrote to Alazander shortly after my first play-through absolutely commending the area designers. In fact, I then wrote each of them a congratulatory e-mail as well. Personally, I've always thought I lacked a bit with area design, but I have definitely been putting some of their ideas to use in some of my Maimed God maps.

On one of the Bioboard forums, Alazander said:

We have several new monsters, some of which have never been seen in a D & D CRPG before.
And the initial announcement mentioned a new sewer tileset, so I'm not revealing any secrets when I say that there is some nice new custom content. That added to the talent of our area designers means that you will be blown away visually. I had seen all the stuff in the toolset before playing, and I still had my breath - almost literally - taken away the first time I walked through the streets of Westgate.

And that's not to say that other areas of the campaign aren't top-notch either. The writing and quest design is outstanding if I do say so myself... *ahem* In all seriousness, given my preference for mod building myself, I've been woefully lacking in actually playing any, so it was a treat to see first-hand what some of the best known modders in the community can do. Um, for completeness, that would be Alazander, Hugie, and Mat Jobe (of Dastard's Morrow fame) who shared design and writing duties with me.

I struggled to find some background information on the net about Westgate. I found a brief synopsis here that gives a basic background and won't take too long to read.

The rough-and-tumble city will soon be brought to life NWN2 style. I would say people would be more than justified in getting excited about now.

The Maimed God's Saga
Yes, I still owe pictures of the interior of the lighthouse. It is very cool, but I've always said it needs it's own post, so it gets pushed again.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Even a Blind Squirrel...

Many of us bloggers have been promising an announcement, guessing on the timing, and generally frustrating the entire world for months. Well, after promising and being wrong, promising and being wrong, my last blog entry said that this would be the time... As the saying goes, "even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again."

As I've mentioned before, it's been extremely frustrating from our end as well. We at Ossian have worked quite a while on the "secret project" and have had to keep all our excitement bottled up within the group. Simply put, that really sucked, because the project is first-rate, I know a lot of people are going to be really amazed by it, and we were utterly unable to let anyone know anything beyond some nebulous... uh, secret stuff.

Well, now the cat's out of the bag, though I'm still not allowed to say more than the official press release for now. That said, I'll post parts of it here. I have edited it down to the parts that I think will be most interesting. To see the full article, click above.

LYON, FRANCE – 22 October 2007 – Atari today announced the forthcoming launch of the first Neverwinter Nights™ 2 Adventure Pack to be available exclusively via digital download... Created by Atari and some of the most prominent members of the Neverwinter Nights 2 communities, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate provides hours of additional entertainment with all new engrossing storylines, professional voice acting, enchanting musical scores, new in-game content, and much more. Neverwinter Nights 2 is set in the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® Forgotten Realms® universe...

Developed by Ossian Studios, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate is the first full featured Adventure Pack available from Atari. Set in the infamous Forgotten Realms city of Westgate, players find themselves in possession of a powerful but cursed treasure that threatens to destroy them. Linked to the underworld organization known as the Night Masks, the treasure will draw players into a city-spanning clash between warring factions. Players must choose their allegiance in order to break the curse and ultimately uncover a plot that threatens Westgate itself.“

From the creators of the critically-acclaimed Neverwinter Nights module, Darkness over Daggerford, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate will feature a non-linear, open-ended single-player campaign with numerous side quests covering more than 15 hours of game play. Atari’s new Adventure Pack will also feature 3 new companions; an entirely new underground sewers tile set themed after the seedy underbelly of Westgate; a host of new monsters to do battle with, including some truly epic foes; an exciting new and original musical score; as well as thousands of new lines of professionally recorded dialogue.


Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate
is scheduled for release in autumn 2007.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I'm Alive!

I suppose it's not good form to write a post with the big bolded title "I'm Sick!" and then disappear for several weeks. Could have been a bad sign, I guess, but the truth had more to do with extreme business mixed with a healthy dose of procrastination. However, today I'll be different. I'll do my blog post before I sit down to work instead of waiting 'til the end when it's easier to push it 'til tomorrow.

Maimed God Update
My lack of blogging does not indicate a lack of progress on TMGS. As a matter of fact, I've made quite a bit of progress on the Act II blueprints, and I'm done with 14 out of the 20 maps I need for Act II. In addition, I've written several thousand words of dialog in Word, though none of them have been transferred to the toolset. Finally and most importantly, I've ironed out all the final details surrounding how Act II will work. I had the plotline for months at this point, and I'd ironed out many of the back-details a while ago as detailed on this blog. The final step was figuring out all the variables I'd need to pass, the exact conditions that would need to be set in order to progress... in short, all the algorithmic-type stuff.

It has occurred to me, however, that my ability to post pictures is going to dry up soon. Until now, I've basically revealed nothing that won't be known within five minutes of the campaign's beginning. While the player will not reach Navatranaasu for a good hour and a half, the name will appear quickly, so there's no harm in showing pictures of it.

However, some of the things I'm detailing now will not be known for quite a while. As a result, I would consider them extreme spoilers that may ruin the essential experience of the module. On the one hand, anyone who checks this blog may be making a choice to learn more about the module. On the other hand, I mean this to be more NWN2 musings than just my humble effort, even if that dominates my posts... This second argument wins out with me, so I think I'll tend to curtail more specifics about the campaign as time goes on and discuss more of the features I'm implementing instead.

However, I still owe pictures of the lighthouse interior, which I'm going to push until next time, and the VanGhaunt manor interior when it's ready. .. Oh, and the occasional screenshot without commentary.

Ossian
Yeah, it's frustrating. What can I say? Well, the answer is nothing, of course, including any speculation as to what the hold-up is. And it would be mostly speculation on my part. You see, I'm on a "need-to-know" basis, and I don't need to know. So we're all in this same boat.

However, I've a twinkling suspicion that the suspense is about to pop, so keep a sharp look-out. And if I'm wrong about this time, I pledge 100% not to even mention the name Ossian until it finally does.

Lots Going On
I'd be wrong if I said my lack of posting could be laid entirely at the feet of procrastination. No, there's a lot going on too. Yes, work is part of that, but that's boring. Moving on...

It's Time for some Football!
And by football, I mean the real stuff, not soccer. Oh, relax, you 12 non-Americans who read this. I like soccer, especially with the new fad in head-butting that's coming in, but let's face it. Soccer ain't football...

However, my football team... well, I weep when I think of it all. A decade ago, they were the greatest dynasty that has ever been produced in the sport at the college level. Year after year of utter domination. National titles, regular drubbings of the mere peasants... Yes, they were practically football gods. Now...? Not so much. They are but a pale shadow of their former glory.

Last week... another loss. I wish I could say it pains me now; that would mean it was a rare occurence. Losses used to feel like kicks in the groin, which is to say "less than pleasurable," but alas, it is all too common anymore. Of course, this doesn't mean I can find no solace in a bottle. In fact, hold that thought. I'll be right back...

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
OK, I saw this movie. Regular readers of this blog I'm sure will be amazed that it would attract me. Nevertheless, I forced myself to go see what the film was all about.

According to the wikipedia article, Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune said "... as a pseudo-historical fable, a romantic triangle and a blood-and-thunder melodrama, the film can't be faulted... This isn't historical fabrication, it's mutilation." Wow. I'd love to know who this Colin Covert is, but he sounds like yet another pretentious film critic who thinks trashing films makes him sound cool. Well, move over Colin. On this blog, only I get to sound pretentious!

First things first. Let's get my background out in the open. I like medieval history. I specifically like medieval English history, but the Tudors aren't considered medieval. This period (1585) is about 100-250 years after my true specialty, so I wouldn't say I'm a bonified expert, but I know enough to be dangerous. And while I'm certainly aware of some minor and one major historical inaccuracy, I'd hardly call it a "pseudo-historical fable." That's a dude trying to sound cool, and he actually sounds like a snob.

I'm no film critic, but I thought the acting, costumes, and sets were pretty good, and the dialog was suitable. The music had a few nice soaring themes, but for the most part I didn't notice it, and that's a good thing. I can see how people with less familiarity with the history could be a bit confused by the rapid development and lack of exposition on a few topics. On more than one occasion, my wife had to lean over to ask who various characters were and how they fit in. So if you're not all that up on the who's who of Elizabethan politics, a short perusal of a couple Wikipedia articles might be beneficial before going.

I do wish they spent more time with the actual battle with the Spanish Armada, not for the cool battle sequences, but to expand on just what an amazing and frankly freakish victory it was. I think it would be easy to come away with the impression that the English navy just whipped that Spanish ass. Unfortunately, the era of English naval superiority was at least 150 years away and probably closer to 200.

In fact, the English navy did well to hold the Spaniards off the English coast, and the crucial role of fireships to break the Spanish formation was admirably depicted, but the role of the weather in forcing the Armada around the north of Scotland and then into the Irish coastline was not made clear in my opinion. OK, there were a few shots of ominous waves crashing against the shore, but I don't think that quite depicts the magnitude of it all. I've heard a hypothesis that it was an incredibly rare (for that area) full-blown hurricane that wiped the armada out as they rounded the north of Scotland and headed south. While I doubt it was a true hurricane, it is clear that incredibly bad weather defeated the Armada far more fully than did the English navy.

And of course, the fact that Cate Blanchett portrayed the then 55-year old queen is rather amusing, but I guess we have to keep those flirtation scenes with Clive Owen's Walter Raleigh all titillating somehow...

Overall, the movie did a great job of depicting the religious tensions of the era, the scandalous affair and eventual marriage between Raleigh and Bess Throckmorton, Raleigh's relationship with Elizabeth, an abridged version of the Queen's Speech at Tilbury (amended to make it more suited to 21st-century sensibilities), the adversarial relationship between Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, and the general political intrigue of the period. Yes, there were some minor historical inaccuracies, but a "pseudo-historical fable?" I think not.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I'm Sick!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I'm sick. These past two days I've been forced to stay home from work, and while that sucks (really does - lots going on at the office), the good news is that I've had time to work on "The Maimed God's Saga" quite a bit during those days. Therefore, in spite of a fair bit of Ossian work this past weekend, I've managed to complete six more maps for Act II and make edits on the ones that had been finished. There are now some noticeable differences to Navatranaasu, though none quite big enough to warrant new screenshots. I'll run down the developments since my last post in short order.

Beta Tryouts Finished!
Fellow Ossian-mates, Alazander, Hugie, and Maerduin all got a chance to beta Act I, and, despite some head-scratching bugs, the comments I received generally mirrored my own thoughts. I have a bit of work to incorporate some of the comments, but I'm going to wait on the new content coming in "Mask of the Betrayer" to finalize Act I.

The VanGhaunt Mansion Planned
During my lunch hour on Monday, I went ahead and laid out the VanGhaunt Mansion (see pictures). I modeled the mansion off my understanding of Victorian and Edwardian manor houses... with some allowance for conserving file size. In real-world manor houses, the bedrooms for the "downstairs" servants would have been, well, downstairs in a cellar, but I'm not making up a third floor for this reason alone.

As you can see, the red outlines the only parts of the mansion that will still be in use. Most of the mansion will be unused, though not empty, and many of those rooms will be necessary to explore in order to learn the true nature of the family's curse.

The purple oulines the player's suite, which will be the de-facto home base for the investigation. It will be important for the player to return here on occasion, so I'm going to make some kind of shortcut to return to these specific rooms, either by the map or maybe a conversation at the mansion front door.

However, when I went to start putting these into the toolset, I wasn't entirely happy with the tileset options. I looked on the Vault, but there are very few community content sets. After looking at some of the screenshots for MotB, I think there might be something there to work with, so these two maps will wait for now.

Resting and Spell Recovery
I've never outlined this before on this blog, but one of the gameplay decisions I've already made is that resting in Act II will be handled a bit differently. It will only be allowed in your suite via clicking on the bed, but this will only recover hit points. Right after that, the player will need to progress to the chapel - one of the reasons it is put so close to the player's bedroom - to pray. At this point, all spells and abilities will be renewed (but only once per day). This serves four purposes.

  1. It reiterates the relationship, lost in most RPGs, that the cleric's abilities come from the deity (in this case Tyr).
  2. It is a truer representation of the D&D guidelines.
  3. It forces the player to think about which spells they memorize and how quickly they use them, as they will get fewer chances to switch and replenish them.
  4. On occasion, Tyr will communicate important information through these daily prayer sessions.
Resting outside in nature will not be allowed with few exceptions, but each of the subquests outside of town will be designed to be able for the player and companion to handle with one full batch of daily abilities, provided these are used intelligently. After each of these outside subquests, the player will need to return to town to recoup, rest, and plot their next move. Travel around the map will take time, so each travel out and back added to a full night's rest should take about a day, so that the timing will be right to pray again to recover spells.

Six Maps Complete
As I have to wait on MotB for the VanGhaunt Manor, I went ahead and began work on many of the other maps. I made up the cathedral, though I'm not entirely thrilled with the map. Again, there are no tilesets that allow for gothic vaulted interiors. One tileset on the Vault looks good for dwarven mines, but it didn't do it for me in terms of cathedrals. Nevertheless, my time on the Vault did reveal some nice stain glass placeables, and those mollified me somewhat. See the screenshot for the examples. Finally, here's hoping MotB comes with a spiderweb placeable. How on earth are we supposed to make something look unused without spiderwebs?

Along with the cathedral, I spent many, many hours on the town hall, which includes the archives. This will be a crucial point of investigation for the module, and the player will spend a fair amount of time here. The trick is to make this part fun and interesting, and I'll probably be taking a lot of inspiration in this regard from Fester Pot's masterful "Almraiven." I thought he handled the researcher portion of that story very well. A toolset-level shot of the archives section of the town hall is included.

I also knocked out the joint tavern/ blacksmith map - another toolset-level shot is attached. These are combined to cut down on module size, but I think it works. The tavern will be an important source of gossip and a point to meet various people important to the plot - all the things we've come to expect from a tavern!

The "blacksmith" is actually a jack-of-all-trades due to the town's being so small and backwards and will be a source to buy and sell weapons, though I'm thinking the gold he has will be exceptionally limited and the weapons may all have attack penalties to indicate they're low-grade. I'm currently toying with the idea of making this area more relevant by making the player have to commission some odd item to aid the investigation. In addition, one of the "sidequests" of this portion that I've already decided upon will be the restoration of the cathedral. The PC will need to hire some labor to clean out the fallen stones and debris and then perhaps commission a new statue, some silver relics for the service, some new banners... in short, become integrated into the local economy. Of course, this "sidequest" need not be completed...

I've also completed the interior of the abandoned lighthouse, but I'll post some pictures next time. Those maps are somewhat interesting and deserve a post of their own and this one is long enough for now.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I Love Lighthouses!

There appear to be some gremlins in Act I. I'm not sure exactly what's going on because they didn't appear in my play-throughs. Other than to say I'll be handing the beta to a third tester in the coming days, I'll keep mum about Act I until I diagnose what's going on. However...

What's This About Lighthouses?
There's something about the lonely, seaside monoliths that just screams "adventure" to me. Though it's not considered one of the all-time greats, one of my personal favorite Dr. Who adventures is "The Horror of Fang Rock," which saw the Doctor trapped in a lighthouse with a mystery killer that offed the inhabitants one by one. It was fantastically spooky, and when the Doctor was asked, "You mean there's no way to contact the mainland?" the chill with which Tom Baker imparted the response, "Oh, no... We're on our own now..." still stirs my imagination.

Fans of my past work may remember the lighthouse in "Saleron's Gambit: Part 4" in which I set up a double-murder suicide that saw the murderer come back as a wraith inhabiting the cellars. This choice of locales was not a coincidence. It was the first sidequest I made in that module and the first map period other than the principal town of New Amn.

And so I can announce that, yes, I've gone back to the same well. There's another lighthouse in "The Maimed God's Saga." And in keeping with the overall theme of decay, this one's ruined, destroyed in a natural disaster that occurred in DR 1323, 51 years before the campaign opens, and, yes, there are more sinister happenings there.

And so, again, the lighthouse point was the first map I made after the main town. I leave you with a picture of the approach at dusk when the PC comes across one of the inhabitants who doesn't seem to want to stay dead... Gee, maybe a cleric has a special way of dealing with such creatures...