Saturday, April 28, 2007

Chugging Along

Ossian Update
Busy day today, but not much that I can really report on. The first half was spent meeting some deadlines for Ossian doing some... uh, secret stuff. And now I get to move on to more deadlines. One wonders when Ossian will make an announcement that might interest people, but until it happens, my lips - or keyboard and mouse as the case may be - are sealed.

Medieval Europe Update
The second half of the day was spent finalizing my historiographical paper. I took most of the week off while it was peer-reviewed, but today was when I took the comments and incorporated them into the final draft. As of about ten minutes ago, that draft officially left my desk. I also spent a couple hours reviewing another student's paper on royal mistresses, but my review of that paper has now also been completed and my comments e-mailed away. So I am now officially 100% done.

The Maimed God's Saga Update
Unfortunately, the above two projects left little time for my NWN2 module, but that doesn't mean there's no news to report. A little while ago, Nicolas Hugon, the brother of fellow-Ossian member Alex 'Hugie' Hugon, e-mailed me two proposed logos for 'The Maimed God's Saga.' As it will be a cleric-class module heavily dependant on Forgotten Realms religious themes, I had originally asked him to come up with something reminiscent of medieval-style calligraphy - i.e. something similar to what old monks used to scribe into manuscripts where the first letter of every page was a complex piece of art.

I am including his design above, but he also sent a more modern design of his own as well. The first is pretty close to what I was looking for, though I would probably ask him to tweak it a bit. However, the second design looks pretty snazzy IMO. I'm probably going to mull them over for a night or two, but feel free to comment.

The Evolution of the Daleks
Well, it was probably inevitable after I raved about the opening episode of the Manahattan-based dalek two-parter last week, but the conclusion did dissappoint a bit. Once again, we got a hammy David Tennant ranting and raving about the daleks, daring them to shoot him, and generally over-acting the roll. Damn, I wish someone would tell him he does so much better when he restrains himself just a wee bit.

Then of course we got another gross example of a distressing tendency of the new series: the Doctor's reliance on his superhuman anatomy to save the day, but there's no need to delve into that whole topic.

*Sigh* What could have been...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Maimed God's Saga Update

Areas and Acts and Conversations... Oh My!
I took some time over the past two days to start laying out some of the technical details of The Maimed God's Saga. There will be a total of 32 areas to be designed over three acts. Each act will be a single module in the campaign. The area breakdown is:

Area Size
Tiny Small Medium Large Total T.A.S
Indoor 5 7 3 0 15 31
Outdoor 1 7 7 2 17 59
Act 1 2 6 3 0 11 26
Act 2 3 6 1 2 12 35
Act 3 1 2 6 0 9 29

T.A.S, or 'Total Area Size,' is a way I use to figure out how big the module's going to be, so I know if there's some kind of imbalance. Originally, there were going to be two acts with the above Acts 1 and 2 combined. However, that made Act 1 over twice as big as Act 2, though, so the first act was split.

In terms of dialogue, there will be 51 conversations that I estimate will take 60,700 words to complete. I am dedicating 15,000 words each to the two companions, so they comprise 50% of the total module dialog. By comparison, my Saleron's Gambit henchmen often hit around 10,000 or so words, but many of those were functional throw-aways, by which I mean things like asking them to heal you or pick locks, etc. With the nifty NWN2 toolset allowing that to be done otherwise, all the dialog will go to characterisation and personality development.

I've also broken ground on the module itself. Above is displayed a screenshot of the male and female versions of the specially-made Tyrran armor for the module. I wish I could get a scale symbol on the front rather than the star, but we can't have everything we want I guess. The man is also the first central character in the module, and the setting is the Temple of Tyr in the small aptly-named town of Riverford, where the module opens.

I've also already created the two hotties everyone will get to cyber-romance (or not, as the case may be - I'm looking at you, Berliad!). Above left is the oh-so-manly Tancred with his devastatingly gorgeous blue eyes. Below him is Verona, a red-headed babe with devastatingly gorgeous green eyes. (See, I told you these two would be unique!)

But all this is very part time right now. Ossian is cracking the whip and forcing me to do... uh, secret things. Well, they're not exactly forcing me to do anything, but they do take priority.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Quick Hits

NWN2 Update
I've not done much on 'The Maimed God's Saga' in the last couple days, but if all goes well, I'm going to do a whole lot of planning this weekend. I should be able to give an idea of the number of areas, length, and an estimate of the words, and maybe - just maybe - I'll be able to lay out a tentative timeline for completion.

But it also looks like Alazander let slip an interesting comment today. Apparently, he's been working on some 'Secret Project' and is nearing some sort of announcement. Gee, I can't wait to see what THAT might be!

The Daleks Take Manhattan!
Doctor Who is absolutely my favorite show of all time. If I were British, that would make me fairly normal given the extreme popularity the series currently enjoys in the UK. In America, however, that puts me on 'geek' level. Such is my lot in life...

Anyway, this week aired 'The Daleks In Manhattan.' I was a bit prepared to rant about how overused the daleks are in the new series - this is, after all their fourth story in less than three years - but after watching it last Saturday night I'm forced to give the DW team kudos instead. In many ways, it felt as though it was part of the classic series, as the pace was a bit slower and the daleks were kept more in the background. And then, of course, a sewer setting screams 'Dr. Who.' This was a terrific story, and I can only hope and pray that part II lives up to the promise shown in part I.

I have no idea if any of the filming was actually done in America, but regardless the rendering of 1930s New York looked spectacular. This isn't the first Doctor Who story to take place in the States. The series one story titled, coincidentally, 'Dalek' was set in Utah, and the classic series story 'The Gunfighters' was set in the Wild West, but this was the first story I can think of that made obvious use of American landmarks (The Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and the Empire State Building) so that it actually felt like America. And the British actors by-and-large did a terrific job with their accents. I understand that there were some Americans thrown in, but I can't tell which they were, so that goes to show a good job done all around.

David Tennant gave one of his more restrained performances, which served him well. It was one of the few times that I actually felt he was a legitimate successor in terms of acting 'weight' to Who giants like Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee. And Freema Agyeman continues to impress as Martha Jones. My initial reaction is that she's roughly the same caliber actress as is Billie Piper, but I much prefer Martha Jones' character to Piper's Rose.

Finally, a big shout out to Helen Raynor, who wrote the story. I guess I shouldn't be all that impressed given the amount of studying I've done of British history, but the fact that a British writer got so much right about a less well-known period in American history is impressive and, at least on my part, appreciated. Given the appalling state of education in this country, I doubt that even 25% of Americans would know who Herbert Hoover was, much less what a Hooverville was. So it's certainly impressive that a British writer centers a story around one.

Moving On

NWN2 Update
Well, I've officially broken ground on 'The Maimed God's Saga,' not that I've done very much. I have a bit of the opening dialog, but I don't think anything major will get finished until I finish with Ossian... uh, secret things... and of course there's also my upcoming trip to Portugal that may slow me down.

Anyway, feel free to read ahead. This is spoiler-free for now.

Title Screen Goodness
Today I contacted Alex Hugon, aka Hugie, about the possibility of his brother, Nicolas, who's an aspiring graphic designer, making a title screen for the upcoming 'Maimed God's Saga.' I thought the one he did for Alazander's upcoming project looked quite cool, so I thought I'd join in the fun. I think he's in, but thus far I have only Hugie's word on it. Assuming everything goes well, I'll post the design as soon as I get it. Here's hoping everything goes well...

I am heavily considering custom music tracks for the module. I think I would need 3 or 4. Who would compose them, you ask? Me. I've written hours of music of my own, though most of it has been for the piano only, and I briefly considered that as my career path before I decided that I'd rather eat every night. I know that game tracks provide a different challenge from pieces that are meant to be listened to on their own, but I feel I'm up to the challenge. Maybe I'm simply naive.

Still, I have neither an orchestra nor a recording studio at my disposal, so my biggest issue is coming up with software that can make the tracks sound right without breaking the bank. Once I get serious about this aspect, I'll need to start asking people who have actually done it to see if it's even economically feasible. The good part is that any expenditure won't simply be for NWN, as composing has been a side-hobby of mine now for, oh, 15 years or so. That will probably make it easier to justify in my mind.

When I originally conceived of the project, I thought I'd do VO, but some recent discussions on other blogs and the Bio-boards (such as here and here) have convinced me not to do it. The main point that pursuaded me is that even if 90% of the VO is great, it's the bad 10% that will be remembered. I think they're sort of right given my own memories of games. I actually think the best 10% and the worst 10% will be remembered, but either way, I don't want such a small percentage of such a huge effort, as VO is, to be what's remembered about my module. So unless I hear new persuasive arguments otherwise, VO's out.

For those familiar with my 'Saleron's Gambit' series for NWN1, 'The Maimed God's Saga' will seem very linear, but that won't mean lack of choices. In every Saleron chapter except the first, the module opened, basically, with the mission to find something. In Chapter 2, it was to find Saleron, in Chapter 3 it was Fred, in Chapter 4 it was Silastheras, and in Chapter 5 it was the Varosian Gem. This is one of the great contrivances to make it believable that your character would and should accept sidequests that have no bearing otherwise on the central plot. The other is the brilliant BG2 method of asking you to collect a lot of money for something.

However, if your character knows exactly what (s)he should be doing and where they should be going, and if the situation is serious enough, there is no reason to stop to help someone find their camel, retrieve their amulet, etc. "The world's about to end, and the priest that's summoning the fiend is in that temple yonder, but some thieves stole my secret documents. Can you take a couple hours of your time and get them for me? The world will end, but you'll get 1000 XP and 50 gold!" Doesn't make much sense.

So your character will know exactly where to go in the new module (at least in the first chapter), so the number of sidequests will be more limited and tied more directly into the main story. There will be a journey kind of like the interlude in 'Shadows of Undrentide' where you go from one episode to the next and have to solve each before moving on. Unlike 'Shadows', there will be different paths to take, and the situation you'll find at the end will depend on the path you took to get there.

The first module will be designed probably for a fifth-level character with all levels taken in the Cleric class, though I may up that to sixth level. As Tyr is of lawful good alignment, the PC's alignment will be limited to either LG, NG, or LN.

Restricting the character to the above will allow me to write dialog that doesn't have to take into account the traditional 'evil' options. I am aiming for a bit more subtlety in the writing. The definition of 'justice' will be central to the module, as the subtitle would suggest, and the PC's pursuit of it will be the overarching theme notwithstanding the immediate need to stop the plans of the fell diety that is scheming against his/her own god, Tyr.

In this, I have surrendered. I'm not big into module romances myself, but I recognize that the overwhelming majority of the community is, at least if Vault polls are anything to go by, so this will be the first of my series that features a romance. However, if I'm going to do one, I'm going to do it right. That means it will develop reasonably slowly and at a believable pace. Rather than having different companions every module, as was mostly the case in Saleron's Gambit, I will have returning ones, though I may still employ temporary additions to the party as the story calls for it.

So another major goal is to vest significantly more time into the companions. There will be two, but only one will be available. Male PCs will only get the female companion and vice-versa. That one companion will be it for the first module at least. Both companions will be statistically the same (both 5th level rangers), so there should be no differences in party mechanics, but the personalities will be separate and distinct. The male romance will not simply be the female romance with facial hair.

Oh, and there is much gnashing of teeth on the Vault about how female gamers are not well-served in the romance department (for example, see this thread). I'm not sure that's true, but it certainly won't be in this case. My female fans of Saleron's Gambit have been the most vocal in this department, and so the male romance option has actually been the character who has had the most work thus far. In fact, in my aborted novel, I made the protagonist female so that I could use that character instead of the female romance option.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Two Months of Hell are Coming to a Close

The Presentation
Well, thankfully that's over. When I finished talking about parliamentary sovereignty, the king's two bodies, the expression of the commons in the county courts, and so forth, I was greeted with what I normally see when I talk Medieval history: blank stares, glazed-over expressions, and snores... but no questions! Proof positive that this stuff interests only me, but no questions means the paper can be wrapped up in very short order.

In the past three months, I estimate I've read over 3000 pages, an average of 30 per day. Now that doesn't sound like very much, but none of it was exactly bubble gum dime novels. For the most part, it was pretty dense stuff, and the 30 pages per day clip assumes there is never a day off! I can say that I'm quite glad to have it over.

However, I'd never claim I didn't learn anything. I can talk about dynastic struggles, governmental institutions, and the construction of each monarch's so-called affinity until people start hitting their snooze buttons, but the class did hit several things I had no previous idea about. Here's some quick hits:
  1. Did you know that for most of the 15th century, the life expectancy at 20 for people in England was between 19 and 25 years? What that means is that for all people who actually reached the age of 20, thereby eliminating the atrocious child mortality rate, they could expect to live only another 19 to 25 years. In some cases, half their life on average was already over... at 20! If child mortality is included, the total life expectancy would probably dip into the 33-35 year range. That is a huge drop from 300 years prior, when life expectancy was in the upper forties or low fifties! Look to repeated plagues as the reason.
  2. Did you know that the average Benedictine monk in some of the richer abbeys ate on the order of 7 lbs of meat, 2 lbs of bread, 1 lb of cheese, and a gallon of ale... per day? The study was one that looked at the eating habits of the monks at Westminster Abbey, and there are some minor details that modify this under certain circumstances, but it gives an idea where the 'fat friar' stereotype (ala Friar Tuck) comes from. Btw, this does not apply to other orders, such as the Cistercians.
  3. Speaking of Westminster Abbey, I guess I never really considered that, prior to the dissolution of the churches in the time of Henry VIII, it actually was an abbey with real monks. If I'd been asked that before this class, I guess I would have thought about it and said it must have been, but it is easy to lose sight of the fact when you see the massive museum the Abbey is today. Most of the extraneous buildings and gardens that would have made this obvious are long gone.
Gather my Readers and you Shall Hear a Hectic Tale of... Tiberius?
The title of this post says it all: Two Months of Hell. In December, I was minding my own business in my dreary life when I went to school to register for class. I'm slowly working towards a Master's Degree in history, and unlike most semesters, this one actually offered a class in my thesis area, the oft-mentioned Medieval England. Cool, right? Should be fun. I'm definitely in.

Then, in January right as I'm preparing for my first day of class, I get a call asking if I'll come in to interview for a new job. Frankly, I'd been looking, and the company was one I was highly interested in, so the answer was "Hell yes, I'm interested!" One day of interviewing later, and I get a job offer. Now my comfortable life just got a whole lot less comfortable, but I'm moving in the right direction. Sure, I'll have a lot of school work to do while I'm breaking in a new job, but it's all OK. Nothing I can't handle. So I accept from my new employer, put in my notice to my old employer, and start my transiton weeks of essentially rearranging the pencils on my desk when I get an interesting e-mail.

"Hey, Russ. This is Luke (aka Alazander). We want you to join Ossian." My first thought was that there was no way I could do that. My second thought was that there's no way I'm not going to do that! Someone wants to pay me to do... uh, secret things... that I'd otherwise do for free? Sign me up!

So I went to my wife and said, "Think real hard. Do you know of anything you'll need from me for, oh, say the next two months?" Luckily, I have the coolest wife in the world, because there's been a big lack of face time recently, which she's been entirely too cool with. But now that the class is over, I can go back to working 'just' 60 hours per week now... and maybe - just maybe - I can actually have dinner with her too!

Hello, Portugal!
Something that's been in the works for a long time is our annual trip to somewhere new. This year, it's Portugal. We'll be gone from May 29 to June 11, and I'll post pictures when we get back, so everyone can see Mr. and Mrs. Tiberius as we enjoy the (hopefully) sun-drenched Iberian peninsula... because we don't get enough sun here in Florida.

The Maimed God's Saga Update Soon
Sometime this weekend, I'll post the beginnings of what can be expected of the first module, so be sure to check back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Next Chapter

Presentation Tomorrow
Tomorrow I get to give a 15 minute paper presentation about depositions of English monarchs with 5 minutes allotted to questions. Luckily, the accompanying paper is mostly finished with only some slight revisions required... unless I get ripped apart during questioning. Then there might be some major rewrites. That won't happen though.

That, however, should finish off my class requirements, leaving this weekend to work on Ossian... uh, secret things.

The Next Step
Before getting sucked in by Ossian, I was well on my way to completing the first module in my upcoming Diviner series. The scope was modest, to say the least, but it was mostly supposed to be a small effort to allow me to familiarize myself with the new toolset while providing a quick adventure for the community.

Now those objectives aren't so important, and I've found myself more and more unsatisfied with what I have so far, so... MAJOR REWRITES for "Diviner's Fire." It will need to be greatly enlarged and expanded in scope. That means it's not exactly on the horizon.

However, there's something else that's going to slide in between Ossian secret stuff and "Diviner's Fire" redux. That would be the rebirth of my cleric-based series. It was originally going to be my first NWN2 mod, and then I became so enamored with the story, that I withdrew it with an eye towards trying my hand at a novel and submitting it cold to WotC. Fifty-odd pages in, and no thanks. I'll stick to modding.

So now my first mod for NWN2 will be "The Maimed God's Saga" with the first module subtitled "Justice." Each module will be stand-alone so that I don't feel bad if subsequent modules don't get made. I have a fairly substantial design document (and fifty pages of text) for the first installment and a brief outline of the core ideas for the later modules which are now tentatively subtitled "Courage", "Wisdom", and "Glory."

The modules will be specifically made for Priests of Tyr, God of Justice, sometimes called The Maimed God. Each of the first two modules will involve you in a battle of the gods in which you, the champion of Tyr, will struggle against the forces of a one of the 'evil' deities. The third module, "Wisdom," will have a slightly diplomatic flavor, as you will need to cultivate alliances with the followers of other faiths. The fourth episode, "Glory," will be a stronghold quest which leads into a battle against a foe greater even than the gods themselves.

And that's the last I'm going to post of the last three chapters for a while. I'll update a bit about the first chapter in the coming days and weeks. To people who are interested in the other series I've mentioned previously, fear not. I still have every intention of making all of them.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Opening Salvos

That's right, everyone. Voting at the Vault for Module of the Year should be wrapping up, and it's about time to declare the final totals. A Dance with Rogues looks to have this race going away, but second place is a bit of a joke. Once again, there's some funny-business with The Bastard of Kosigan, as Alazander pointed out. I don't know if Fabien's in on the shenanigans, but regardless, I'm getting pretty sick of always hearing about that series and voter fraud in the same sentences.

Anyway, screw #1 and #2! If you want to know what module is really setting trends and making young girls weep, look no further than #9... And what do you know! It's me! Thank you, thank you to all my 13 fans who voted for me. I couldn't have done it without you.

All flippancy aside, thanks to any who did vote for me. It is frankly amazing to think that anyone would think my humble little project was the #1 best module for a year.

Let's Talk About Depositions
What have I been doing NWN-wise for the past three days? Nothing. I've been entirely snowed under with my final paper for the semester. What's it about, you ask? I'm glad you did. I'm examining the historiography of the depositions of Edward II, Richard II, and Richard III. Fun times all around.

But it is interesting to note that in the 261 years from the Norman Conquest up to 1327, there were exactly zero depositions of English monarchs. In the 158-year span from 1327 to 1485, there were seven. In the 522 years since, only two (plus a well-known abdication). In that middle period, only Edward III and Henry V could have been said to sit easily on the throne, so clearly there was something in the English water at the time.

The whole subject became of interest when I first spotted a 1976 article by Drs. Charles T. Wood and William Dunham, Jr. postulating that the depositions slowly weakened the position of the monarchy so that Henry Tudor was essentially forced to accept only a parliamentary crown, in effect becoming the first 'elected' monarch. In this, Dunham and Wood built on a long history of 19th and early 20th-century research that saw the flow of history as one determined march to what might be termed 'constitutionalism.' Of course, the whole thesis is pretty devastatingly refuted by J.W. McKenna's 1979 article "The Myth of Parliamentary Sovereignty in Late Medieval England," not to mention a whole host of other articles which probably interest only me.

But enough of that junk. The cool stuff is when we get back to the endless warring and copious mistresses, not to mention butchering two kids in the tower.

So What Am I Doing NWN2-Wise?
I'm currently gainfully employed as a writer for Ossian Studios. However, if I told you exactly what I was doing for them, I'd have to kill you. One day, I look forward to discussing my thoughts and observations on... secret things, but needless to say, that time isn't now.

And the Future?
I have three planned solo projects for NWN2, and 'projects' actually means series of mods. That should be enough, I would think. Briefly, they would be a series of mods for clerics, another series for diviner specialist wizards, and a couple epilogue chapters for Saleron's Gambit. I'm beginning to get excited about a certain module in this group, but the time to work on it just isn't there at the moment. I'll release more details in the not-so-distant future.

Joining the Rest of the World in Public Anonymity

I guess I saw Berliad and Alazander having so much fun, jealousy ensued, and I decided that I too simply must have a forum from which to rant. Ta Da! Witness the result. It is now from this point that I intend to update my NWN2 thoughts and progress on my NWN2 modules.

However, I have no intention of stopping at just Neverwinter. No, I'll post no end of nonsense in all my geeky glory. Do you want Medieval History? Too bad, you're gonna get it. Dr. Who? That's my favorite show of all time, so you're bound to get that too. Sports? Occasionally going to hit on that as well. Politics, high literature, and the fine arts? Nope, you're on the wrong blog.