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...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Act II Commenced!

But First, Let's Talk About Hugie
For the one person who has not yet heard, I invite you to head over to and check out the latest screenies for his imminent release of Moonshadows. I'd love to *guarantee* it will be a blast, but... *sniff*... someone didn't get an advanced copy...

But with him it's a pretty sure bet, so go there to check it out and then come back here.

Act I Out for a Test Drive
Two people now have Act I, and a third has been asked and (to date) not responded. I'll report further when comments have been received. Therefore, as Ossian is still not in immediate need of my services, I had another project I delved into last night. Namely:

Navatranaasu has been Built!
If only the feds put up construction as fast as I did, and I had to shape the land too!

Anyway, I've been looking forward to building this map for a long time, but I was disciplined enough to make myself finish Act I first, or at least the beta. Anyway, last night after the wife went to bed (hey, we've been married six years, and we all know how that goes...), I turned out all the lights and proceeded to make my gothic horror masterpiece.

And I am thrilled with how it turned out! So dreary, so decrepit, so rain-filled, so utterly depressing... And I cackled maniacally when I found that one of the temples was actually one with gothic architecture complete with flying buttresses. Perfection!

So there's creenies galore for all to enjoy. There's the first view of the old VanGhaunt manor as you enter town, another view across Lake Navatra, the town center, the view of town from the VanGhaunt manor, and the cathedral. Have fun!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Let's Talk About Act II

With Ossian not requiring a lot of my time and Act I wrapping up testing, I've begun to turn my creative efforts to Act II. I've written a few of the conversations in Word, and I've begun to fine-tune a lot of the details that weren't in the "Big Picture" design document.

There are no spoilers here other than what you will learn within five minutes of starting the campaign, so have no fears!

The Curse of the VanGhaunts
12 Flamerule, 1374

To the High Prefect of the Temple of Tyr in Longsaddle,

Greetings in the name of The Maimed God! With much trepidation, I write to beseech you for aid. I am the last of my family, the ruling dynasty of Navatranaasu, located in the Vale of the Miracle in the Greypeaks near the source of the Delimbiyr. We have placed our faith in Tyr since the town's founding by our illustrious ancestor, Alred VanGhaunt, who earned great honor and fame against the demonic host at the Battle of Phlanon's Moor. Sadly, we have been enthralled by a curse for generations, and my town is now in ruins and my family threatened with extinction. Times are beyond desperate, and we can brook no further delay.

I have written several times to the major Tyrran enclaves requesting assistance but have thus far heard nothing. We are good Tyrrans and are brothers and sisters in the church. We are one with you in the favor of The Maimed God! In the entire church, is there not even one hero you can send to our aid? Is there no one who hears the anguish of their comrades? Has Tyr abandoned us to our misery?

In the name of Tyr I beg you to help us, for if you do not, darkness will prevail and the Light of The Just One will be extinguished from these parts forever.

Yours in Tyr,
Jellica VanGhaunt
Some of the screenshots I've posted and comments I've made in various forums have hinted at the plot of the module, but this letter, which the PC receives at the campaign's outset, is it in a nutshell.

The noble family, good Tyrrans all, from the isolated town of Navatraanasu has been cursed for seven generations with the latest incident happening only two months prior to the campaign's opening. The PC must journey to the town and discover what dark secrets it holds.

While I have obviously had the important details determined for a year or more, today I finally nailed down the family tree (see picture). Only the relevent names are included, by which I mean those that ruled and those that were taken by the curse (denoted by "C" for "Curse" and a date). This level of detail will not be necessary to solve the mystery, but I wanted to be able to include such details in dialogs, archives, and old journals without fear of contradicting myself.

And, of course, some of the people in that tree, though certainly not all, are crucial to the plot. Today I simply filled in all those who aren't... and I'm not telling which is which!

Act I is the journey to Navatranaasu. Act II takes place in Navatranaasu, and Act III I'll leave a secret for now. While all acts are heavy in Realmslore, Acts I and III should also "feel" Realmsian. Act II, however, should feel more like Ravenloft.

There's a part of Ravenloft that has always appealed to me. A world of foreboding evil with only occasional pinpoints of light... What better setting for a cleric-centric campaign! Though I'm not promising vampires, the town of Navatranaasu should feel run-down, dirty, and gritty; it's a bit lost in time and lost to the gods, though that won't be totally true. In fact, one deity very much has its eye on the town...

But Navatranaasu? What kind of name is that?
It's not the most Realmsian-sounding name, but if you're aiming for gothic horror, where better to go than Transylvannia? To get the name of my town, I actually pulled out a map of Romania and began searching for names that evoked the right feel. It's been over a year since I settled on the name, but I remember I elided two names in some way. Maybe there's a Navatra and a Naasa? I really don't remember, and I don't care enough to look now. I have my gothic-sounding name, and I'm sticking with it.

What about the name VanGhaunt?
Warning: medieval history ahead!

To see the origins of this name, look no further than John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the third son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. His mother's home, Hainault, is a Belgian province, of course, and John was born in the Belgian town of Ghent. ("Gaunt" is simply the Anglicized bastardization of the name of the town.) From his father's death in 1377 until about 1387, he was the central political figure in England and the power behind his minor nephew's throne. Some would even expand his years of influence from about 1370, claiming that he ruled in place of his aging father those last seven years, to his death in 1399.

Gaunt is such an interesting character to me not just for what he did, but for how he is seen today. One view is that he was one of the last of his generation and, as such, was determined to use his wealth and power to defend his family's name, his nephew's throne, and England's fortunes in its war against France. The other is that he was a greedy schemer constantly plotting to win a kingdom for himself.

To be honest, I tend to fall into the former camp, though I allow that he had tremendous personal ambition. Clearly, he propped his nephew's regime up, for when he left to go to Iberia in 1386, Richard II faced an almost immediate uprising from the Lords Appellant, one that was only quelled when Gaunt returned in 1389. Shortly after Ghaunt's death in 1399, his son, Henry Bolingbroke, would use the vast resources of the Duchy of Lancaster to overthrow Richard II and become Henry IV, the first of the so-called "Lancastrian Dynasty," the family that would form one-half of the War of the Roses.

Returning to The Maimed God's Saga, Gaunt is a perfect name for another obvious reasons; it elicits an image of emaciation and ill-health. Add an "h" to disguise the origins and a "Van" to make it sound more gothic, and boom, the family name is revealed.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tancred Done; Verona Close

Act I Very Close To "In the Can!" No, not that can...
I spent more or less the entirety of Saturday - in between football games (and don't get me started about that) - fixing the cutscene I mentioned last time. That was the last piece of Tancred's path I had to finish, and I think the polishing there is pretty good, though I'd undoubtedly find something else that needed to improve if I played it over again...

So today I turned to Verona's path, and I'm happy to say that I played completely through the first time with fairly minimal problems. Indeed, I made only 36 notes, all of them minor, and most of them issues I forgot to port over from corrections during Tancred's polishing, so I know exactly what to do.

I leave you with a picture of a nice set-piece battle along the River Delimbiyr. The PC and a few sailors attack some lizardmen who have boarded the ship while Verona to the right has a duel with others on the shore. As I stated some time ago, I'm looking for every battle to be interesting and unique, and this is one of those battles that may require some thought on the part of the player.

As for the PC's armor... yeah, that's one of the 36 notes I made. Let me explain. I made a part at the beginning where the player can get a set of Tyrran chainmail, but during the Tancred playthrough, I also added a set or leather which can be taken if it is more suitable for the character's build. The leather armor looked great on female characters... and then I just took it for the hell of it during the Verona playthrough... and the nice blue leggings on the female suit of armor turned out yellow for guys! So there will soon be a suit of female leather and a separate suit of male leather... because I'm not having the manly protagonists running around in yellow leggings!

As for Ossian, yeah I don't know either. I understand there'll be a big announcement this week, but that's sounding awfully familiar now. So we'll all wait and see...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

So Much Polishing...

The Maimed God's Saga
Sorry for the lack of updates. The truth is that there's been nothing interesting to report. More polishing is all, and there's not a lot of excitement there.

I will say that I've been dismayed at how slow the process has been. Using the NWN2-style dialog boxes has presented some unique problems that weren't there in NWN1. It took me a while to figure out why all the animations I had put in weren't firing correctly (the 'owner' was actually the dialog owner, not the line owner... obvious, now that I know!) I also had a bit of trouble figuring out why some of my scripted companion movements weren't working (and, in fact, breaking the module at times!), but I managed to figure that out as well. If I had used all NWN1-style dialogs, I'd be done by now... food for thought for the future.

During play-throughs, I also realized I needed to add a couple journal entries to clarify things, and I added an additional dialog and three interjections to each of the companions that came to roughly 1400 words each (2800 total). That, troubleshooting, and real life have kept me busy.

The long and the short of it is that I think I'm done with Tancred's polishing now with the exception of a single elaborate cutscene that is moderately close. Then I need to change PC gender and work on Verona's path. Luckily, I've been updating her dialog quite a bit as I learn on Tancred's. Nevertheless, I expect there to be several surprises that will slow me down.

I'm actually chomping at the bit to start on Act II, but I'm managing to maintain discipline to finish this one first before proceeding. When I do start Act II, I'll no doubt fly through the initial stages.

Hopefully, I'll be able to post an official "done" for Act I soon, but for now I'll leave you with an action shot of Tancred and the PC taking on some guards in The Mountain King's throne room. Note that all the guards look different, are slightly different heights, and all wield different weapons. This is yet another example of how I'm looking for every fight to be a unique encounter - not just a fight against three of the exact same blueprint all just named "Guard."

Ossian... uh, Secret Stuff
I haven't worked on Ossian much for a couple weeks, which is good as I've had other stuff going on. Luke says there'll be an announcement soon. If he says so...

I admit it could be any day now, but I've been wondering why no announcement was made weeks or months ago. Oh well, those decisions are why other people are making the big bucks. Suffice it to say that this entire process has been quite an eye-opener into the world of game studios. I'm not even that much "in the loop" with Ossian, but even what I've seen has been very enlightening.

Sorry I can't say more, but I really don't think the wait will be long now.