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.

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.