Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weekly Update

No doubt it won't be long until I get to talk more in-depth about MoW here, but for now I'll have to confine my ramblings to TMGS. Speaking of which...

The most recent loadscreen is another one previously seen here, but it's one I like quite a bit. Moving into Act III, the action switches to more urban lands. This loadscreen is of Dock Street in Waterdeep with the massive cathedral of Tyr dominating the harbor skyline in the early morning.

So on to the progress. What did I get done this week? Hmmm...

XP placement - Check
Loot placement - Check
Journal scripting - Check

In addition, remember that list I spoke about last week that had three items left on it? Well it ballooned this week to ten items, although I whittled it back down to the same three from before. The last three will require a bit of creativity on my part, so I need time to sit down where I have no distractions and can just figure it out. Hopefully, I'll have a night this week because a small family emergency is going to wipe out the weekend.

All-in-all, I have to report what I've been saying for a while. The end of scripting is near. The parts are nearly all glued together. Then comes play-testing, and as I've not tested a single thing in Act II yet, I imagine the first play-through will be wretched to say the least.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Moving On...

I've just finished the second season of the Tudors, which I'll review after a few days of collecting my thoughts. However, my opinion of it is very positive. Until later...

Load Screen Sunday... Yeah, Whatever
I'm going to go ahead and throw out the last three new load screens for Act II. I think versions of all of these have been released before, but these might be new angles. The first is of a nice serene little hut in the forest. Ah, so peaceful... until you realize what sick evil lies within.

Second, is a little mountain village with a serene little river running through it. It's the simple tribal life... until you realize the horrific secret it hides.

Finally, a fort... Ah, who am I kidding? It looks a bit too military to try to convince you it's benign. Yeah, evil guys aplenty here.

So What Progress, You Ask?
I am essentially done with the scripting of the various dialogs, and I am done with the OnEnter scripts for all the areas. I managed to uncover about eight major issues I needed to address during my scripting work thus far, and I took time this weekend to whittle that list down to three. These include things like writing additional dialogs or writing major additions or amendments to existing ones.

When these are done, I have the following general tasks to complete: scripting the journal entries (updating, etc.), finalizing a few extraneous quest scripts (death scripts, inventory disturb scripts, and the like), loot placement, and XP placement. With any luck, that will finish the Act II scripting, and I'll proceed to testing.

Act II testing should take a short while, and I need to finish my tweaking of Act III (whenever patch 1.22 is released to fix the OnEnter area triggers), and then there's the testing of the full three acts stuck together to ensure global variables are stored correctly... Lots to do, but I'm getting there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mysteries of Westgate At Last!

Yes, the wait now seems to be very nearly over! We've been hearing internal rumblings within Ossian for a couple weeks, but I didn't want to say anything for fear of yet again being disappointed. However, I have just received an official e-mail from the Powers That Be that we are now sure enough about an impending release that we can officially announce it.

We do have a projected release date, but not one that is sure enough yet to announce. Depending on certain developments, it may slip by a few days. Given the bad feelings about the previous seemingly-interminable delays, they don't want us to mention the date until it is 100% rock-solid. But, it seems the day it is announced will also be the day you will be able to buy. So there won't be any further anticipation once we hear.

In addition to the official Bioware and Atari boards, keep an eye out on the Ossian web site in the coming days and weeks. I understand that there will be some significant updates that will include a message board specifically about Mysteries of Westgate which will almost certainly contain useful information, especially once it is actually released!

And suffice it to say, I think that will be much sooner than most will at this point believe!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hail, Rome!

I've recently concluded the first season of the joint HBO/BBC dramatic series Rome, which takes the viewer from the closing years of the First Triumvirate (around 54 BC) to the assassination of Julius Caesar (44 BC). Overall, I would recommend the series to those who are interested in the period, but I must say it was a bit of a mixed bag.

The events depicted are reasonably well-known, at least in their barest form, but the nuances are the subject of much debate. The primary reason for this is, of course, that there are so few surviving accounts. However, it is also a story that in many ways is more applicable to today than even the intervening medieval period, making it more difficult for people to not project current events into the backdrop of history. Relatively few powerful monarchies still exist today, and certainly not in the Western world, but Rome is the story of the transformation of a republic into an empire. Before modern times, Rome was the last republic, and its death became a cautionary tale that led political theorists to espouse the futility of such governments for centuries.

At the most cynical, Rome - and Athens before it - show that in times of great turmoil, the masses will willingly vote away their freedoms to any demagogue who can spout enough empty rhetoric about "bread and circuses" to satisfy them. The most obvious example, Alcibiades, is actually from Athens, but one could argue that Caesar, Mark Antony, Pompey, and so forth would also fit. In fact, the series itself articulates such a position, mostly from the senators who quickly conspire to kill Caesar in a bid to save the Republic, but also from the more cynical patricians who seek to use this theory to consolidate their own power.

But on to the actual series. Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first. The amount of money reportedly spent on the production was immense - large enough to actually be the reason for season 3's cancellation - and it shows. One of the DVD extras shows the massive sets that were constructed for the series. They claimed the set for the Roman forum was something like half the size of the actual forum, and this was just a single set! Hundreds of extras were on hand for the various parade scenes, and the costumes, of which there were literally tens of thousands, are both lavish and colorful. As can be seen in the first picture, the series certainly could bring on the spectacle when called for.

However, as I concluded the series, I couldn't help but think something was a little off. It took me a while, but I think I've finally figured out what. Rome tries to tell two stories. First, it depicts the great political events of the age. Second, it attempts to show life in ancient Rome at the street level. In the first, we have the expected cast of characters: Caesar, Brutus, Octavian, Pompey, etc. The second is mostly told through the eyes of two legionaries, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, and their families. While either is a legitimate approach individually, trying to mesh both into one series leads to an uneven narrative.

The writers seek to get around this by using an especially galling method that, sadly, is not unique to this series. Specifically, the two legionaries are constantly woven into the first story as well as their own, thereby unifying the two lines. What this results in is a totally implausible series of events in which two normal joes essentially have the most fantastic life imaginable, always seeming to be at the center of the great events of the day. The most ludicrous example is the time when both men are shipwrecked en route to Greece, only to wash up on shore at the exact point where the retreating Magnus Pompey is camping for the night. The two legionaries share a meal with him over the campfire, where he tells them of his defeat at the hands of Caesar. This is right before Pompey meets his maker in Egypt. Of course, the two arrive there shortly thereafter as well, at which point Julius Caesar naturally chooses them to go on a daring raid to rescue Cleopatra. Got all that? Well, that was what they did in only two of the twelve episodes. They did much more in the other ten. Vorenus even gets appointed to the Roman Senate. No joke. This was funny in Forest Gump, as that movie made a big joke of it all, but it's outright annoying here.

Otherwise, I thought the series was quite good. The acting was generally top-notch. Polly Walker goes over the top as Atia of the Julii, playing an absolute raving bitch that somehow is likeable. Perhaps it's the absolute delight she takes in getting into the mud, perhaps it's that she says things that I'd like to say, or maybe it's just that she's hot. Some of her one-liners are literally roll-on-the-floor funny, such as when she sends a gift of a particularly well-endowed slave to a rival. Her daughter asks her why the rival would even want such a gift, to which she casually replies, "well, who wouldn't want another large penis?" In another scene, she forces her son, Octavian, to eat goat testicles, giving him the simple rationale that "it will put oak in your penis." Yes, there's a lot of penis jokes I guess...

Who else? Lindsay Duncan puts in a nuanced performance as Servilia. Starting out as elegant and regal, she slowly becomes cold and calculating as others around her continually force her hand. I must say my wife pointed out far before I recognized it that Servilia had become quite the bitch on her own, and it wasn't because she had guessed the plot. She pointed out certain looks and actions that gave it away... "No, you're imagining things," I told her. It turned out I was wrong, so I'm guessing it might be the type of performance that women "get" and dudes are surprised by. Or maybe I'm horrible at noticing this stuff...

Ciarán Hinds should also get a nod, as he is wonderfully understated as Julius Caesar. For once, the military hero is portrayed first as a statesman and only second as a general, making it an unusual portrayal. One can almost see how people would be suckered in by him: in public, he is the image of peace and reconcilliation, extending the hand of friendship to former enemies such as Brutus and Pompey. On the other hand, he coldly and calmly orders the assassination of his critics and allows trusted (and innocent) allies to go to gruesome execution merely to uphold his public image.

I should also mention that, while I'm not particularly enamored of the performance, James Purefoy's Mark Antony is interesting in that he is shown as his own man rather than simply the henchman of Julius Caesar. He has his own plots brewing, seeks always to acquire his own men loyal first to him, and even flirts with betraying Caesar when it might benefit him. It's a different take on an old character.

However, the most interesting performance of the entire show is given by perhaps its youngest regular: Max Pirkis as Octavian. In other shows, such as the wretched Empire miniseries from a few years back, Octavian is always shown as a weakling that somehow turns into a great leader through some unknown epiphany (magic?). It is well-established that Octavian was not the military man his uncle was, but I've never been satisfied with the ubiquitous depicition of him as a pansy-ass up until he became great. Thankfully, Max Pirkis chose to play him as a philospher-poet on the one hand, but with a keen eye for politics and an understated-but-very-real brutal streak on the other. It is often he that first determines the true nature of the political game, many times warning those around him of the impending pitfulls (though he's mostly ignored by the "grown-ups'). When Titus Pullo, who has been hired to teach him the art of fighting (I said these two goons got around, didn't I?), suspects Vorenus' wife of having a baby by another man, he goes to Octavian for advice. Octavian wisely counsels public discretion but to gather more information behind-the-scenes. His method for doing this? Kidnap the other man, take him to the sewers, and torture him until he confesses to fathering the child. When he has elicited the confession, he calmly orders Titus to kill him and throw him into the filth so that the body is never found. This then, is the makings of a man who will one day rule an empire!

OK, so I've probably written enough. In light of my last blog post, potential viewers should know that there is sex in the series, and it's of a more graphic nature than The Tudors, though most of it is done in the first two episodes. I guess HBO had to cynically suck people in before they started telling the actual story, so be cautious with the kiddies. Second, there are some historical inaccuracies. Actually, some of them are major and unexplainable, such as the subplot of incest between Octavian and his sister. The typical timeline expansion and contraction is back again, and of course, almost anything that happens with the Vorenus and Pullo is fake. But the general outline of the big events seems solid enough.

So overall I'd recommend the series. It's good enough entertainment and educational to boot. As soon as I have Tudors season 2 out of the way, I'll have to move on the second season of this one.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Load Screen... Not Today

Another two weeks... still a lack of updates. This time, however, it has not been for lack of progress. I've actually worked quite a bit and have often found myself choosing module-building over blog-updating. I guess I just wary of updates that are nothing more than reporting my new percentage completion.

But since I mentioned it, I am now just over 75% done with the dialog scripting, and I have completed all of the OnEnter scripts, some of which are a bit on the complex side. The village of Navatranaasu is supposed to have a population of around 120, but you won't meet most of them. There are 19 individual characters (as of right now) that come and go and have daily cycles, so they won't always be available to talk. Some are major and some are minor, but these represent the core that is necessary to solve the mystery of the village. When this core is fully tested, I may add another few ambient characters to provide a bit of flavor and increase the sense of "business" about the place.

So There's This Article...
I have also managed to finish the first season of Rome. I've been collecting my thoughts, but a review is coming shortly. Indeed, it needs to, because I just got my CDs for the second season of The Tudors, and I'm already through the 3rd (of 10) episodes.

Anyway, I was Googling The Tudors out of general interest, and I stumbled across the following article from 2007. I mention it here because both it and the readers' comments are the type of thing that generally piss me off. OK, so yes, it's the Daily Mail, and that should be my first clue to not take it seriously, but nevertheless... The title says it all: "Henry VIII: The glaring errors in BBC's sexed-up, dumbed-down Tudors."

The criticisms, both in the article and the accompanying comments, generally fall into two categories. First, there is gratuitous sex. Second, there are historical inaccuracies. Taken together, this equates to "dumbed down." Where to start?

First, yes, there is sex in The Tudors, but is it gratuitous? I suppose that's a matter of preference. On the extreme position, I could argue that any sex scene is gratuitous, as there are always ways to imply what is happening without explicitly showing it. I would also note that the sex shown in The Tudors pales in comparison to that shown in Rome. I could also argue that I'm pretty sure they did have actual sex back then, as the human race somehow survived to the present. But none of that matters if it crosses the viewer's threshold. All I can say is that it didn't cross my threshold, though I would advise those who are more sensitive to take caution.

The second criticism is more interesting to me. I noted in my review of season one that there were definitely inaccuracies but that the essence of the story was true. This was in stark contrast to a quote in the article from a "Tudor biographer" that stated that the essence was not true, so I read further to see exactly what inaccuracies so bothered the quoted authorities. The following is a summary of the main bones of contention I found.

Modern radiators, Tarmac driveways, concrete bollards and Victorian carriages have all made appearances in the tenpart series set in the 16th century.

The characters talk in completely unnatural ways, addressing their own family members as "Anne Boleyn" or "Mary Boleyn" so that we, the stupid audience, understand who they're supposed to be.

Henry VIII was exceedingly powerful, both politically and physically, but Rhys Meyers is pretty, rather than macho and thus completely unconvincing.

Henry had red hair, not black hair as this actor has...

Henry was a very discreet king; he would never have indulged in womanising openly. While he may have liked the ladies he would never have been so indiscreet - that is why there is so little evidence of his affairs.

Let's nail these one-by-one. First, yes, the series has made the choice to give the Tudors a distinctly anachronistic tone by using props more suitable to the 17th century instead of the 16th. This was made clear in an article about clothing, and it obviously is true for other items as well. By the way, some of the guns used are completely inaccurate too. I don't know that I agree with the artistic choice, but I don't see how stupid things like the carriage suspension system leads to a charge of "dumbing down" or how using the correct carriage would be so much more interesting.

Second, I remember one time that Anne Boleyn's father referred to her as "Anne Boleyn" when talking directly to her, and it did seem slightly awkward to me at the time, but I didn't notice it as a general rule. One time in ten hours is hardly cause for concern in my estimation.

I agree that Jonathan Rhys Meyers is completely miscast, at least physically, as Henry VIII. Not only is he too young for the events depicted, but he doesn't bear a resemblance to Henry at any time in his life. I have to believe that there's an actor somewhere in the U.K. that could have been a better fit, but again, does Rhys Meyers really cause that much angst?

Finally, the subject of Henry's discretion. At least this finally gets to something of his characterisation and so has a little weight to it. I also note that this criticism is made by Alison Weir, who actually is a name of note, though she is not without her own critics. However, we know of at least two mistresses of Henry's: Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, and this doesn't count mistresses who later became wives. Second, the series doesn't exactly show him cavorting in the open. At most, the series shows his friend, Charles Brandon, with knowledge of his affairs and maybe one or two others. Having the secrets known by a few members of the court hardly qualifies as indiscretion.

So I'm a bit perplexed. There are certainly inaccuracies in the series, some of which I noted in my review, but of all of them, why concentrate on such trivial details? The concrete paving, red hair, and supposedly open sexual liaisons? This is what incenses the "authorities?" How about the curiously compressed timeline? How about Henry's two sisters being merged into one person? Isn't there anything more meaty you can be upset by?

Some of the comments are equally funny. At least a couple viewers noted the problem with Henry's sister(s) and how the series shows her marrying the Portuguese king (she didn't), but others obsessed about the clothing, lack of red hair, and a generic lack of historical accuracy.

OK, enough. My point is that all of this criticism smacks of something that really irritates me about the historical profession: namely that anything that's not an outright documentary doesn't "ring true." If it's made to be entertaining, then it's dumb, cheap, or otherwise suitable only for the great unwashed who are too stupid to understand the truth. The whole thing smacks of elitism and the need for some to demonstrate how much better they are than others because they "get it" and we ignorant brutes don't. As many here know, I'm slowly working on my masters in history, and unfortunately, I get a lot of that attitude around some of my fellow class-mates. I guess it allows them to feel important in a world in which they're going to make minimum wage when they get out because they stupidly got a degree that private enterprise doesn't especially prize. Oh, I'm sorry. Was that snarky?

The real merit in a drama like The Tudors isn't that it examines the period from every possible angle. It's that it presents the material in an interesting way that both educates the viewer and might cause them to go ask someone more knowledgeable or do further research on their own if they really become interested - sort of like a gateway drug, but for history. In the end, they may not be Tudor experts, but they'll certainly know more than when they started.

In short, I've seen precious little in the noted criticisms that I would classify as substantial, and I stand by my earlier statement that the first season of The Tudors did actually "ring true." I'll see if I also think that about the second season after I've watched the whole series.