Friday, October 15, 2010

The NWN2 Toolset

A couple posts back when I ruminated on my NWN2 future generated an interesting exchange that I thought I'd just make a whole post on.

nicethugbert started with:

Why did TMGS take so long? What tasks consumed the most time?

I responded:

Sorry, thugbert, didn't see your comment until now.

There are literally over 200,000 words of dialog in TMGS. That's the equivalent of a 400 page book, assuming 500 words per page. Thattakes a long time to write, edit, proofread, and so forth.

There were around 55 maps for the entire campaign, and the majority were exterior maps. Each exterior map can take a good two days of solid work to put together. That's two weekend days, not days where I just work a couple hours after my day job.

Testing and troubleshooting took a good six months. Each complete playthrough takes 20 hours including note-taking, replays to confirm, etc. And then you have to implement changes, do scenario testing, and so forth. Player choices early on really do filter through the rest of the campaign, and I'm not sure a player can really appreciate the extent of this on just one play-through.

nicethugbert responded:

Does NWN2 make any of this difficult? What I'm driving at is the quality of NWN2 as a tool.

Obviously, a 400 page book is a problem in itself and a modern word processor would be more help than obstacle.

I responded:

All I've worked with are the NWN1 and NWN2 toolsets. As far as exteriors go, NWN1 was far easier, but it also allowed far less customization of the area. I actually think the dialog editor is much better in NWN2 and allows for reduced numbers of overall scripts.

I do use a word processor for the first draft of almost everything I write. It's still a laborious process.

To clarify, I like the NWN2 toolset, but I haven't used anything else other than the NWN1 toolset. My general thought is that the NWN2 toolset is much more powerful and of an overall better quality than the one for NWN1. Yes, there were some odd behavioral bugs up front, but those seem to be gone now.

That said, I have no experience with any of the other toolsets, such as the one for DA. What I've read hasn't really inspired me, but I'm still mulling expanding into other directions. For now, I'm interested in any insights or experiences others have in this arena.

I do have a small announcement upcoming, but that comes later.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More Entertainment

Ossian News
I know many of you have already heard the news about Ossian's impending release of the Shadow Sun for iDevices. However, the first screenshots of the game were released yesterday, so head on over to the Ossian website for a look. I know that if the Shadow Sun is successful, the plan is to port the entire intellectual property over to the PC. I'm not aware of too many really big CRPGs in the works, so there is certainly the need for another.

TV List
While I continue to mull my NWN2 future, I've been catching up on lots of entertainment I've put off... or in this case, I've rewatched a series I first saw a few years ago. However, my latest guilty pleasure does have at least something to do with TMGS in addition to being a fascinating six hours of viewing.

First, I have an admission. I am a reality TV junkie. Not the truly horrid stuff like Flavor of Love or Megan Wants a Millionaire that literally melt your mind as you watch, but I do like shows like The Amazing Race and Survivor. On occasion, though, reality TV actually reaches a higher level and becomes educational as well as entertaining.

Enter Manor House - although I understand it's called The Edwardian Country House in the UK - in which a modern family and fourteen strangers now playing the role of servants move into an Edwardian-era mansion and return it to the life it had one hundred years ago.

So what's the connection to TMGS? Well, I first viewed this series when my parents gave it to me around 2004. I am forced to admit that the images stuck with me as I turned to my imaginings of the VanGhaunt Mansion and how it must have once worked. Of course, I knew that the mansion had to be largely decayed and empty today, but I wanted there to be the ghosts of something grander, something much more along the lines of what is depicted in Manor House. The layout of the VanGhaunt Mansion, most notably the inclusion of a dance floor, was inspired by the series. Casting Thess LeHugh in the role of a Lady's Maid, Jellica's memories of the grand balls of her youth, and the book outlining the kitchen operation all had their genesis in this series. Most directly, the Rules for Servants book found in one of the lower bedrooms was a direct rip-off of some of the information found on the series' website. Whereas Navatranaasu itself is more reflective of my interest in medieval history, the mansion itself is much more modern in feel, and that is most directly attributable to my memories of this series.

First, I see on Amazon that the DVDs sell for roughly 40-45 dollars. I wouldn't pay that, but if you have a local library or even NetFlix or a more reasonably priced digital download (legal, of course), it's definitely worth the time, although it isn't perfect. So having said all that, I'll review the series.

Manor House sees a modern family, the Olliff-Coopers move into Manderston House as a newly-lorded Edwardian couple. "Sir" John and the Lady Anna Olliff-Cooper are a businessman and ER doctor in the 21st century, but they are dramatically elevated in class for this series. In addition, their two sons, Jonty and Guy, and Lady Anna's sister, the unmarried Avril, also join in on the experiment. (Incidentally, during my Google Searches for this write-up, I learned that Jonty is now a "senior researcher" with some kind of Progressive Conservative think-tank in England, so he's obviously entered into politics in the nine years since this show. And no, I don't know what a "Progressive Conservative" is either.)

Meanwhile, fourteen others move in to fill the "downstairs" side of the upstairs/downstairs equation and assume every position from the butler at the top of the downstairs ladder to the scullery maid at the bottom. What follows is a intriguing look not only at lifestyles a hundred years ago, but also human psychology. It is both fascinating and horrifying to see how quickly people who are given so much come to both think of it as theirs and justify how they deserve it.

The Olliff-Coopers seem like they are a perfectly nice family and "normal" in almost every way... in the 21st century. Once back in the early 20th, however, they adapt a little too easily to the role of aristocrats. Sir John, of course, is at the very top, and it takes almost no time for him to pompously complain that the staff discipline isn't high enough. When he institutes punishments, the kitchen maid complains, only to then be told that it isn't proper for someone like her to talk to someone like him. In fact it isn't by the conventions of the day, but most of us in the 21st century would (I hope) have a problem actually saying that. Not Sir John, however. A month after becoming a lord for the first time, he is already entrenched in the mindset. In his private diaries, he confesses somewhat high-handedly that he isn't blind to his staff's plight, but what can he do? As he says another time, "if they're not serving him, they don't have jobs." To the end, he remains entirely blind, believing that his staff loves him as he loves them, and is literally in tears as he walks out the final day. Of course, those tears are for the loss of his staff not as people but as his servants. He opines that he alone of all the people in the house will be diminished in status when he leaves whereas all the rest will presumably raise in status when they return to the 21st century. He doesn't make clear as to whether he thinks his own wife will be diminished or raised.

Speaking of the Lady Anna, she is the most fascinating psychological study in the entire show. In the 21st century, she is an ER doctor with a high degree of literally life-and-death responsibility. Upon entering the house, she is reduced to augmenting the prestige of her husband. She spends upwards of five hours per day getting dressed several times, as she must wear different clothing at each meal. She has a Lady's Maid to prep the clothes and help her get in and out of the overbearing outfits (think corsets and endless skirts). Then there's the constant hair pampering, make-up and so on. All this so she can entertain her husband's guests by chatting them up in the parlor and... well, I'm not quite sure what else because the downstairs staff does all the cooking, cleaning, and serving. Her early comments on the absurdity of it all show that she is quite bored. And then...

It isn't long until this ER doctor finds herself entirely entranced by the fairytale. The endless dress-up sessions with a myriad of jewels and new hairstyles, once so tedious, soon become a joy. Whereas early on, she laments the loss of quality time with her youngest son due to the rigid separation of spheres of influence, this seems to stop bothering her later on. She admits as she lays in her bath - drawn for her by an overworked maid - that she has lost track of her youngest son and that she is sure he is with the servants downstairs. But her sole concern is that he will need to put distance between himself and the servants because when he inherits Manderston, he will need to give them orders... Oh, wait. It's all make-believe, and he will never inherit Manderston. Even she temporarily seems bemused at how quickly the fiction has become her reality! At another point, she remarks casually that it really isn't a chore to entertain at Manderston; even a grand ball is no problem... as the downstairs staff of fourteen have their normal workdays of 16 hours increased to 18+ just to get the extra work in. By the end, much like her husband, Lady Olliff-Cooper laments that she will need to return to the 21st century. "I am more at home in this time," she practically sobs. "All these other people will return to the homes when they leave here. I alone will be the one leaving my home." Oy, vey! This 21st-century highly-educated doctor who takes to her new role as a mere bauble on the arm of her husband like a duck to water will almost certainly make modern feminists cringe.

The downstairs staff are too many to go into detail for each, but the star of the entire show is undoubtedly the butler, Hugh Edgar, an international architect in real life whose grandfather was a butler. As the master of the downstairs servants and one of the few who actively engages the upstairs family, his observations are almost invariably the most interesting and the most prescient. One has the sense that he is at least the social equal of the family in the 21st century, but he takes to his new 20th century role with as much gusto as anyone. He seems determined to try to understand his own grandfather's life, and it is the insights he gains that are the most poignant. At one point, he mentions that his grandfather was intensely strict with the motto that children should be "seen and not heard" and "speak only when spoken to." A short while later after handling a disciplinary issue brought about by a 21st-century-inspired slight loosening of the rules, he turns to the camera and laments that he has made a most terrible discovery this day, for he finally understands why his grandfather had to be the way he was. Two sentences in a review don't do justice to the moment's pathos, but it was quite moving.

The other great personality among the staff is the temperamental French chef, Monsieur Dubiard, who creates his own fiefdom in his kitchen by terrorizing the kitchen and scullery maids. Slightly hunched-shouldered and wearing spectacles perched on the tip of his nose, he's almost stereotypical in his ranting and raving as he demands his stove be constantly kept hot or the footmen get the food up to the table before it gets cold. At one point, the egomaniacal chef learns that Sir John is complaining about the unendingly rich food and lack of any roughage - a diet typical of the day but one that is wreaking havoc upon his digestive track - and so Dubiard responds by literally cooking a whole pig in untold sticks of butter and serving it face towards the family at the next dinner. He merrily waves at the face and chimes that he'll "see you soon" as he closes the oven door on it. Sir John, for once unsure the 20th century is for him, complains that it's hard to eat when the beast you're eating is looking at you and promptly sends it back. As the show wraps up, the temperamental chef feels the need to confront Sir John just so he can call him a fraud.

The rest of the staff aren't nearly so interesting. There is a point where the hallboy, Kenny, and the scullery maid, Ellen, begin a romance but have to sneak around to keep it secret. Frankly, the whole thing gets tiring as does the general complaining by most of the servants. Yes, the conditions are horrible and yes, no one in the 21st century would work under them, but this is a one-off experience lasting only three months that I presume they auditioned for. In that case, they need to buck it up and do what's required.

And that, ultimately, is where the weakness of any of these kinds of experiments lies: namely it is very difficult to get modern people - at least those among the downstairs staff - to forget the 21st century. Their arguments about their "rights" and "fair labor practices" are all arguments we would universally accept today, but they'd be utter rot a hundred years ago. No manor of the day would have accepted such complaining and one suspects that virtually all of the junior staff would have been canned and living on the street at the time. The senior staff, including Mr. Edgar and Monsieur Dubiard, generally "get" the uniqueness of the opportunity whereas the junior staff generally does not. To be fair, however, the senior staff all have slightly more interesting jobs than, for example, the maids, who literally work 16-hour days vacuuming (by brush), polishing, mopping, and waxing. Personally, I think it would be interesting being a butler and trying to make a house of that size run smoothly. Being a kitchen maid... not so much.

The six-part series has a set-up and conclusion episode with the middle four episodes each focused on a grand event held at the mansion. A few minutes of each episode is used to explore the events of the day. Theoretically, time "progresses" from 1905 to 1914 during the three months, so the family and staff see papers detailing the death of Edward VII, the sinking of the Titanic, and Emily Davison's tragic demise at the Epsom Derby, among other things. Another few minutes are devoted to various participants' musings on what their lives are like or insights they've had. Most are interesting; a few are whiners that grate on me by the end. Finally, there's the inevitable drama that comes from nineteen people living in close proximity to each other.

The series is narrated by Derek Jacobi, who provides excellent insights into what may or may not have been appropriate or true for the day. Everyone doesn't play by the rules 100% of the time, so this is necessary clarification. I'll also note the main musical theme played mostly as each episode ends is both grandiose and haunting, evincing both the majesty of the house in its prime and also the faded grandeur of the house now one hundred years on. Otherwise, I didn't notice the music very much, and I suspect that large parts of the series had none at all.

One of my main bones of contention with the series, however, is the overwhelmingly negative view it takes of the past. Mr. Edgar at one point summed up the overall theme when he said, "[this society] was sick... and it was swept away!" Certainly, things today are better on balance, but it is a tremendous vanity for the modern person to assume there is nothing we can learn from the past. I won't go into my exact thoughts on the merits of 1910 vs. 2010 any further, but suffice it to say I thought it was unbalanced with only the scantest of off-handed comments during the participants' diary sessions in defense of the past.

The series ended with a couple nice touches. First, it posited a likely fate post-1914 for each of the participants given the immediacy of World War I and the enormous social change on the horizon. Although the viewer understands that all of these people are modern, they do help personalize a theoretical 1914-era mansion that would see many of its inhabitants dead on the fields of the Somme in short order. Secondly, as each of the participants leaves, they are transformed back into their modern clothing. It is nice to see these people we've come to know as they actually are in the 21st century, and the effect simultaneously serves as a sort of time machine to further illustrate the now faded history. Given his prominence in the series, it is fitting indeed that it all ends with the modern-day Mr. Edgar pulling the massive gates shut behind him with a forlorn smile, leaving Manderston a relic of the past once more.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reading List

First , my thanks to the responses to my last post that suggested various projects I might become involved with. I may take up some of those suggestions in the future, but for now I'm having plenty of fun taking it easy, at least regarding NWN2. I do have one small personal idea I might follow up, but I'll have to save revealing that until later.

In the meantime, I've been catching up on some reading. The last book I've finished is the latest offering from one of my favorite authors, Bernard Cornwell. The Burning Land is the fifth in what the author estimates will be a seven or eight-book "Saxon Series." I love these books, and if anyone out there is interested in historical fiction set in the Dark Ages, you should really try them out.

The series centers around a 9th-century warlord, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (modern-day Bamburgh Castle near Newcastle). At this time, there was no "England," but rather four major kingdoms - Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria - and several smaller autonomous entities. These kingdoms were originally (for this period) ruled by the Saxons, but eventually the Vikings came in droves, began settling in the country, and one-by-one began conquering its kingdoms. Within short order, all but Wessex had fallen, and even Wessex, the eponymous "Last Kingdom" of the series' first book, was beseiged on all sides.

In the first book, Uhtred is taken by his father, also called Uhtred, to aid the Northumbrian Saxons against the Vikings in the seige of Eoforwic (modern day York). During that seige, which finally doomed the northern kingdom of Northumbria, the elder Uhtred is killed and his son is captured by a Viking Jarl named Ragnar. For the next several years, the younger Uhtred grows up a Viking, learning their language, their customs, and their battle tactics. As a childhood friend of the warlord Ragnar's son, also confusingly called Ragnar, Uhtred eventually becomes accepted into Viking society and is a full-blown Viking warrior by the time he is twenty. During this time, both Mercia and East Anglia have fallen to the Vikings, leaving only a single kingdom in the hands of the Saxons. Thus does Uhtred as a young warrior come south to Wessex looking for plunder... an event that changes his life.

For it is there that he meets the last Saxon king, Alfred of Wessex. It is this relationship between an unorthodox king and a Vikinized Saxon that defines the rest of the series, and Uhtred manages to be involved in several of the major events of the day.

Overall, Cornwell manages to blend fact - at least what we know - with fiction amazingly well. He takes mere scraps of sentences or lists of names found in ancient chronicles and weaves an amazing narrative out of them that bring real life to dusty historical figures.

Alfred of Wessex - now called Alfred the Great - is comparatively unknown today, but he is a seminal king that preserved the island as a non-Viking land and was the first to truly have a vision of a united England, one land for all the Saxons. Unlike the other Saxon kings of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia, he understood the nature of the threat, was willing to use as many carrots as he did sticks in his diplomacy, and also instituted a number of military and civil reforms that ended up frustrating the Viking would-be conquerors.

He was also the first intensely-Christian English king, and many of his advisors - much to the chagrin of the pagan Uhtred - were priests and bishops. Further, he demanded that his nobility learn to read and write - another annoyance to Uhtred - but essential for clear communication by letter instead of relying on couriers to relay messages correctly. Finally, he was sick for most of his adult life, and he flirted with death on-and-off for several decades. All-in-all, Alfred was not the image of a king that could withstand the Vikings, but resist them he did, and better than anyone else.

I have some minor quibbles with Cornwell's depiction of Alfred, but overall I think he is fair, and he's certainly a compelling character. Other historical characters fare worse. Cornwell openly admits that he murders the character of Aethelred II, the King/Ealdorman of Mercia and one of Alfred's vassals. Aethelred comes across as weak, conniving, and intensely resentful of Alfred, his overlord and father-in-law. On the other hand, Aethelred's wife - and Alfred's daughter, Aethelflaed, is an amazingly complex character who starts in the shadows but eventually gains strength of purpose. Although she isn't there yet in the books, history tells us that she will rule Mercia alone after her husband's death. We can certainly see Cornwell establishing that strength as the narrative goes on.

Then there are the various real-life Viking warlords, with colorful names such as Guthrum the Old and Ivar the Boneless, that come and go throughout the narrative, and I am constantly surprised how even minor characters, such as a mayor of Lunden (modern day London) or a bishop in Alfred's court, turn out to be real historical figures. Bishop Asser, for example, is one of Uhtred's main antagonists in the novels, despite their ostensibly being on the same side.

Cornwell uses his fictional protagonist, Uhtred, simply to illustrate what would be typical for the era, for he shares many common characteristics with protagonists from some of his other series. He is, I admit,the kind of hero that guys would find more appealing than women - although "hero" might be too loose a term; maybe "antihero" is more apt. Uhtred thinks often of war, glory, treasure, and of leading legions of men. His primary dream is to one day be so rich and powerful and have so many warriors under his command, that he can return to Bebbanburg, storm the impregnable castle, kill his uncle (who took over after Uhtred's father's death), and reclaim his lands. His honor - in the form of oaths - is paramount to him. He curses and fights for the smallest of reasons. He beds down a series of women, most of them beautiful and few of which he cares for. He is an absentee father, although this isn't unusual for the nobility of the era, and he openly despises his eldest son, who he claims is weak and shows no inclination to war. He's a religious hypocrite. He openly mocks the Christian god and occasionally goes out of his way to torment his followers, but when he's in a tight space, he's not above throwing a quick prayer his way "just in case." He kills people in cold blood - even unarmed ones - simply because they lie to him or otherwise get in his way. He does all this and yet, somehow, Uhtred has just enough honor and "goodness" - not to mention a wicked sense of sarcasm - that I like him. Objectively, he sickens me and yet I can't help rooting for him.

Cornwell has really done a lot of research into the era, and never does he shine more than when he depicts battles. Whether the battles are major engagements, such as Ethandun, or smaller skirmishes between a handful of men, you can practically smell the blood, sweat, urine, and fear. If you want to know what it is to stand in a shield wall and stare down a hoard of Vikings, this is about as close as you'll get.

But Cornwell's historical detail extends beyond battles. His is a haunting description of Lunden, a city at this time replete with Roman architecture - the splendors of a bygone era - and thatched huts. There are humorous moments when the Britons admit they can't understand how the old Roman floor heating works... and so they just build a fire in the middle of the marbled hallway. Additionally, Cornwell gives vivid accounts of crossing the seas in a Viking longboat, and it's obvious that he's spent quite a bit of time researching the whys and hows of Norse seamanship. Architecture, agriculture, art, diplomacy... small historical details are thrown off seemingly at will as characters "in the moment" think of them as if they are normal, which for them they are.

Cornwell's writing style is not complex; it'll never be mistaken for Shakespeare, but it gets the job done. It's perfect for brain-candy. Or maybe slightly above; there is some educational value here - actually there's a lot of educational value here if you're the type to pay close attention to the details - but it can be equally enjoyed entirely as an action-hero story set in Dark Age Britain. In that sense, Cornwell's style is masterful.

For the record, the five books thus-far published in this series are (1) The Last Kingdom, (2) The Pale Horseman, (3) Lords of the North, (4) Sword Song, and (5) The Burning Land. Check them out; they really are addicting.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What's Next?

That's the question I've been asking myself recently. Since the main focus of this blog the last three years has been released, now what?

In the immediate future, the game's been played and commented on enough for me to have a pretty complete list of the remaining bugs and minor issues, and so I know a version 1.02 is coming. After that I confess I don't know.

I have a four to five page outline for TMGS II, and I spent quite a bit of TMGS I setting up some of the structure for that campaign, but I think I'm at peace with the fact that TMGS II will never see the light of day.

I spent basically three years and hundreds (probably thousands) of hours on TMGS I. That's longer than I took for all five parts of Saleron's Gambit... combined! Looking back on that fact, I have two thoughts. First, if I had known it would take that long, I would have never started. Second, it's painful thinking how much useful stuff I could have done with that time. Maybe that sounds more harsh than I intended it to; it's just that I occasionally get a bit reotrospective on what I'm doing with my life and that represents a lot of time I could have given to my family, friends, dogs, etc. It's a choice I simply will not make again.

So does that mean I'm "retiring" from modding? I'm not prepared to say that. In fact, I enjoy it too much to abandon it anymore than I would abandon any other hobby. It just means my projects - should I choose to engage in them - will be much smaller in nature.

So goodbye TMGS II. It would have been an epic continuation of the saga. Maybe one day I'll post a summary of my thoughts on where part II would have gone. Or maybe not.

So that's what's not next. But what is next?

Well, I'm sure many in the community have heard the news of Ossian's upcoming release. I've known about this for several months, but I now only know probably 1% more of the details of this than the average fan, and that only because I had a brief conversation about the history of certain technologies with Alan Miranda around the beginning of the year. I've no idea if anything we talked about made it into the game. While some fans have expressed disappointment with the game being limited to the iPhone, I am 100% sure that Ossian wants to port the world to a PC format. If they do, I'm willing to help. Indeed, there are some indications that I may have a small project for them in the near future, but everything is still very much up in the air regarding that.

In the absence of Ossian, I've found myself tossing around the idea of another group project - something similar to the Bouncy Rock Holloween module released a couple years ago - if only because that would limit my time commitment. There are a few ideas floating around the community, but all of them are moving in directions that restrict the imagination of the individual modder - as most group projects must do to be successful - but which ultimately dampers my enthusiasm.

So my best idea is to maybe release only very small modules, maybe something akin to a sidequest in one of my larger efforts, but that doesn't entirely satisfy me either. After the massive 15-hour campaign that is TMGS, how could I "settle" for a 1-2 hour module? But that doesn't make sense as a criticism because I started with the notion that I don't want another project the size of TMGS.

Then, of course, comes the nagging thought that there is only a very limited NWN2 community at this point anyway. And while that doesn't negate the enjoyment I get from modding, sharing those creations with others is kind of the point. So I've considered whether it makes more sense to switch to another toolset (say, Dragon Age)? I'm not sure there's much more audience there, although I would have to think that there is if for no other reason than DA2 is in development.

So I guess I'm saying I'm confused which direction to go... but then I've always thought that indecision is a kind of decision in its own right.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

TMGS Version 1.01 Goes Live

The tile says it all. All bugs reported to date have been fixed. I think the game should be darn near bug-free now... so if you haven't played it yet, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Maimed God Gets to 10+ Votes

Four days to get to 10+ votes. That's the first big milestone because it means TMGS should be in the main module list after tomorrow's update. Thanks to all who have played and left feedback/votes.

A few bugs - about 4-5 common ones - have been reported. It's annoying; not the reports, mind you, but the fact that I missed them. But then I'm forced to admit that even five bugs in a 15-hour campaign isn't attrocious. I've already fixed most of them in my home version, but I'm going to wait to get all the weekend feedback before wrapping it up and releasing the update. I'm also figuring out where the most common sticking points are, so that will help me update the hint sheet.

Thanks again to all.

Edit: And now I see TMGS listed on the right of the Vault screen in the Top 15 list, and the one that got booted off the list (i.e. the #15 module as of yesterday that is now gone) is... Mysteries of Westgate. That's a bummer...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Release!

Wow, it didn't take long for the Vault guys to get it all put together. The Maimed God's Saga is released. Download it here!

Submission

Last night, I submitted all files to the Vault - 1 day earlier than planned - so it's now out of my hands. I'm thinking two or three days until it shows up on the download list.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Estimate: Day R Minus 8

Tonight, my run-through of TMGS will end; I have only the final boss fight and the denouement to go. However, I've been fixing all the issues I've found as I go, so the list of things left to do after that will be very short. For the most part, I'm now playing with stuff as inconsequential as comma location in my dialogs, but I did find a couple odd events that only happen under very peculiar circumstances. So I should have all that done by tonight.

Tomorrow night I want to replay a sidequest and then fix whatever I find there. Saturday, I'll absolutely finalize all the extras and zip them up along with the music, movies, and hak pak. Sunday and Monday nights I'll devote to target-testing a couple specific situations. And Tuesday, I'll devote to ftp-ing the submission to the Vault. Give the guys there a couple days, and I'm estimating a release on Friday, August 20th.

Which makes today "R Minus 8 Day."

So those who have been waiting, clear your calendars next weekend.

To whet your apetite further, I'll give another example of the music for the campaign. There is a rather significant subplot involving a band of orcs, so this is the Orc Theme. As with all the other music, it was written by StrangeCat Productions. Enjoy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

All Done but the Testing

Big news. As of last night, I am done with everything regarding The Maimed God's Saga except the final testing. After a few starts and stops, the ending movies have been edited and added to the campaign. I've also added in all the music pieces (32 in total) and handled all the scripting for them. And now it's done...

Except I want to do a final play-through using a male PC and another with a female PC and then fix whatever I find. That means I have about another 50-60 hours of work on TMGS before releasing. So close!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Maimed God Intro Movie

I promised it, and here it is! I'm finally as happy with it as I can be given my limited 2D skills. I originally wanted something like the pages of an old book turning, but that would require more resources than I have. As it is, the sepia filter goes a long way towards giving the pictures an old-time flavor while actually bringing some consistency to the art. Incidentally, those of you with access to the D&D manuals may recognize some of the pictures; none of them are mine.

The music, as with all the music for TMGS, is by StrangeCat Productions.

A word about the music for TMGS. The composer may have also originally envisioned it, but I know I requested a heavy use of a chorus in the score. I originally asked for Gregorian Chant, which is primarily if not exclusively male, but that was then expanded to all ranges and genders. I have no reason to believe the Tyrran Church has music, much less that it features voices, but I think the sound of the campaign's music will evoke a religious "feel" in the average player of TMGS, and that's exactly what I was aiming for.

Two main themes are present in the movie. The first is the only one I actually wrote (and the composer was kind enough to put in.) It starts with the opening chant and is the core prayer/meditation theme. The second is Tyr's theme which starts at the frame showing the raging battle and was also featured in a track in a previous posting.

So without further ado:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Robin Hood

So everyone knows the basics of the Robin Hood legend, so I won't recount them here. One of the positives of the more recent Robin Hood movies is that they at least try to set it in the proper historical context. Compare this to the early movies such as the Errol Flynn version that were little more than dudes jumping around in tights. The Kevin Costner version clearly set the action against the backdrop of the Crusades, and the 2010 movie was set against both the Crusades (through a brief bit of dialog) and the early Plantagenet attempts to maintain the Angevin Empire. However,"try" is the operative word, as both movies mostly failed. As one reviewer said, Robin Hood: Men in Tights was probably the best Robin Hood movie of them all because it at least knew it was a joke.

OK, a short bit of background. The Plantagenet dynasty of England began with the ascension of Henry II, the thertofore Count of Anjou, to the English throne in 1154. If a count seems an unlikely choice to become king, Henry's mother was Matilda, who was the daughter of Henry I of England and herself fought a bitter civil war against her father's successor and her distant cousin, King Stephen. Stephen died without a living heir, and the younger Henry was then crowned. Henry II was then followed by his eldest surviving son, Richard I, in 1189 who was in turn followed by his younger brother, John, in 1199. These three kings - Henry II, Richard I, and John - are oftentimes called the Angevins (as in "from Anjou") to distinguish them from later kings in their dynasty because in the reign of John, Anjou was lost in the wars against the French kings. Thereafter, the English kings would (with only brief exceptions) no longer control their ancestral homeland.

As can be seen in the attached map, in addition to Anjou and Normandy (Normandy had been in the possession of the English kings since the Duke of Normandy, William, invaded England in October 1066), Henry also married Eleanor, the Duchess of Acquitane, and then the duo essentially conquered the Duchy of Brittany. Combined with Henry's early military pushes into Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, this all put an enormous amount of land under Henry's control, and this entity is now called the Angevin Empire. One can see why the French king, Philip Augustus, upon looking at this map in which one of his subjects controled over half of France while being backed by the military and financial resources of a separate and independent kingdom, resolved to break the Angevins and put the two entities on a course for war over the next several centuries.

So in the end, it was King John who lost much of the empire, and this is one reason, though not the only one, that he is normally considered a "bad" king while his elder brother and father are considered "good" kings. His father and brother gained and maintained the Angevin Empire while John lost it. In my opinion, it's an unfair criticism of John, as he ultimately suffered for his father's and (especially) brother's overextension of English forces, but it explains the basic backdrop of any Robin Hood story. Richard I is the good and just king while John is the corrupt and cowardly one.

With the background out of the way, there were a couple historical inaccuracies, such as the manner of King Richard's death, but the biggest problem was one that so many Hollywood films make in historical pieces and one that inevitably turns the films into utter dreck: namely anachronistic attitudes. This first creeps up in Robin's initial confrontation with King Richard. One night, the king walks around the camp to determine his soldiers' mood. He comes upon Robin and asks him essentially if he believes in the mission. Robin tells him no because of the massacre of the prisoners at Acre and that Richard's army is therefore damned by God...

Now does anyone believe a soldier in the late 12th century would think this way? Would anyone in the 16th century think this way? Yes, our 21st-century sensibilities balk at the cold-blooded execution of 2700 prisoners, but if any soldier in Richard's army thought the same way, he was 600-700 years ahead of his time. By the way, I'd say the exact same thing about any soldier in Saladin's army, lest anyone think there were significant differences in thought on this issue.

Then there was the whole Constitution/Magna Charta subplot. I'm a bit unclear as to what the movie was really trying to do here, but I'm guessing they were angling towards probably the only thing that the average modern viewer would know about King John: Magna Charta. Nevermind that Magna Charta was at the end of John's reign in 1216, not the beginning in 1199, but the interpretation was pretty daft. The movie shows the whole idea essentially spontaneously brought up by fields full of commoners who are being rallied by their local lords, but it's more anachronistic crap that should be saved for the 18th century. Unfortunately, Magna Charta is most often taught to American students as a sort of precursor to the Constitution, but this is a great disservice because it said virtually nothing about the commoners. Rather, it was initiated by the nobility as an attempt to curb the absolute power of the king and protect their own rights. It was a precursor to the Constitution only in that it theoretically broke apart rule by one man, but only then to allow rule by one man and a "Parliament" (yes, the term is anachronistic here) of a few of his most powerful nobles. A spontaneous eruption of the masses who yearn for their freedom? Give me a break.

Finally, the final battle on the beach was a bad joke. OK, I'm no military strategist, but even I know what was shown was diabolically bad. For those who haven't seen the movie, the French king has decided to invade England (btw, there's a nub of truth to this element, but nothing like what was depicted). The beach they land on is overshadowed by a cliff. As the French exit their boats and start to assemble, the English infantry and cavalry draw up at one end of the beach. The archers assemble on the cliffs and begin to pelt the French to great carnage and bloodshed. Then, for no apparent reason except that Russell Crowe needs some glory in some battle scenes, the English cavalry charge... even though the French army is being obliterated by arrows, are in total disarray, and have no chance of charging the archers due to their being on a cliff... not a hill, mind you... a cliff.

So the French army can be obliterated with no danger to you, or you can charge in like a jagoff. Now I understand that Russell Crowe needs to feel manly and simply sitting there while arrows finish off the army is pretty lame... but then it's his movie. Can't this crew construct a battle in a fictional movie, whose scenery you entirely control, to show the need for a cavalry charge? Dumb.

The truth is in that situation, the French army never would have landed. They may have put out scouts if the army was well-hidden, but hiding 5000 people massed on a cliff and another 5000 massed on a beach from a fleet out at sea with no visual barriers in the way is brutally difficult and would itself defy belief.

Assuming the French were dumb enough to get themselves in that situation, the English would never charge before the arrows were exhausted. In all medieval battles, the bane of armies was the inevitable shortage of arrows. It was a common tactic for each army to pick up the arrows of the enemy archers and fire them back. The great battle of Agincourt, famously won by the English archers, was nearly lost when those archers ran out of arrows and had to run out amidst the dead bodies to scrounge for whatever still-useable arrows they could find. Crecy, Poitiers, Hastings... any of a thousand battles from this era fit the mold. The movie could have shown the arrows running out and THAT necessitating the cavalry charge while the French were still recovering. That would have been easy, but no, the only rationale was the need for an epic climax. Again, dumb.

And then there was the grand PC moment of Cate Blanchett running out onto the battlefield with her army of little boys on "cute" ponies. Could there have been anything more 20th-century than this? If it had been Narnia, I'd have accepted it as part of the created world but not here. In real life, Robin would have laughed at her crew and told them to get the hell out of there, but then that would have meant Crowe would have needed to do something other that glare menacingly across the battlefield as he mulled his glorious charge, and there was simply no time for that.

And so, as I've said about The Tudors, of which I've been generally positive, I can forgive movies for incorrect facts. I'm far less forgiving for getting the "feel" wrong, and this movie was crap in that regard. I'd have thought better of the film if they'd dropped the commoners yearning to be free and instead dressed them all in Reeboks. It still would have been ludicrous, but I could have handled it better.

Now let's look at the merits of the actual artistry of the film. In case it's not clear, I'm not a big fan of Russell Crowe. I think he's a bastard in real life, and he's not a good actor. I thought he was great in Gladiator until I realized that was all he had, and Robin's essentially the same character just 1200 years later. Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, I generally love, but I can't help the feeling that she's checked out as Maid Marian. And the two of these budding lovebirds together generate enough heat to make fire freeze. I'd love to know what Blanchett was thinking when she signed up for this. Maybe she was drunk, but my advice to her from now on is to (1) read the script a second time before accepting a movie and (2) if it has Crowe, then it's a no.

Mark Strong as Sir Godfrey is really making a career out of being the Big Bastard in every film he's in (see also Sherlock Holmes and The Young Victoria). Honestly, I didn't care that much about him here. Again, they tried to make him bad because he's a traitor to his country (i.e. betraying England for France), but the whole idea of the nation-state is a modern concept. The movie had set up that he had personal ties with the Kings of France as well as England (not uncommon in this era), and in a feudal society, personal ties are far more important than the exact spot you were born, especially as members of the nobility often had land grants from all over the place in both England and France and often beyond. As I said, I didn't care.

One performance I did enjoy was Max von Sydow's Sir Walter Loxley, the land barron that adopts Robin after the death of his true son to prevent his lands from returning to crown after his own demise. Incidentally, this little plot device was one of the few from the movie that genuinely intrigued me. Anyway, von Sydow brings both humor and gravity to the role and provides some of the genuine high spots of the movie. Because he draws the viewer in with his performance, his death is the only one that brings genuine sadness, and I can't help but think that the old man blindly waving his sword against his attacker shows a great deal more genuine courage that Robin ever does. He also raises Blanchett's game in their scenes together, as she actually displays genuinely believable emotion in his presence. Mostly this is exasperation, but there is clearly a warm regard between them. Amazingly enough, Crowe almost attains acting respectability in their scenes together as well, as his bemused expression at von Sydow's antics show the first glimmer of something new... although, it may also be that Crowe is actually not acting at all, but rather is genuinely bemused at witnessing someone who can.

Oscar Isaac's performance as King John, once you accept the characature the movie makes of him, is also pretty good. Isaac turns from a groveling prince to a sneering and domineering king chillingly well. The whole performance would easily lend itself to total ham complete with hand-wringing and maniacal laughter, but he never goes over the top. Rather, Isaac's John is no stranger to charm when he needs it, and the fact that the audience feels there is a constant interior scheming behind the smiling exterior only adds to the character's menace.

Music? Check. Costumes? Check. Yup, the movie had them, but I can't remember much about them a month later. Take that for what it's worth. I do remember thinking that the green leggings from one of Robin's early costumes could have been taken straight out of Men in Tights. Maybe it's historically accurate, though I doubt it, but it looks ridiculous either way. The cinematograhy was good for the most part, but I can't forgive Ridley Scott, the director, for his diabolical set-up of the final battle. That's all on him.

So that's it. There were a couple good efforts from minor characters, but they can't save this dreck. It's anachronistic and has poor performances from its principals. Personally, if you haven't already seen it, save it for the 99 cent rental. It might be worth that.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Little Maimed Music

As promised, I have a couple of the pieces that will be in The Maimed God's Saga for general preview. There will be something on the order of twenty new pieces in TMGS, so it should sound quite different from other adventures. As a reminder, I have posted one bit of Verona's Theme before. Today, I'm going to post pieces with both deity's themes.

First up, we have a general piece that introduces a couple of the major musical themes of the module including Tyr's at about the 1:12 mark.



Second, we have the evil deity's "Doom March."



While there's a bit of work left, figuring out how to make the movies is the last thing I haven't done before. However, I think I'm pretty close with completing the opening movie. I've worked out the timing of the slides in relation to the music and now I just have to convert it to the proper format, so I think I'll be able to post that in short order. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Upcoming Flurry of Activity

Hi all,

There's not been much to say recently because... well, there's not been much to say. However, most of the music is now in. Most importantly, I have the music for the movies, so I can finally finish them up. Then I need to add them in, update the 2da with the new music pieces, integrate all the music into the adventure, and then do my final run-through. Lastly, I'll finalize all the documentation and release. There's a lot to do, but at least I'm back in control of the schedule.

I have several posts that will be coming out shortly. These will be - in no particular order:

1. A couple samples of the music
2. The starting movie (when I'm done)
3. A bit of news on the personal front. I've just returned from my summer vacation, so I'll add a couple pictures.
4. A review of the new Robin Hood movie. As a warning, I'm not going to be kind.

So after a couple slow months, there's going to be a lot going on here the next couple weeks.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not Much to Say

Hey all. Not much in terms of updates recently. For one, I've been traveling for work quite a bit recently. Second, I'm still waiting on some of the music, but I'm closing in on making the decision to just wrap the thing up anyway. One way or the other, I'm releasing in the second half of July. That decision is final.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Trinity

Since I'm now in wait mode for TMGS, I took the opportunity to play through Trinity, a module that first came to my attention when Alazander reviewed it a few weeks ago. Note that there are some spoilers below.

Overall I was incredibly impressed. In fact, the adventure was so much "my style" that I'm able to say very little negative about it. Sure, there was the occasional odd behavior and typo, but I'm genuinely hard pressed to find anything meaningful to criticize.

What impressed me most was what I gather the creators were trying foremost to accomplish: namely that the whole adventure felt as though it were a P and P session. This was accomplished by the implementation of several non-combat oriented challenges. The most obvious and impressive example is the floating stone bridge in the depths of Solaria, where different paths are available for different characters with varying strengths. There were other examples, of course, such as the copious use of secret doors, the use of ropes to grapple down cliffs, and there are probably others that I didn't see the first play-through.

The second truly impressive aspect of the module is the four different companions. I absolutely agree with Alazander's assessment that they were "well-realized without being extraordinary." They were well-realized in that each had a discernable personality and motive. Although one proved a traitor, I was actually more impressed by the one who chose not to return to collect the reward, opting instead to make off with one of the recovered artifacts rather than risk it being confiscated by the authorities. It somehow felt "real" to me that five heroes rode off on the adventure but only three returned. On the other side, they were "not extraordinary" in that none were over-the-top in the way that Minsc was in the BG series or freaks like so many in Planescape: Torment or even MotB. My only slight criticism is that the companion banter more often than not consisted of insulting each other, often in clever ways. That's actually getting tiring to me now, although I can't criticize it too much seeing as how I've all-too-often fallen into the same pattern in the past as well.

A third aspect I appreciated was the ecology of the dungeon. I can think of only five creatures (or groups of the same creatures) that live normally in the dungeon of Solaria. By the time the party gets there, there are some other adventurers that have wondered in, and the dungeon boss does summon some additional undead minions to help defend its home, but on a normal day only those five live there. This is in (I think) five maps worth of dungeons. In between these combat encounters are the various tricks and puzzles I referenced earlier. I still believe - and this is something I strive for in my own adventures - that "blank space" makes the occasional combat all the more exciting and dangerous, and if that blank space is made otherwise interesting as it is here, you have the makings of a really first-rate dungeon.

There was also an obscene amount of custom content, so the entire game felt fresh at every turn. There were new tilesets, placeables, heads, backpacks, and music, although much of the music I recognized from other sources. Nevertheless, this is minor in my opinion; after all, all the eye-candy in the world won't help an otherwise boring module. As it is, Trinity has so much going for it that the eye-candy forms the cherry on a magnificent sunday.

Additionally, the area design was first-rate. The outdoor areas were beautiful (proving that every module team has someone with a better eye than I have), although I thought the forests proved a bit too restrictive in their allowed movement. The interiors were well-realized and - most importantly - interesting, as I have already mentioned.

The writing was the one area that didn't really stand out to me, although it also didn't stand out in a bad way. It was fully competent and got the job done. I will say that I was impressed by the game design in that there were numerous choices that I gather affected the final outcome. Most noticeably, there is a final confrontation that appears to allow a lot of flexibility as to how the entire module will be resolved. I'm guessing you can go all the way from full-fledged traitor to stalwart hero - I chose stalwart hero - and even several shades in-between. That's top-notch.

So overall I agree with Alazander that Trinity feels very close to a professional-calibre module. I'd already pay for it as-is, but add a little VO and knock out the few small remaining points that need polish, and it would be a no-brainer. If it seems like I'm gushing, I am. As I said, this adventure is exactly my style. The best compliment I can give Trinity is that I will definitely be playing it again in the very near future, if for no other reason than to see all the things I missed, and that's something I say about very few modules.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Checklist

Playthrough - DONE
Personal Notes Addressed - DONE
Beta Feedback Received - DONE
Beta Comments Addressed - DONE
Music Received - IN PROGRESS
Music and Movie Integration - NOT STARTED
Final Playthrough - NOT STARTED

My beta testers proved quite valuable in rooting out some odd bugs resulting from a play-order I'd never think of as well as odd behavior from different machines. I've received about ten pieces of music in their final form thus far and there are at least a few left to go. I also realized that, because each of the companions has different music, I'll need to replay the campaign two more timed to make sure all of it's in place. At this point I'm not sure I'll make my May 1st goal.

Next time I'll post one of the new pieces, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pulling into Station

The title comes from a realization I recently had. I need to finish TMGS. I'm sure there are still going to be some small issues, but I'm to the point where the time I'm devoting to this game could be better spent elsewhere, so I'm wrapping it up. Here's the schedule.

I just finished another play-through this past weekend. Fortunately, I've been correcting most of the issues I found as I go this time, so there are only about 30 or so more to do. There will be some targeted testing with some of those items. Then I'm waiting on two more reports from beta-testers, and I'll address whatever they come up with. After that, I have to incorporate the music whenever that comes through, although I've been told it will be March. When all that's done, I will personally do one final, but thorough, play-through to convince myself it's all properly integrated, and then it's time for release. I think a conservative estimate would be about May 1st, but that's dependent on the music coming in March.

People may be wondering how I can play so many times and still come up with 150+ issues every play-through. The answer is that there are over 200,000 words of dialog in this adventure, and several tens of thousands more in the journal, item descriptions, creature descriptions, etc. Also, as in the SG series, many of my quests have multiple ways of completing them, and then there are consequences later on for if you complete a quest one way or another although some of these are so subtle that I'm probably the only one that would realistically notice. There's even differences based off which companion you have. As I've said before, the two have very different personalities and so will notice different things or give different advice in certain situations. Every time I play through I try different choices and that means that inevitably a bunch of items pop up that need more polish. This last time through, I took the personality of an aloof, uncaring protagonist who was oft-times rude to the companion, and it was the first time I had chosen most of those dialog options.

By the way, assuming about 300 words per page, 200,000 words is the equivalent of a 667 page novel, and that's without the journals, etc. And man, it feels like I've written that much! Good thing I didn't know it would come to that when I started, or I never would have. But don't worry everyone! No one will read nearly all that in a single play-through!

My Little Poll
The poll came out exactly as I thought it would: overwhelmingly in favor of the bug staying in. Someone in the comments suggested possibly removing the bugged feature, but there's a major problem with that. You see, I tried to describe the feature enough for people to understand how it would be used in the adventure so that they could vote appropriately, but not enough to spoil the surprise it's used for. Suffice it to say that if I got rid of that aspect, I'd just have to chuck the whole project in the garbage. We're talking a MAJOR plot point here, so it simply cannot be disregarded.

When I came up with the original novel-to-game conversion (recall that TMGS was supposed to be a novel at one point), I knew that we could access a character's spells via scripting because of my work on the SG series, so I kept the idea in the story and built the entire adventure around it. It was only during testing that I realized (accidentally) that getting to the Domain spells is bugged. Very annoying, but it's in now and not going to change.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Misery Stone

As I mentioned last time, I took a short break from TMGS and played through Bouncy Rock's Misery Stone. I was impressed to say the least.

The signature aspect of Misery Stone is, of course, that it takes place in Ravenloft, the Demiplane of Dread, and this leads to an unremittingly dark feel that is well-realized at every moment. The maps are mostly well-done with an eye for detail I lack (but can appreciate), and the color desaturation feature is used to great effect. Sometimes, it seems that the only non-gray that can be seen is the red of the copious amounts of blood that flow through the storyline. This world of gray and red might sound dull and it wouldn't work in most other adventures, but the Ravenloft setting means it's perfect.

The storyline and writing are also strong points. Everywhere one travels on the island, one finds only death and decay. Numerous mini-adventures all wrap up into one cohesive picture of a petty lord gone mad and terrorizing the people who live under his rule. The insane asylum is well-realized as is an extensive dwarven stronghold, both of which have now fallen into decay. And the town of Misfield with its mechanical people that literally burst apart when spoken to is dreary and depressing.

The three companions are a further strength, as each has a well-developed backstory and motivation for traveling with you. In short, you are all trapped on the island under the thrall of its dark lord, and you all have the same ticket out: namely the defeat of the lord. There has been some criticism that the companions fall a bit mute later in the game. While this is true to an extent (but by no means completely), I don't think it's particularly a failing. My opinion is that, as the climax approaches, I'm not exactly keen on philosophical discussions with my allies. Once the stage is set, I'd rather just allow the act to proceed UNLESS some kind of twist in the plot necessitates a new set-up. This isn't the case with Misery Stone.

At this point, Jonny Ree has done so much fantastic modeling work that it would be easy to just gloss over this aspect in a review, but we really shouldn't. Jonny has established himself as the preeminent 3D modeler in the NWN2 community for good reason. The new beholder, drider, and werewolf models are all as good as or better than the game's official models. I even enjoyed the retexturing of the normal horse model to make the zombie horses in Brom's barn. Really, the new creatures stood out in just about every respect.

And the new creatures are only a small part of the custom content for the module. There are new heads for the companion and main villain, several new placeables, some new effects, and a couple new feats (I think) for one of the companions. A custom cave tileset is also used, though I'm not sure if Bouncy Rock created that one, and I believe there's some retexturing of some of the existing tilesets. If this last point is not true, then the area designers did an even better job in making the game feel fresh and new than I already gave them credit for.

The game featured several new music tracks, most of which were between decent and good. Sadly, the only one I can remember is a rock theme used sparingly for battles. Most battles utilize more traditional battle music, so when the rock theme comes, it's jarring and out of place. There is a valid stylistic reason to use rock themes for battles (though it's not one I would ever make), but I think the game really should either use all rock for combat or none. As it stands now, it's just odd.

The loot, especially the Dark Warrior items acquired from the six crypts in the cemetery, was a bit overpowered and made several of the final fights, including the game's boss fight, too easy. Other than those six items and a suit of +5 plate acquired off the corpse of a death knight, however, I thought the loot was appropriate for the level.

My only other nitpick is ironic considering my last point. I chose a starting character of Fighter 6/ Weapon Master 3 with my weapon of choice being a battleaxe. The opening scene allowed me to purchase a +1 battleaxe. Then I played the whole module looking at a variety of +2 and even some +3 loot of nearly every conceivable weapon come up (quarterstaff, sling, HALBERDS). But no battleaxe, so because that was my Weapon Master's weapon of choice, I ended up completing the game with my same old trusty Battleaxe +1. But they really need to give the battleaxe some love.

BUT these are all nitpicks. Overall, Misery Stone was a triumph on every level.

You Should Vote, But I Won't
So why don't I go vote on Misery Stone? A short story will suffice.

I remember when the NWN2 campaign came out, I criticized the companions (outside Khelgar, Neeshka, and Sand) for being boring and one-dimensional. Even these three, I said, had stereotypical elements that didn't really make them stand out. I was then informed by one of the community fanboys that, "the next companion I write that's as good as Khelgar will be my first." Now, there are numerous comebacks I could (and did) make to such a vapid point, but the core idea was clear. Somehow, as a module author, I am unable to critique other work because any such critique implies to some that I'm saying I could do better. Interestingly, the original snooty fan didn't apply the same standard to himself. Did criticizing my companions imply that he could do better? Of course not.

But just because it doesn't make logical sense doesn't mean people still don't think that way, so I'll just recuse myself from the voting. BUT, I encourage everyone else who plays to let your voice be heard. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes, but in this case I can live with that.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Limbo

I finished up my last play-through and have already addressed the 120 or so notes it generated. That's a significant improvement over the ~180 from my last play-through, especially seeing as how the vast majority of the notes this time were text formatting, a couple typos, and rewording in various dialogs. I also managed to wipe out a couple nagging bugs that had defied all previous efforts to fix them, including the odd area bug I discussed last time. Thanks, Starwars, by the way, as your suggestion seems to have done the trick.

So now I'm waiting on a few things. First, I have feedback from another beta-tester that's incoming. Then there's the music. After I get all the pieces, I'll need to edit the music 2da, add the pieces to the different areas and dialogs, and finally integrate the movies. Then I'll want to test it all again.

I'll probably run through the entire thing again before the music comes anyway, but it's getting tougher and tougher to be motivated to play the same 18-hour campaign for what would be my 10th time or so, not to mention all the partial run-throughs I've done.

My thought is that I'll take a break, maybe try the recently-released Misery Stone to get my mind on something different, and then come back to TMGS.

That's the big picture. However, a somewhat serious issue arose during my last play-through regarding domain spells. Apparently, the engine has a difficult time determining if the player has any memorized. This introduces potential bugs that can't be fixed by anyone but Obsidian - and they're not exactly frothing at the mouths to work on NWN2 anymore. You see, I have numerous points where the game is supposed to determine if a player has a spell memorized, allow certain actions if so, and then decrement the number of times the spell is memorized. It works perfectly for normal cleric spells and even for wizards, druids, and other spell-casting classes, but it goes all to hell if that spell happens to be a domain spell.

After banging my head against the wall for days on end, there appears to be nothing I can do about it. The bug is just going to be in the game I guess, and it's going to piss me off to have near-continual "bug" reports that I can do nothing about. I have begun to even think about editing the domain 2da so that no domain spells at all are available. That would end the bugs, but it would overpower those domains that grant extra feats instead of extra spells. I've even thought about wiping out the domains period for the campaign, but that obviously goes against established D&D rules. There's really no good solution here I'm afraid.

So now that you know my dilemma, feel free to vote on the sidebar. I have a feeling I know which way the poll is going to go, but I'll formalize it anyway.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Big Surprise That Wasn't

Well, I'm flying through my latest testing of TMGS, and I’m reasonably pleased with the number of notes I'm taking of things to correct. There's virtually nothing left that would constitute a real bug, and I'm still well below 100 comments while being a ways into Act III. Nearly every note I've taken can be handled quickly.

My two beta testers, however, both came up with a rather nasty bug. Specifically, two small interior maps in Act III cause the game to crash in some instances. After examining the error logs, it appears that the problem isn't with the module or even with NWN2, but rather with the NWN2 call to the MicrosoftVisual Studio 2005 runtime DLL, probably during a screen draw. I'll need to hunt down exactly what the issue is, as the fact that both of my beta testers ran into the same problem is probably a sign that I'm in for a lot of grief when it's released to the general public. Funny enough, neither I nor Alazander had this issue, so it’s not universal, but there’s definitely some hardware or software configuration that doesn’t like those two maps.

Note that if anyone out there is a wiz at external API invocations and thinks they can help me track down the exact issue, I'd appreciate it. I've got both error logs.

Once I track that down, I should have a very polished version. However, I'll have plenty of time to continue testing because in what was the worst-kept big surprise of all time, I recently agreed to collaborate with StrangeCat Productions on custom music for TMGS. The process was initiated early last week, but I'm already excited about the results. I've posted a small snippet of Verona's theme (the love interest for male PCs) below.

Also, I managed to find enough pictures of a similar style on the net to make start and ending movies viable. I’ll be sure to post the start movie as soon as the music for it is ready.

So these two developments mean that the final production will have the far more professional feel I was originally hoping for. Things are looking up!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Alaska is Cold in January!

The title may seem obvious, but first-hand experience is an eye-opener regardless. I have just returned from my (hopefully) last business trip to Alaska for a while, but this one just had to come in January. I will say that -35 degrees F (-37 degrees C) with no wind feels a LOT warmer than even -5 degrees F (-20 degrees C) with a 5 mph wind!

Then there was this poor bastard. It wasn't the worst I saw, but it was the worst I saw when I had a camera handy. I can't believe people actually agree to live like this full time, but I guess the world needs all kinds. On Saturday, I woke up to -25 degrees F in Fairbanks, AK, and ended up in 75 degrees F in Melbourne, FL. That means I actually made up 100 degrees in a day. Crazy.

Maimed God's Saga
One of the benefits of my week in Alaska was that I returned with renewed fire to wrap up TMGS. I just received the detailed feedback from my first beta tester, and there are several small issues to handle. However, his wrap-up comment was as follows:

Can I also note I think is is a much stronger piece of work than the SG series despite the character restriction. By the end I was thoroughly enjoying playing the priest character!


I'm currently waiting for the feedback from my second tester, but he seems to be near the end.

In other TMGS news, I have an exciting announcement coming up, but I want to get a little further in before I reveal exactly what. If it all works out, it's going to be cool.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Preliminary Maimed God Business

The World of TMGS
Juan's question in my last post leads me to remind people what the map of the Maimed God's Saga Campaign looks like. As he remembered, the world map was indeed made using the Civilization III toolset, as I revealed in this post. The overall map has not changed since then.

The campaign starts in the center of the map at the village of Riverford, then moves to Navatranaasu, and then moves to the area around Waterdeep. To be clear, the map has a colorized insert of the area around Navatranaasu.

Character Creation Guide
The starting level for TMGS is 6. Enough XP will be given at the beginning of the module to bring the character to the player's choice of between levels 5 (for those who like a challenge) and 7 (for those who like it easy). However, I know there are some who like to take a character all the way from the beginning, which means you'll need to find a suitable adventure for levels 1-5. For those who are ready to start getting their character ready now, I've uploaded the character creation guide here.