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.