Monday, October 22, 2007

Mysteries of Westgate

I wanted to send out congrats to Alazander, Hugie, Challseus, Tiberius209, Maerduin, and everyone else from Ossian about the recent announcement of their upcoming module, Mysteries of Westgate! It sounds like it's going to be nothing short of spectacular, and I'm looking forward to seeing materials from it. It must be incredibly gratifying for individuals in that company to finally have been able to produce something that will actually result in a cash return...especially in light of the premium module debacle of '06.

Also have to say that I much prefer the "adventure pack" descriptor to the term "premium module." :)


As for me.. Well, what can I say? I just haven't had much time or interest to devote to anything NWN2 related for a while now, except for a fairly brief return last month. This includes a complete lack of progress, very unfortunately, on my Vault review of Ryam Baco's module, which is pretty poor form on my part--first time I've ever really sat on a review, and I'm feeling like a pretty bad person for it.

I don't have the NWN2 expansion pack yet, and I'm honestly not really feeling the urge to get it. I'm excited to hear about some of the modules that have come out lately, and are coming out soon, but at the same time I'm not feeling much motivation to get out there and play them. Hopefully things will improve in a few weeks when the World Series ends (I'm rootin' for the Rockies, in case you're interested...After '04, Boston is now just another rich team from the northeast). But at the same time, I don't have a ton of free time, and I want to spend it doing things that I'm excited about. Lately, that's mostly been baseball, as well as a few Wii/Gamecube games (recently picked up Tales of Symponia used...not sure if I like it yet...story seems intriguing and the art is nice, but it might require too much twichiness to be enjoyable).

Anyway, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to find myself back in the den playing NWN2 modules sometime in the next few weeks. But at the same time, it also wouldn't surprise me for it to be a while before I pick it up again. We'll see.

Thanks for visiting. I will try to continue to keep this space active, whether I'm posting about NWN2 or otherwise.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Maximus reports on his trip

Maximus has posted a report of his trip over to Obsidian a week or so back to check out Mask of the Betrayer. He also links to one by the tileset gurus at Robinson's Workshop, though I haven't had a chance to read that one just yet.

Interestingly, Rogue Dao studios also had a chance to demo their upcoming module at this meeting. I've long been a fanboy of the Planescape setting, and from Maximus's description, and everything else I'd seen from it, it really sounds amazing. I'm actually much more excited about playing their module than the actual expansion campaign... In fact, I'd probably be willing to hold off on purchasing the explansion to see if I could snag the expansion as a Christmas gift, except that Rogue Dao's module will require the expansion!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Night Howls in Nestlehaven

Below are my comments on Nestlehaven. It's clearly among the best modules yet produced for the Vault. If the sequel can fulfill the promise of this first effort, we could be in store for something very, very special. It's exciting to see content like this coming out for NWN2--it shows much of the tremendous power of this modding engine while living up to the rich history of story and setting than we have in the NWN community. It most certainly falls into the "must have" category of NWN2 mods, and I've only said that about one or two other modules...
My Vote: 9 - Outstanding, A Must Have
Character: lv. 9 human neutral good cleric from Keep on the Borderlands, advanced to lv. 13
Module Version Played: jul20a6

Night Howls in Nestlehaven borders on groundbreaking, at least for the still-young NWN2 modding community. The crowning accomplishment of this module is the realization of Nestlehaven as a living and breathing town. Jackyo123's Nestlehaven has a rich history dominated by two ruling families, the Boroldi (who wear blue) and the Bellerose (who wear red). The two families are evenly matched and have an arrangement to share power within the city. But it is an imperfect arrangement between two very proud houses, and the result is a history of tension that periodically boils over into genuine feuds. Now is one of those times, and the player character is invited by Nestlehaven's constable to help solve the mystery behind a series of gruesome murders that nearly have the ruling families at each others' throats.

The Capulet vs. Montague-esque split between the families dominates almost every aspect of the town of Nestlehaven. Most residents are allied with one of the two families, and they wear their affiliations on their sleeve--literally--by wearing their family's colors. In fact, in what I thought was a masterful stroke by the author, the citizens go so far as to paint the roofs of their homes to match the colors of their chosen families. The result is a town that feels divided, yet at the same time, tied together by their richly intertwined history.

Much of the first half of the module has the player exploring the streets and buildings of Nestlehaven, which feel alive thanks to a tremendous amount of detail. Commoners, many of which are customized well beyond the level we typically see in modules, move about the city muttering their opinions about current events. Many, if not most, buildings are enterable despite being unrelated to any of the various main quests and side quests (as an aside, while my character felt right at home in this mod, I think it would actually be best played as a chaotic mercenary-type, rather than a do-gooder, so that one would feel liberated to explore/plunder all the various private residences that one can explore). And there are wonderful variety of interesting minor encounters, both violent and pleasant, that one can experience while one explores the town. There are only a few modules for NWN1 that were able to create such a palpably alive city for you to explore...and they often were among my favorite modules, including Cormyrean Nights, Threat of Dreams, and Almraiven, among others. And there's nothing else like it available for NWN2, official campaign included.

All that praise actually leads to my primary critique of the module. While the setting of Nestlehaven is fabulous, and sets up a wonderful opportunity for political intrigue and espionage, it ultimately felt a bit tangential to the main storyline. In fact, while the first half of the module will have you exploring the many interesting locals within the city, most of the second half of the module has you either fighting baddies in the surrounding forests or trudging through the many dungeons underneath Nestlehaven fighting all manner of demons and undead. The only time one has a serious encounter with the leadership of one of the ruling families is during a bizarre mandatory fetch quest, which felt a bit tacked-on. Furthermore, what starts as a very open-ended module becomes almost railroaded in its linearity near the end. The main story itself isn't bad by any means, and is generally well-executed, but it seemed a bit generic...especially when laid in contrast to the potential richness of the feud between the two ancient houses. It's not the case that main story has nothing to do with the families. It's just that it feels like more could be done to take advantage of the fabulous potential conflict that the author created.

There is a LOT of fighting in this module. It's not really repetitive, because the author does a brilliant job of creating customized enemies--not just his customized and creative monsters, but even the various "thugs" and "guards" that you'll meet have individualized equipment, looks, and character descriptions, with few duplicate individuals to be found. However, I thought that most of the encounters "felt" like boss battles, often with 6-7 foes that one has to cope with at once...and this resulted in my party spending a bit more time in combat than I found enjoyable, especially during the last hour or two of gameplay. Furthermore, many of the actual boss battles felt a bit anticlimactic, probably because of the elaborate fights against the various squads of minions.

Fortunately, my party of 5 was always up to the task. I found combat to be well-balanced for my lv. 9 cleric, though I did play on normal difficulty most of the time to offset her low level. Blasting away with lightning and fireballs without friendly fire may be cheesy, but it makes combat a lot more fun for me--and makes fights go by a lot quicker. There were only one or two times when it probably made the combat easier than the author intended.

Critiques aside, this is a fantastic module. And as first modding efforts go, this is among the most impressive I've ever seen. The attention to detail here is mind boggling, the setting is fabulously realized, and I can't wait to see what happens in the sequel. After all, this is just the first chapter in the story, and the author clearly has a plan for where this is going. Many of the encounters in this mod, for example--especially those with the ruling families--clearly foreshadow more interesting encounters and plot development still to come. I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks for the great module!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Back in the Saddle...

Tonight I finally got back in game! I needed a bit of a break, and my gaming time has been filled with Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy VII, Super Paper Mario, and a healthy dose of Out of the Park Baseball '07. They all offer something different...but like I always do, I'm finally back to playing Neverwinter mods! :)

Anyway, I spent a good couple of hours with Nestlehaven tonight. I think I'm finally approaching the end of this module. It's strange--jackyo's module is among the best I've played for NWN2, and is ranked the highest of any NWN2 module by public voting. And yet it was while playing it that I decided I needed my break! :) I don't think that reflects on the module, actually, but more was a chance bit of timing--I'm prone to the impulsive and compulsive whims, and when the Wii bug hit, there was no resisting it until I got my fill. It also didn't help that we had relatives visiting for a week, and they stay in the computer room...

The good news is that there are a ton of new modules out to play! Here's my rough gaming schedule as of right now:

1. Finish Night Howls in Nestlehaven ~2 hrs left(?)
2. A Corpse, A Vote by Christian Mayr (I may take the Vault review of this one if it's still unclaimed) ~ 3 hrs
3. The Zelbross Affair by seryn ~4 hrs
4. Pool of Radiance Remastered 2 by Markus "Wayne" Schlegel ~6 hrs
5. Dark Avenger by Wyrin ~3 hrs
6. Tomoachan by Enoa4 ~4 hrs
7. Moonshadows, Ch. 1 by Hugie ~10 hrs
8. Conan Chronicles by John McA ~4 hrs
9. Tears of Ilmarid 1 by Hohiro Kurita ~4 hrs
10. Corruption of Kiahoro by human_male ~12 hrs

And then we'll see. :) That alone is ~40 hours of gameplay. Who knows when I'll work in Mask of the Betrayer! And there's still the matter of updating the character creator at some point as well.

As I've been saying for years, so many mods, so little time! But this fortunately means that I'll have lots to write about here in the future. Thanks for hanging in there folks--I've finally got my urge to play back, so I should start being able to produce some of the content I used to be able to do on a more regular basis.

Update: I forgot about Pool of Radiance 2! That's actually a pretty high priority one for me, so I stuck it just ahead of some of the most recent releases.

Friday, September 14, 2007

MOTB / Subtlety of Thay

In what was a surprise announcement to me (at least), Maximus posted tonight--after what apparently was a special Obsidian event for key community members--that Mask of the Betrayer has gone gold! Ship date in the US is scheduled for October 9th, which is less than a month away! I really had no idea that it was so close at hand. It really is pretty cool that Obsidian allowed folks like Maximus to get the word out prior to the official announcement.

With Mask comes a host of new monster models and other toolset goodies that should be a real boon for our community, which continues to churn out excellent-looking modules--including Enoa4's recent release of Tomoachan, and Hugie's soon to be released first chapter of Moonshadows!


Also, in what was a freaking massive oversight, I neglected to highlight the induction of dirtywick's Subtlety of Thay into the Hall of Fame. SoT is among the top three or so modules available for NWN2, so he deserves all the kudos in the world for his induction. Here's an excerpt from my comments about his module:
Subtlety of Thay is a tremendous module that is easily among the top two or three mods I've played thus far for NWN2. It has a wonderful story. What begins as a simple fetch and retrieve quest becomes a problem of epic consequence, ultimately causing one's character to play a pivotal role in a conflict between two nations. That might sound a bit generic, but the details of what happens are very creative and engaging. There are a variety of interesting and well-developed characters that are deftly interwoven into the story as you progress through the module. Several of them become companions, at least for a time, and there is a great deal of well-done banter between party members, as well as between the PC and these NPC's. The plot is executed very well, with excellent pacing and good justification for almost everything that happens. The story is generally linear, especially once you get past the initial quest. That said, I almost never found that it felt railroaded, because the need for an urgent course of action was always justified by the story.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Arcane Scholar

The main feature in this week's update at Rob McGinnis's NWN2 blog is a feature on the arcane scholar prestige class. Here's the lowdown on the requirements/features of this class:
  • Skills: Spellcraft 8 ranks.
  • Feats: Empower Spell, Skill Focus (Concentration), and Skill Focus (Spellcraft).
  • Spellcasting: Able to cast 3rd-level arcane spells.
Class Features
  • Hit Die: d4.
  • Base Attack Bonus: Low.
  • High Saves: Will.
  • Weapon Proficiencies: Arcane Scholars gain no weapon proficiencies.
  • Armor Proficiencies: Arcane Scholars gain no armor proficiencies.
  • Skill Points: 2 + Int Modifier.
  • Class Skills: Appraise, Concentration, Craft Alchemy, Diplomacy, Lore, Search and Spellcraft.
  • Spells Per Day/Spells Known: When a new Arcane Scholar level is gained, the character gains new spells per day (and spells known, if applicable) as though he had gained a level in whatever arcane spellcasting class gave him access to 3rd-level arcane spells. If the character has more than one applicable arcane spellcasting class, he must pick one to improve.
  • Bonus Metamagic Feats: At 1st level, the Arcane Scholar gains the Maximize Spell feat. At 5th level, he gains the Quicken Spell feat.
  • Spell Knowledge: At 2nd Level, the Arcane Scholar and any party members gain a +1 bonus to their saves versus spells. This bonus increases to +2 at 8th level.
  • Improved Empower Spell: At 3rd level, the Arcane Scholar becomes especially adept at empowering spells. Empowered spells now only use a spell slot one level higher than the spell's actual level.
  • Improved Maximize Spell: At 7th level, the Arcane Scholar becomes especially adept at maximizing spells. Maximized spells now only use up a spell slot two levels higher than the spell's actual level.
  • Improved Quicken Spell: At 10th level, the Arcane Scholar becomes especially adept at quickening spells. Quickened spells now only use up a spell slot three levels higher than the spell's actual level.
All I can say is wow. There's usually some sort of disadvantage that goes along with becoming a particular prestige class rather than keeping your "pure" class, but I'm not really seeing one here aside from the requirement of taking those skill focus feats. And the payoff is huge. "Free" maximize and quicken feats at level one make up for the "lost" skill focus feats, but the improved empower, maximize, and quicken spells are an enormous advantage--especially for blaster sorcerers. I'm sure this will be a popular prestige class, probably more so in the long run than the Red Wizard of Thay.
(Portrait by wyldcat)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

1.07 Patch Preview - Premonition

The big item of significance in Rob McGinnis's post this week at the official NWN2 blog are the patch notes for 1.07. This is the first "named" patch, and it will be interesting to see if that's a new trend that we see moving forward. If nothing else, the time delay in getting this one out the door justifies treating it in a special manner. Since 1.03, the patch by which all others must be judged, Obsidian has been operating on an approximate 2 month timetable for its patch releases. Nevertheless, it looks like 1.07 is going to come closer to three months since the release of the 1.06 patch.

I usually avoid doing this before the actual release. But things have been a bit slow around my house lately in terms of nwn2 activities (or gaming activities, period--everything else is busy!!), here are some of the highlights of the upcoming 1.07 patch, at least from my perspective:
Character Mode and Strategy Mode – In advance of the release of the Mask of the Betrayer expansion pack this September, we’ve included one of the major new revisions we’ve made to the camera and control modes. Now, the four camera modes (Top Down, Chase, Driving and Free Camera) have been consolidated into two modes that are more configurable and clearer to use than the old modes – Character Mode and Strategy Mode.
This was something none of us really expected to see until the release of Mask. But given how much grief Obsidian took with regards to its camera systems in the initial release, it makes sense to roll this out early and work through any issues before the expansion is actually subjected to evaluation by review magazines.

Overall, this feature seems more like a streamlining of the options for less experienced gamers than a real change in feature set--I have a feeling that my experiences in game will feel absolutely identical to my current camera scheme (Top Down view). But I do like that there are additional customization features available, which might let me optimize things a bit better. I'm also hopeful that some of the "jumpiness" of the camera near some placeables -- especially walls a buildings -- will be less of an issue with the new camera. But I won't hold my breath.

* Marquee/Multi-Selection Revamp – Marquee and Multi-selection have been dramatically improved to make controlling a full party much easier. You can see the new improvements to Marquee and Multi-selection in the new Strategy Mode.
I'll be interested to see what happens with the multi-selection stuff. I'm pretty happy with just having my companions follow my selected character. But it might be nice to occasionally have a party control style that is closer to that from the Infinity games.

* Party AI On/Off Button – There is now a button on the main game UI, next to the rest button, that will toggle the entire party’s AI on or off.
This sounds like a great little feature. Every so often, especially when setting up for a big fight, or sometimes even during big fights, I have to "disable" AI by telling everyone to stand their ground so that I can set people where I want them. My hopes is that this will make this process a bit easier. Not a big deal, but it could be something I use every five hours or so when playing.

* Bronze Dragon - New Creature! The Bronze Dragon creature has been added to the Toolset, so expect him to show up in new community content as well as Mask of the Betrayer.
This isn't new, as we've already seen screenies of this beastie--and I still think the mantra about there not being enough dragons is way overblown given our ability to tint the models we already have--but I'm always a fan of new monsters being added to the toolset.

* A Creature Appearance Wizard has been added. This will allow you to change the appearance of spawned creatures and creature blueprints, including race, gender, armor and armor attachments. This feature can be accessed by right clicking on a creature or blueprint entry. NOTE: This feature is currently in Beta, and there are plans to improve its functionality.
This is a big deal, and patches a major hole in the default toolset. It is true that Grinning Fool's plugin was a fine alternative, but there was no excuse for this not existing in the stock toolset from the get-go. I'll be interested to see how many features it currently has, and how their development of it goes over the next several patches.

* A new custom skydome system has been added to the toolset, allowing users to replace the NWN2 skies with skydomes of their own creating.
Skydomes were mentioned in a previous news posting, but again this should be a great feature that really improves what modders can do with the exterior areas.

* The distance a DM can zoom out has been greatly increased.
I'm not into multiplayer, so it's hard for me to know how much the DM improvements really extend the DM client. But this one is interesting, because one thing I often would like to do is zoom out further as a player. I realize this might make me take a fps hit, but I'm hopeful that I'll nevertheless have that option with the new cameras.

* Pasting encounter triggers with spawn points no longer crashes the Toolset.
This sounds like one of the bugs that I know several builders have had trouble with--not just the crashes, but the resulting corruption. I'm hopeful that this will solve that particular problem. Toolset crashing and module corruption continues to be perhaps the biggest problem with Neverwinter Nights 2.

Overall, this is one of the meatier patches we've had since 1.03. I'm looking forward to giving it a whirl once it's released...assuming that life has slowed down a bit by then!!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest Winners!

Today, Rob announced the Obsidian Fan Art Contest Winners on his blog. Interestingly, three of them were featured in one batch, which I and several commenters identified as being an exceptionally strong set of entries. The winners are:

NPC/Companion Category

Meet the Party by Minttu Hynninen

The King of Shadows Enters Meredelain by J. Cullen Lisbony

Construct vs. Grobnar by MaeBe

Creature/Monster Category

Earth Elemental by Kamen Anev

Shadow Reaver by Vaei

Ogre Mage by Laban

Congrats to these authors, and thanks again to everyone who entered the contest. It has been a lot of fun showcasing your work here on my blog these past few months!

NWN2 News

Through a combination of working through orientation week, a cold that knocked me out for about 4 days, and a bit (though not as much as I'd like) of console gaming, I haven't had time to do anything Neverwinter in a while. Fortunately, the community has hardly been standing still! Here are some highlights of the news:

Granny Released!

I'm massively late in reporting on this, but Obsidian released their Granny plugin on 10 August, which allows users to export animated models from 3dsMax that will work in NWN2.

I don't have the slightest clue how any of that works, but fortunately, there are folks in our community do! Amraphael (of Neverwinter Zork fame), one of the more resourceful builders in the community, immediately used it to create an animated trap door--one of the first things that I remember discovering in the original game. I don't see much on the Vault yet that makes use of this tool, but with the advent of the new contest (see below), I'm sure we'll see more in the near future.

NWN2 for Macintosh

With a hat tip to QSW, who hat tipped Lucky Day, it looks like there may be a Macintosh version of NWN2 in the future. This is terrific news, as it could greatly expand the population of players in our community. Mac users constituted an important minority of players in NWN1, even though the lack of a toolset prevented them from participating as builders. Let's hope that this NWN2 conversion provides them with a stable toolset in addition to a great game!

Modules, Ho!

There have been a slew of good-looking modules released over the past few weeks:
  • Dark Avenger by Wyrin_D -- Looks to be the best work yet by NWN2's most prolific author, it's out of beta and has gotten a warm reception.
  • Asylum: A Corpse, a Vote by Ryam Baco -- continues the story of the weird psychological thriller, A Bet, A Corpse. How in the world does this not yet have 10 votes?? (and yes, I'm at fault, sorry)
  • Conan Chronicles 1 - Legions of the Dead by John McA -- The first NWN2 module by McA, who the author behind the epic and wildly popular Sands of Fate series (among others) for NWN1. You get to be Conan! Who doesn't like the thought of that!? While the scoring hasn't been as high as a mod like Nestlehaven, this module has already gotten 27 votes in just one week, which tells you it's been darn popular.
  • The Corruption of Kiahoro by human_male -- Promising 12 hours of gameplay, this module, which was just released yesterday, looks like it has been the result of a lot of work. Looking forward to seeing the reaction to this one.
  • Edit (MASSIVE OMISSION): Pool of Radiance 2 by Markus "Wayne" Schlegel -- The sequel to one of the better modules yet released on the vault. This is going to be high on my playlist when I return.
A New Contest!

The winners of the fan art contest have been announced, but I wanted to give them a separate posting. So I'll move on to the next contest, which focuses on custom content. From Rob's blog, here are the categories:
  • Creature/Monster (requires animations)
  • Weapons
  • Buildings (can have animations if you like, such as a swinging sign, but don't have to)
  • Placeables (can have animations, but don't have to)
  • Clothing/Armor
  • Props & Miscellaneous (equipable items that don't fit into any specific category - such as books and bouquets of flowers)
Really looking forward to the results of this contest! With three months to work with, content creators should have plenty of time to put together high quality entries. I'm particularly keen to see what happens in the creature/monster category, because custom creatures were an area in which the NWN1 community really excelled.

I'm starting to feel the Neverwinter itch once again, but I think I'm close to finishing final fantasy tactics... Once that happens, look out!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Game Design 101 - What I Learned from the First Half-Hour of Super Paper Mario

Yesterday, my wife and I made use of a fabulous 20% off coupon at Toys R Us (now expired or I'd link to it--sorry) to purchase our second Wii game, Super Paper Mario. My wife was a big fan of the original Super Mario Brothers on NES, while I'm a fan of rpg's--sounded like a good match.

Unfortunately, the game fell flat on its face right from the get-go. The reason? It quite literally took 15 minutes to sit through the opening series of cutscenes. And then another 10 minutes to play through the first non-action area, and then sit through another cutscene, to finally hear the first "da-da-doo-da-da-dit---dah" that would signal the start of the actual game. And by this time, my wife had her head down on a couch cushion, undoubtedly wondering if we'd just wasted 40 bucks. :) It might have been different if the cutscenes were actually riveting. But the story of Super Paper Mario, like most Mario games, relies more on cuteness and humor than suspense. But even with with Resident Evil-level drama, a half hour is a long time to go before you get to do something interesting in a game.

So to all you would-be game designers out there, please learn from Mario's mistakes! Half-hour cutscenes and dialogs to start a module are a BAD IDEA! As demonstrated in Subtlety of Thay and countless of other NWN1/2 modules, the exposition and the majority of the plot development can come later. Get the player involved in the game--preferably doing something exciting--as quickly as you can.

Fortunately, I can report that once we got past the initial slowness, Super Paper Mario is turning out to be a lot of fun. The concept of flipping between 2D and 3D "dimensions" for beings from side-scrolling universes is awesome, and flipping to the 3D realm and discovering hidden secrets is a real treat. And I love the use of HP (though I refuse to call them "heart points") in a platformer-style game. It might make it a little bit easy (so far), but for someone not blessed with particularly good platformer skills (in fact, my wife laughs at me whenever she watches me play...I can't jump from block to block to save my life), it's a lot more fun to get a second shot at jumping that chasm than having to start a level from scratch.

We have some relatives coming into town in a few weeks. I think we've decided to trudge through the cutscenes one last time and create a save just before the real action begins in case any guests want to play. Because it does seem to be a fun game. I just don't know what the designers were thinking when they put together the opening.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What's up?

Sorry it's been so quiet over the past week. This post won't help matters much, but just an update on what I've been up to:
  • Ordered Wii, did a lot of research on Wii games.
  • Rediscovered Final Fantasy Tactics while getting reading to put PS1 into deep storage. PS1 now hooked up to TV again, and I'm playing through that game again. I'll write a review once I'm done--it might, at least, be relevant to those looking forward to playing the version for the PSP. ... I'm almost considering buying the PSP just so I could play Tactics on the bus. I just love that game.
  • Received Wii on Friday, threw out my arm playing Wii Sports, and am now having nightly battles across minigames in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz with the wife. Great fun.
I swear I'll get back to Nestlehaven and all the rest of my Neverwinter "duties" shortly. But I might need to take another week or so off before I get the urge to return to D&D land again. This happens probably twice a year, and I always come back refreshed and rearing to go. Hope ya'll will bear with me in the meantime while I get my console kicks in. :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Wii In Route

We ended up purchasing our Wii from PCConnection Sunday night. I'd provide a link to the product page, but it's already out of stock, of course. :)

In a $330 bundle, we got the Wii ($250), an extra remote ($40), and an extra nunchuk ($20)--that's a $310 value! :) But when you factor in free shipping and no sales tax, we actually come out ahead by about five bucks compared to buying it locally. We also ordered a component cable, but it's unclear whether that will be arriving with the package or in a later shipment.

Anyway, DHL says the package will arrive on Friday, in time for a weekend filled with lots of intense tennis & bowling action, not to mention some manic Mii design.

I've been doing a lot of research on games the last few nights, aided by X-Play, Gamespot, IGN, TheWiire, and, of course, the recommendations you folks posted here. Here are the games I'm thinking about, in rough order of priority, for purchase or rental over the first several months:
I'd eventually like to check out Zelda, but I plan to keep getting most of my rpg fix with NWN2. With the console I hope to rediscover the "twitch" gamer within, lost lo these many years, and focus on multiplayer stuff I can do with the family.

Actually, "rediscover" might be too strong of a word--but I've never owned a current console before, my only other one being a PS1 that I purchased long after PS2's were on the market. Growing up, I played with my neighbor's NES quite a bit, but at home all I had was my 8088. So this should be fun.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

August 2007 Hall of Fame Inductions

After last month's disappointment, when no modules were eligible, the August '07 NWN2 Hall of Fame class is probably the strongest yet:

Dark Waters 1: Highcastle by Adam Miller
Here's an excerpt from my comments on this module:
It's a wonderful setting. I guess you could call it Final Fantasy meets Waterworld--a very cool blend of traditional swords 'n magic fantasy with late 1800's-style technology, all set in an interesting post-cataclysm world that is just starting to come back to life. It's very deep and well-conceived, with a unique history, class structure, and feel. The setting alone makes it worth checking this module out.
But what really impressed me--and in this way, it reminded me a lot of Dreamcatcher 2--were the variety and creativity of the various puzzles you encounter along the way. None were particularly difficult, but they were interesting and original, and often dazzling.
B2: Keep on the Borderlands by Enoa4
Excerpt from my comments:
This is a fun, old fashioned, low-level D&D dungeon crawl. It's pretty straight and to the point -- there's a bunch of Bad Things living near the keep, and the local leader thinks it'd be great if you'd go kill them for him. So, off you go to the Caves of Chaos to slay evil and rid the area of their infestation. The thing I really enjoyed about this module was exploring the many intricate and interconnected dungeons that make up the many Caves of Chaos. Each cave housed a different tribe representing a different sort of monster, and each tribe had a "boss" leader of sorts that I needed to kill.

But while that sounds fairly simple, the caves are varied enough, and have enough twists, turns, and variable-sized chambers that it was hard to predict what lurked around each corner. Combat was pretty fast and furious at times, particularly before I advanced a few levels. Furthermore, the caves were interconnected such that sometimes accidentally stumble into a far more powerful tribe's territory, making for a harrowing few seconds as I re-organized my party to deal with the new threat.
Night Howls with Nestlehaven by jackyo123
Unfortunately, I haven't yet finished this one. I'm probably 6-8 hours into it by now, and so far, it's clearly among the best modules I've played for NWN2. How well it finishes will probably be what determines the score, but I predict I'll rate it very high. Expect to see my mini-review of this mod sometime later this week, assuming I finish it in the next few nights.

It is a bit surprising that Nestlehaven has already inducted, though, as it doesn't seem like it has been out all that long, and modules must be available for three months prior to being eligible for induction. I first mentioned Nestlehaven here on my blog on May 29th, and I think it had been marked final for just about a week by that point. That would indicate that it shouldn't have been eligible for induction until September. What has happened is this. First, Nestlehaven went online initially as a public beta, which began May 5th. NWVault uses that date as the date of its first availability for the purposes of its inductions. Even so, it still wouldn't have been eligible until September, except that the HoF induction was delayed until the 5th of this month for whatever reason (Maximus gets busy).

The end result is that Nestlehaven was probably inducted a month too soon, which means that it is going to miss out on a month of being featured on the Vault's front page. That said, it's hard to claim that the module or its author was a victim here--with 173 votes and nearly 12,000 downloads, it's gotten plenty of attention. :) But I can see this being a bigger deal for modules that have had extended public betas, like Sgt. Why's Red Hand of Doom.

Other NWN2 Inductees
Also entering the Hall this month is one of the first custom tilesets for NWN2, Robinson Workshop's Deep Halls. It looks like amazing, and I look forward to seeing this in future modules.

NWN1 Inductees
I played two of the inducted modules for the NWN1 Hall of Fame, but only completed one of them:

Pirates of the Sword Coast by BioWare
Here's an excerpt from my comments, dated 17 October 2005:
The writing is generally quite good, with lots of fun Arrrr's and Avast's as you'd expect. The visuals are stunning, with a tremendous rural/island tileset that I hope to see in a lot more modules in the coming year, as well as some great aquatic and desert island placeables. There are also a ton of custom items, most of which are gags…I spent a lot of time chuckling to myself while playing this game. There are also a lot of custom sounds here, including great wave noises and some excellent voiceovers by the narrator pirate captain. Unlike the official campaign, the voice acting (at least what is there) is awesome. Finally, there was a modified and innovative new system of skillcheck dialog options, including not only persuade checks, but also bluff, intimidate, taunt, and wisdom checks.
Drow Tales: The Librarian's Tales by by Capn Gherkin
Unfortunately, I never finished this module. It had a wonderful opening set of cutscenes and a great concept for the story, but after only about an hour of gameplay, I encountered a faction bug that I was never able to avoid--probably due to blowing lots of stuff up with the included Sorcerer character. The combat was also a bit over-the-top for my tastes. Still, the setting was wonderful, and really seemed to capture the essence of Drow culture. I always had planned to go back and play it again once it had been updated, but eventually stopped checking back. I do remember contributing to the pre-publishing peer feedback on Beemerchick's Vault review, which seems like a pretty balanced take on the module.

Also joining the Hall, via NWN1's rule about series inductions, were the rest of Sethai's NWS modules. I played two of these, for which I'll post excerpts of my comments below:

NWS - Daenarian's Tears
by Sethai (my favorite of the NWS series)
Except from my comments, dated 23 June 2005:
Daenarian’s Tears is the second I’ve played in Sethai’s NWS “series.” Given the rumors offered in the module description about a mage knowing of unknown power, I took my lv 13 lawful neutral wizard in this mod. I thought this module, while very short (which, of course, is part of the point), was very good and has a more interesting story and far better dialog then many of the larger and more elaborate modules on the vault. This module features some fairly heavy fighting, but ultimately it comes down to an interesting decision that the player has to make. Someone else on this board described it as a 3-way lose situation. I’m not completely sure I agree, but you’ll certainly have to make a tough choice here. Bravo on this – it’s so rare to see ambiguous choices in modules, and Sethai always seems to anchor his modules on these sorts of “character” decisions.
NWS - Cradle of Cold by Sethai
Excerpt from my comments, dated 5 July 2005
The story was decent, and there is a decision to make at the end of the mod, but it pales in comparison to the surprisingly deep stories of Sethai’s later two modules. Still, the premise is good enough to motivate one’s actions in the mod, which is fine given how short it is. This one is well polished from a technical standpoint, and there were no bugs or typos that I encountered. The end result is a fun little hack and slash romp, and as long as you don’t expect it to be much deeper than that, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a nice way to spend an evening, and I continue to love the concept of these Neverwinter Snowflake modules.
Also being inducted is Scarface's Persistent Banking System, which might be something I can use for my character creator. I'll have to check it out...

Congrats to all of the great authors and content creators who had their work inducted this month! We all appreciate your contributions to this community.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Finale

Tonight, we're featuring the final three images from the Obsidian Fan Art Contest. One, by Patcha, is an updated and much improved version of a prior version that was posted here.

Thanks again to everyone who participated in this contest--it's been a lot of fun showing your work on my blog! Good luck to all contestants, and to Obsidian as they go through the very difficult task of choosing the winners!

Khelgar by Tuyen

Bishop's Stare by Jeff Reid

Shadow Reaver by Patcha

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Monsters!

Tonight, we're featuring three of the more sinister monsters in the official campaign: the dragon, the illithid, and, of course, the avatar of the King of Shadows. The latter piece is particularly impressive, and the download page for that piece features the artist with his creation. :)

King of Shadows enters The Meredelain by J. Cullen Lisbony

Dark Feast by JackTaylor (this artist also did a piece featuring Elanee, which was featured here)

Red Dragon by Silevran Moonflower (Silevran also had two pieces featured here, most notably for her Shandra piece)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Wii

So tonight, we were at a party at my wife's coworker's house. And he had a Nintendo Wii. All we did is play Wii Sports the entire time (as much as the kid would allow us to, anyway). And we had a blast. This is the first time my wife's been genuinely excited about a video game system, at least since we went through a mild playstation 1 phase a few years ago. So needless to say, we decided that we need to get one. :)

Obviously, supply is a major problem right now. But assuming that can be conquered, I wanted to figure out what exactly we'll need to invest into the thing in order to get up to speed. Here's my list:
  • The Wii -- $250
  • Extra controller -- $40 (we could get Wii Play plus a controller for $50...though I've heard that game might not be worth the ten bucks)
  • Extra nunchuk thingie -- $20 (maybe...not sure it'd be used much, except maybe for boxing)
  • Component Cable -- $20 (we recently bought a 37" HDTV, and while the Wii isn't HD, I want it to look as good as possible...and it does seem to make a big difference)
I'd also like to get the charge station, though we have a good number of quality rechargeable extra AA's floating around for our digital cameras, so it's probably not necessary.

So we're looking at roughly a $330 startup. And that's before we get any games. I'm sure we'll go the rental/used route as much as possible, but even used Wii games are pricey right now.

Any recommendations? Zelda seems like the only game that I'd be personally obligated to get, given my interests. But I'm more interested in games that my wife (a non-gamer) might like, and that we can play together...

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Obsidian Blog Update - Skydomes and Sounds

After a weeks' hiatus, Rob McGinnis was back posting to his blog yesterday. There were two significant pieces of news.

First, was the announcement of support for custom skydomes in the new expansion. This feature should help builders when they're using exterior areas but do not want the standard sunny day or starry night up in the sky. Maerduin mentioned these his most recent post, and they do offer some great opportunities--I can imagine that we might see some brilliant cutscenes if the sunsets he mentioned are ever implemented. Skyboxes were certainly a popular custom content feature in NWN1--I remember Hugie making great use of them in his modules.

The post also features some previews of some of the new sound sets for spellcasting. With the exception of the Warlock's spells, all spellcasting chants in NWN2 were originally taken straight from the original game. They work really well, but I'll be glad to have some new ones to listen to. The samples they provided sound a bit...well...silly without the swirling magic noises that typically accompany casting, but I'm sure they'll sound better in context. The Mass Fowl spell is pretty humorous in concept, though I worry that I might get a bit tired of hearing that particular chant if I use it with any frequency...especially the laugh at the end of it.

They also posted some screenshots of the new camera GUI. I'm with Maerduin in that I'm pretty happy with the current camera controls right now. But this new system seems like it will abolish some of the redundancy and complexity associated with the current four cameras, while at the same time giving users a bit more control. As long as the end result is basically identical to what I"m currently using, I'll be happy. Here's the strategy mode screenie:

Finally, while this isn't related to McGinnis's post, I wanted to send out some props to Amraphael. In the process of creating his ZORK module, he has created some awesome custom content that he is already releasing to the vault. These include a wonderful "birdies" visual effect, as well as a gorgeous rainbow. I can't wait to see these in game.

It's just so refreshing to see someone taking the initiative to personally produce any content needs he might have in terms of content in the game, rather than just complain about how Obsidian hasn't given them enough monsters/placeables/whatever. I'm sure we'll see more of that once the Granny tool is released, allowing folks to make animated custom content. But, for whatever reason, it's been fairly rare thus far.

Anyway, major props to Amraphael--looking forward to your module!

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Andir03 & Silevran Moonflower

Today, we're showing pieces by Andir03 and Silevran Moonflower. I'm particularly fond of the Shandra piece--a character whose story was one of the real highlights of the official campaign.

Calm Before the Storm
by andir03

A Gnome and his Construct by andir03

Shandra - From Farmer to Fighter
by Silevran Moonflower

Dryad by Silevran Moonflower

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Elanee, Neeshka, Shandra, and Zhjaeve

Tonight we're featuring four entries in the companion competition. All are either actual paintings on canvas, or are digital creations in the same style. I think it's another strong batch. The Elanee piece has been criticized for how true it is to the in-game model, but I think it's a fabulous re-imagining (though I always pictured her as being a bit more "granola"). And the Neeshka piece is one of the more dynamic entries we've seen in the NPC competition.

Elanee by Caleb Marlborough (oil on canvas)

Assassination Attempt by Jonny Ree (in OpenCanvas)

Blood Will Always Tell by Katie Irvin-Beaudry

Zhjaeve by Laban (Laban also did the humorous Ogre Mage/Grobnar piece featured here)

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Corpse, A Vote Release Approacheth

One of the more... well.... unique authors in our community is approaching the release of his next module, A Corpse, A Vote. As the hype builds for this exciting event, Christian Mayr posted this video on the vault yesterday:

I'm excited about this, as I really enjoyed his first module, A Bet, a Corpse, and gave it a rating of "8 - Excellent, Recommended to Anyone." Here's an excerpt from my comments:
I personally have played well over 100 modules for NWN1, several of which fell into the "bizarre psychological abstraction" genre. But this one probably takes the cake for absurdity. Wonderfully creative ideas throughout. On the surface it's completely random, and yet there is a coherent story here, with pieces that actually do fit together as an intriguing metaphor for the player character's shattered mind. There's good humor here as well, but it's set against the backdrop of something terrible that has happened, which gave the module a very uneasy feeling even as a grinned my way through it.

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Companions

Today's batch features well-done sketches of Sand, Qara, Neeshka, and Bishop. The latter two are by PatroLi, who shows what you can do with a set of crayons if you have some talent.

By my count, there are 14 more pieces to feature in the contest, which should take us through the weekend.

Alchemy Lab by Pinguicha (this artist also submitted a fabulous portrait of Bishop earlier in the contest, featured here)

Qara in Pencil by Quillmaster (this artist has two other submissions in this contest: another of Qara, and one of a dragon, both in ink)

Neeshka by PatroLi

Bishop and Karnwyr by PatrioLi

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest - Galil

Tonight, we're featuring the four submissions of Galil. They've received some criticism for looking a bit like rushed cartoon storyboards, but I think their roughness is part of their appeal. Nice contribution to the contest.

Pixie by Galil

Glow Spider by Galil

Qara by Galil

Torio by Galil

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Obsidian Contest: A Very Strong Batch

This batch contains two of my favorite entries in the monster category thus far. These two entries, by Kamen Anev and Vaei, really try to re-imagine a monster rather than duplicate its appearance in-game. The results are far more compelling and interesting pieces than some of the others we've seen. It doesn't hurt that the artistry itself is spectacular. ;) I continue to be in awe of the quality of work we've seen in this contest.

Earth Elemental by Kamen Anev (I absolutely love the faces on these things)

Shadow Reaver by Vaei (transforms what I considered a rather silly-looking monster in the OC to something that's legitimately terrifying)

Elanee by Buckyg

Construct vs. Grobnar by MaeBe (wonderful use of lighting)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Everyone Loves Elanee

Four NPC pieces with tonight's update, three of which feature Elanee. Elanee was one of my favorite NPC's from the OC (I've managed to repress that awful come-on scene right before battle at Crossroads Keep--yet another case where the optional romance is better avoided). Yeah, she's a bit of a stalker. But she's a strong and otherwise mature female character, and those were otherwise pretty much absent from the companion roster--well, except maybe for the Gith, but I liked her too. I wish I could have used Elanee in my party more often when I played through the campaign, but her skills overlapped a bit too much with my cleric's...and in the end, I'm a bit too much of a power gamer to put up with suboptimal party composition for very long. :)

There have been 10 contest submissions in the last 48 hours, which puts me massively behind in this series of posts. But that's a good problem to have. :) I'm sure this will continue today and tomorrow with the contest deadline being tomorrow, but I'll try to post four a day for the rest of the week--I expect we'll still get through them all before an winner announcement is made.

Elanee by Firestorm2117 (Firestorm also has submitted a painting of Neeshka, which I posted last week) - This is my favorite of this batch.

Elanee by WWT (pencil)

Elanee and Dragon by BuckyG (a 3D studio submission)

Zeeaire by Tuyen (ink)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Obsidian Art Contest - 4 days left

Entries are starting to pour in with the contest deadline looming. Tonight we have a pair of Digital Studio pieces of Sorcha Ravenlock, and two hand-drawn entries from other artists. The use of programs like Daz Studio was somewhat controversial, as comparing that work to more handmade work can be difficult because so much of the "work" may have been done by the package rather than the artist. This problem was solved when Rob decided to allow two new categories for digitally-created artwork like this, which is a fine solution--kudos to Rob.

Unshed Tears by Sorcha Ravenlock (in Daz Studio, with post-work in Photoshop) - Easily my favorite in this batch, very moving. Maybe I'm I sucker for babies. Being a father'll do that to ya.

Elanee by Sorcha Ravenlock

Tholapsyx! by msykes (hehe)

Khelgar - Monk by combobreaker