Saturday, April 28, 2007

Interview about Mask of the Betrayer

Somehow I never got around to reading this, but last week Gamebanshee published this interview with Kevin Saunders, who is the lead designer on the Mask of the Betrayer expansion for NWN2. One item really caught my eye:
GB: Are there any plans to introduce any new prestige classes or sub-races? How about epic levels?

Kevin: Absolutely! We are adding new prestige classes (and a base class) and new sub-races. We’ll be sharing more information on those soon, but we think you’ll be excited about our choices. ;) One of the prestige classes is completely new and was designed through consultation with our colleagues at Wizards of the Coast. As far as the leveling goes, NX1 will feature epic levels through level 30.
Added emphasis on those last two words. This is really exciting. Unless this is a typo (and I doubt it is), this upcoming expansion will only have epic levels up to level 30. NWN1 went to level 40. My interpretation? This is the first real indication we've had that Obsidian is indeed planning two expansions! The first to go to level 30, and a second one to go lv.30 to lv.40.

Yippie! More expansions = more content = more time with ongoing support for the community!

Another cool tidbit was the mention that the monsters that they're going to add in the expansion include the Night Hag and (a favorite of mine) the Treant (here's the Treant made by DLA for NWN1).

Added to this news is a feeling that I've been getting around the modding community that we're going to start finally seeing a lot more frequent significant module releases in the coming month or two. That, combined with Ossian apparently getting somewhat close to announcing whatever it is that they've been working on, and with the contest starting next week, things are really looking encouraging in nwn2 land right now.

Also, one last thing. Obsidian is doing a better job of updating their blog with readable and relevant information. I've added it to my blogroll in my sidebar, as well as the blogs of several new builders I just became aware of.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I'm up and running!

NWN2 is finally up and running. I had some trouble getting it to re-install. Kept running into read errors or something as the dvd drive was trying to switch between different files during during the installation. I don't know if the problem was the dvd (it looks clean and undamaged) or my dvd drive. But I managed to rip a dvd image, mount it onto a virtual drive, and install from there. I have to have the actual DVD in the real drive to run the game (thanks SecuRom), but at least it finally worked. I'll deal with any additional hardware issues later, 'cause I wanna play a game for once.

Which means I was able to spend some time playing Dark Waters. It's a really interesting module. About as light in the combat department as you can get, and the puzzles have (mostly) been a lot of fun. I still am really enjoying the voice acting, and I got reasonably far into the module tonight. The two main companions are extremely well done, and tonight I finished a sequence involving conversations with an odd chap--the voice acting really brought it to life. Overall, I'm very impressed. I think what I've learned from this is a) voice acting can actually be done well by the community, and be a great strength of a module, and b) that one should focus on the good talent and just leave the other lines silent.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

So far, so good.

The replacement hard drive arrived today, and this evening I've managed to install windows xp, update to service pack 2, flash my bios (which I had never done), install various motherboard drivers, install ati's drivers, and finally install mcafee, and firefox. And in just a few minutes, I should have completed copying all files from my temporary 40gb drive to my "new" (well, refurbished, but whatever) drive.

Feels good. I love using computers with fresh installs of windows on them. A month from now, it'll start getting gummed up with crap again, but right now everything feels fresh. Looking forward to installing NWN2 tomorrow night, at which point I'm going to download Dark Waters and play through it. And after that, I'm going to play Keep at the Borderlands. And after that, the contest entries. ;)

I'm excited to get back to playing games again...been well over a week since I've had any gaming fun. :(

Contest deadline is approaching!

The deadline for the first Obsidian NWN1 Module Contest is now less than a week away! While no one has uploaded a module yet, there are a number of entries that are apparently close to being uploaded to the vault. Here are a few of the ones I know about:

Lord Niah and Mungo_D, both experienced builders from NWN1, and members of the Forgotten Realms Weave, have contest modules that are currently in the beta testing phase.

Maerduin reported on Sunday that his entry, The Birthday, is close to completion.

And while I don't know them, there are a number of builders on the forums who sound likely to release a module: Wyrin_D'njargo, jackyo123, ryan_baco, Lorft, and ciViLiZed have all recently indicated that they're either on track, or are desperately trying to stay on track, for an on-time submission. I'm sure there are more as well--lots of builders aren't terribly active in the forums, especially when they're busy building. :)

It will be exciting to see what shows up this week! Given that no changes may be made to modules after the deadline, it would probably be a good idea to get entries uploaded ahead of time whenever that's possible so they can get some initial playtesting comments from players. Of course, given the tight deadline, that's not always going to be easy...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Keep on the Borderlands released!

I wanted to send a huge congratulations to Enoa4, creator of the Hythum series (among others) for NWN1, who just released his NWN2 module, Keep on the Borderlands. If you've been following Enoa4's blog, you'll know that this module has been a major battle to get out, both in terms of the time required to build it and the various setbacks he encountered due to the still-buggy toolset. So huge kudos for hanging with it and getting it out.

I'm planning to play it as soon as I finish Dark Waters...and get my computer back together, of course.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hard drive update

Tonight I was able to install windows on an old 40 gb hard drive that I had laying around (it used to be in my tivo box before I hacked it and put in a 60 gb instead), start the computer, and copy off all important files. So that's a relief.

I then downloaded Western Digital's diagnostic program and had it run the quick scan on my drive...and the drive promptly failed. Fortunately, Western Digital seems to have an outstanding RMA system. I didn't even have to call them or jump through any hoops. I just filled out the RMA request form with a brief justification and (if I'm understand this right) they're going to send a new drive out to me--holding my credit card for collateral of course. My only obligation will be to send back my defective drive within 30 days...I might have to pay for shipping, but maybe not, I'm unclear on that.

I'm hopeful that the new drive will be here by next week, which would mean that I'd have time to get back up and running before the contest modules start pouring in at the end of the month.
It's still kind of a shame though. I had just started playing Dark Waters and was really enjoying it. I can see why there have been complaints about the lengthy cutscenes at the start, but I actually enjoyed them--and most surprisingly of all, with one painful exception (which I think is Adam Miller's mom), I found the voice acting to be pretty darn good--especially that of the two major companions, Heather and Daniel. I agree with Maerduin that bad voice acting can kill a module, but so far, so good. The story also is really interesting and potentially really deep.

But, I have saved my saved games (and, in fact, everything /mydocuments/neverwinternights2), so everything should be there when I return. In the meantime, I'll probably occupy myself with my other hobbies, as I don't want to clutter up my new windows install with graphics drivers and such--I want it to be crisp and clean so that it'll be ready to go the next time I have a problem like this.

Update: The replacement has already shipped. Truly impressive service. It's UPS ground, so it should arrive mid-late next week (the tracking number isn't visible yet).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hard drive...

As I type this on my laptop, I'm running chkdsk on my desktop's hard drive. This evening I couldn't get it to boot, and it's been acting strangely the past few days, and giving errors that now (in hindsight) seem like they could be the result of my hard drive dying.

So far, the drive seems to be scanning ok (got here by booting with my windows cd and getting to the command line), and if nothing is picked up I think there's a slight chance that removing my sound card might help matters. But if not, I'll probably need a new hard drive.

I hate it when my computer goes down. Hopefully the drive isn't actually damaged, or at least not so much that I won't be able to get any information off of it. If everything is unrecoverable, I don't think there's too much critical info on here, though I'd probably lose my work on the frwcc since the last release. I think i could recreate that in a few days of effort, but it'd still be a shame as it's looking pretty snazzy right now. The biggest loss, though, would be some baseball research I've put together over the past few months, mostly in the form of excel files. It's all reconstructable, but I'd spent a lot of time on it to get it where it is.

::sigh:: We'll see. I hate this feeling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Quick hits...

There's been a variety of news items over the past few days:
    1. A Dance with Rogues by Valine
    2. Darkness over Daggerford by Ossian Studios Inc.
    3. Exile of the West (Bastard of Kosigan episode 1) by Fabien Cerutti with help from Ginni Swanton
    4. Wyvern Crown of Cormyr by DLA & Bioware
  • Tiberius209 has a blog! Tiberius is the author of the excellent Saleron's Gambit series for NWN1, and is currently a designer for Ossian Studios. And now, he's joined the elite ranks of Neverwinter Nights bloggers. Looking forward to seeing more from him, even if it's about medieval literature. :)
  • The first NWN2 Expansion Screenshots have been released. Looks like we've definitely got a nice snow texture as well as snowy trees to play with. :) Also looks like an Astral bear(?) and some wyverns. The wyverns were present in some of the first NWN2 screenshots for the OC, but apparently were cut and saved for the expansion. Nice to have them back though, as they're a cool monster. I'm hoping we'll see a stream of additional screenshots as the release comes through. Certainly you'd expect to see a beholder one of these days...
Update: Whoops, been meaning to mention:

Friday, April 13, 2007

NWN2 EXP: Mask of the Betrayer

Well, today came the biggest news we've had about NWN2 since it's release: there will be an expansion, due Fall 2007, of NWN2. An excerpt from the press release:
Set in harsh, spirit-rich Rashemen, near the powerful nation of Thay, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer will present players with an exciting new campaign; epic levels; dozens of new feats and spells; new races, base classes and prestige classes; new companions; new weapons, armor and crafting options; hordes of new monsters; and enhanced modding tools.
Lots in there to be excited about. As expected, epic levels will appear in this expansion, which might make a second expansion pack less likely. Still, it will be nice to have that flexibility, and I'm sure that feature alone will sell a lot of boxes. I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with in terms of new spells, feats, races, classes, etc. NWN2 included pretty much everything that had been done in NWN1 save for the epic stuff. Including a host of new monsters is also very welcome news, and is something that is desperately needed by

The campaign setting also looks interesting. We've pretty much been stuck along the sword coast and its northern and southern borders since the initial release of Baldur's Gate, and this moves into a rich and uncharted territory. The Red Wizards of Thay are a sister bunch, and Thay's proximity to Rashemen makes it likely that we'll see them make an appearance.

As for the story itself...well, here's the hook:
In Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, players are transported back to the Forgotten Realms shortly after the events detailed in the original Neverwinter Nights 2. Following the climactic battle against the King of Shadows, the player awakens alone and stranded deep beneath the earth. Surrounded by a horde of evil spirits, the player embarks on an epic adventure that reveals his true destiny.
I'm sure it makes good business sense to allow players to use their characters from the OC (even though they are not exported!!) and continue that story, though I personally had hoped for a novel story. When I character gets as absurdly powerful as ours did (my character is a lv. 20 Aasimar Cleric), it's hard to tell a convincing story--especially one set somewhere in terrestrial Faerun. I imagine we'll see a lot of planar travel or something to allow there to be believable combat opponents.

Anyway, I'm very pleased with this announcement. I'm a bit surprised that there isn't a website with some graphics and such to go along with the announcement, though I'm sure we'll see that in time. Congrats on Obsidian and Atari for being in a position that they can make this announcement--nothing will bring players back to the community like the release of an expansion.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dark Waters to be released tomorrow!

While we haven't yet seen any entries to the module writing contest (no surprise--I'm sure most will turn up on the last day or two of the month, as they will take a while to put together), another big boost to the community comes tomorrow with the release of the first module in Adam Millers' Dark Waters series.

Miller has been working on this series since completing Demon two years ago. Here's an excerpt from Miller's website describing the intriguing setting:

I'm trying to combine swashbuckling and high adventure with a more somber exploration of the human mind. The story is also set against the backdrop of a myriad of island nations, only now recovering from a devastating war that changed the face of the world. It is into this world that three friends grow into adulthood and learn about joy, loss, and secrets that have long lain hidden.

On top of the cool setting, the module promises to be well written and contain a TON of custom content. Custom score, full speech, custom models, psionics, flintlock pistols, etc. It should be very interesting. I plan to start playing it this weekend, so you can probably expect to see my comments on it sometime next week.

Patch 1.05 released

Patch 1.05 was released today. It took a bit longer than I expected to go through beta, but it still represents a nice trend of ongoing support from Obsidian. Yay.

You can read my comments on Patch 1.05's feature list here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Shot in the Arm - Obsidian NWN2 Mod-Making Contest

Tonight, Obsidian announced that the long-awaited NWN2 Mod-Making contest is on! From the news announcement on the Vault:
For this first contest, the theme will be "Grimm's Fairy Tales." The final day to submit modules will be Monday, April 30th at noon Pacific Time.

You can remake one of Grimm's Fairy Tales or do anything else as long as your mod has something to do with the theme.
I'm really excited about this. We've talked about how the builder community hasn't been very productive thus far, and this contest could be just what we needed. It offers a chance to get a lot of good modules pushed out in just one month's time...and even if some of the entries aren't very good, it might help a lot of people get their feet wet with the toolset, who might then go on to do great things in our little community.

The immediate comparison one might make for this event is the Bioware Writing Contest of February/March 2006. In that module, conditions were extremely cramped: one 4x4 area, a maximum of three NPC's, no combat at all, and a cap on word count. Most modules took about 5 minutes to play through, though some of the clever ones, including the eventual winner, Myranni's Magic by Mat Jobe, might have taken 15 min. The result was 300+ modules being submitted. Unfortunately, due to the severe constraints, many of them weren't terribly fun or engaging. Still, in my role as one of the nominated community judges, I played through around 90 of them, and saw a lot of really good ideas out there (as an aside, Mat Jobe's module was luckily in my initial batch of modules to review as a judge, so I felt some level of pride to see it win it all...not that it wouldn't have won had it gone to anyone else's batch!).

This new contest has much more open-ended rules, though the expected product must be larger in scope: between 30 minutes and two hours long, two to five areas (one must be an exterior), and must follow (on some level) the Grimm's Fairy Tales theme. It also doesn't carry with it the opportunity to gain potential employment in the gaming industry like the Bioware writing contest did. Therefore, I think the result is going to be that there will be far fewer modules that are submitted, but the ones we get are almost certainly going to be more enjoyable than those of the writing contest.

I can't wait to see the entries start to pour in. I briefly (like...for about 3 seconds) toyed with the idea of trying to come up with a submission of my own, but with the start of the baseball season and everything going on at work, I have too many distractions. :) Instead, I'm going to try to play and give comments on as many as I can, as I think this could be a cool feature for the blog. Stay tuned to this space...

Update: Maerduin is apparently planning to put in a contest submission. Great news!

Update2: It looks like a lot of folks in the NWN2 Mods forum around going to give it a whirl.

Hall of Fame Inductees - April 2006

Yesterday, the second round of inductions into the NWN2 Vault Hall of Fame were announced.

This round's inductees included the first Hall of Fame story-based module: Pool of Radiance Remastered - Chapter 1 by Markus "Wayne" Schlegel. You can read my comments on this module here, but this is an excerpt of my opinion on it:
The town feels cramped and overcrowded, the people have real personalities and are desperately just trying to scrape by in this new outpost, and the strained, self-serving interactions between the adventurers and the town officials do a great job of conveying the unique circumstances of the setting.
It's an excellent module, certainly among the top two or three available on the Vault today. Congratulations to Wayne on making it into the Hall!

Also making it into the NWN2 Hall of Fame this month is clubok's Less Obtrusive Spell Buffs. This is an absolutely essential tweak to the user interface that I highlighted here. Congrats to clubok--and many thanks for making this game much more playable for magic users.

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to Heresiologist, whose NWN1 module, UK2 - The Sentinel was FINALLY inducted into the Hall of Fame. It's long, long overdue--her module has been overlooked for quite some time. Here is an excerpt from my comments on this module, dated 23 June 2005:
The best thing about this module is the detail that was put into it in terms of creating an atmosphere. This is a PnP conversation (I have not played or read the original pnp module), and it shows with the elegant maps included with the documentation, and some of the surrounding backstory in the module. The author has put all of this detail, and certainly some of her own ideas, into this mod. There are some downright beautiful descriptions (though occasionally these are a bit verbose) of the areas in which you travel, much of which is done through pop-up texts. Lighting is also handled well in most areas—I was particularly struck by a forest scene during sunrise, where gorgeous yellow light streams though the leaves. Stunning.
I also want to acknowledge jfoxtail, who ramped up a small campaign to get that module the last few votes it needed to be eligible for the Hall.

Kudos, congrats, and thanks to all of April's inductees of both games.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Music Taste

Maerduin's post about his favorite Modding Music reminded me of a post I saw some time ago on another blog (don't remember where) that asked folks to provide a slice of their music taste by putting their MP3 player on shuffle and reporting what songs came up. So I've done that. Here are the first 40 tracks:
  1. Jealous of the Moon by Nickel Creek
  2. Your Song by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge Soundtrack)
  3. Drain You by Nirvana
  4. Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight by Amos Lee
  5. Turn You Inside-Out by R.E.M.
  6. Out in the Woods by Poor Alfred
  7. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
  8. Hello, Goodbye by The Beatles
  9. Tush by ZZ Top
  10. Crazy by Barenaked Ladies
  11. Free Fallin' by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  12. Heart of Gold by Neil Young
  13. You Are the Everything by R.E.M.
  14. Don't Come Around Here No More by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  15. Kentucky Moon by The Kinks
  16. Someone Else's Song by Wilco
  17. Strange Currencies by R.E.M.
  18. Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues by The Kinks
  19. Desire by U2
  20. Hey Joe by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  21. I'm Always in Love by Wilco
  22. You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon
  23. Have you ever seen the rain (cover-live) by R.E.M.
  24. The Late Greats by Wilco
  25. Star Me Kitten by R.E.M.
  26. Talula by Tori Amos
  27. The Past and Pending by The Shins
  28. Handshake Drugs by Wilco
  29. What's the Matter Here by 10,000 Maniacs
  30. Alabama Song by The Doors
  31. Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Nirvana
  32. Yesterday by The Beatles
  33. Leave My Wife Alone by John Lee Hooker
  34. Cool #9 by Joe Satriani
  35. Speak To Me/Breathe by Pink Floyd
  36. Sedan Delivery by Neil Young
  37. Rebel Yell by Billy Idol
  38. Beloved Wife by Natalie Mechant
  39. Cuckoo's Nest by Nickel Creek
  40. Fall On Me by R.E.M.
I'm not proud of everything up there, but I do admit that I like all these songs. :)

As you can see, I'm not particularly eclectic in my tastes, though there are a few bands on that list that you might not know.

Distribution and representation is interesting. I admittedly do have several R.E.M. and Wilco albums on there, but it's not so biased as this would indicate. While he made appearances, my large collection of Neil Young albums is fairly underrepresented. :) I'm also a bit lacking much in the way of new content--I basically just listen to what I did in high school and my early years of college. ;) Suggestions that complement my interests are welcome--and I'd love to see others around the nwn blogosphere do a similar exercise!