Wednesday, May 30, 2007

NWN2 Modding has life...

All the sudden, I'm feeling like I'm massively behind in my gaming!

Thanks to the NWN2 module contest, I had a chance to play a good number of fun, small modules this month. I had intended to play all of the contest mods, but at this point that doesn't seem likely to happen. I'll certainly be watching for the announcement of the winners, and will play any that I might have missed that place.

But the thing I'm really excited about is that there are now at least three important, reasonably lengthy, high-quality NWN2 modules that I have yet to play:
The latter is one that I admittedly haven't been following closely, but it has had a testing thread in the Modules forums for a while now, and its initial scores have been off the charts. Anything marked "Roleplay: Heavy" and receiving the sorts of votes and comments Night Howls is getting is going to be high on my to-play list.

I'm planning to play through these mods in roughly this order, though I may pause briefly to play Hugie's joke module, which I'd forgotten about but just noticed as I was looking at the top rated list.

Other intriguing modules I still would like to play (in alphabetical order):
I'm excited. There are finally enough modules out there that I feel like I can actually be selective in what I'm playing. And best of all, there's more coming.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Interview with Tiberius

There's a nice interview with Tiberius209 over at the vault right now. I threw a couple of questions QSW's way for this interview, but obviously the most interesting part of an interview are the responses of the interesting person being interviewed.

Here's one of my favorite excerpts, from a bit on his upcoming NWN2 module series, the Maimed Gods Saga:
A final goal is to make a world in which the side quests you complete and the way you complete them matters. The agents of the evil deity you’re confronting have a region-wide plan in action. Putting an end to their plans in one area, for example, may deprive them of some of their troops, making a boss fight easier in some cases, but it will also alert them to your presence. That in turn will cause them to enact their contingency plans. Now that they know you’re around, they might dispatch agents to assassinate you, or maybe they’ll move their plans forward. Maybe they’ll need to create diversions to allow them time to rebuild their operations. They may need to release additional spies into the area to track you, so characters may appear in some cases that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
Also, for the record, the question asking about his Ossian stuff originally had a smiley face at the end of it--I knew we wouldn't get anything good from it. Just wanted to build up some hype for that project. :P

Oh yeah, I'm back. Downloading Keep on the Borderlands as I type!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Subtlety of Thay released!

Congrats to dirtywick, whose module The Subtlety of Thay, is now available on the Vault!

I did a (very small) bit of beta testing for him a while back, and was impressed with what little I saw of the module. I'm looking forward to playing it.

I have a lot of packing and some cleaning to do tonight before leaving for four days tomorrow, so I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to get the new FRWCC posted tonight or not. My guess is that a Tuesday or Wednesday release is more likely. Not much more to do (one conversation, updates to module description and readme, etc), but I don't like to rush things out the door--especially not before leaving town! But I still might have the time.

Update: Check out the feature list in the module description. It sounds spectacular.

Update2: I threw caution to the wind and went ahead with the FRWCC update! Hopefully nothing will be badly broken.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pushing along with the Character Creator

I think I've nearly completed my next update of the character creator. Just in time too, because I'm leaving town for Memorial Day weekend and won't be back until which point I dive into teaching summer school, which will be five weeks of grading hell.

In addition to the basement with its library and shrine, there are now four new NPC's in the pub, plus an extra (currently underdeveloped) NPC downstairs who sells basic crafting materials. It feels far more lively in there than it ever did before--much closer to my original vision of what the module could be like. Sal's (overpriced) store is also much more interesting, thanks to new items from the Pool of Radiance and Subtlety of Thay.

The only major item I still have planned for the coming release is to modify Sal's dialog a fair bit to highlight all the new features and personalities of the module. Might be a touch up thing or two as well, though I think I got most of those items tonight.

Aside from continuing to add new NPC's and items as FRW modules are released, the only other major improvement that I'd like to make to this module is to add persistent storage. For now, however, that remains a pipe dream...

Two videos worth watching...

The new Purgatorio trailer is out. It shows off some of the cool custom content in the module, including both custom models and some good voice acting, but the most intriguing part to me was the first 30 seconds, describing a strange marooned boy devoid of sight, vision, and speech...

Rogue Dao's module is now in internal beta, which is great news for all of us eager players. ... Though one almost has to worry about whether the incredible hype for this project is going to push expectations to absurd levels.

This is a bit old, but by way of showcasing Obsidian's upcoming release of their Granny animation tools to the community, they posted this video on their blog of birds flying around a windmill. I can't seem to get a screen capture of it, but it's freaking spectacular. The first time I see this in-game, I'm going to pee myself.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I made great progress tonight on the character creator. I did a lot of re-organization of the items in the blueprints to make things easier moving forward, added credits to all items already in the module, and then imported a host of items from Pool of Radiance into Sal's Store. More importantly, I imported Sasha (the clerk from Pool of Radiance) and wrote her dialog, which I think came out well. It's good to have another NPC from FRW modules present in the pub!

At this point, just a few more characters from the other released FRW modules and this sucker will be ready to go. Feels good to finally have made progress again.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Grimm Brigade

Tonight I finished a module I started a few nights back, the Grimm Brigade. It's a short, fun hack and slash with great style. It's a great choice if all you're in the mood to do is go kill something. My comments and vote:
My Vote: 7 - Very Good, Deserves a Look
Character: Lawful Good Fighter/Dwarven Defender, went from lv. 1 to lv. 9

The Grimm Brigade is a fun and well-polished one-night hack 'n slash. I guess I'd describe it as G.I. Joe meets forgotten realms meets children's fairy tales. It has a fast and furious pace. Combat was challenging and did require some serious potion sipping (or berry eating?), but it was varied and entertaining for my dwarven defender. I'm not sure how well other classes would cope with the challenges, though it sounds like the author has spent time trying to balance it for other classes.

Areas are nicely built, particularly the first and last locations to which you travel. I also liked the use of tinting and scaling to spice up the monster selections. The module moves along in a strictly linear fashion, and the story is mostly just a convenient means of stringing together the action sequences. Nevertheless, the use of Grimm's Fairy Tale themes in the different areas was cleverly done, often with a humorous slant. Writing in general was excellent though brief. Overall, while not a particularly deep module, the emphasis is on fun, and it delivers in full.

Updates from around the blogosphere...

I thought I'd check in on what some of the builders from around the NWN2 blogosphere are up to in quick-hit fashion:
  • Adam Miller seems to have just about finished his first pass of module construction in the second chapter of his Dark Waters series.
  • Dirtywick is reporting in the FRW forums that his module, the Sublety of Thay, might be released on the vault early next week!!!
  • Enoa4's module, B2: Keep on the Borderlands, has been a great success, and is high on my list of modules to play...though I probably won't get to it 'til June. ;( The good news is that he's actually thinking that maybe sometime in the future he'll possibly consider writing another mod. :)
  • Hugie continues to plug away at the early stages of his upcoming module, Moonshadows.
  • Maerduin has decided to drop his (perhaps overly ambitious) Mysteries of the Moonsea epic in favor of a smaller and more manageable project that he is currently calling Harp and Crysanthemum.
  • Markus "Wayne" Schlegel, after finally solving a module loading problem he'd been encountering, is making great progress on the second chapter of his excellent Pool of Radiance series, reporting that he's hoping to be working on Alpha 3 with his team this weekend/next week.
  • The Ossian Studios team, which includes Alazander, Challseus, Hugie, and Tiberius, perhaps among others, are continuing to report lots of work on "uhh...secret stuff." Alazander continues to drop hints that an announcement is not far off.
  • Phoenixus is organizing a team to push forward with his Tales of Asberdies module, the sequel to Tragedy in Tragidor.
  • Rashidi is pushing forward with his module, Fianchetto's Fable, and has recently enlisted the help of a writer to continue to make progress on his module.
  • Ryam Baco doesn't update his blog very often, but has said in a comment on this blog that work continues in chapter 2 of his surreal Asylum series.
  • Seryn seems very close to releasing a beta version of his module, the Zelbross Affair, to the FRW folks.
  • Tiberius209, despite his commitments to Ossian, is also making good progress on his first NWN2 project, the Maimed God Saga.
  • Vendalus is also making progress on his SKS series, and has circulated an alpha version of the first module to the FRW folks.
And those are just the projects I'm following somewhat closely. A few others have active threads in the NWN2 Modules forums--sorry for not highlighting those as well! Best of all, with summer here, we might start to see some of the student-types invest more effort than they've recently been able to into their projects. It's going to be an exciting summer!

Update: Oh yeah, one last bit of news--I'm going to try to spend the next week or so pushing out a new version of the FRWCC. Been a while since I worked on it, and an update is overdue.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cry Wolf

Last night I played Cry Wolf by Lorft, which was surprisingly good given how little attention it has received from the player base. The vote of 7 might have been a bit conservative...I'm more and more enthusiastic about the module the more I think about it. Nevertheless, it doesn't quite rise to the level of something that I'd recommend to anyone...though I certainly think everyone should give it a look. :) My comments:

My Vote: 7 - Very Good, Deserves a Look
Character: lv. 6 half-orc barbarian
My score: 98%, didn't solve the puzzle.

A well-polished module with a clever concept, an interesting take on the Grimm's Fairy Tales theme, the occasional good puzzle, very challenging combat, and a dollop of good humor, Cry Wolf is an overlooked module in the Obsidian module contest. In fitting with the theme, the module is narrated via a series of cutscenes with an old storyteller talking to a group of kids. The story itself is a twisted take on fairy-tale fantasies, which in this case are used to subvert and control a small village.

Combat in this module is, at times, very challenging, especially if you have an eye on the custom score system; resting drops your score by a percentage point each time, so if you're going to get a high score, you have to be careful with your spell usage. The challenges are variable, from single gigantic foes with massive hit points and damage dealing potential, to numerous foes who you have to engage with care, to foes who use mental attacks to disable your adventurers. Furthermore, almost all of the foes you fight are unique and interesting--not much here in the way of generic filler. I had a good time with these fights, though I think I might have found them a bit too difficult if the module had been longer...but it's not, so it worked! :)

I think the only real suggestion I have is related to the "beauty" theme that was introduced late in the module. I think this could have been better used if it was interwoven into the module's theme from the beginning... I don't have a great solution for how to do this, unfortunately, but it seemed to come out of no where at the end. Perhaps more development of the druid's character might have been the key to making it happen?

Nevertheless, an very good little module and one that I had a lot of fun playing. Thanks for sharing it with us, and good luck in the competition. This module should place very well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Being Good

Before bed last night, I played Christian Mayr's contest module, Being Good. As you'll see, I had a lot of fun playing through this strange little module.
My vote: 7 - Very Good, Deserves a Look
Character: lv. 1 Human Female Illusionist Wizard (with the elderly fairy godmother face and hair, of course!)

Christian Mayr's first module release, the delightfully bizarre Asylum: A Bet, A Corpse, put him on the map as one of the more ...non-traditional builders in our community. This module does nothing to change that peception, though instead of the dark foreboding of Asylum, the mood Being Good is decidedly light and fun. If I was going to try to describe this module via comparisons, it would probably be something like a blend of Grimm's Fairy Tales, Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, Looney Toons, and yes, Batman . It's extremely funny, particularly near the beginning, when I literally was laughing so hard I had to rest my head on my keyboard wrist support. Mayr continues his use of extreme lighting and tinting in places, though it wasn't so severe in this module as in his other module, and actually makes for an appropriate effect early on. In addition to the bizarre concept, what really made this module stand out the use of custom sounds and music, which set a tone completely unlike anything you'd get using stock nwn2 content.

The module plays out well and is fun, even though it's pretty short and is essentially an "adventure"-style game (there isn't any real combat) with very little in the way of challenging puzzles. The story is creative, and everything makes sense in a twisted and absurd kind of way. The one possible critique I might have would be that the writing is still a bit awkward at times, though it's actually quite good for a non-native English speaker and seems to be substantially improved from the (somewhat early) version of Asylum that I played. Thanks again to the author for a fun little module, and I continue to look forward to the next Asylum module!

Once Upon a Time...

Tonight I also got the chance to play through Mungo_D's contest module, Once Upon a Time. My comments:
6 - Good, Qualified Recommendation
Character: lv. 1 chaotic good human barbarian

Once upon a time is a modest, humorous little adventure with a cool premise, and ultimately is a decent way to start off a character and get him or her to level 2. The premise--that people are just pawns, their lives shaped by stories, which repeat over and over again--is really cool and deserves exploration. I thought that this was going to be a really cool exploration of fate and destiny and a character's fight against impossible odds. Instead, while there's an element of that, the author opted to use the premise as a running gag throughout the module. His take is funny and clever, and I recommend it for that. The module also has a cool underground mines area that was built exterior areas, as well as a spectacular effect during the opening sequence.

The actual adventure itself was fine, though perhaps not particularly memorable. Dialogs, as others have mentioned, were fairly minimal and were quite linear, though they were well written. It seems like this could have been a great hack and slash mod for a level 1 character, but I found the combat to be a bit light for that genre. Granted, I played with a fairly uber melee character, which might have made it too easy, but I think that a bit more combat & a bit more exploration (especially in the mines) might have made this a more enjoyable module. Of course, that might have been inconsistent with the punch line... :)

Witch in the Wood: A Grimm Fairy Tale

Last night, I played Lord Niah's contest module Witch in the Wood: A Grimm Fairy Tale. It's an enjoyable little adventure. My comments:
My vote: 6 - Good, Qualified Recommendation
Character: lv. 4 chaotic good wood elf ranger

Witch in the Woods is a very short, but still enjoyable little adventure. While it is more true to the classic tale it is based on than some of the other contest modules, it still takes liberties with the story to spice things up a bit. As the readme indicates, the best fit for this module is a ranger, as essentially you are tasked with tracking down two lost kids and saving them from whatever fate has befallen them.

The highlight of this module is its custom scripting, which includes an interesting "search" system in which you can check an object (like a hollow tree stump) for items or other bonuses using your search skill, as well as a few special-use items. It's a nice variant from the typical "click to open and loot" approach that is the default in nwn2, especially in this setting (a forest). The writing is good, and the plot is decent even in its brevity, with a (sometimes humorous) twist or two to keep it interesting. The action was fairly easy for my ranger (a level-3 character might have been better balanced), but I like that what combat is there fits the setting, without any obvious "filler." Finally, the area design is fantastic. The author makes great use of scaling to create a gigantic redwood backdrop, beneath which lies a thick understory. When coupled with the ambient noises of an untouched wilderness, the module gives a great sense of walking through a thick forest.

The reason I "only" give it a qualified recommendation is that, at about a half-hour of game time, it is such a short module; it seemed to just be gaining some momentum by the time that it ended. You could probably describe the whole module as something that would make for a fun little side-quest in a larger adventure. I understand the constraints that the author worked under, of course, so this is understandable. But one thing that might have made this module more enjoyable is if the tracking phase of the module had a bit more meat to it. As it is, while there is some effort to include spot checks for signs of the kids, you basically just stumble upon the children. Perhaps if something more akin to the tracking system used in Kale's Rangers (NWN1), or even the "chase-the-odor" sequence in Stormchaser, had been used, it might have been a bit more dramatic when one finally locates the house.

Overall, though, it's a fun little module and is worth checking out, as long as you are aware of its limitations.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mouse-over Health Status!

As I played through Dark Waters and The Birthday the last couple of nights, I noticed a small but substantial improvement to the NWN2 user interface that goes back to a beef I had about the game from the moment I started playing: mouse-over health status for all NPC's has been added! Here's a screenie of it in action:
Here, my mouse cursor is hoving over the "Unseelie," and it reveals his approximate health status. This is how NWN1 worked, but it was initially absent from NWN2. Prior to this improvement, the only way to discover a character's health status was to right-click on that character. There was no quick way to assess the health of a large number of foes in the middle of battle. And now there is! While it's a little thing, this already has greatly improvement my comfort with the game--and has decreased the clicking I've had to do!

I guess this was an addition in the 1.05 patch, but I didn't see mention of it in the patch notes. Kudos to Obsidian for making it happen.

The Birthday

Last night I finally got a chance to complete my first contest module, which was The Birthday by Maerduin. I expected these modules to be of higher quality than those submitted for Bioware's Writing Contest, but given the constraints, I still had relatively modest expectations. But if Maerduin's module is any indication, I'm going to have a blast playing through them this month. My comments:
My vote: 8 – Excellent, recommended to anyone
Character: Neutral good female human druid.

An excellent debut module! This is an absolutely delightful little adventure. There's a way in which I didn't expect a lot from these contest modules, but this one really showed how brilliant a module can be if a lot of creativity is exercised when developing it. The plot is excellent, with a host of fairy tale references and themes sprinkled throughout, even as one or two turn out to be the ultimate inspiration. There are actually multiple endings, which is remarkable in a module of this size (and one created on this short of a time frame). The pacing is excellent, with a satisfying amount of gameplay that never feels rushed. Most impressively, by the end, you actually feel like you accomplished something, even though only 1.5 hours have passed.

Writing is genuinely excellent, with great humor scattered throughout the dialog, and especially in the item descriptions. There are some excellent roleplaying opportunities, as well as the opportunity to earn extra xp via skill checks. Even the combat is satisfying; it's reasonably well varied, and very well balanced (for my druid), with a challenging, memorable final battle. And I also want to particularly commend the exterior area designs. The town's rolling hills are spectacular, and the forest area is among the most dramatic NWN2 area I've seen yet, thanks in large part to its wonderful trees.

Just a few minor comments. First, I encountered one bug related to a cutscene, but it was solved with a reload. Also, I'd recommend exporting the character at the end of the module so that those of us who like to keep their characters can use them later on. Finally, in the future, I'd highly recommend using a hakpak rather than forcing us to put things in our override folder. Less likely to cause problems for users in the future, as I have a tendency to forget when I put things in my override. Plus, it's simpler for novice players--just put the *.hak in your override and be done with it. :)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Tragedy in Tragidor and A Bet, A Corpse enter Hall of Fame

I'm a bit late on reporting this, but A Tragedy in Tragidor by Phoenixus, and A Bet, A Corpse by Christian Mayr were inducted into the Hall of Fame this month. Congrats to both authors!

Here is an excerpt from my comments on Tragidor (my vote: 9 - outstanding, a must have):
Tragedy in Tragidor sets a high, early bar for what modules can be in NWN2. It's immersive, fun, and has a good, tight story that generally is told well from start to finish. I think this is a great example of what authors can do when they try to stay within themselves. It doesn't try to be too big, but it still has enough to it to make for a very satisfying experience.
And here is an excerpt from my comments on A Bet, A Corpse (my vote: 8 - excellent, recommended to anyone):
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 I grinned my way through it.
If you haven't checked these two modules out, there's no time like the present... Also, Christian Mayr has released a module for the NWN2 Grimm's Fairy Tales Contest: Being Good. I'll have comments on it soon (promise! -- been a really busy week with the semester ending, but I expect to have more module playing time in the coming week).

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Finished Dark Waters

I did end up finishing Dark Waters last night. Lots of pros, but some cons as well. The setting is fantastic, the custom content is overall very nice (nice resource for the community!), and the scripting of his various puzzles and mini-games was really well done. On the other hand, while the story is also excellent, its execution, particularly in the latter part of the module, wasn't very good. It seemed rather rushed, and was pretty confusing. There are also still some lingering bugs, but the show-stoppers seem to have been resolved.

Anyway, I've requested the review of Dark Waters with the NWVault Review Guild. Hopefully Adam Miller will agree. It might not be a gushing review, but I think it'll be very fair.

Update: Adam Miller wants to wait on the review until he fixes a few more bugs. Fair enough, though to be honest, I don't think that'll change the results much--I wasn't going to penalize it much at all due to bugs, as they didn't affect gameplay much. But who knows, maybe his subsequent version will make some other parts of the module work better. So I'm going to hold off on my comments for now. Hopefully he will eventually submit it for review.

Looking forward to playing Maerduin's The Birthday tonight...

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Contest Watch

Update: Rather than keep this stickied all month, I've opted instead to move this list into the sidebar.

Here is the final list of NWN2 Contest Modules. Congrats to all of these authors for meeting the tight deadline!!