Saturday, June 30, 2007

Finished Subtlety of Thay

Tonight, I finished the Subtlety of Thay. It's an excellent module--I'll write up comments tomorrow. I think I'm largely (though not completely) in agreement with BGP Hughes' review of the module, which was just posted to the Vault today.

For now, though, I need to go to sleep. :)


So, I got banned from the Bioware Forums today for the first time! Here's proof:
I was responding to this thread. Here, as best as I'm able to recreate it, is the message I was trying to post:
Yeah, I can certainly understand not want to give a low vote. My general rule of thumb is that I only vote on modules that I complete. And if I'm not enjoying a module, I will generally not complete it.

Nevertheless, I wanted to echo Childhood's suggestion to at least try to leave constructive feedback. Most builders are very happy to receive feedback, even when critical, as long as it is written in a constructive tone. One thing I always try to do (in addition to being sure to highlight the good as well as the bad) is to accompany any criticisms I have with suggestions for how the problem might be addressed. This helps me to emphasize how an author might improve his or her work, and to keep the tone positive and encouraging.
Let's see here. No obvious swears. No words that I see that could contain a bad word, like "cumbersome," "shittake mushrooms," or even "craptacular." Heck, I don't even think I was saying anything that could be construed as controversial! Anyone have any ideas? I haven't gotten a response from Bioware yet as to what the heck is going on, though I certainly hope I will. :)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

NWN2 Mods Needing Votes

One of the features that the old Vault (pre-2005) had that the current Vault software is lacking was the ability to generate a report of modules needing votes to get on the top rated list (requires 10 votes minimum).

While there haven't been as many NWN2 modules released compared to what we saw with NWN1's release, there actually are a surprising number that have yet to cross the 10-vote threshold. And several look like they'd be worth playing.

Therefore, I thought I'd take a quick jaunt through the NWN2 module list and create a report of those modules that need more votes to reach the "immortals" list so that they may avoid getting lost in the ether. I ignored modules that were declared to be in beta, as well as modules that were geared toward builders (script examples, builder utilities, etc) and not players. Trainer modules, PvP arenas, cutscenes, etc, were fair game, as long as they were geared toward players. Here are the top-15 modules on the list, sorted by votes needed and current score:
Title Score Votes Comments
Treasure Hunters 7.64 9
Alternate NWN2 Ending 7.61 9 cutscene
The Final Journey 7.32 9
The Rampion Champion 6.07 9 contest module - ranked #3 by Obsidian
Heroic Dream 9.75 8 utility
Happily Never After 6.96 8 contest module
The Garden 6.17 8
Curse of the Timberclaw 5.71 8
Road to Glory 2.67 8
Village of the Mutes 1.00 8
dmraist's Trainer Module 8.10 7 utility
Grimm's Patchworld 6.05 7 contest module
The Otherside Chronicles 7.38 4
PvP Mod + Items/XP/Gold 7.33 3
War Grounds X 7.17 3
Rise to Power 5.58 3 utility

If you have tried these modules and have yet to vote, please go do so! And if you are looking for something new to try, why not check one of these modules out?

This was somewhat cumbersome to compile, so I can't promise I'll update it. But you never know...

Rob's NWN2 Blog: Genasi & Purgatorio

Pretty amazing update today on Rob McGinnis' Official NWN2 Blog. I'll highlight two items that caught my fancy.

First, he has more detailed info on the Genasi, the new playable race(s) in the upcoming expansion. All seem to get a penalty to Charisma, which makes them unsuitable for some classes. I'm guessing (I could probably look this up) that they will also feature an ECL penalty. But still, they could be interesting races to play. I'd be particularly excited if someone decided to do a Genasi-specific module at some point. That could be extremely cool.

Second, he posted some screenshots from Rogue Dao Studios' upcoming module, Purgatorio. They apparently have custom monsters in game, including the much-needed Slaads. I think they look awesome, particularly the Green Slaad. Can't wait to see them animated--and I can't wait to start hacking them up. :D This continues to look like it will be the biggest community release of the year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fallout 3

Mostly, I just play Neverwinter Nights 2 when I need a roleplaying fix. But every once in a while, I do like to check out the offerings of other games. So I was over at Gamespot tonight, and noticed this:

Kind of exciting. Fall 2008 is still a long way off, but Fallout 2 is one of my all-time favorite games. I understand that this sequel will be far different in terms of the gameplay, but my primary hope for it is that they will be able to keep the incredible atmosphere and feel of the first two games. We'll see. I'll likely be following news on this one a bit more closely from now on.

Upcoming release: The Zelbross Affair

Seryn mentioned in a thread at the FRW forums that he hopes to release his module, the Zelbross Affair, near the end of the week. Here's a very brief description that he posted some weeks ago:
**The Zelbross Affair**
Setting: Zelbross and the surrounding area (The Delimbiyr area of the North)
Levels: 1st, reaching 3rd by module end (a relatively short module)
Classes: All
Races: All
Alignments: All
Description: A starting module based in Zelbross centered on a merchant plot involving humanoids and caravan raiders. Generally hack and slash, with the choice of adding up to 3 of 6 available custom companions.
Looks like fun!

I'm sure that no one is really interested in this, but my short-term playlist, in approximate order, is as follows:
  1. Finish Subtlety of Thay -- impressively long module. I keep thinking I'm nearing the end, and a whole new plot segment appears! Using a wood elf ranger, who began her career in Witch in the Wood.
  2. The Rampion Champion -- new character--probably a rogue, given that he's sneaking into a garden to steal a vegetable.
  3. A Walk in the Woods -- new character--no idea what class. Given that it's light H&S, perhaps I'll go ahead and use my gnome bard from Uninvited Guests. It'd be nice to get her out of level 1...
  4. Daark Twins -- use included character.
  5. Night Howls in Nestlehaven -- I think I'm going to use my cleric from Keep on the Borderlands for this one, levelled up to lv. 10 or so. I have a dwarven defender who is closer to the appropriate level, but the cleric should offer more enjoyable roleplaying.
  6. The Zelbross Affair -- new character. Since it's low-level H&S, I'll probably go with a melee-type, most likely a tank (as opposed to a high-dex sort). Which class/race I choose may depend on the module description.
After that, who knows? We'll see what else has been released. Sgt. Why's Red Hand of Doom is also in beta, so perhaps it'll be ready by then. And there are several other mods I've been thinking about playing for some time now.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Akkei working on NWN2 module

One of the things that has been a bit disappointing to me as a player is how few of the "old guard" of NWN1 builders have made the transition to NWN2. The majority of those that have seem to be working for larger, professional studios like Ossian, with just a few (Adam Miller, Enoa4, and Markus Schlegel head the list) independent artists out there who were significant players during the main part of NWN1's modding life. It's not that I blame them--hardware requirements are steep, the time investment required is greater, and they've already put a significant part of their lives into modding and thus may be ready to move on. But I still hold out hope that more will continue to make the transition. And perhaps they will:

Yesterday, Akkei announced that he is working on a NWN2 module. A long-time community member and well-regarded builder, Akkei published three important and highly original modules for NWN1. You can read his announcement to find out about his upcoming module, but I thought I'd reflect back a bit on his past contributions. Below, I link to each of his three English NWN1 modules, and post an excerpt of my comments:

Orcs 1 - The Awakening of the Arak-Hur (my comments posted 3/30/05)
"Orcs" had been on my playlist for a long time, and I finally have had the opportunity to give it a go. It was everything I’d heard it to be. You begin as the adopted child of an orc, having just come of age to serve your orc clan, the Arak-Hur. Your clan was driven into the caves in the mountains 30 years prior by human invaders into your lands. They have bought their time, grown their forces, and now are prepared to strike back at the humans. Since you are not an orc, they ask you to go do some reconnaissance on the human populations to help them identify weaknesses in their defenses.

So begins a very open ended game. Once you leave the Orc confines, you have your choices of a large variety of quests which all can be accomplished in any order you choose. Quests are varied and interesting, and many of them are mutually exclusive—if you agree to cooperate with one faction, quests from other factions will become impossible. There are numerous opportunities to roleplay characters that range from lawful neutral to chaotic evil. The best accomplishment of this module is that it allows you to very easily slip into the role of an orc. Throughout most of the module (exception—see below in spoilers), I felt absolutely no regrets about spying on the humans, discovering their weaknesses, and reporting them to my superiors. After all, these are the corrupt bastards that conquered your clan’s homelands for nothing more than financial gain.
Orcs 2 - Return to Al-Dha (my comments posted 4/5/05)
Orcs 2 is a worthy sequel to the original Orcs module by Akkei, and is the 2nd in this unfinished series. You begin shortly after the events in Orcs 1, having been promoted to Arms Master, a very prestigious title in your clan. Having defeated the humans responsible for your clans' exile, your chief has decided it is time to return by sea to the homeland of the orcs. You are assigned the helm of one of three galleons used in that transport. But things don’t go quite as planned…

So begins this very open-ended module. There are few modules that give you as much choice in the way the story goes than Orcs 2. There are three different plot lines here. I only sampled one of them, but the nice thing is that even though the stories are the same, you get to see most of the module playing through each one of them. This was a good, important design decision—it allowed there to be a decent amount of detail in the world and a lot of side quests, even though the world can be experienced through the three storylines.

There was a lot of thought that went into the gameworld. The module creates three very distinct orc cultures, each of which is different from the other (largely along the lawful-neutral-chaotic axis), and also distinct from the player's home clan. They are locked in what seems to be a long political struggle that has a very uneasy peace. Further, they have a long history that is only alluded to, but includes an interesting tale involving elves. I really enjoyed the setting of this module.
The Breach

As it turns out, I never posted comments on this one, though I did play it for an evening or two. I found the setting and concept to be absolutely fantastic. Amazingly creative, fun, and exciting. The opportunity to play undead characters is something that has never been done as well, before or after this module was released. The cutscenes that start this module are to die for (heh), and the experience of navigating a dark undead keep while rooting out pesky good-doers was delightful.

Nevertheless, I found the combat to be far too over-the-top for my enjoyment. I tried to play the sorcerer, as well as the fighter, and in both cases the repeated and constant spawning in some of the town areas just became tedious. Nevertheless, this module is worth a look, if for no other reason than to experience the first hour or so of gameplay. I'd love to see someone try to do something like this for NWN2, just with less over-the-top combat. :)

Contest Art - Khelgar, Balor, Succubus, Phaerimm, and Sand

Here are a few pieces of contest art that I haven't been able to work into another post.

Hand-drawn Category
Khelgar by Vaei (not an official entry, but darn nice):
...a quick watercolor sketch of Khelgar (hands down favourite character in the official campaign!) I'll probably opt for a tighter digital render for the final submission.
Balor and Succubus by SuiSa:
This is my second image for the NWN2 fan-art contest (Ed: her first can be found here).
Render category:
Phaerimm by Chris McSpurren:
Here's a pic of a Phaerimm that I modelled in Maya awhile back. I'll convert it for use in the game if anyone wants it.
Sand by Sorcha Ravenlock (another non-official entry from the thread, done in Daz Studio/Photoshop, but I like it, so...):
Thanks to these artists for their submissions. I'm really enjoying seeing what folks are coming up with.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dark Waters

So, as it turns out, another member of the review guild was particularly interested in writing the review for Dark Waters when/if Adam Miller decides to submit it. Furthermore, I don't know if it's ever going to be submitted for review (Miller asked to delay the review until he had more time to patch it...and it's been a while), and besides, I've moved on to other I've decided to just post my comments.

Keep in mind that my comments were from Dark Waters version 1.03, and there is currently a 1.04 version on the Vault. Nevertheless, I think my comments are still applicable--Miller has primarily been fixing bugs, and while I did encounter a couple of those, it's not my primary critique of the module. As you'll see, I did think it was a fun game. I just think the story needed a bit more fleshing out.

My comments:
My Vote: 7 - Very Good, Deserves a Look
Version Played: Dark Waters 1.03, using NWN2 1.05
Character: Human male rogue/fighter (hey, we're going to be a pirate, no?)

There's an awful lot to like about Dark Waters--its potential is amazing--but in the end, I thought it fell a bit short of being a satisfying experience. Surprisingly, though, I think it fell short for reasons other than those that are typically mentioned in votes by other players.

First, what I liked: 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.

On top of that, of course, is the custom content. The voice acting is the flashiest and most obvious innovation, and it ranges from very good to not real good. Fortunately, most of the main characters are very well done (particularly Heather and Daniel), and those are the characters that you converse with most often in the game. There is also a custom score (excellent), and a ton of custom placeable models included in the game. It's quite a resource for the community.

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.

The story itself borders on outstanding--it's a bit complicated, but it's fascinating, splendid science fiction/fantasy. But I found that the main shortcoming of this module is the execution of this story. While it is true that the opening series of cutscenes has a bit of a clumsy feel to it (a common complaint), I didn't find this to be a big issue. The problem I ran into were the final few nodes in the story, which seemed pretty rushed.

The issue, I think, has to do with the rather large size of the cast. There are effectively eight main characters for most of the module, two of which are treated as villains much of the time. I found that the development of this core cast of characters was well done--you learn about them at a nice pace, develop their personalities slowly, and ultimately have a good feel for who they are. But then, near the end, a 9th character is introduced who plays a pivotal role in the plot.

I found this individual's introduction to be really jarring. It was very difficult understand who he was, and he was never really given a genuine introduction. It'd be one thing if he was a stranger, but instead he apparently has a long history with some of the characters in the party. The result was that the final few cutscenes had a very rushed, and somewhat contrived feel as the author tried to tie up all the loose ends. I think that a bit more time spent generating backstory for this character--perhaps with another major flashback, for example--could have made a world of difference.

My other critiques have already been offered by other players. The combat is fun enough for a light/moderate combat module, though the final battle was much too easy. There are a lot (maybe too many) of speak triggers throughout the module, and sometimes it's possible to trigger one that assumes you've already experienced a previous one, which can be confusing. Also, there are still a few remaining bugs, though fortunately it looks like most of the show-stoppers have been resolved.

Overall, it's an interesting module and is definitely worth checking out. It's something of a landmark given the amount of custom content, but the issues with the story in the latter half of the module left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Nevertheless, for the most part, I had a terrific time playing it, and I'm really looking forward to playing the next chapter.
It's kind of a shame for these comments to be coming out so late, but oh well. Live and learn.

More on the Red Wizard

One of the highest-profile additions that will be coming with the expansion class is the new Red Wizard of Thay prestige class. In the NWN2 blog yesterday, Rob McGinnis gave the lowdown on how they will be implementing it:
Requirements: The Red Wizard prestige class requires that you be human and have any non-good alignment. You must have 8 ranks in the Spellcraft skill and at least one metamagic feat or item creation feat (other than scribe scroll). Other feats you must have are Spell Penetration and Greater Spell Penetration, too. On top of all that you must be a specialist wizard with the ability to cast at least 3rd level arcane spells.

Class Features: The Red Wizard uses the d4 Hit Die, just like a normal wizard and has a low base attack bonus (BAB). Her high save is Will. Red Wizards gain no armor or weapon proficiencies and gain 2 skill points, plus intelligence modifier, per level in skill points.

The special features a Red Wizard gains are as follows (not listed in any particular order):

1. Red Wizards continue to gain spells per level as though gaining a level in Wizard.
2. Enhanced Specialization: Upon becoming a Red Wizard, the character becomes even more skilled at casting spells from his chosen school of specialization.
3. Specialist Defense: A Red Wizard gains a bonus to defending against schools from his specialist school.
4. Spell Power: The Red Wizard's effective caster level for determining level-dependent variable checks is increased by +1.
5. Wizard Bonus Feat: Red Wizards gain a bonus metamagic or item creation feat.
Overall, it looks like a nice option for neutral and evil specialist wizards looking for something a bit different. Unlike the Pale Master, I don't think there's any sort of delay in caster level, so this seems like a nice alternative. The enhanced specialization might be really powerful for an illusionist or an enchanter, and the spell power boost is handy. That said, I don't think it's going to result in the feeling that you're significantly different from a normal wizard--but at least you get to be a Red Wizard!

The graphic, by the way, is an excellent collage/paint job by relsh (note, this is not a contest submission).


Life's been pretty busy, and my university was in the College World Series recently, which means I haven't played NWN2 in about 5 days. I'm nearing the end of Subtlety of Thay, and hope to finish it up tonight. Fun mod. Comments on that to follow.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest

With the conclusion of the first Obsidian competition, we have another to follow:
Due to the fun we had with the mod-building contest, we are announcing a Fan Art contest for the non-builders.

There will be two categories that a person may enter:

First Category: Your favorite NWN2 Companion (Khelgar, Neeshka, etc.) or NPC (Lord Nasher, King of Shadows, etc.)

Second Category: Your favorite NWN2 creature or monster.
Submissions are due July 31st, so folks have plenty of time to work on their entries. There could be a potentially really cool prize associated with winning. From Rob:
...I am toying with the idea of the winner(s) artwork being added as a placeable piece of art in game. We would get the artist's permission for that, of course... and no guarantees that will happen.
I'm sure almost any community artist would be thrilled to have this happen. Kudos to Rob for thinking of it, as it immediately makes this contest seem far more interesting. Even if it doesn't happen officially, I think that converting these submissions to placeables could be a really cool project for some enterprising custom contest creator out there. :D

It should be a fun contest, and I'm looking forward to decorating my blog with the submissions. :)

Speaking of which, here's the first (unofficial) entry thus far, an entertaining little comic by SuiSa2006 from the official forums:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Obsidian Contest Wrap-Up - Updated

Today, following the announcement of the winner on Monday, Rob McGinnis his list of the top three Contest Modules, as ranked by Obsidian's internal voting. They are:
  1. Grimm Brigade by Jason S. Roy (jclef)
  2. The Birthday by Maerduin
  3. The Rampion Champion by Death Quaker
The latter has to be considered a surprise winner, as it currently has the lowest popular vote score among contest modules with at least 5 votes. Comments on it generally indicate that it was well done, but extremely short. All of these contest modules were quite short, but in this case, it seems shorter than most. I'm going to put it at the top of my to-play list so I can see for myself, right after I finish Subtlety of Thay (currently about 3 hours into that mod). As always, I'll post my feedback in this space.

I posted this in my previous update, but for posterity, here are the rankings, by popular vote, of all contest modules (scores as of Tuesday):
  1. The Birthday - 8.92
  2. Grimm Brigade - 8.50
  3. Cry Wolf - 8.33
  4. Daark Twins - 7.69
  5. Being Good - 7.68
  6. Witch in the Wood - 7.25
  7. A Walk in the Woods 7.21
  8. Ebha - 7.00
  9. Happily Never After - 6.90s
  10. Once Upon a Time - 6.67
  11. Grimm's Patchworld - 6.56
  12. Queen of Lies - 6.50
  13. Prince of Light, or Shadow - 6.48
  14. The Rampion Champion - 6.10
Final Thoughts On the Contest - UPDATED

I have decided to remove/revise this part of my post. Originally it highlighted some of what I felt were problems with how the contest was run, and questioned whether any prizes at all were awarded (this was not clear at all initially--and from my perspective even doubtful--but Rob has since verified that Jason Roy is receiving prizes as the winning author).

This afternoon I contacted Rob McGinnis via PM, once again mentioning Lorft's thoughtful post on the contest, and addressing the issue of the prizes. It was a very polite and civil e-mail, and it had a constructive tone (to my eye, anyway), but I did state my case. Shortly afterward, I received a response from Rob indicating that prizes are indeed being awarded to the winner. Then, perhaps in response to my PM, or to others he has received, he made this post in the forums a few minutes later, which addressed some of my (and others) additional concerns:
As with everything we do, we received some criticism as to how the contest was run.

Let me first say that the winner is going to receive some prizes. It won't be anything along the lines of a new computer or a job or anything, but the winner will receive prizes, the least of which is an Obsidian T-Shirt.

Second, some people feel there should have been more publicity. I am not sure if the feeling was that we should have publicized the contest, the entries, or both. I do not know what more to do in these forums except bump the thread.

Third, there was criticism that the contest was unclear. I tried to clarify it as much as possible and, as was stated, if there were any questions, I was available through PM or forum post. If something was unclear, I could have cleared it up, if asked. I don't see every post on these forums, so a PM would have been useful.

I have said many times before, the NWN2 community is only possible if we work together. If you hold your questions and concerns and wait to only criticize at the end (this goes for anything), we may find that the contests are more trouble than they are worth.
The latter rebuff is perfectly fair. The problem, in my case at least, is that the pieces didn't come together about what was troubling me about how this contest was run until the short winner announcement post was made in the forums. As I continued to reflect on it, and read the posts of others, I realized that there were some issues that really troubled me about how the contestants in this contest were dealt with. Some of my concerns were admittedly based on misconceptions (primarily the issue of prizes), but most are still valid. And so, I've made a few comments about it both here and elsewhere. If this had all crystallized earlier, I would have written earlier.

Lorft also sent a PM to Rob that expanded upon his earlier comments. Rob's response to him was extremely positive and receptive--which is very good. I'm encouraged by this and hope we'll see improvements in future contests--and that we will see future contests. Lorft is right when he says that this contest has been a great thing for the community.

Apparently there have been a large number of attack e-mails sent to Rob over this issue. Our correspondance was friendly, which I appreciate. But I hope that my postings here and elsewhere didn't result in rude messages being sent to Obsidian. That was never my intent, and it is never productive. I know I don't get all that many readers, but I have been pulling ~150-200 readers a day over the last few days because of this contest stuff.

Anyway, I'll just close by reiterating that this contest has been an excellent thing for our community and for Obsidian. It is true that more could have been done to recognize those that invested so much into their entries, and Obsidian caught some flak for that.

But in the end, more went right than wrong. There were 16 entries, many of which have been very well received by the community. And these modules helped showcase many new authors in our community, which is always a good thing. And, ultimately, the winning module is a fine example of a fun and polished module, even if it's not my personal favorite.

So...back to gaming!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Patch 1.06 Released

Just over two months since the previous patch, Obsidian has released patch 1.06 (hat tip to Maximus). Their target cycle seems to be a patch every other month, and in general, they've hit their mark each time since 1.03. Here's the past history:
  • Nov 1 - NWN2 in stores, patch 1.01 released.
  • Nov 9 - 1.02 patch (more of a hotfix than a real patch)
  • Dec 4 - 1.03 patch (very significant performance improvements)
  • Jan 30 - 1.04 patch (mostly user interface issues)
  • Feb 8 - 1.04 hotfix
  • April 11 - 1.05 patch (AI, scripting, mouse-over health status)
  • June 12th - 1.06 patch
Kudos, as always, to Obsidian for continued support of and improvements to the game.

Looking over the patch notes, here are a few highlights that look useful to me:

Custom Content
• Several new UI customizability features. Among them, users can now set textures on UI objects via script, and users can set the state of progress bars via script.
This could result in some amazing UI modifications in modules. We've yet to see any published modules that really take advantage of the ability to have re-skinned UI's, but Rogue Dao's Purgatorio, which is currently in internal beta, apparently is doing this.
• Placeables now have an OnClick event. This event will fire whenever a user clicks a placeable, regardless of whether the user can currently path to it.
I can see this resolving a number of minor but occasional issues builders have in which they want users to try to use an object, but need to place that object in a place that is not accessible.

• Undo and Redo now work for Terrain, Grass, and Water painting.
If this works as advertised, it could be a godsend. There also appear to be several improvements to the tools used to shape height maps. I haven't messed with that enough to know how important these changes might turn out to be. Jclef, winner of the Obsidian mod contest, indicates that the new flattening tool is very useful.

• Specular Lighting has been improved. Shiny objects should now look better than before.
I'll see if I notice any difference once I update. I never thought that shiny objects, like armor, were too dull, so hopefully they didn't over-correct a problem here.
• Trees and Objects that fade no longer lose their directional light shadow when faded out.
This is a nice improvement, and should fix something that I occasionally find distracting and disorienting when I'm exploring environments.

• Bestow Curse now reduces all of the target’s ability scores by 3 rather than 2.
• Energy Drain no longer allows a saving throw.
These changes might make me tempted to actually use these spells. I've previously never found them very useful.
• The Turn Undead ability will now function properly.
I noticed a lot of inconsistency in the effectiveness of turn undead when playing Keep on the Borderlands, so perhaps this bug is what was happening.

As with most patches, I'll probably wait to patch until I'm forced to do so in case there are any problems that arise. Although, if I decide to play a cleric or paladin character, I might go ahead and update just to get whatever benefits are associated with the bug fix for turn undead.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Grimm Brigade wins 1st Obsidian Contest

Umm, wow:
And the winner is....

jclef, with his module Grimm Brigade!

The module had some great writing, area designs and a very original concept. If you haven't played it already, I highly suggest it and all of the other mod contest modules.

Thanks to all those that participated. We had a great time judging this contest and playing all the modules.

Stay tuned for a new contest kicking off in the very near future!
A few comments:
  • You can read my comments about Grimm's Brigade here. As you'll see, I thought it was a fun and enjoyable module that offered some great action in a tight, polished package. Many congrats to jclef for the excellent submission and for winning.
  • That said, I'm rather surprised--I felt that The Birthday by Maerduin was on another level in terms of quality. A much deeper, interesting, and, for me anyway, more enjoyable module. And action wise, I think it holds up with Grimm's Brigade quite well.
  • I would probably also rate Cry Wolf by Lorft above (barely) Grimm's Brigade. All are solid modules--I guess my rankings might just reflect my preference for interesting stories and good writing over action.
  • I was surprised that they only announced one winner--I think the community would be much better served if they granted gold, silver, and bronze awards, for example.
Nevertheless, congrats again to jclef for his win. It is a deserving module and is well worth a look. Furthermore, thanks and congratulations to all the authors of this first module contest!


I thought it might be nice to recap the Obsidian Mod Contest, based on the rankings by popular vote. We might consider this a "People's Choice" ranking that makes for an interesting comparison to Obsidian's rankings (I'm hoping they'll release a top-3 or top-5 list).

Here are the rankings with a 5-vote minimum. The number in parentheses indicates my vote, if applicable:
  1. The Birthday - 8.92 (8)
  2. Grimm Brigade - 8.50 (7)
  3. Cry Wolf - 8.33 (7)
  4. Daark Twins - 7.69
  5. Being Good - 7.68 (7)
  6. Witch in the Wood - 7.25 (6)
  7. A Walk in the Woods 7.21
  8. Ebha - 7.00
  9. Happily Never After - 6.90
  10. Once Upon a Time - 6.67 (6)
  11. Grimm's Patchworld - 6.56
  12. Queen of Lies - 6.50
  13. Prince of Light, or Shadow - 6.48
  14. The Rampion Champion - 6.10
Apparently I'm somewhat more conservative than average. And I'm embarrassed at how few of these mods I got a chance to play. :(

One thing that is important to note about this list is that none of these modules scored below 6, which means that all of these modules were given an average verbal rating of at least "Good, Qualified Recommendation." Furthermore, three scored above 8, which indicates they were "Excellent, Recommended to Anyone." Given the tight deadline of this contest (less than a month), I think that's pretty remarkable. Again, congrats to all these authors, and especially congrats to jclef for winning the competition.

Update2: Lorft had some comments about ways in which the organization and marketing of this contest could have been better. I agree with him. Hopefully Obsidian will take note.

Are NWN1/2 blogs good things for the community?

I had the great opportunity to be interviewed at NWVault this past week, and the result was just published. One of the questions got me thinking. Here it is, along with my response:
10) You’ve recently started a NWN blog, where you post your own observations of modules you’ve played, links to other builders, and important news items. How important do you feel this type of communication is to the community?

You know, I'm not sure. I started the blog to give myself a home base for my activities in the community. I'm really happy with what it's become, both in terms of the content I've been able to release and the reception it has gotten from the community. ...snip...I think, for example, that it serves as a good source for concise nwn2 module reviews and comments. The blog also gives me the chance to draw attention to other people's work, be they creators of modules, UI mods, scripts, art, or other custom content, and comment about current community news. From time to time, there have even been good discussions among myself and my readers in the blog comments. And I have a terrific time writing for it--it's a great outlet.

But whether that means a net positive for the community is another question. Some (though not all) of the posts I make on the blog would otherwise probably have been made in the NWN2 Modules forums, which gets more traffic than I could ever hope or deserve to have. And I've been far less active in the forums in general since I started the blog, be it answering questions, musing about what makes a great module, or getting involved in some larger project to promote modules. So one could make a legitimate argument that the community would be better off if I ditched the blog and focused my energy on interacting with people in the forums (that's assuming that the community benefits when I'm around--might not be a good assumption!).

Personally, I really enjoy reading the various developer and player blogs that have popped up around the community in the past year or so. They allow me to keep in better touch with some of my online friends than I was able to before, and learn about cool upcoming projects. Furthermore, I think the posts on these blogs tend to be more thoughtful, insightful, and provocative than what you typically see in the forums. So again, for me personally, I think they're great. But I do wonder if they're perhaps partially to blame for the somewhat fragmented state of the current NWN2 community, at least compared to the NWN1 community that I knew back in 2004-2005.
I guess what I'm wondering is what you folks think about this question? Are blogs a good thing for the community? Or do they result in less interaction, more community fragmentation, etc?

To be clear, I'm not considering shutting down, even if we decide that they are net negatives for the community. I enjoy doing this too much to give it up for some noble cause like supporting the community. But I am curious. -B

Friday, June 8, 2007

B2: Keep on the Borderlands

I finished Enoa4's B2: Keep on the Borderlands this earlier this week, but between following the baseball first year players draft and responding to an interview for the Vault, I'm just now getting a chance to write up my comments. It was a fun module, and is worth checking out if you're up for some low-level hack and slash fun.

My Vote: 7 - Very Good, Deserves a Look
Character Played: lv. 1 Human Female Chaotic Good Cleric, advanced to level 5 by end.

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. The overall mood in the module was great, with lots of flavor text from both companions and foes during fights, well designed areas, and good use of the stock music. Equipment rationing seemed just about right for most of the module, though there were a lot of a certain kind of necklace that allowed my character to build up enormous gold reserves near the end of the module.

I realize you (the author) are probably not going to be building again, at least for a while, and I'm not sure how much more you'd want to do on this module so long after its release. But I did have a few comments and suggestions. First, I found that while the combat started as a nice challenge, it ended up being pretty easy over the last three or so caves. One thing that might have spiced it up a bit more would be to make the Chief bosses a bit more powerful and unique. They clearly were tougher than their underlings, but rarely did they do anything special, like cast spells, use grenade items, etc, that might set them apart and add challenge to the fights

The effort made to flesh out the companions was worthwhile, but it left me wanting more. The interactions and story with the dwarf and the elves were great until their quest was completed. After that, they rarely said anything else for the rest of the module, or if they did, it was a quick bit of text over their heads. Similarly, I'd have liked to have more times during the cave clearing process when I could talk to the Castellian and get new responses. Finally, there still seemed to be a fair number of polish issues remaining, and I also ran into the occasional bug. I'll provide a list of these items in a separate post, in case you decide to address them.

Nevertheless, this module was well worth playing, and I think folks should absolutely take a look if they're interested in a low-level hack and slash adventure. Thanks for sharing, and congrats on the release. If life ever slows down and you get interested in building again, I'll gladly download and play whatever you build! -B

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

FRWCC in Hall of Fame

Today, my little NWN2 module project, the Forgotten Realms Weave Character Creator, was inducted into the NWN2 Hall of Fame. It's pretty exciting to have the module achieve this honor, and, of course, to know that I now can have the "Hall of Fame author" prefix attached to my name. :)

I do not consider my little mod to be anywhere close, in terms of the quality or impact, to the other two modules that were inducted this month (Stormchaser and Pirate Cards). I'm sure that my total development time, for example, is a tiny, tiny fraction of what FalloutBoy and Adam Miller invested into their modules. But I do feel comfortable with the idea that this little utility module is among the best of its kind available to the community. It's not the best choice for some purposes (e.g. optimizing different character builds), but for others (e.g. creating balanced characters for use in community modules), I think it really is the best available option. So, I'm quite proud of it.

I do want to send out a few significant thanks--while this has been my "baby," I've had an awful lot of help:
  • The inspiration for a limited, balanced character creator supporting the FRW modules came from flem1 in the NWN2 forums.
  • Several of the essential scripts for the character creator, particularly the level up/gold giving scripts, were written by Lord Niah in the original version of his base mod. I modified them slightly, added some other scripts of my own to make the conversations work better, and repackaged everything my little inn, but he did a lot of the hard work.
  • Much of this modules' attention and downloads, especially early on, can probably be attributed to Phoenixus's module, A Tragedy in Tragidor, which required level 6(ish) characters and yet provided no in-house way to create such a character. I initially made it in large part so that I could have a well-balanced character to play his mod.
  • I am deeply indebted to the advice of numerous community members who have helped me make this module as well balanced and accessible as it is today through their comments. Thanks to Lord Niah, Phoenixus, dirtywick, vendalus, Lariam, Styraxian, Maerduin, bietu, Seryn, madchem, Wizbane, NuclearSorcerer, and Drakenon, as well as anyone else I forgot.
  • I also ripped some scripts, as well as inspiration, from caesarbear and his wonderful NWN1 utility module, Zorco's Keeps. And believe me, if I could figure it all out (I've tried), I'd rip his database scripts from that module as well. I still would like to some day add persistent storage to this module to give it a true waystation feel.
  • Finally, thanks to everyone who has downloaded this module, enjoyed it, and posted favorable feedback. I really appreciate your time, and I'm glad so many have found it useful.
Also making the Hall today (for the thousandth time) is Hugie, with his excellent little module, The Island. Congrats to him! :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Aessinus & Zaknafein on Mask of the Betrayer

Aessinus and his son were able to catch Obsidian's presentation of the upcoming expansion for NWN2, Mask of the Betrayer, at A-KON last weekend, and have filed a report at NWVault. Interesting tidbits about the expansion from their report:
  • 4 new character races will be available for player characters, the elemental Genasi (Fire, Water, Air, & Earth).
  • A new base class, the Favored Soul, which is essentially a sorcerer-like class using the cleric spell list. It sounds really interesting. As far as I can tell (based on that link), these are the major differences between a Favored Soul and a Cleric:
    • Spontaneous casting of a limited repertoire of divine spells (no spell book), much like sorcerers do for arcane spells.
    • Emphasis on Charisma, rather than Wisdom. Clerics usually need high scores in both attributes to be effective, especially when it comes to turning and other divine abilities.
    • Limited to Medium Armor instead of Heavy Armor.
    • Better reflex saves, while still good will and fortitude saves.
    • Weapon Focus & Specialization for their diety's favored weapon, even if it's a martial weapon.
    • Innate energy resistance against a chosen elemental type.
    • Wings at lv. 17...
    • Damage resistance at lv. 20 (either cold iron or silver).
    • Not sure on this one: Perhaps no turn undead ability.
  • A Red Wizard of Thay prestige class will be added (non-good, specialist wizards required), and one of the companions in the OC will be one of these Red Wizards. I don't think he'll get along with my PC. :)
  • Apparently there will also be some sort of celestial/fiend called "One of Many" as a companion.
  • The official campaign will feature random encounters during resting, which should help increase the suspense considerably...and hopefully make for less instances of repetitive dungeon clearing like we saw in the OC (e.g. the warehouse raids).
According to Kunikos, there have been two other base classes added to the game: the spirit shaman and the duskblade. I haven't seen references for this information yet, but I haven't been following the MotB news that closely. But I added some links to D&D source info on the classes. Both look intriguing. I'll comment more on them later.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Hacking and slashing

I spent tonight playing Keep on the Borderlands. I think I still have a long way to go, but I'm having fun. I felt that the module started a bit slow, but now that I'm knee deep in dead goblins and their kin, I'm having a great time. The caves you fight in are often long and interconnected, making for a lot of underground exploration...which can result in some surprises when you encounter tougher than expected enemies in a new room. There's also a nice amount of customization of the enemies, and the loot is just right for my level. I'm currently level three, and yet I cannot yet afford full plate at the store for my cleric or her fighter companion, much less magical gear. I love it when discovering mundane half-plate on the body of a hobgoblin actually is exciting because it means an upgrade! :) Good low-level fun.