Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Everyone Loves Elanee

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

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

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

Elanee by WWT (pencil)

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

Zeeaire by Tuyen (ink)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Obsidian Art Contest - 4 days left

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

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

Elanee by Sorcha Ravenlock

Tholapsyx! by msykes (hehe)

Khelgar - Monk by combobreaker

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dear Diary...

Dear Diary,

I know I've been promising an update to the FRWCC for about a month now, but I have to be in a certain mood to build (i.e. not tired!!), and the few times I've been in that mood over the past few weeks have resulted in me working on my other passion (baseball), rather than plugging away in the toolset. It's still a high priority item. But when I'm not feeling particularly chipper at night, and yet still want to avoid going to bed for a while longer, I often just want to play games.

So a few nights ago, I downloaded Night Howls over Nestlehaven. About an hour and a half in, I can already see why it's so highly rated. The little bit of it that I've seen has a tremendous amount of polish, with a bunch of creatively designed npc's. The story seems both sinister and intriguing, with a great open-ended feel.

Anyway, unless the mood strikes before then, my plan is to play through Night Howls, because it's been so much fun. And there's a possibility that I'll play the Zelbross Affair too, as I want to include materials from that module in the update as well. But by then, I should be able to take the time to get working on the character creator once again. Features in the next update will include:
  • Full support for the persistent companion system, including several companions that you can add to your persistent roster for use in modules that support that system, as well as database functions.
  • An NPC and (perhaps) items from Red Hand of Doom. NPC has been provided by Sgt. Why already.
  • An NPC and items from from Night Howls over Nestlehaven (provided the author grants permission).
  • Items and (perhaps) an NPC from The Zelbross Affair. Items have been provided by seryn already.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Monday, July 23, 2007

Crossroads of Fate

Crossroads of Fate was a submission for the 1st Obsidian Module contest, but unfortunately the author didn't get a chance to finish his work within the tight contest deadlines. Fortunately, he continued to push forward with it and recently released a finished version on the vault. I played it over the course of a couple of nights this past week. Here are my comments:
My Vote: 6 - Good, Qualified Recommendation
Character: lv. 16 Dwarven Defender (leveled up after Grimm Brigade)
Module Version Played: Dated 5 July 2007

This module does a lot of things really well. The companion NPC's are well-defined, and the author succeeds in the very difficult task of making companions that you've just met in-game seem as though they've been the life-long friends that the story requires. Combat, particularly in the second half of the mod, is challenging and over-the-top high-level action. The introductory movie is extremely well done, and the closing movies do a great job of emphasizing the consequences of the actions you take in the module. Area design is generally quite good, especially the beautiful exterior rendering of the docks district of Tsurlagol. The module successfully nestles itself within the Faerun, and named characters from source books make substantial appearances. And most importantly, the module challenges the player with a difficult decision, in which, no matter what path you choose, there is no ideal outcome.

All that said, there were some aspects of the module that limited how highly I can recommend it. The first is its brevity. It's perhaps unfair to critique a module for this, as it was an Obsidian Contest module, but what we get to play feels essentially like the last hour of what could be a 5-10 hour module. The author does a good job of catching the player up on what has happened in the story, but I can't help but feel like we missed out on all the great stuff that lead to that point. Furthermore, the scale of the area design is large enough that the module feels a bit underpopulated. There are NPC's with which one can interact that fall outside the main plotlines, but there weren't really true side-quests (that I could find, though there are hints of some) that would make the city feel alive and real. In fact, the fairly superficial interactions that are present and the sometimes rough English (it's usually very readable, but I still recommend soliciting the help of a native English speaker to make your dialog flow better), made the mod as a whole still feel a bit unfinished.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that what's there is good, thoughtful, and worth playing. I love the fact that there are three endings, and that the outcomes are far from predictable given one's decisions in the game--though they make perfect sense. I really look forward to playing more of your work. I had a hard time scoring this one, but I think my impressions best match this line from the FAQ, which indicates a 6 is the most appropriate score: "perhaps you found it enjoyable/useful, and something that you're generally positive about, but also found that it has enough drawbacks that it's not something you can recommend without a caveat."

Gametrailer Mask of the Betrayer Video - Treants!

Thanks to the heads up by QSW at NWVault, I watched the Gametrailer MotB video this evening. It shows a character wandering about a snowy terrain (using snow textures), fighting off some of the baddies that live in that area. The white of the snow is a bit over-saturated, so it's hard to see the detail of the texture very well, though I'm sure that this has to do with how the video was captured more than the actual game's graphics. The video clip also shows the mountainous area we saw in Feargus's video earlier this month, which Nathanial Chapman (the Obsidian rep) identified as being a location in Thay. The combat seemed fairly boring, with Wyverns going down as fast as Gnolls, but I'm sure this was mostly likely due to the fact that they're demoing the game with an overpowered character.

The coolest part of the video, however, were the close-ups we get of four new creature types: the two-headed Fell Troll, the Shambling Mound, the Wyvern and the Treant. They all look great. This is the first time I've seen anything indicating that a Treant will be among the new creature models, and it makes the Tolkien fan in me happen. It looked a bit small for my tastes (about the size of the 7-year old Ash tree in my back yard), but the toolset's scaling features make that an easy fix for builders.

Thanks to gametrailer's easy embedding features, here's the video if you haven't already watched it:

The above Treant image was by Leo Winstead. Here's some other Treant art from around the web:

Warlord: Treant

Thornwode Deeps: The Treant by Stephanie Pui-Man Law

Blasted Treant by Tom Galambos:

Treant by Denmark

And, of course, the brilliant Treant model by DLA's Elryn for NWN1:

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest - Companions

Tonight's update on the Obsidian Fan Art contest features three of the more memorable companions from the official campaign: Elanee, Qara, and Neeshka (twice). Only 10 days left in the contest!

Elanee by Jennofurr (hand drawn + photoshop)

Qara in Ink by Quillmaster
(ink on paper, photographed)

Neeshka by Firestorm2117 (hand drawn + photoshop)

Neeshka Out of Her Element by Dan Bruington

Friday, July 20, 2007

Daark Twins

Also among modules that I played over a week ago, but never got a chance to write comments for, is Daark Twins by E. C. Patterson (aka ciViLiZed). Despite what you might assume from the author's 133t-speak handle, this was a well-done module, with professional-feeling polish and a surprise at its end. My comments:
My Vote: 7 - Deserves a Look
Character: included character, lv. 5 wizard Jacob Daark.
Module version played: v.1.1, released 23 June 2007

There haven't been very many modules for NWN2 that have deviated from the standard hack 'em up plus story rpg standard. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the traditional rpg's, but it is nice to play modules that march off the beaten path now and then. Daark Twins is one of those modules. It's essentially linear, though there are a few possible endings to the module. But it essentially plays out as a series of challenges. Some of these do involve combat, but others involve either puzzles or tough decisions. What holds it all together are a decent little story (with a surprising punch line), as well as absolutely superb area design.

Attention to detail is fantastic. Walking through the forests, you'll see wolves scamper out of your way and run down a wildlife trail. And some of the visuals in this module are spectacular, especially in terms of how skillfully lighting is used. There's a castle on an island in the middle of a lake that is simply breathtaking, as well as a beautiful puzzle that makes great use of the visual effects editor (I'm guessing). The writing is also very good.

The only real critique I have of the module is that it seems a bit anticlimactic. Granted, it is a contest module, and therefore had to be short to satisfy the contest rules, not to mention the limited time in which it was built. But after everything one works to do to get to the ending, the final encounter was rather tame. And even though the ending of the tale is surprising and unexpected, I still didn't feel completely satisfied after playing it. That said, it's still absolutely worth a look. It's polished, enjoyable, and perhaps best of all, different. Thanks for sharing the module, and I hope to play something more of yours in the future!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A little linkage...

I did a bit of work on the blogroll links tonight. If someone hadn't posted in six months, I removed their blog. There was also one case in which a blog was declared closed, so that was removed as well. If folks want to be re-added, I'm happy to do so, just let me know.

I also have added a few new entries to the list over the past few months, and I thought I'd highlight them briefly:
  • Amraphael, who is working on a conversion of ZORK to NWN2. His thread on the official boards even has Rob McGinnis excited. :)
  • Andurga, who is working on an FR module called Thayvian Nights. It deals with Thay (surprise!), and promises a "large and intricate plot full of twists and turns."
  • Inder, who is working on another FR module called Shadows of the Past. It is set in the Silver Marches, and has your character running as a fugitive from the law.
  • Lorft, who authored the Obsidian contest module Cry Wolf, is working on a module called Planescape: Legacy. Anything set in planescape is immediately at the top of my radar, of course, so I follow this one with great interest.
  • Storyteller2007, who is working on a module called Through the Looking Glass - An Unjust War. The module seems to be in its very early stages, but might be interesting.
  • Wyrin D'njargo, already author of three modules for NWN2, and has just released an alpha of the first chapter of his next module series, Dark Avenger.
Do give all of these blogs a look when you get a chance. :)

The latest from the Obsidian Fan Art Contest

With this post, we're up to date on the fan art contest! This is, perhaps, the most impressive batch we've seen thus far. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite--good thing I'm not judging this contest!! :)

Dragon in Ink by Quillmaster

Driannasi--Painting Before The Great War by Black Feather

Ogre Mage by Laban

Bishop - L'enfant terrible
by Kathrin Richter

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

I apologize for how long it's been since I've posted something that wasn't just news commentary or what have you. I played A Walk in the Woods over a week ago, wrote up the bulk of these comments then, but somehow never got a chance to finish them and vote on it. So, here we go:
My Vote: 6 - Qualified Recommendation
Character: lv. 1 human female chaotic good warlock (finished lv. 4)
Module version played: version 1.1, released 5 June 2007

A Walk in the Woods is a good little module that is very much in the spirit of the Obsidian Brothers Grimm module contest. Another commenter mentioned that it reminded them of Shrek, and I think that's a great observation. Though it doesn't quite have the level of humor of Shrek, you do get to interact with a sampling of characters from Grimm Brothers stories, including Snow White, Rapunzel, Hanzel & Gretel, out of context from their stories. Your ultimate goal, however, is to help Prince Charming recover from a terrible spell that has been cast upon him by an evil sorceress, all so that he can marry the beautiful Cinderella.

Somewhat like Grimm Brigade, the module consists primarily of a series of mini-adventures with characters from different fairy tales. They are typically hack and slash, but vary from fairly typical dungeon crawls to less conventional mini-adventures. Accompanying you throughout your adventure are two henchmen, Tom Thumb (a very short halfling rogue) and Thumbelina (a fairy wizard). There is a great deal of banter between the two throughout the module, and in my opinion, their interactions were really the highlight of the module.

All that said, in the end, I just never really felt engaged in the module. I can't quite put my thumb on it. Maybe it's the fact that there's not much explanation of who the PC is, and what role they play in the setting aside from being a strong arm. Maybe it's that the story is pretty predictable, and is so light-hearted that it's hard to feel much tension. Maybe it's the combat--it isn't easy, and even features some creative and novel creatures, but the boss fights weren't particularly memorable or difficult. Maybe it's the rapid rate at which you gain experience and the even faster rate at which you accumulate loot. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing that's really wrong with this module, and it's clear that the author put an enormous amount of effort into this, especially given the time constraints of this contest. It's just that the module didn't grab me.

As such, I had a really hard time scoring this one. Looking at the Voting FAQ, I see this written under a rating of 6: It does a few things well but maybe it's a bit routine...it's a good piece of content, but it's a little hard to find superlatives for it. That's pretty much where I'm at with this module, so that's what I'm voting. It is intended to be a positive vote, even if it is one of the lower you've received. Thanks for your submission--I'm looking forward to playing your other modules!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Obsidian Contest Update

Here's our latest update from the contest:

Elanee and Friend by JackTaylor ("cheap pencil on cheap typing paper")

Khelgar and Neeshka
by Hellcow/Spajk (in Painter with a wacom pad; my personal favorite in this batch)

Bishop by Ernie (in Photoshop)
Shadow Reaver by Patcha


Tonight, my wife and I went out and had our first dinner & movie date since before our daughter was born well over a year ago.

We saw Sicko. This is the third Michael Moore film I've seen, and it was the best of the three.

I'm going to be brief about this: I feel disappointed in and embarrassed for my country right now. Yes, like all Moore films that I've seen, it is one-sided, and prone to oversimplification and hyperbole. But also like all of his films that I've seen, there is enough substance to his argument to be both compelling and impossible to ignore.

I can't pretend to know the best solution for health care in this country. I'm going to wager that it will probably not be exactly the same as what works for other countries. But I am certain of two things. One, there is a very real and very serious problem here, and it is completely unacceptable. And two, we as a country have a moral obligation to fix it.

...I won't let my politics become a regular intrusion on my postings here, as I know that's not why you folks come here. But at the same time, part of the reason I have this blog is so that I can have a voice about things I care about. So I'm going to go ahead and be off topic this time. Future posts will be back to focusing on hacking and slashing. Mostly.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Feargus Interview

I spent 15 minutes watching the E3 Mask of the Betrayer Gamespot video just now. There's not a ton of new information, but a few highlights:
  • The character customization options with the Genasi look pretty fun. They show one of the water genasi's hair syles, which essentially looks like cephalopod tentacles sticking out of one's head. Not that I get that excited about character appearance, but it should make the multiplayer crowd happy. :)
  • The new camera settings look promising. They don't seem all that revolutionary, but if they did more to prevent the camera zoom from darting around in top-down mode, I'd be pleased. It also looks to me like you can zoom out farther in top-down mode (or, as it's now called, strategy mode), which should be really nice.
  • If you fast forward to 11:30 or so, you get a fairly long look at a Wyvern in the distance. Unfortunately, Feargus decides to fight Gnolls instead, so we don't get to see it in action. But the passive animation is neat, with its tail darting back and forth. :)
Update: In the new screenshots at IGN UK, there's a shot of a great looking golem(?). It's great to see some of the new creature models that will be in the game, as they should prove extremely helpful to builders:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Obsidian supporting its contest / Wyverns!

I'm making it a weekly habit to report on Obsidian's blog entries, but they've just been so good this past month.

First, the lead feature had to do with Obsidian's fan art contest. I think it's wonderful that Obsidian is doing this mid-term feature on their contest, as it's something that a lot of community members wished they'd done more of during the module contest. There are still a few weeks left for you artistic-types out there, so be sure to get your entries in.

Second, they released a new screenshot of one of the new monster models that will appear in Mask of the Betrayer--a Wyvern (pictured top right). Pretty amazing looking critter--I'm looking forward to seeing it in game! :) It is a bit different of a design than we saw from DLA in Wyvern Crown of Cormyr (below). More avian than reptilian (though aves is technically a clade within reptilia, of course...).

I decided to grab some more pictures of Wyverns from around the 'net, just because I think they're neat creatures:

Wyvern Hunting by Donato Giancola:


Another Wyvern:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest Update

Here is our next batch of fan art for Obsidian's Fan Art contest. This seems like a particularly well-done set!

Sand Portrait by Minttu Hynninen, in Photoshop CS
Meet the Party, also by Minttu Hynninen (make sure to click on this one so you can read the dialog)

Bishop by Pinguicha (my personal favorite of this bunch)
Khelgar and Neeshka by Richard Gulick

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Interview with ADK

There is a nice interview with ADK at the Vault. I played both of his Kunoichi modules and enjoyed them. They offer good roleplaying, and offer a great respite from the more typical fantasy adventures we see among NWN modules. I'm excited to see that he is working on both a prequel and the conclusion of his Kunoichi series, though I do tend to wonder if I'll ever get a chance to play them--I still haven't reinstalled NWN1 after my hard drive issues, and sometimes I wonder if I'd be able to go back without getting frustrated by both the graphics and the game engine. I'm pretty committed to NWN2 at this point.

Anyway, here are excerpts from my comments on both of ADK's Kunoichi modules. Both were posted 14 October, 2005.

Kunoichi 1
Kunoichi is one of the most controversial modules yet produced because of its content. Nevertheless, it is a quality module that emphasizes roleplaying and allows the player to make decisions that have meaningful effects on the outcome of the story. You play a female recruit to a group of ninja assassins. There is honor in this sort of occupation, but being an assassin is a brutal business.
For its roleplaying virtues alone, this module is hard to beat. If you can stomach the emotional ending, I would recommend this module to anyone interested in a short module that will test your principles and allow you to make meaningful decisions.
Kunoichi 2
The structure of the module is similar to the first – you are given a series of missions in a nearby town and sent on your way. This time you'll be accompanied on your trip over to the town by Miho, your friend who joined up with the clan at nearly the same time as you. This gives some opportunities to further your relationship with her, and is one of several NPC's with whom you have the opportunity to develop a relationship that started in the first chapter. Once again, there are multiple quests, but this time there are only some in which there are multiple ways to complete them successfully. Some require successful skill checks (persuade is very important here), and the final quest requires you to work through some very creative and interesting puzzles. I'm particularly fond of the crime scene investigation puzzle, although I also liked the one that required you to interpret a painting.
In general, however, this module is a set up from Kunoichi 1, in that its missions are more interesting and the characters are deeper than before. There is some real plot development that occurs both early and late in the module, and I'm itching to play the next mod in the series.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Bronze Dragons & Console Commands

I meant to post about this when it happened, but forgot. Anyway, Rob McGinnis posted yet another really exciting update to his blog this week.

The piece of info that has gotten the most attention is the surprising addition of Bronze Dragons to the toolset as of patch 1.07. There has been a lot of criticism of the fact that only two dragons were included in the original release. I've always found that a bit of a strange criticism--the tinting and scaling capabilities of the toolset allow you to do an awful lot with the two models that are available, and I'd much rather have them flesh out some of the other underrepresented monster categories (golems, shapechangers, etc) than focus on more dragons. But whatever, I'm certainly not complaining about getting free content. This should make a lot of people happy--and it is a gorgeous model.

Perhaps more important, however, was the news of a number of new DM commands that will be available in the next patch. I think this means that these will be available in the in-game console under DebugMode, as well as the DM client. The reason that is so important is because these were among those commands that will be added:
dm_getvarfloat : Returns the value of the specified variable.
dm_getvarint : Returns the value of the specified variable.
dm_getvarobject : Returns the value of the specified variable.
dm_getvarstring : Returns the value of the specified variable.
dm_giveXP : Gives the specified amount of XP to the current target.
dm_givegold : Gives the specified amount of gold to the current target.
dm_god : Turn player character invincible.
dm_jumptopoint : Jump to the specified points. Syntax is: float float.
dm_setfaction : Your current target will have its faction set to the one specified in the command line.
dm_setfactionreputation : Where: faction1 and faction2 are the names of factions. x is an integer value indicating the value to set the reputation value to. Description: This function will set the reputation value for how faction2 feels about faction1 (0 is hostile, 100 is friendly).
dm_setvarfloat : Sets variable specified to the given value.
dm_setvarint : Sets variable specified to the given value.
dm_setvarobject : Sets variable specified to the given value.
dm_setvarstring : Sets variable specified to the given value.
These, particularly the dm_setvar* series, are absolutely essential for players, as they allow us to get around occasional variable-related bugs in modules. They don't happen often, but I still probably used them 10-15 times in modules over the past few years. Without these commands, I'd otherwise have to reload from an earlier part of the module, or even worse, restart from scratch. This is a big improvement--kudos to Obsidian!

June Hall of Fame Inductions

Neverwinter Nights 2

There were no modules inducted into the NWN2 hall of fame this month. That's a shame, but I think we're likely to see that from time to time. NWN2 module production is happening at a much slower rate than it was for NWN1, and the requirement of an 8 or higher is a steeper requirement under the new voting standards. I think we'll see a steady series of releases for a long time to come, I don't see any signs that the rate of release is likely to escalate. Fortunately, there are several modules that will be eligible next month, so we'll certainly see some inductions then.

The only NWN2 inductee I have any experience with is Ar Pharazon's cave roof, which has already been used in several modules, including Once Upon a Time... by Mungo_D. It allows you to use exterior height maps to create much more varied and complicated cave environments than are possible with the caves tileset. There is also some nice looking Asian-style armor by Schazzwozzer, which might help spark some asian-themed NWN2 modules at some point. I always enjoyed those in NWN1.

Neverwinter Nights 1

The only inductee here that I have first-hand experience with is Sethai's NWS - The Black Dragons, a former feature in the Overlooked Module Project, and a module for which I was an early voter. The highlight of the module was its opening battle, in which your character joins a desperate and inexperienced militia on the battle field as they seek to defend against an onslaught of an army of rebels calling themselves The Black Dragons. If you've played NWN2's OC, imagine the opening battle in West Harbour, just with more variation in elevation, and constant waves of foes. It was exhilarating. Here's an excerpt from my comments, posted 21 June 2005:
The story is, on the surface, fairly simple: you answer a call for mercenaries to assist in the defense of a small little village from a veritable army of rebels. Odds are not in your favor: there are 6 purple dragon soldiers, 8 townsmen who’ve been trained to fire a bow, a hardened general, and 2 other mercenaries besides yourself against upwards of 200 troops! Strong defensive position or not, this sounds desperate. The mod does a superb job of getting you into the story, not to mention quickly into the action. And as the story progresses, you learn some of the background surrounding this conflict. There’s more nuance in this short story then there is in a lot of longer modules I’ve downloaded on the vault.
I was shocked to discover that this is Sethai's first time being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Congrats!!

I also want to congratulate Avi Maxwell for her demo module, Dusk of a Samurai, getting inducted. I never got a chance to play it (I was waiting for the official release, which now seems unlikely to happen), but I played and reviewed one of her earlier releases, Ronin: Kensai of Kyoto. It had a few issues, but it also was clear in playing it that Avi had tremendous potential and talent.

Congratulations to everyone who was inducted this month, and thank you for your contributions to our community!

Obsidian Art Contest Update - ATOM

It's been a few weeks since I last posted submissions for the Obsidian Fan Art Contest, and since then, there has been a ton of submissions. Today I'll post four submissions, and I'll try to follow this up with more frequent postings like this as I catch up.

Today, I'll feature the work of ATOM, who has four submissions in the contest. All are digitizations (is that a word?) of acrylic paintings.

Neeska, Khelgar, and Me
Atom the Axe battling undead
Sand, Khelgar, and NeeshkaTroll Attack!
Hope someone's got some mechanism for generatin' some fire in that last shot, or they're going to be in for a world of hurt. :)