Saturday, August 25, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest Winners!

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

NPC/Companion Category

Meet the Party by Minttu Hynninen

The King of Shadows Enters Meredelain by J. Cullen Lisbony

Construct vs. Grobnar by MaeBe

Creature/Monster Category

Earth Elemental by Kamen Anev

Shadow Reaver by Vaei

Ogre Mage by Laban

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

NWN2 News

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

Granny Released!

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

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

NWN2 for Macintosh

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

Modules, Ho!

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

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

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

Monday, August 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What's up?

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Wii In Route

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

August 2007 Hall of Fame Inductions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 6, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Finale

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

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

Khelgar by Tuyen

Bishop's Stare by Jeff Reid

Shadow Reaver by Patcha

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Monsters!

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

King of Shadows enters The Meredelain by J. Cullen Lisbony

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

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

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Wii

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Obsidian Blog Update - Skydomes and Sounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Andir03 & Silevran Moonflower

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

Calm Before the Storm
by andir03

A Gnome and his Construct by andir03

Shandra - From Farmer to Fighter
by Silevran Moonflower

Dryad by Silevran Moonflower

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

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

Elanee by Caleb Marlborough (oil on canvas)

Assassination Attempt by Jonny Ree (in OpenCanvas)

Blood Will Always Tell by Katie Irvin-Beaudry

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

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Corpse, A Vote Release Approacheth

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

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

Obsidian Fan Art Contest: Companions

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

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

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

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

Neeshka by PatroLi

Bishop and Karnwyr by PatrioLi

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Obsidian Fan Art Contest - Galil

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

Pixie by Galil

Glow Spider by Galil

Qara by Galil

Torio by Galil

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Obsidian Contest: A Very Strong Batch

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

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

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

Elanee by Buckyg

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