Saturday, 30 June 2007

Feature Highlight - two gameplay modes

Its no secret that I like hard games, and my first module release highlighted this with its tactical combat and cryptic puzzles.

However from the feedback I received, it soon became apparent that not all people play games for the same reasons, some like a more relaxing ride.
Not willing to sacrifice making a game I would want to play, I decided to integrate two different modes into Planescape Legacy. The first mode is story mode that has easier battles. The second mode is challenge , with harder fights and a score tracker that will allow you to post to a high-score board at the end of the game. So PS:Legacy should have something on offer for everyone!

Weekly Update:

Have been feeling a bit drained this week, but still managed to find a bit of time to do some modding. Still working on the prelude at the moment, but it is shaping up really nicely. Should have this completed by next weeks update.

Part of the reason it is taking so long is this section is very cutscene heavy. Whilst it is easy to construct the gist of these in your head, transforming this into a reality that matches your ideas is a time consuming process of tweaking and re-testing.

The good news is that the rest of the module has far fewer cutscenes, so things should start rolling at a faster pace after this. The area spotlight for this week is The Lady's ward detailed below.

Area Spotlight: Lady's Ward

Home to the Gold Lords, true bloods and other assorted higher-ups, the Lady's ward is perhaps the safest ward in Sigil. That only counts for the residents though; thieves, vagrants and any other troublemaker is quickly and often violently ejected by the Hard-heads.

For an adventurer who knows his airers and graces, there is a lot of opportunities here. The gold lords constantly plot against one another, and pay their tools well.
For those of a more revolutionary bent, some of the more chaotic factions would love nothing better than to bring down the residents and institutions down a peg or two.

One should always be careful when dealing with the lords though, those that turn stag or upset someone too important will quickly find themselves hauled to the local courthouse. Whilst this is officially sponsored by the Fraternity of Law, in reality it is little more than a tool for dealing permanently with troublemakers.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Weekly Update

At last, I managed to get my main modding PC is up and running propelly, so I have been throwing myself into some full-on modding this week. The first thing I have done is clean up some of the old scripts and areas. A lot of these were built before I completed 'Cry Wolf' so needed a bit of an upgrade.

Additionally, I have been working on a pre-title sequence for the mod. A little like most films, this introduces the story and sets the atmosphere before the player gains control. The whole sequence is maybe 1 minute in length , but as any modder knows even the simplest of things can take time!

Finally, I have been in contact with a few custom content people. Discussions are only at the very early stages, so I can't really reveal anything at the moment. I am personally exited about the opportunities anyhow!

Now, the way I was going to go about these weekly updates was just showing a random selection of what I had built in a week. However, on reflection I thought this was a little boring - especially for weeks when I am mainly working on scripts or conversations. Instead, what I am going to do is spotlight one particular area or NPC each week along with a little bit of fluff about what you can expect in-game.

The first of these you can see below - this one focuses on The Lyrical - a Tavern within the market ward of Sigil.

The Lyrical

Situated within the midst of the Grand Bazaar, the lyrical thrives on the business of passing traders, travelers and sometime adventurers.

To ensure the safety of it's purveyors, there is a strict no-weapon policy. That is unless you have some spare jink to pay for a blind eye.

Inside the Lyrical proper is expansive. From a simple Bar and fireplace to a live band or gambling tables. There is even an indoor garden within the exclusive VIP area for the occasional higher-up visitor.

If you are of the want, you can try your hand on the small improv poetry stage. Don't be surprised if you pick up some critics though!

There is something for everyone in The Lyrical. And being Sigil, when I say everyone, I mean Everything.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

A giant post

Following the remarkable feedback from my first art contest entry, I decided to up the ante and do a second in glorious octo-colour! This one is a genre spanning effort that encompasses both a companion and a creature. I spent literally minutes in MSPaint doing this, so respect!

Proper module update tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

The good news is, I managed to get my main modding PC back up and running. The bad news is that I needed to re-install windows and while I haven't lost any of my mod stuff, I need to reinstall a whole load of software and drivers before it is back up and running.

Anyhow, I exported the latest version of PS:Legacy over to this PC and as promised, here are a few pics. The areas are largely unpopulated as of yet, and I need to do a bit of tiding up (and adjust lighting) however they do show the potential.

The first image shows an imposing other-planar stronghold, who built it? and surely the winding path will not be left unguarded?

The second image shows the Birdhouse. Run by the Bleak Cabal to help fund
their soup kitchens, it offers luxury care to wealthy (but incurably insane) inpatients. Appropriately built into the shrieking caverns of Pandemonium.

The final image shows an imposing figure standing along a tributary of the Styx with its rickshaw.

This week due to XP suicide on my main PC, I have been mostly working on dialogs and re-plotting. This is coming on well, but there is still a lot to do. Due in part to the lack of normal variety in mod building, I found myself drawn into the various competition posts a little too much (see below) which wasted some development time. Hopefully, with the contest out of the way and my modding machine up and running, this week I can get some real progress down.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

A new day, a new contest

The old modding contest is over with, but a new NWN2 contest has opened up. This particular contest asks people to drawn their favourite characters from the game, with the best one possibly being a placable in the coming expansion.

Not to be daunted by my lack of any drawing talent at all, I have created my very own entry. So look at it and weep other contest entrants, with this level of skill on display it isn't even worth you trying!

PS: Should be an actual update on my mod some time tommorow.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Contest Followup

In the follow-up to the contest it seemed that Rob and obsidian were considering canning all further contests. As a somewhat instigator of this, I decided to send him a PM explaining my criticisms more succinctly, as follows:

Heyya Rob,

First of all, let me say please don't consider shutting down the contests. I think they are a great idea to help promote the community.

I am guessing that the criticism you are talking about is (at least partially) relating to my own comments. These were meant to be constructive, but as per all written communications, they can be interpreted in ways the author did not intend. Following are some clarifications.

On Contest promotion:
To a certain extent I think you have been a victim association with the Bioware writing contest. I know in my mind, I envisioned something similar with spotlights on the vault or possibly various general games sites posting about it. Of course, none of this was ever a given on your behalf, merely a false assumption made by myself (and possibly others).

On contest Clarification
I don't think this is really so much about making the rules clear, as an issue of time investment verses feedback. As I am sure you know, even a 30 minute mod can take the equivalent of a weeks full time work to make. With a target mod time of 30-120 minutes, most people going for the win were aiming at 90ish mins or 100+ hours build. This is a significant investment for a hobby, especially over a four week period.

At the end of the contest a single overall winner was presented (and a couple of runners up now). However, without more detailed context from the judges on what they liked or did not, it is hard to discern where they were shooting from. A paragraph or two for each of the winners would provide a yardstick for contestants to look at their own work in relation and thus gain valuable feedback.

If the time spent was a couple of days, most would have written it off. I guess it was the high investment that makes myself feel there should be a greater return.

On prizes
Personally, I have never cared about prizes, but some may do and knowing exactly what is up for grabs can motivate them.

In closing
I certainly hope to see more contests in the future, and appreciate the work you guys do. After all, your support of the community on NWN2 is better than virtually all other developers. I also appreciate the honest development postings rather than the shrouded PR talk that is often prevalent elsewhere. When looking forward at the next contests, I would personally see the following as a good thing:

* An occasional highlight post / mid contest recap post on the vault.
* Longer time periods for creation (you seem to have done this already).
* A more limited scope on potentially time-intensive contests (or far greater feedback/promotion)
* A few short paragraphs on each winner and why they won.
* More varied winners as well as overall eg., most humorous / best art / best combat etc.
* A mention to the larger gaming community on higher time investment contests (for example bluesnews.)
* A snazzy custom avatar/title for winners on the vault/here.

Thanks for your time,

And here is the response:

That was great feedback!

What you haven't seen are the multitudes of PMs I have gotten where people were pissed off at our choices for the winner(s) and attacks as to how we handled the contest and the fact that we weren't giving prizes to everyone that entered.

As was mentioned in the beginning, this first contest would be rough since we had never held one before. The contests will evolve over time.

It is much more preferable to receive feedback such as yours than to just be attacked and insulted.


Hopefully my comments and others will be taken aboard, and the next contest will run a lot more smoothly. I think that mini-contests are a great idea, and it would be a pity to see them end.

Thus, to all those posting
passionate mails on the author's behalf to Obsidian, please stop. No, this contest was not run well in my opinion, and yes I do feel a bit let down. However, Obsidian has recognised this and insults and attacks have never helped any cause.

The community has two sides, and they need to work together, not be at each others throats.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

PS:Legacy introduces:

Have just finished reworking the companion concepts for PS:Legacy. At the moment the plan is for a party of up to five characters out of a choice of eleven companions. Here is a quick lowdown on who might be joining you on your travels.

Taker Alm - Human Fighter/Rogue NE - Fated
A graduate from the school of hard knocks, Taker Alm knows the hive like the back of his hand. Maybe that is why he now works as a 'tax collector' there.

Hans Ironhammer - Dwarf Fighter N(G) - Clueless
Yes, the sarcastic mercenary from "Cry Wolf" is back, and this time he doesn't have a beard. He prefers being paid, but however snippy he gets, in his heart he just enjoys a good adventure.

Kay "The Magpie"- Human Mage/Rogue (C)N - Indep
This young woman tries to pass herself off as the scoundrel, a thief to be reckoned with. However, her tutored demeanor and unconfident manner of speech points towards an altogether different upbringing.

Sapphiron - Elven Monk LN - Transcendent Order
This bald albino elf has found her place within the transcendent order. She tries to focus on the here and now, but when asked her staring red eyes cannot conceal her grief of a time long past.

Alvarious Riskin - Thieflng Fighter/Barbarian CE - Fraternity of Order
This well spoken thiefling purveys an outwards atmosphere of calmness, but this all too quickly disolves into violent and unpredictable outbursts at the merest of grievances. How he remains a member of the Guvnors is a question many have asked (With form 327-A triplicated and countersigned).

D'Axos - Human? Bard CN - Anarch
"The Bellman tolls, I listen for the ring of the hour". So might a typical conversation with this gangley man start; he is mad you see. Still, his discordant songs and rhymes seem to conceal hidden depths of meaning. Maybe they are more than they seem, or maybe he is just another Barmy with a talent for instruments.

Farther "Flanny" Flanagan - Human Cleric CG - Athar
A portly fellow, who seems (or tries) to be everyones friend. Holding a serious conversation with him is nigh impossible, and the resultant stream of bad humor (That he laughs at himself) makes most people wish they didn't bother. However, when speaking his passionate disgust at the gods, it is as if listening to another person.

Lucas Debonaire - Aasamir Mage N - Sign of One
This suave customer backs up his unrelenting self belief with a side course of contempt for others. Still, if you can put up with being his sidekick, he does posses some skill.

Droll - Human? Cleric N - Dustmen
Permanently covered in a dark death shroud, and answering any questions monosymbolically, Droll has a definite lack of personality. Who knows why he is following you around, but he seems trustworthy, for now.

Elsi Larloch - Human Sourcerer CN(G) - Sensate
This talkative young woman is out to experience the planes and all they offer. Plus she is the great great great grand cousin of the famous mage king, don't you know. Well if you didn't know, you will soon find out, as she can't help but mention it to everyone she meets. Apparently he once wrote Elsi a birthday card too, although you could put that down to her parents faking it to shut her up for a minute!

Verity - Human Paladin LG - Mercykiller
You certainly wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of this cold hearted worshipper of Hoar. But due to some mischief on your siblings behalf, that is exactly where you start. Best start running, 'cause she's coming for you and has only one thing on her mind. Revenge.

Of course, there are a load of plot elements for these guys and girls as well. But I 'aint giving them away just yet!

Monday, 11 June 2007

Special update: contest over.

Well, Obsidian's Grimm contest is finally finished and it is a big congratulations to Jclef for his entry Grimm Brigade. It is certainly a very good example of the H&S genre, especially considering the short time lines.

Whilst I am at it, I would like to congratulate the other authors who entered the competition. At the end of the day, it was truly a massive feat to get a module completed in such a short period. I would also like to thank everyone that posted on the vault. The feedback of knowing people are playing and (sometimes) enjoying our creations is the only thing modders ever receive. Lastly, I would like to thank my family, friends and my manager, without whom. . .

Wait a sec, this is sounding like an awards speech, and I didn't even win!

Now for a closing word on the contest itself. It was a fun theme, and it started up quite nicely. However since then, other than a single sticky on a forum there has been virtually no promotion or mention of the contest whatsoever. In addition, it was (and still is) unclear as to what criteria the modules were judged on, or what the winner will receive. For myself, the feedback from the Obsidian voting team was less verbose than the shortest of public comments the mod attracted.

Altogether, I can't help but feel that the next contest needs more planning and structure, or else Obsidian may quickly loose the interest of community participation.

Anyhow, it is back to writing dialogs for me

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Weekly update

This week, I have been mostly reworking the plot and the initial areas of my upcoming module "Planesape:Legacy". Early this year I was forced to shelve all my modding work due to real life. This left PS:Legacy fully plotted, but about 1/3 built. Thankfully things in real life settled down, and the Obsidian Grimm contest came at a perfect time for me to dust off my modding skills and get back to building.

From the contest I learnt a number of things about what generally works and what doesn't. When I returned to PS:Legacy I could see that there were a number of changes needed in order to realise it's full potential.

The main decision I made was to change the story to center around the player at an earlier point. In the original plot, the player was basically a henchman of the driving NPC (much like the Brothers in Cry Wolf). This allowed a logical 'everyman' story, which would then evolve to centre around the PC later in the series. On reflection, this made the plot a little flat, and didn't draw the player into the story fast enough. Thus, in the revised plot the PC is the central 'special' character right from the get-go. Of course, this means that a players character choice is more bounded, but I am a LOT happier with the plotting now, and feel it was a worthy trade-off.

Now, I was meaning to post a set of snazzy picture of my progress. But somehow I managed to corrupt my windows install on my main modding PC!

The good news is that I have been here before, and I should be able to recover everything (and I have recent backups anyhow). The bad news is that I left my Windows CD at my other home, and cant get back there for a week! I guess I will spend this week on dialogs, which is not a bad thing as I usually slack and leave them until last.

Some proper pictures and whatnot next week.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Cry Wolf 1.03 and /wave Shout Wolf

Well, finally the contest change freeze has been lifted and I have published version 1.03 of Cry Wolf. Thankfully, the original version wasn't very buggy - so the update is mainly improving gameplay by scaling the combats some and adding clues for the puzzle. As long as there are no major issues, then this will probably be the last version.

As posted below, I was working on a multi-player version of cry wolf. However, without the companions and cutscenes there wasn't much meat left. Whilst the fights were OK, the puzzle aspect didn't work very well at all. To cap things off, the game lasts only an hour, which doesn't really seem long enough for a multi player module (which is less likely to be replayed). Plainly put, it wasn't very fun. Therefore, I have decided to cancle the project and concentrate on my Planescape mod. However, all was not lost. I learnt a lot about what makes MP tick, and some scripting tricks to make a mod MP safe. I don't think my Planescape mod will be very multi-player friendly, but I am going to try and script it so that MP at least works!