Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm fixin' to get a fixing.

With my list of bugs in one hand, and a list of places to gloss in the other, tonight should see some good progress. I went through the module beta v4 and made note of quite a few areas of dialogue that need work. Commas are my best friend and worst enemy with some of these complex structures. Good thing MS Word doesn't do a stellar job of grammar checking them, heh.

I also aim to expand a few avenues, like expanding the story on the Catch of the Day quest. I want to put some cameras in the wagon to have a bit more visual control over the subtext, as well as add a few sounds in the conversation to better convey the feeling of being ambushed.

I seem to have located where Lip Flappers begins to break down. If you play straight through, things seem to work fine. If you save a game and load it, then the conversation wavs that are stored in the MOD file seem to stay unloaded and have them fly by. I guess we will have to play it safe and include these for the override folder instead.

Well, the holiday season (opposed to the shopping season) has kicked off. I'm staring down the barrel of a week of vacation with only the minor tripup of New Years Eve as a distraction. Things look really good for a Leap Year Release as long as I get good feedback from the beta tests that I release. Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

On the 13th day of Christmas

13 Screenshots from my own personal beta run. Don't let these fool you, I found quite a few errors to add to my naughty list.

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

The Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath The Hearleforne - Beta Test

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Vacation, all I ever wanted...

Finally, one day of the daily grind left before a week of vacation. Aside from the Holiday running, I should have plenty of time to get some development work done. I can't wait to get back to the toolset and continue the drive toward the finish line.

The beta results are coming in and I must say I am a bit upset that it appears the Lip Flappers will have to be placed in the override folder, since the ones contained within the module file seem to take a dive after a while. Small price to pay I suppose, but I still wanted to keep things as nice and clean as possible.

There have been numerous reports of some places where gender pronouns were hard-coded toward the masculine, so I will have to go through the conversations and place in some switches to circumvent my character bias.

As the end of the year draws to a close, it is a time of both reflection and new beginnings. While I am having a blast developing this independent series, I cannot help but think back to the good old days of PW development. With that thought in mind, I figured I'd post an image that I threw together back when Cormyr and NWN2 were still on the table together.

Cormyr, I'll remember you fondly.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Beta Test Released

From the recently posted thread on the NWN2 Forums:

Solvheil II: Beneath the Hearleforne Beta Test
Here is a link to download a beta module of the upcoming installment of the series: Download Beta

While this isn't the complete adventure, it does take you rather far into the story. It is designed for a human character and will set your experience to the non-ecl level of 6. I am trying to discover bugs, hang-ups, confusion, weak dialogue, or other elements that need work before I continue on with the remaining areas.

Feel free to do your worse in trying to buck the system. Tell me if a line of dialogue is too ambiguous, or if you notice something that needs further development.
This module uses Lip Flappers to enable NPCs to lipsync the dialogue. If this isn't working properly and conversations are flying by at an alarming rate, please let me know. I tried to include the wav files within the module file and while it has worked well for me, I want to make sure it is consistent for everyone.

This is a direct continuation of the first module in the series:
Sands of Solvheil I: Ruins of Kazatharis

While completion of the first module isn't required, there are several elements from it mentioned within this story.

Many thanks to anyone who gives this a whirl and provides me with their feedback. Only though beta tests such as this can I deliver the best possible end result.

Feedback can be provided either via PM on the NWN2 Forums, or within the above linked forum thread.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Beta Release Soon

Another productive weekend behind me, and I see a good possibility of releasing an at least partial beta-test very soon. I want to go ahead and finish the core path all the way to juuuust about the end before doing so. During the beta, I can finish up some of the more ancillary items such as companion casual dialogue, commoner banter, and other side items.

I am so very thankful for the walkmesh helper that has really made so much possible. From guards posted atop walls, to actually using the dirt mounds as a dias, it's really handy to be able to manipulate your NPC placement. I've done more baking this weekend then a grandmother on thanksgiving morning.

I did quite a bit of area light tweaking as well. It all started with adjustment of fog levels to get the correct visibilty in the forest areas. I then started to play around with the ground and skylight values as well to create, what I think, are more realistic looking areas. I may just go back and do some additional adjustments in the city areas of Evertide as well, but I will shelf for that later.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

This Mother Walks!

Alright, allow me one indulgence and reprieve from the rigors of the NWN2 Toolset (which I love). Behold Maya, my new favorite 3D Package (Sorry Max, we had a good run...let's stay friends). This is a little chicken-walker robot I threw together to test out Inverse Kinematics, or the basics of physics and animation playing nice. I got this thing to walk after adding in the bones/joints/etc and basically setting up a virtual stop-motion model that can be manipulated along a timeline.

Maya in all its glory

Very cool stuff, but a bit different from the biped method of 3D Studio Max's Character Studio which I am more familiar. However, I do think that I will sway my favor toward Maya overall. The ease with which I modeled this, slapped some hull textures on, set up materials and lights for the spotlight effect, and rendered an animation, it's just sick.

With that somewhat out of my system, I suppose getting back to the Solvheil modules is in order.

What's that you say? Does it REALLY walk? Would I lie to you? I feel called out here...the gauntlet is down. Fine, have it your way:
Click here to download a 12 second avi.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One week past Thanksgiving, and still whacked out on Tryptophan!

Can't let a little something like nap-inducing turkey drugs keep me down though. I've been toiling away at SoSII:BtH trying to get at least the core plot playable all the way to the end. It is then that I will step back and see where some additional fleshing could be used. Although I do want something playable very soon so I can begin releasing a few beta-tests and identify potential problems and head-scratchers before things go too far.

The good news? The module is very playable/testable (whoah, gotta be careful with THAT word) in both Evertide and the Great Forest. The trick will be merging these two areas together without delving too deeply into some of the sidequest action planned for Evertide.

I am about 1 or 2 areas shy of a total, only about 1/3 of the conversations, and the module is still approaching SoS:tRoK size very rapidly. Needless to say, for a throwaway middle adventure, this thing is turning into a behemoth. Not that I'm complaining, it is just funny how quickly things can snowball, even when adhering to a predefined scope.

I had originally planned ending this module with a little romp through some dwarven mines. I may cut that portion depending on size/time limitations (and the fact that I can't easily integrate RWS Deep Tilsets). Not that I couldn't make do with the default tiles, RWS has just done such a stellar job that it really pains me to leave it by the wayside. I'll have to see how the flow of things goes to judge how far to take the ending.

One of the most lacking portions of the first module seemed to be the relationship building with the companions. While they all had their own agendas and motivations pretty well laid out and diversified, there seemed to lack the casual conversation and comradery aside from the speaktrigger huddles that took place from time to time. While I'd really like to expand on that in this module, I'm not sure if I will have the time to do so. The upcoming few weeks will determine how much I can get done before the close of 2007, and how much room for improvement and time to do so remains. It's not that I'm necessarily looking for talented individuals to step up and take care of some of the more intimate portions of dialogue...however if one were to fall in my lap (figuratively speaking of course).

In the back of my mind, I am slowly developing some finer detail for the third (formerly second) module, Crusaders of Shalihir. I am going to make sure that this module completes its intended purpose of setting things up nicely for the remainder of the story. I really dislike the idea of going back and retrofitting in clues and nods to things that will become relevant later, so I want to make sure I have it right the first time. I also like some of the rough layouts I had done up for a few areas in part III, and cannot wait to get back to them.

By the close of this coming weekend, I'd like to have a playable module all the way up to the druid grove. I'd also like one million dollars so I can work on NWN fulltime, but eh, whattyado?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Toolset Oddity

In a rather frustrating night of work, I discovered an anomaly I can only describe as Disappearing Dock Syndrome. I was attempting to export a few of the Evertide areas to upload to the vault as prefabs when I noticed that the Underwater City Walkway that I used for the docks had disappeared. Well, naturally I panicked and began to open all 3 backups of the module, only to discover that it was gone in all of them.

Looking at the file size, I decided that the toolset must be lying to me so I closed it down and reopened one of the main module files. There stood the docks in all its glory, however upon attempting to open it outside of the module such as from an ERF, it would not be displayed in the area. It was still there, listed under placables. The walkmesh was still present, but the dock itself couldn't be seen. This took a good two hours of constant opening, looking, swearing, closing, and repeat before I decided to call it a night.

Oh well, after all of the progress that I made over the Thanksgiving weekend, it is only fitting that there's a few bumps in the road to balance things out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

You wanna talk progress?

After a long weekend of some pretty hard-hitting toolset work, I have a good playable beta for the first third of the module.What a sense of accomplishment it is to take a bunch of separate sections and paste them together with the proper transitions, scripts, conversations, and journal entries.

I'm pretty stoked to see it fall in place like that, and knowing the areas that I have ready, very excited to get to the rest of the adventure.
I even set the foundations for a few sidequests in Evertide since I'm so pleased with the way it turned out.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Storneth and Lorn Grove Ingame

About to post my Module Update of the day in the NWN2Forums. Just wanted to threw some new images up for everyone to view the progress. These are of various locations around Storneth in Harrn as well as one of a druid grove in the forest.

Lorn Grove
Titan's Tankard

Mangled Mane Inn

Mangled Mane Inn


From here on out I think it's going to be a large amount of time spent fixing up the conversations, adding the animations, adding the blank soundfiles for mouth movement, etc.

...Pray for Mojo

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Holy Diver

A few additional shots of the underwater area, this time in-game. I'm considering applying a minor slow effect in the area to simulate the restricted movement.

More underwater imagery

I have to be careful to not make it too slow, or else it could prove rather annoying. Also playing with the look of the adversaries for this area, which should look pretty cool if I can pull it off.

Life amongst the azure shade

The Design Document also underwent several changes and additions, and version 1.2 was uploaded to the vault today.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One Vote Away

The first module in the series, The Ruins of Kazatharis, is sitting at 24 votes. One away from the fabled 25 votes required for ascending to a higher plane. I wait with baited breath for the next vote to be cast and silently hope that it is a good one.

I've learned, and already kind of known, that different players prefer different play styles. Some think combat was too easy, for others, too difficult. Some enjoy the more freeform parts of the module, while yet others prefer the story based second half. What I take away from all of this is don't change a thing. I will continue much of the good points in the next module and attempting to mix these various tastes and play styles together to create an experience that is enjoyable to almost everyone at some point during the adventure.

I have also learned to not base changes on a single piece of feedback alone, aside from obvious bug fixes, as the desires of one player don't always translate across the board. All I can do is take every piece of advice to heart and consideration and make an educated guess based on the feedback as a whole.

Anyhow, one vote to go!

Monday, November 12, 2007

SoSII:BtH Logo/Cover Art

After a bit of messing around in the toolset and photoshop last night, I think I have come up with a graphic for this second module that I rather like. Not that this does much in the way of finishing the module, but it does give me something pretty to look at while it's in progress.

Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath the Hearleforne

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Completing a campaign

I've decided to lay it all on the table. I want to come clean and address my track record for completing official releases. For some reason I seem to have a bad batting average for actually finishing releases all the way to the end credits.

Module: Played/Finished
SoU: X/X
HotU: X/X
MotB: X

Some may call it 'Completion Anxiety', some may even dub it as 'Attention Deficit Disorder', while others would argue it was a result of bad things my parents did in the 70's. The truth, though, is that I enjoy behind the camera more. I guess that makes me the Michael Nesmeth of the NWN world. Although my mother did not invent white-out (nor sniff it despite my earlier comment), and I've never been in any musical ensemble. I normally play just enough to catch a glimpse of the new building resources before I tear into the toolset to see how much has been added to the palette.

To me the NWN toolset is nothing more than a giant glorified Colorform set, and nothing makes me happier than peeling the reusable sticky creatures off of the pad and slapping them down in the landscape. I realize this is an over generalization for one of the most revolutionary concepts of disturbed development. It is just my way of explaining it to the outside world without sounding crazy(er).

Friday, November 9, 2007

Beneath the Surface

Well with a little lighting, a little visual effects, and some Hollywood magic, the underwater area is really coming to life. I must say that I am very pleased with the results and this screenshot really does it no justice.

Release the Kraken!

One thing that really brought it all together, aside from Adam Millers bubble VFX, was the use of the Aqua Area Fog that I raised just slightly above the Player's head on the Z-Axis. While it looks a little blurry in this screenshot, from PC level it looks quite amazing.

This is a huge load off of my mind as I was really worried about creating a realistic looking underwater area. Now I can spend my time worrying about more important things.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Appearances and Release Date

Normally I don't complain too much about undocumented changes in patches and/or expansions. I just have to say how disappointed I am in the change to the 'Warlock Leather' armor appearance. The changing of previously bare portions to a dark fabric really throws the entire previous look into disarray. I don't even want to post a before/after shot of Anziath up because it really just turns my stomach to look.

This completely destroys the look I was going for when I designed the character and his respective armor set. Granted, his look will change in subsequent modules, but for Ruins of Kazatharis, his appearance is ruined. Not a happy camper with the rampant retro-censorship at work here.

On a lighter note, I have set a hard release deadline for myself for Sands of Solvheil II: Beneath the Hearleforne. I am aiming to get this module finished, tested, and ready for release by February 2008. This will allow me ample time to continue work on the third module and have it complete well before the two year anniversary of the NWN2 release.

I began importing most of the content from the mini-modules I use for development into a master module, and can now see the entire project taking form. Again, I could spend years on Evertide alone and the endless adventure opportunities yielded by such a medieval metropolis. For the sake of the story though I will have to narrow my focus as there is quite a bit of ground to cover with this module and hanging about town just won't do.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

NPCs and Conversation

Well this was one of those nights where it feels like accounting. Making sure all of the nodes are set for conversations, animations are keyed, and lipflapper sounds assigned to control the mouth movement. Now I have the first third or so of core conversation in a completed state.

First batch of NPCs

I then went to work filling in some missing NPCs from Evertide. I definitely skipped around the whole module and made some key names first, but it is time to start fleshing out the named shop owners and other notable people. The screenshot shows the core creatures of Evertide as well as some from Lyritholln. Just the ones that I considered 'ready'.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Storneth and the Flooded Roots

The last few evenings I have had the change to add the interiors to Storneth as well as begin design on the flooded roots beneath the Hearleforne. Storneth now features the citadel, the Mangled Mane Inn, the Titan's Tankard tavern, and the Inked Blade tattoo/rune shop.

Rough Design of Flooded Roots

The flooded area beneath the giant tree and elven capitol is going to be a rather significant area of action occurring about midway through the module. I want this area to look just right and will spend some time on the lighting. This shot is a quick look at the terrain before finer details area added.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

All I want for Christmas

Just uploaded (the hopefully final) version 1.8 to the vaults FTP. As always, Maximus is the true Deus Ex sweeping in and linking it to the listing. If NWN were to ever honor a patron saint, I have a nomination card ready.

I took a glance at the initial release date, 09-24-2007, a little over a month ago. Then that tiny voice in the back of reminded me of the rules for entering the NWN2 Hall of Fame. The last of which was being at least 3 months old. The slowhead gene kicked in and said, no problem, I'm 31. Then I realized a greater revelation that it will be eligible (assuming it gets 5 more votes and the score doesn't tank) on Christmas Eve. Santa, if you're listening…

It's not that I need the fame, fortune, and glamorous groupies that come with having your module on the Hall of Fame list. It's not even that I want to feel justified, because, Nobody with a GOOD car needs to be justified, you understand? Me, I drive a '96 Honda Civic to serve as a suburban sled. The truth is I want to be in the Hall of Fame because I'm a narcissistic media whore. No, that can't be it either, else I'd have voted for myself already. I've never believed in padding the results, spoils the whole experiment, and it's cheesy.

Every time I open the module to make an update I am tempted to add/change/revise certain things. What stops me (besides the fact that I am mostly focused on part II) is the belief that the module should stand on its original merits. I don't think I could in good conscience revise too much without relisting because that would again spoil the entire process in some small fashion.
I won't put too much stock into it, just something to think about. Not like I'll flip out if I don't make it. *Staring blankly at my Pew-36 Explosive Space modulator*

Monday, October 29, 2007

AWOL Shadow Fortress Textures

I am really stoked about some of the great comments and votes the first module is receiving. I'd like to post one more 'Final' version and catch all minor bugs and glitches in one sweeping change. There is one issue that has been a source of despair however. The missing texture from the Shadow Fortress tiles that comprise the Dwarven Ruins beneath Kazatharis. That bright neon glow of the multi-colored missing texture map is really hurting the overall look of the area and I'd like to stamp it out once and for all.

So far, attempts to correct this have been fruitless, and searches for a solution have yielded nothing. I've made a last ditch effort with a post to the NWN2 Forums in hopes that someone out there knows how to rid the Shadow Fortress areas of this nasty graphical glitch. Far from a deal-breaker, it's an eyesore whose time has come. On the upside, the bright red ceilings of the Castle Tiles were corrected in 1.10/MotB.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Let it snow

Well I have the town of Storneth just about where I want it, complete with the new snow VFX from the expansion. I think it looks rather good, just as I had imagined it before we had access to winter-esque placeables. It is in about the same state as the other areas with the terrain and walkmesh about finalized aside from placeables for detail and their respective cutters. Later on I will go over these areas and add in the essential texturing and foliage to flesh them out before bringing the NPCs and other assets into the picture. I added this image to the Design Document in the Areas section. I'm trying to give at least a glimpse of an area next to the description.

The town of Storneth in Harrn was where the surrender to Dalreon was signed after the war.

I'm using a bit more of a modular design with this project, much like I did back in the NWNOnline: Kingdom of Cormyr PW days. It allows the mini-mods to remain smaller and easier to work with, and keeps the integrity of the master module. I just have to be mindful of which I am working on when I go to save-as (I keep multiple copies for just such emergencies).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Good News Everybody...

(Title read as if Professor Qubert Farnsworth of Futurama)

Thanks to NWN2 Warcry for posting the second half of the Ossian Studios Interview. Here are the words articulated just as I wanted to read them:

14. Will any of the custom content be available to the modding community to use in their modules?

Larry Liberty: Yes, making new content available to the modding community is central to the Adventure Pack program. It represents another avenue for Atari to seed the community with high quality content (beyond expansion packs).

Good to know there is far more to the new resources than a one shot, albeit professionaly produced, campaign. No word on whether those who want to play a mod that utilizes said content will have to also purchase the adventure pack. It's a very limiting move for a community builder as far as audience, but opens alot of doors as to diversity and quality.

Design Document 2nd Draft

I have posted a rough draft of the official Design Document for Beneath the Hearleforne complete with images. While there are still many details and statistics to flesh in, this has the basic structure and placeholders for many integral elements. It also features an expanded section on religion as many elements have been brought to light thanks to the events of The Ruins of Kazatharis.

I'd like to have this looked over with someone who is really good at number-crunching at games. I need an Encounter/CR/Experience Statistician or something. I'd like the combat in this module to be a little more intense with more close calls than before without stacking the deck too high.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Mysteries of Westgate" Adventure Pack

Atari and Ossian Studios announced their upcoming 'adventure pack' (notably different than a premium module) entitled "Mysteries of Westgate".

Now, of COURSE I'm going to shell out whatever funds necessary to take a peek at this. The question then I incorporate the new toolset content into my modules. Really on the fence with this decision, but screenshots like the following from the NWVault are leaning me in a particular direction.

New Creature from Mysteries of Westgate by Ossian Studios

Now I ask you, is that not one of the coolest creature models you've seen in awhile? As much as I don't want to limit the audience of the Sands of Solvheil series (that's a lot of S's), I will have a very hard time passing up on content like this. Time will tell.

Check out this interview with Ossian Studios about the project.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tiny Bubbles

I want to take a moment to thank Adam Miller of Dark Waters (and previous NWN modules) fame for giving me permission to use his Bubble VFX for the underwater area I am working on.

While I feel custom VFX creation is something I could really sink my teeth into, I don't really have the time to get too into it. His effect will work nicely to add to the ambiance of the flooded roots of the Hearleforne. While this isn't an area I've gotten too far into molding, I do have the top portion of the elven capital somewhat fleshed out.

Ehllelo planted the Hearleforne which sprung life to the Great Forest of the West. Meaning 'The Heart of the Forest', it is the first plant to grace the presense of the ground, and stands to represent all that is green and grows from the earth. Because of this, it is protected by the Elves, and respected and supported by all of the elements.

First Look at Evertide

Here are some preliminary screenshots of the docks in Evertide that begin the module. This is Keel Street that runs along the Southern border of Evertide along the shoreline of the Sea of Aluun.

Keel Street, Evertide, Dalreon

Keel Street, Evertide, Dalreon

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Beginning

Well, the time has come to start putting the development of the "Sands of Solvheil" series to a blog. The release of the first module Sands of Solvheil I: Ruins of Kazatharis has been met with relative success, and I have already begun work on the second installment.

Formerly titled Crusaders of Shalihir, the second module has instead been split into two pieces. The first of which is now titled Beneath the Hearleforne and will deal with the immediate ramifications of the events from Ruins of Kazatharis. The adventure will start the player off in Evertide, the capital of Dalreon, working on the assignment given to them by King Jorlaan at the end of the first module.

From there it will a whirlwind adventure carrying them from the Elven kingdom of Lyritholln to the frozen reaches of Harrn as they delve into the beliefs and relationships of both human and demihuman alike. This adventure thrusts the player into the foreground more than the predecessor, as they are now of a respectable and survivable level.
Design Documents: