Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Double Take While Trick-or-Treating

My upcoming module, Faithless, is still taking a backseat to another module I'm making for Bouncy Rock's Halloween campaign. I have less than three weeks to complete my little mod of horror, but I'm hoping to wrap it up by next week at the latest. I'm not going to say much about what my module is about. I'd rather have players find out for themselves when Bouncy Rock releases the entire campaign. To compensate for my reticence, I present the following pictures, each of which is worth a thousand words.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Early Halloween Break

I haven't done any work on Faithless over the past week. Instead, I've been working on another module that will be part of Bouncy Rock's Halloween campaign. Deadline for module submissions is less than a month from now, so I'm prioritizing my Halloween module over Faithless. Hopefully, I'll be able to post a few teaser screenshots of this new module over the next few days.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

War in the City

In my last post, I mentioned that my computer self-destructed for reasons unknown, which prompted my sending it to the repair shop. Well, my computer is still at the shop, awaiting delivery of replacement parts. It seems that the supplier has a delivery schedule to follow and won't deliver the parts that I need before the allotted time. I'm hoping that deliveries are made at least once a month. It certainly doesn't look as if the supplier does weekly deliveries.

In the meantime, I have to content myself with using Old Unreliable, a computer of mine whose specs barely meet the system requirements to play NWN2.This machine is slow and has a tendency to shut itself down twice a day (but thankfully not more often than that). I'm fairly certain that the more I use this machine, the quicker I'll be sending it to its grave, so I'm hoping that I can get my other computer from the shop before that happens.

Speaking of the grave and all things dead, I created yet another area of the death god's city. This particular area is just beyond the Supplicants' Gate and is the first section within the City of Judgment to have a taste of war. By the time the PCs enter it, the crusaders who have gone ahead will have wreaked much damage.

As with nearly all my outdoor areas, I created this by modifying an area prefab that I downloaded from the Vault. In this particular case, the prefab that I used is jlf2n's The Fugue Plane, which is derived in turn from the Supplicants' Gate area that Obsidian Entertainment created for Mask of the Betrayer. The area that jlf2n created is set during Myrkul's reign as the god of death. As such, it is a grimmer, more hellish place than the city that Kelemvor now presides over. With its gutted shells and burning buildings, jlf2n's prefab looks just like a war-torn city.

Using Tanita's TerraCoppa plugin, I merged various sections of the Supplicants' Gate by OEI with the Fugue Plane by jlf2n to create Kelemvor's city at war. I also smoothened the height map and lowered a number of placeables that I found floating in mid-air. By the time I was done, I had a section of the City of Judgment that has clearly been ravaged in battle.

When I first took in-game screenshots of this area, I found the lighting too dark. My initial lighting settings were lifted straight out of the Supplicants' Gate area from MotB. To brighten up the lighting a bit, I doubled the value of the SunMoon Intensity but retained the original SkyLight settings to keep the shadowy portions of the city in darkness. In this way, I managed to keep the atmosphere dramatically gloomy without making it difficult for players to look around.

Considering how well jlf2n's prefab captures the look of a city at war, I'll be designing the rest of the exterior areas of the City of Judgment with that in mind.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Coincidences, Good and Bad

It has been a bad week for me. Seven days ago, I found out that I could not turn on my computer and external modem. To make matters worse, I also found out that my phone line was dead. It seems an odd coincidence that three separate machines would choose the same day to malfunction.

When I brought my computer to the repair shop, I was told that both my motherboard and video card weren't working and had to be replaced. I can't explain what brought about this massive glitch in my devices. My guess is that my Intel Core 2 Quad processor and my GT8800 video card generated so much heat that they fried each other. Maybe the heat was so strong that it radiated to my modem and melted its innards. In its death throes, my modem then short-circuited my phone line.

Sounds like a plausible explanation.

Or maybe the gods do not want me to finish my module. Faithless is so blasphemous to the deities of Faerun that the gods have reached across the multiverse to zap my motherboard, video card, modem, and phone line all at once. This is the module that Kelemvor does not want you to play, dear reader. Well, I'm not letting any dirty tricks from the deities get in the way of finishing my module. Who's afraid of Kelemvor? He's only the god of death.

Heh-heh. So much for trying to generate controversy and excitement out of an otherwise mind-numbing week.

Without my modding computer and with no Internet access, I decided to do some research by reading the Sellswords Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore. I had been meaning to read these books for some time, but it took a major technology catastrophe for me to commit to doing something non-technological. The last two novels in the trilogy were set in Damara and Vaasa, and they describe the Vaasan Gate in detail. I realized that my own rendition of the Vaasan Gate is off the mark, so I decided to redo this area.

Although my phone line was repaired and my modem replaced last Friday, my computer is still in the repair shop. I was told last week that the supplier was awaiting delivery of the replacement motherboard and video card. Earlier today, I was informed that the replacement parts had arrived yesterday, but the supplier was expected to deliver them to the repair shop within the week or possibly by next week. This kind of service is a farce. I'm beginning to think that there is a conspiracy between the computer repair people and the supplier to delay the repair of my machine as long as they can to chisel away at the remaining days of my warranty. Grrr.

Nevertheless, I wasn't going to let this problem stop me from modding. I have an older computer whose specs barely meets the requirements for playing NWN2. Since my newer machine is out of commission, I had no choice but to use the older machine, which is terribly sloooow. Whereas modding with my newer computer is like flying through the air, using the older one is like swimming in tar. As if that wasn't enough of a problem, my old computer has a tendency to shut itself down when it's feeling too stressed out. I'm just glad that it doesn't pull that trick on me more than twice a day.

My modus operandi for creating outdoor areas is to start with an area prefab. For the Vaasan Gate, which is set in relatively flat land, I used SGK73's Just Add Encounters - Plains. Whereas this area is grassy, the land surrounding the Vaasan Gate when the snow has melted is muddy. I used the Texture Replacement feature of the toolset to change most of the grass textures to mud or dirt.

Then came the hard part. I had to construct the Vaasan Gate itself. This massive structure is sixty feet high, thirty feet thick, and half a mile across. There is only one way through these walls, and that is through the gate at the western end. I wasn't about to create a wall half a mile long, of course. Neverthless, building a portion of the western end was still going to take some effort.

I figured that my best option for creating the wall was to use Nytir's BCK II hakpak. I soon found out that using it to build anything sufficiently large is tedious to the extreme. All parts must be perfectly aligned with each other to prevent gaps and uneven surfaces in the walls, floors, and roofs. Considering that I had to lay out foundations, walls, floors, roofs, buttresses, and doorways for a huge building, one can imagine the headache I went through. I don't want to get into the details of how I created this monster. All I'll say is that it involved creative use of Tanita's TerraCoppa plugin as well as hacking into the area file with a C++ program that I wrote.

I found the default textures of the BCK II placeables bland and unrealistic, so I retextured them by adapting Toupon's texture pack for use with BCK II. This texture pack is actually meant for use with Nytir's first Building Construction Kit, so I had to edit the textures to make them usable with BCK II.

By reading Mr. Salvatore's books, I learned something about the Vaasan Gate that I didn't know before. During the warmer months, an entire community of mercenaries pitches tents at the southern side of the Vaasan Gate. When the gate opens at the start of each day, the mercenaries head north to Vaasa to hunt monsters for coin. I was greatly amused when I found out that the mercenaries named their tent city the "Fugue Plane." Like the real Fugue Plane where the god of death makes his abode, the Fugue Plane at the Vaasan Gate is a junction of sorts. Whereas Kelemvor's plane connects the realms of the gods and the infernal regions, the Fugue Plane in Toril connects the safe and secure Damara with the monster-infested Vaasa.

Without my having planned it, it looks like players of Faithless will start at the "Fugue Plane" facing the great wall of Vaasa and will end up in the real Fugue Plane facing the Wall of the Faithless. Now that's the kind of coincidence I'm happy to experience.