Friday, October 24, 2008

The Temple of Kelemvor

Atop a hill in Eternity's End stands the Temple of Kelemvor, a place where the records of the dead are kept. Those who have played Mask of the Betrayer may remember this temple because it is one of the few places in the Fugue Plane that are featured in this game. The design of the area was certainly adequate, but it could have been better, in my opinion.

As is my usual practice, I ripped this area from MotB and attempted to improve on it. Taking a cue from Anduraga (a.k.a. Josh), who did a marvelous job of giving the Basilica of Lost Hope a face lift, I laid out the area using the RWS Pocket Cathedrals hakpak from Robinson Workshop. I changed a few placeables and visual effects here and there and applied the same lighting that Anduraga used in the Basilica of Lost Hope.

The result is a hauntingly beautiful piece of work, if I may say so myself.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Eternity's End, Upended

It has been a long time since I last posted in-game screenshots of areas from Faithless. It's high time that I end this hiatus by presenting pictures of Eternity's End in the grip of war. Although I kept OEI's original design of this area mostly intact, I made a number of significant changes to it. As mentioned in my previous post, I replaced a few houses with burnt shells. I also replaced two of the buildings with piles of rubble.

Aside from these cosmetic changes, I put up a number of makeshift barricades along some of the pathways. These barricades are made from whatever the locals would conceivably have on hand -- crates, wagons, pieces of wood nailed together, those sort of things. Characters may attempt to destroy these barricades, but they stand the risk of being mowed down with missile fire while they are at it.

Perhaps the most striking change that I did to this area was to put a very large crater in one of the streets. In the Forgotten Realms, things that go boom are sometimes employed in warfare if the combatants can afford them. Since Faithless will be an epic-level campaign, it stands to reason that such things will be used to blast the opposition.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hot Curbs

Making the Halloween module that I submitted to Bouncy Rock took a lot out of me, so much so that I decided to take a week off to relax a bit. Well, I'm back in the saddle now, plugging away at the toolset once more, this time for Faithless.

The next area that I've chosen to work on is Eternity's End, which I ripped from Mask of the Betrayer. In MotB, Eternity's End looks dreary but pristine, nothing like one would expect from a war-torn city. I decided to roughen it up a bit by replacing some of the houses with burnt shells.

Of course, the ground on which the houses stand must look sooty. Normally, a modder would create this look by coloring the ground grayish-black. In Eternity's End, however, the houses all stand on city curbs, which are placeables just like the houses. The only way to make the curbs appear sooty is to re-texture them. I didn't want to do this because not all houses that stand on the same type of curb will be burnt. Hence, the parts of the curb that would be sooty will vary from one instance to the other.

Fortunately, I found a way to work around this problem. The ground in Eternity's End uses the desert cobble texture, which looks sort of like the texture on the city curbs. I can color the ground sooty black, but I can't use the Color tool to color the city curb. What I can do is raise the ground under each burnt house so that the ground rises slightly above the curb. I'd have to make sure that all placeables have their Height Lock property set to True to keep from accidentally changing their height from the ground. To raise the ground, I used the Flatten tool with the following brush settings:

  • Size: 3
  • Outer: 3
  • Height: varies, but generally more than 0.3 and less than 0.5
  • Pressure: 100%

The next step is to try to match the color of the raised ground with that of the curb. It's difficult to get an exact match, but I was able to get one that is close enough by using the following settings:

  • Brush Size: 6
  • Brush Outer: 0
  • Brush Pressure: 100%
  • Color: R = 117, G = 117, B = 133

Finally, I color the ground beneath the house using various shades of grayish black. For this task, my settings are as follows:

  • Brush Size: 2 or 3
  • Brush Outer: 0
  • Pressure: 100%
  • Color, Least Sooty: R = 61, G = 61, B = 61
  • Color, Sooty: R = 33, G = 33, B = 33
  • Color: Most Sooty: R = 5, G = 5, B = 5

Voila -- crispy fried curbs.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I Submit

Yesterday, I submitted my Halloween horror module to Jclef of Bouncy Rock. A few hours ago, he sent me feedback on my module. Here's what he had to say about it:

Dear Frank,

Played through last night with no bugs/issues. The module had an intuitive system, and the gameplay was scary and fun.

Oh yes... they will scream.

Frankly, that was frankin' amazing - Great work, buddy!

I felt really good about Jclef's feedback, particularly since I poured a lot of effort into my module. I was worried at first that it might be too frustrating to play, but Jclef dispelled those concerns. It's especially good to know that my horror module is actually scary. Trying to elicit chills and thrills without resorting to splatterpunk gore isn't easy, but it can be done even in a computer game. Here's hoping that the Bouncy Rock Halloween Campaign will give us NWN2 players a fun and scary experience.

Now that that's done, I shall be working on Faithless once more.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm Ready for My Voice Work, Mr. DeMille

My little contribution to Bouncy Rock's Halloween campaign will be the first (and perhaps only) module that will feature me as a voice actor. Since my alter ego, Elysius, will be greeting player characters at the door, there was really no question as to who would lend his voice to the role. Of course, I could have settled for having all conversations play silently, but I felt that my module would have made more of an impact if it had actual voice overs.

Over a span of three days, I recorded, edited, and finalized thirty sound files to be played during the conversations with Elysius. It wasn't easy. Each sound file is the product of several recording takes, from which I chose the best segments to splice together. To make matters worse, I have an awful voice and a bit of an accent. I wasn't too worried about my accent, which I felt may lend an air of mystery to my character. It was my voice that needed fixing. I wanted Elysius to sound sinister, but my voice normally sounds bland.

Fortunately, the problem wasn't too difficult to solve. By speaking in deep chest tones, I was able to attain the effect that I wanted. I can't raise the volume of my voice without raising my pitch as well, which I was trying to avoid doing. Hence, I needed to amplify all my recordings to make my voice audible. The effect is better than if I were to speak in my normal voice and use the recording software to artificially lower my vocal pitch. It would have made me sound as if I were trying to speak underwater with cotton in my mouth.

During the editing phase, I kept all my voice files in WAV format. When I was reasonably satisfied with the results, I converted my files to MP3s. I then used the MP3toBMU software to convert them to BMU format. I made sure to enable the option to rename the BMU extension to WAV so that the NWN2 engine could play them in conversations. I don't know why the engine doesn't play the BMU files as is. It's one of the great mysteries of the NWN2 modding world, I guess. All these conversions may sound like too many hoops to jump through, but the effort is worth it. The converted files are about a fifth or a sixth of the size of the original WAVs.

From there, I packaged all my sound files in a hakpak, which also contains a bunch of other custom stuff for my module. My hakpak wound up being almost twice the size of the module itself. Even when compressed, sound files take up a lot of space.

I asked my wife to playtest my module. When she heard Elysius speak, she immediately recognized his voice as mine. I had thought that the pitch of my recorded voice was so low as to be unrecognizable, but that did not turn out to be the case.

My wife didn't get very far in my module because she really isn't a gamer. She was too frustrated with the puzzles for her to go on. Nevertheless, I found it immensely satisfying when she screamed during one of the scary moments of the game. It just goes to show that I can put together a decent horror module when I set my mind to it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Devil in the Details

My Halloween module is almost done, but there seem to be a million and one details to take care of before I can declare it completed. There are bugs to be squashed, placeables to be retextured, sound effects to be added, and who knows what else. I've playtested the module repeatedly, and each time, I find something new to add to my list of tasks. Considering that I've been working on the Halloween module for about a month, I find it somewhat appalling that I can play it from start to finish in a matter of minutes.

At the start of my Halloween module, player characters will meet my alter ego, Elysius. This NPC resembles my avatar at the official Neverwinter Nights boards. I'm seriously considering recording a full set of voice overs for the conversations with Elysius. The advantage of this NPC's costume is that his helmet hides his mouth, which means I won't have to worry about synchronizing his lip movements with the voice overs. Nevertheless, voice work takes a lot of time to accomplish, and if I'm pressed for time, I'll have to ditch it altogether.

It looks like my cutscenes are going to outnumber my combat encounters by four to one. I have only two combat encounters in this module, neither of which are terribly difficult for a single fifth-level character. Actually, the final encounter will be easy if the player characters make proper use of the objects that they find in the module. Fifth-level characters that don't will probably be thrashed.

The scene of the final battle is shown in the picture to the left. I'm having second thoughts about using the visual effect that is shown here. If I can find something better in the short amount of time that I have left, I may replace it.

About the boss monster in this module, the only information I will divulge is that the creature looks absolutely freaky. I didn't create any new monster models. I simply used what is available in the toolset, but I used them in a way that made the boss creature look freaky. At this point, the only way anyone will see what the monster looks like is to play my module. Players won't have long to wait. Bouncy Rock will release the entire Halloween campaign in a few weeks' time.

Which means, back to work for me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Halloween 3

This is my third post on the Halloween module that I'm making for the Bouncy Rock campaign. Yes, it's the third successive week that I haven't been working on Faithless, but it looks like I will be able to finish the Halloween module by the end of this week. After that, I'll be plugging away at Faithless once more.

Although I've made several rooms for this module, I'm showing only a couple of in-game shots in this post. I'd like to keep the rest of my areas under wraps if only to retain some element of surprise for players.

The picture on the right is a view of the kitchen, one of the most important rooms in this game. Anyone who hopes to complete this module must know their way around a kitchen. Those who can't tell a potholder from a panhandler need not worry. There will be recipes scattered around the house, all of which will be simple to follow.

The design of this module is similar to those of adventure games such as The Longest Journey and Syberia. There will be several objects in the game that may be combined with each other to overcome various hurdles. Players may right-click items in their inventory and select the "Activate Item (Touch)" option from the menu. The player may then click any other item or placeable to combine the two objects together. For example, if PCs have a pot in their inventory, they can activate the pot and use it on the stove to put the pot on the stove. This simple action is one of a series of steps for PCs to open the path from the ground floor to the second floor.

Another type of puzzle involves interacting with placeables through dialog. The picture on the left shows an example of this type of puzzle. The puzzle shown in this screenshot is a lot easier than it looks. In fact, all my dialog-based "puzzles" really don't require much thinking. They are mostly there for ambiance, nothing more.

This brings me to the topic of cutscenes. I have quite a few of them for such a short module. There are only two areas in this game, but I have four cutscenes so far. I also have a fifth cutscene in the works. Each cutscene is brief, but they are all painstaking to create. I have to get the visuals, sounds, and timing of execution right. Without cutscenes, my module won't look particularly horrific.

Although I want my cutscenes to look frightening, I can't tell if they have that effect. Rather than being scared, I laugh each time I play my cutscenes. I once read that the creators of System Shock 2 could not tell if their game was scary while playtesting it. Perhaps it's impossible to find fear in something that is intimately familiar to you. I hope that players will have their adrenalin pumping like mad when going through my module. If not, I'll be satisfied if my cutscenes are worth a good laugh at the very least.