Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Look into the Mirror, Part 1

It’s been a while since I last posted a screenshot of any 3D model in the works. That’s because I am currently making a very complex placeable, the kind that should have players realizing that this is no ordinary object when they first look at it. As can be seen from the concept art to the right, the placeable consists of a fairly ornate mirror held by a couple of angel statues. I had to craft and assemble several meshes to produce the high-poly version of this piece. In the process, I came across some new challenges for me to hurdle.

Firstly, there is the matter of the mirror frame, the design of which is inspired by art nouveau and the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. It may come as a surprise to some people that Lovecraft and art nouveau go very well together. One of the main features of art nouveau is the presence of vine-like tendrils that curl about in a stylized way. Well, it doesn’t take much tweaking to replace tendrils with tentacles, the appendage of choice of Lovecraft’s famous creation, C’thulhu.

Heretofore, I had been using only ZBrush to make all but the simplest meshes. The mirror frame, however, consists mostly of planar shapes that are often curved along the edges. ZBrush isn’t really suited for constructing planar shapes, so I turned to 3DS Max instead. I used splines to build the meshes, something that I had never done before. It’s actually a pretty cool technique once you get the hang of it. I later refined the wings, tentacles, and curlicues in ZBrush, but even before then, these shapes, which I first built in 3DS Max, were already somewhat complex. The only part of the mirror frame that I did not create with splines was the cherub’s head, which I sculpted in ZBrush from a sphere.

Like the cherub, the angel figure that holds up each side of the mirror was sculpted in ZBrush. As can be seen in the screenshot to the right, I put in a lot more detail in the figure’s dress than what I am accustomed to doing. It seems to me that each time I create a new model, I push the boundaries of my knowledge and skills. I see this as a good thing, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to post an in-game screenshot of the entire mirror in my next blog post.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Welcome to the Team

Several months ago, I identified the members of the Shattered Dreams team, all of whom have contributed their unique talents to our creative undertaking. While a few have since left to pursue other projects, most are still active with us. Since then, we’ve had some noteworthy additions to the team, whom I’d like to welcome in this blog post. Here they are, arranged according to when they joined us:

  • Henry Solberg, Composer. I first met Henry online when he messaged me with an offer to compose music for Faithless, the module that is supposed to be this blog’s reason for being. (Ahem.) It became obvious that I wasn’t about to release Faithless any time soon, so Henry asked if he could be a part of what was then known as the “secret bouncyRock project.” After listening to samples of Henry’s music, Dirtywick said yes. Henry joined the Shattered Dreams team last December, but it’s only now that I finally got around to blogging about his involvement with us. Thanks to him and Gallaen Frost, we’ll have new music for our players to enjoy.

  • Wyrin D’njargo, Writer. Last April, Dirtywick posted a request for a writer to join the Shattered Dreams team. It is well known among modders that the two major bottlenecks in module building are area design and writing. While we have some really awesome area designers, Dirtywick (being our lead writer) was the only one who was active with writing at the time. This was on top of his activities as project leader and area designer, which put a strain on his writing duties. A day after posting his request, Dirtywick informed me that he got an offer from none other than Wyrin D’njargo, creator of the popular “Dark Avengerseries. I emailed Dirtywick with the following response: “Wyrin? Wy rin’t we hiring him on the spot?” Dirtywick emailed back, saying that he was looking to fill only one writing position, but he had received a second offer from someone else. My eyes nearly popped from their sockets when I found out who the other guy was.

  • Amstradhero, Writer. It turned out that Amstradhero (aka Shadowbeast) had also offered to join the writing team. Amstradhero is the creator of “Fate of a City,” which was one of the modules that won the Neverwinter Vault’s 2008 Gold Award for module of the year. In an unprecedented move, “Fate of a City” shared the gold award with another module – Dirtywick’s own “Subtlety of Thay – Chapter 2.” (Have I mentioned that Dirtywick is our lead writer?) Anyhow, I pleaded with Dirtywick to let both Wyrin and Amstradhero join us. Dirtywick wasn’t sure at first if he could handle two writers at the same time, but he eventually decided to welcome both of them to the fold. Woo hoo!

  • Baron, Writer. Some weeks back, Barry the Hatchet told a friend of his named Baron that Dirtywick was looking for additional writers for Shattered Dreams. Baron (not to be confused with Baron Rosencheckl of Robinson Workshop) was highly recommended by Barry the Hatchet, who enjoyed his stories. I got a chance to read samples of Baron’s writing when Dirtywick forwarded a module that contained some of his conversation files. While the context of the dialog remains hazy to me, I did find the writing entertaining, and several lines brought a smile to my face. It seems that Baron has an affinity for comic writing. Anyhow, Dirtywick has already brought Baron to the team. Judging from Baron’s work, I’m sure it’s a decision well made.

Welcome to the team, guys. Glad to have you aboard.

Monday, June 15, 2009

With Friends Like These

Meet Mister Grin, one of the potential companions that player characters may take up in Shattered Dreams. The picture shown here is how I envision this character to appear. I’ll make a 3D model of this NPC later. For now, I’d like to say a few words about him to give a preview of what he is like:

Although Mister Grin is dressed in the height of fashion, people tend to be taken aback by his appearance for three reasons. Firstly, almost every part of his body is covered with some article of clothing. Mister Grin explains that his heavy clothing helps him resist the ague, to which his frail constitution is highly susceptible. Secondly, while Mister Grin is obviously a man of breeding, it is not entirely certain what breed he is of. An occasional peek at his pointy ears suggests that he may be of elven stock, although he is taller and bulkier than the typical elf. Also, even with Mister Grin’s hat, scarf, and dark glasses on, it is easy to tell that he is completely devoid of hair. Mister Grin explains that he is in fact predominantly half-elven and that his non-elven father had passed on a genetic trait that causes all hair to drop off and stop growing when its carrier reaches a certain age. Finally, there is the matter of his strangely upturned nose, a feature that he explains is due to his father having some orcish blood in him.

Mister Grin is a charming and eloquent gentleman, and he speaks with such ease and conviction that no one bothers to question his statements. That and his desire to help player characters defeat their greatest foe will surely make Mister Grin a welcome and trustworthy addition to any party.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Boss of Bosses, Part 4

“My name is Enemigo Monstruoso. You killed my minions. Prepare to die.”

Well, that’s what the big boss seems to be saying in the picture to the right. It may look impressive, but I’ve found that from a modeling standpoint, this monster has a whole slew of new challenges to hurdle. The most obvious problem is the sheer size of the thing. Having a monster this large means that in combat, players will almost never see it in its entirety. To make it more visible, I lowered the height at which the creature hovers above the ground, but I can’t get it lower than fifteen to twenty feet without its appendages sinking below ground during its animation cycle. I could bring the mob to a more manageable size, but its background story would hardly make sense unless the creature is as large as possible without making it unplayable.

Another problem is that I may have made the creature’s collision spheres too large, because even at fifteen to twenty feet away, a player character can still hit it in melee. I’ll have to confer with the other core designers of Shattered Dreams to see if this is going to be an issue. I can always shrink the collision spheres if necessary, but that might mean having to make more of them to cover the parts of the creature that are exposed.

Another problem that I’ve had to deal with revolves around the limit that the NWN2 engine imposes on the number of bones a model may have. According to Jonny Ree, a single model may have no more than fifty-four bones, although there is a way to work around this limitation. Creatures with separate models for their tail and wings can have another set of fifty-four bones in each of them. I decided to model the creature’s tentacles as a separate wing model, something that I’ve never done before. (Considering that this is only the second or third model that I’ve had to animate from scratch, there’s really a lot that I don’t know about yet.)

I managed to get the tentacles to appear in the toolset as an animated wing attachment on the boss creature, but in the game, the tentacles were nowhere to be seen. For two days, I tinkered with the 2DA, GR2, and MDB files to try to get the tentacles to appear. After long hours of experimentation, I eventually discovered that the tentacles appeared in game when attached to creatures like humans, pit fiends, and mind flayers but not when attached to horses, dire boars, and One of Many. The salient difference between these two groups of creatures is that the first group has a head model that is separate from its body, but the latter does not. In other words, creatures from the first group are built from two or more MDB files, and those from the second group have all their meshes in one MDB. Because I had originally constructed the creature’s head and body as a single mesh, I had to make changes not only to my MDB files but also to my 2DA entries. Fortunately, that solved the problem.

I haven’t finished making all the animations that the big boss will need, but I expect that this task will be easy going from here on. Then again, I said something to that effect in my last blog post, so one never knows what surprises I may come across. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.