So I get home today, and BAM, no internet. It's like, with no internet, life cannot go on... Okay, enough with the dramatics... Seriously though, without internet, I wasn't able to do some really important things, but that did free me up to do more development, so I guess it all works out in the end...
I continued to focus on this one particular conversation, and all the plot related scripting. One slightly irritating thing was dealing with the setting of plot flags within a conversation. For whatever reason, if you set a plot flag from within the core plot file, the updated value can't be read while still in the conversation if you're checking on the very next dialogue node. Or, maybe I'm doing something wrong, because it just doesn't make sense why things would work like that. I was already semi aware of it, so I wrote the code figuring it wasn't going to work, already thinking of a backup plan in the back of my head. Once I confirmed it didn't work, I quickly hacked together the backup code, which worked just fine. Oh well.
After that, I put the finishing touches on the conversation. Now, writing is definitely not my strong point, but I have to pat myself on the back for this particular one. This entire sequence is a really important and defining moment in the game, where, well, shit hits the fan (sorry, couldn't think of a better way to explain it), and I think I nailed it. Jason will let me know when he edits the hell out of it :)
So what's next? Some more really important dialogue. 2 pieces, to be exact. As usual, I know what I want, and I totally expect it to change along the way. All in all though, it's been fun to be back to writing, but I shouldn't get too used to it, because I'll be back to my absolute favorite thing soon: combat design!
Today's song, and most likely the songs for the next few days are ones I know damn well you would have had to play the game to really appreciate. Oh well, I'm still going to post them :) Enjoy!
8/30/11 -Tuesday: CONVO RELATED THINGS...
Today wasn't terribly productive, as I'm busy with some other things, but I did get some key things done.
First, I spent some time putting together some more lines for one actor and his son. Instead of a couple big conversations, it consisted of many small ones. As I've stated before, I'm just going from the start of the game to the end (at least the stuff Jason has edited), and so the dialogue I've been sending is from a less story heavy section of the game.
At any rate, I've always talked about the downfalls (or maybe more appropriately, my worries) of getting an actor to voice the lines for a major character (i.e. the most lines in the game). What if something comes up, and they can't finish their work? What if they simply stop responding to my emails? :) I think I'm damned lucky to find someone who both is great at what he does, and is very responsive, which allows the pluses to be highlighted. The biggest for me is familiarity. At this point, there have been so many lines recorded, that I know he has the character down, which makes my job easier. I don't have to spend time disucssing why the character would say this, or do this. He sort of "owns" the character now, so to speak, and records the lines exactly how they should be, without me filling up the lines with all sorts of annotations (i.e. be sarcastic, be mad, etc.). He gets each situation, and just goes with it.
I still have more VO stuff to send out to other actors, and I know I'm going to need a solid 2 hours of distraction free time to get it done. It doesn't sound like a lot of time, but when you add in all the other events of my day, things get really tight. I hope to get it done in the next few days.
The other thing I did today was integrate the stage work I previously did with the corresponding conversation. This really just amounted to choosing the right camera angles for each line of dialogue, making sure people are facing the right way, etc. Nothing too exciting, but stuff that has to be done nonetheless. I also did some plot related scripting, including making sure the intro cutscene that plays when you enter this area smoothly transitions to the aforementioned conversation.
Next up is to actually finish the conversation. Halfway through creating the cutscene that precedes it, I decided to change things up in the conversation a bit. As always, things don't get as planned :) In this instance, I had a pretty solid idea of what I wanted, and then, once the cutscene was beginning to take shape, ideas started to form. I literally watched the cutscene 20 some odd times, realizing I needed to take the conversation down a slightly different path. I think I was getting a slightly different emotional feelong from the cutscene, and realized the conversation had to reinforce that feeling. Anyway, shit changes all the time. Business as usual.
Finally, BSN member Proleric has finally released his first DA mod, A Crown of Creation. Nice to see other people getting their stuff out for others to play. Clearly this isn't 2004 anymore, where 30 mods are released a week to NWVault, so we have to really celebrate these launches!
Today's music from Soul Blazer is the town theme after you have saved it from monsters. I really liked the fact that it was essentially the same song, just sounding a little more uplifting. Enjoy!
8/29/11 -Monday: I'M EXTREMELY SLOW SOMETIMES...
Okay, so I've been using the Dragon Age toolset since the BETA days, back in September/October of 2009. One of the first things I did was check out the cutscene system, pleasently surprised it was just the one in The Witcher toolset (in retrospect, I'm sure most standard ones are like this). I've felt very comfortable making cutscenes for quite some time, and I literally just figured out something today... The difference between a bezier and linear transition...
...To be fair, these words aren't unique to cutscenes, and so, I should have known better. So, remember when I was bitching about walking animations the other day? Well, one of the things I left out (for whatever reason) was that I found it highly annoying that at the beginning of the animation, things started off very slow, then got to the desired speed, then tapered off towards the end. Yep, that's because I was using a bezier transition for moving the actor around. If I had actually paid attention, I would have used the linear one, and moved on with my life. The worst part is all the little things I did to hide this slowing down, such as cutting the camera away before it started, delaying showing walking animations until the speed was just right, etc. Fortunately, since I compensated for this with the aforementioned methods, I won't have to go back and fix things. Going forward, however, thing should be much easier.
Anyway, the principle cutscene work is done. Sure, I'll have to go back and add an extra here, fix an animation there, but all the core camera work is done, and that is good enough for me at the moment. I immediately started work on a stage for the conversation that takes place as soon as the cutscene is done. Since I can't do it on the train, I created as many camera angles for the stage as I could think of, just to make sure everything was covered. Better to have more options, then less. And it's easy enough to just delete the ones I end up not using.
As I mentioned when initially working on this dialogue, I could already hear the voice of one of the party members, do to the excellent VO I have for them, and I simply cannot wait to have this entire scene fully VO'd. Speaking of which, one of our actors and his family just got back from vacation, so I'll be spending some time this week getting more stuff for them.
Hot off the heels of Actraiser, Enix (before they merged with Square Soft) released Soul Blazer, which I guess you could call a spiritual successor to Actraiser. Hell, they even recycled some of the sound effects, and GUI elements. One of the things they recycled that I didn't mind was the composer, Yuzo Koshiro. You know, I only played through this game once (rented it), and I don't even remember much about it... except the music, of course :) Anyway, here's the theme music of a particular town before you rescue it from monsters and such. Enjoy!
8/28/11 -Sunday: ...AND IT CONTINUES...
So, I'll just come out with it... I haven't had to work this hard on a single cutscene since the first major one I worked on way back in like March of 2010. To me, it's that important, so I'm definitely taking my time with it. Luckily for me, things went pretty well yesterday.
It was really more of the same. Lots of walking animations, lots of headtracking changes, lots of various animations/poses for 10 NPC's, and lots of VFX work. Oh, and lots of syncing with the music that plays during the scene. I wish I could make it seem more interesting, and go into greater detail, but that's about it, really. What I can say is that there is just one more shot to do, and I'm finally done. Then, I'll need to finish off that dialogue I started last week. After that, I'll do the stage work with the scene. When that is done, I think I'll spend a day or two syncing up with current VO actors, as well as reaching to others for the other existing parts. After that, it's back to some good old scripting, and combat design. It's been a while, so I'm looking forward to it.
Here's some more great music from Yuzo Koshiro & Actraiser. Enjoy!
8/27/11 -Saturday: ARDUOUS CUTSCENE WORK...
So, this cutscene is definitely taking more time than I anticipated. Each segment of it, which lasts on average, 45 seconds, is taking hours to complete each. For one, there is the issue of getting the actors in the scene to walk properly, which isn't hard, just time consuming. In fact, if that was my biggest issue, I would be happy...
...The thing that is really annoying is getting a large number of actors in the scene. So, I've already added them to the area itself. When the cutscene is created, you will see them show up in the scene, though they will be "purpled" out, meaning you can't control anything they do. This is fine, because when the cutscene runs, anything they are doing normally if a cutscene wasn't being shown, they will be doing when the cutscene runs. For some of these NPC's, there are VFX's added to them, and all of them have some sort of animations going on. Problem is, since the cutscene starts as soon as the area is entered, for whatever reason, they're events haven't fired quick enough, so I don't see the VFX, as well as the animations. This forces me to activate the "purpled" out npc's in the cutscene, and add my VFX's, and perform my animations there. So, I'm doing double work, and that is just plain annoying.
Either way, I need to kick things up a gear, as I really want to finish this damn thing by the time I go to work this week. I may get a little reprieve, as the MTA has shutdown trains, subways, etc. in NYC because of hurricane Irene. This means I may end up staying home on Monday, giving myself an extra 4 hours of time to myself (since I won't be on the train), and that is always good. Here's hoping...
Today's music from Actraiser is something I actually pilfered for Cry The Beloved. Enjoy!
8/23/11 -Tuesday: SACRIFICING MY LIFE FOR ROSE OF ETERNITY!
I work in NYC, on the 8th floor of an office building in SoHo. There was apparantly an earthquake in Virginia, that we felt up in NY. The ground under us shook, the building swayed back and forth a bit (turns out the building is one of the oldest in the neighborhood), and the majority of the people in my company evacuated the building (down the elevators, which sort of doesn't sound right). I went with the crowd, because hey, I don't want to be that one poor soul in a collapsed building. As I got to the elevator, I realized I forgot my laptop, which has all my Rose of Eternity work on it, work I hadn't checked into my online repository. What do you think I did?
Hours earlier, on the train, I was integrating some new edits from Jason, and just going over them. He went pretty easy on me with the 2 conversations he did, and the biggest changes were added nodes, stuff we had previously talked about (but which I had forgotten about until I saw it in the edit!). Glad someone is remembering this stuff :)
Besides that, it was just more dialogue writing for me. One thing I'm always wrestling with is multiple branches, and more specifically, if the player should see all of them or not. Look, if you haven't figured it out yet, I do this during my spare time, which is already limited as it is. With all the work that goes into making a game, it is, and has always been touch for me to swallow creating content that not everyone will see.
A perfect example of this is in Cry The Beloved, where I finally gave in. Once the party gets to Khal Rock about halfway through the game, you must send a 2-man team behind enemy lines, and attempt to rescue some kidnapped villagers. At this point, you will definitely have Aramus, Clopon, Challseus, & Rainain your team. Depending on how you handle a certain situation, Audenmay be with you as well (another example of branching gameplay). Now, depending on who you choose to go with you (the PC is Aramus), you'll get a special Unison Ability between you and that character. What about those other special abilities? Well, you'll have to play the game again to see what they are. Later, once you reach the villagers (who have been massacred), you have a special moment with your parrty member where you get to learn a lot more about them.
So you've got different dialogues, different abilities, and oh, tons of combat that has to be balanced for 4 different combinations of teams. It was a lot of work, but I guess it was good for some people, who clearly had their favorite party members they always wanted with them? *Shrug* I never really had anyone comment specifically about it either way, so I'm not sure.
The difference between then and now is simple: time. Is it worth it to create content not everyone will see? Or, should I put my main focus on one path, and make it the best I can? For every new conditional branch of dialogue I create, that's more VO for someone to do, more VO that may or may not be a waste of time... Decisions, decisions...
...And putting up a poll seems as pointless as putting one up asking if people like cookies...
Anyway, just thinking out loud. I was going somewhere with this blog post, but got side tracked, and well.... here we are...
Till tomorrow :)
* While this story is true, I should point out that as soon as I got to my desk, the tremors stopped, and in the grand scheme of things, the biggest result of the earthquake were people getting extended lunch breaks.
Today's music from Yuzo Koshiro is again from Actraiser. Good stuff. Enjoy!
8/22/11 -Monday: THE JOYS OF DIALOGUE...
So, I began my journey back into the world of dialogue writing yesterday. I not entirely certain, but I feel like it's been about 2-3 months since I wrote anything significant. Boy, was it fun!
Now that I have certain actors doing VO for me, as I write certain pieces of dialogue, I hear their voices in my head (no, I'm not crazy!!!!!!!). It's one thing to write dialogue that sounds good as it's read. It's another thing to write dialogue, knowing exactly how it will be spoken, and I gotta tell you, it's huge. For instance, there is one particular party member whose personality has been well defined for quite some time. I think Jason said something along the lines of "X is sort of an asshole" some time ago. Once we found an actor (who has been doing one hell of a job, I might add!) for them, he immediately understood the character, and took off running. His interpretation has taken this party member's assholeness, if you will, to the next level. It's this very assholeness that I imagined in my head while writing dialogue today. I already knew what I had to write going in, but once I had this voice in my head, all sorts of ideas started to flow through my brain. Good times.
*Ahem* Speaking of VO, we're still looking for people, so if you're interested, ping me at email@example.com. Maybe you can be the next asshole in Rose of Eternity!
Right, so changing the subject a bit, I've been thinking about re-installing Neverwinter Nights on my laptop, and playing through The Coming & Cry The Beloved again. Just like how I re-read through all the ratings for each game every so often, I also play through the games, jsut to remember where I've come from, and so I don't forget the essence of the series as a whole. With all these shiny new distractions, such as true cutscenes, voice overs, and a pretty extendable combat system, I don't want to forget the things that players really liked, namely the story and the character interactions. I'm pretty sure I'm on track, as Jason would have kindly told me otherwise, but you never know. Hell, the last time I even played them (2 years ago?), I literally played through parts I had forgotten I had created. Pretty pathetic, actually, to not remember something you created yourself... Sigh...
Taking a step back and looking at the NWN modding scene as a whole, I have to say, I've done my fair share of reminiscing over the past few days. I went to the Top Rated page for NWN1 mods (Oh, look who's at #2 :) ), and just went through like the first 5 pages of it, looking at all the fantastic mods released for it. You got Alazander's AL series, Hugie's Tale of a Mage, Adam Miller's Shadowlord/Dreamcaster/Demon series, Rick Burton's Twilight/Midnight series, and the list keeps going on. Back in the day, when I used to be SO concerned with where my mod sat on this list, I pretty much lived on this page, and was always checking to see how people viewed other mods. I was always on the hunt to see what people liked, and what they didn't like. I was in this weird world of DnD that I didn't understand (still don't!), so I did as much research as possible. Anyway, I'm rambling at this point, but look, it's been 7 years (Gods, I'm getting old!) since I first joined the community, so taking a peak into the past is acceptable I think. I just hope NWVault doesn't go anywhere, anytime soon...
Before there was Nobuo Uematsu, before I even knew the names of the people making the music I loved in games, there was Yuzo Koshiro. I'll never forget this one defining moment in my life. I can't for the life of me recall what the hell I was watching, but there was a demo or something, with someone showing off the first stage to one of the launch titles for the SNES, called Actraiser. I heard the symphonic like music, and knew I had to have this game. Now, up until this point, I loved music in video games, like Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, Super Dodge Ball, etc. This was something totally different.
Well, the Christmas of 1991 came, which will go down in history as the most memorable one ever. At long last, I finally received a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which of course came with Super Mario World (which I still think is better than Super Mario Bros 3!). Then, I had another present, and it was just shaped weirdly, so much so that I couldn't figure out what was in it. When I opened it, I was surprised to see it contained Final Fight, Gradius III, and this little game called Actraiser (had I told my Dad I wanted this game? I must have...).
Going against the grain, I popped up Actraiser first (instead of Super Mario World) , and within a day or two, I had completed it. The music was fantastic, and really set the standard for what I would end up hearing throughout the upcoming Golden Years of RPG's. Yuzo Koshiro, I salute you...
So today, I present to you the music from the first level in the game. Enjoy!
8/21/11 -Sunday: CUTSCENE WORK...
Feeling pretty good about the level I've created thus far, I decided to immediately jump into creating the opening cutscene. As I said yesterday, I've had it planned in my head for a while, so the early goings were pretty easy. It mostly just consisted of syncing camera shots with the music, and changing them accordingly. With regards to the actors in the scene, I just need them to walk... Yeah, just walk... So simple, right?
For those not familiar with how cutscenes work, you are essentially given a timeline, and for each object in the scene, you layout where they will be, what they're doing, etc. at every given second. So, to simulate walking, you need to place the actor at the starting point, and at the starting time on the timeline (i.e. 5 seconds). Then, you need to move them to their destination, and if takes them 10 seconds to get there, then you set the time on the timeline to 15 seconds. But by default, the actor will just jump from the start point to the end point at the 15 second mark. So, you'll need to modify the transition type so it happens smoothly. Okay, so now they're moving from start to finish smoothly over 10 seconds. Ah, but you still need the walk animation. Even then, by default, the animation may happen to fast, and it will look like the actor is doing a forward moonwalk, so of course you have to mess with those settings. I'm sure I'm leaving out some things, but you get the point. Getting a character to walk is one of the more annoying aspects of cutscene creation. But, what can you do?
Once I was done with that, and the first couple of shots, I started to question where the scene was going. I somehow got away from my original idea, so I ended up scrapping the 2nd shot, and began the work to bring it closer to my vision. But, at this point, I decided to call it a day...
...Because I'm learning how to pace myself better. Remember, I have a few simple goals moving forward:
Get at least 6 hours of sleep a night (7 would be great!)
Don't stop playing other games
So, I spent an hour of my time playing through The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Now, this game has been standard Zelda fare, which isn't neccessarily a bad thing... However, there is one thing that has been bugging the hell out of me: Having to blow into this stupid mic on my 3DS in order to play Link's instrument. Alright, I get it, Nintendo. I really do. All of your first party games will make full use of all the features of the platform they're created for. That's fine. But goddamn, it took me an HOUR to freaking play this song, where I need to blow into the mic while moving some slider on the game screen that determines which note I'll be playing. Oh, and doing this all in sync with some other guy playing his own part of the song. Total pain in the ass... This dungeon better be interesting...
Also, looks like I'll be playing the majority of this game at home... Look, I'm 31 years old now, and very comfortable in my own skin. I have no issues with letting the world know I both play and make games. What I won't do is sit on the train, hold my 3DS up in the air and blow into it. I'm not doing it.
Here's the final song I wanted to give you guys, from the game I never played. Enjoy!
8/20/11 -Saturday: MORE DECENT PROGRESS...
As expected, I was able to make some more decent progress with the prototyping yesterday. I'll be changing around some things here and there, but at this point, I'm ready to start dropping in some NPC's, models, etc. to liven up the area. I already added weather effects and sound, which made a noticeable difference.
After I finish sprucing up the level a bit, I'll start on the intro cutscene. Again, like level design, cutscenes aren't things I can do on the train, so I'll need to get the core of it done tomorrow, if I'm lucky. The way I want the scene to play out with the music in the level, the cutscene should only last a little over 2 minutes. Things always change once I get in there, but I've had this vision of this cutscene for quite some time, so I don't expect things to change that much.
Once I'm done with that, I'll be throwing my hat into the dialogue ring once more. This particular conversation will be the point where the player starts to really understand their new party member's personality. Like the cutscene itself, I've brainstormed this conversation many many times, mostly down at Quiet Cove, while relaxing. So, I should be able to fly through it. As I can clearly do this anywhere, I'll do it on the train. The stage and camera work itself, I'll try to finish up earlier (i.e. tomorrow).
If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know about my love affair with SNES RPG's, or as I like to call it, the Golden Age of RPG's. Seems someone at IGN agrees with me, as can be seen in this interesting article.
Today's music is the quieter, more low key version of the song I used yesterday. Enjoy!
8/18/11 -Thursday: BUSY WEEK!
Because of the stressed of my day job, and some other things, I haven't been able to get as much done as I wanted to this past week.
On the level prototyping side, I at least have the foundation of it created. I need to move some things around to get rid of some of the more superfluous wide open areas, but besides that, I'm pretty happy with what I have. Even better, it looks like I can keep the existing level I created, instead of having to export all the models and put it into a smaller/larger level. This means I can start adding in props, vegetation, and other things. So, it's not what I would have wanted to have done, but it's decent progress.
Regarding VO, another actress has decided to lend us her voice, which I am very much excited about. Jason sent her audition, and I got it into the game, and it seemed to fit quite well. One nice thing is that the other 2 characters in the particular sequence are mostly voiced, so I was able to create a video and send it out, as I'm sure it will help her get a better feeling for the scene as a whole.
Tomorrow, and for the entire weekend, I'm really going to focus on the level design, and try to just knock out as much as possible. There's a lot of things that have to happen in this area, so the quicker I get it done, the better.
Today's music is from a game I never even played. Back during the last few weeks of development for Cry The Beloved, I came across this site, called RPGFan Radio. As expected, it was a radio station that simply played rpg music. This was about the time that my mind got opened up to the music of composers not named Nobuo Uematsu or Yasanoru Mitsuda. For a few weeks, whenever I heard something I like, I put it in a text file. Luckily, when the station went under, I was able to go through that text file, and find all that music that I had loved. Anyway, Enjoy!
8/13/11 -Saturday: FINALLY, SOME MORE LEVEL WORK!
Well, I was finally able to put in a few hours of level prototyping. I essentially spent my time creating the outside/front of a castle, that will be a huge part of this upcoming area. Even though I knew what model set I wanted to work with (Ferelden Noble), I hadn't actually done too much work with it, so there was some catch up time spent learning what pieces went with what. In the end, it all worked out pretty good.
Another thing I was doing was trying to figure out the scale of the actual level. Whenever I'm designing it in the toolset, it's hard to really know if it will feel too big until I actual export it and run around. And, as expected, when I finally got it in game, it was HELLA huge. Luckily, since I'm just spending time working on all the models in the area, I can move them around and such until I come up with something that works. From the looks of things, once I have the final size, the current level I'm using will definitely be too big, so I'll end up exporting the entire model set, creating a new level, and importing it. Then, I'll get to work on vegetation, visual effects (i.e. rain), etc.
In VO related news (Oh come on, I have to say something!), I got the last bits of VO I asked for from one of the actors. It's actually quite a bit, but trying to stay true to what is best for development, I'll hold off on integrating it until Monday morning on the train ride into work, since I can't do level work on the train.
Another thing that I've been doing to stay sane is actually playing other games. *GASP* What a concept! Last time I was making Rose of Eternity games, I missed out on 3 years worth of games, and I'm trying to not let this happen this time. So, I've been playing The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. I had actually bought it last year, and just never played it, so I decided to whip it out and play it on my brand new Nintendo 3DS that doesn't have any games for it, except for the remake to Ocarina of Time, which I will of course be picking up when I'm finished with Spirit Tracks. Anyway, the game is decent enough, and a nice distraction. I do like the dynamic between Link and Zelda, and how you control the 2 of them to solve certain puzzles. 25 years later, and Zelda games still give me that A-HA feeling after finally solving a complex puzzle. Good times...
Finally, just wanted to give a shout out to Savanrt, the author of the high popular NWN modules series, the
The Aielund Saga. When I first joined the community back in 2004, he was one of the more popular modders I looked up to when developing Rose of Eternity. Anyway, he has finally realized his vision, and has translated the series into book form. So, check it out.
Oh, and for the hell of it, here's another version!
8/12/11 -Friday: ONE DAY, I'LL DO LEVEL PROTOTYPING...
Today was really more of the same. I was lucky enough to receive more VO from the one actor and his son before I left work, so I was able to integrate that stuff on the train ride home.
As I was integrating it, I was noticing the issue that I'm sure most people come across... Making sure you can hear the voices over the music. Now, there are so many factors, and ways to handle it: Enhancing the volume of the track via an amplify effect or a gain increase, loweringthe music, etc.
Actually, DAO has a built in system where any music being played gets lowered during conversations. The only problem is, I'm not adding custom music in the game via their own music system (since no one has taken oh, a few hours out of their day over the past 2 years to tell us how to do it properly), but rather, through sound objects. So, I've been tinkering with the idea of wrapping the conversation event, and when one is started, getting a reference to the music/sound playing in an area, and lowering the volume. This could be whipped up in an hour or so, I'm just lazy :)
I also received some new edits from Jason, so I'll go through those and see where I messed up this time :) Good I'm getting these new edits, because at the pace the VO process is going, we'll need it!
Finally, I just want to give out a shoutout to Berliad, who has recently re-joined the community. He was a part of the NWN community back in 2004, and along with Luke 'Alazander' Scull and others, one of the most prolific reviewers of mods. I remember when I used to look at mods to play, I would just do a search for his review, and that couple with the mod score was usually good enough. He was as objective as a reviewer could have been, and it was a great thing for the community to have. He was also involved with the ratings standards introduced in NWN2, so people could vote on a more even scale (i.e. a 9 means more or less the same to everyone).
I remember I when I released by game back in July of 2005, eagerly anticipating his review. When he gave me a 9/10, I was a little disappointed (I thought I made the best game EVER back then! :) ). I was very bitter, and just thougth that he didn't get it. He just didn't understand my vision. You know, all those things you tell yourself when your ego is out of control.
But over time, as I got more grounded, I understood that everything he said was spot on. All of the things he pointed out, like un-imaginable quests, unskippable cutscenes, story that takes too long to really get started, etc, were things I immediately fixed in my next game. This is why to this day, I still go back and read all the reviews from both of my games, just to make sure I continue to do what people like, and stop doing what people don't like. Anyway, here's his review for The Coming, made on July 21st, 2005:
The Rose of Eternity is a very interesting module by first-time builder, Challseus. In some ways, it is the one of the most innovative modules to come out for nwn, ranking right up there with Twilight, the Lord of Blight, and Demon to name a few. With several innovative combat devices, two distinct storylines that are played with different characters, as well as absolutely spectacular cutscenes, this module is full of bling and is a delight to play. But it's not perfect, and is sometimes bogged down by some uninteresting side quests and some occasionally poor dialog.
The story itself is really good. The Keeper of the Roses is a mythical being who oversees the Rose of Eternity, which has been losing petals for 4000 years. The Keeper is committed to maintaining her rose garden until the last petal falls from the Rose of Eternity, at which point she will destroy the world…UNLESS mankind stops all the terrible violence and oppression to which she has tried to put an end for her entire existence. Sweet concept.
You play two characters. The first is Aramus, an amnesiac, who has “befriended” Clopon, a strange young cleric whose master has just been killed by a rather terrifying villain named Kain. These two characters know nothing of the Rose of Eternity—they are just trying to get to an old ally of Clopon's former master to get some help. All the while, they are pursued by the Defenders of Legacy, a powerful yet corrupt group of fighters. The second character is Challseus. His story precedes the first one chronologically, but is meant to be played second. It is the story of his service to his order of magic users, but also his belief and secret workings supporting the cause of the Keeper of the Rose. Both storylines are interesting, although given the more grand and mysterious nature (at this point) of Challseus's plot, I thought his was a bit tighter. The quality of the story bodes very well for the future of this campaign.
The author readily acknowledges the strong influence of console games on his module design, and it definitely shows. The system is still AD&D, but the style of the world feels very much in line with a medieval Final Fantasy. It has a lot of the elements of the final fantasy series – a hero who wields a huge sword, a female healer, a wise older magic user, legends and prophecies, a powerful but corrupt government, and a more sinister, intelligent, and downright frightening villain who seems to be operating above and beyond the government. I really like the world he's created. Furthermore, Challseus also makes use of a lot of custom music, much of which comes from console games. Hearing some of the cuts from Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy Tactics really pulled me into the game, and they meshed very well with the events on the screen, be they cutscenes, battle sequences, or simply wandering around town.
Combat was innovative and fun. Last Resort abilities are awesome – every bit as interesting as the limit breaks of final fantasy vi, but perhaps a bit more strategic. Since you can only use them when your health is low, you have to often make a judgment call between using your last resort and using a healing potion. All your enemies have them as well, and it certainly ramps up the stakes during fights. Often you'll have to make sure that you focus on one enemy at a time for fear that you'll unleash too many last resort abilities at once. Aramus also receives an “illuminate” ability early on, which comes in extremely handy. Not only will it stun enemies for a round or two, it also causes several types of enemies to flee from your character, allowing them to enter areas that would otherwise be very deadly. Challseus possesses a very useful wand of power, which not only deals big-time damage to foes (10hp/level), but also pushes them far off the screen away from your character! Finally, the unison abilities are also pretty sweet, although you don't get them until later in the mod. Still, I successfully used whirlwind heal (an ability where Aramus couples his whirlwind attack with a heal from Clopan, which spreads the healing effect to the entire party) 2-3 times, and it made a huge difference in at least one fight.
And I have to comment again on the cutscenes. Some have complained that they are long, and they are, but found them absolutely captivating (though I do encourage the author to allow ESCing from them, since I'm not sure I'd want to sit through them all if I played the mod again). The opening cutscene, in particular, is just spectacular. The shot where the camera pulls away with the Keeper of the Rose framed precisely in the notch above the garden gate made my jaw drop. And the music in that scene was amazing. Others weren't quite on that level, but were always well directed, effective, and interesting. Emotes are effectively used in time with the dialog during scenes, and again reminded me a lot of cutscenes from console games. The cutscenes in this module are at least as good, if not better than those in the Lord of Blight and After the End: The Penumbra, and Hordes of the Underdark. Really well done.
Unfortunately, I can't really give this module a perfect score. There are two main reasons for this. First, Aramus's story takes a long time to get going. You are supposed to do a lot of side quests and the like for townspeople. Many of these are not very inspiring. There's the “go kill 10 things to get a discount at the store” quest. And the “go kill 20 other things to get access to the real store” quest. And the “go fetch berries for my cooking” quest. And the “go fetch my supper” quest. I did enjoy the “convince my husband to stop praying” quest, and I apparently missed a somewhat interesting quest involving a boy (who I did see) who is fascinated by the local guard target practice. In fact, it's very easy to miss several of these quests, which actually can result in a penalty later in the game! Consulting the walkthrough, I apparently didn't talk to the right people to get the boy quest, the meat delivery quest, the berry quest, the chicken quest, and the lazy farmer quest. This resulted in me getting penalized for not only helping insufficient numbers of people in Aribine, but also for not having enough experience because I didn't do those quests. I'm not sure how I missed all of those quests, as I thought I talked to everyone I saw—part of it may be that there were day/night NPC schedules, and my main pass around the (rather large) town happened at night when many NPCs were inside. I think all of these quests were designed to make the game seem less linear, but I would frankly recommend dropping most of them. .. Or, at least, not doing something similar to this in the next chapter. The strength of this module is its story, and these quests seemed only to put off getting to the story a bit longer. In comparison, I thought Challseus's story was very well done and immediately engrossing (even if massive amounts of resting were needed to keep the spells fresh). If side quests are added, they should at least be interesting in their own right…it's even better if they can add some information about the history and legends of the land.
Furthermore, there are some issues involving overall polish. This was an ambitious module with many very innovative systems, and thus it is not surprising that there were occasional bugs with the new systems. I'm sure many of these can be addressed, and I am reporting them to the author. There were also some problems with the dialogs, particular among NPC's in Aribine. For example, you would start a conversation and go down a particular dialog tree. You'd then finish that thread and say you wanted to ask something else. Instead of the NPC saying “sure, what?” they instead launch into their entire introductory schpeal. It was very jarring to read and immediately removed me from any immersion I was experiencing in the game.. This is very fixable in the conversation editor, it just takes a little extra effort – but it would be well worth it. Finally, the writing in general could sometimes use some work. Overall, the style of writing is quite simple, which is fine – the flower scene, for example, was charming in its simplicity, and reminded me again of scenes from console games I've loved. But I think it would be worthwhile to do a complete pass on all the dialog once again to edit, revise, and spice it all up a bit. There are few typos, but sometimes grammar issues occur.. and sometimes the writing is a bit boring. I tried to write down specific instances, and I will relay those to the author.
Despite these flaws though, the Rose of Eternity is a good, extremely innovative module with a great story and setting that I would encourage everyone to try. Just make sure you get past the opening town. Thanks for all your hard work Challseus! I very much look forward to playing the second chapter! –B 21 July, ‘05
So to anyone who get criticism for their games, assuming the reviewer isn't an idiot (which is totally possible!), take a step back, and think about what you can change. To you reviewers out there, if you're going to give criticism, in my opinion, this is the way to give it.
Today's song is the obligatory theme song for any modern JRPG. Enjoy!
8/11/11 -Thursday: WELL, I GUESS IT HAS TO GET DONE AT SOME POINT...
Well, I thought I would get some level design done, but well, that's how it goes sometimes...
Anyway, I spent a lot of time putting together the information for one of the actos to be able to portray the older brother of someone he already voiced. It took a while to put it all together, including descriptions of each scene, links to corresponding videos, and of course the lines. All of this work, and it was just 14 lines total! Oh well, at least when I need to send out info for the other roles in the same scenes, that initial work is already done.
I also received more VO files from another actor, and as usual, integrated it immediately. I should have the lines for another character in the same scene by tomorrow or Saturday, and that will be the 2nd fully voiced scene. Woo!
On the downside, looks like I will have to record some lines over again. My wife wasn't entirely happy with 2 lines she did, and wants to do them over again. It wasn't so much the quality of the acting, just the volume of it. One of the things we're noticing is that when you have multiple people in one scene, all who used different equipment to record, some are louder, some are quieter. Now, that's on me to bring all the volume levels to be more or less equal, but I can only do so much with Audacity, hence the re-recording we will be doing.
Finally, there is this really annoying issue with the toolset where it crashes if I try to export a conversation right after I create FaceFX files for it. I mean, it is what it is, but I'm going to poke around the forums to see if there is a workaround for it.
Here's some more great music from Lost Odyssey, music I honestly don't remember hearing in the game. Oh well... Enjoy!
8/10/11 -Wednesday: BY THE ROSE, IT'S BEEN A VERY ACTIVE AND PRODUCTIVE 2 DAYS!
Man, it's been one hell of a few days. It really all started a 2 days ago with some more level prototyping. Whenever I start to design more levels, I'm all pumped up. Then, as I start doing it, I sort of just get bored, wishing I didn't have to do it. I almost fell into that trap, but the thing that helped me is that I've been thinking about this area, and the cutscenes that take place in it, for so long, that I really just had to go through the motions. Hell, I even more or less knew all the models I would be using. All I ended up doing was creating the southern part of the level, created the lighting, and added the music. With regards to the lighting, I was thinking of sticking with what I had in the previous level (since they're sort of linked), but I may change it up a bit later on.
Speaking of level design in general, I know I made posts months (possibly a year ago) about bringing in someone to help with it. Clearly, I didn't do that, and at this point, with only a few more levels to create, it doesn't make sense. However, what I am looking for is a prop master. Basically, someone who has the aesthetic skills I lack, to help make my levels look... better... So, if that is you, and you're looking to be part of a pretty large project. hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So besides level prototyping, of COURSE I was doing VO related tasks :) One of our actors sent me the rest of some lines for one of the major characters in the game, and I immediately integrated it into the game, and as expected, it sounded great (he had sent me some examples earlier, so I knew where he was going with it). At this point, for this particular character, there are only 2 more lines that need to be done (at least for the story thus far), so I have to send that over.
The more interesting news is that I suggested that he read for another character, who happens to be the slightly older brother of the character he's already read for. Funny thing was, I was in the process of putting together the list of lines, when I got an email where he gave me 2 samples of how he would portray the older brother, which sounded great! So, looks like we can mark off another part that has been taken. Woo!
Of course, while this was going on, I was handling more VO I had received from our other actor and his son. They've been recording on a new computer, so the files they sent were in WMA format, which I just assumed Audacity would be able to open. After some googling, I came across Switch Sound File Converter. It's pretty intuitive to use, and I was quickly able to generate WAV's from it. I made sure to export them at the highest settings possible, so the overall quality of the finished sound would be the best.
Anyway, once I converted them, I could go through the normal process of getting them in game. And boy, did I end up with a nice treat... Since I've started this whole VO thing, I've been dying to have a totally voiced conversation with 3 or more people, and we finally have that. We have the one guy playing one party member, his daughter playing a little girl, and my wife playing the little girl's mother. I was as giddy as a school girl putting it all together, and was totally floored (and happy!) when I viewed the finished product.
There's nothing better than seeing your vision come to life in front of your eyes. This is why I do this.
More spectacular music from Nobuo Uematsu and Lost Odyssey. Enjoy!
8/8/11 -Monday: SLIGHT CHANGE OF PLANS...
The plan for tonight was to continue prototyping the level I started yesterday. Unfortunately, I had a bad day at work... I won't go into the details because I know no one cares, but after yesterday, I really needed to blow off some steam. I already play tennis every day after work anyway, so it gave me an excuse to go extra hard on the courts. By the time I got home, I was exhausted, and just didn't feel like doing anything.
By the time my wife got home, she was able to calm me down a bit, and suggested that she finally do the VO for this one particular character in the game. First order of business was figuring out where it should take place. If we did it in the living room, then we would have had to turn off all the fish tanks, which she doesn't like to do. We couldn't do it in the bathroom, because the toilet was making this never-ending flushing noise. We decided on the bedroom (being the only other room in our apartment :) ), which had it's own difficulties, since our cats think they own it, and kept hiding as we tried to toss them out.
Finally, we were set up, and got to work. She only had 8 lines to record, and the entire process took about 30 minutes at most. She did about 2 takes per line, and we were satisfied with the end result. Now, I just have to integrate them into the game tomorrow morning on the train.
Speaking of VO (do I ever speak of anything else these days), I got more recordings for our newest actor, and his son. The Father is already established as a great actor, and his latest work kept up that standard. However, his son's latest recordings blew me away, and I'm already contemplating having him read for a major character. So, I'll need to put that stuff together as well, most likely on the train ride back from work tomorrow, since I'll spend the ride into work integrating the VO.
Barring any other issues, I'll be back to prototyping tomorrow night.
In the latest hip hop news, Jay-Z & Kanye West released a callabo album, titled, Watch The Throne. Thus far, it's so-so... I was hoping for more production like My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy, but it just has a weird vibe to it... Can't put my finger on it... It's almost as if they said to each other, "Look, we're rich as hell... Who cares how much this sells... Let's just try some crazy stuff!".
Anyway, I'll keep listening to it, and maybe it will grow on me. The Blueprint 3had the same effect on me, and months later, I deemed it a classic.
When I hear today's music from Lost Odyssey, I think of a sneaking into someone's house. No wonder the song is titled, Invasion. Enjoy!
8/7/11 -Sunday: BACK TO LEVEL PROTOTYPING...
I started the day by doing some VO related tasks. For this particular role that has been assigned, I initially started with a conversation about 1/3 of the way through the game, as a starter. Now that I know the person will be doing the role in full, I decided to just start from the beginning of the game, and start sending the lines that way. So, I took about the first 5-6 sequences, explained the situation in each case, and sent the corresponding lines.
Speaking of which, this is the next thing I need to start compiling: actual number of lines for each role. This will give the actor a better understanding of how much work will be involved, instead of me just vaguely saying, "Hey, this guy has a LOT of lines." Better for them to know what they're getting into, so they don't commit to something they can't finish. I should have done this a while ago, but meh, what can you do.
Anyway, as much fun as I've been having with VO and everything involved with it, I do have a game to finish! So, I got back to it, and started the prototyping for the next level. I was only able to get the very basics in, like some torches, some castle walls, and, well... that's pretty much it. It was late in the night, and I wanted to actually get to bed on time for once. Fortunately, since I've been thinking about this level for quite some time, I already know more or less how it should look, which models I'll be using, etc. Even still, I go in knowing that some things may change, like the dimensions of the level, so I'm not putting in that detail. I'll put most of the work into building the structures, and once I have a better idea of the scale of everything, then I'll make my decision if I'll be sticking with the current level I have, or exporting everything from this one that I can, and picking a different sized on.
Oh, and the best part of new levels is.... new screenies!
Every once in a while, I'm listening to a song that my wife thinks is absolutely horrific. I'm always trying to tell her, "Look, it's because I played the game I can appreciate the music". Today's piece, from Lost Odyssey is one of those types of songs, I think. Oh well, enjoy!
8/6/11 -Saturday: SUCH A REFRESHING DAY/NIGHT!
So, it was an interesting day, to say the least. I mentioned that we had 6 different people thus far helping out with VO, and one particular family (yes, family!) just reached out to me this past Tuesday. Well, to be fair, it was just one gentleman, but he just happened to have 2 young kids looking to get in on the action as well, which was perfect, as I did have a need for some child roles, and wasn't looking forward to breaking out my falsetto voice :) What was interesting was that he was playing my NWN modules, came to this website for the walkthrough, found my blog and my pleas for voice actors, and here we are!
Anyway, he contacted me, and 2 days later, I had samples from him and his children, which turned out really well. Well, there was a small issue that popped up, but after dedicating like, 30 minutes to it, I was able to come up with a solution. Much like when I do recordings, there was a little echo, or static noise, and something that could be heard in addition to the voice work. The work was so well, I really wanted to stick with what I had, so I did some research on noise reduction, and found this you tube video:
Now, the whole video wasn't just about sound, but there were pertinent parts in there that helped me a ton. I was literally able to remove *all* of those weird background sounds. Now, I'm sure there are more post processing things we can do to all our VO, but it was nice to find this, and implement it relatively quickly.
Next on my list is to send him more lines for other sequences in the game. I figured it made sense to just start from the beginning of the game, and that is what I'll do. I'm also going to do some work to be able to follow the steps in this tutorial, which essentially shows you how to prepare lines for the actors. In a nutshell, whenever I receive the lines from the actors, I have to go through the dialogue in the toolset, line by line, find the id, and rename the file they send to the id. At first, it wasn't a big deal, but now, it's become a little time consuming. So, this should work quite well.
Finally, I'm just waiting on some more stuff from some of the other actors, so I can get it in game as well. Oh, and dammit, I'm finally going to force my wife to record some lines tomorrow... No, seriously!
When I got home, I was just lounging around on the coach, watching a WTA tennis match, when I got an email from old friend, David Timmons. For those that don't know, he was a part of the Rose of Eternity team back in 2006. He did some writing, and was someone I could bounce ideas off of. But what he will always be infamous for is the great riddle by Jarl Thuvik.This thing stumped so many people, and to this day, I still get angry emails about it. So, I'm just putting it out there... Please re-direct all your hate to David, not me! :)
Back when I met him, I guess he was about to graduate high school, or close to it. Fast forward to now, and he is about to graduate when college, where he has been trained in all sorts of things I know nothing about, including modeling, texturing, animation, rigging, etc. He wanted to show me some stuff, so we got on Skype, he shared his screen with me, and he showed me all sorts of things, which was pretty cool. I really have a new found respect (not that it wasn't already there to begin with) for 2D/3D artists. It's one thing to get the finished product... It's another to see them in action. It's just so much meticulous work, that it would drive me crazy!
The best part of the night came when he casually asked me if I had a need for any static models, or anything like that. I told him I actually had one that was for the most part, pretty good, but just needed to have the colors changed a bit. He was immediatelty up to the task, so I sent him the files. Then, I after some fiddling around, loaded up the game where the model is, shared my screen with him, so he could see how it looked in game, and see how I wanted it changed. Then, I went back to looking at his screen, where he did his thing, and after a bit, he sent me some files to override the existing ones I had. After a small fumble, I was able to see the new model in the level in the toolset, render lightmaps and export it, and finally see it in game. All of this was done in minimal time, while we chatted away. It was a nice experience, and reminded me of how I work with co-workers at the office when I work from home. So to any managers out there, see?! This is the future... We don't have to be in the office all the time to get stuff done! :)
Anyway, it was great talking to an old friend again, and was the perfect end to a pretty good day.
Again, I have another piece that is just... well... it's just Nobuo Uematsu. This guy is amazing... Enjoy!
8/5/11 -Friday: WHAT A MONTH...
STATE OF THE UNION
Well, the entire month of July was quite interesting... I somehow managed to get a lot of work done, without even adding any new playable content. It was all about ALPHA 1.2, VO, and trailers. I should mention that I'm under one hell of a crunch at work, which has sucked the life and soul out of me. No, seriously, I've done more work at home than anything else all month. Oh well, such is life.
Anyway, I'll be the first to admit that VO scared the HELL out of me. It still does, ever so slightly, but as time has gone on, I'm really starting to feel comfortable with it. To be clear, it wasn't the actual implementation, it was the "How can we possibly fill every role?!". Well, so far, we've been doing okay. At the moment, we've had 6 people do some great stuff for us, and I've even done a little myself, and I still need to get my wife in on the action as well.
I've also spent a bunch of time laying down the framework for some trailers. There is still a bunch of work that needs to be done, but I'm glad that I got done as much as I did. I hope to have something up soon.
This upcoming month will be more of the same, but with actual new playable content. Here's hoping things slow down at work.
Today's music from Lost Odyssey is a piece which let me know Nobuo Uematsu still had it. He hadn't been the primary composer on a Final Fantasy game for quite some time, so I thought maybe he would quietly fade into the abyss. This reminded me of the 20+ years of great music he has given us. Enjoy!
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