Category Archives: Gaming & Modding

Posts related to playing and developing games, and to the game industry in general.

Sanctum Remake Coming Soon

I’ve now finished a full playthrough of the soon-to-be-released remake of the Neverwinter Nights module series, Sanctum of the Archmage: The Sight and The Quest. I found a handful of bugs and issues that I still need to resolve, which I’ll need to plan time for over the next few weeks. After one more playthrough to ensure they’re worked out, I should be able to release the remake sometime this summer.

The Sanctum v4.2 update will include a number of new and updated features to The Sight. More importantly, though, it will include a complete remake of the second module in the series, now titled The Quest. Originally released in 2007 as “The Miracle Worker, Act I,” it has never been published in a form compatible with the v4.x remake of The Sight. And it has been unavailable in any form since IGN’s Neverwinter Vault died in 2014.

The second module in the Sanctum series was very well received by the NWN player community of the time, receiving the Bronze Award for Module of the Year and the Golden Dragon Award for Best RPG in 2007. I’m very happy to finally be making the soon to be released (and I think, greatly improved!) version of it  available to the Neverwinter Nights player community.

Work on Sanctum 2 Resumed

I’m pleased to announce that after a three year break to focus on my career and on writing my novels, I am returning to work on completing the remake of my NWN adventure module, Sanctum of the Archmage 2: The Quest.

Formerly released under the name Sanctum of the Archmage 2: The Miracle Worker, Act I, the second chapter of my adventure module series has been unavailable for the last two years since IGN’s Neverwinter Nights Vault went off-line in the spring of 2014. The most recent version, v3.4, was also incompatible with the v4 remake of Chapter 1 that I released in 2013. I had wanted to release a remake of Chapter 2 as well, but was forced to put that work on the shelf to focus on re-booting my career, and on writing the saga’s novels.

I have worked sporadically on the remake over the last three years, though. And there is still some additional re-work that I want to do, particularly in re-making the “flying areas” at the end using the wonderful “Sanctum Flying Skyscape Tileset” that Estelindis built for the series. But I’ve decided that can wait for a future update. And without those changes, I think that another month or so worth of work would bring it close to a releasable (or at least beta-testable) state. So I’ve decided to move forward with that as a plan.

With that said, my work on the series over the next months should be as follows. In June I expect to be finishing work on The Quest, and completing my full edit of Dawn of Chaos. In July and August I hope to get the novel out for a professional edit and to finish production, and to set up a beta test for the module remake. In September I’m hoping to be able to release both to the public.

After that, I’ll work on remaking the flying areas for The Quest, and getting started on my next projects: producing an audiobook version of Prologue to Chaos, and starting work on my second novel: Wrath of the Peregrine King.

I’m thinking that should keep me busy for a while. 🙂

NWN Vault Down

UPDATE: The Vault is back online, at least for the time being.

If you’ve tried downloading the Sanctum of the Archmage (SotA) game modules, or visiting its (or any other) pages on the Neverwinter Nights Vault since yesterday afternoon, you’ve probably seen the ominous “server not found” messages from that are now coming from http://nwvault.ign.com. I’ve been keeping an eye on this since I became aware of it last night, and I’m hoping that it’s something simple and temporary like a DNS error. However, there is some talk going around through the NWN modding community that this may in fact be a permanent (and not entirely unanticipated) shutdown of the site that has been so central to the NWN modding community for so many years.

As a result, those parts of the SotA module downloads that reference files on the NWN Vault won’t work until it either comes back up, or an alternative is provided. I’m going to wait until this weekend to see if we get more definitive news about the Vault’s status going forward. If it continues to be unavailable, then I’ll take steps to set up new downloads for those files. Hopefully within a week at the latest, players who want to download  and play SotA should be able to do so once again.

As far as the future of the Vault is concerned, I don’t know anything more than is currently going around the “rumor mill” on the Bioware Social Network (for example, here and here), or on some other CRPG related sites (for example, here and here). The good news, though, is that thanks to the heroic actions of Rolo Kipp and his band of minions from The Vault Preservation Project for NWN1 and NWN2, the that data has been archived and won’t be lost:

“Pain & Tarot, Werelynx & Henesua. Others. A lot of people have been working hard over the last two months saving stuff.
We have archive of all the project files through last Sunday. We have copies of the meta data and copies of the download counts and award tags and at least the first page of comments.
We have archives of most of the articles and tutorials. We even have the surviving “top ten” lists… The library may be burning, but the books are safe.

“Not everything works. Not everything works right. But the new place is starting to come together.”

So a new Neverwinter Vault to replace the old one is being stood up as we speak — and once the dust settles, module pages for the Sanctum of the Archmage series will be available there. 🙂

The Escapist’s Vision of Computer Gaming

The Escapist Magazine’s “Extra Credits” section published a very interesting video opinion piece yesterday. Although pitched in the form of “An Open Letter to EA Marketing,” it indicates a wider issue that goes beyond any particular company or its marketing. Rather, it goes to the heart of how most games are made today, and how that is too often driven by increasingly obsolete and inside-the-box assumptions about customer demographics. Over the top marketing campaigns are just the most obvious symptom of  that phenomenon.

Speaking personally, I very much share the vision expressed in the video (and apparently, at least at one time, by EA as well). Indeed, the reason why I became interested in game development in the first place was to learn how to help bring it into existence. Gaming qua interactive art has enormous potential, but it’s still to a great extent in its infancy (pun intended).

Continuing Sanctum in NWN1 vs. DA

Shuurai recently offered the following thoughts about continuing the Sanctum saga in Neverwinter Nights as opposed to Dragon Age. Since they might be of general interest, I thought I would post my own thoughts on that here.

“Just to throw it out there, I too think it’d be cool if the entire series was kept in NWN1. Despite the age of the engine and it’s limitations, I personally find the interface to be much better than NWN2 and even Dragon Age. That said, the most important thing (to me) is the story, and I think this one will be strong no matter what the platform.”

I very much appreciate the kind words about the story (thanks, Shuurai!). This is an issue that I’ve been torn about since the first module came out — first with NWN2, and then with Dragon Age. As some of you may know, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity last year to be invited by Bioware to participate in the Dragon Age toolset beta and Builder’s Event. So I’m very familiar with what Dragon Age has to offer the series, and I’ve been very impressed with it from the beginning. I think it was designed much more for the kind of story-based modding that I’m trying to do with the series than was NWN, and that I could do a great deal more with it as a result.

So to be honest I really would prefer to switch to Dragon Age as soon as possible, for that as well as other reasons. For example I do strongly prefer the interface and game design, and the Sanctum world never has really fit well with the D&D ruleset. But I’m in the awkward position of being in the middle of the saga and having a lot invested in building the mods in NWN1, including an established player and fan base there. Those are things that I can’t just disregard.

If I come into enough free time or can recruit enough DA collaborators to help, then I may port Sanctum 2 to DA as a test. If that’s successful I could then port the rest of Part II (“The Miracle Worker”) as well. I think I could handle that for DA-only players by including a video “prologue” telling the story of Part I (“The Sight”). If that works out then I’d end up with Part I as a NWN1 only mod, Part III (“The Alliance”) as DA only, and Part II ported to both.

Either way, though, I don’t plan on building “The Alliance” in NWN1. But I also really don’t want to stop building in NWN1 until the end of “The Miracle Worker”. That’s when the story will reach a point where I can at least give NWN1-only players a sense of closure with the series, even though it will be continued in “The Alliance.”

And, I hope, in a series of novels to pick up the story after that. From the beginning, the Sanctum modules were intended mainly as an experiment on my part: a way of exploring the new medium of CRPG modding as a means of telling the backstory to those novels. So with any luck, it’ll be a long time before I have to commit to giving folks a full sense of closure with the saga as a whole. 🙂

The Sanctum Team

Although I’ve been talking for a while now about my intent to finally get back to finishing Sanctum of the Archmage, circumstances have for some time had a habit of conspiring in one way or another to delay those plans. So I’m pleased to announce that I’ve recently made several decisions aimed at ending those delays, and at speeding up when the remaining chapters of the saga will be available.

The first step was finally completing my graduate work. I had gone back to college part time for a second Master’s degree (in physics) several years ago, but it had ended up dragging on longer than I had expected. Sanctum chapters 1 and 2 were actually built in the spare time I could find between (some very challenging) classes, which is one reason for the slow pace of the saga’s development. I finally graduated earlier this year, and that’s started to allow me more time for other projects again.

The second step was one that I initiated a few weeks ago, when I regretfully announced my resignation as Chairman of the Academy for Modding Excellence, effective at the end of 2009. Working with the AME, first as Vice-Chairman and then this year as Chairman, was a wonderful and fun experience that also allowed me to meet some really terrific people. Although I’ll be retaining my membership with the Academy, it will be with a much reduced workload that will allow me more time to work on my modules.

The third and most recent step, which I’m pleased to announce here publicly for the first time, is that I’ve decided to form a modding team to finish the Sanctum of the Archmage saga. I concluded that this would be a good idea for several (probably obvious) reasons, not the least of which is that my chances of being able to finish the modules in a reasonable amount of time would be significantly increased if I had some help. Since modding is beginning to move more and more in the direction now of team-based rather than individual work, I thought this would be a good time to make that transition myself.

I think this is especially true given the plans that I’ve hinted at in previous posts, but would now like to make official: that the final part of the Sanctum of the Archmage saga, The Alliance, will be developed in Bioware’s new CRPG, Dragon Age (or DA). Some of you may know that I was a member of the DA Toolset Beta team earlier this year, and participated in Bioware’s “DA Builder Event” this summer. These unfortunately also helped to delay my work on developing the next chapter; but they were good opportunities that I think will ultimately help me to improve as a modder and to make the series even better in the long run. Since it has a much more complex and powerful toolset than Neverwinter Nights, team development will probably be typical for modules developed for Dragon Age.

My plan for the Sanctum Team is to have two groups working on parallel development tracks. One group will be working on finishing the last two modules of Part II of the saga, “The Miracle Worker,” which will be in Neverwinter Nights and will use the fabulous new Project Q content. The second group will start development on the first act of Part III, “The Alliance,” in Dragon Age. It’s my hope that with these parallel development efforts going on simultaneously, that the end of Part II and beginning of Part III could be brought out without too much time between them.

It’s a fairly ambitious plan, and you can probably see why I’ll need to recruit a team of folks to work with to make it happen. So far, I’ve got four team members from the Neverwinter Nights community interested in the project (including myself), and I’m hoping to at least double that in the near future. The team will need folks with several different skill sets, from level builders to the voice actors that we’ll need for the Dragon Age modules. I’ll be in the role of lead writer and designer, and the prospect of working together to make an RPG with a group of really talented folks is one that I’m really looking forward to. 🙂

Dragon Age is a Huge Success!

Dragon Age was finally released this week! I’ve received and installed my copy — and after playing it for a while, I have to say that so far the game exceeds my expectations. Since my expectations were pretty high, that’s saying something.

First, for those who may have missed my earlier posts: I was honored to have been asked to participate in both the Dragon Age Toolset Beta test and “Builder Event” this summer. I was one of about a dozen experienced “modders” from the Neverwinter Nights game-building community who were invited to come to Bioware Edmonton this summer to test out the adventure building toolset that they’ve developed for the game. That amazing experience was covered in the Bioware Blog a few months ago (Dragon Age Toolset: Builder Event II, Part 1, and Part 2), and in a pair of articles in Gamespy Magazine (Build Your Own Adventure: An Exclusive Look at the Dragon Age Toolset, and Voices of Creation: The Dragon Age Builder Interviews). Our team did the mod with the cat described in the last article. And I just noticed that the “Toolset Video” on the Collector’s Edition Bonus disk includes some footage from the Builder’s Event, including some showing me sitting in the front row. 🙂

Dragon Age has already been receiving some amazing critical reviews. For example, Gamespot gave it a 95, saying that “Incredible storytelling, great characters, and exciting battles are just a few of the things that make this fantasy role-playing game so extraordinary.” The latest Bioware Blog post (Dragon Age to the World!) lists a number of other rave reviews as well.

The game system is simplified and very easy to understand and to play, compared to the awkward and cumbersome D&D ruleset of the Neverwinter Nights series. That’s something that I was hoping would be the case, and that I have to say that I very much appreciate. It’s also incredibly fast and efficient, smoothly delivering quality graphics and extraordinarily detailed animation with short load times. But what’s impressed me so far is the quality of the cinematic storytelling that the engine makes possible, and that the game builders at Bioware have demonstrated with the Dragon Age: Origins campaign.

I’ll have more to say about the game once I’ve had time to play some more of it, and to take a look at the final version of the game-building toolset. Suffice it to say, though, that I’m positively salivating at the idea of starting to build adventure modules using this incredible new engine. 🙂

Sanctum Mentioned on GameCritics.com

I wanted to share a recent article that I just came across, which gives a very positive mention to me and to the Sanctum of the Archmage series. It was on Brad Gallaway’s blog at GameCritics.com, in a guest post by romance and SF/Urban Fantasy author Ann Aguirre. Here’s the link:

Guest Blog: Writer Ann Aguirre talks games

It can also be found here with some comments on Brad’s personal blog, Drinking Coffecola. Here are Ann’s very kind comments about my module work, for which I would very much like to thank her. 🙂

“Write a script that determines the NPC love interest according to the gender the player chooses. That way, you only need to write one romance with minimal tweaks. I’ve seen this done with real expertise in player-designed modules for Neverwinter Nights. Andarian has designed an amazing module called Sanctum of the Archmage, where the romance is really well-developed in addition to combat, traps, and story. He integrates this swing-sex NPC with great skill, so if he can do it, why can’t the bigger companies?”

 

Ann makes several other observations with which I agree, particularly about RPG developers’ all too common lack of emphasis on writing decent romances — a topic that has been a hot button of mine for years. I particularly resonated with this one, which I’ve jokingly offered a couple of times myself:

“So why are the romances so half-assed, seriously? If you guys don’t know how to write one, CALL me.”

I think she’s right that this often reflects an unwillingness on the part of game builders to prioritize writing romances as a development goal, and to invest resources in hiring the writers they might need. Writing good romances is a skill, to be sure, but it’s also not rocket science and there are folks out there who know how to do it. And as she observes, this is a wide-open market — not only for female gamers, but for male gamers who know how to appreciate a good romance. And trust me, we’re out there. 😉

With that said, though, I do think there’s another factor that’s helped complicate the evolution of writing for RPGs in general, and not just for romances in particular. That’s the fact that writing for an RPG isn’t the same as writing for a novel or a movie. RPGs are a new medium for narrative art, and while there’s a lot of overlap, it has its own distinctive requirements as well. Those involve developing new writing skills, and to some extent ways of thinking about plot construction, than what experienced writers for other mediums may be used to. Because an RPG is interactive, the plot needs to be both integrated to a central theme and adaptive and multi-dimensional. This “dance” between linear and non-linear design is distinctive to interactive fiction, and it forces you to think about the central plot in more abstract terms than in other media.

As both a programmer and an amateur novelist myself, I can see how RPG writing to some extent involves an integration of both kinds of skills and thinking. That’s actually one of the things that fascinates me about the genre, and has motivated me to invest so much of my personal time in writing and building them myself. As experienced writers from other media begin to do the same and to learn these new skills, I think we’ll see something of a sea change in the depth and complexity of story-based gaming. Indeed, I think we’ve already started to see this happening.

All of this holds true as well, I think, for writing romance plots. One of my goals with the Sanctum of the Archmage modules was in fact to explore not just how to write a good RPG, but how to design and write a compelling RPG romance — so I’m especially gratified by Ann’s comments about my work. Thanks!

A Quick Update

I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on the status of the Sanctum v3.2 update, as well as some news that may be of interest to readers of my blog.

Between the demands of my job, vacation, managing the AME, and some other projects (see below), my schedule has gotten very busy in recent weeks — and that has unfortunately delayed my efforts to get the Sanctum update posted for general release. I have only a few remaining tasks to finish before I can upload it, but unfortunately my available time is still going to be very limited for the next few weeks. Hopefully when some of the smoke clears from my “real life,” I should be able to finally get it completed and online by the end of the month.

The very talented Estelindis has graciously offered to develop some high quality custom NWN head models for the Sanctum update. We’ve been collaborating for a few weeks now on how to get the look just right for the various characters, and the results are truly amazing (if I do say so myself). Robin (both genders) and Orion are basically done, and Diana is currently in development as well. Here’s a link to a screenshot featuring (female) Robin’s new head and the use of the Romantic Animations Suite. Este, thank you very much for your fantastic work on this!

Although sworn to secrecy until recently, I can now also reveal that I’ve been a participant in the beta test for the Dragon Age Toolset since early this year — and I was invited to travel to Bioware HQ in Edmonton last week to participate in the Dragon Age Toolset Builder’s Event. I plan to blog at more length about that amazing experience when I have time — but for now, to see what it was all about check out the posts on the Bioware Blog here and here. I’ll only say for now that from what I’ve seen, the tools that Bioware is making available for Dragon Age are going to change the landscape of RPG modding. I’m very excited about it. Although I’m still committed to finishing “The Miracle Worker” in NWN1, I’m now giving serious consideration to completing Part III of the Sanctum Saga — The Alliance — in Dragon Age.

Thanks again to everyone for your patience and interest!

Cheers,

Andarian