Category Archives: Gaming & Modding

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

Sanctum of the Archmage: EE Edition

I’ve just posted this over on the Beamdog Forums and on the Neverwinter Vault, and wanted to share it on my blog as well. There are screenshots on the Beamdog thread for those who may be interested.

Sanctum of the Archmage: Enhanced Edition

I’ve been working in recent weeks on developing an EE compatible edition of the Sanctum of the Archmage modules. That work’s mostly done now. I should be able to release SotA:EE Edition v1.0 after another playtesting run, probably in a few weeks at most.

I took advantage of the opportunity to add a couple of new features that I had cut for the remake that I released in September. Aside from minor typo fixes and the like, I also did a complete re-write to both the XP and the crafting systems. Players should now be able to advance to level 11 by the end of Chapter 2, and the penalties for using companions and summons have been flattened. Players should also be able to craft many more (and better) items from both mundane and magical materials alike.

I’m not planning to do much more to revise Chapter 1 and 2 for EE, though. The reason is that I’ve decided that any new modding efforts on my part are probably better devoted to resuming development of Chapter 3, which I suspended several years ago to begin writing my Sanctum of the Archmage novels. I’ve opened up the third module again in the EE editor, cleaned it up, and finally finished the extensive scripting needed for the elaborate “flying system” that it will feature. That will likely take a while, given my other commitments (writing, work and life in general). But all of it will be done in and for EE. And I’ll be looking to take advantage of every opportunity I can to include new content and features made possible by the extended edition.

PC Gamer Feature on NWN:EE

PC Gamer just published a feature on the recently announced Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced edition. I was interviewed and prominently mentioned in the article.

How devs and fans are coming together to rebuild Neverwinter Nights

“When Beamdog’s Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition was announced I contacted several prominent community members who all shared a passion for the 15-year-old RPG…

“Donadio’s creation, Sanctum of the Archmage, features a compelling story, impressive visuals, custom scripts, and well-designed puzzles and combat. It’s one of the highest-rated modules on the Neverwinter Vault to this day, and Donadio now writes books based on it…”

“Will this signal a return for famed module builders like Donadio? ‘I would very much like to return to creating new modules,’ he says. ‘The news about NWN: EE certainly motivates me to, and I am seriously considering it.'”

Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition!

In case you haven’t heard the news: Beamdog, a company known for updating classic older games to run on modern computer systems, has just announced that it has acquired the rights to the Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights (NWN). Here’s the  announcement:

Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition!

Many readers of my blog already know what NWN is, but here’s a quick summary for those who don’t. Released in 2002 and containing a pioneering “adventure building toolset,” NWN is  a computer-based RPG based around the Dungeons and Dragons (v3.0) rules. The game modules I’ve released, which tell part of the story of the Sanctum of the Archmage Saga, are built using NWN’s Aurora game engine.

NWN has slowly been fading into obscurity over the years after its heyday during the 2000s. A highly energetic modding community developed then around the hundreds of high-quality full-length adventure games built for it by members of its player community. Beamdog is now resuscitating what is probably the most mod-able computer game ever released — updating it to run on modern systems using today’s gaming technology.

This is a BIG deal, and it has too many implications to address in a single post. So I’ll be following up on my blog with additional thoughts over the next few weeks. In them, I’ll try to lay out what I think this may mean — both for the NWN community, and for the future of the Sanctum Saga. Here’s a preliminary start on that for now.

NWN:EE Pre-Order Beta Test is Already Available

Beamdog timed this announcement to coincide not only with the taking of pre-orders for NWN:EE, but with the availability of a new beta test version of it. More importantly, the two are linked: if you purchase the pre-order now, then you can download and install the current beta version. I’ve already done that, and started testing the latest release of the Sanctum modules in it. The visuals are improved, performance is amazing, and except for a few minor issues, they run without even needing to be re-compiled. I’ll try posting some screenshots later to illustrate.

A Renaissance of NWN Modding — Maybe

A lot hinges precisely on what Beamdog does with NWN. But initial feedback from them suggests to me that they actually understand what made NWN special, and are focused on it in their enhancement efforts. (This isn’t entirely surprising, since several of its original developers are on their team.) For example, I had the following brief Facebook exchange with BD CEO Trent Oster, who was also lead developer for the original Neverwinter Nights:

Tony Donadio: I think it’s less about updating the OC [original campaign] than it is about updating the technology. Modding is what made NWN, and it’s what could make a rebirth of it with a (hopefully) updated engine and architecture.

Trent Oster: That was our opinion as well Tony. There is too much content to update it all, but if we can open up the capabilities of the engine and add support for newer types of content we can move the platform forward.

Given that it gave rise to an explosion of indie game creation after its initial release, it’s possible that an enhanced re-making of NWN — especially with the support of a developer prioritizing its use to develop new content — could lead to a genuine renaissance of the game. This is something that no modder, myself included, can ignore or take lightly.

Continuing the Sanctum Mods

As readers can see here, I originally had a fairly extensive plan for developing modules in the Sanctum Saga for Neverwinter Nights. I ended up suspending those plans in recent years, for reasons that I’ve discussed elsewhere (for example, here). In a nutshell, though, I concluded that the demands of earning a living in my profession as a computer scientist, writing and publishing indie novels, and building game mods, all at the same time, was simply unrealistic. And of those three, building mods for a dying game with a shrinking player base, that its developers and distributors had abandoned (sometimes in bad faith), was the obvious one to cut back.

With the coming release of NWN:EE, that assessment may have to change. I don’t want to lead people on, or to promise anything that I won’t end up being able to deliver on. But what is clear is that I do need to re-consider my plans, now, in light of this news. So I will be doing that.

I’m not sure what the outcome of all this will be. But to give some context to my thoughts, let me share an exchange I had with Stephen L. Knowland, aka Savant, author of the Aielund Saga mods for NWN (and now, also, novels). This was on the NWN Community Facebook Page, right after the news broke.

Savant: Yeah HD textures, HDR rendering for really shiny metal effects… you know, if they did this right, I might even be persuaded to do another pass on the Aielund Saga.

Me: I was thinking the same about Sanctum of the Archmage — if I can find the time! It would add motivation to finally try to finish the module series, though.

Savant: Yeah it’s all about finding time these days! I think in about 6 months my schedule clears up a bit, will see how this project goes forward.

I’ve already decided that at the very least, there will be a Sanctum of the Archmage: EE re-release of the first two chapters of the saga. I don’t know yet whether I will be able to put Sanctum of the Archmage 3: Mission to Rayche back on the table as well. But I am thinking about it.

Sanctum Modules Update Released!

I’m pleased to announce that the long-awaited v4.2 remake of the Sanctum of the Archmage game modules is finally available! Testing is complete, the documentation has been updated, and the files were packaged and uploaded on September 30th.

Version v4.2 represents a significant update to the Sanctum of the Archmage modules. It combines a number of new features in The Sight with a major remake of the previous (v3.4) version of The Quest. Formerly released as “The Miracle Worker: Act I,” The Quest has been unavailable in any form since the loss of the IGN Vault in 2014. Version 4.2 is the first release of Chapter 2 that is compatible with version 4 or later of The Sight.

With the v4.2 update, Sanctum 1 and 2 now use the same custom content architecture and can be played as a unified campaign. As a result, I am releasing them together on my current page for the saga on the Neverwinter Vault. Chapter 2 has been re-written to add new areas, quests, and dialogs, and lore from the Sanctum of the Archmage novels.

I hope you all enjoy the new version, and thank you very much for your interest!

Tony Donadio (Andarian)
Author, Sanctum of the Archmage

 

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. 🙂