Category Archives: Gaming & Modding

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

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 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 downloadย  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actions of Rolo Kipp and his band of minions fromย The Vault Preservation Project for NWN1 and NWN2, the that data has been archived and won’t be lost: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 newย 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ofย  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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Sanctum Mentioned on

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, 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

“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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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!



AME NWN1 Finalists Preview on NWN Podcast

I just wanted to give everyone a quick heads-up that Tybae and I will be participating in a “streaming preview show” on the NWN Podcast to announce this year’s finalists for the AME’s NWN1 Golden Dragon Awards for 2008. For details on how to join us in IRC, and to listen live to the show stream, see our announcement here.

Also, just an update on the Sanctum 1-2 v3.2 work: I’ve finished my playthrough, and I’m in the process of making some fixes. Once those are done, and I’ve done another playthrough to make sure everything’s working right, I should be ready to set up a beta test. So stay tuned!

Also, check out my submission to the Vault’s NWN1 Screenshot contest:

Mount Cassandra Peak by Andarian

Development of Sanctum of the Archmage Resumed

I’m very pleased to announce that I have officially resumed work on the Sanctum of the Archmage module series.

During the time since my last announcement, I’ve been working on and off to complete the v3.2 update to Sanctum chapters 1 and 2 that I started working on last fall. I had originally planned to release it before the end of last year, but as many of you may know, that plan was delayed by events related to a custom content authorship controversy that arose at the time. Since that controversy now appears to be largely resolved, I have decided to return and pick up with the series where I left off.

Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on the Sanctum v3.2 update, which I hope to be able to release within the month. Sanctum v3.2 will have major feature upgrades to include both ridable pegasi and (the now final version of) NinjaWeaselMan’s Romantic Animations Suite. It will also feature a large number of scattered improvements in various places, including some new dialogues, rebalancing and other improvements to some of the combats, and compatability with CEP 2.2.

After Sanctum v3.2 is complete, my next project will be to continue the series with Sanctum of the Archmage 3: The Miracle Worker, Act II. My current plan is to substantially re-vamp the scripting and custom content infrastructure for Chapter 3, and in particular to improve the series’ companion AI, with which I’ve never really been entirely happy. Sanctum 3 should also include a number of new tilesets, particularly for mountain scenes, which will dominate much of the next part of the series. The new ridable pegasi and romantic animations, of course, will be integral to the follow-on modules as well. And finally, I’m currently planning to use Project Q for the rest of the series, which should give a distinctively new look and an overall artistic facelift to the entire experience of Neverwinter Nights gaming. ๐Ÿ™‚

As for the status of future chapters: I’m still debating whether or not to build Part III of the saga — “The Alliance” — in Neverwinter Nights 1. I do have a number of compelling reasons to consider doing that, many of them having to do with the newly available NWN1 custom content that I expect to be able to make use of in the process. I can also provide some useful information for the benefit of those players who dislike NWN2, the idea of changing games in mid-saga, or playing a module that they regard as “unfinished.” First, I’ve firmly decided that Part II — “The Miracle Worker” — will definitely be completed in NWN1, and it will have an ending that should provide a sense of closure for players who may for whatever reason not want to continue the saga after that. Although I’m unlikely at this point to build “The Alliance” in NWN2, I have been giving some thought to the possibility of continuing it in Bioware’s new CRPG, Dragon Age, which should be released later this year. But my main concern right now is to complete “The Miracle Worker,” and as I’ve said, that’s definitely going to be finished in NWN1.

In other news, I’m also pleased to announce that I’ve just been elected as the new Chairman of the Academy for Modding Excellence. More information about that can be found in the latest announcement on the front page of the AME Website here.

Thanks to everyone for their continued interest in and enthusiasm for the module saga and the story!