Tag Archives: Role Playing Games

Neverwinter Initial Impressions

As Mr. Walker over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun so eloquently stated, “I don’t entirely know how to justify why I’m enjoying Neverwinter quite so much.” I was able to sneak a few spare moments this past weekend to play between newborn infant related tasks such as feeding, burping, holding-so-to-make-it- stop-screaming-why-won’t-it-stop-with-the-screaming while the wife was showering, and the ever-present threat of diaper changes. Rarely can I spend more than about an hour and a half at a time in my “lands” as the wife calls them. But I was afforded enough small windows to find myself truly enjoying this game, and honestly, I’m not sure exactly why.

If you stop reading after this sentence, it is perhaps enough to know that Neverwinter is, if nothing else, as simple or as complex as you want it to be. It can be a casual game you can play here and there, or it can be a game that allows you to invest hundreds of hours exploring every little thing the game has to offer, and even create some content of your own. That dichotomy is evident right off the bat in the initial character generation (a necessary evil for some, an imagination heaven for others). Click “Next” through it and be done in 5 minutes, take an hour or more customizing everything, or find a happy medium. I was off the boat and adventuring in about 10 minutes, myself.

Because none of my gaming friends have delved into this game, I’m just following the story solo style with my Rogue Trickster (Samuel Haines on the Dragon shard, in case you’re interested). There are NPCs to talk to, and they give you all the standard quests we’ve all come to know and love; search & destroy, courier, explore, & protect/escort. Regardless of the task type, there is almost no barrier to entry. It’s been said in other places, and I’ll say it again, in a lot of ways the game feels more like an old school FPS, but with the bells and whistles of a modern-day MMORPG – and I’m saying that with a lot of nostalgic love of the old school FPS (and not a whole lot of experience with MMORPGs). Combat is especially reminiscent of the FPS; whatever beastie is behind your reticle is the beastie you’re targeting. There’s no hard “focus” that you have to explicitly change, making combat feel very fluid.

There are plenty of things to be intimidated by, and I suppose some things to be bothered by, but for some reason, I’m neither intimidated, nor really bothered by much of anything. For instance, there are about 6 currencies in a ridiculously complex monetary system, and each is used for different, yet sometimes overlapping things. I’ve been able to get by with the basic gold/silver/copper currency, and happily ignore the rest so far. There is a guild system, but being solo for the moment, I have no need of it – without friends to help me start a guild, I couldn’t use it even if I wanted to. There are things called “Events” which include other things like dungeon delves, PvP matches, and skirmishes, but I couldn’t tell you much about them, and am doing great so far without them. Crafting is a thing that exists, like in any MMO worth its salt, but it seems fairly complex, and I’ve been happy with loot drops.

There are also companions, which every player can employ. These are actually very nice. I have one now, and foresee having more. They are quite useful in filling whatever gap your own character leaves open. For instance, if you don’t deal a lot of damage, you can hire a damage dealing companion. If you don’t have much by way of survivability, you can hire a tank, or a healer. But choose wisely, you can only have one active at a time. Regardless, they often serve to get the attention of the bad guys, so you can do your thing without being pounded on. Companions are fun.

There is a thing called The Foundry, which is where players create their own adventures (User Generated Content, or UGC), but I haven’t even opened the GUI for that yet. I’d love to, and am really intrigued by the possibilities there, but if I don’t explore it at all, I’ll have fun anyway.

There is, to be honest, one thing I would see improved. There is no waypoint system, which means you have to travel, by foot or hoof, where ever you want to go – or at least to the edge of whatever instanced zone you’re in. Only there can you choose another zone to travel to. No teleporting straight to places you’ve already been from wherever you are. Fortunately, it doesn’t take too long to travel from one place to another, and I’m familiar with this mode of transportation from games I’ve played in the past. It seems a little dated now, though. I’d like a quicker way to get right where I want to go, without having to slog it too long. I’d also like Cryptic to streamline the task of moving from one zone to another. There are a few too many baffling clicks right now – why do I need to choose an instance every time? I don’t know. But honestly, those are petty complaints, given what I’ve paid for it. Which is exactly zero dollars.

I think I’m enjoying it because it’s so very simple, and yet there’s the promise of so much more if I want it (as if I’ll ever have the time). Even if I never peel away the outer layers of this game, I’ve already got more than my money’s worth out of it.

Back to the Gate

So, I started playing Baldur’s Gate recently. I never finished it back in the day (though I got close), and barely took advantage of the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion. For some reason, with everything going on in our lives right now, and in spite of the fact that I’m arguably busier now than I’ve been since Finals Week in college, I just couldn’t help running through 5 CDs worth of installation and launching some relatively old school gaming (I consider Atari 2600 and the Age of Darkness and the Age of Enlightenment truly Old School – and even that’s too new for some).

It runs a little fast on my m9700, but not too fast to play. The dialog runs together now and again when there is a lengthy challenge/response conversation playing out, but other than that, I’ve noticed no ill effects of the slightly accelerated rate.

I tried using the G3: Widescreen Mod in order to enjoy larger resolutions, but found that I had issues with mouse scrolling around the area at 16:9 resolutions that were less than the native resolution of my monitor (1920 x 1080). Because of the time consuming way the mod is applied, I didn’t try too many resolution options. I also noticed some frame rate issues at the native resolution in spite of the age of the engine (or perhaps, because of it). So I decided to stick with playing it the way it was originally released and patched. I’m not playing for the graphics, after all, but the experience.

I’ve heard rumors that it’s possible to convert BGI to the BGII engine, though. I might look into that. Graphics aren’t everything, but the BGII engine is so much nicer…

I probably won’t have much time in the next couple of months to do more than tinker with it here and there, but after we’re settled in to the new house, and some of my other responsibilities are managed (not the least of which is a FreeBSD build that’s proving difficult due to a troublesome inability to detect the hard drives once in sysinstall), I’ll be able to devote a little more time to it. I may even dive back into Baldur’s Gate II, and the Icewind Dale series.

I wonder how it’ll run on the X79 LGA2011 based machine I plan on building towards the end of the year. If it runs fast on a 6 year old laptop…

Aurora vs. Electron… Brief Thoughts on Graphics in Modern Games

Not a review, per say, but a thought. As much as I’m enjoying Neverwinter Nights 2, and know that I AM enjoying the game, I find myself pining for the more, shall we say, rudimentary graphics of Aurora vs. Electron.

That’s just my personal preference though. I like the more "cartoony", iconic graphics vs. the (sad) attempts at realism I’ve seen lately. While I certainly wouldn’t consider the graphics of the Electron "sad", in fact, they’re quite nice… but just not… my preferred style. Of all the games on the market, at least those I’ve seen video or screen shot of, Worlds of Warcraft has the most engaging and absorbing graphics. Is it real? No. Is it a system-buster? No. Is it pretty? No. It’s gorgeous.

Don’t know jack about the game-play though.

Seems to me that if game companies would take a page from Ye Olde Book of Game Development and spent more time on game play, story and features, and less on fantabulistic graphics that push modern systems damn near to meltdown, they might just find their audience expanding.

More later…

Neverwinter Nights 2 Is Mine

I got it today! It was touch and go… at 10:00 this morning, Best Buy only had the standard edition on CD. I wanted the Limited Edition DVD. Went back in at noon, and they didn’t have any of them… sold out. Called at 1, and they had the LE DVD!! Woot!! Ran over there (I work literally across the street), and grabbed one of the only two copies left.

I’ll be posting my own impressions here soon, to go along with my impressions of the first installment. Having re-read those, I’m rather pleased to see that my reactions to the game way back when still hold pretty much true today. They fixed the issues I had issue with, aside from the inventories quips, and I still think it’s a pretty game. Tonight I’ll see how they’ve improved it.

Neverwinter Nights 2

I’m really excited. I’ve been a fan of cRPGs since the Ultima days on my dad’s Apple //e. That interest was renewed with Baldur’s Gate (and it’s expansion Tales of the Sword Coast) (which actually pulled me away from the pool table for months). Icewind Dale (and Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster – which totally rocked!), Baldur’s Gate II (and Throne of Bhaal), Icewind Dale II, Neverwinter Nights (and Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark), Wizards and Warriors, Black and White, Vampire the Masquerade – Redemption… all absolutely great games in my opinion.

Loved them. Lots.

Baldur’s Gate II, in fact, was the main attraction of the first themed LAN party we had. It was at the house Mel and I were renting, and stands out as one of the better LAN parties we took part in. My favorites, of course, being the first few, and the surprise birthday party Mel through for me. That was teh rock.

When I first heard about Neverwinter Nights 2, I was only mildly excited. Interests wax and wane, as they are wont to do. I’d gotten back into pool, and have recently renewed my interest in cycling, and, truth be told, my hardware is out of date. I didn’t feel like spending cash money on something that would really only serve as a gaming platform. However, as pool wanes, cRPGs wax. The movies. It was the movies. That’s what did it. Those movies really convinced me that this is a game I could get in to.

More than that, in a few critical ways, NWN2 seems to combine the best of NWN and the 2nd generation Infinity games. I’ve read some comments that disparage that idea, but for me, it’s exactly what I’ve been wanting. I distinctly remember thinking that combining some of the best features of BGII and IWDII with NWN would make for a killer game. The biggest "flaw", for lack of a better word, was not having more control over the henchmen (called "companions" in NWN2) and their respective inventories. As is typical, the henchmen AI wasn’t stellar, and I’d find myself micromanaging encounters more often than not. In the Infinity games, this was something of an issue, but my experience was that it took a step backwards in NWN. Additionally, BGII added "strongholds" to the mix. A stronghold was a home base of sorts, though management of it was really nothing more than going there every now and again to solve problems when the main story problems got wearisome. I don’t know how strongholds will be implemented in NWN2, but I hope that they’ll involve more pleasurable and relaxing endeavors than simply offering different problems to solve.

All things considered, mating Infinity with Aurora to birth Electron is a Good Thing™, IMHO.

Given the peeks at the game to be released later this year, it looks like I wasn’t alone in those thoughts, and in spite of myself, I’m getting terribly excited. Excited enough to get my budget and monthly expenses in order to see if I can finally afford that desktop replacement laptop I’ve mentioned before. I’m looking at Dell’s XPS M1710

1,001 Neverwinter Nights

I’ve been playing Neverwinter Nights (hereafter known simply as NWN) for the last week or so. When I was sick, it was one of the few things that really took my mind off the pain and discomfort. Fortunately, my brain didn’t permanently associate NWN with horrible sinus illness, and I can play it now with nary a thought of how I felt playing it before. That is not the case with tea, which I very much associate with being sick.

What can I say about this game, that hasn’t been said many times before? Nothing really… but I can take what I agree with from those reviews, and whittle it down to those things most important to me. That is, after all, what this site is about… talking about those things most important to me.

Anyway, on to NWN. NWN is the follow-up release of the acclaimed Baldur’s Gate (BG) series… I will be referring to that series several times, in addition to other games (mainly Dungeon Siege, to be honest – comparisons are inevitable).

Gameplay:

In short, the gameplay is centered around an extremely intuitive point-and-click system that was (at least for this player) instantly accessible. I was able to jump in w/o reading page one of the manual. They’ve used a radial menu system that is, while very attractive, initially somewhat burdensome. It takes a little while to get used to, but once you do it’s very nice. A similar system was used (also successfully) in Independence War II, so it’s not a concept unheard of.

Unlike BG, you have full control over only a single character, rather than an entire party. You can hire henchmen, summon creatures, or bring in a familiar to beef up your strengths if you want, but you have no direct control over them. They are effectively NPC’s (non player characters) who act as allies that follow you around. They’ll take rudimentary orders, but won’t give up inventory space for you or allow you to take control of their actions. The difficulty of the single player campaign is set assuming you will hire a henchman/woman. I believe it, having tried both ways. Many people consider the lack of a full party to be a fault, but I’ve actually enjoyed being able to play the game w/o having to worry about the skills and personality of an entire party. Being able to focus on a single character has been a welcome change of pace for me… it really allows a higher emphasis on the "Role-playing" aspect of the game, rather than just the quest-solving item-grabbing treasure-hording skill-advancing stuff. I’m creating a real character here, rather than just an object with a name.

The story is carried by interaction with non-player characters (NPC’s). They’ve brought back the conversation trees from BG to great effect… even incorporating your own skills and abilities into the conversations. Have an extremely low intelligence? The dialog reflects that, dropping the vocabulary to the level of a 1st grader or lower. Have high intelligence and/or charisma? The dialog reflects that as well, giving you the occasional chance to "persuade" the NPC to give you more information or reward. The dialog trees aren’t perfect. While they almost always provide choices reflecting a wide variety of attitudes and motives, it’s generally a "best choice" scenario, rather than "this is what my character would definitely say." Such is the nature of the beast, however. I don’t consider it "true" role-playing, but it’s about as near as you can find w/o selling your soul to the MMORPG gods. Additionally, some dialog options are available even after they probably shouldn’t be, but they are still very good… and the main thing I felt was lacking in Dungeon Siege.

In the official single-player campaign, the quests you undertake are engaging and varied. You have a chance to do everything from the typical UPS style "Go get this object and bring it back to me" quests, to being a prosecutor in a trial, to solving puzzles, both simple and complex. The quests range from the simple and common to epic and far-reaching.

Graphics:

Baldur’s Gate used the isometric Infinity engine. NWN, instead, uses the fully 3D, Aurora engine. This makes for a beautiful game, with the high points being the textures and lighting. The textures are rich and deep in color (I’m using the 64MB option), and shadows are cast from light sources in ways you would expect them to be, including the way they move as you pass objects with torch in hand. The inevitable comparison is with the recently released Dungeon Siege. There are several important technical differences between the two, with the main one being the seamless world of Dungeon Siege vs. the area-based world of NWN. DS has no loading screens once you get into the game, while NWN does. Not a major issue as far as I’m concerned. However, I just think DS is a "prettier" game. NWN’s tiles and graphics look a little "cleaner" and more "sanitary", making believable ruins and war zones somewhat more difficult to achieve. Additionally, the tile set can be somewhat repetitive in some situations. In many ways, I’m reminded of Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, in the overall quality of graphics. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that development on both was started at about the same time – 5 years ago. I haven’t looked into creating my own tile sets yet, but several custom jobs are already available, so I imagine even those shortfalls can be overcome. NWN is indeed a very pretty game, and I can see it holding it’s own for among cRPG’s for years to come.

Sound:

Quality of sound has never really been that important to me, but lately I’ve started to realize how important it is, and how much of a difference it can make. First, the music. Jeremy Soule did the soundtrack for NWN, as well as DS and the upcoming Icewind Dale II (which is the final gasp of the Infinity engine… I’m looking forward to it). He did a great job. The music adds a depth to the overall atmosphere to the game that cannot be overstated. As for the sound effects, they are also top-notch. Effects such as the clashing of swords, the breaking of chests and barrels, and the spell-effects make for a terrific experience.

Multiplayer:

I can’t speak much to this, b/c I’ve only played it a few times. Lag seems to be an issue… I’d recommend LAN or broadband play only. However, seems to me that the ability to play with friends on-line is one of the major strengths of this game, and what will keep us all playing for many many months to come… if not longer. I like the addition of quick-keys, Tribes style, for speaking stock phrases. It makes communication during the campaign much easier… voice would be better, but that still has some ways to go I think before it’s stable and a feasible option.

To me, this isn’t one of those games, like Quake, where you jump out on any random server to play for a while. It’s a role-playing game, after all. Can you imagine knocking on random strangers doors trying to find a game of D&D to play?

Really?

You’re a freak. I can’t.

For me, this is the kind of game that I’ll play exclusively with friends, either on-line or on LAN. No public servers, thank you very much.

Toolset:

While the single player campaign is worth the price by itself, the toolset is truly remarkable. With the toolset, some time, a little scripting knowledge and a fair helping of talent, you can create campaigns every bit as complex as what was shipped with NWN. In fact, the very tools used to create the game were shipped WITH the game… you simply cannot ask for more than that. The tools are remarkably easy to use, stable and intuitive. I would say that learning them is about as difficult as learning Photoshop or Illustrator… but keep in mind that the more complex your ideas, the more likely you’ll need some knowledge of scripting and programming to pull them off. The scripting language, NWScript, looks to be a derivative of C, so bear that in mind when you start thinking about designing your own world.

Several of my own friends, myself included, have started work on separate modules that may (or may not) be tied together to form a larger campaign. We’re all very excited about this, and are looking forward to seeing what each other comes up with.

Things Broken or Damaged in the Game:

There are a few things about the game that I do find fault with. With the Aurora engine, Bioware has taken a few steps back in terms of pathfinding. They’d got that pretty much licked with the Infinity engine. Your party would make very intelligent choices in terms of how to get from one place to another, maneuvering around obstacles and NPC’s. In NWN, we’re back to the original BG. Simple objects will stall a character, forcing you to carefully maneuver around it, looking for a path that will work. Gone is the extremely convenient ability to bring up an overall map of an area, click on a distant point and sit back as your character travels there. Gone is the ability to set intermittent way-points. Your henchmen will take orders, as I’ve mentioned, but they won’t always act on them. I’ve only hired the thief to help out with traps my monk can’t disarm and there have been many times where he’s said in his cockney accent "Oh, I could pick that open easy!" and proceeds to do absolutely nothing. Usually, when this happens, it takes three or four additional clicks on the locked item in question before he actually unlocks it. The henchmen code, so I’ve read, was one of the last things they worked on, and is something I suspect a patch or two could fix. The camera view is limited to between 90° (vertical, top down) and 45°. This is changed by click-holding the middle mouse button and moving up and down. What I’d really really like to see is a range from about 90° to 25° or so, changeable by moving the mouse to the top or bottom of the screen. I’ve seen screenshots where the angle is clearly less than 45°, so I know it’s possible… I just wish it was available. My final issue is with the inventory and shops. If you can, I haven’t figured out how to buy more than one of a given item at a time… so instead, I have to drag/drop 40 potions, rather than click, type ’40′ and leave. The inventory is also somewhat difficult to manage. It’s divided up into 5 areas based on a 10×6 grid. New items always default to the first available space (no problem), but when you have 10 potions lumped together and split them into two groups of 5, the first group defaults to the first available space, rather than in the same area, or (better yet) in your hand to place where you will.

Conclusion:

Lest I end on a sour note, let me conclude by saying that in spite of the problems I outlined above, this is easily one of the very best games I’ve ever played. I’m completely hooked. The single player campaign is deeply engaging, and the sheer potential of the toolset is staggering. The graphics are wondrous to behold (even if less wondrous than DS) and the sounds are (literally) music to my ears. Minor issues aside, the gameplay is like coming home into blissful air conditioning and an endless supply of tasty beverage after an extended stay in the Sahara. I imagine I’ll be playing this game for a long time to come. It’s based on newly developed technology, so some problems are expected. One patch has already been released, indicating to me that the Bioware team is as committed as they’ve said they would be, and I can easily see the Aurora engine being as tight as the Infinity engine became. It may take a few patches, but it’ll get there… in the meantime, there will be hours and hours of fun to be had. :)
I’ve been playing Neverwinter Nights (hereafter known simply as NWN) for the last week or so. When I was sick, it was one of the few things that really took my mind off the pain and discomfort. Fortunately, my brain didn’t permanently associate NWN with horrible sinus illness, and I can play it now with nary a thought of how I felt playing it before. That is not the case with tea, which I very much associate with being sick.

What can I say about this game, that hasn’t been said many times before? Nothing really… but I can take what I agree with from those reviews, and whittle it down to those things most important to me. That is, after all, what this site is about… talking about those things most important to me.

Anyway, on to NWN. NWN is the follow-up release of the acclaimed Baldur’s Gate (BG) series… I will be referring to that series several times, in addition to other games (mainly Dungeon Siege, to be honest – comparisons are inevitable).

Gameplay:

In short, the gameplay is centered around an extremely intuitive point-and-click system that was (at least for this player) instantly accessible. I was able to jump in w/o reading page one of the manual. They’ve used a radial menu system that is, while very attractive, initially somewhat burdensome. It takes a little while to get used to, but once you do it’s very nice. A similar system was used (also successfully) in Independence War II, so it’s not a concept unheard of.

Unlike BG, you have full control over only a single character, rather than an entire party. You can hire henchmen, summon creatures, or bring in a familiar to beef up your strengths if you want, but you have no direct control over them. They are effectively NPC’s (non player characters) who act as allies that follow you around. They’ll take rudimentary orders, but won’t give up inventory space for you or allow you to take control of their actions. The difficulty of the single player campaign is set assuming you will hire a henchman/woman. I believe it, having tried both ways. Many people consider the lack of a full party to be a fault, but I’ve actually enjoyed being able to play the game w/o having to worry about the skills and personality of an entire party. Being able to focus on a single character has been a welcome change of pace for me… it really allows a higher emphasis on the "Role-playing" aspect of the game, rather than just the quest-solving item-grabbing treasure-hording skill-advancing stuff. I’m creating a real character here, rather than just an object with a name.

The story is carried by interaction with non-player characters (NPC’s). They’ve brought back the conversation trees from BG to great effect… even incorporating your own skills and abilities into the conversations. Have an extremely low intelligence? The dialog reflects that, dropping the vocabulary to the level of a 1st grader or lower. Have high intelligence and/or charisma? The dialog reflects that as well, giving you the occasional chance to "persuade" the NPC to give you more information or reward. The dialog trees aren’t perfect. While they almost always provide choices reflecting a wide variety of attitudes and motives, it’s generally a "best choice" scenario, rather than "this is what my character would definitely say." Such is the nature of the beast, however. I don’t consider it "true" role-playing, but it’s about as near as you can find w/o selling your soul to the MMORPG gods. Additionally, some dialog options are available even after they probably shouldn’t be, but they are still very good… and the main thing I felt was lacking in Dungeon Siege.

In the official single-player campaign, the quests you undertake are engaging and varied. You have a chance to do everything from the typical UPS style "Go get this object and bring it back to me" quests, to being a prosecutor in a trial, to solving puzzles, both simple and complex. The quests range from the simple and common to epic and far-reaching.

Graphics:

Baldur’s Gate used the isometric Infinity engine. NWN, instead, uses the fully 3D, Aurora engine. This makes for a beautiful game, with the high points being the textures and lighting. The textures are rich and deep in color (I’m using the 64MB option), and shadows are cast from light sources in ways you would expect them to be, including the way they move as you pass objects with torch in hand. The inevitable comparison is with the recently released Dungeon Siege. There are several important technical differences between the two, with the main one being the seamless world of Dungeon Siege vs. the area-based world of NWN. DS has no loading screens once you get into the game, while NWN does. Not a major issue as far as I’m concerned. However, I just think DS is a "prettier" game. NWN’s tiles and graphics look a little "cleaner" and more "sanitary", making believable ruins and war zones somewhat more difficult to achieve. Additionally, the tile set can be somewhat repetitive in some situations. In many ways, I’m reminded of Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, in the overall quality of graphics. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that development on both was started at about the same time – 5 years ago. I haven’t looked into creating my own tile sets yet, but several custom jobs are already available, so I imagine even those shortfalls can be overcome. NWN is indeed a very pretty game, and I can see it holding it’s own for among cRPG’s for years to come.

Sound:

Quality of sound has never really been that important to me, but lately I’ve started to realize how important it is, and how much of a difference it can make. First, the music. Jeremy Soule did the soundtrack for NWN, as well as DS and the upcoming Icewind Dale II (which is the final gasp of the Infinity engine… I’m looking forward to it). He did a great job. The music adds a depth to the overall atmosphere to the game that cannot be overstated. As for the sound effects, they are also top-notch. Effects such as the clashing of swords, the breaking of chests and barrels, and the spell-effects make for a terrific experience.

Multiplayer:

I can’t speak much to this, b/c I’ve only played it a few times. Lag seems to be an issue… I’d recommend LAN or broadband play only. However, seems to me that the ability to play with friends on-line is one of the major strengths of this game, and what will keep us all playing for many many months to come… if not longer. I like the addition of quick-keys, Tribes style, for speaking stock phrases. It makes communication during the campaign much easier… voice would be better, but that still has some ways to go I think before it’s stable and a feasible option.

To me, this isn’t one of those games, like Quake, where you jump out on any random server to play for a while. It’s a role-playing game, after all. Can you imagine knocking on random strangers doors trying to find a game of D&D to play?

Really?

You’re a freak. I can’t.

For me, this is the kind of game that I’ll play exclusively with friends, either on-line or on LAN. No public servers, thank you very much.

Toolset:

While the single player campaign is worth the price by itself, the toolset is truly remarkable. With the toolset, some time, a little scripting knowledge and a fair helping of talent, you can create campaigns every bit as complex as what was shipped with NWN. In fact, the very tools used to create the game were shipped WITH the game… you simply cannot ask for more than that. The tools are remarkably easy to use, stable and intuitive. I would say that learning them is about as difficult as learning Photoshop or Illustrator… but keep in mind that the more complex your ideas, the more likely you’ll need some knowledge of scripting and programming to pull them off. The scripting language, NWScript, looks to be a derivative of C, so bear that in mind when you start thinking about designing your own world.

Several of my own friends, myself included, have started work on separate modules that may (or may not) be tied together to form a larger campaign. We’re all very excited about this, and are looking forward to seeing what each other comes up with.

Things Broken or Damaged in the Game:

There are a few things about the game that I do find fault with. With the Aurora engine, Bioware has taken a few steps back in terms of pathfinding. They’d got that pretty much licked with the Infinity engine. Your party would make very intelligent choices in terms of how to get from one place to another, maneuvering around obstacles and NPC’s. In NWN, we’re back to the original BG. Simple objects will stall a character, forcing you to carefully maneuver around it, looking for a path that will work. Gone is the extremely convenient ability to bring up an overall map of an area, click on a distant point and sit back as your character travels there. Gone is the ability to set intermittent way-points. Your henchmen will take orders, as I’ve mentioned, but they won’t always act on them. I’ve only hired the thief to help out with traps my monk can’t disarm and there have been many times where he’s said in his cockney accent "Oh, I could pick that open easy!" and proceeds to do absolutely nothing. Usually, when this happens, it takes three or four additional clicks on the locked item in question before he actually unlocks it. The henchmen code, so I’ve read, was one of the last things they worked on, and is something I suspect a patch or two could fix. The camera view is limited to between 90° (vertical, top down) and 45°. This is changed by click-holding the middle mouse button and moving up and down. What I’d really really like to see is a range from about 90° to 25° or so, changeable by moving the mouse to the top or bottom of the screen. I’ve seen screenshots where the angle is clearly less than 45°, so I know it’s possible… I just wish it was available. My final issue is with the inventory and shops. If you can, I haven’t figured out how to buy more than one of a given item at a time… so instead, I have to drag/drop 40 potions, rather than click, type ’40′ and leave. The inventory is also somewhat difficult to manage. It’s divided up into 5 areas based on a 10×6 grid. New items always default to the first available space (no problem), but when you have 10 potions lumped together and split them into two groups of 5, the first group defaults to the first available space, rather than in the same area, or (better yet) in your hand to place where you will.

Conclusion:

Lest I end on a sour note, let me conclude by saying that in spite of the problems I outlined above, this is easily one of the very best games I’ve ever played. I’m completely hooked. The single player campaign is deeply engaging, and the sheer potential of the toolset is staggering. The graphics are wondrous to behold (even if less wondrous than DS) and the sounds are (literally) music to my ears. Minor issues aside, the gameplay is like coming home into blissful air conditioning and an endless supply of tasty beverage after an extended stay in the Sahara. I imagine I’ll be playing this game for a long time to come. It’s based on newly developed technology, so some problems are expected. One patch has already been released, indicating to me that the Bioware team is as committed as they’ve said they would be, and I can easily see the Aurora engine being as tight as the Infinity engine became. It may take a few patches, but it’ll get there… in the meantime, there will be hours and hours of fun to be had. :)

Dungeon Siege Single Player Campaign

I beat Dungeon Siege last night… at least the Single Player portion. It wasn’t bad. Typical fantasy plot, nothing fancy or special about it. In fact, it merely reinforces my thought that the real strength of this game isn’t the game itself, but the ability to create your OWN game out of it. I can’t wait for those editing tools to be released so I can start in on my own… Single Player was good, but Multiplayer will own!

I posted earlier about some of the things I liked and didn’t like about the game. I’m pleased to say that most of the things I’d change were already there and I just hadn’t found them, while some of the rest are easily fixed by small mods. The BSOD’s have mysteriously stopped, the Party AI is still a bit off and the pausing when someone joins a multiplayer game is still there (those pretty much require a patch from the blokes at Gas Powered Games). Of the rest, only the lack of a thief class, and the ability to use your quickslots for anything remain.

This is easily one fo the best games available right now… in my humble opinion, for any platform.

Laying Siege to the Dungeon

Now that I’ve had a chance to play Dungeon Siege, and having made my way through about half of the single-player campaign (at least, judging by my location on the nifty cloth map I got with it – damn, I love those things), I feel I have something on which to stand whilst I pointlessly bray my opinions.

The Good:

Graphics – Oh my. This game is pretty. Really, really pretty. It’s not trying to be ultra realistic, and has what I consider a beautiful style to it. The colors, the atmosphere… there isn’t a single thing about the graphics and artwork that I find disappointing.

Gameplay – This is what Diablo II really should have been. It has all the addictiveness of the Diablo series, with so much more of the graphics. The game as delivered isn’t so much the role-playing thing as it is the hack-n-slash thing. That’s fine… one of the best things about this game is the ability to create your own modules, known as Siegelets. The tools to build Siegelets are coming out, allegedly, in May. I think then we’ll see many many cool things happen.

Character Generation – I really do like the idea that you develop your character into either a fighter, mage or archer through how you play your character. That, to me, is a long awaited method for character advancement. Bravo.

Party AI – It’s nice to be able to just sit back and watch as your party takes on the hordes of baddies that come to beat on them. Especially nice is assigning healing spells to two mages and having them just sit back automatically healing your fighters as they beat back.

The Bad:

BSODs – This is the only game, the only application, for that matter, that gives my forums that is of help, though I suspect sound drivers (Creative is always a good fall-guy when application instability is concerned). Ironic, that this game was published by Microsoft.

Party AI – This is also in the bad section, b/c sometimes a member of your party will just up and run away after an baddie, thus attracting even MORE baddies, which is always *ahem* bad. Additionally, if a dragon knocks a party member out, you really cannot convince the healer to just let him lie… he’ll insist on healing the downed comrade, no matter that the dragon is still there… and nothing short of removing his ability to heal will stop this absurd behavior. Alas… game AI still has a ways to go.

Multiplayer Pause – When a new person joins an ongoing multiplayer game, everyone is forced to pause and wait for them to create the character, set their options and join up. What’s with that pause, anyway? Get it gone, I say!

The Would-Have-Been-Nice:

Map – I wish there were an in-game full-world map, or something considerably larger than the top-down "mega-map" that’s given. The "mega-map" is very cool, but I’d like to be able to scroll out MUCH farther to get a sense of things. If not a whole-world map, then the ability to scroll around the map unattached to the party would be nice.

Following – In multiplayer, I wish you could click (or something) on a comrade and just follow w/o having to pay attention. Maybe you can. I didn’t find it, though I only played multiplayer for an hour or so.

Thief-Class – There is no thief class! So many of the chests are trapped with explosives or darts… having a thief class to disarm them, or to sneak around being all ninja would be so truly excellent. Perhaps this can be addressed in a patch, or can be somewhat easily mod’ed.

Camera Control – I like how the camera is controlled, but I wish you could look up, or even horizontal. Right now, the camera is limited to between 90 degrees (looking straight down) and about 30 degrees (best guess). I’d love to be able to look up… the engine they’ve developed is so beautiful, I want to see more of it!

Scrolling through the Messages – Unless you leave the scroll speed real low, you don’t have much time to read the messages as they pop by… and leaving them up forever means you’re losing valuable screen real estate. A traditional drop down console (Quake) or a resizable message box (Baldur’s Gate) would have rocked.

Multiplayer Save – There is no saving the status of your game in multiplayer. ‘Nuff said.

Quickslots for Anything – Instead of four quickslots assigned as 1 for melee, 1 for ranged and 2 for spells… just let those quickslots be for anything at all. My Spell casters don’t need weapons, and could use more spell quickslots.

Conclusion

That about covers it… I didn’t get much sleep last night due to a sudden and inexplicable case of insomnia, so I’m likely missing something here. The "Good" section is noticeably smaller than the "Bad" and "Would have been Nice" sections… don’t let that fool you. Though smaller, those things I listed as good pack a mean punch, and easily make up for the less-than-good things (at least for me). All in all, this is a very good game, and well worth the wait… I’ve had a blast with it! Every now and again, I just pause the game and look at it in wonder… what a beautiful thing it is. :)

Ultima IX: Ascension Revisited

Actually… just kidding. It’s not here, it’s written up on Reckoning, one of my other sites. Find it all here. Just a teaser though…

Rorschach has his Black & White (and here), Section9 has his Blade of Darkness… well, now it’s my turn to return to an old favorite. However, where Black & White’s past may be, well… a bit more shady than black and white (oof), Blade’s a bit dull (Gawd, I’m real sorry) mine just never quite "ascended" above the beta phase (ouch… ok, I’m done now). I am, of course, talking about Ultima IX : Ascension.

Gaming, Meaty Fetus and RPG’s

As you may well know (but just in case you don’t) meatyfetus.com just points to dvicci.com. Nothing special about it. That may change however. I might split off all my gaming posts over to meatyfetus.com since "Meaty Fetus" is my online gaming persona… most times. I have others, but I’m using that more and more often now. Regardless, I think the domain name meatyfetus.com deserves more. Far more than what I’m giving it… I’m a reticent, even irresponsible parent and I need to do better.

Re: the RPG thing… I am SO looking forward to Neverwinter Nights and Dungeon Siege. If I buy no other games in the next 6 months, I will buy those two. I’m basically looking forward to them for the same reasons… kicking single-player story, the chance to really focus on and develop a single character, the chance to try my own hand at campaign/module creation, and to see what the gaming community comes up with after the games are released. There are already some projects underway that have great potential, including the Ultima V: Lazarus project using the DS engine, and the Dragonlance project using the NWN engine. I’m sure there are others out there, but those two are the only ones 5 minutes of searching came up with (that, and I’ve known about them for months now).

Also of note is Icewind Dale 2… I’ve only seen one news site mention it and some informal posts on the Planet Baldur’s Gate forums, but it seemed pretty solid (at least, enough other sites refer back to the report to make me consider it possibly true). However, that "solid" tidbit was quite a while ago, and with nothing since, I’m now doubting it’s validity. If it’s true, then I’d certainly fork out the cash for it… but if not, then there’s always DS and NWN.