Saturday, August 30, 2008

A minor distraction

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
- Robert Burns

I had all the good intentions of starting the gate model for the Watchtowers hak today, but I got distracted by a post on the Frontier Reborn forum about custom content daggers and I ended up making a Great Sword to add to my collection of weapon models. Don't ask me how a forum post about daggers turned into a new Great Sword. But that's what happened.

I hate the original NWN2 weapons, especially the swords. They are ugly. How ugly?.... Very ugly. So ugly they make my eyes bleed. When they fell from the ugly tree, they hit every branch on the way down, where they were set upon by Obsidian modellers who proceeded to beat them with ugly sticks. (probably the same ugly sticks that were used to "model" the NWN2 female heads)

The original NWN2 swords are an example of being frugal with polygons. They are also frugal with their textures. Which is another way of saying they look like they were built from Lego blocks and that they are ugly. (How ugly?....)

Now, I'm not suggesting that you have to have a high polygon model to make a sword look good. But the Obsidian guys could have put a little bit more effort into their weapons. I'm not a big fan of the high-fantasy style either, with their improbable designs and more spikes than an echidna. Looking at some fantasy weapons, it's hard to imagine wielding such a beast without maiming yourself before you get to the bad guys.

So anyway, here it is. 396 polygons, ready to lay some double-handed smack down onto what ever beasties you encounter on your NWN2 adventures.

I should be able to easily convert this model into a Bastard Sword and a Long Sword with a bit of careful scaling.

I'm probably going to add some detail to the texture on the blade too. Something like an etched pattern.

I'll collect all the odds and sods weapons I've modelled over the last twelve months and throw them into a hak at some stage.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

All along the watchtower Princes kept the view

Arise ye princes, and prepare the shield. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. - Book of Isaiah. Ch 21

Here is a look at the new Archer's Platform for the Rural Fort Walls. I'm planning for these to be included with v1.20 of the BTH Watchtowers hak for NWN2. The shot on the left shows the model as I intended it to be used. The shot on the right demonstrates the improved height postioning by utilising the walkmesh helper on a model that has been sunk into the ground. Used like this, on the right, I think it makes a great improvised defensive position.

I'm satisfied with the model, but there is still some work to do on the walkmesh helper. In order to create the shot on the left I had to convert the boulder placeables into Environment Objects to get the walkmesh to bake correctly. It could have had something to do with too many placeables in close proximity, but I'm going to experiement a little more to see if I can improve the walkmesh bake further.

And after that I'll start work on some gates to match the walls.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Talking Heads

After completing the second update for the
BTH Shield Pack I wasn't sure in which direction to take my modelling and so I volunteered to contribute some custom content work for a Middle Earth themed NWN2 Persistent World - Heroes of the Third Age (HotTA). I like the world that Tolkien put together and I'm a big fan of the LOTR books and the movies. One of the Heavy Shields in my shield pack uses the White Tree of Gondor as a design. I figured making LOTR based models would be fun. And it was for a while.

A couple of months into the project I found I had lost my custom content mojo. Instead of an interesting pass time it all became a bit of a chore. I stopped modelling during the week and only managed to drag myself to the workbench on weekends where I half-heartedly went through the motions of creating the architecture models for Rivendell. I'm sure this is a phase that most creative people go through at some time.

I continued to push through it when my attention was capture
d by a post on the HotTA forum where a player had requested trophy models like orc ears and human scalps as an aid to role play. Well, it brought to mind an idea I'd had about trophy heads and had never really followed through with. So I raced home from work with ideas pumping through my head and I set to making a proof of concept model that I could use to demonstrate the idea.

This was just the panacea my flagging model making mojo needed. I've always enjoyed working with the darker side of custom content. The BTH Swamp with its dank pools and the BTH Forest with its gritty ruins were my favourite NWN1 works. I recall writing at the time I was making ruined houses for the NWN1 PW I was involved with, that it was an interesting reflection on my personality that most of my best work had consisted of things that were broken and ruined. And so I relished the work I was doing with the severed trophy heads. I even made a nice little dripping blood visual effect to compliment the model.

It was a little unfortunate that the lead developers from HotTA didn't
share the enthusiasm that the severed heads had generated on the forums. They felt that the modelling efforts should be spent doing more appropriate things. But it was already too late from my point of view, my mojo was back and I would not throttle it back down.

My leaving the HoTA project was probably overdue. I should have read the signs of my flagging interest and spoken up earlier. Instead I had become one of those volunteers that every project loathes; the guy that promises and then doesn't follow through. There was more to it than that, of course (there always is). Ultimately, I told the HotTA team I would finalise one last model for them and then step down as a contributor. From the moment I announced my departure I became persona non grata as far as the lead developer was concerned. Another indicator that the decision to leave was the right one.

Anyway, I hope the HotTA project gets some use out of the new Watchtower models. Although they were not part of the HotTA scope of work, the new models and the textures were made with the idea that they could be used for the construction of the walls and defences for a rustic/rural setting like Edoras.

And what became of the severed heads? I added a couple more head models and released them onto NWVault. I have since experimented with blood splattered NPCs and bloody weapons. I think this guy would make an excellent NPC Butcher, or maybe a surgeon.

At some time in the future I will expand on the severed heads by adding the NPCs and a few other gruesome oddities.

BTH Severed Heads can be found on NWVault here :

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's no simple thing to climb a ladder

Twelve months ago I sent a note to Slimer of the Aussie NWN team asking if they needed a part-time developer for their custom content. The Aussie NWN team had plans for a NWN2 persistent world set in Britain around 300AD and it sounded like an interesting project to contribute to. Plus I had played on one of their NWN PWs a couple of years ago and so I knew the guys involved. I had only been modelling for a few months when I contacted Slimer, but I was confident enough to be able to make placeables and other non-animated models for them.

I started with some rustic houses. Many of the original Obsidian models in NWN2 are way too clean and the rural house models are a perfect example. The thatched roofs look like piles of hay and every wall and corner is perfectly square. It was a good opportunity to grunge things up a little and knock a few walls and door frames off square.

While I was playing Bob the dodgy Builder, I noticed that the rural watchtower model (that looked great) was mostly a useless pile of timber that you couldn't climb. Duh! Not much use to a module builder. NWN2 seemed to be devoid of towers and platforms that could be climbed and used to defend a rural town. I took up the challenge of making watchtowers and archers platforms that the players could climb.

And so started my love/hate relationship with the NWN2 walkmesh, for it's no simple thing to climb a ladder in NWN2.

The walkmesh is used to stitch the geometry of a model into the terrain of the surrounding area and it defines where players can and cannot walk. For most placeable models this is easy enough; you have a wall and you don't want players to be able to walk through it. If you add a walkable gradient to a model (such as stairs) the points where the model intersects the terrain usually stitch adequately, but only as long as the terrain and the stairs terminate at the same level. If the stairs are sunk into the terrain the walkmesh creates a dip that makes the ground in front of the stairs unwalkable.

I settled on a walkmesh that worked well with the base of the stairs level with the ground and so in October 2007 I released my very first placeable hak with watchtowers and rural fort wall models on the NWVault site. I have been a little surprised at its lack of popularity and in ten months it has only tallied 280 downloads. In any case, I recently found myself in between projects and I decided to take the opportunity to revisit my watchtower hak.

I never liked the texture that Obsidian used for the fort walls. For a start, the models cannot be tinted. The texture also makes the upright posts in the fort walls look like mutant asparagus cross-bred with giant bamboo. It was time for the BTH texture treatment to add a more weathered look for the timber and an opportunity to include a tint map. The new texture is on the left, original texture on the right.

I also wanted to build an archers platform that was integrated with the style of the fort walls. I am quite pleased with this one, it turned out nicely.

The walkmesh for this model also has the same ground level restrictions as my previous towers. I can't claim to have mastered the NWN2 walkmesh just yet. Nonetheless, it was pleasing to look back on some of my early work and reflect on how much I have improved my workflow over the last 12 months and become more efficient.

I did have an idea on how I can improve the walkmesh for these watchtowers with a walkmesh helper model, but I was having difficulty getting it to work and so it was cut from the v1.10 release of the BTH Watchtowers. I have since read a tip from Sporaxis about converting placeables to environment objects and adding a walkmesh helper over the top. With this in mind, I have created walkmesh helpers specifically for the watchtowers. This has worked really well and I'm currently working on the v1.20 update to the Watchtowers to include the walkmesh helpers, an additional archer's platform and a gate with double doors.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's a dangerous business stepping out your door

It's a dangerous business stepping out your door, if you don't keep your feet there's no knowing where you might be swept off to. - Bilbo Baggins

One of the things I have spent a lot of time on in recent years is the game Neverwinter Nights, based on the pen and paper role playing game of Dungeons & Dragons. While I was initially attracted to Neverwinter Nights as a fantasy RPG with strong ties to D&D, it would be the game's world building toolset and the community of other NWN players that would sweep me along on an unexpected journey and capture my attention for a long time.

I have no doubt that the NWN player community has been largely responsible for the longevity of the game. Six years after the release of NWN, the game continues to have a strong following. I first bought the game in 2003 and was lured to the toolset before I had come close to completing the single player game.

My early experimentation with the toolset had me writing some simple "go fetch" quests. One of the quests was to recover an item from the village thief. Every actor in an adventure needs a name, even a petty criminal. So, inspired by such names as Jimmy the Hand (Raymond E Feist) and Mack the Knife, I created Barry the Hatchet. The name made me laugh and I eventually adopted it as my online identity for all things Neverwinter.

I soon learned that writing exciting adventures was not one of my talents. But I did have an affinity for the scripting language that drives the NWN game.
I also spent a lot of time playing on persistent worlds. Mystara- Black Horizons was an early favourite. The server is still active today. I also played on Chronicles of Torn (made by the Aussie NWN team). I had some great times on these servers and met some people I still hang out with online today.

So it's almost two years since the release of Neverwinter Nights 2 and at the moment I'm getting my kicks by making 3D custom models for NWN2. It's been a long journey from where I started in 2003 with the creation of Barry the Hatchet (petty thief and scoundrel) to building 3D models for NWN2. The fun part is that there is always more to learn.