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  Quick Links for 2007-11-28  
Posted 2007-11-28 by Tony Walsh
  Shakespearean Virtual World To Be… Or Not?  
Posted 2007-10-04 by Tony Walsh
Top virtual-worldist Edward Castronova reportedly scored $240k USD in funding last year to develop Arden, an MMO based on the works of William Shakespeare. This week, Castronova announced that the money's been spent, and the project will drift into limbo. Apparently, the Multiverse MMO engine was tried initially, but Castronova's team settled for the Neverwinter Nights engine instead. That's one very costly experiment for what amounts to a Shakespeare-themed, minimally-multi-player Dungeons and Dragons game, built with a mature tool-set requiring no custom assets or fancy scripting (although both definitely go a long way towards a robust Neverwinter world).

Continue reading: Shakespearean Virtual World To Be… Or Not?
  ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ Tabletop Goes Digital  
Posted 2007-08-21 by Tony Walsh
I first started playing the legendary tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons around 1980 with my grade-school friends, so it's with a veteran's eye I've watched the game morph over the years and through its various editions. Although I haven't been following D&D closely, my understanding is that the game has been "dumbed down" in recent years in order to lower the barrier to participation. In the last year or so, it seems to have returned to its roots as little more than a miniatures-based battle game.

Earlier this month the 4th Edition of D&D was announced, including D&D Insider, an internet-based platform for the game allowing players to connect remotely. Today, technology developer Vivox (about which I've previously written) announced it will be bringing voice communication to D&D Insider. So much for the venerable tabletop.

Maybe I'm wallowing in nostalgia, but the best role-playing game experiences usually involve face-to-face participation. I ran a 3 year-long D&D campaign using Neverwinter Nights a few years ago, and while the digital environment is great for bringing people together from all parts of the world, it lacks the visceral quality that tabletop and live-action gaming is drenched in. Scenes painted by the human imagination trump the best computer graphics any day of the week.
  Artists Wanted at Ensemble Studios  
Posted 2007-01-18 by Tony Walsh
Artists Wanted at Ensemble Studios
Marc's fluid sketches leap off the page if you stare hard enough.
Marc Holmes of Ensemble Studios (Age of Empires) let me know that they're looking for artists with 3 - 5 years of games experience and a top-notch portfolio to work on a to-be-announced secret project. The following positions are open:

  • 2D concept artist, environment focused
  • 2D concept artists, character focused
  • Experienced visual effects artist
  • 3D game environment modeler
    Having met Marc through his earlier gig at Bioware (Neverwinter Nights), I can personally vouch for his scintillating personality, art-fu (the Crane variety, I'd say), and his all-around savvy. If you've got what it takes to work with his team at Ensemble, drop him a line via marctaro at hotmail dot com.
  2006 Machinima Festival Calls for Entries  
Posted 2006-07-17 by Tony Walsh
Calling all machinimists: The Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences (AMAS) has announced that the 2006 Machinima Festival and the 2006 Machinima Awards will take place on November 4 and 5, 2006. According to AMAS, the two-day event "will include screenings of Machinima films, Q&A with machinimators, special presentations, and seminars about Machinima production techniques...The hosting venue, the Museum of the Moving Image (, will provide an excellent location once again, with its diverse collection and exhibitions of motion picture, television, and digital arts." AMAS will begin accepting Machinima Awards entries beginning July 24, 2006--for more details, check the official site.

I'm personally rooting for BloodSpell, a feature-length machinima project made in 3 years using BioWare's Aurora Toolset (used for the game Neverwinter Nights). The film is alleged to be the longest piece of machinima ever made. Like most movies in its genre, it squeezes the most out of a limited palette, and is a fine example of overcoming technology constraints (in this case an aging game engine) creatively.
  ‘Neverwinter Nights’ Is Dead, Long Live NWN2  
Posted 2006-05-29 by Tony Walsh
It seems like only last month I was marvelling at how 2002's online RPG Neverwinter Nights was still being officially supported through incremental upgrades and content additions. Sadly, this support was cut on May 5, according to Steel Wind, project coordinator for DLAdventures, a sanctioned third-party content developer. While there doesn't seem to be an official announcement yet, it appears that Atari, the publisher of Neverwinter Nights is cancelling all future content (official and sanctioned third-party) and software upgrades for the game.

Steel Wind alleges Atari wanted to prevent DLAdventures' upcoming content release interfering with the launch of Neverwinter Nights 2. While the cancellation is perfectly understandable from a publisher perspective, the move has hurt a thriving community of third-party developers, some of whom are arguably responsible for the longevity of the original Neverwinter Nights, which is still available in stores. While Neverwinter Nights had to die some time, it's a shame it went out like this.
  BioWare Continues to Expand ‘Neverwinter Nights’  
Posted 2006-04-29 by Tony Walsh
BioWare Continues to Expand ‘Neverwinter Nights’
Given that BioWare's Neverwinter Nights was originally published in 2002, it's surprising the company is still producing significant new content for the multiplayer fantasy game. While it's not uncommon for fans to continue playing a game years after its introduction, it's rare for a company to continue to support its fans past a year or two. Neverwinter Nights has ample replay value, due to its facilitation of user-created scenarios, adventures, and even persistent worlds.

The latest patch for the game introduces 2 new tilesets, 13 new creatures, and 79 new placeable objects that can used by amateur game designers. Incidentally, the new content is pirate-themed, bolstering the pirates-are-the-new-black meme.
  D&D Game Makes J-School Debut  
Posted 2006-02-24 by Tony Walsh
Dated role-playing game Neverwinter Nights (2002), which is based on the official Dungeons & Dragons rules, has been modified for use as a training game for journalism students. UMNnews reports that University of Minnesota professors Nora Paul and Kathleen Hansen joined forces to rebuild Neverwinter's content from the ground up, converting the game's sword-and-sorcery content into a simulation of modern-day America.

"In the modified game, the student plays the role of a rookie reporter at the Harperville Gazette," writes Ami Berger of UMNnews. "A train has derailed in town and spilled its load of anhydrous ammonia, and the rookie reporter is assigned to write a context piece to help Gazette readers understand the implications of the accident." Players must practice journalistic skills in the modified game, from finding a good angle for the story, to interviewing characters, to in-game research in a virtual library. Once a story is filed, students' notes collected in the game are printed out, and they write a 1,000-word news story for their professor.

This ingenious and productive use of Neverwinter Nights wouldn't be possible without the toolset included in the game that gives content creators access to in-game content, a powerful scripting language, and the ability to add outside content through "hak paks." Despite the interesting method of education here, I can't imagine how it could be more effective than actually going out and reporting on a topical story.
  BioWare Recruiting Via ‘Neverwinter’ Contest  
Posted 2005-12-01 by Tony Walsh
Feted Canadian game developer BioWare has once again turned to the vibrant community surrounding its Neverwinter Nights (NWN) game for talent. The company is holding a contest in order to find an interactive writer. Contestants are tasked with building a module using the Aurora Toolset (included with NWN), wherein they are to highlight their storytelling and dialog-writing skills. This is a much better system than the one I went through a few years ago with BioWare--my application for a writer position involved writing a timed dialog test at home, and then again on-site at BioWare's Edmonton offices. BioWare often turns to its gamer community for hiring choices. Last month I had a chance meeting with one of their recent hires at a Toronto movie theatre--he'd attracted the interest of BioWare through his work with a team modifying NWN in the style of the Dragonlance franchise.
  ‘The Movies’ and Intellectual Property  
Posted 2005-11-14 by Tony Walsh
Lionhead Studios has finally launched its awaited movie-making game The Movies, giving users the ability not just to play the game, but make their own digital films. With the launch of the game comes an official gallery of user-created films, where the best flicks become top picks. Judging by some of the top-rated user-submitted films, it seems The Movies is a promising tool for creating machinima (movies made in a game environment), but I wonder who owns the product of user creation. I don't have a copy of The Movies, so I can't review its terms of use or end-user license agreement, but I was able to find a Terms of Use document pertaining to the Lionhead web site that spells out ownership issues for user-submitted films.

The good news is that Lionhead recognizes that users might create original material with or insert original material into The Movies--this is referred to as "Additional Content." The bad news is that, by submitting your movie to the Lionhead web site, you grant Lionhead a non-exclusive but otherwise unlimited license to your Additional Content. The license, in short, permits Lionhead to exploit, sell, rent and even sub-license your Additional Content. This is, in my opinion, an excessive and greedy arrangement--far more than what would be necessary for Lionhead to display your movie on its web site. If the license agreement for the game itself is as grabby, using The Movies as a machinima tool would be pointless for any creator wishing exclusive ownership over their original content.

Continue reading: ‘The Movies’ and Intellectual Property
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