Under sun and sky, outlander

by Cory

I’ve taken some time out of the project I was working on —an earnest attempt at a custom Team Fortress 2 map— to work on what you see to the right.

It may look familiar to anyone who enjoyed Morrowind; these are the masks worn by the Ordinators of the city of Vivec, though obviously reimagined for the higher-res game art of today. This is actually something I started way back with my original Oblivion mod-work, but I never went beyond a basic high-poly model. I decided to revisit it to help remedy two weaknesses in my portfolio: a lack of human faces (important for a character artist) and a lack of Zbrush work. Because I already had the base established, I figured I could take this to completion fairly quickly. I wasn’t intending to take it to in-game implementation, but once I had done the full texture job, it was a matter of hey, why not?

Here are some further in-game shots: 1 2 3 4. The plume needs some work — it looks fine in 3dsMax, but there are some transparency issues in Oblivion itself. Also, you may notice in the profile shots, he is lacking ears! I’ve yet to fully explore how best to address this.

That said… here’s some stuff!

● I noticed shortly ago that Gamers With Jobs finally got their new site design up. I mention it, because the design was done by none other than my friend Eric Carl, web designer extraordinnaire! It’s a huge upgrade for them, much more professional than their old design, which I felt didn’t do justice to the thoughtfulness of their content. I mean, let’s face it, people absolutely do judge websites by their cover —er, design. I admit that I do.

● I finally got around to checking out Black Isle’s leaked VanBuren alpha, ONCE KNOWN AS FALLOUT THREE. There’s not, unfortunately, a lot to comment on. It’s very true to the first two Fallouts, and I will admit feeling a pang of bittersweet nostalgia that Fallout will not be revisiting the isometric turn-based style any time soon. However, one can’t help but wonder what might have happened, had this game seen release? I suspect it would have been another obscure and underappreciated gem, a fine game —possibly a great game— but only a modest market success, and likely not enough to, at the time, save Interplay, or ensure the Fallout franchise a bright future.

In any case, I note with some irony that Black Isle’s Fallout 3 was to start the player off as a prisoner… which happens to be the same way that every main entry in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series has begun.

LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB

Tom Chick interviews Brian Reynolds of Big Huge Games. It’s mostly a look back at Rise of Legends, but also strays into more general questions. I’m really looking forward to what these guys do for their next games.

Over at 1Up, the question of just how personal game-playing can be is mulled over. Games as wish fulfillment, games as a mirror. I wish they’d try to distill it a little more, and deliver a firmer judgement on what exactly inspires personal involvement though.

RPS interviews Rod Humble, of EA Maxis. Humble is an interesting figure, both a part of EA, crusher of foes, vanquisher of dreams (I kid, I kid), and a producer of small art games. The interview mainly centers around Humble giggling at the various cruelties one can enact upon Sims.

Richard Bartle, co-author of the first MUD, has some harsh words for the anti-videogame figures of today.

● I’ll end with something I’ve dabbled in the past couple weeks: two MMOs — the free trials for Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest 2. Apropos of nothing in particular, I asked a friend who had never played an MMO before if she’d like to try LotRO out with me. She agreed, fortunately, because these games are always more fun with friends. We set aside a night to jump in together and check it out, but when the time came, Turbine’s account services were down, and she was unable to start the trial (I had accidentally started it the night before). That put a bit of a damper on our appetite for the game. We played the next night though and had a pretty good time, though not good enough to entice either of us back in. Though we had seven days, it was the only night either of us spent much time playing.

I played Everquest 2 alone, and was actually very pleasantly surprised. I suppose in the 3+ years since release, they’ve had time to fully adapt to the post-WoW MMO landscape. The trial allowed me to play in three different starting areas, depending on the race I chose: a Newbie Island (coming in either good or evil flavors, but essentially the same), a goodly Fairy Forest, and an evil Dark Elf Forest. The latter two are recent additions to the game, part of the second-to-last expansion, and they’re of a very impressive quality. Quests are plentiful, levelling is quick, and there are enough neat things to find that exploration feels like a worthwhile use of your time. I’ve come across a number of unique, named enemies for instance, which tend to offer nice rewards. There are nice little collection quests, which generally involve you picking up randomly spawning items off the ground — collect five types of feathers and you can trade them in for an item and experience.

You’re disallowed from going past level 10 in the EQ2 trial or exploring the larger world, so once I had seen what there was to be seen, I went ahead and uninstalled. I’ll probably check the game out again some time, and at the very least, solo a character to the end game. As for LotRO, I don’t know. It’s undeniably a solid, highly-polished game, but perhaps the understated, low-fantasy world of Middle-Earth is ill-suited to the game style of World of Warcraft and Everquest, which exalt in their goofy, anything-goes fantasy settings. Because these games are made for running around, gobbling up quests, and then moving on, the game world needs to be something of a giant carnival or amusement park, and from what I saw, Turbine wasn’t willing to turn Middle-Earth into such. If you’re one whose love of Middle-Earth extends so deep that you’ll be able to appreciate the subtle differences between one agrarian Breeland hamlet and another, you just might find LotRO to be the finest MMO available today. Otherwise, for an ignorant savage such as I, I suppose the game failed to communicate to me how it was superior or even notably different from WoW.