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Topic: Golden Dragon Interview: Lance Botelle  (Read 4460 times)
« on: August 01, 2008, 09:24:26 PM »
BenWH Offline
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Gold-tinted Silver Dragon
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Today we have an interview with Lance Botelle, who won the coveted Debut Author Golden Dragon Award for Neverwinter Nights. He tells us a bit about the inspiration for Soul Shaker and some of its nusual mechanics.

What made you start building modules for NWN?

I have been writing scenarios for The Althéa Campaign since the early pen and paper (PnP) days of D&D (1981). Around 2000, I developed health problems and found that I was unable to give gaming sessions the concentration I needed as a DM. When NWN came along in 2002, I found I was able to build scenarios\modules for my campaign whenever I had the time and concentration. Then, on a gaming night, I could allow the NWN engine to do the number crunching for me, allowing me to use my concentration on story elements instead. The only problem I had at the time was developing the combat system to work truly turn-based (i.e. No real time element at all.) and to use the spell system currently being used in my PnP game, as this is what my group of players wanted. Unfortunately, none of these modules worked in the standard way because of the differences mentioned and neither could they be played without a DM who knew the system. For this reason, they were never released.

What made you start building “regular” (real time) modules for NWN?

I recognised that some of my regular players needed to prioritise other events in their lives and that they would eventually not be able to continue playing in the campaign. This came to light as I was building Soul Shaker, which, at the time, was also being designed to play with an adapted version of my turn-based system. However, as I had already placed much time into developing Soul Shaker, I did not want it to be played by only one or two people and so decided to rework it to appeal to a larger audience. To do this, I made the game both playable in either the adapted turn-based system or “regular” real-time. As it happens, while the turn-based system is still coded, the group I now play with only plays the game real-time.

Can you tell us a little more about the inspiration for your module?

From a story objective, this scenario was always going to happen from the moment I conceived the campaign story. If you were to check the “Story” section on my website , you will see that the players have had connections to finding “Terrell The Red” (the objective of Soul Shaker), ever since the early days of PnP D&D. However, it was “System Shock” and “System Shock 2” that gave me inspiration for the mechanics of the alien demi-plane I use in Soul Shaker. System Shock 2, in particular, had very enjoyable mechanics (in my opinion), and it was also a great story that inspired me to set the final search for Terrell on a demi-plane where I could also play around with the mechanics for the adventure along the lines of those I had seen in this great game. If you ever get the chance to play System Shock 2, you will see many comparisons: From the security cameras that inspired my Watchers, to the ship’s general layout (including the elevator) that helped inspire the design of the main citadel in Soul Shaker. I even used its initials “SS” to be the inspiration for naming “Soul Shaker”. Basically, I took the sci-fi angle from System Shock 2 and translated it into a “spiritual realm” for my own requirements in Soul Shaker.

If you could, would you have done anything differently?

Yes, there are a number of differences I can think of now. Here are a few:

1)   I would not have bothered writing the underlying turn-based system at all, as the majority of the players who wanted it are no longer playing. This would have allowed me to redesign quite a few other elements of the module, including additional spell types. It would have also saved me about 8 months of work.

2)   I would also redesign the damage system for the weapons. It is not quite as flexible as I would have liked in hindsight, but it does work.

3)   I would also like to have spent more time balancing the amount of items you can find. One of the great things I remember about System Shock 2 was that I was always struggling for ammunition. I don’t think it’s as much of a struggle in Soul Shaker. (Although some may think that a good thing.)

4)   I would also have liked to add more class-related puzzles, where different classes had to overcome problems in different ways according to their own class abilities.

5)   I would not use as many Campaign Variables to store data as I did this time. I originally chose to design Soul Shaker using Campaign Variables as a means to prevent a player from having to start again if I updated the module. However, about half way through its design, I discovered the “Empty Hak Patch” idea, and found that was a much more efficient way of handling updates without the player having to start again. Unfortunately, as I had started deigning the module with Campaign Variables in mind, I chose to follow the design plan through to the end.


What's the 'best bit' of your module for you?

Obviously, I like the story itself and the pleasure of finally having it released.  Taking those as read, there are other “best bits” that I still think of fondly:

I am pleased that the module is able to accommodate many different PC types across many levels and yet keep the challenge for them all nearly the same. This has helped me to achieve my goal of being able to release the module to a larger audience. The unique setting for the module (on a demi-plane) allowed me to do this and is not something I believe I would easily be able to do again, unless, of course, there was cause to visit another such demi-plane.

I enjoy the fact that it is very different in style and design from any other module I have seen or played, although I admit I have not played many modules. I wanted to design a module where a player would suddenly feel their world (as they knew it) fall apart and place them in a situation that required thought and intelligence by the player to survive. I hope I achieved this, as no-one can play Soul Shaker and survive without giving the game a lot of attention. Related to this, are all the different mechanics of the module, which I enjoyed as a whole. They help make the difference I am talking about.

What did you think when you first heard about the Golden Dragon Awards?

I first heard about the Golden Dragon Awards a while ago, and always considered them to be awards that other people would win and never me. While I enjoyed writing and designing Soul Shaker, I did not think I would ever be blessed enough to be considered for an award that, to me, is like an Oscar for the world of NWN/D&D.

This time around, when I first heard that I had been nominated, I was momentarily stunned before being absolutely thrilled. I wondered how my work had been noticed by such an esteemed group of people among the many thousands of other works out there. It was humbling and very satisfying at the same time. When I heard that I had won, I found that I was extremely grateful for the time and effort that the AME group had put into looking at my module (among many others) and for highlighting my work before the rest of the community by the way of a Golden Dragon Award.

Have you ever tried the other finalists in your category?

No, I have not had the time to date. Having said that, I would like to try to make some time to take a look at them. As my life is going through some changes at the moment, I may well find I have more time on my hands in the future. Then, health permitting, I may be able to take a closer look at some of the many good works out there, including the other finalists.

What are you up to currently?

Between looking after two young and very enthusiastic pet bunnies, I am trying to do more work on my Althéa Campaign. I have learned a lot from working with NWN1 and am taking my experiences to NWN2, where my campaign starts in a new era shortly after the Soul Shaker adventure. Soul Shaker marked the end of a chapter in both the story and a way of playing D&D for me. I enjoyed being able to write for a larger audience and as NWN2 allows for companion control (which was something I had had to write for my earlier turn-based system and will no longer have to accommodate), I can now continue to write adventures in NWN2 in a more “regular” format. Of course, by regular I mean that any player will be able to pick up the module and play it without a DM if they want to. However, there are many aspects that I enjoyed in Soul Shaker that I would like to bring along, including such things as “Combination Chests”, “Spirit Doors” and also a means of being able to add many other unusual mechanic elements over and above the normal ones that players already expect. (I introduce something I call the “Life Essence” that plays a big part in this and you can read more as I develop the campaign in my blog. In this way, players will be able to pick up the module and play it almost straight away, but will soon learn as they do that there is much more to be had and to do as they explore Althéa in its new era (if they want to).

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Yes. I would like to thank everybody who helped encourage me to get Soul Shaker finished and to a standard that is as high as I could at the time. In particular, my lead testers who spent a lot of their own time giving me feedback on areas I would not have dreamed of checking: Michael Merritt (Mike9215), Rich Barker (Phantasma) & Jean-François (Herrjeff). There are also others whose work made the game unique by their input, including scriptwriters (Krebbs and Kinarr Greycloak), musicians (Gary Webster), artists (Quillmaster) and voice actors, one of whom was my wife, Jennifer, who also supported me through the many years of work. Finally, I would also like to thank yourselves for highlighting my work with your award. It really is an honour … and does very much feel like an Oscar. (Waves the Golden Dragon Award high in the air, waves, and leaves the stage.)

Thanks Lance, and good luck with the new venture!
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B G P Hughes
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