Today I had a first look at the IB engine by playing (through?) the Lanterna module, and this is what I found:
Technical issues (related to personal preference, netbook gaming)
- Playing the game on my netbook with integrated graphics, I got an error message saying "Not able to use hardware vertex processing...using software instead" on (1) starting the engine, (2) starting a module, and (3) each time a combat was initiated. I acknowledged this message the first time when I started the engine, but it's kind of annoying to have it pop up all the time even during the game. (Not game-stopping, just a little annoying).
- As I already mentioned in that other thread, the game works fine on my netbook most of the time, but the character creation screen is too wide for its maximum resolution of 1024x600, so that I normally wouldn't have access to the skills and spells windows. In the meantime I've found out that I can move the whole character creation window by clicking and holding its top bar, so that issue is solved, not perfectly but it's serviceable for now. Anyway, if you say the IB engine was not made to be run on a netbook, that's a different matter, I guess I'd just have to live with it. But personally I think this is the kind of game that would be ideal to play on the road and on less powerful rigs like a netbook, where it doesn't have to compete with the likes of NWN, Witcher, Skyrim etc.
- During character creation the differences between the active and the inactive windows are minimal, so that it's not always clear which one is the active one at the moment. Intuitively I wanted to click inside the window where I meant to make changes, but it doesn't work this way, the player has to click on "Next Step" or "Back a Step" first and for that it's crucial that the current, active window is easy to distinguish from the inactive. I also noticed though that on leveling up later in the game, you can just click on the windows to make them active, just like the intuitive way I described above. There is no "Next Step" or "Back a Step" anymore. So why not scrap that altogether and make the character creation screen work just like the leveling up screen works?
- When my character is moving, its icon transforms into a stick figure icon with the numbers 0,1,2,3 displayed in the top right corner (sometimes mirror-inverted, depending on the direction). I assume these are placeholder graphics because the engine allows you to create walking animations for your main character? Can you turn off these walking animations or are they a requirement if you don't want the placeholder graphics to appear? Of course it's cool when you can customize that much, but considering that the NPCs or party members don't have walking animations either, are they really necessary for a game like IB that's essentially static in all other aspects and aimed at old scool audiences used to FRUA? Not that I mind them, I only mind the absence of them, when they're replaced with placeholder graphics, and I doubt every module designer would bother to provide animations for each and every selectable hero icon ...
- Inventory and Stat page don't seem to list the party's gold. I could only see it on the shop's page. Is that correct or did I miss something?
- Item lists in inventory and shop have clickable table headings, but clicking on them does nothing. It would be cool if you could sort items by name or value (like you can sort traits by name in the character creation menu).
- Is there a way to change the order in my party, apart from selecting a leader? I'd have liked to move the weaker party members to the back.
- On the combat screen, the blue and purple text is hard to read on a green background.
- There appears to be no way to cancel the level-up process, if you change your mind and decide to level up later. Even if you don't use your new skill points etc, you don't get a second chance to distribute them before reaching the next level once you've closed the level-up window. I'd have preferred a Cancel button.
- I couldn't use healing potions during battle. That's probably a deliberate design decision, but IMO a questionable one, especially since I could e.g. strip my dead comrades of their armor and don it myself, pick up and wield their weapons etc. without even losing a turn, but I can't quaff a healing potion to save my butt in a critical situation? Outside of battle I can just walk back home and rest, the battle screen is where I'd have the most use for potions.
- During combat you have to use both keyboard and mouse depending on the situation, you can't choose between the two. For example, you can only move with the keyboard, not the mouse, but when you shoot arrows, you can only aim with the mouse, not the keyboard. It's not necessarily a problem, but it strikes me as a little inconvenient, compared to games like FRUA, the GoldBox games, DC or Knights of the Chalice. I also noticed the only way to check the status of a particular opponent seems to be aiming an arrow at them. Unless I'm mistaken, you can't "target" opponents in melee to see how many hp they have, like you can in the similar games mentioned above.
- Can dead heroes be resurrected somehow (in general and in the current version of the Lanterna module)?
Bug or design decision?
- Power Attack and Cleave are pre-selected as traits for a fighter and I can't remove them; the engine tells me I can select one additional trait though. But then none of the available traits are accepted, and I get no message as to why I can't e.g. select Dodge as the third trait (in NWN Dex 13 would suffice as requirement). This seems to be either a bug or a lack of explanation for players unfamiliar with the games' rules.
- Dead party members can still have positive hp when they level up after dying. Not that it changes their "Dead" status during combat, but it's confusing. They also can have negative hp, although that doesn't make any difference to 0. Outside combat, there seems to be no indication about my party members' current state, e.g. that they're dead (except when they have negative hp). This can be confusing, too (see attached screenshot below). If all party members die in combat, nothing particular happens. There seems to be no Death screen. I could only press Run Away to end the combat and then I could still walk around or get into the same fight again, even though noone in your party was still able to fight (is this normal or a bug related to one of my dead companions still having hp above 0 despite being dead?).
- On trying to level up Miki and raising her Concentration skill, I got an error message, something about a parameter "index" being outside the allowed range, that it must not be negative or lower than the 'listing' (the message was in my system's language, German; just in case you understand, the original wording was: "Unbehandelter Fehler [...] Der Index lag außerhalb des Bereichs. Er muss nicht negativ und kleiner als die Auflistung sein. Parameter: index"). Same with Balen when I tried to raise his Concentration skill. It didn't cause a crash though, I could click "Ignore" and go on with the game. Raising Fledge's rogue skills worked without issues.
Lanterna - Design (spoilers!)
- Badger says he'll get his sword, I tell him to stick to his bow, but he brings neither. He joins the party without equipment, which makes him rather useless during the first fights since he's low on HP and good equipment is hard to come by. I didn't find any gold in the module, apart from the start-up capital of 40 gp that I had already spent on leather armor and a sword for my hero. And I found a bow only in one of the tougher kobold fights, when at least one member of my party was dead already.
- There's no transition beyond the bridge where I met the rider telling my hero of her brother - is this where the module ends in its current state?
- Why can't my party rest at the abandoned campsite where they found my brother's deck of cards?
The general gameplay and combat mechanics are quite solid already and I can imagine that this could be an engine that's fun to work or play with, especially if it's highly customizable.
My only gripes would be on the one hand the performance, at least on lower end rigs (combat animations and alternating between turn were rather slow on my netbook, playable but not that enjoyable, and windows opening and closing often came with some graphical lag or glitches, too), and on the other hand the rough look of the game, by which I don't mean the placeholder graphics but the GUI design. I'm not so fond of the windows style, and it doesn't look as clean and consistent yet as I like my favorite games to look. It's not so much an issue of graphics as of style, if you know what I mean. A game with very low resolution or very simplistic graphics can look cool, too, if the style's consistent and attractive, and I don't quite get that vibe from IB yet. But of course that's a rather subjective objection. I also don't know to what extent the look of all the GUI elements is modable.