Our series, Neverending Nights, is a machinima using the Neverwinter Nights Game Engine.
Q. What is this thing called ‘machinima’?
A. It’s been pronounced a million ways – well not a million, but a few – I have always pronounced it – “Ma-Shin-Uh-Muh”. In it’s most basic terms – Machinima is essentially controlling a pre-existing 3D environment and manipulating it to your own needs. The most common example is – essentially capturing footage within a game by controlling the characters and making them do what you need to do.
Q. What the heck is Neverending Nights? Do I have to know the game Neverwinter Nights?
A. No, there is no requirement to be familiar with Neverwinter Nights. Our show, Neverending Nights, merely uses the NWN game engine to tell a unique story that I created. (It’s like asking, “Do I have to be familiar with this specific type of tree that makes the paper that this book is printed on?”)
So, even if you have never played NWN, you can still (hopefully) enjoy the story that was created with Neverending Nights. Admittedly, it’s full of references to various movies, games, books and television shows – but knowing those references are not required. They’re there to pay tribute to the things that inspired me in life – and my way of saying, “Thank you!” So if you happen to catch the references, “Bonus!” – but if you don’t, none of the stories ever rely getting some of the references and jokes!
Q. Your next question is probably something like, “Well why would anyone do that? I don’t get it?”
A. Another valid question. The why of Machinima. The easiest way to explain why most people do it… money. No. No. Not to make money. But because you can control the characters within a game and already have this wonderful 3D rendered world to use as a filming location. There’s no cost of props for the characters, since you’re using things already existing within the game. In short, it’s a nice, cheap way to make a quick, and usually easy, fun movie or skit.
Q. Since you mentioned money, do you make any money?
A. None at all, really. So before you ask why I do it – we do it for fun. Filming silly things is something I have always enjoyed doing. Using Machinima as a medium to do this, allows me to easily film in different sets, character props, etc – all done within the game. Of course, I’m limited to what the game engine can do, but knowing the game very well – I knew what I could and couldn’t do. For example, I use Bioware‘s game, Neverwinter Nights for this particular project. One of the limits within the game, as an example, is that the characters can not jump. So, when doing the writing, I made sure there was nothing in there that would force the character to jump.
I will say, however, that I do however take donations that help pay for the website’s bandwidth (for hosting and downloading the videos). If you’d like to donate, it’s as simple as using Paypal to Sponsor the site.
Some history about Neverending Nights…
It all began October or November of 2004…
Neverending Nights began with Adam and I when we worked together at the same company. We were sitting in at a safety meeting and had just recently been introduced to Red vs Blue by our co-worker, Serge. Adam and I had got to thinking that we could do something like this. We weren’t sure how – since we had never done anything like it before – but we were fairly confident that we were both techy enough to figure it out.
We hammered around some ideas after watching a couple episodes of RvB and decided we wanted to stay away from using Halo (from the folks at Bungie), because that’s what RvB had used – and that’s what the explosion of machinima seemed to be centered on – using Halo.
Then it happened. We were both playing (along with Paul, and Chad) Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights. And I had already been messing with the toolset with the grand scheme of making my own world and quests and I’d have the server up 24/7 and it’d be hugely successful! Well. That didn’t happen. Coding was much more of a pain that I cared for it to be. But how perfect was NWN? The toolset allowed you to customize cities, forests, mountains, oceans, characters, weapons, armor – everything! You could even control the environment!
In short, we had the perfect set up for a “movie studio” with the use of Neverwinter Nights!
The only other machinima using NWN at the time was Consanguinity – they based their machinima on Joss Whedon’s BUFFY/ANGEL series and used an assortment of incredible mods for the game that allowed their buildings to look more modern – as well as having cars! However, unlike Consanguinity – we wanted to have voices in our machinima (they did the whole subtitles rather than actual audio).
So Adam and I began scribbling notes as to how Neverending Nights would be during that safety meeting at work. We wanted to pre-plan the episodes so we knew what our end goal was.
We managed to jot down about five episodes worth of notes, with side notes scribbled all around about other ideas that we had no idea how we would tie into the series. So with five episodes worth of notes jotted down – we thought we’d start filming and see how it would work.
We ran into our first problem, rather instantly. NWN didn’t have a way to zoom in all the way to the first person perspective – which meant, having a “Camera Man” was impossible. So we tried a few things with DMJumping and possessing other types of NPCs (Non Player Characters/Monsters) to see what we could get to work. We did everything from fairies to chickens. And the chicken provided the best result. So we did some testing with what we called “The Chicken Cam” – and while it was all right – you could still see the chicken ever so slightly. So we debated cropping the bottom, so that the chicken would then be out of the camera.
But that led to the next problem. Height. The camera was constantly stuck in a low position if we did “The Chicken Cam.”
Working around “the Chicken Cam” – we opted with just DMJumping the character we were filming – and zooming out, instead of in – so the camera was always focused on this character.
So we began filming Episode 01. The first episode was filmed using a Video Capture Card. If you have gone to our video page and watched the first episode – you can see it’s pretty rough. The video size itself is pretty small. The quality is down right horrible. The inside of the tavern looks pretty bleak. The writing, the acting, the sound and video quality are all pretty bad.
Not satisfied with the idea of “The Chicken Cam” (as much fun as it was to call it that), and disliking being limited to always just zooming out of the main character, I turned to the extremely help Neverwinter Nights Community on the Bioware forum and asked about trying to at least mimic first person mode or make a character invisible. Sure enough, Netriak gave us the answer we needed!
Filming Episode 02, we moved away from the video capture card as well as moving away from trying to make it appear in “wide screen” format. We moved to using Fraps for the video capture which improved the quality, considerably. We were still using cheap $9.99 mics that we picked up at some random computer store for the audio. But I was now using Goldwave for the audio editing.
By episode five, we had moved to – get this – my karaoke machine for the audio. It actually sounded much better, running my karaoke machine through my computer to record the audio.
To my surprise, PC GAMER UK had contacted me on our website and asked if they could put the first five episodes on one of their DVDs that ships with their magazine. I was skeptical at first that it was even legit – but what did I have to lose? Adam and I threw together a quick intro episode, made specially for PC GAMER UK and sent it on the way. Sure enough, it turned out to be quite legit – and NeN appeared on the Jan 2005 Cover Disc – as well as having a small writing up about the series within the magazine itself! It was incredible to see our material in print! (You can view the NeN PC Gamer UK Thread on their website).
Absolutely floored that PC GAMER UK had even heard of us (though I was, admittedly, promoting us pretty hard around the web) – I figured I’d try to kick it one level higher. It was time to get a hold of BIOWARE and say, “Hey! Look at what we’re doing!”
Grabbing a few email address I found for folks who worked at Bioware, I let them know about us and that we had been picked in PC GAMER UK in Jan 2005. Much to my surprise, I was contacted by Jay Watamaniuk, who was one of the Community Leaders of Bioware. Jay mentioned being interested in finding out more about NeN – and I answered all every question tossed my way. Eventually we landed an interview with Jay in March of 2005, which appeared on the Bioware forum, including some pictures sent to Bioware, as well as the infamous “map” of the series.
That was an absolutely amazing thing to happen! We were floored by the kindness and willingness to show support for what the Bioware fans and community were doing with their games! Not just Bioware staff – but the entire community!
We knew at this point, that we really had to sit down and write out the other episodes and plan things out – so we got together and brain stormed the rest of the season which we planned to be 21 episode.
Around Episode 10 or so, Adam built a home made studio within his garage and we purchased a pair of rather expensive SHURE mics, as well as an audio/digital converter that helped with the audio. Episode 10 is where we had really found our groove.
In August of 2005, Jay Watamaniuk interviewed Hugh Hancock who worked on Machinima.com, as well as his own company called Strange Company which was working on an epic sized NWN Machinima Movie entitled Bloodspell. We were quite surprised when Jay asked Hugh what he had thought of our machinima during the interview! We had both assumed they had interviewed us and forgotten us! Not so! That was quite flattering! And Hugh had some nice comments about us!
Surprisingly, Neverending Nights was also nominated for the 2005 Machinima Film Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image. Realizing this was a once in a life time chance, both Adam and myself flew ourselves to New York City to be there. We got to meet a number of our peers, and other Machinima folks, including the folks who make FRAPS, the folks who run Machinima.com, the folks of RedvsBlue, Purple Hearts/Silver Stars, and many, many more! It was such an incredible time and such a fun experience to be a part of! While NeN, in the end, did not win for Best New Comedy or anything – it was still something I will cherish forever!
In April of 2006, Maverick Shane, the Community Manager of the soon to be release Neverwinter Nights 2, by the folks at Obsidian Entertainment got a hold of me and inquired if Adam and I would be interested in creating a NWN2 based machinima to promote the release of NWN2. To say that we were floored to be officially contacted by the folks of Obsidian Entertainment and Atari would have been a severe understatement. Naturally, we agreed in a heartbeat.
Shane informed me that some of the corporate big wigs and creative folks from ATARI would like to meet Adam and I in person – at E3. So under ATARI’s badge, Adam and I were invited to E3. With our badges, we gained “backstage” access to ATARI’s booth area – which had this incredible tropical theme, with free food, drinks, the works. Meeting the ATARI folks was quite an experience. We shared some ideas that we had wanted to do with the NWN2 Machinima, and they seemed pretty impressed by what we had to offer.
After some discussion, Adam and I went to the offices of Obsidian Entertainment to see NWN2 in development – by the programers themselves! They let Adam and I tinker around with the NWN2 toolset to see how it worked and showed us the amazing things that it could do that the original toolset in NWN1 could not. The landscapes were breath taking. You could resize any object to make it impossibly small to giant sized! The possibilities were rather endless! We were sent home with BETA copies of NWN2 to begin using and piecing together Machinima ideas. In October of 2006 the new series, Neverending Daze was released. It proved to be quite an experience working with the BETA copies of the game. While we would try to do certain things, or build things, we were naturally stumbling across bugs within the game. But it was incredible working directly with Obsidian because as soon as we found something – they were fixing it and sending us a new patched version of the BETA disc! To say Obsidian Entertainment was fun to work with during this whole process would not be doing them justice! There is a handful of them that I couldn’t even begin to thank enough! Neverending Daze, which featured brand new characters with a difference from Neverending Nights – NeN, each episode tied into the next to make an ongoing story. With NeD we wanted each episode to stand on it’s own – yet feature the same characters. We wanted to go more with a whole “Bugs Bunny” kind of thing – where characters could die one episode, and be alive and fine the next!
On March 16th, 2007 I made an official Neverending Nights Youtube Channel, and within two weeks we ranked as the 4th most subscribed comedy channel! On September 4th, 2007, Hugh Hancock informed me that we had a mention within the Machinima for Dummies book he had co-written.
On June 30th, 2008 I finished the final episode of the second season. 2008 proved to be a rough year for Neverending Nights. October 1st, 2008 the external hard drive that had all of NeN’s data – crashed. With a program I found from local San Diego folks, called BadCopy Pro I was able to recover some of the data (as well as some of my own personal data stored on that external drive). I decided, rather than carrying NeN to five seasons, as we originally planned, I’d make the 3rd season, the final one. In the meantime, Adam and I agreed to take a break – and during this time, he married his new wife, Amanda (Host) Freese. I had planned to at least begin Season 3 by June of 2009, since our last Episode of Season 2 was released June of 2008. But between distractions and life – that got delayed. Now, here I am writing the episodes out for the third and final season. I am hopeful that everyone enjoys the conclusion of Neverending Nights – an experience that will forever be one of the brightest moments in my life.
In October of 2009, I was interviewed by Neverwinter Connections which can be found here. Roughly around the same time, both Travis Richards and I were interviewed on NWNPodCast Episode 117. You can listen to that here or download the mp3 here (Right Click, Save As…) In November, Travis Richards was called back to interview with the folks of NWNPodCast for Episode 119 to talk about the music he’s created, not only for Neverending Nights, but for the Neverwinter Nights Community. You can listen to that here or download the mp3 here. (Right Click, Save As…)
On March 5, 2010 – the first Episode of Season 3 was launched after nearly two years of a hiatus!
In March 2010 – I brought on the incredible talent of Lindsay Archer who has done some work for Margaret Weis Productions, including art for the Supernatural and Serenity RPG (as well as some Dragonlance, among others!) Keeping up with the special guest stars in Season 3, July 20, 2010 I saw none other than Al Lowe, the creator of the Leisure Suit Larry series, honored us with agreeing to do a voice. Al Lowe appears in Neverending Nights – Episode 55: All Time ‘Lowe.’ Having Al Lowe do a voice and be a part of Neverending Nights, highlights one of the greatest landmarks of the series – but it didn’t stop there! I also got Greg Johnson of Toejam & Earl fame to lend a voice for us! Another amazing highlight for Neverending Nights’ expanding history!
On Jan 17, 2013 – I finished the final Episode of Season 3 (Episode 65) and wrapped up the Neverending Nights storyline.