Eye of the Beholder II: Bringing a Classic Tale Back to Life

Modder Rick Francis is out to ensure that the classics are neither gone nor forgotten.

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If the recent glut of high-definition remakes and tributes to games of the past are any indication, nostalgia sells. Yet if you've been modifying PC games for any length of time, the appeal of an updated classic comes as no surprise: Modders have been re-creating the classics for years with the tools of their choice.

Rick Francis is one such modder. Over the years, Francis has worked with the original Unreal engine, created custom maps for Command & Conquer, and brought cooperative play to Rune. Francis's latest pet project is nearing completion, and it brings to life the classic Westwood D&D role-playing game Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon using the original Neverwinter Nights' Aurora engine. This isn't Francis's first foray into the Dungeons & Dragons universe, however: he also created an extraordinarily well-received Neverwinter Nights mod for the original Eye of the Beholder, so it only seemed right he move on to the sequel.

You might never have played either of those games; after all, both were released in 1991, and the GameBoy Advance version of the original is more than a decade old. So a quick Eye of the Beholder primer: in the original games, you moved your party through dungeons in a first-person view, fighting monsters by pointing and clicking. By today's standards, navigating through the endless brown corridors is monotonous and clumsy, though at the time, it was easy to lose yourself in the fantasy of mages fighting off untold evils. Fortunately, Neverwinter Nights holds up far better, though you play it from an isometric perspective, not in first-person. Francis and his team had a lot of work cut out for them if they wanted to transfer the spirit of the original into a brand-new engine.

"I would have to say recreating the timing of the pit traps on the Azure Tower and the Frost Giant Prison levels were the biggest challenge to recreate," Francis told me recently. "These pit traps open and close randomly and have a specific timing involved with how you navigate them."

"We haven't toned anything down. In fact […] it can be more difficult at times."

"This is where [fellow team member Geoff Whaite] came in and figured it out. He absolutely nailed down the timings. Trust me when I say there will be a few people out there pulling their hair out trying to navigate through them for the first time. All I can say is save often when you get to these areas or have a potion of recall ready."

Francis acknowledges that getting companions through those traps can be a hassle; Neverwinter Nights' AI and pathing quirks don't always mix well with Eye of the Beholder II's navigation style, which had you advancing one tile at a time. The team's solution was to set up portals in each level where you could leave AI henchmen until you were ready to bring them back into the fold. But that was hardly the only roadblock to making the Aurora Engine play nice with Westwood's original design.

"Faction assignments were also a big challenge," says Francis. "We have had some real issues earlier on with these behaving unexpectedly. Some of the NPCs could be unexpectedly hostile towards the player. This happened because the player was doing something or interacted with or attacked an NPC that caused their faction to make another NPC later in the game hostile towards the player. We had to go in and change how the global effect worked. We wrote scripts that made NPCs neutral. For the most part, this solved the issue but every once in a while someone does something that we haven't accounted for. Those are some of the hardest things to anticipate."

I've been playing Francis' Eye of the Beholder II module for several days now, and it's impressive not just how faithful the mod is to the original, but also how well it adapts to Neverwinter Nights' compelling top-down dungeon crawling. One notable loss is of the ominous atmosphere; Neverwinter Nights' text boxes and Francis' implementation of an early tavern jaunt are effective, but there's no replacing the dark-and-stormy opening of the original. But other aspects of the mod are laudably in step with its inspiration. For instance, one of the first characters you meet after you delve into the temple of Darkmoon's catacombs is Insal, who is all too eager to join your party when you release him from his prison cell. In the original game, Insal would steal off with some of your inventory the first time you rested. So I was curious: would the same happen in the mod?

Sure enough, my first rest after inviting Insal into my inner circle resulted in a lighter backpack and a missing thief. Elsewhere, I noted that enemies I encountered remained the same, with clerics attacking me in the temple's living quarters and gelatinous cubes squishing me to death in the lower levels. The module even mirrors the original's resting limitations, much to my chagrin: my full party was devastated by a barrage of blobs because I'd exhausted all of my druid's spells. It was a heartbreaking moment, and I remembered just how difficult the classic Westwood RPG really was. From here on out, I was going to have to cast spells carefully and micromanage my party more stringently, and I asked Francis how he felt the difficulty of his recreation matched the original's.

"We haven't toned anything down. In fact I would have to say that depending on the character class you play as, it can be more difficult at times. We made the mod so it can be played co-op. It's better played co-op with a few friends or family members but there is still a solo mode."

I haven't yet enjoyed cooperative play in my pre-release version of the mod, though I did enjoy how Francis adjusted certain aspects of the original to conform with Neverwinter Nights' mechanics. Eye of the Beholder II requires you to solve multiple puzzles that involve moving objects onto pressure plates, something that the Aurora Engine doesn't allow. In the early hours, it's not much of a problem: you can gain entry just by standing on the plate long enough. Later, however, a puzzle involving moving objects into five different spots was replaced with another, giving me a chance to exercise my brainpower rather than to rely on old memories to get me through.

Such memories can be powerful, and it's his fond recollections of playing the original Eye of the Beholder games that inspired Francis to try his hand at remaking them. "I was stationed in Japan many years ago when [Eye of the Beholder] was released," he says. "I recall spending many late nights playing the game and was completely drawn into it. I've always been a fan of Dungeons & Dragons. I think most people out there love a good RPG. It's quite difficult to find a good D&D game these days that gives you all the role-playing aspects of games like Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale."

The Neverwinter Nights toolset ended up being the perfect means to Francis' spellcasting end. He says, "When I first started using the toolset, I noticed right away how you placed sections down in blocks very similar to the way the original Eye games were laid out, and this made it very easy to reproduce the original levels. Also since both Neverwinter Nights and Eye of the Beholder are Dungeon & Dragons games with all of the rules, classes, spells, and feats already in place, Eye of the Beholder was a natural candidate for testing the toolset. At the time, I was also looking at the Dungeon Siege tools. I messed around with them, but it just didn't have that right feel to it."

"I vowed to myself to never get involved with another complex and time-consuming mod like this again."

The tools may have made it easy for Francis to lay out dungeons, but scripting was another matter. At first, just figuring out how to make a lever open a door was baffling, and it soon became clear that making his dream module wasn't going to go as smoothly as he initially thought. Luckily, Francis made contact with other Eye of the Beholder enthusiasts eager to assist with the project.

"Our team has grown quite large over the course of the project and spans the globe," Francis tells me. "Geoff is from Australia. Jenny Persson is from Italy and Jörn Preine is from Germany.They both worked on tilesets. Rolo Kip created the crystal wall and Daniel Stierheim wrote the background stories. Both are from the United States, along with beta testers Michael Sinclair and Tim Garret. Other beta testers who worked endlessly include Nigel Traves from the United Kingdom and Adrian Ciuleanu from Romania. All of these people are fans of Dungeons & Dragons and the Eye of the Beholder series. Each of them has contributed in many ways and I can't thank them enough for all of their help."

Francis adds: "We have been working on this mod for a better part of 19 months. I started it with a friend of mine who a quarter of the way through decided to discontinue working on the project and left it to me to complete. I almost didn't finish the mod myself, and took some time off in the spring of 2011, after creating the first Eye of the Beholder mod, which took around 2 years. I vowed to myself to never get involved with another complex and time-consuming mod like this again."

An outcry from the Neverwinter Nights community convinced Francis that he should finish the mod. As for me, I am very happy that he's almost done. There's an elegance to Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon that translates well into a Neverwinter Nights adventure. NWN has aged, but interface and pathing oddities aside, it holds up well: spells create a lovely spectacle, and the game's musical score gives the module's creepy temple a haunting atmosphere. Collecting keys and hunting for hidden levers is an age-old game mechanic, and Eye of the Beholder II is a relic, yet somehow, Rick Francis and his fellow modders have used an aging toolset to make what's old seem practically new again. And that's no mean feat.

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Discussion

70 comments
darks88
darks88

Hello everyone, I have uploaded the HAK files needed for the mod and a solutions document to help you get through the game. The mod itself is not yet available but will be in the next few days.

Thanks everyone for your patience.

Rick

drclaw_
drclaw_

Eye of the beerholder

MegamanX2011
MegamanX2011

Eye of the Beholder without first person view that defines the game and gives all that sense of immersion and fear? No thanks.

Thullraven
Thullraven

Is it  complete and available yet? I'm wanting to give this a shot bad. I could use a foray from NWN2 back to NWN1. I enjoy Rick's mods.

RighteousWoman
RighteousWoman

Don't let Tom Mcshea find out about this. His righteous campaign to do away with all nostalgia in gaming, he might just gank you while your sleeping.

FlyingAce1016
FlyingAce1016

I Was like YAYYYYYYYYYYYYY but then saw the pics... nothing like a dungeon crawler D: question is.. is the combat action rpgish? or top down mmo-esc?

SipahSalar
SipahSalar

They should have used NWN2 engine instead. 

lonewolf1044
lonewolf1044

I am for it as long as they stick to the formula that made old school games great and I am glad there are people that are trying to keep Old School Games alive because even though they are old they were more fun than some of the modern games that are coming out today. Keep them coming, would love to see Bioforge, System Shock 1 + 2 redone.

faizanhd
faizanhd

"By today's standards, navigating through the endless brown corridors is monotonous and clumsy."

Today's standards ?  That sounds a lot like 99 % of all military shooters. 

Jshaw71
Jshaw71

I am a lil confused here, he took a fp game, and converted into an adventure rpg?  While I am sure he did a lot of work to make this happen, I am thinking why not update the graphics in the fp mode, and add thing to that mode? Basically, I am thikning, if it's not broke, don't fix it...

edinko
edinko

Seems nice but what I wuld realllly like is simply a real EOB HD remake. Exactly the same game as it was+ automapping. First person, tiles based moving everything just with some HD touch.

Legend of Grimrock may be my favorite game of modern times. Forget all the cinematic blockbusters. no no no. Legend of Grimrock rocks!

Actaully LOG devs would be a prefect team for some EOB remake.

As I said I would wish for the exactly same game just with repainted HD graphics and some automapping added. That would make me more happy than all modern games together.

Saketume
Saketume

This is very nice! I'm glad there's interest for these classics. I do miss the "dungeon master" type games.

Black Crypt is my all time favourite RPG. 

I have fond memories of Bloodwych in 2-player mode as well.

I just wish there would be more new games in this genre. 

There's a nice simplicity in moving 1 block per keypress rather than being completely free-range.

It's games after all. Not everything has to be realistic. Sometimes realism ruins gameplay mechanics and this genre had excellent gameplay. You'd have your full party of classes of choice. You could often find new playable characters during your journey. Sometimes even invite monsters into your party,

The underground labyrinths were great for complex puzzles and the pseudo 3D worked wonders for immersion. Finding switches, moving through dark areas. trapdoor tiles, wall arrows, spinning tiles that made you lose your sense of direction etc. Plus they were HARD games. New enemies constantly introduces that had to be defeated with new methods. Innovative spells (bloodwych had the funniest and weirdest ones).

I could talk all day about how much I miss these types of games.

If you have no clue what I'm on about you could try and find the PC demo for Black Crypt. It will showcase the very beginning of the game with the fearsome Ogre boss chasing you around. Sadly there is no full PC version for the game. You'd have to check an Amiga emulator for that.

Sergeant_KFC
Sergeant_KFC

Great work with this article Kevin. I love to hear about all these games that made were made before I was born. And I mean that. No sarcasm intended.

xGarrettThiefX
xGarrettThiefX

They should create the D series of AD&D modules oh yeah and how about The Mines of Bloodstone as well !

cryingdevil63
cryingdevil63

Great article,I loved NWN and it's expansions,but never played much of the user made modules,didn't even knew this existed,thanks Kev

MADPADDY
MADPADDY

Great work Kevin,nice to see articles about more than just the latest and greatest.Have to agree at the age of 45 i remember these games first time around,but going back they're definitely not as good as nostalgia dictates lol.Will have to dig out NWN1 from the depths of my junk/collection and give this mod a go.

Cohenat
Cohenat

Even thou i appreciate the hard work done on this (and i love other games in the D&D universe like BG 1+2, IW 1+2, NWN 1+2 Planescape Torment and couple of others) and the previous EOB mod, its not a true EOB, without the first person look. 

When i first played the GBA version of EOB, i was like Ooooooooohhh great a better graphic, nicely colored, first person look, and then there was the first RANDOM!!! fight, and i was like noooooooooooo. The game itself wasn't bad, but it just was not EOB in my eyes.

radikel
radikel

Played Planescape, Baldur's 1 and 2, NWN;Diamond Edition ,&, NWN-2 alongwith Icewind Dale(s)....& absolutely loved them. I thought they were the only D&D games. Did not know about EOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now with this mod, i just can't wait to get my hands on it!!! Awesome article too, thanks Kevin.

Man, some of the fans of these games are total rockstars, simply amazing, recreating a whole frickin game????, awesome work guys!!!!

Azghouls
Azghouls

Man - I'm in the middle of EOB 1 and now I'm reading this...

All I can say is create food is the most important spell ever.

RPGEndBoss
RPGEndBoss

Someone did an EOB for NWN1 back...god, not long after the game came out. Also, they did it for Legend of Grimrock in a mod too, so this isn't entirely new.

darks88
darks88

@Thullraven 

Not yet, Thrullraven,  give us about two more weeks.  We are still testing a few things to make sure its all good.  Please check the main web page for the mod for all updates. 

Glad, you like our mods We appreciate it :)

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@RighteousWoman I don't think you actually understand the things Tom writes and says. But I do appreciate a good troll, so in that respect, bravo, I say! Excellent job. 

darks88
darks88

@FlyingAce1016 

Hello,  The combat is all RPG but its all DnD, its a top down, but the camera is adjustable just like the standard MMOs like Guild Wars 2.  So you are not locked down to any one specific view.  you move the camera to your liking.

Don't let the screen shot fool you, we zoomed out to allow you to see the full game and what's going on.

Rick

darks88
darks88

@SipahSalar 

We wanted to, but there were a lot of limitations with that engine.  The editor is not as easy to use as NWN 1 was. And the custom content that was required for the game just was not there.  It made it very difficult to try and recreate the original feel with out that content.

We did try,

Rick

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@faizanhd I don't think you are playing many military shooters if you think that they have you pushing through corridors one step at a time, with the same texture map for every tile. It's fun to troll Call of Duty, right? But a comment like this tells me that you haven't actually been playing many shooters, since they do not in actuality have you navigating through endless brown corridors; even the worst of them have environmental variety, breaks in pace, and diversified level design. 

darks88
darks88

@Jshaw71 

Jshaw71,

We didn't modify the original game,  we rebuilt that game with the Neverwinter Nights Editor.  This is a complete remake of the game so it will play just like the original Neverwinter Nights.

I understand you want a game like the original EOB, I would love that too.  I think Legend of Grimrocks engine is perfect for that.  In fact, someone is remaking EOB 1 with that engine.

Head over to their web site, there are links there about the mod.

Rick

aovannor
aovannor

@Jshaw71 Maybe you are confused because you didn't read it all? It was made with the NW editor.. this is not a proper release.

Saketume
Saketume

@Sergeant_KFC You're lucky I'm not near you or I wouldn't be able to shut up about the old SSI games or Bard's Tale (the old ones from the 80's and not the unrelated newer games with the same title).

80's and early 90's were great days for WRPGs

darks88
darks88

@radikel 

Hi radilke,  there is a link to our previous EOB 1 module on the front page here.  While waiting for EOB 2 you could head over and download that version of the mod at our web site.

Also guys, I want to know that this mod does require NWN and both add-ons. running with patch 1.69 

Thanks for the comments,

Rick

darks88
darks88

@Azghouls 

Hi Azghouls,  You wont have to worry about food in our game.  We implemented food, but it caused some issues so we pulled it out. 

darks88
darks88

@RPGEndBoss 

Yes, that was us, back in 2003 we released it.  As for LOG, those guys are still working on theirs.  But it looks great from everything I've seen so far.

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@RPGEndBoss If you read the article, you'd know this is the same guy that made EOB for NWN1...

MegamanX2011
MegamanX2011

@Kevin-V @RighteousWoman  I guess no one understands Tom Mcshea but Gamespot, Kevin V.


radikel
radikel

@darks88 @radikel 

Haha!!thanks, this is totally awesome.

Also, do your EOB Mods utilize the AD&D rules built into the game,(think Balur's gate was v2.5) or the AD&D V3.0 that NWN used. Either iam getting it right now, but will appreciate some clarity. 

This is totally awesome, thank you very very much!!Now my D&D collection will be complete mwuahahahahahaha!!!

weedman1985
weedman1985

@Kevin-V @RPGEndBoss Hardly anyone cares about EOB or NWN1, anymore. These days it's all about Skyrim and Fallout 3. It's sad, but that's the reality of our situation.

A noble effort, Kevin, but I think you are wasting time posting this article on the front page, no offense.

darks88
darks88

@radikel @darks88 

Yes, Diamond edition with the latest 1.69 patch and you will be fine.

19 months, and a bit more.  And we did this with as small team. 

Rick

radikel
radikel

@darks88 @radikel 

Thanks! Will probably get around to playing it sometime next weekend. Just to clarify, NWN:Diamond edition should be up and running with path 1.69 for your mods to work correct? 

Was just going through you EOB 1 mod page, absolutely nuts!! If EOB-2 is around 25hrs, tht means wat u guys worked on roughly equals NWN1 and 'hordes of the underdark expansion' put together, roughly speaking, and you did it in 19 months!!!

darks88
darks88

@radikel @darks88 

Yes, we use all of those rules.  Third edition.

I hope you like it radicle.  please post any comments on the forum page there if you get stuck.  the clue book is also there to help if needed.  EOB 1 takes a lot more liberties so levels design is accurate but we expanded the story a lot in our first mod.

Thanks,

Rick

darks88
darks88

@Lotus69 @darks88 @jimrhurst @Kevin-V @weedman1985 @RPGEndBoss 

Hi Lotus69,

Thank you for the kind comments, and I hope you will like what you see  once its released.  We tried to be as accurate as possible with most of the games mechanics.  We realize that yes, many love the old school form of the game.  All we tried to do is bring a great classic to a more modern day feel with a top down RPG engine like NWN.

I think you guys will be happy with the mod once you try it.

Thanks again for the comments.

Rick

Lotus69
Lotus69

@darks88 @jimrhurst @Kevin-V @weedman1985 @RPGEndBoss 

I love it when someone takes a challenge of remaking something from the early days, especially independent projects.  Thanks Rick for taking the time to make this and Kevin for putting it on the front page.  If you're at all curious about game design take some time to replay some classics or play a well crafted mod.  There are a lot of mechanics in there that newer games tend to overlook.  This is also one of the reasons why I've never uninstalled NW2. :)

darks88
darks88

@jimrhurst @Kevin-V @weedman1985 @RPGEndBoss 

Hey guys,  This is Rick, the guy making the mod.  I just want to point out that even though this may be classified as a mod, that you are essentially getting an entire game to play that will take you over 25 hours to play through.  This not some add-on.

To everyone else, thanks everyone for the comments.  We look forward to getting this out to the community with in the next two weeks at most.

Please check our web site for all the latest updates.

Thanks everyone,

Rick

jimrhurst
jimrhurst

@Kevin-V @weedman1985 @RPGEndBoss Hmm.  I think I back Kevin's play.  If you look at those big numbers posted to Kickstarter, they are mostly for bigtime nostalgia projects.  Its a niche market, but clearly a passionate one.  Some portion of the GameSpot community falls into that camp, I'm sure.  I read the article.  You read the article.  Lots of people here in the comments read it.  Thus, worth posting, even if it gets 1/10th of the hits of the latest skyrim mods piece.

jer_1
jer_1

@weedman1985 @Kevin-V @RPGEndBoss Not a waste of time at all weedman, this is a great little article and I didn't know about this mod until tonight. Glad it's here and thanks for pointing it out Kev, now to go check the mod out!

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@weedman1985 @Kevin-V @RPGEndBoss 

I beg to differ.

I don't think an article about an interesting remake is a waste of time. I don't go into articles like these imagining that they will garner huge traffic numbers; I write them because I have passion for the subject. Many others do too--perhaps not as many who would read about Skyrim mods, but enough that some people will find value in the information. 

I liked the mod, and I am glad I could write about it and share with readers here.