Monday, November 9, 2015

Voices, glorious voices

After a substantial casting round, I managed to find voice actors for all but four roles for The Shattered War - and all of those roles are for Orlesians. Looks like I have my work cut out for me finding people who can and are willing to voice Orlesian characters, but even without them, I've got a whole lot more voice actors and characters added to the roster. The people I've been receiving lines from have been talented and almost universally friendly and professional.

Of course, all of the voice actors who contribute will be credited in the final product, but I feel I should reiterate here how important they are to the project and how grateful I am to them for their efforts. Since I set the bar for this adventure to feel like a "real" Dragon Age experience, I can't deliver that unless I have full voice acting for the entire project.

I could have delivered it quite some time ago if I didn't have this restriction, and arguably a lot more people would have played it if I had done so. Personally I don't think DA:O's combat has aged well, but I'm hopefully that people will persevere through that to experience this adventure and the myriad of choices and characters voiced by these talented actors.

That said their work is just the start for me. After the voice actors have done the hard work of acting their lines, is then up to me to make sure that the delivery matches the overall tone I'm looking for - mostly this is the case because in the scripts I provide appropriate context and emotional direction where necessary - but still give the voice actors enough leeway to give their own interpretation and representation of the character. Some of the lines have been delivered in ways slightly different to how I imagined them, but have been absolutely brilliant and given characters more depth to their personality.

The next step is make sure that there's appropriate silence (or lack thereof) on either side of the line - if a character is having a monologue/dialogue then there needs to be appropriate gaps between each sentence, but if there's an argument or an interjection, there's obviously virtually no gap present.

Then I have to ensure that the overall volume levels are consistent across all characters. For this I have a line of reference dialogue that I use as the benchmark volume to compare all other lines against. If a character is angry and shouting, it'll obviously be a bit louder than the reference line, if they're sad or otherwise speaking quietly, it will be a bit softer, but ultimately the aim is to ensure that all lines within the game have a consistent volume so individual characters do not have vastly different volumes so the player would have to adjust their speaker/headset volume up and down while playing.

These things might seem trivial, but their important for making sure that there's a consistent experience for the player. Finally, once all that is done, it's time to integrate the line into the game, including setting the camera angle, facial expression/tone and individual hand/arm/head/body movements to match the lines being spoken.

This process then has to be repeated to every single line of dialogue I receive. As you can imagine, this can be quite time consuming. Nevertheless, the end result is fantastic, and thanks to the efforts of the wonderful voice actors I've been working with, the characters in The Shattered War are really coming to life beautifully.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

All the little bugs...

The bug squashing process for The Shattered War continues slowly but surely.  I feel I'm coming very close to having all the "show stopping bugs" ironed out by now. I thought I had them all ironed out of of my playthrough last night, only to come across a new one I hadn't encountered before. It does feel like getting the remaining voice acting is quickly becoming the last major hurdle I will have to overcome before release.

In order to expedite the testing process, I actually created an entirely new "debug area" that allows me to quickly set a whole bunch of choices in main and side quests so that I can jump ahead to different parts in the story rather than having to repeatedly play through the parts of the mod that as far as I can tell are bug free. While it felt weird to be putting in a bunch of effort to create content that would only be used for testing, it has definitely saved me time already, and will only make it easier to test out all the different ending possibilities and ensure that they are tested as much as I can feasibly test on my own.

In my playtesting I have noticed a few common threads in the types of "bugs" that I've been noticing lately. People not appearing in the correct places in a dialogue/cutscene, cameras being too close, plot markers on people or quests journals not updating appropriately. These are all small things that aren't necessarily show-stoppers that make the game unfinishable, but they are definitely quality issues that I don't want to see in the final product that I make available for players.

The only major headache for me at the moment that is really frustrating is that one of the party companions is for some reason not picked up correctly by the game's levelling logic. Specifically, this character does not show any skills in their skills page, meaning that the player is unable to assign skill points (i.e. tactics, herbalism, traps, etc) and thus it always appears as though he needs to be levelled up. This is definitely the most frustrating and disheartening ongoing bug that I've currently been unable to fix - all the other companions I have work perfectly, and I can see no significant differences in their configuration to his. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Voice Over Showcase Online

Just a quick post today letting you know that Voice Over showcase video I mentioned in my last video is now available on YouTube!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Test, Find, Fix, Repeat

Doing playtesting for The Shattered War has been the order of business for the last couple of weeks. This has been a series of playtests starting the game from scratch and experimenting with different decisions and choices within the game. Across a few characters I've tried a number of approaches, in one case I finished every quest and looted everything I could find, and in another I blitzed through doing the bare minimum of what I needed to progress, not to mention some options in between.

I still haven't gone through a full playthrough from start to finish and have hit on issues of all shapes and sizes...

  • Typos or grammar errors in dialogue, item descriptions or codex. 
  • While the voiced dialogue is basically problem free, there are a number of unvoiced characters that I noted some errors in.
  • There are still unvoiced NPCs - female voice actors have been particularly hard to find. I will have to make a dedicated push to finding the remaining voice actors in the near future.
  • Minor scripting errors, glitches in characters not moving where they're supposed to within an area, a player's reward not being correct, an enemy not spawning when they are supposed to.
  • Major scripting errors - anything that stops progress of a quest. Say, items not becoming interactive when they're supposed to, or enemy deaths not triggering quest success.
  • Camera angles for conversation looking weird.
  • Missing or incorrect markers on the mini-map.

Of course, while the laundry list of bugs has been a decent size, I've been able to wipe them off the list fairly rapidly as well. Smashing through these issues has been a refreshing change of pace from spending time almost exclusively in the toolset with very little playtesting. Those darkspawn never knew what hit them...

Sometimes, you just need to resort to the trusty "sword to the face" option

The good news is that the mod really does feel like it's made big strides since my last round of playtesting. A bunch of long-standing niggles and annoyances have been struck off my list, and everything is definitely coming together to make a cohesive gaming and Dragon Age experience. I've been recording some of the conversations in an effort to put together a small video of the voice actors and acting present in the mod - I'm hoping to put that together and have it available on YouTube in the near future. This won't be another trailer cut with combat - just some (spoiler free) teasers of dialogue that should whet people's appetite for some of the characters and intrigue in The Shattered War.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lore consistency, story depth, and changes

Modding has been a little light on in the last few weeks, because I'd been told that there were some significant lore reveals in Dragon Age: Inquisition (DAI). Since I care about how my story relates to lore as it stands in the Dragon Age setting, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't writing anything that would contradict established. Admittedly changing things now would be pretty tough, but I just wanted to check nonetheless, just in case there were any inconsistencies and if there were any corrections I needed/could make. I will, however, keep the post spoiler free for DAI

This actually took a lot longer than I was hoping. The problem is that DAI is *big*, but a lot of its size comes from breadth rather than depth. The main story arc is actually pretty damn short - my initial assessment when I started playing DAI was that it was more of a Skyrim approach, and the more I played it, the more it felt that way. There is a lot of "content", but a lot of it doesn't really have much relevance. There are a bunch of lore tidbits hidden away in various sidequests here and there, but many of the quests are very shallow in terms of story depth. There are a handful that have some lore in them, albeit in a subtle world-building style, small mentions and snippets of information, meaning that you really need to do a *lot* in order to dig into the depths of the lore. Given that there were a couple of instances relatively early on in the game where I was doing a quest that seemed "insignificant" (even including a couple of the War Table operations), but actually gave some very interesting lore information, I realised that this would be a serious undertaking. On the plus side, it has reinforced my dedication for getting The Shattered War complete, because DAI has left the lore and world in a far more interesting state than at the end of DA2.

Fortunately for me, there were no issues with anything that I've written. Now, I'm actually pretty happy about this. Keep in mind that I wrote this story in its entirety after finishing Dragon Age: Origins. While yes, I'm taking damn forever to release the mod, even though I went out on a fairly serious limb for some of the lore, everything I've done has slotted in nicely with some fairly significant developments that have occurred in Dragon Age 2 and also DAI, and only a few minor details needed tweaking. What's even more interesting is that I feel I definitely captured some of the themes and precursors to events I knew nothing about while writing and developing the story.

This isn't to say that the mod hasn't changed during development. Various plot ideas and quests were canned, others changed in terms of implementation or details for various reasons, and a couple of new smaller items added along the way. Sometimes it was toolset limitations that meant I could not do particular set pieces or level designs that I was hoping for. In other cases, my playtesting made me realise that a particular approach wasn't really working that well and I needed to take a different tack in order to make it more interesting for the player. It's my hope that I will have created an interesting and enjoyable adventure for people - and given the different ways that things can play out, one that they'll be willing to revisit and make completely different choices when they do.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Spanners and Solutions

I had some hassles over the last week after I reinstalled Windows. The way the toolset works is that it uses the computer name and username to determine who has the ability to access resources that it has stored - and I changed my username after reinstalling, meaning that it wouldn't let me edit my mod. Fortunately some help on the BioWare forums confirmed the source of my problem and I was able to solve it, and so modding successfully resumed.

In terms of actual progress made, I've been checking through various combat encounters and quest lines to ensure that everything works as intended - enemies show up when they're supposed to, dialogue accurately reflects the player's choices and they receive appropriate rewards. I've also been putting some touches on a number of codex entries - items (these also get descriptions as well as codex entries), people, areas and so on to make sure that players who are looking for that extra depth of lore and world-building content can indeed experience those aspects in the adventure.

I may be moving into a heavy testing phase over the coming weeks to track down and iron out any remaining bugs that are show stoppers or otherwise lead to unexpected and undesirable outcomes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tying things together

So I received a comment on my last post from someone eagerly awaiting the release of the mod. Well, despite my silence, there has been ongoing work on the mod, and some fairly major milestones have been achieved since the last update.

  • All areas have been completed in terms of structure. There are a few combat encounters that need tweaking, but effectively all level design is 100% complete.
  • Epilogue text and slideshow have all been written in their entirety - this was basically the last significant writing to include.
  • Staging for almost all remaining conversations has been completed, and a lot of syncing, camera shots and animation has been touched up for remaining conversations.
On my to-do list before having a ready "alpha" are:
  • Finish remaining encounters.
  • Complete "glue" scripting to ensure appropriate transitions to/from certain "set" scenes / locations.
  • Use custom backgrounds for epilogue slideshow.
Things to do before final release:
  • Obtain and integrate remaining voice acting (some characters have proven extraordinarily difficult to find VAs for)
  • Fix a few animations for cutscenes - there are a few short action and romance shots.
  • Remove any bugs found from testing (there are bound to be some).
While that might seem like a fairly simple list, making sure that everything works is no small task - there are a *lot* of moving parts in the mod and a lot of references and consequences as a result of the player's choices during the adventure, so I have to make sure that all those bits work together.

In short, news is good and so is progress!