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!  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mapping it out

Recent modding efforts have been dedicated towards level design - putting the finishing touches on existing levels as well as getting the last few levels completed for the game itself.  I'm currently working on the decoration and walkmesh stage of the final large level in the game - once that's done, I'll have three small interiors (which should hopefully not require too much effort), and then one small exterior in order to complete all level design.

This will see all of the functional structure completed, and should basically require a test run-through of a few things to ensure that all the scripting elements are in place to ensure that events occur as they are supposed to based on player decisions. I've also recently gone through and tidied up the minimap appearance for all the areas - the generation of these is done automatically by the game, but unlike the original game, the minimap is basically a zoomed-out snapshot of the level from above rather than the sepia line drawing style.  While I could potentially produce minimaps in-line with the original game, I don't feel that this is entirely necessary, nor particularly worth the time that it would take me to do.  2D art isn't really something I'm particularly good at, so it would probably take me a while to create something that would be suitable. I'm happy that the level design is of a high quality such that the change in minimap style won't be an issue.

Part of a recently completed level

Once this is done, I'll have a bit more work to do to finish off a puzzle that has caused some real hassles in terms of scripting not behaving reliably, ensure that the last few special set items are added at appropriate locations within the game, and then add a very small amount of writing to one of the characters in the game and ensure the epilogues are put into the game.  At that point, all that remains to do is a full test run of the adventure, and attempt to get voice acting for the remaining unvoiced characters.

Thus the end of this modding venture is in sight - I'm hopeful that it will deliver a great roleplaying experience for people!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Levels, scripting and hooking together

My supposedly regular updates have not been forthcoming, and my apologies to people for that. However, on the whole, a lot of what I've been working on hasn't necessarily been that exciting to write or read about.
A large amount of my modding time over the past few weeks has been working on getting the overall flow of the mod strung together and debugging issues relating to plot progress. If that sounds unintelligible, put simply, I'm writing scripts to make sure that the game continues properly.

To explain in more detail, this work is what ensures that the game carries on when the player completes quests and works towards completing the main plot.  When the player completes sub-quests that progress the main plot and change the situation of the setting and The Shattered War, it is this scripting that ensures that the next key part of the plot unravels, and that characters react appropriately to the player's decisions thus far.  This scripting is what makes other characters remember the player's actions and then react to them - if the player has aggravated particularly individuals with their choices, they may act to hinder the player instead of help them.  There are a lot of different options in The Shattered War, so working through the different possibilities and combinations of player choices takes a lot of time to ensure that the appropriate consequences (both good and bad) come about as a result of those choices.

That said, I have also been working on a few new areas, including a couple of areas that I had previously planned to cut out entirely.  This means that there is even more content in the game for players to explore and experience...

Are these merely abandoned ruins? Or are they something more?

I will attempt to make more regular updates (I think I've suggested I'd do that in my last few irregular posts), but at the same time, I do want to make sure that the content is interest for people to read. If there is something people would like to know more about, please leave a comment and let me know, and I'll endeavour to answer your questions!

Friday, January 31, 2014

News: Temporary Break

Just a quick post to report that I probably won't be updating in the next 5 or 6 weeks because I'm away on holiday. I will, however, be back modding away when I return and am looking forward to getting a release out the door!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Testing and Internals

In addition to my ongoing testing, I've been working on some level design lately that is a little more challenging than previously - primarily because I'm working on an interior rather than an exterior.  I don't think it's a significant spoiler to say that the vast majority of The Shattered War will occur outdoors.  This is an adventure focused on the events of an area within the wilderness, and the natural landscapes, forests, hills, valleys, and the settlements built on these are where the bulk of the action will occur.

However, there are some times where the player will have to go indoors. For these areas, I've largely been taking existing areas from the campaign and making some modifications so that they're not immediately recognisable - but I'm hopeful that this will be to far better effect than was done in Dragon Age 2.  I'm definitely avoid repetition within my own adventure, but there are a couple of layouts that will likely seem very familiar to those who know the campaign intimately.

That said, I have been working on getting the structure down of some completely new areas largely created from scratch.  Here I've been using an existing levels as a base, but only as a starting point from which to add my own rooms - effectively stripping the original level down to very little before adding my own new rooms in.  This gets around some of the initial level creation issues, and also gives me a base of model names for room components and structure models to use for my own work.  I became quite familiar with model names for exteriors, so having to do interiors meant learning a whole new set of model names, which increases the amount of time taken by quite a bit.  Also critical in indoor levels is ensuring that everything is lined up. Exteriors are a bit easier to "eyeball it", when it comes to placement, but interiors really require that everything fits together nicely in order to work properly.

Working shot of part of an interior

This shot is one of the "easy" options - stone corridors are far easier to match up than caverns and cave interiors.  What's worse is that the models in Dragon Age really don't match up very nicely and often require you to match specific pieces with each other, making it harder to get a more unique look and design without copying the original Dragon Age levels. I want to ensure that the "special" locations in The Shattered War are exactly that - special - and not make the player think "wait, I've been here before." Hence the need for the effort required to create these unique interiors for the adventure. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bugs squashing continues...

Yes, it's been more than a couple of weeks since my last update, so my apologies for the silence. Again, I'm aiming to have regular updates, but I'm trying to make sure that I don't just put content like "found 5 bugs, fixed spelling mistakes" or the like.

As for details of the progress I've been making, there are a few fairly significant things that I've managed.

I've finished processing all the voice cuts for one of the party companions. I've previously described that this can be a fairly time consuming process, and this represents a considerable chunk of time, as that's over 300 lines of dialogue for this character. To give you an impression of how much dialogue that actually is, here's a list of the number of lines of personal dialogue for characters in Mass Effect 2.

Now, the numbers there don't actually represent ALL the possible lines of dialogue for ME2 characters, but given that The Shattered War is a one-man development effort, you can see that there's a LOT of content for players to experience.

Taraz is a dwarf with plenty to say.

Secondly, I've worked on creating several sets of items that the player can find - customised sets with their own backstory and codex entries, and the items offer significant bonuses to the player should they explore enough and solve the puzzles required to find them.  There is a major set each for the warrior, rogue and mage, so no matter your character or party composition, they will be useful.

This has also meant that I've finished up a couple of the puzzles I mentioned in a previous post that will allow the player to get their hands on some of these items, and done a bunch of bugtesting to make they work without a hitch. That took a little finesse, as they were initially unsolvable due to some errors I'd made.

Aside from those two major things, I've been doing quite a bit of playtesting on the major plot quests of the game, which are all looking fairly solid at this point. This also included a number of cosmetic changes just to add more flavour to the experience - added ambient NPCs and behaviours that are shown in response to the player's actions so that they can see some of the effects that their choices are having. For example, if a player rescues a group of people, these people will then return to the town they are from, going about their business and other people in that town may comment on their rescue. 

Small things like this aren't critical to the plot, but they do reinforce the work I've put into place to make sure that the game will react to the decisions that players make. Seeing effects and consequences is one of the major goals of my design for The Shattered War, so I'm confident that touches like this will make it a memorable experience.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Filling out content

In addition to the playtesting I've been doing to piece the core plot of the game together from start to finish, I've also been working on designing and adding in some extra content that has been in my mind for a while. I'm talking about "light content", which is the little subquests that revolve more around exploration and puzzle solving that reward the inquisitive player.  Generally, these things are much less time consuming and demanding to implement for me than fully fledged quests. Think of these quests like the "Chanter's Board" quests from Dragon Age, but without a central location to kick them off for you.

There are a few things that I want to make sure that I do with these quests in order to make them interesting, and so am trying to follow a few principles when creating them.

Don't make it immediately obvious

The point here is that I want the player to start the quest by finding something, not by going to a person with a marker above their head or a notice board in the middle of a village. It could be a journal, a scrap of paper, a strange item, some kind of key, or anything really.  The main point is that the player should find something that gives them a clue that there is something else that they could do or find.


Require exploration
These objects should be spread out across the areas that the player will explore - they won't just be found in the main locations that every player will have to visit. The levels I've created for the mod are reasonably large - and I'd like to encourage players to explore them. With many modern games, we're often forced down very linear paths, so trying to get players to search and experience the fun of exploration is something I'd like to be able to do.

Monsters are easy to find, these should require more effort

Puzzles can be fun
One thing I find really annoying about puzzles in many games is that they're either really obscure and illogical (the worst of Monkey Island syndrome, or Anna), or blatantly obvious (Towers of Hanoi).  The other annoyance is when puzzles are presented in a way that they're not solvable when you encounter them, either because you don't have the right skills/items to solve them (e.g. Batman, Assassin's Creed), or worse, that the player cannot complete the puzzle until they are explicitly told what to do. Where I implement puzzles, I want the player to be given enough information to carry them out, but without beating them over the head with an answer. This is a tough balance, but I'm hoping to provide a mix of puzzles that should be interesting.

Use player skills
Skills like tracking, herbalism, pick pocketing and the like are things that are often neglected by designers. Even in Dragon Age itself, it felt like these were mostly for facilitating combat rather than being useful for anything else.  I want to be able to use these skills to assist, or possibly even be required to complete some of these quests.

Give rewards
The player should get something from these kinds of quests. They're exploring, uncovering secrets and the like, and thus should be rewarded with different and unique items as a result. This is the icing on the cake to make the player go "that was awesome!" This is where I'll be giving out the most interesting and powerful items in the game, because it rewards dedicated players, and makes people want to explore and find those hidden secrets.

So that's my update for this week. Stay tuned for another update next week!