Sunday, May 9, 2010

Are you paying attention?

One thing that I'm always interested to know is how much attention gamers pay to the game that they are playing. I'm not talking about how much gold they have, the amount of damage they are doing, or where their next enemies are, but the small details.

I want to know if player notice that the soldiers in Redcliff have worn armor, or shiny fresh armor made by the blacksmith, whether they spot the subtle play of shadows across the landscape, see the details in the modelling of the architecture of a building, or smile at an NPC remembering how you treated someone days ago.

To me, it seems like many gamers miss these small details because they're focused on something else. So many small details are missed by players simply because they're too engrossed in something else. I'll confess I'm guilty of it as well. The real question is, if those touches weren't there, would players then notice and then complain about it?

As a modder, I confess I get pedantic about the small touches. I care if there's a spelling mistake in a dialogue or description. I care if a character in the background of a cutscene suddenly jumps, and that the sounds in an area accurately reflect its environment, and that the music helps reflect the atmosphere. For Alley of Murders, I customised the automatically generated animations for about 80% of the dialogue so that they would fit better with the words being spoken, though admittedly sometimes it was also to prevent characters from waving their hands while they weren't actually speaking. I imagine that for most players, that was "invisible work"; they had no idea that it was done. Yet I still imagine I'll be doing a lot of it again for The Shattered War.

The reason I bring this up is because today I undertook the time-consuming and tedious process of manually editing the .plo files for the majority of the codex entries in the single player campaign. I have made these files available in a project on the BioWare social site. Why? Because this way, standalone mods can have their own set of codex entries, without having to force the user to see a horde of blank entries that exist because they are part of the main campaign.

Because of the way the codex entries are made, without these files, standalone mods would have a large swathe of empty codex entries that will never be filled because they're used by the main campaign. This way builders can add in their own entries without forcing the user to scan through a horde of blank entries. I wanted this for The Shattered War, and thought it would also be useful for other modders.

Will players care about this? Do players notice the small details? Or would they only notice them if they weren't there? So I ask players (and that includes modders), what small details do you notice? What are the things that you pay attention to and appreciate? And what omissions or mistakes annoy you?


  1. I certainly care about the codex entry modifications, if nothing else. I was wondering how I was going to get rid of all those Thedas entries for my custom setting, and now my work is done for me. Thanks!

    On the topic of the little details, I usually miss most small details on my first play through any game. Most games that I like I play more than once, and I always seem to catch the little things then (or the lack of them.) I have to say that I like finding little details that make the setting and story make more sense. Sometimes I forget how much time was put into some of these games to have the level of detail that they do, but the payoff seems to be worth it.

  2. I definitely wanted to remove the Single Player plot entries for my module - even though it is also set in Thedas. Your project will eliminate crucial hours of work for me. Thanks for that!

    While playing through, I am guilty of missing many of the small things too but I tend to take note of everything during a conversation - perhaps it is just the close-up nature of those.

  3. I see three (or four?) kinds of detail for me.
    1 - Conscious detail: if a see a monster running after my PC I surely be conscious of it.
    2 - Unconscious detail: there are some detail I'm not aware of, but I still see them. Maybe I do not recognize if they are there or not, but I could have a sensation of something missing.
    (ex. if a NPC has an armor different from the other guards). If they became too big I will see them consciusly (ex. a guard semi-naked within the others fully armored)
    3? - Foreshadow details: Sometime there are hint of the storyline somewhere in the game. If the plot is good I will not see it.
    It will surprise me, but I will aware of it after.
    (Ex. the bad guys smiles when the sheriff report he found no proof of the murder. But when I start to understand that the bad guy was the killer, I will remember him smiling.)
    4 - Outer details: external background given through a database (ex. codex). Maybe I will read them, but other times not.

    Maybe the three and the two are the same, only used to give different kind of output for the storyline.