Sunday, August 1, 2010

Level Design Dilemmas

Over the past few days I've been doing some work on getting the next exterior level created for The Shattered War. This is a key area of the game that the player will be revisiting multiple times, so I want to put in quite a bit of effort. However, creating cities/towns/built-up areas in the Dragon Age toolset is a very time consuming process.

Not only are there the standard issues that you have to worry about in all 3D level creation processes, like alignment, usability, aesthetics, realism, etc., but there are also issues with the models in Dragon Age. For starters, the organisation of the models is a problem. Even though I'm starting to get a good handle on the various placements and even know some the names of individual models, the number of folders within the model hierarchy is ridiculous. Even worse, quite frequently folders have only a single model inside them, requiring an extra click to get at the model. This might seem trivial, but an extra click for every model multiplied by a hundred different model placements is a hundred clicks, which adds up to a fairly significant time sink. Then there are some models that have holes in them, forcing you to cover up the gaps with other placeables. Put simply, there are more than a few headaches in the process. (But yes, I still love doing it)

One partially finished portion of a level

So, as I'm putting in many hours of work and am still not anywhere near close to a finished product, I find myself in a small dilemma. On one hand, I'd love to add the level to the Community Contest, but on the other, I know that The Shattered War is a long way from being finished, and if I release the level as a public resource for other people to use, then there's a (good) chance that people won't think of the area as being unique by the time it is finished.

As a modder, I would like to give something to the community which I hope would be a valuable resource, but should I do so at the potential expense of the success and popularity of the module on which I and the rest of the team are working hard to produce content? I don't find that an easy choice.


  1. from Wizard of thay
    personally I would forget the competition and don't put the added pressure on yourself.
    just have fun with it.
    also you will recieve the kudos you deserve when you release the finished model so no worries there.

  2. That Dragon Age toolset is a huge drag. Extremely hard to use and you still don't own what you make. You should try making your own game sometime. You could sell it. :)

  3. If you're not already, try out DATool by Adinos. It let's you sift through all models, props, etc. It gives you the full name, so you can filter for it, instead of going through each folder.

    Since I discovered that tool, I have pretty much never used the folder system at all.

  4. I keep forgetting about that filter option - I'll have to start using it more. I do have DATool and sometimes find it useful. Fortunately I am getting better at identifying/guessing model names in the list.

  5. I believe the DA devs work around that "drag of clicking through thousand folders" aspect by keeping useful prop sets as "Selected groups" files, which can be right-click imported into scratch space window of the level editor. You can download a set of these "sel groups" from their source files page.