Saturday, January 1, 2011

Who is the audience?

Recently I was posed an interesting question by a player: "When you created Alley of Murders, did you think of yourself first when creating this mod and then decide to let whoever else wished for your excellence to enjoy as well as yourself?" This was a very interesting question, and raised questions which I had answered almost without thinking because of my mindset in creating Alley of Murders. However, I did explicitly deal with this question when I was working on Fate of a City for Neverwinter Nights 2.

I had originally planned for the mod to revolve entirely around dialogue with perhaps some problem solving aspects. The idea was for it to be an entirely roleplay focused module with a vastly branching story. I felt that such types of adventures were sorely lacking when it came to user released content for NWN2, as I found the majority of them to be extremely combat focused.

As I continued to work on my mod, I came to realise that while I found it an enjoyable experience, it deviated too far from the in-built expectations of the NWN2 player community. Many of these players are longstanding fans of the D&D ruleset, and have a great passion for building characters and fighting against monsters in combat to test their mettle and skill in designing a new build. In wanting to create something that did not exist at all, I realised that I was making a niche mod that would lack appeal for many players.

Everything is better with zombies, right?

As a result, I had to rework some of the content I had already created in order to fit with a new vision for the module which would both cater to my desire to make a heavily branching story but maintaining the strong ties with the D&D ruleset and universe. My mod made heavy use of D&D's in-built alignment system in order to deal with the players actions and use key decisions in concert with their alignment to produce vastly different outcomes both during the game and its climax. Admittedly some players still had issues with the system, but I've addressed that previously. Regardless, this change allowed me to not only produce the type of game that I wanted to make, keeping it on track with my vision of creating a choice-dependent player experience/story, but also to appeal to the desire of the player base at large.

Choice: my favourite RPG drug... when it's there.

However, as I said at the start of this post, I did not explicitly consider this problem perhaps as closely as I could have done when creating Alley of Murders. But that is in part because I had answered it by default through my three goals for creating it:
1. Learn how to use the Dragon Age Toolset with a small project.
2. Demonstrate to the Dragon Age community (both modders and players) that creating quality modules with full VO to integrate seamlessly into the game was possible.
3. Create a "Dragon Age" story befitting the style and tone of the main campaign.

As someone who has been making levels for games even before Doom came out I know I have matured significantly as a modder. In my earliest days of modding, I did not even have an audience beyond myself and arguably a few friends with whom I could give my work to via floppy disk, as I had no internet (or even bulletin board) access at the time. Since that time, I have been increasingly mindful of the purpose of my mods, and identifying that mods are for the players.

Players wanted more for their Warden to do. Alley of Murders provides that.

As a modder, I love the creative process of producing a piece of work that players can enjoy. I love writing stories, dialogue, creating levels/visual effects/cinematics, scripting and even playtesting. I love that act of creation, but at the same time I know that I must keep in mind the fact that I am creating something for players, and in many cases, I am playing within a pre-defined world that people love and have analysed (and over-analysed) at great length. Knowing this, I feel it is my responsibility as a modder to conform to that world that has been created and to match it in tone, history and style. This is even more important when creating mods that add to the main campaign of the game.

As a modder I am telling a story that is uniquely mine, but if I am creating a story within a pre-defined world, then I must respect that setting. Before Dragon Age was released, I had many ideas for quests (both sidequests or main plot lines) that I had a desire to create as mods. After I played the game and read all the lore contained with the codex and other official sources, I realised that some of these stories could not be told within the Dragon Age world because they simply did not fit the image of Thedas as created by BioWare. Maybe one day I will get a chance to tell those stories, but as a modder I will did my utmost to ensure that Alley of Murders matched the vision of the official Dragon Age world.  I intend to do exactly the same thing with The Shattered War.

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