Monday, April 30, 2012

Shattered War: Update

I've spent a number of posts in recent times focusing on more design concepts in The Shattered War and how I'm using principles to make sure it's a well-developed and interesting adventure. While this is interesting from a design perspective it doesn't really tell anyone what I've been doing to get the mod finished. So today... that's what I'm going to cover.

First up, is writing. Writing, writing and more writing. Story and characterisation are very important to me when playing an RPG, so I make them a priority when making one. As such, I've been doing a lot of writing, covering the dialogue for major characters. This is a significant body of work, as there are several keys NPCs in addition to the four party members available in the game.

You can expect party members to talk. A lot.

To give you a sense of the amount of dialogue, second tier NPCs, which play a significant but not primary role in the story) have around 80-140 lines of dialogue. Primary NPCs are party members have in excess of 200 lines of dialogue, containing 4000 or more words of dialogue. Once these are written, they must be proofread and checked for consistency and clarity. Characters must be understood readily by players, so their language must not be ambiguous.

After the dialogue has been written and checked, then the script to send to voice actors must be created. This involves an export into a text file, and lines are organised logically to provide context and background. Many lines must also have specific direction/commentary to give the voice actor the necessary emotion of character's thoughts behind their answer. The voice actor needs to know if someone is being serious, sad, determined, playful, or any other relevant emotion to direct their performance. If I don't provide this information, voice actors can have a difficult time trying to bring characters to life.

I can't have these people being dull cardboard cutouts.

Aside from that, there's dealing with the dialogue once I receive it. This involves making sure the volume is consistent across the recording and across characters, so particular lines or characters don't drown out others. There's also making sure that there's an appropriate amount of silence between sentences. This is relatively simple, but it is time consuming, and while it's not noticeable by players when they play the game, it's very noticeable if it isn't done.

Even then, there's the final integration with the game itself. This includes: making sure the character staging is done correctly, that characters have appropriate facial expressions, that the same camera angle isn't used for too long, that camera cuts occur at appropriate times, and that the gestures that characters make match with the lines they are speaking. All these things are required to create and maintain an immersive cinematic experience.

Creating a stage is essential for a good cinematic conversation

On top of all that, I have been doing some playtesting work, general scripting and plot/journal entry writing as well. There's also been some conceptual planning for the levels that I still have to create. This primarily consists of me doing sketches or overhead map drawing for the areas to plan out the structure of the level. My inspiration usually comes from various landscape images or places I've seen in person, combined together to create a brand new environment. Of course, there's a healthy dose of pure imagination as well, along with general practical considerations to consider player movement and gameplay: avoiding backtracking, movement blocking during combat, texture/item/foliage pop-in, and so on.

So there's a quick rundown of all the work I've been doing recently on The Shattered War. I hope it provides some insight into the amount of work that is required, and what I'm doing with all the time that I've been spending on the project.

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