Friday, March 25, 2011

Quick update and apology

Just a public service announcement: I'd like to apologise for the lack of an article this week, but I just don't think it's going to happen right now.  I've been working on my mod for Dragon Age: Origins, nearly as a full-time job with the amount of hours I've been putting into it each day since I began.  As a result, I've had generally less time to interact with the gaming world as a whole, and perhaps more importantly, significantly less time to play and examine games.  While I'll try to have a new article up by the weekend or early next week, after writing on average 1000-2000 words of dialogue a day, I'm finding myself fairly burned out for writing.  Anything that I've written for Critical Missive since beginning work on my mod, I simply haven't been particularly happy with the quality of, and I'd much rather miss a week's update than I would publish a sub-standard article.  I'd like to offer an apology to my readers for that, and a resolution that I'll try to approach updating this blog with a bit more foresight and planning in the future.

While I'm generally not one to shamelessly self-promote, I suppose it's also time that I gave a few details about the mod I'm creating, since I've already spoken about it in a prior article.

Thirst is a stand-alone campaign for Dragon Age: Origins which revolves around themes of loss, redemption, desire, and sacrifice.  Taking place in the non-canon trade city of Arceris, Thirst will be a semi-open-ended adventure focused less on combat and far more on providing the player with significant choices and consequences in how they go about solving quests.  While the storyline itself is relatively fixed in its progression, the player has quite a bit of freedom in just how he or she wants to go through it.  As a result, Thirst will be a little shorter than its amount of content suggests, but more replayable than the vast majority of stand-alone campaigns for Origins.  I don't want to quote an exact game length, but I will say that as of current development, there's probably a good 30-45 minutes of playable content,

One key goal in Thirst is to create a believable, palpable game world.  While I obviously don't have the resources to create a full-sized city, the city of Arceris will be roughly comparable to, or even larger than, Denerim in Origins.  Every building with a door on it can be entered by the player, every building has a unique interior built by me, and the vast majority of areas and buildings have at least one character with a dialogue sequence, with the most extensively-written characters reaching up to 2500-3000 words.  I've paid quite a bit of attention to world-building and creating a place where events feel as if they have had lasting and real effects on the people within the city, and try to weave the main story in with sub-plots and the existing politics and conditions of the world.

Unfortunately, due to limitations in casting and the sheer size of the script and number of characters, it is well beyond my means to include voice-acting.  I've tried to compensate by adding more dialogue branches, paths, unique responses based on how given characters feel towards the player, etc.  It is even possible to annoy certain characters to the point where they refuse to speak, just as it is possible to "butter them up" and get store discounts or extra information from them.  While much of this is based on character abilities and other traits, I've tried to leave plenty of options available for players regardless of these factors, so the entire game won't be 100% predetermined by how you build your character.  Dragon Age is, unfortunately, not quite ideal for handling complex character interaction and conversation; player responses are fairly limited in length, and there can only be six shown on-screen at one time, which means lots of "(more options)" dialogue nodes.  I've tried to work my way around these limitations, but be aware that you still won't see the 15-odd responses typical of Planescape's more complex conversations.

I've always felt that Dragon Age was rather lacking when it came to giving the player options outside of combat, so Thirst's main goal is to bring a sense of role-playing closer to what is available in late-90s/early-2000s computer RPGs like Fallout and Planescape: Torment.   Many quests are dependent upon the player making certain decisions throughout the game, and new options become available on the player having certain skills, abilities and attributes.  I am striving to provide at least four or five outcomes for every single quest in the game, with the quests I have designed so far topping out at about ten outcomes.  Unlike many RPGs, choice and consequence is significant: decisions made in side-quests can have an effect on the main storyline, and it is totally possible to get a less-than-ideal outcome for a quest by failing to uncover a key piece of information or missing a skill check.

By de-prioritising combat, I have hopefully balanced the combat skills which dominated Origins with other skills.  Now, having ability in the Survival or Herbalism skills may just come in handy, instead of only Coercion and Lockpicking being the only relevant non-combat skills.  As I am only one person and I hope to get this mod done within a reasonable timeframe, unfortunately, this may mean combat isn't up to par with the base Origins game (for instance, there are no new classes, skills or abilities, and at this point no companion characters), but I feel that the trade-off is worth it in order to provide a distinct and memorable experience.

In any case, thanks for your understanding in the matter.  As I said, I'll try to have a new article out soon, but I've simply been engrossed by Thirst's development.  It's definitely been an eye-opening experience.  I've had to learn some (basic) C++ in order to do scripting, it's the most extensive level design I've ever done (and in a different genre than what I'd previously designed levels for), and the size of the project has meant I've had to pick up some better organisation and management skills to simply keep track of everything.  With lots more hard work and a little luck, hopefully I'll be able to provide fulfilling, enjoyable and unique game experience when all's said and done.

I've posted an official project page on the BioWare Social site, which I hope to keep updated.

And for the heck of it, here are some screenshots:


  1. Lack of posts is not something you must apologize for imo, focusing on quality over quantity is always the better solution.

    As to your mod, looks good so far and you are quite ambitious with your goal. From what I have learned with my project you might have a time frame from one up to three month on your hands. And that is full time, not just some lines of dialogue on the weekend. Like I said quite ambitious. More options are always a good idea but working on it alone needs a lot of good management to avoid logic mistakes.
    I did a five minute "intro" part to my project and after a pause and a careful second look I found out that the whole logic behind the character was flawed and I had to redo most of my work just because I worked in total chaos only relying on my mind to sort the different aspects involved.

  2. Thanks for the reply! You're right, management skills are pretty key, and not having people to constantly bounce ideas off of means that it's harder to catch myself if I make a mistake. Thankfully, I have a pretty consistent idea of the world and story I'm creating - they're fleshed out without being... let's say, overambitious, and I try to relate every quest, character and side-quest into that main story in some way or other. Every time I create something, I ask the questions "why am I doing this? what is the player going to learn about the story or world? is this new, interesting, and fun?", and I think those questions are enough to keep me on track.

    Setting small, reasonable and accomplishable goals is key. Every day I try to give myself something to do - create a new level to explore (small building interiors are great for getting myself motivated since I can build one in an hour or two), write a new character, or examine what I've done and see what sorts of things I can change or improve to make the actual experience better, rather than the experience that exists in my head. The hardest thing, aside from keeping it all managed properly, is making sure that the player actually gets what I'm trying to give them. It's surprising sometimes just how much of your dialogue comes across as repetitive or boring, or how poor your level design is, because you're so intimately familiar with what you're trying to accomplish, not necessarily the finished product.