Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Student Project II - Introduction

The second semester at the Games Academy has just started and I am in a new team with not just game designers but artists, programmers and a producer, which is a different feeling than the first project where all members were game designers. The teams are bigger now (up to 10 people), so the need for a producer is higher than before though without one problems will arise even in a team of five.

We will work on a third-person shooter in the Unreal Engine 3. For ease of work we will use the UDK and try to use as much of our own assets as we manage and than use some UDK-Assets for dressing it up a bit better.
I will not give much more details about the game for now because I have to check with the rest of the team but I will post some links to tutorials or tips on working with the UDK in later posts. For now I will share a link to a blog we started during a scripting class on Unreal Script, unfortunately it is mostly in German but the links on it are in English so it won't be too hard to understand.

If I get the OK, I will post more info on the project but as said, it is not my decision...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - Reacquainting myself with the Toolset

The last update was on the 31th of march and I had a lot of other work to do that prevented me from working on the mod. Since then I have also learned a lot about game design and I will try to find a way to implement what I learned into the mod making it better and more interesting.

First there were some bugs in it that I will try to fix and then I will work on the next part of the story and the implementation of it but after so long I have to reacquaint myself again with the Toolset and the needed tutorials for companions and custom classes.

I am not making any promises to finish anything soon but I will work on it nevertheless.

Student Project - Post Mortem

It is about a month after the completion of the first student project for the Games Academy. I had some time to think about the whole process and have to say that even on a team with five people work can be hard to coordinate. We had no producer in our team who would try to keep the team together and the project on track and we had no one to try to do that job and the result was that we changed the engine without checking the new one and just because some team members thought that some features were not to their liking. The engine switch resulted in a massive crunch time and some small sparks flying but fortunately we could work out a way to finish a playable version and there were only small difficulties between some team members. They will not work together again but they are not trying to kill each other.

The project itself is playable but not bug free (just like some rushed commercial titles) so we are not really disappointed with it but with better management we could have delivered a better game with all the features we had planned to implement and also without bugs.

It was the first  student project I worked on and even though not everything went according to plan I have learned a lot. In an earlier post I said the the first project is doomed to fail but that was just some students in higher semesters trying to ease our minds. As a matter of fact it was mostly about the teamwork and learning to keep a schedule than really delivering a great game. We managed just that and are content if not happy with it.

In the previous two posts I talked about engines for 2D games and after having worked with Torque2D I have to say that it was a bad decision to switch to it because there are some kinks (or bugs) in the engine that are not really fixed and the whole documentation was outdated and in some cases just wrong. So working with it was mostly tapping in the dark and hoping to find the right command and that the engine logic was compatible to my own. After some research I found out that Torque2D had no real support anymore and that there were two different 2D engine based on the Torque engine and we did choose the wrong one. The other one uses XLA and therefore has a lot of tutorials and is up-to-date but using c# is a little bit more complicated than TorqueScript because it is much more powerful and more object-oriented which could have been a problem for the second programmer (not sure though).

The biggest problem was and always will be communication between the team members. Not just the coordination of work but smaller day-to-day problems that could ruin the working relationship in the long run.

As a conclusion I could say that the next project will be better and that I will not make the same mistakes as before but I have to be realistic and just try to do a better job next time and if something is amiss I will talk to my new teammates...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

2D Engines or 3D Engines for 2D Projects

After spending some time with the development of a 2D game for PC or maybe other platforms I had time to test out some engines that we have access to for free at home or with student licences in school.

For rapid prototyping the Game Maker is the first choice but it has problems with complex mechanics and collusion detection.

Working with Sprites and only 2D objects makes the use of an engine like Unity3D or even the UDK more tedious than helpful because these engines are designed for 3D gameplay and 3D meshes. To tell them otherwise via code is a lot of work and the result is not always desirable. 2.5D on the other hand is more easy to accomplish because the engine already knows how to handle 3D meshes and the "2D gameplay" is possible with some camera tricks.

Using an 2D engine like Torque2D is the better choice for Sprites, 2D objects and 2D gameplay. I am just starting to work with it so I will hold my praises for the moment, maybe it is easy, maybe not...

As for scripting languages most engines today use some kind of c++ related syntax and operators so the switch between different engines is not so difficult, in some cases the code is even transferable between them if not too much engine specific code is being used.

Student Project - Engines a Plenty

And another game engine to learn and to master...

After having some trouble with imprecise collision detection and too much hassle with gravity on jump mechanics we decided to change the game engine for our student project. Previously we used Unity3D but it being an 3D engine and we wanting to make a 2D game resulted in a lot of headache for all of us but mostly me 'cause I had to tame the beast and failed miserably.

In the beginning of the planning phase there was the option to use the Game Maker but we decided against it because it could produce nice prototypes but making good games with it seemed impossible. A better engine had to do the job. Unfortunately, I decided that Unity would be a good alternative and we ran with it as long as we could before realizing that it was too much for us beginners.

One of our teachers mention another engine that we could use that is more powerful than the Game Maker but not a 3D engine that needs too much fixing. He was talking about Torque2D. So we now try our luck with that engine.

My preliminary tests show that the engine is capable of providing the mechanics we want and that it is manageable to change the engine at our current development stage.
All the artwork has to be resized anyway so the conversion in file type that is needed is not that much of a problem. The scripts have to be rewritten with the new engine code in mind but there were just about 50 lines of code combined so no problem there as well.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Student Project - Progress Report and some Disillusion towards small Projects

The project is deep in production and we are experiencing some difficulties I thought would be avoidable in a project that small and with so few people involved.

Being almost the only one with programming experience was clear for me from the beginning but the amount of work I have to do to get some "simple" mechanics to work properly has me overwhelmed and stumbling at times. Fortunately there is another team member with programming skills that helped out at these times and I could take a step back and reassess the situation.

Another disillusion I experienced was the fact that even in a team with five people work can stagnate and a good "leadership" is needed. I put leadership in parenthesis because it is more the internal communication the team lead lacks as the skill to lead others in the right direction or the right goal. We are all just students at a game design school and we don't know any better. Some students in higher semesters said the first project is doomed to fail and the failure serves as a learning experience for future projects. We joked about it and tried to optimize the concept to avoid any pitfalls and make it a game that we can actually make in the given time frame but with all the courses and now even some exams we somehow lost track of our schedule and have fallen behind. I took too much time to research features of Unity and other interesting aspects of game development.
The idea or vision of our game is clear to everyone but there is no additional game design that everyone knows and that is constantly updated to see the real progress we made so far.
Our project is still a work in progress and I don't know how far we are with the other aspects like level design or graphics because I just lost track of the overall progress but most of the core features on the scripting side are implemented and need to be tested, tweaked and finalized for me to move on to other aspects of the game that need some coding.

The Need to Change my Expectations towards Unity

After working with Unity and trying to implement the core features of the game project I am working on, I have to change my previous statement that Unity is comfortable and easy to work with to an extend.

When I first imported the graphics provided by our artist he noticed that they looked rather bland and there were some lines that he was sure were not in the original files. The files were Photoshop CS 2 files and the importer inside Unity had some problems with them. After some tweaking the colours could be corrected but not the lines, maybe there is an image format that we could use that is imported correctly into Unity but as we are not working with the final graphics too much tweaking would be just a waste of time.

Another aspect of Unity that bugs me a lot is the movement of objects by script. Simple movement in one axis posses no threat at all and is easily implemented but creating a jump, that looks good in 2D and is at the same time "physics confirm" meaning it feels right in the given environment, seemed almost impossible at first and without using a set of external scripts. These scripts are included as a standard package with Unity but I wanted to avoid using scripts that provide functionality that is not needed for the project. Unfortunately it was only possible to achieve a suitable jump movement by using said scripts and add my movement scripts on top of them.

As a conclusion I was to hasty to praise Unity as I did but I learned a lot in the process and will test more before jumping on someone's "band wagon" in the future.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

UDK vs. Unity and Unity Tutorials

In my previous post I mentioned the fact that I work on a project that uses the Unity Engine and that there are many good tutorials out there, so here are some of them:
 Unity is a toolkit that is powerful yet easy to learn, so everyone who wants to create his own game someday could have a good start with Unity.

Ok, I might sound like an advertisement, but I was surprised myself after having worked with the UDK and failing miserably in getting something other than a 3D Shooter in the end. The UDK is designed for 3D games with high end graphics(textures, shaders etc.). It is possible to create other types of games with it but most mechanics have to be changed or implemented from scratch. Unity on the other hand is more free form with more focus on portability to different gaming platforms than the UDK. The graphics may not be high end but are not outdated either. So designing games with one engine or the other depends on the designer's focus and the style of game play he prefers.

Student Project - Ideas and Engine

After starting my semester at the Games Academy here in Berlin, Germany, I am part of a small team of game design students tasked with a semester long project. The task is to create a game similar to one of four examples:
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Micro Machines
  • BreakOut
  • Xevious
My team has chosen the first one, a platformer similar to Super Mario Bros. The game has to be similar in core game mechanics but with some "unique" features to distinguish it from the original.

As the only one in the team with programming experience I have to choose the engine we use to build the game. I had some prior experience with the Unreal Development Kit  (UDK), but decided against it because it might be too difficult to implement a 2D platformer with it. The second choice was the Game Maker by YoYo Games but I decided against that because I didn't know how to use it right or how to expand the basic features it provided. Finally I tested the Unity Editor and found it easy enough to work with and not to difficult to push to 2D game play.

The Unity Editor is for the engine with the same name and it provides tools to create games for different gaming platforms like the PC, Mac, Wii, iPhone and more. There is a free version that has enough features for most games and there are many tutorials to get started without much headache. The scripting languages used are JavaScript and C#. My preference lies with JavaScript even though I haven't scripted with it before but I used Java and C++ for earlier projects.

The actual project is still in its early planning stages but we are confident that we can get it done in the expected time frame. We are not reinventing the wheel and are able to use assets found on the internet as well as our own so it is possible despite the fact that most first semester projects are doomed to fail.

I might give some more information on the project's progress in future post but I have to check with my team mates first.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - Managing the player's character's journal

Most crpgs have a journal as a place where quest information and various notes are stored. Dragon Age is not different with regard to that. 

But I have always asked myself who managed that journal, who wrote all the different notes down and sometimes copied whole books into it. Some games use the first person for entries so that the player feels like his character takes the notes himself. Some games use the second person for the entries as if someone were talking directly to the player through his entries. In DAO it is the second person and I sometimes wondered who was managing it.

In "The Magic of Innocence" I wanted to be clear about who makes the entries and who "talks" to the player. It is the mage apprentice Ben who created the pc in a ritual and is the first and a permanent companion in my module.

Another aspect is the fact that the journal is just a concept and has no "physical" representation in most crpgs. That is something I dislike and therefore want my mod to be different. Fortunately, there is a item category in the game that is visible and does not count against the item limit: plot items. So the first plot item the character will get is in fact the journal where Ben writes down all the important information the player needs to stay atop of in the game. Most entries will be mostly neutral, but in order for the reader to know that it is Ben, who writes them, some of these entries will include his opinion, so it can be quite interesting to have an entry about something and then the player finds out that the information is not as accurate as he believed it to be. This approach is interesting but could potentially be devastating to the point that the player doesn't trust the journal any more so entries that are not based on facts have to be marked as such. I am thinking about adding a new category to the codex entries labels something like "ideas" or "rumours". In that category all entries floating around as hearsay and Ben's musings will be separated from the "facts", like the entries used by the original campaign or quest notes which only record past deeds.

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - Morality meter and approval systems

Dragon Age: Origins uses an approval system with its followers that is point based and displayed on something like a number line or number ray (not sure what the right word in English is), lets call it approval bar. With changing values the reaction toward the character changes. For positive changes the follower is more open to the player's ideas and with negative values it is possible that the follower would leave or even turn hostile.

Using that system for my own mod is something I will try to implement. The basics are there but effectively tied to the original followers from Origins. So far I can change the simple point values and get the value via script. To use the whole range of options available I have to dig a little more, make copies of more core scripts and adjust the system to my followers. It is a bit of work but would be nice to have in the long run.

As for having something like a "morality meter", that is a little bit more complicated. I would like to have something that the player can see in the GUI without searching for it. After some experimenting I found out that I can also enable the approval bar for the player character (pc). It easily fits into the GUI and the values are handled the same as for followers (no surprise there, its the same system). But the player won't know that this approval bar is different from the others and changing the icons just for the pc doesn't work, it is a part of the GUI that I can't edit.
Another idea came from another modder in the BSN toolset forums that suggested using items as tokens for a reputation system she uses in her mod. These items would be assigned as plot items to not count against the item limit and to be in a separated section of the inventory screen. Using those tokens for different factions as signs that you had dealings with them is quite a good idea when the core game had nothing to represent factions in the first place like other crpgs have.
Combining the pc approval bar with tokens for morally wrong decisions could be just what I wanted. If the pc passes a specific value on his/her approval bar a token is put in the inventory and by the description of said token the player can see if the consequences are worth the action. I will not make these tokens a bad thing per say. They will have consequences both beneficial and limiting. For example there could be some talents that get unlocked that mirror the decisions previously made but at the same time some npcs might not want to have dealing with the pc anymore or even turn hostile as a result. There will be ample warning of mayor changes both in the mentioned token descriptions and by journal entries that Ben makes.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - Upload Beta 2 and bugfixes

Beta 2 is ready and uploaded. But as expected there are some bugs in it because I still used some only one and the same computer for testing and development. There were some remains from mods I had installed like new textures and meshes. Some of those I included in the upload other I just forgot entirely so the result had missing hair meshes for the main character and also some icons.

Some of the new lines of dialogue were a little bit rushed and therefore prone to spelling and grammar mistakes. I am no native English speaker and have to check the text more than once in the future.

I wanted to upload a new version before my semester start on Wednesday so I was in a hurry, big mistake. I now have to check the content for bugs and grammar mistakes nonetheless. Hopefully there are no major bugs in it and my changes to the previous version improve the experience. So far I have one play test from another modder and he made some important comments that I need to look out for in future updates. It is still a work in progress, I never claimed anything else.

With some more time on it, I will fix the reported bugs today and tomorrow. I'll also have another look at the conversation flow to make it more smooth.

The class abilities are the next big thing I have to tackle because so far they are only pictures without any code behind them.

And I really should make a design document and collect my notes to improve my structure. There are dozens of posits and sheets of paper littering my desktop and only some of them have something important on them. In digital form there is one to-do list that I made last year and forgot about it so it is hopelessly outdated...

Friday, 1 April 2011

The countdown is running...

On Wednesday I start my semester at a local Game Design School and I have to change my schedule from sleeping past noon to getting up early in the morning. My time working on the Dragon Age: Origins Mod "The magic of innocence" will be much shorter depending on the workload from school but it will not cease entirely if I can manage it somehow.

The input with new ideas will be great and meeting like-minded people might give me the opportunity to recruit some help or get more structure in the chaos that are my notes so far.

What will I learn there?
I do a course on game design and game programming so basically applying my prior knowledge in programming and designing a role playing system in the field of computer games. The whole is 2.5 years long and costs an fortune but I will get new connections with developers local and international on the side.

I will keep you (or me, as I am talking to myself so far) up to date with news and will maybe post one or two interesting episodes here (provided they don't collide with my contract).

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Nudity in Games?

Is nudity in games needed or is it just there to attract attention?
If it is not in a game it takes maybe a month at the most for the nude patches to arrive.

In some games that feature the ability to change the equipment of characters there are some underwear models that represent the naked character. In most cases these models look simple if not ugly, for females they are mostly bikinis and speedos or boxer shorts for males. If they are only there to represent the character without special armour or clothing, they are sufficient but if there are sex scenes with those models it makes them look silly and it might kill the immersion into the world and characters. In a fantasy world that tries the mix a realistic medieval world with elements like magic and fantastic creatures bikinis look out of place imo. To have a nude model there instead is more realistic or the art department has to design more accurate underwear that might fit better into the time. Sex scenes in underwear however defeat the purpose because they show an adult act but make it more appropriate of younger gamers by not showing nudity, that makes no sense because the scenes, in most cases, are there just to attract that crowd in the first place.

Nudity always has a purpose, in most cases it is there to attract attention and get a specific target audience to watch that film or play that game. If that purpose it not there and nudity is just part of the normal game world it changes the matter. By part of the normal game world I mean that it feels realistic in the given setting that there is nudity and not that the game world is full of nude people so that it is normal to be nude. In a realistic world nudity is something private or restricted to specific locations or occasions so permanent nudity is out of place.

Coming back to the topic of nudity in games, the nude patches mentioned above change some models to be nude without regard to the game world. The most prominent example that comes to mind is Tomb Raider (or Nude Raider) where Lara Croft jumps around in a low poly model that has a different texture but the same mesh making the models look ridiculous and just wrong. In more recent games nude patches introduced new models that had the "proper" curves and not just a new texture. The problem with those is the view of female anatomy is quite twisted so that the new models had rock hard breasts bigger than balloons, not sure who might like those. The first game where a nude patch had consequences apart from optics was one of the recent Elder Scrolls games (not sure if it was Oblivion or Morrowind) where the guards warned you to put clothes on or they would arrest you and other npcs refused to talk to naked characters.

So in conclusion nudity in games is not needed unless it feels realistic and the world reacts accordingly. If a player still wants his character to run around naked because he wants to he can do so but not all gamers need that.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Maturity of games? Not really!

There is a lot of talk about the maturity of games but what are the aspects that make modern games more mature and are they really something one could call mature?

As by my heading you might notice that I don't think that modern games are more mature, I am more of the option that the opposite is the case.

Let me clarify my thoughts:
What are the alleged aspects that make games more mature?
First of all there is the violence, then we have the sex and oh, there is even more violence around the corner.
I won't deny that sex is a strictly mature subject but does the addition of sex to a game make it more mature?
No, I don't think so. The same goes for extreme violence.
Both aspects are clearly not for minors but their inclusion makes a game not more mature.
The extremity of violence in computer games and films for that matter is quite shocking and frankly disturbing.
If there is not much else to a game then violence, it makes the game not more mature, it makes it rather dumb and not really engaging. So to spice it up sex is thrown in the mix and now it is much more mature. No, maybe from the view of a young adolescent but not for the target group. A game that feature both aspects on the side of an engaging story might be more mature but such a game is not published by now. In modern games sex is used to catch the attention of the adolescent audience that are not even supposed to play them.

The kind of game that sells today is something that features sexed up females and androgynous males who run around half naked killing everything around them and if they are not killing others they have sex like you wouldn't even see in a low budget porno flick. As I see it the interaction with a game world should be interesting according to the genre. Oh, yes, in a shooter the interaction is shooting things but there is always some kind of purpose behind the killing, as far as I know. Running around shooting things without a purpose and any sense makes for a quite boring game imo.

Ok, making accusations without some evidence is not good practice, so let's have a look at some recent games I played and some I saw game play footage that is there to attract attention.

The first game I want to comment on is The Witcher. It is set in a dark fantasy world where monsters roam the streets at night and the Witcher has to find and kill them. The interaction with the world is by dialogue and by hacking monsters down. The witcher's life is a hard one, he is an outsider, cursed to hunt monsters, but to balance out the hardship the witcher, Geralt, has to have a little fun at the side. So the player has the ability to to "court" women and have sex with them (without seeing the act). As a reminder of the encounter there is a picture of the half naked lady added to the journal. At first glance that looks not too bad at all but in the course of the game you kind of collect these pictures, the whole act is cheapened and women are shown as sex objects rather than normal people.

The next game is Dragon Age: Origins where the player can have relationships with women and men that even result in seeing the act itself. That was a bold move by BioWare and the game was rated M for its sexual and violent content. The bad thing about the game is the fact that the violence is omnipresent, the blood splatter animations are over the top, leaving the combatants covered in dark red paint after every small encounter and the hard work to woe a companion is cheapened by the fact that after having sex with one of them you can dump them and woe another one. There is even an achievement for having sex with more than one partner. If the act of wooing is too tedious there is also a brothel with various options to choose from, it is a little on the expensive side but money is not rare. The animations for the brothel are all the same with different partners but the companions get their own set of sex scenes. All of the animations look awkward and they are full of clipping issues. The game has not much variety in character models so the models of same gender and race are essentially the same. There are underwear models but having them preform sex in that underwear just looks ridiculous. There was an outcry that you are able to have homosexual relations but that is one of the positive aspects IMO. The game was advertised as a mature game in a mature world but it fell short  because of over the top and sometimes awkward animations and the fact that too many interactions with npcs consisted of killing them.

Dragon Age 2 saw the opportunity to expand on all those aspects and the result is even more ridiculous than in Origins. The combat animations are even more over the top and totally unrealistic in relations to the one used in Origins that for the most part looked believable. The sex in DA2 is even more laughable because there are no underwear models for some of the companions so they jump each other in full clothing (with weapons on the backs as well). There are no animations for the act as in Origins, thankfully.
The characters are designed to be every teenagers wet dream like Isabella running around without pants and most other women with a back breaking cub size. The male counterparts are moody and attractive like the ones you could see in Twilight but equally shallow as well.

There is another game that comes to mind, I haven't played it and frankly I don't want to. That game is BulletStorm, the new slay and splatter festival for all the "mature" gamers out there. The game is a shooter but not an ordinary one, no, you get points and achievements for mutilation of enemy bodies. The game play I saw in videos looked a lot like Serious Sam but unlike that game it will be taken seriously and show the future of gaming, damn, what a dark future that is...

We are now "blessed" with these fine examples of "mature" game and can only hope that some of the designers might wake up and make real mature games which deserve it to be called as such. But with a side glance to the trends in comedy and action films coming out lately I seriously doubt that any time soon.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - Classes and social skills

Dragon Age like most rpgs uses classes for their characters to distinguish between the mechanic sides of roles.
As a result I need to design a set of classes for my mod that represent the sets of abilities my characters get.

For the main character it is the hardest because I want to give as much freedom to the player as possible. Realising that goal with a system that restricts different sets of skill or talents to different classes and not use a common pool of abilities where all the can chose from is maybe the hardest part of my idea to realize.

For my npcs it is easier because I will use existing classes or build new ones atop of them. My apprentice will become an alchemist which is an edited form of the original mage with some unique abilities. There will be a rogue that will get a new specialisation.

Back to the main character.
Since I will not need fighting skills or magic attacks from the start I have to design a set of abilities that are interesting enough to use. Dragon Age: Origins has too few abilities that are not combat related so I have to design those myself.

What kind of abilities do I need?
Mostly social skills, something special knowledge like street smarts for the rogue and magic theory for the alchemist and some that are for the main character.

The main class I will call "Enigma" with the background "Created"(Surprise!). The npcs have no background as mechanics so their background abilities must be part of the classes.
The class is called "Enigma" because at the beginning there are not really much skills or talents but the player influences the availability of other skills through his/her actions. These skills will then enhance the different styles of play. For example, a pacifistic character might get abilities to prevent the need to fight while a confrontational character will get fighting skills.
The character at the very beginning has no special abilities apart from maybe "attractiveness", which can help dealing with grumpy npcs. Wait? How? Well there are social studies that state that attractive people are better at getting help then unattractive ones. It is nicer to talk to someone who is attractive then the "filthy bum" from the bus station. It might be illogical but sadly it is the way social interactions work to an extent.
Another aspect that someone needs that is just created is the ability to learn fast and efficiently.

So we have the first set of abilities for the class:
  • Attractive: Your creator made sure that you look good and people have no problem talking to you.
    • Here is room for something like flirt, charm or the like, that might come in handy in conversations. The standard is persuasion which splits in Intimidate and Persuade but that is not enough for good role playing.
  • Fast Learner: You learn faster than normal people. 
    • The first thing to learn might be that language the people of Fereldan speak.
    • Here is room for more abilities like maybe "learning by imitation" which could be interesting. To watch someone do a specific task and gain insight that way. A nice way to learn to fight maybe...
  •  Help from Companions: Your companions can help you with their knowledge and their skills to find out more in conversations.
    • Since there will not be more than three companions there could be a skill for each one of them. It would be something like: 
      1. own dialogue option 1
      2. own dialogue option 2
      3. etc.
      4. (Companion 1 skill) 
      5. etc.
    • These skill are just for things the character is not able to learn for herself in the course of the game like the before mentioned "street smarts", "magic theory" or so.

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - The ToolSet

The toolset for Dragon Age is a large program with a lot of options and a lot of interdependency.
You can do level design in the same window with the dialogue editor so you have full control over all aspects of your modification.

With so much power comes (responsibility.. sorry, couldn't resist) a steep learning curve to understand all the aspects you need for a specific task. There is a wiki with some good starter tutorials, there are also some video tutorials for those of us who learn better the audio visual way (like me). But there are nor advanced tutorials there or anywhere else but you can ask questions in the forum at the Bioware Social Network.

It took me about half a year to get my bearings with the toolset and there are still parts of it that I do not understand at all. But for the most parts of my mod I know where to look and what to change.

The toolset has some bugs like every piece of software, some of them easy to find and to avoid, others can really creep up on you and you have to redo a lot of work. I might do some posts on aspects of the toolset or dragon age modding in general in the future, not sure yet.

In relation to my own mod, I have about 10 areas planned and maybe a hundred npcs. The easiest part are the visuals because I mostly use original designs from the game and be able to change them to my liking without much hassle with the morph and the creature editors inside the toolset. The level editor is a little bit more complicated but I don't need it that much with using original content. Rearranging some furniture or pushing a wall to the side is easier than building the level from scratch but even that is not that much of a deal with a little bit of practice once you are familiar with the usage of the tile sets and the difference between the camera modes(area vs. level editor).
The hard part is breathing life into those visuals and make them move around but I will get the hang of it in time, hopefully.

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - Part 0

Wait, Part 0?
Yes, because it contains the idea and no real development.
It is more like what do want my mod to be.

So here it goes:
At first I thought about taking my own fantasy world and tell a story in it, but since I am not a good artist and my 3d models are all too static and simple, I decided against it and instead thought up a story that could play out in Thedas, the world Bioware designed for their Dragon Age games.

One point was clear from the beginning, I wanted no dungeon crawl or hack'n'slay game play. With that in mind I had to push the world a little, so there is no blight at the door step and no war between mages and templars.
I wanted a time of peace but still the conflict between magic/science and faith/religion.
For that to be evident I located the story inside the mage circle tower of fereldan, also because I had the layouts from Origins and could start without hour spend in level design.

The story contains a young apprentice mage named Ben(real original, taking my second name ;P) who finds an old tome of powerful spells in the basement and is tempted to try one of them out. He wants to create a new life. He gathers the ingredients he needs and prepares the spell.

So much for the background story, now to the part that is more interesting, the game itself.
As the player you control a young woman that was just created in a magical ritual and thereby you are thrown in an unknown world with new things to experience around every corner (in theory).
The player should either be able to design the optics of the character or just thrown in the world with predefined looks. The mechanics like background and class are predetermined in both cases because none of the existing classes or backgrounds were appropriate to my ideas and going without a class or background might not be possible with the tools I have (the Dragon Age toolset and the published content from the original campaign of Origins).

I want the player to experience the world through the eyes of an innocent and give him/her the ability to shape a unique character from it. Every decision has to have consequences and those shall shape the rest of the game. Maybe it is a little too much for someone with no prior game design experience but I will face that challenge.

I read a lot of lore for the mod to make it not seem out of place and my idea fits into the setting so without giving too much away I will stop here and go over specific aspect of development when they arise.

One thing you might have noticed, yes, I am not a native speaker and yes, I am already full in the process of modding. I have just started posting in this blog so bear with me.

Dragon Age 2 and the death of role playing games for computers

First of all, this post constists of many spoilers for Dragon Age 2 or Dragon Age: Origins, so for everyone still interested in playing the games without predigested knowledge, stop reading here...

So, I played Dragon Age 2 some days ago and I was really disappointed by the lack of innovation and the overall changes they took in this game.
Not only did they shift the focus more to combat and farther away from the player and his decisions, they also crippled the story enormously.

It all starts of with the class system that was also in Origins. The classes have no real impact in the story and the role the character plays in his world. So why are they there in the first place?! To distingish between different styles of play?
In Origins, yes, the mage is more fragile and needs to be in the background trowing magic at enemies, the rogue is able to take a little bit more but still has to avoid getting hit too often and the warrior is able to withstand damage while wearing heavy plate armour and hold the ememies off with sword and shield.
They are there to distiguish between the different parts needed in a combat situation, ok, but they have little impact on the rest of gameplay apart from the rogue who is the only one able to open locked objects.
In Dragon Age 2 these distinctions are nearly gone because the mage is now able to wield his staff as a weapon and make the same damage on close range as on long range. The different types of armour still exist and there are even weapon restictions for the rogue that make no sense.
The classes are for combat in both games and have little to no impact of the character apart from different stats.
The little destinctions that were in Origins are gone in DA2 like the rogues ability to steal and the mages skill in herbalism.

With those aspects gone or crippled where are the mechanics for role playing?
In former games most customization was in the ability system and the decisions made there determined the stats and the mechanic role the character plays in the game. The loss of those mechanics changes the whole concept of play, the focus could shift to other part of role playing like the decisions and the interaction with npcs, companions or otherwise.
Unfortunatly DA2 has more focus on combat as Origins had and in Origins the focus was mostly on combat. So we have a game that has three classes that have no impact on combat roles and no impact in other parts of game mechanics and a game that only focuses on flashy, unrealisting combat.

The only thing that could help there is the players ability to influence the npcs by other means like talking. But DA2 adopted the dialogues wheel from Mass Effect so there are only some words to choose from and the character says someting different. The different choices are "goodie goodshoe", "sarcastically uninterested" or "confrontationally brutal"; nice! So if you for example chose to follow the path of the selfless helping angel (always "goodie goodshoes" options), you might think that you will get that experience but no the story unfolds in ways that just ignores the player's point of view and you get the feeling that "sarcastically uninterested" might have been the better option all over. Maybe it was the only option tested so the story was tweaked that way, I don't know. I as player grew more and more uninterested by passing hours and needed sarcasm to keep me going to experience the ending.

The game (DA2) is structured in different acts, the first is orientation and acclimatisation with the world and the game mechanics, the second act was finding out what goes on in the world and maybe climbing the social ladder, the next act is confrontation with a mayor threat (the Qunari) and its "solution". The game should have stopped there and it would have been ok but it added another act that pushed the conflict between mages and templars that exist in Thedas to the extreme and the character has to take a side and kill off the opposition unless they surrender. But how do you choose between two sides if their leaders are both psychopaths?! So I chose the side of the oppressed, the mages. The mages are feared because they can be possessed by demons and could "destroy the world" so they are guarded by the templars of the holy church... sorry, the chantry. These templars have to find demon worshipers and bloodmages (who practice an forbidden kind of magic) and kill them (simple and shortsided solution).
So in this conflict the character is thrown and now he has to decide which side he supports. The fact that there are templars mobbing mages and even kill them without provocation and mages on the other side that throw their teachings over board to vent their frustration through destruction and mayhem makes that a hard decision but the character is predefined and has a family so he already has a predefined point of view. He/she is a child of an apostate mage and has an apostate sister, so he(simplified because the gender also makes no difference) should side with the mages. He even can be a mage so why would one side with the templars?! But you get the decision and I chose the mages. So I tried to calm both sides down and avoid bloodshed but that is not the solution BioWare wanted, so I had to kill the templars and help the mages. And then I happened! The first enchanter turns on me even though I already sided with him and I have to kill him and the knight commander of the templars in a rediculous boss fight that made no sense at all. After that the game is over and all the land is in turmoil and a war between the two factions is inevitable. What?! Why is there war now and why am I the one who started it? This is even worse than the ending of Dawn of War, where the planet is destroyed after you fought so long to liberate it...

But why is that the death of computer role playing games?
Well, it was one of few interesting settings that existed in computer games and it was one of the last single player games that interested me. Yes, I know that Skyrim comes out in November but I fear that it will also be "awesome" like DA2 was. The decline from Morrowind to Oblivion was drastic enough.
The generation of crpgs is dying because it is impossible to provide the same depth and immersion in an online game like we could witness in WoW or others.
With the announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic as an online game my dreams of a Star Wars rpg that I might want to play died and even german role playing games like The Dark Eye switched to online games for their next release.

In conclusion I have to say that role playing games for the pc turned more and more into action games with some rpg mechanics so I have to get my role playing fix in p&p and play those action games for fun. Maybe...

First Post - kind of disclaimer

So, this is my blog where I will talk about things that tumble around in my confused mind. That said, all posts are my opinion and I don't want to anger anyone and if I do nonetheless, sorry.

What will I be talking about here?
Well, my hobbies which consist of role playing games, writing stories and playing computer games. In the near future, I will be at a game design school and at the moment I am working on a mod for Dragon Age, so I will post ramblings in that regard as well.

Who am I?
Long story short, just a pen&paper rpg geek with too many strange ideas in his head and no real outlet.

So why am I doing this?
Good question, maybe I needed a new way to write ideas down, maybe I am just following the times. Not quite sure myself, but maybe someone might read my ramblings and find them amusing or I just have an outlet to vent some emotions and ideas.

So, have fun,