I'm not sure if it's the industry standard, or just common sense, but I tend to end extras to various levels once everything else is locked down. They could be non-interactive, just going about their thing, have ambient one liners, or full fledged conversations. With the latter 2, it's important that whatever they say, it's something that adds that little extra "something" to the game, to bring the world alive much more.
I already started this process last week with some extras praying around a statue that had been in the game since 2010 (no, really, you can look it up and find the screenshots if you're brave). Instead of having some wikipedia NPC state a bunch of facts, I'd rather just show the player how much this statue means to particular people in the game world.
I also had other ideas for another set of extras, and after RP Singh did his thing with one of the 4 cast members he read for, it inspired me to add a little extra depth to said extras. They'll still be there, but so will the this new character he is doing. I mean, hell, this character didn't even exist 2-3 months ago. But after the performance, the creative juices began to flow, and I was able to add him to the world in a very organic way. Remember, no adding people just for the sake of adding people.
Finally... I've been listening to this album by David Arkenstone, and couple that with all the stuff Alexander has been sending me (seriously, this guy is on fire, he has new ideas on a daily basis), I'm seriously already thinking about the next game. Not just thoughts, but plans. Which is sad in a way, because I'm always bitching to people that I can't wait to be done with this game so I can have a little of my life back. And to be fair, that's what will happen. At the same time, it's inevitable that I'll be back sooner than I'll plan. This game development shit is like heroin. I can't stop!
Here's another great song with singing, but not all the hokey shit. Well, I don't think it sounds like hokey. Anyway, enjoy!
1/26/13 -Saturday: MORE BRAINSTORMING, VO, ETC...
Due to other things I had in the pipeline for the day, I was not able to do any actual game development. I was able to finally integrate all of RP Singh's VO. It was long overdue, and honestly, it's not like me to make someone wait that long to get videos of their work. Regardless, because of two of his performances, I asked him if he wouldn't mind reprising these roles, as I look to expand those characters a bit. Nothing major, really. One will have more lines early in the game, one may have a small cameo in one of the epilogues, just to sort of tie up his current story arc.
While not doing that, and while doing other work, I was chatting with Alexander a bit. No 8 hour Skype chats, just little mssages back and forth here and there. His creative juices must have been flowing, because he kept coming up with little scenes that involved one of the character he voices, as well as another character that has ties to the former. Much like he did with that other character, he's really owning this other one, and making me re-evaluate how the game was supposed to pan out in the next chapter. Because as you all should know by now, while the core story has been written for some time, the little details sort of get written into the story on demand. I haven't had this much new lore and stuff coming in since Jason Melancon and I went on a rampage in late 2011. This gives me even more of a reason to get a real WIKI up soon. Actually kind of excited about that.
Tomorrow, once I get some free time, I think I'll work on some smaller bugs, so I can get back into the swing of things.
This may be the best pure instrumental song from The Prince of Eygpt. Enjoy!
1/25/13 -Friday: WOW, WHAT A CRAZY COUPLE OF DAYS!
So, where to begin...
RP Singh has surprised the hell out of me, and has delivered lines for 4 characters within a few days. It was pretty funny, actually... He has this google drive that he's using. He emailed me and told me that there were some lines available for me to download. So I'm doing my thing, downloading the files, and getting them all integrated into the game. Then I started seeing more files appear. Then more. Then more. And holy shit, it was like a tidal wave of audio files, and I simply couldn't download and integrate them fast enough! He was really on his game that night, and now I'm the one who is behind (which I hate!). I need to finish integrating the lines for one more characters, then send him the videos, as well as my comments. But as always, it's great to be getting these lines.
That was 2 days ago. Today was a totally different beast. I had a 7 and a half hour Skype chat with Alexander. No, you didn't read that wrong... 7 and a half hours... It all began with me actually being on Skype. My company has been trying out all sorts of different chat clients for everyone to use (i.e. HipChat), and the email was finally sent out by our President that Skype would be the one. I've already had Skype for years, but I barely use it. In fact, I only use it for Ossian Studios related things.
So I hop on, accept like 1000 invites from co-workers, get our different department groups in order, and then get up and start heading out the door towards the gym (which I do on my lunch break when working from home). Then I see I'm getting a Skype call. I'm like, "Great, now the bullshit begins. Who is harassing me from work now?" I don't recognize the name, but I answer, and start talking to "someone". The guy is going on and on as if we know each other, and I'm thinking I'm getting pranked or something. Then he goes, "What if I talk like this?", and then he goes into his rendition of the major party member that he is voicing. I'm like, "Holy shit", Alexander.
And thus began a long conversation that included things like:
Brainstorming sessions about the 2 major characters he voices. As I have pointed out many times, he has pretty much owned these characters. Because of this, he is heavily invested in their futures, and has a lot of ideas.
Raphael Perry joining the call. Now, I haven't mentioned his name that often, but he actually did the very first set of VO for me many years ago (and introduced me and Jason Melancon to Alexander), and through an unfortunate set of circumstances, have just missed each other since then. He'd be available to voice someone, I'd tell him that part was already filled, I would reach out to him, he'd be a little too busy, rinse, repeat.
Another one of Alexander's friends joined even later. Now, she had actually been interested in doing lines for the game after he mentioned it to her, so it was great to hear her voice, and talk to her about the characters I would need done, giving her the descriptions and whatnot. In fact, during the call, she would drop off to record some lines, we would give them a listen and give feedback, she would re-record one, and then I actually dropped off the call to integrate them into the game and create a video for her and everyone else to watch. I mean, it doesn't get more real time than that!
It was just a bunch of people bouncing ideas off of each other, lots of questions (i.e. "Well, why does Aramus do that?"), lots of on the spot improv (they're all actors, so I guess this is par for the course?) for various characters in the game, and all in all, just a lot of fun. Good times.
Tomorrow, I'll have to finish integrating all of RP Singh's lines, and then from there, I'm not sure. Most likely knock out some more bugs.
Today, I'm going to change stuff up with regards to the music of the day. One thing I have always loved are certain songs (mostly from Disney movies during the late 80's through the 90's) from animated movies. Hell, I've even flirted with the idea of one day being able to have them in one game I'll create in the future. Not the hockey songs, but the more dramatic ones, like this one from Prince of Egypt. Enjoy!
1/22/13 -Tuesday: LITTLE SCRIPTING, LITTLE CONVERSATION WORK...
I did some minor scripting today, as well as some conversation related things. On the scripting front, I wanted to make some minor tweaks to how some Last Resorts, like Flurry Attack, were activated. While going through my playthrough last week (or whenever it was), I was noticing that for party members and enemies alike, once their health was dropping past the 25% mark, when they activated the ability, they were left vulnuerable while going through their casting animation, which more times than not, left them dead. Rather than get rid of the animation (which I sort of like), I decided to make them invulnerable during those precious few seconds. I think it could play into strategy of the game as well, where you perfectly time when you use the ability. I did a little testing in my combat arena, and some of the enemies who were really getting pushed around before I made the change, well, they were able to hold their own afterwards. Now, I'm not 100% sure that I'll stick with this change, as it may piss people off if they're using one of their big special abilities on an enemy that is activating the ability, thereby bypassing any damage. Maybe I'll just do things like The Coming & Cry The Beloved, where the ability is activated with no animation? We'll see...
Another thing I worked on was the handling of the removal of effects (including death) from the entire party when starting conversations. I had already written my own wrapper conversation starter script, which did away with the VFX. Due to a lapse in judgement on my part, I did not handle the reviving bit properly. The existing core utility talk function has a flag in it to revive party members, so I figured I would just roll with that... Until I realized I had my own custom death system! So yeah, I had to add in my own call from my own custom death library.
Finally, I started taking a look at some slapping animations that exist in the game. The problem with them is that:
The slapping itself was too long
After the slapped person was, well, slapped, their animation where they walk back into place took too long
The first thing I did was increase the animation speed from 1.00 -> 1.50, which helped out considerably. The other thing I did was mess with this "Uses Animation Duration" (or something like that) flag, which essentially means that the next line in the convo won't play until the animation is done. When taken off, the line would last as long as the VO itself, and then go to the next. So, using that, with some new camera angles, I can make the slapping animations look a little more realistic. Because let's face, folks aren't here to play an RPG, they just want to see people get the shit slapped out of them :)
Because I was young and didn't know anything, I always thought this song was sung by Enya. Turns out, it's Clannad, which Enya used to be a part of... Yeah, not going down that route. Anyway, enjoy!
1/21/13 -Monday: RP SINGH HAS JOINED THE TEAM...
So, the actor I've been talking about for the past few days, RP Singh, has officially signed on to lend his VO talents to Rose of Eternity. Even better, he was totally cool with taking on all 4 roles that I sent him audition lines for. It's a real coup, because I really needed these roles filled, and at the same time, he was just sort of dropped in my lap :) If you'd like to know more about him, checkout his website. He's the real deal.
With this latest addition to the team, it just reminds me that even as I get more cynical the older I get, there is still a lot of good in this world. I mean, I've worked with so many different people since 2005, people who aren't getting paid. They're simply doing what they do because they *gasp* love to do it. Editors, writers, artists, actors, alpha/beta testers, etc... The list goes on. It's just crazy when I sit back and think about it.
*Pulls head out of clouds*
Work continues on polishing up the game. All the things I've been working on are too minor to really talk about, but just know that work is being done. What I can say is that at some point this week, I'm going to have to spent at least 2 days testing out combat in my test arena. During the last playthrough, I jotted down notes on how to make specific combat sequences a little tougher. Obviously, before I sign off on the changes, I'll need to test them first. This involves:
Setting up the fight in the arena
Configure roe_sys_init.nss to make sure each party member is the right level and have the right skills/abilities
Make changes where applicable
It's been a long time since I spent so much time tweaking the combat, but it's already close to where I want it, so it shouldn't be that difficult. It's more about the amount of combat sequences I'd like to tweak.
On its own, this is a great piece. But holy shit, the first 40 seconds are pure joy. Enjoy!
1/20/13 -Sunday: SOME REALLY, REALLY GOOD VO...
I was pleasantly surprised to receive some audition lines for 4 different characters around 7:00pm tonight. They were of course from the actor I mentioned yesterday that wanted to replay the series from start to finish, so that he could be going into the process with as much knowledge as possible. I already tipped my hat to him for replaying the game, because hell, I've been wanting to do that myself. After listening to the auditons, I have to tip my hat again!
As I said, he auditioned for 4 characters, doing on average 4 lines each. I took some of said lines, and integrated them into the game, and even from such a small number of lines, the characters really came alive. As usual, I made videos of the scenes, and sent them his way. I also made a plea to have to voice all of the characters he auditioned for :) Hey, you never know.
Oh, and for one of the characters he voiced, after watching the recording over and over again, the wheels in my brain started to spin, and I actually began to think of how to expand this character's role. This isn't unusual, actually. After Alexander essentially claimed 100% responsibility for the character he voices, that person's role in the game shifted from what I had original intended. But yeah, this person, who was only supposed to have one scene, well, I think at the very least one more scene is in the cards, if not two. At the very least, this person will be more important than they are now.
I'm also very happy, because two of the four cast members were ones I was slightly hesitant to put into the game. As I've openly complained about on this blog, while VO is great, it can also constraint the hell out of you. It's hard to add someone to the game when you're not even 100% confident you'll get someone to voice them. Well, I decided to roll the dice, and well, here I am.
The polishing work continues. The majority of my time was spent re-working an existing interior level, so that a section of it, which was only accessible to the player through a cutscene, would be open at all times. This just meant I had to re-work some door entries, some lighting (i.e. make sure you can see this room from another room), and other minor things.
Tomorrow, I'll keep the polishing phase going. Thank god I have off from work...
Over the years, things that inspire me have taken on many different forms. Early on (i.e. 1999), it was standing on some cliffs, looking at the Mid Hudson Bridge. A few years later, listening to music would begin to inspire the hell out of me, and to this day, it's still my #1 go to thing when I need to brainstorm. About 4-5 years ago, as I was trying out different things to bring down the stress in my life, I discovered Quiet Cove, a super relaxing place down by the river. Much of the finer points of this current game's overall structure were brainstormed there. Lately, however, it's been hiking.
As some of you may or may not know, I live in the Hudson Valley area of New York, a few hours north of New York City (hence that dreaded commute to the city!). I've lived here my entire life, and it wasn't until last spring, where I decided it was time for me to start taking advantage of some of the things the area has to offer. Once such thing was the multitude of mountains to hike. It was in the back of my mind for quite some time, I just wasn't able to execute on it until this past year.
As shown in the screenshots of the day, I just went on my first winter hike to Sam's Point Preserve. The main reason we went was to see the fabled Ice Caves, the largest in the country (I think). However, since it was already only 20 degrees F, they were off limits, unless you had special shoes with ice spikes, and other special equipment. It was a good hike nonetheless, and once we got going, the cold was not an issue. However, if you look at the 2nd shot from the top, you can see just how much I had to bundle up. At the beginning of the hike, without that face mask, it felt like the wind would tear a hole in my face!
Anyway, due to the crazy pace the leader was keeping, there wasn't much talking between heading up/down the mountain, which was fine by me, because it gave me time to brainstorm. Instead of just brainstorming different scenarios and such, I was thinking about how I felt during the hike, and how some character in the game would feel if they were going through what I was going through. Of course, you can assume the obvious things, like how cold someone would feel, or how tired they were getting. But, there were other smaller things going on in my head which may pay dividends in the future.
Without going into much detail, my next game (yes, I am thinking that far!) may take place in Elloquince. Not the whole thing, but a significant part. Definitely more than the other times my previous games have spent there. Because of the events that take place there, and because I'm always thinking up new gameplay experiences, my experience at today's hike has helped out a lot in that regard.
In terms of actual game development, I continue to knock out tasks/bugs/improvements I jotted down during my last playthrough of the game. The one that is taking up the majority of my time is adding extras to existing areas. It's not that it's a tough thing to do, it's just a lot of busy work. It pretty much goes like so:
Create new creature
Give unique (or as much as possible) clothing
Add to approproiate place in area
Sift through ambient_ai.xls in order to find the appropriate ambient animation
Set ambient animation
Some other great news for me is that the person who contacted me about doing some voices has finished his playthrough of The Coming & Cry The Beloved (it had been a while since he played, wanted to make sure he was up to date, lore wise), and is cracking away at the lines I gave him. Really looking forward to what he comes up with!
Today's music from Last of the Mohicans is a powerful track called, Massacre/Canoes. Powerful track to go along with a powerful scene. Enjoy!
1/17/13 -Thursday: MAKING SURE THERE IS ENOUGH PLAYABLE CONTENT...
So, I've never been a fan of adding content just for the sake of making a game longer. I've always been a "quality over quantity" type of guy. At the same time, I realize that for an RPG experience to be fun, there has to be a certain amount of playable content... Even if the game is being split up into chapters. In my case, it's more than that. I'm adding all sorts of new systems and abilities. At the same time, what fun are these things if the game is not long enough?
I ran into this issue in my first game, The Coming. I'd have to say that on average, the game was about 4-5 hours long, and in that span, I strategically introduced new systems and abilities to the player. Now, depending on how you played the game, you could get a particular Unison Ability, and have the game end about 15 minutes later, not allowing you to really experience it that much, if even at all.
One reviewer of the game put it perfectly in this write up of The Coming:
Reviewer: Arik | Date: September 2nd, 2005 | Score: 8.25
The biggest problem that comes from posting a module that is, the author readily confesses, greatly inspired by JRPG tropes, is that it isn't very likely to compare to them in terms of scale. I realise that a sequel is forthcoming, and may revise this review when I see it, but what this module covers is really only the opening section of your average JRPG, introducing some of the heroes and abilities, giving you one town to play with and some simple combat. That so much time is spent watching cutscenes really doesn't do the game any favours -not that they aren't very, very good cutscenes, but you really need to have a substantial amount of game to justify that sort of pomp. Rose of eternity doesn't have that quite yet.
It does have some interesting ideas, though. The custom special abilities are very nicely handled - the whirlwind heal is great fun, and if this and other special abilities are built on throughout the complete series then it could be a hell of a lot of fun. I was less happy with the last resort system - it's a nice idea, but its ultimate function tends to be to irritatingly snatch victory from the hands of the player at the last second, and there doesn't appear to be much you can do about it. The area with all the cheating beetles, possessed of a special ability that renders them both invulnerable and fully healed just as you're taking them down, is a case in point - off the top of my head I can't think of any CRPG where the PLAYER gets something that uber!
Other weird decisions abound. The player is introduced to the teleport system just as the module ends and you don't need to use it. You aren't allowed to finish the village subquests after you trigger a certain event in the woods, and as these woods are linked to one of the subquests chances are that you'll still have missions left over. The "custom" music, largely taken from other CRPGs, is largely well suited to the module, but the use of Final Fantasy VII's battle theme is just plain bizarre. If there's a theme that everyone who has played JRPGs is entirely bored of, it's that one. The inclusion of a Challseus quest, intended to be played after the main adventure, plays less like an inset narrative and more like an unnecessary aside, although the sequel could very much prove me wrong on this account.
If this review seems somewhat negative, don't get me wrong. This module is very good, and I'm quite sure that the author knows it - nobody invests this much pomp into cutscenes, intro and exit movies and hyperbole if they don't have a great deal of self assurance. We potentially have the beginning of a great series here, but Rose of Eternity isn't a great module as of itself.
Amongst other things the reviewer did not like about the module, it was the comments about how the game didn't feel full, about how well it could be if longer, etc. that really got to me. When developing Cry The Beloved, I often came back to comments like these, to make sure I wasn't repeating the same mistakes. In fact, about a year after the release of the sequel, he wrote this review:
Reviewer: Arik | Date: November 14th, 2007 | Score: 9.00
I'll keep this quick: where The Coming covered the opening section of the traditional JRPG format and therefore ended just as it was starting to get going, Cry the Beloved is infinitely more meaty. Unfortunately it starts quite slowly, refamiliarising the player with the game world in a limited space and reintroducing you to the characters, which seemed unnecessary. The opening section of the game is the weakest - the tone is overbearingly maudlin and the writing, which was often complained about in The Coming but never bothered me to any degree, grates very quickly.
But any concerns I had the game gradually melted away after getting out of the city. The previous game's areas are treated as old friends, which at first seems ridiculous as it isn't long since you left them in The Coming, but I was genuinely glad to return to Aribine. Any initial concerns about the writing dissolve as the game draws you in with its lovingly crafted atmosphere. And it only gets better from this point on. It's no small thing for an RPG to make you care about its world and its characters, but Cry the Beloved manages it.
Where in the previous module the new systems were little more than tantalising promises, here the player is given all kinds of last resort, distinctive development and special abilities, and has masses of opportunity to experiment with them. The systems provide a genuinely interesting twist and manage to make NWN's generally mediocre combat actually fun, which is a huge achievement in my book. By the end I felt like I'd had a really good opportunity to explore them too, and it never felt like I was playing part of a game - indeed, the game's length and structure make it seem like Rose of Eternity: parts 2 and 3 together, giving a shedload of room for character development. It's extraordinarily generous.
I can't believe I took 11 months before getting around to writing this review, but I'm certain Challseus knows just how good this game is - it answers all the criticisms laid on The Coming and then some. This is clearly a labour of love, and it deserves love in return.
So as you can see, this particular player felt like he really got a fuller game with Cry The Beloved. Now, I'm not going to sit here and bullshit you guys: There is no way I will be able to replicate the scope of it with any modern engine... At least by myself! So yes, I am admitting that this current game isn't as long as my previous one :( I mean hell, there is a reason that modern games in general aren't as long as games from older generations (except Bethesda games!). If I didn't have to worry about VO, lighting, and terrain level editors, then maybe... maybe...
At any rate, this is something I've had to deal with all through development. The goal has been to reach some sort of middle ground, something longer and meatier than The Coming, but not as long as Cry The Beloved. After my latest playthrough, it's clear that I have achieved this goal. I've lost a little of my sanity, but yes, I have achieved the goal :)
So, I had plans on putting this particular track, and when looking it up on YouTube, I was surprised to find the full edition, or so they say. I'm just gonna go ahead and trust them as I post this (I'm listening to it for first time right now as well). Enjoy!
1/14/13 -Monday: I GUESS I HAVE ONE MORE PERSON WHO FOLLOWS THIS BLOG :)
I woke up to a very interesting email today. Someone who had played The Coming & Cry The Beloved back in the day came across this blog, and saw my plea for help, regarding VO actors. It turns out, this guy has experience doing VO for other types of media, but has done some work in this community, and the older NWN community. Me being me, I immediately jumped at such an opportunity, and started puting together some lines for 4 different characters. I had actually been procrasinating on that front for some time, so I was happy that I was being forced to do that work.
These 4 characters are what I would consider medium cast members (minor, medium, major), though one of them shows up in more conversations than the others. Actually, about a year ago, I was well aware of how difficult it was to get quality VO, and it began to constrain how many medium level characters I was adding to the game. Then, last summer, I just said, "Screw it". I wasn't going to let it stop me from reaching my vision. I just told myself, "Don't worry, something will work out in the end". Glad I decided to make that decision.
In other related news...
Archon sent me the finished icons for the custom bonus XP skills in the game, as can be seen in the screenshot of the day. It may be hard to make out in the screenshot, but the one that is highlighed (Final Blow) is a picture of one figure landing a final blow on another, sort of stabbing down on them :) I'll have to take an inventory of things, but I believe this means that all the custom icons are finished. I'm sure I'm missing a few here and there, but dammit, we've come so far since I initially received that email from him in the middle of 2010. Damn, almost 3 years...
In terms of actual development, I did not get as much done as I expected. Believe it or not, getting the lines ready for the 4 cast members, including supplemental videos (which I had to make new recordings of), took a little over 2 hours. Which is the exact reason why I had left it as a lower priority task. I was supposed to do all of this work a few months ago, so that when I was dealing with actors, I could just point them to your WIKI to get the lines. Meh, what can you do. I'm only one person...
Tomorrow, I'll continue to go through the list of items I wrote down as I did my last playthrough. I have a bunch of balanacing items to deal with, so I may just try to knock all of those out, since most will have to be tested in my testing combat arena.
Today's track is called, Fort Battle. Not only was it one of the more spectacular scenes in the movie, it inspired the hell out of me. Hell, I even used it for the Khal Rock scene in Cry The Beloved. Anyway, enjoy!
1/13/13 -Sunday: IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VARIETY, FOLKS...
As you can see by the screenshot(s) of the day, one of the design principles I've had since way back in 2004 is that it's all about the variety. No matter how long a game is, it has to have variety at all places, or the experience just becomes boring. Or, that's how I feel about games at any rate. And since the majority of my game development principles has to do with things I do/don't like, well... yeah...
At any rate, the purpose of this collage of game screenshots (all taken while doing my playthrough yesterday) is to highlight the efforts I have been making in order to always keep things interesting in the game, at least from a visual standpoint. Every time I create a new level, I'm always looking for a way to make it unique. Even if it's part of a set of levels (i.e. multiple rooms of a castle). Whether it's from using a different structure set, to changing the lighting, to changing the types of props I use, it's always something that is in the back of my head.
It's actually a pain in the ass, to be honest, but it's something I know must be done. Luckily, I've already mapped out how every level should be, so it's just execution at this point. And well, any frequent readers of this blog know that this is exactly what I've been doing for the past few weeks... Level polishing... The bane of my existance... I mean, don't get me wrong. I absolutely love how much better the game looks. I'm just not a huge fan of the process :)
P.S. After watching tonight's episode of American Dad, it's been brought to my attention that actresses just want to be called actors (making me a sexist?). So now, when I refer to the VO talent, I'll just say actors. Why am I listening to some cartoon, you ask? Because TV never lies...
Today's song from The Last of the Mohicans is The Glade. It's one of those super peaceful songs that I could just listen to while down at the river, brainstorming. I also used it as the theme music for Aribinefrom The Coming. Enjoy!
1/12/13 -Saturday: WOW... JUST WOW...
So, today marks a very, very big milestone. I got everything set up on the desktop, imported all my work over to it, and did a full run through of the game. There was no bullshit, no crashes, no "Oh crap, I disable this script for testing" issues, nothing. I played the game from start to finish, from the prologue, through the various acts, to the epilogues. Everything just... worked. Sure, there were bugs and such, but this is the first time that I feel like I actually experienced the full game as it's intended to be.
And all of it starts with the graphics/performance. As you all know, my laptop is great for development, but if I want to see the game in all of it's full glory, I need to run it on the desktop. And wow, what a freaking difference! Add in the fact that I've been polishing the hell out of all the levels in the game, and the result is me feeling very confident about where the game is, especially knowing where it came from.
Earlier in the week, I made some changes to the amount of combat experience points (on a level by level basis), and I'm very happy with the results. By the end of the game, I had gained a decent amount of levels, and everytime I did, it felt as it should... like I accomplished something!
Speaking of combat, for the most part, it felt good. There was one particular fight that was too damn hard, one fight that was too easy, stuff like that, but that's to be expected, which is why it's good to do these playthroughs as often as possible. And it's not just about making an enemy weaker/stronger. Some of the solutions include making changes to some of the custom skills in the game. Nothing major, just minor tweaks. I love this type of stuff.
But for me, the most important bit was how everything has come together. For 3 years, I've been developing/playing this game in isolation, in bits and pieces. Now it's one full product, something I think I could put my official stamp of approval on before sending out to testers. I'm not saying the game is done. Not by any stretch of the imagination. There are still VO needs. There are still exteriors that really need to be re-touched. But dammit, from a content complete perspective, the game is good to go.
I am very, very happy.
Tomorrow, I'll start going through my list of things I jotted down while playing. Hell, the game is so close to being done that the list of things isn't even 1/4 the size of the last list.
Today, I go to another very important movie in my life: The Last of the Mohicans. I never saw it in theatres (didn't even know it existed), but caught it on HBO one day. I think I was 13 (1993)? Anwyay, I saw it, fell in love, taped it the next time it came on (gotta love VHS!), and watched it multiple times a week for the next few years.
As you can expect, one of the things that always stuck with me was the music. Starting off this new theme is a song called The Kiss.
By the way... While looking for this song on you tube, I found out that it's based off of a song called, The Gael. Here's someone playing it at a renaissance fair:
1/8/13 -Tuesday: "THESE, THEY ARE MY PEOPLE! THIS IS ALL I KNOW!"
So, in between commuting 5 hours to work (sigh...), working on this game during the commute (sigh...), working full time during the day (sigh...), I am also doing work on a game using the Unity engine. I can go into more details at a more appropriate time. Anyway, I've been having some issues working with it, where texture compression won't work, so when I try to start up the editor, all the assets appear pinkish. Because of what I was working on, I was able to deal with it for the past 9 months. However, now that I've been assigned tasks where I need to have a good idea of what the areas look like in the game, I need to have it fixed. I won't go into all the boring details, but it's a huge pain in the ass.
Now, at my job, the tech part of Clear Channel Digital consists of various teams, including:
Mobile development (iOS, Andriod, Windows Mobile, etc.)
Auto Mobile development (various car companies we integrate iHeartRadio into)
Server side team
Content ingestion & Transcoding (that's me!)
System Admins & Operations
Even though I work on content ingestion & transcoding, I also do server side work, but my main focus is the former. Interestingly enough, even though I'm a software engineer, and have been one since 2004, I never felt like one. Everyone I sit around are talking about Apache conferences and the latest NoSQL technologies (i.e. Mongo), and other things I'm not interested in. Don't get me wrong, I love to work with new technologies, but it's not what I talk about at work.
In fact, I seem to have more in common with other people from other teams, when we're talking about other things, like football, The Simpsons, workout routines (I used to train some people at the gym we go to every day), etc. Pretty much, non-technical things. It's been like this for years, and I don't see it changing any time soon.
What's interesting is that as time has gone on, I've found one thing in common with a large subset of people on the Mobile development team: Game design/Programming. Now that's something I can talk about all day!
Turns out, one guy is also working on various games, and is using the Unity editor. I decided to hit him up for some help on the issue I've been dealing with, and he gave me some ideas (I would later find out what the issue was through extensive google searches). But it was the spark that led to me going on and on about my game development history, which in turn got him talking. As we talked, we realized that were in the same boat. We both were working full time, then going home to work full time, which is taking so much energy out of us. We would absolutely love to do games full time, but at the moment, programming just happenes to pay the bills, so here we are. But finally, I could talk face to face with someone who could feel my pain. As this conversation was going on, I could see someone out of the corner of my eye sort of listening in.
When I came back to grab some people from their team (people I've worked with since like 2005-2006) for lunch, he approached me, and was like, "Did I hear you say you develop RPG's?". Yep, that turned into another long ass, but wonderful conversation. It was great, because I'm so passionate about game development, and they are too. Hmm, maybe we'll become allies on a single project one day...
Anyway, as I walked out of the office for lunch, I started humming one of my favorite Capercaillie verses, "These, they are my people. This is all I know!".
I know I've touched on this a little before, but a while back (years, maybe?), I made a change to exptable.2da, the table that defines the amount of comabt experience points you receive, on a level by level basis (the enemy's level, that is). Now, maybe I'm just high or something, because way back when, I was really under the understanding that level 1 enemies were giving more experience points than level 2 enemies. This was based off of my calculations after reading the 2DA file and the core scripts. I could have tried playing the single player campaign to confirm it, but as you know, I'm a lazy SOB, and of course, I can't remember how it worked when I actually played through the damn game.
Now maybe this works for Dragon Age Origins. In fact, it must, because of all the things people complain about on the forums, I've yet to see this (not to be confused with level scaling, which certainly got it's fair share of attention). But this isn't DAO, it's Rose of Eternity, and there are a few key design decisions that I currently live and die by:
you earn experience points at a lower than normal rate, so that the feeling of gaining a level is a monumental achievement, not just a normal thing that happens every 2 hours. I take inspiration from Dragon Quest 1 (NES), Baldur's Gate (PC), & Everquest (PC).
higher level enemies always give you more XP than lower level ones. I take inspiration from what I believed to be every single RPG ever made :)
no level scaling. A level 3 Boundary Warden is a level 3 Boundary Warden, no matter the time, place, or circumstances. That's it. Case closed. In fact, I've already decom'd the level scaling in this game, and instead, went with an absolute value for every enemy in the game.
With regards to bullet point one, there is another benefit that I believe can solve some of the balancing issues open ended games currently deal with (i.e. Skyrim). When you're getting a lot of experience points for all the various things you do, if you do a lot of sidequests (which when you think about it, it's Skyrim, that's the whole point of the game!), you will soon be overpowered for much of the rest of the game. I can personally attest to this. It's a minor thing, as Skyrim is certainly in my top 10 RPG's of all time.
At the same time, I sometimes wonder what would happen if the XP given out was less. Maybe now, when you're doing the side quests, you're not leveling as much as you would normally level, and some of that overpoweredness (is this a word?) would go away. Now, I'm sure there are other factors that Bethesda had to factor in, such as the fact that people like to get powerful, sooner rather than later. And that's a fair point. This is why I would never try to absolutely say a developer screwed up, because frankly, it's stupid to think you know everything that happens at a company, and why certain things happen, and also, because they do it for a living, and I'm still on the come up :) Even still, I do ponder these things from time to time.
Now, in Rose of Eternity, things are quite different. Because, at it's core, what is the point of leveling up? Becomes stronger, and get access to some new talents/spells/etc. Well, as players of The Coming & Cry The Beloved know, certain abilities are not tied to a particular level of a character, but rather, to a particular event in the game. So regardless of if you're hitting that next level or not, I'm still rewarding you nonetheless. So maybe my idea of less XP only works in my situation.
In the end, there is no universal way to do these things, it just has to fit within the context of your game. Now where was I, because I did have a point before I got on my soapbox...
...Oh, right, customizing the earned XP. So, I went into my custom version of exptable.2da, and made changes, which amounted to lowering said XP. As development has continued on this game, new ways of getting XP have been introduced, as well as new playable content. And all I remember from my last playthrough was that I was gaining levels at an astronomical rate, which goes against everything I believe. This new fix should nip that in the bud.
Oh, and one more point before I let you go. Because of the lowered amount of XP you gain, I hope it sort of spurs players to try to mess around with the various Bonus XP systems, which as the moment, should really help out those players that choose to invest in it. Again, it won't make them overpowered, it'll just give them a different type of benefit over some others.
Not much to say here. One of the most dramatic pieces of music that accompanies one of the most dramatic scenes in all of cinema. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1/5/13 -Saturday: WAIT, WHAT? YOU CAN DO WHAT?!
So, I've been at this Dragon Age modding thing for 3 years. 3 years is a long time. And yet, it wasn't until tonight that I realized 2 simple, yet powerful things:
You can scale vegetation (i.e. trees) in the level editor
You can set the draw distance for vegetation (i.e. trees) in the level editor
I mean, I don't even know where to begin. With regards to the 2nd bullet point, I actually have a level with many trees that get shown in the distance, where I was going to remove said trees because they looked ugly during a certain cutscene where the camera pulls away really far. I mean, they looked UGLY, and I was just really upset that they would be rendered like that. Now, apparently, I can make sure they look good really far away. Well, presumably... I haven't tested it yet, but I'm sure I'm not misinterpreting it.
Then, there's the first bullet point. Now again, unless I'm not understanding it (which I doubt, since I actually tried it in the editor, though didn't export said level), this is something that can help me create the variety I so crave for this game. Especially with things like the colored trees you see in the screenshot of the day. Those were created using Timelord's Recoloring Trees Tutorialso long ago, I don't even remember how to do it (thank god I have the tutorial bookmarked!). At any rate, because of just being lazy and such, I wasn't keen on going through the tutorial yet again for some larger trees, and now, since I can scale them, I may not have to. Sure, side by side, it will be clear that they're just scaled, but if I get cute by rotating them, mixing the colors, and simply having a ton of trees next to each other, I don't think it will be that noticeable.
So yeah, huzzah for learning things I should have known about 3 years ago!
P.S. Knocked out another day/night level, this time, an exterior!
Today's music from Braveheart has that low, subdued vibe going on. Could definitely fall alseep to this every night :) Enjoy!
1/4/13 -Friday: READY TO MOVE ON...
I've put a lot more work into this current level than I expected, but that's the perfectionist in me, trying to put a damper on progress :) I just have to keep telling myself, this is just polish pass #1. Once everything has gotten a nice shiny new coat of paint, I'll do another playthrough of the game, and find more things that need to be touched up.
Knowing that, I finally forced myself to stop, exported all the assets of the level, and then imported them into the night version. I had to realign some things here and there, but the process only took about 10 minutes, so it wasn't that bad.
And with that, I am officially done with all interior levels. As I'm still having desktop issues (grr), I'll be moving on to the smallish exteriors first, and go from there.
Today's track from the Braveheart soundtrack is up there with Gift of a Thistle as one of my all time favorite pieces. So much drama in it. Enjoy!
1/2/13 -Wednesday: STEADY PROGRESS...
Nothing too exciting to report, really. Level polishing continues at a very decent pace. Even though I may not be developing like a mad man (I need to keep my sanity), I'm going at a pace that I am very happy with.
I'm not sure how it is for everyone else, but game development has a lot of emotion tied to it. When I feel like things are going good, I feel good, and in turn, I develop good. However, when things are going bad, meaning, not as fast as I would like, I start feeling like crap, and when that happens, I don't develop at the same rate I would have if I was feeling really good. It's a horrible cycle to get into, but one that I am very much aware of.
So for me, this current pace is perfect. Like I said, I'm not losing my mind, but I'm still getting enough done that I feel good about things. Another thing I have going for me is that it's very clear what needs to be done. There is no brainstorming needed, no designers block, just some good old fashioned monkey work to get done.
Oh, to be able to play a game that had a battle as crazy as the one during the scene this music plays in... Enjoy!
1/1/13 -Tuesday: I FEEL YOUR PAIN, KEEPER OF THE ROSE, I FEEL YOUR PAIN...
So, as you can see by the screenshot of the day, and the title of today's blog entry, my sanity is holding on by a thread :) Okay, it's not that bad, but I feel as if it's so damn near close to how I was feeling on 10/2/06. 6 years later, and I can still remember that day as if it was yesterday. I wasn't getting any sleep. I was rushing to get Cry The Beloved out before NWN2 came out. I was super stressed. Last minute things weren't workin out. I was super stressed. I wanted to just quit. Oh, and I was super stressed.
I was young then, and I believe I can handle my emotions a little better now. Even still, at this point in the development of the game, I'm carefully walking that tight rope between keep calm, and asking myself, "Why am I doing this?". I think it's natural for game designers to go through these feelings, as I know I have with every game I've worked on thus far.
And I don't want to seem like I'm whining, or training to get moral support from people. It's just that with this blog, I'm not only going to talk about the good, I need to show the bad as well, so people get the full story. It's not all rainbows and marshmellows, there's pain, sweat, tears, and all those other cliches.
All of that said, I'm continuing to systematically polish level after level after level. Every time I finish one, I get that "thank god I just accomplished that" feeling, because there are only so many levels in the game, and at some point, all the polishing will be done. And what's next after polishing? Filling in many levels with extras. You know, people you can't talk to, maybe can't even click on, but just things to bring some of these levels to life a little more. There are about 100 (?) ambient animations that I can pull from, so I should be good in that regard. We'll see.
And now, without further adieu, I present to you my yearly... well, year in review.
YEAR IN REVIEW
Expansion of Lore
Early on in the year, I was doing a lot of work on expanding the story of The Keeper of the Rose, including the standard issue intro cutscene for her, which is a Rose of Eternity tradition. Usually before I start working on a game, I already have a lot of things mapped out in my head, story/lore wise, but once I'm in the midst of development, ideas continue to come to me, which is normal I believe. It's all about adding it in an organic manner, so as not to feel contrived, tacked on, etc.
A lot of what made the expansion of lore so much fun was that the majority of it wasn't things that took place during this game's events. A lot of it is stuff that takes places tens, hundreds, and thousands of years beforehand. Having this newly created history makes the world more believeable, and it sure as hell makes writing codexes a lot more fun.
Also, and I can't stress this enough... I'm always looking at the bigger picture. This is not just a game I'm creating. It's a world. It just so happens that I'm creating a PC RPG based off this world. I already have other ideas for other types of games based off of this world, just taking place during another part in history, or even during the same time as this curren game, but in another part of the world.
Obviously, the main focus is getting this game out, but at the same time, I have to look towards the future.
While custom talents/spells/abilities was always going to be a huge part of this game, the creation of custom skills was something that really took off this year. This could really be broken down into 3 categories:
Design: One of the funnest parts of development. Actually coming up with ideas for new skills, and how they can fit into the game in a natural way. Some of these were carried over from Cry The Beloved, but many were totally new and unique
Underlying Mechanics: Also a fun part of development. Taking the new skill, coding it up, and making sure it actually works in game.
UI Presentation: This was the tough nut to crack. I had to hack the shit out of the engine using a few different 2DA's in order to get my custom skills up on the UI page. The main thing holding me back was that not all skills were to be shown to every party member, and that took a good deal of work to solve.
Custom Icons: Archon did his thing, and knocked out many of these new icons for the new skills. There's nothing better than seeing your own custom skills with new icons in game. Just really makes the game feel like yours, and not just some modification of the existing game. There are a few left, but he should be able to finish them quite soon.
Evolution Of A Key Cast Member
As with most artists/actresses I've been working with, Alexander Baxter was referred to me from someone else who did some brief VO for me. Well, not referred to me directly, but to Jason Melancon, or editor, who had to take a step back from active duty earlier in the year. When that happened, I took his list of people who he still needed to contact, and lo and behold, many, if not all got back to me and did their part with various characters over many different scenes.
Alexander started on a smaller role first, just so I could see what he had, and well, he killed it. I then took one of biggest bets of my life, and handed him the role of the other main cast member in the game (John Erath is handling the first one, and quite well, I should say). Things started off well enough. He just sort of read the lines verbatim, and it was quite good. I was happy.
Then, and I'm not sure when it happened, he began to really own this character, and started to spin his personality in a slightly different manner, a manner in which I immediately fell in love with. I have literally never laughed this much while previewing VO before the integration process begins.
As time went on, it went from slight line variations, to outright re-writes. At this point, I just rustle up the main theme of what I'm going for, and he takes it from there. And it goes much further. Now, he creates his own scenes as ideas, and two of them made it into the game as epilogue scenes.
And this really highlights the reason why I love game development so much. Seeing things change before your eyes, the whole iterative process. For those who played my earlier games, everyone looks at Cloponas well... I shouldn't use that language here. Let's just say it was definitely a love/hate thing with her. What most people don't know is that my initial idea for her was to be this sweet, kind-hearted soul. As I was developing the game, it just didn't fit, and I ended up changing her personality to what it is today.
Clearly, if you're not playing your game a lot, you have no idea if it's fun or not. This past year, I definitely stepped this process up, and completed more playthroughs of the game than I care to remember. This allowed me to collect bugs (ugh), as mentioned above, see how fun the game, and also evaluate one of the most important bits of the game: the pacing.
With regards to the pacing, it was a little off in certain sections, and I was able to (or still in the process of) fix it accordingly. When you develop a certain sequence in isolation for so long, even though you've done a lot of brainstorming on how it fits in the game, you just never know until you play the damn game!
The last quarter of the year, besides some work on the various epilogues in the game, was mainly spent on the polishing phase of development. This includes:
Adding gestures/animation to conversations
Adding additional cameras to staged conversations
Adding props to levels
Adding creatures/placeables to areas
Other minor things
Now this is where the game has truly come alive. Static, motionless conversations now have emotion. Barren, boring levels now have that extra something. I knew going in that this phase would take a while, and that prediction has held true.
GOALS FOR UPCOMING YEAR
Even when there were thousands upon thousands of people downloading NWN modules, I never released a game without promoting the hell out of it. Whether it be trailers, ads at the top of NWVault, posts in forums, this blog, etc., I was always letting people know my game was coming. Yes, I became a marketing whore, but it has gotten me to where I am today.
This go round, I'll need to do this more than ever, since the market is even smaller. True, I don't have much competition out there, but I still need to let the small amount of people out there that do want to play standalone games know that I have something out there.
I won't go into much detail, but I believe my point is taken.
Get World Maps Done
While I will most likely use CC3 in order to make some world maps, want I really want is to find an art (Oli?) to take them, and make a true, beautiful world map. As I continue to add lore to the game, this is something that is very important to me, so that going forward, when I talk about certain things on this blog, readers will have a map to reference.
With this new game, there will be 3 games in the Rose of Eternity series thus far, and trying to have all 3 of those games on this current site may not work. Maybe a seperate site for it? I don't know... I'm not an experience-designer, so again, I'll be looking for outside help (Oli?! :)) to help with that.
Get Rose of Eternity Bible Onto A WIKI
Between the hundred of hand written stuff I have dating back to 1999, to current things that are on development forums, or in my head, I want to get all of that on a WIKI as soon as possible. I'm not sure if regular users would have access to it, but for new developers helping me, it would be a god send. I feel bad when I'm writing dialogue for actors/actresses, and I know they have no context to put things in. Now luckily, they just get on with it, and it's great. But, I think this would be better.
Plus, I'm always mindful of future titles in this world. What, you didn't think I would stop here, did you?!
I think today's track from Braveheart is how I should feel with regards to the new year. Rushing into battle, slaying the enemy, ending up victorious. Just replace battle with development and enemy with "this game". Yeah, sounds about right. Enjoy!
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