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2/28/11 -Monday: MAKING AN EXISTING DA CREATURE MY OWN...

So, I've known for a while the existing creature model that I wanted to use for the boss encounter I'm creating. This is actually a big pro for someone like me who has no modeling skills: I have existing creatures to sift through. The obvious con is that players have already gotten used to said creature, and may have preconceived notions of how to fight them when they encounter them. Or, they may just go "Oh, another one of thoses? Great"? It's this very con which I am wrestling with at the moment.

I've already been handling this throughout the game thus far with all regular enemies, but it's a little harder with this particular creature. You must remember, I need to take this existing creature, and make them act like an existing creature from the Rose of Eternity series, more specifically, one that appeared in Cry The Beloved.

WEAPONS & ARMOR

First and foremost is the issue of weapons/armor. By default, they're just too damned powerful. However, with this particular model, you can't just set the items in the inventory using the creature editor in the toolset. No, no, that would be too easy. Since this is a special creature/monster, for whatever reason, their weapon is set in the following slot: INVENTORY_SLOT_BITE. This happens when they are spawned. How does the system know which weapon to equip? Oh yeah, that's kept in a 2DA I tracked down, called APR_Base.xls. So the way it works is, if there is no weapon equipped in that slot when they are spawned, then it falls back to whatever is in the 2DA.

So with that being said, there are a few ways to handle this. This cheap, lazy way would be to simply equip the items I want via scripting, after the enemy is spawned. They'll be getting their own core script anyway, so I could catch the spawn event, run the default stuff, then add the items at the end of the process. The more elegant solution would be to create my own custom row in APR_Base.xls, and add the default items in that 2DA. I'm not sure the route I will go, but it's pretty clear what I have to do.

LOOK AND FEEL

This is related to the aforementioned issue with weapons and armor. Essentially, as I'm understanding it, the look of the creature is quite static. For instance, they have a shield on their arm, but if I remove the shield from their inventory, I still see it in game, which leads me to believe that the shield itself is part of the model itself. So, it doesn't look like I'll be able to do anything about that on my own. I haven't tried changing the default weapon yet, but I'm also getting the feeling that whatever I choose, the one I see in game will look the same, mostly because I'm equipping this weapon in the "bite" inventory slot. It's not so bad, as the weapon set already resembles what I had in Cry The Beloved. Either way, it's definitely not a development stopper.

CUSTOM ABILITIES

This creature already has some unique abilities that all DAO players will recognize. These have got to go :) Maybe one can stick around, because it's similiar to one they should have anyway, but some of the other iconic ones are out the door, replaced with my own stuff.

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In the end, my hope is that when players experience this creature, they will initially think they know how to handle it, and then will be pleasently surprised when they find out this is not the same creature they know and love (or hate!).

Till tomorrow...

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This week, I'll be featuring music from one of my old time favorites, Final Fantasy IV. Today's piece is the recurring crystal theme, and it's the first thing you hear that let you know you're in for one hell of a ride.

Enjoy!

 

2/27/11 -Sunday: I THOUGHT I WAS SLICK...

Going against my better judgement (and previous history), I thought I could be slick, and just start working on this new level, without doing too much prototyping. An hour or so into it, I realized the level needed to be bigger. Oh well, I tried! In the end, it's just semantics, because this level I'ved done before can now be called a prototype, and I can move on to another one, knowing I already have a good idea of what props I will be needing.

All of that said, the level will still be quite small in comparison to others, as only a few isolated events need to take place in it. These events include some dialogue, a cutscene or 2, and that boss fight I've been yapping about for a few weeks now. And even though I need to go back and make it bigger (ever so slightly), the amount of work that needs to be done is very clear in my head, whereas with other areas, I sort of stroll into it in a drunken stupor, hoping things work out :)

So the plan for the week is real clear. On the train, do all things associated things with the boss fight, including the scripting, creation of new abilities, etc. At home, continue to refine the level all of this will be taking place in. Sound simple, right? It is, actually. Still, with my luck, it will end up taking an entire week, when maybe it should only take a few days. Here's hoping.

Till tomorrow...

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To end off this week of music from Chrono Cross, I present to you a riveting rendition of a classic, Radical Dreamers. Enjoy!

 

2/25/11 -Friday: NEW UNISON ABILITY IS DONE!

So, with my new found knowledge on how to get the creator of an effect (as discussed in yesterday's post), I was able to put the finishing touches on this new unison ability. On the design end of things, there were a few things to consider:

  • The most obvious thing is balance. Is it too strong? Too weak? Is it too hard to pull off? Too easy? These are those little irritating questions that need to be answered every time I create any new ability. With this particular one, the question of power was something I had to mess with for a few hours. In th end, it's not the most powerful thing if you're fighting multiple enemies, but perhaps against one powerful enemy, it will save your hide if used properly. In terms of how to pull it off, currently, it's extremely easy. Just have the 2 party members use the corresponding talents at the same time, and voila. Now, if the enemy blocks one of them, then it won't fire, so it's not always a foregone conclusion that it will work.

  • Next had to do with how to tell the player this ability even existed. I mean, I will definitely highlight the ability on this site when I get around to doing a full revamp of things, but in game is another story. In my earlier games, it was very clear when you received a new Unison Ability. With this one, like the last one I created, you don't earn it, so to speak. As long as you know the right combination of talents, that's it. Now, it's not like I have access to focus groups and such, so I don't know the percentage of players who use these two talents with each other, so I may have to wait until I put out a BETA. Until then though, I'll leave it as just something you will discover through playing.

  • The last thing is sort of a work in progress. So, I'm not really ready to rest on my laurels when creating new abilities. What I mean is, I don't just create it for one purpose, and that's it. I like to get multiple uses out of abilities when possible. For this particular one, I realize that when the enemy is damaged by it, I could technically make it possible for a third ally to come in with an ability of their own, firing off a Trinity Ability. Also, just to be clear, don't quote me on the term, Trinity Ability. It's just something I've played around with for when 3 allies take part in something. Problem is, I'll need to come up with something for 4, 5, etc. So, maybe the generic Unison Ability would be best.

    Anyway, at this point, the 3rd party member isn't even in the game yet, so this is more of a mental design thing. But, I do have a bunch of ideas on how to continue extending this ability. I imagine it would be very satisfying to players to be able to combine all of these abilities into 1 for some cool, (yet balanced!) attacks.

Tomorrow, I will finally create the level that the boss battle takes place in. Yeah, that kept slipping every day this week, but with the weekend here, I should be able to put a lot of work into it.

Till tomorrow...

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Okay, I know I've featured this song before, but this being Chrono Cross week, I couldn't leave it off. Enjoy!

 

2/24/11 -Thursday: DOES IT GET BETTER THAN THIS?!

Right... So, no way I could let even one day pass without posting this. It's the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, and as much as I love RPG's from the golden age, this series as a whole has impacted me greatly as a game designer. For more info about that, check out my earlier posts from July. At any rate, this piece of work is simply ridiculous. Truth be told, I've been longing for them to take the game in an art direction similiar to this, and actually seeing this makes me think it could be possible. Knowing Miyamoto, they wouldn't, but it would be nice nonetheless. Until then, I'll just continue to stare at this piece of art.

On the development side of things, I have spent some time implementing this new Unison Ability. I sort of had an idea for it ever since playing Final Fantasy 13, but after playing the demo for Dragon Age 2, that idea went from the abstract to something more concrete. As I anticipated, the core implementation took no time at all. I'm talking like 30 minutes total. This particular ability is another Timed Unison Ability, meaning the player has to have 2 party members use 2 particular abilities at the same time in order to get the effect. Since it's similiar to another timed one I created months ago, I was able to leverage that existing code and knock this out pretty quick. There are a few gotchas though...

...For one, for the first ability used in the combo, I need to know who performed it. I need this info in order to display the right text over the right person, as well as hand out the right amount of Bonds of Battle points, and other such things. Now, the way it works, when someone performs the 2nd ability used in the combo, I check the target to see if they have the effects from the first ability. If so, then the Unison Ability is fired. Now this is the time where I need to have a reference to who performed the first part of the combo, to handle the aforementioned things. Some effects in the game have attributes set on them, and one of them is the creator of the effect. So for the older one I implemented, I can that. For this new one, for whatever reason, this effect I need to look for doesn't have this attribute at all.

Now me, being the person I am, would love to be able to override how all effects are applied, and have this "creator" attribute applied to all of them. However, me being me would love to not have to mess with any core files. What to do, what to do... Either way, I'm sure I'll come up with something soon.

Till tomorrow...

EDIT - In other related news, there is apparently a function named GetEffectCreator() that will work just perfectly for me. This happens everytime. I complain about something not working, then a solution appears damn near 30 minutes later :)

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Okay, I know I've posted this song already, but it demands to be put up again, since this is Chrono Cross week. If I had a list of my top ten RPG songs of all time, I think this song would make the cut. It literally hasn't gotten old to me, not even once, in the past 12 years. I loved it so much, it because Clopon's theme song.

Enjoy! Again!

 

2/22/11 -Tuesday: THOUGHTS ON THE DRAGON AGE 2 DEMO...

As can be expected with anything computer related, things didn't go as smoothly as I hoped they would, with regards to getting my hands on the DA2 demo. It started off simple enough. I got back from the gym, sat down at my desk, and tried to get to the Bioware site, which was having all sorts of load issues. I could go on and on about how they knew this day was coming for a while, and how the servers should had been better prepared, but being a full time developer myself, the irony would be even too much for me to handle.

Once I was able to get to the download page, I was amazed to see it was saying the DL would take 6+ hours. That didn't give me enough time to DL it before leaving the office, and I didn't want to play it so bad as to leave the office late, so I started to look for some mirrors. Fortunately, there was already a thread on it, and I found a decent site where I was able to get around 250K per second, which while isn't that big, allowed the DL to take a little over 2 hours, instead of the aforementioned 6.

After it was all downloaded and installed, I shut off the laptop to conserve battery power, and started day dreaming about experiencing the game on the train in less than an hour. Once on the train, I raced to get one of the good seats, took out the laptop, and got to it. What did I get to, you ask? A freaking missing Direct X DLL error message. In the words of Mr. Burns, "Blast their hides to Hades!". After that, I didn't have the heart to do any of my own game development, so I was content to just pass out.

When I got home, I quickly DL/installed the missing DLL, and finally started the demo. Overall, I was impressed. I may have played for a little over an hour, but that was because I was trying to savor every moment of it. Now, I actually haven't been following the game as close as I did with DAO, but I knew enough of the story to not be surprised by anything, which was fine. If I had to break things down, it would be like so:

PROS

  • Combat - Simply put, the combat was very satisfying to me. I can't really put it into words, but it just feels more responsive and (must resist urge to use the word viseral like all the other sheep out there!) brutal. It was like I could feel each blow that was landed. DAO stapes like Shield Bash sent enemies flying better than ever, and even the way you close the distance between enemies was great to see. To be sure, I actually didn't have a major issue with the combat in DAO, but I applaud Bioware for making the changes they did, because in my opinion, it's much better.

    Oh, and Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw was spot on about the game still being as tactical as you wanted it to be. Everyone remembers the knee jerk reactions when people thought the game was being turned into a button masher, right? I mean, this is the internet, right? Well, I didn't play the game like that at all. I didn't need any lead up time or anything. Right from the start, I was playing it as I had played DAO, and it felt just as natural. In fact, that may be a reason I took longer than an hour, as I did have the game paused frequently, setting up various abilities to be used.

    All in all, the combat system itself is marvelous. Now, it's up to the combat designers to make good use of it. No point in having a system like this, only to be fighting the same dark spawn throughout the entire game. Let's get some variety here, folks!

  • Art Direction - I should point out I played this on my laptop, with all settings maxed out (expect the graphics, which wouldn't allow me to make use of DX11 features because it was just a demo). At any rate, to me, the graphics were definitely better, and fit the world better than ever. It's still doesn't hold a candle to The Witcher 2 or Final Fantasy 13, but it doesn't have to. For what they're trying to do, I think it fits just fine, and hopefully, a lot of people's rigs will be able to run it just fine.

    It was the little things that impressed me. The shadows of clouds slowly passing overhead moving realistically on the ground, the burning embers floating around in the air, the dark cell where Varric is being interrogated, etc. Hell, even the blood looks better :)

  • Voiced Protagonist - Yes folks, it's 2011, and Bioware is finally getting with the times (across all their games). If you don't like it, get over it, because it's not going anywhere. So, so, SO pleased to hear Hawke talk. In an hour, he's already displayed more emotion than in 80 hours of my Grey Warden in DAO. And this is where it counts for me. I want an emotional, moving story, and if during important scenes, my character is just standing there looking like Pinnochio (before he was brought to life, that is), it just takes me out of it.

    Now, there are the arguments that this makes it harder for people to roleplay. Um, yeah, not sure what to say about that. Play DAO again, or maybe Baldur's Gate? It's like what Jay Z said (paraphrasing): "People want my old style, buy my old album." On to the next one!

CONS

  • Elements of the story - Now, 2 instances of something happened early on in the game, which kinda made me sit back and say, "Um, okay". In one scene, Hawke's brother dies. This is like 20 minutes into the game... My first thought was, "Right... I don't even know this character that well, therefore, I don't feel anything now that he is dead". I know it's there to show what a cruel world it is, and hopefully it will be brought up later in the game, but at the moment, it just didn't do anything for me.

    Likewise, another character died early on in the game (minutes after the brother), and was meant with a smiliar "Meh".

    That's my only issue thus far. Clearly, it's a demo, so I can't speak to the rest of the game.

  • Music - So far, it's just servicable, ambient music. Don't really have expectations for it getting better.

  • Cutscene performance issues - I've seen others mention this on the forums, but I'll just highlight my own experiences. During cutscenes/conversations, when switching from character to character, the game would freeze ever so slightly. They say it's a known issue from way back when this build for the demo was put together, and that it's not an issue anymore.

MISC

I also tried the demo for the XBOX 360, since I had never played Dragon Age on the consoles. More out of curiosity than anything else. To be fair, the graphics were comparable with what I got on my laptop, but good lord, I just don't see how anyone can play without a mouse! I guess if you want to play it more like an action game, it works, but for people like me who want tactical control, you're assed out. You have my sympathy, my console brethen and sisters...

CONCLUSION

As I stated above, overall, I was impressed with the demo. Prior to this demo, my level of anrticipation for this game was way below DAO, but not because of the quality of previews and such. I think I just couldn't really get into it as I did with DAO, because of a few factors. One, I'm working now, two, I'm spending most of my free time working on my game, and third, and most likely the most important, I don't want to go to the forums and sift through threads about complaints about party members' sexual orientation and such to get to the good stuff.

To be fair, I do live on the forums, but it's mostly to lurk and laugh at all the ridiculousness going on. I mean, I swear there were threads asking if the player could sleep with their sister, Bethany. I'm not kidding... At all... I know it's the internet, but the things people clamor for is just getting out of control. I KNOW for a fact that the Bioware employees that post there put on a smile, do their song and dance, to keep the fans happy, but are definitely mocking them. Heh, I had a friend who was a designer for the Madden series back in the early 2000's, and he told me so many funny stories about how they had these meetings where they were instructed on how to deal with the idiots on the forums. Ah, maintaining a level of bullshit, I say. Maybe one day there will be a company that just says what everyone else is thinking, and smack some people around a bit :)

Anyway, after playing the demo, I am definitely excited about the game. It wasn't a day one purchase for me beforehand, but now, I guess I'm going to miss out on some game development. Well done, EA marketing, well done :)

Till tomorrow...

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Because of the demo, I didn't do anything for my game, but I did come up with an idea for a new Unison Ability, something I think I can implement pretty quick, so I'll try to knock that out on the train tomorrow. Then, it's back to the plans I had for yesterday.

Till tomorrow...

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Today's music is a sung song that I honestly don't remember from Chrono Cross, but was on the soundtrack, nonetheless. It probably played during the ending credits, but since I only beat the game once, I don't really remember. Anyway,Enjoy!

 

2/21/11 -Monday: SUCCESSFULLY REACHED MY GOAL... SORT OF...

So, the goal for the end of this long weekend was to have finished this level, including the boss fight. So, I sort of reached that goal... While I did finish the level, I did not do the boss fight. Then again, I decided to move the boss fight to another level. Ah, symantics :)

Anywho, I'm still damn happy with my results nonetheless. As always, things will change as time goes on, but the core stuff is done, all the encounters have been created, and all the VFX's have been added. What's next? Well, I need to fully integrate this level into the game. That includes transitioning to this level, out of it, and some other plot related things. Trivial stuff, to be sure, but important stuff. I purposely left that stuff to be done on the train, and tried to do all things I can't do on the train before the night was over, like stage camera work for instance (for the aforementioned plot related stuff that needs to be done).

So the plan for tomorrow is to do the plot stuff on the train ride into work. While at work, I'll be watching the Federer match in Dubai at 10:00am est (while working of course!), and shortly after that, I believe the Dragon Age 2 demo will be released, which I will begin to download immediately. If things work out, I'll be playing the demo on the train ride home. Once back home, depending on how I like the demo, I'll most likely be pissed at Bioware for potentially making DA1 mods obselete before I'm able to get my first one out :) Then the rational part of my brain will begin to work again, and I'll finish up all plot related things before moving on to create the level for the boss fight I've been yapping about for weeks.

Till tomorrow...

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Keeping with the Chrono Cross theme this week, here is another lovely piece by Yasonuri Mitsuda.

Enjoy!

 

2/20/11 -Sunday: SLIGHT CHANGE OF PLANS...

So, while I was testing out various combat scenarios, I came to a conclusion: I need to create one more level, albeit a smaller one. More specifically, the current level I'm working on is more or less the perfect size, but only if there is no boss fight. Had I left the boss fight here, there would have been less of a build up to it, and because of the various custom creatures I've created, I don't think the player would have fought a sufficient number of them beforehand.

Again, it's that fine line I'm always treading. I don't want to have a bunch of pointless bits of combat in the game anywhere, but at the same time, I want to make sure to give the player as many different looks as different combinations of enemies. For instance, I've created 5 customly tailored creatures (thus far!) for the set of areas I've been creating since the begining of the year. Of those creatures, I've got different types, including melee, magic user, ranged, roguish, etc. That alone makes for all sorts of varied combat scenarios, keeping things nice and fresh. The problem I was running into was that if I had left the upcoming boss battle in, because of things I can't mention, I was going to lose about 2-3 of these situations.

So in the end, I've decided to just make that battle happen in its own self contained area. There are other benefits as well. Ever since creating The Coming, I've always hated trying to design non-combat related things (cutscenes, dialogue, etc.) to happen in combat areas. What if I need a cutscene happen at a certain part of the area, started by a trigger? Well, what if you step on that trigger while in combat? Does the cutscene start anyway? What about dialogue? It's the little things like that, that while aren't the biggest things I need to worry, are still annoying. That goes away with this new area.

In other slightly annoying news, I've had a thread open at the toolset forums for a few days now. Long story short, it looks like my module database is a little borked at the moment. We're slowly figuring out ways to solve the issue, and I'm confident the best solution will present itself. The issue came up because I was attempting to do something I never thought I would: modify an existing core file. I'll save the reason for why I need to for another post, but when I went to check out the file, I couldn't! Hence, this little thread I have.

Tomorrow, I'll finish up the smaller combat sequences, and then start in on the new level, which shouldn't take too long at all. Then, I may do some gluing tasks, since I've been making a lot of levels in isolation for a while. In fact, it would be good to play things from the beginning of this new sequence to where I have things now, to see how the pacing is working out with the combat. Busy, busy.

Till tomorrow...

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This week, I want to share some of my favorite music from a game that I remember the music more than anything else, and the sequel to last week's music: Chrono Cross. Enjoy!

 

2/19/11 -Saturday: ANITHER GOOD DAY...

Keeping in line with my expectations of what I wanted to get done this long weekend, things are looking pretty good. I'm essentially 90% done with the level, up from 55% yesterday (yes, I know I am pulling these %'s out of my ass!).

Some of the challenges today included making good looking borders. More specifically, I needed to make the outside parts of the level that the player cannot enter look as if they just go on and on. I don't know why, but I've always hated doing this, and I'm sure I have lots to learn, but I'm happy with what I go. Another thing I was very conscious of was the actual performance of the level itself. I have lots of vegetation, and lots of fog. I have all settings turned up high on my laptop, and I'm not getting issues, though I'm not sure how it will work on a lower end machine. I've decided to just keep adding as much as I think I need to make the level look the way I want it to, and then, and only then if I run into issues, I'll start to scale it back. Though, I am optimistic. I'm not sure where I read it, but I remember someone saying they had all sorts of vegetation in a level running on their low end machine, and it was fine. Say what you want to say about the graphics of this game (which I don't think are that bad), but I think they did the right thing in terms of making it run on the widest array of machines out there.

So at this point, my real focus is on one thing: Combat... This includes the final normal battles, followed by the first boss battle. I already have some great boss music picked out, I already know all the custom stuff that has to happen, I just need to implement it!

In other related news, more files have been added to Amstrad Hero's Remove Single Player Codex Entries for Standalone Mod. With these latest additions, I think that about gets rid of everything DA related, so only my custom codex entries will be visible. So, shout out to him, and his supporters for their work on this project.

Till tomorrow...

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More music from Chrono Trigger (I guess it should be clear that I'm going for themes from now on!). Enjoy!

 

2/18/11 -Friday: LOTS OF WORK DONE TODAY!

Today was a pretty good day of development, if Ido say so myself. On the train ride into work, I did more combat testing. I continued to mess with different placements of enemies, in order to keep the pacing okay. One thing I needed to do was make sure that they weren't close enough that when you started fighting one group of enemies, if you moved in the wrong direction, another set of enemies would descend upon you.

Most of my testing was done normal, and while overall, it was doable, I did have a few party wipes. When I do go back and try it on harder settings, I may end up having to modify some of the stats of the enemies. Also, during the course of testing, I realized a particular custom ability needed a boost. See, this is what it's all about. I love the iterative process of designing new abilities, seeing what they were, and what they eventually become. I'm still thinking over exactly how I want to change it, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to change. In terms of when to do it, I may just save it as something to do on the train some time next week.

Anyway, when I got home, the major work began: level design. At this point, it's just flowing. It always happens like ths. I have this vague idea of what I want, then I sit on it for a few days, just not really happy with what I have. Finally, the prototyping starts, and when I am able to see stuff looking good in game, then the ideas start flowing like a waterfall, and before long, I know exactly what I want, so it's just a matter of doing it. Interestingly enough, I thought I would have been relegating this work to someone else, but here I am, still making levels :) Oh well, I think it's a handy skill to pick up, so why not.

If I had to put an estimate to it, I'd say the level if about 50-55% done. Next up is some more model work, and more specifically, putting them together to look like some cohesive structure. As always, once I get used to them, fitting them together will be easy, just like it was when I was working with the tevinter line of models (for 6 months!!!!!!).

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to finish off the majority of the level, before even looking at doing anything with combat. Though, it depends on my mood. If I can throw on some decent music, and get into the zone, I can easily do level design for upwards of 4 hours, which may just be enough time to finish this thing. We'll see.

Till tomorrow...

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So, when I was trying to find the you tube link for yesterday's music update, I came across someone who actually created his own orchestrated version of the song, so I think I will use that today. Again, it's really a testament to this music produced back in the mid 90's. Hell, this is one of the things that inspired this guy to become a composer. Great stuff!

Enjoy!

 

2/17/11 -Thursday: WORK TO OVERRIDE CREATURE STATS...

As I mentioned in my last update, I wanted to add in the ability to override certain stats of creatures, such as their HP. Long story short, all of that stuff is derived by the level of the enemy, and some other parameters. It's not like NWN/NWN2 where you can explicitly set these attributes yourself. For the purposes of the OC in Dragon Age, this system was fine I guess, so I can't really get mad at them for how they did it. But, it's just not going to cut it in Rose of Eternity.

Lucky for me, the event infrastructure they created made it extremely flexible to make my changes. Usually, when I add extra functionality to existing events, I create a custom core script for the object, catch the event, run my custom functionality, then pass off the event to the standard core script. Well, that's a simple example, but the most standard one I think. However, with this particular situation, I needed the reverse. The core script's events needed to run first, then my stuff. I admit I was stuck for a few minutes, mostly because I haven't dealt with this before. Then I started looking at the script, HandleEvent. After another few minutes, I realized I could call this function, then call my stuff, and get what I needed.

Next up was the actual attribute I wanted to modify: HP. There's already an existing function SetCurrentHealth that I thought would do the trick. However, after calling it on the particular creature, nothing happened. Then a light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that perhaps I needed to increase the maximum health first, so I started trying to use SetMaxHealth. No dice. Sigh... Then, I remembered when I was sifting through the core auto leveling/initialization code, I saw functions like SetCreatureProperty, and a property called PROPERTY_DEPLETABLE_HEALTH. So, I tried that, and it worked! Now I was able to put everything together, and modify the health as I wanted to. Here's a snippet:

case EVENT_TYPE_SPAWN:
{
//call default script before running own functionality
HandleEvent(ev, RESOURCE_SCRIPT_ROE_CREATURE_CORE);

//increase health
SetCreatureProperty(OBJECT_SELF, PROPERTY_DEPLETABLE_HEALTH, DEPLETABLE_HEALTH);
SetCurrentHealth(OBJECT_SELF, MAX_HEALTH);
bEventHandled = TRUE;
break;
}

So as you can see, there's nothing really special here, but it gets the job done. I'll most likely wrap up the 2 health functions into 1, because well, I'm sure I'll end up using this functionality somewhere else at some point.

The last point is that this is a semi crude way of handling this, in that I need to make a custom core script for the enemies. The most elegant solution would be to modify my existing roe_creature_core.nss, and make it run off of local variables that I can preset in the toolset. So for instance, for this HP thing, I could created a new variable called HP_OVERRIDE, and if there is a value there, then this functionality would run, otherwise, it wouldn't. This way, this stuff could work for all enemies without having to create custom scripts and such. I may make this change at some point, but since I only need this for one particular enemy, I don't want to over-architect it at the moment.

Tomorrow, I'll be back to more level design. Things are looking good, and as I mentioend before, it's looking less like prototyping, and more like actual building.

Till tomorrow...

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Might as well keep the Chrono Trigger theme alive. Enjoy!

 

2/15/11 -Tuesday: BROWSING THE MODEL STORE :)

Yesterday, I alluded to the fact that I had some work with some models to do. Well, I got right to it when I got home. First, I used DATool to sift various categories of models, and when I came across something that looked like something I could use, I just created an instance of it in the current level. After about 30 minutes of doing this, I had all sorts of models scattered about. Now, my reasoning for this is simple. It's easy to just look at the models in the tool, or even just placed in the level, but for me, the perfectionist, I need to know what it looks like in-game. So, I booted up the game, and entered my model store :)

Walking around the level and "browsing the store" really worked, because certain pieces that seemed too big were actually smaller than anticipated, and vice versa. I also got a good feeling for how the current lighting would work. After about another hour, I had a pretty good feeling for the set of models I'll be using. Then, I sort of hit this little 30 minute wall of "no work". It's something I just can't help, damn it! Whenever I make a decent dent in the development of the game, I get all giddy inside, and give myself a break, where I can go to the DA2 forums and see people complain about certain NPC's not being romanceable (sp?), or other such things. It's actually funny. All the stuff people complained about early on, such as the game being dumbed down to a simple action/arcade style game were completelt unfounded (surprise, surprise!). It's weird... I look at myself as a hardcore gamer. I've been living, breathing, and sleeping games since 1988. Hell, I used to (and still do occasionally) have dreams about Street Fighter (Soul Calibur is still better, no matter what my subconscious tells me!). Oh yeah, and I want to make games for a living. So yeah, I'm clearly not a casual fan. That said, some of the ways people act on these forums is just... I have no words for it...

Anyway, after I had finished eating my popcorn and reading lead writer David Gaider put the smack down on some know it alls regarding the "canon" Dragon Age story, I got back to work. With this new set of models, it didn't take long for a more clear picture of how I wanted things to look to take shape. So at this point, it's just the monkey work, adding trees here, models here, shifting terrain here, etc. At this point, this level is turning from a prototype into the real thing. Things could of course change, but I'm just going to go with it for the moment.

Earlier in the day, on the train, I did a lot of combat testing, and had to make some changes, unfortunately. Once such change involved a melee enemy that uses a particular Last Resort. Now before, this enemy was set to level 2, and was ranked as a lieutenant. Thing is, when fighting more than one of them, along with another enemy that can heal, the battle becomes borderline impossible, even on normal. Then I remember why I made them a lieutenant. When they were a normal creature, by the time they were ready to use their Last Resort, they would end up dead a few seconds later. At least with the lieutenant, you would see the ability fire, and it would have a significant impact on the battle.

This really all comes down to the existing scaling system. Now, I've already cut off one part of the scaling, in that I'm using the MIN_LEVEL variable, which gives me more granual control over the level of individual enemies, and not just the enemies in a level as a whole. Even still, based off of that minimum level, the HP, STR, and other such stats are derived. What if I wanted the STR of level 2 normal creature, with the HP of the lieutenant. Not gonna happen by default. Gone are the days from NWN where you could just explicitly set the attributes yourself in the toolset.

Well, it is what it is, and there are certainly ways around it. I can introduce my own attributes, like ROE_STR, ROE_CON, etc., that when present, override whatever scaled value the game would give out. Now, this is total speculation on my part, but I don't think I'm far off.

We'll find out tomorrow morning on the train.

Till tomorrow...

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More music from Chrono Trigger. Enjoy!

 

2/14/11 -Monday: SAME OLD, SAME OLD...

Nothing too fancy today. Just more level prototyping, still trying to get the overall structure set in stone. One little wrinkle in my plans is that the current size of the level I have, which is 128x128, may not be big enough. It always seems big enough before you start adding stuff to it, but things always fill up very quickly... I still need to do some work with a particular set of models, and when that is done, I'll have a better idea of where things are. At any rate, I'm still prototyping, so these are the things that are suppose to come up, annoying as they are.

As has been the tradition, I have been continually filling up my time on the train with things not having to do with level design, as I clearly cannot do it without a mouse. Tomorrow will be no different. If I can't work on the actual level, I can at least start creating and testing various encounters with the various enemies you'll run into. I had done some testing in my "combat testing zone", if you will, a while back, but many of the core custom abilities have gone through various iterations of changes, so I'll need to do this again, to make sure things are just right. I'll also come up with the final number of encounters, the exact enemies in each encounter, etc. To be sure, testing combat with the laptop is not ideal either, but at least it's doable.

The overall plan for this week is to really hunker down, and not let anything distract me. That means no Call of Duty: Black Ops with co-workers, no tennis, no nothing. Add in the fact that I have next Monday off for President's Day, and this could potentially be a big week. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to totally finish off this level, from the actual design of it, to the combat, boss fight, cutscenes, dialogue, etc.

Till tomorrow...

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I'm pretty sure I've ranted about current RPG endings various times over the years, so I won't rehash the argument. That said, the ending(s) to Chrono Trigger were some of the best I had ever seen. When I hear today's music, it brings me back to that magical time in my life. 1995, 15 years old, and just starting 10th grade. Not a care in the world... Well, except for girls of course :) Ah, good times.

Also, here's a funny quote from the page of the song:

"I'm a 33 year old, 6 feet tall, police officer that's built like a wwe wrestler--and this song makes me cry. I'm? not lying"

Enjoy!

 

2/13/11 -Sunday: TALENT DISTRIBUTION WORK...

So, I've been thinking about this on and off for many months now. Because of the custom abilities I'm adding to the game, some of the stock ones don't make sense being in certain party member's line. Perhaps I'm harkening back to the days of old, but I really like the idea of party members being as unique as possible. A little cross polination is okay, but I really like when a party member is known for a specific ability. Seems Bioware agrees with me, because in Dragon Age II, party members will now have abilities unique to them as well. But as I said, this has been happening for a while in games, most notably, Final Fantasy IV. Cecil had his cover ability, Kain had jump, Rydia had summon, etc. etc.

Well, I finally just decided to rip away some lines of abilities for certain party members. For instance, one party member has many core custom abilities dealing with their sword and shield, so it just doesn't make sense to even have the archer line available to them. Likewise, one particular party member has many custom 2H abilities, so I yanked out the sword and shield line. It would be one thing if I didn't add anything new, but since I did, this serves multiple purposes. One, it keeps in line with my philosophy of having each party member really being unique. Also, it sort of encourages the player to spend their ability points on the new things.

Now, I'm not a total ogre :) While I do start some party members out with one particular ability, I do leave it up to the player to spend the rest of those points accordingly. Before I made this change, I just let some auto levelup scripts handle it, but I realized that when I can, I want to give some flexibility to how people play the game. So, one ability point will be spent, and you will have the option to use the other 2 however you like.

In the end, while on the outside it may annoy players, it allows for a much tighter game, with regards to combat. Remember, I'm only one person here, and I can only do so much. So, I would much rather have quality over quanity in pretty much every aspect of this game.

Till tomorrow...

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Today's music comes from one of my favorite RPG's of all time, Chrono Trigger. This was the intro theme, and it really got me into the frame of mind I needed to be in to play the game. I can still remember the first time I booted up the game, and heard it.

Enjoy!

 

2/12/11 -Saturday: A LITTLE UNDER THE WEATHER...

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, I've been a little under the weather, which is a little weird for me, because historically, I don't get sick that much. More specifically, I've been sick 2 times in my entire life (I'm 30), so yeah, it's a little weird for me, to say the least :)

Even still, the show must go on. I've been doing a lot of level prototyping lately, which is becoming a little bit of a pain in the ass. Okay, so I knew going in level creation was going to be the thing to take up most of my time. I knew this. Even knowing this, it's still a little frustrating. It's not so much the actual level design itself, it's more of rendering light maps, exporting the levels, etc. that is taking it's toll. Now, I actually have a fast dev box, so I shouldn't even be complaining about it so much. I mean, I hear horror stories of people literally rending lightmaps before they go to sleep! No rendering ligtmaps or posting the level takes more than 5 minutes for me, it's just that every time I want to make the slightest change, I like to see it right away. Really, it's my fault. Instead of posting the level after the smallest change, I reallly need to just batch up all my changes, and say, check them out in real time once an hour, or something like that.

Anyway, as with most things for me, even though I had a vague idea of what this current level should look like, as I've been prototyping, that idea has been tossed out the door in favor of something else. I pretty much have locked down the look and feel of it, so right now, it's all about the implementation and such. I already know the enemies you will be fighting, and how I want that to progress, so I clearly have to keep that in mind as I finish construction of the level. The difficutly will definitely be higher in this level, so I'm hoping the player has been able to take what they learned in the previous level (with their new abilities and all), and apply it here. There will of course be new challeneges for the player as well, so as to keep them on their feet, and make them feel like they are doing something new at the same time.

Oh, and I will finally be creating my first boss fight. Looking forward to that :)

Till tomorrow...

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Today, I have chosen yet another track from Soul Calibur IV. Enjoy!

 

2/8/11 -Tuesday: MAKING DUE WITH WHAT YOU HAVE...

You know, ever since this toolset has come out, there has been so much talk about many of the short-comings of it. I won't re-address those, because if you're reading this blog, you most likely already know about them. If not, go to the toolset forums, and you'll find various rants there, though not as much as there was last year this time.

At any rate, one thing that pops up, especially from modders from the NWN/NWN2 days is the lack of creatures. Clearly, Bioware only built enough creatures to satisfy their own game, and for whatever reason, it's been taking people a little longer to get custom creatures into the game. Anyway, I see this argument time and time again, and the more and more I develop this game, the more I'm realizing it's just a non-issue for me.

For me, it's all about creativity. Of course if you just plop down stock creatures from the game, players will of course roll their eyes and think, "Oh great, more darkspawn. As if I didn't already kill enough of them in the Deep Roads". Fair enough, on their part. While I clearly have to use the same creature models, that's where most similiarities end. I find the following has led me to be able to create creatures unique enough that people won't just see them as the same old thing:

  • If possible, change the look of them. If they are humanoid, this means creating custom armor and weapons, using custom tints to make them stand out. So far, I haven't used any standard colors from the original game, which seemed very... drab to me. I've stuck with the colorfulness of Rose of Eternity from my NWN days, and translated as much of that as I could in Dragon Age. Sure, it takes some time to set up the tints, but it's well worth it in the end.

  • Make changes to the standard tactics and AI. Again, this involves work, mostly just 2DA stuff, but if the enemies are attacking the player in a totally different way than they did in DA, it just keeps things interesting enough, forcing players to come up with different strategies.

  • A biggie for me is custom abilities. This is what is going to really set this game apart from other games out there, and likewise, it will set your enemies apart from other enemies found in DA, or any other mods for that matter.

  • Supplement the combat scenarios with environmental factors. In my earlier games, it wasn't just enough to have to fight enemies. You had to worry about Boundary poisoning when stepping into certain toxic gases in Shinkara Forest. In another area, you had to escape an area being overun by flames, while trying to fight off enemies. In put a little urgency in the player's mind, where they knew they had to get out before shit hit the fan, but there were these pesky little enemies in their way. Do I stay and fight? Do I just run by as many as possible? Speaking of running by enemies, nice little stealth sequences can break up things as well. Long story short, it shouldn't just be about clicking on an enemy until they're dead. There has to be other things that you're thinking of.

Anyway, these are just some of the things that are constantly going through my mind when designing combat sequences. In the end, I want people to walk away thinking, "Wow, I never experienced that before", rather than saying, "Ho hum, I just killed 30 more darkspawn. *Yawn*.

Till tomorrow...

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So, there is a thread at the BSN linking to the main theme of Dragon Age 2. Here it is:

As usual, I'm just not feeling it. While I did like the main them to the original Dragon Age, I found that 98% of the rest was forgettable. So, I don't even have any expectations when it comes to the sequel. Now, the main theme to Lost Odyssey? Now there's a theme! Of course, as if expected with music of this quality, it's been performed in concert halls. Here's a clip I just found as I was looking for the original.

Enjoy!

 

2/7/11 -Monday: NEW SYSTEM DESIGN...

The majority of my work today was spent on implementing a new system. Not a system as in, new special abilities or anything like that, but just some custom things I need to happen in the game. Without giving too much away, I need to apply some effects without the range of a trigger. And, these effects needs to happen over a steady rate.

The first thing I tacked was actually applying the effect itself. It seemed simple enough, and I've already done things like this a million times. And of course, it didn't work right off the bat :) Part of the effect, which gives out damage, is like one of the simplest calls you could ever make. The main question at the time was, "Where is this damage coming from"? It's going to be applied to party members, but when I tested it, the damage received waa always 0. I wasn't sure if it was something weird going on with the fact that the npc was in my party, or what, but I was getting a little frustrated, to say the least. Finally, I was able to figure out that I needed to have a valid creator of said effect. Well, since it's environmentally based, I figured using the current area would suffice, and lo and behold, it worked!

Next up was having this damage be applied over a steady rate. Clearly the first idea that would pop into most people's heads would be some sort of heartbeat script. Problem is, from the little research I did last night on the forums, the ones I'm looking for are only fired on creatures, not items, like say a trigger, or area. So, it looks like I will be going the route of using the function, DelayEvent. Now, I haven't actually implemented this, but I'm thinking I can start it in the spawn script of what I need it on, then pass a custom event, which it will catch, do what it has to do, then send it again, rinse, repeat. Seems simple in concept, and dammit, it better be simple in practice as well :) That'll be my pet project on the train tomorrow...

Now, this new system will supplement the existing, unique combat situations in some of the levels I'm creating. As I've said so many times it's probably pissing people off, the player has to be kept on their toes. They have to be constantly challeneged in different ways, so the experience doesn't get stale.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, I should be able to finish up the core system on both train rides. When I get home, I should be able to put it to use in this new level I'll need to prototype. Here's hoping to a smooth day of development.

Till tomorrow...

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Today's music is from Yuzo Koshiro. I only played through this game once when I was a kid, but the thing that stuck out to me was the music. In fact, I don't remember anything else about the game!

Enjoy!

 

2/6/11 -Sunday: DESIGNER'S BLOCK, BE GONE!

I will readily admit that while sometimes, ideas just flow from my brain as easy as turning on a kitchen sink faucet, somtimes, it's as dry as the sahara. Lately, I think some of it has been because of the weather. I still haven't really figured this out yet, but winter is getting more annoying and depressing to me than ever before. Thing is, I've lived in upstate New York all my life. This is all I've known my entire life. I mean sure, we've had a freaking snow storm every week for like 2 months, but again, this is New York. The only thing I can think of is that I recently started to really like to do outdoors things, hikes, jogging, biking, tennis, etc. My love for the all things outdoors have become so large that perhaps when I can't partake in these activities, it depresses the hell out of me?

Let's also not forget that many of the ideas for this particular game came before I ever had the toolset, during the summer of 2009 when I took a year off from work (best summer ever!). Many of these brainstorming sessions took place down by the Hudson River. Just soaking in the breeze off the river, the birds chirping, the whole ambiance of everything was enough to get all sorts of ideas out of my brain.

Well, today was 46 degrees. Relative to what we've had lately, it felt lilke 90 degrees in July. In other words, it felt great! My wife, myself, and her friend were at the gym training for this mini-marathon we may enter, and just being able to walk outside and feel the sun on my face, I just started getting into a good mood, and lo and behold, ideas just started flowing through me.

Now, it's not like I haven't known where the game was going, plot wise. It was just a bunch of small things that I wasn't particular happy with. I purposely worked around them, knowing a solution would present itself eventually. Well, today was the day. From the time we left the gym, to the time I picked up my car at the bar/club we had to leave it at last night, to actually getting home, I came up with 3 related ideas that were really the key ingredients to bring this current sequence I'm working on to life. I honestly hadn't been this excited to implement something in weeks, the Super Bowl be damned. While I can't go into deep detail abotu them, the 3 ideas could be catagorized as the following:

  1. Another practical use of an existing custom core ability. Like Illuminate, I have promised myself (and everyone else!) that it won't just be something used in combat, as it will have non-combat applications as well. Truth be told, while I like this ability, I wasn't really happy with it, in that I was able to proceed through some areas without using it, which totally goes against my design philosophy. So, I am very happy about this. Plus, it's really just a bunch of scripting I have to do, which is why up my alley!

  2. Environmental obstacles. In my opnion, you really need to mix up combat scenarios, and one way is to add in some environmental factors, whether they are things that help you, or hurt you. This particular obstacle (which is clearly something that goes against you) is actually tied to 1).

  3. Lore related stuff through visuals. Look, it's 2011. No more of that reading shit to find out about something. Video games are a visual medium, so for the love of god, let's *gasp* show the player certain things, in order to add to the lore and story. What a concept! It should be noted that while I still believe in codexes, if something should be shown to the player, then I will do that over making them read about it.

So.... I guess I can call this my most productive day of development, design wise. Once I had all of these tasks defined in my head, I began to work on the things I knew I couldn't do on the train, like cutscenes, stages, etc. On the train, I'll handle the dialogue and scripting. This does push off the development of this new level, but it's well worth it.

Hopefully, this (relatively) good weather will hold out, which clearly helps me out, design view.

On the dialogue editing scene, Jason is all setup with the resources he needs, and I put up a WIKI page to help him make sense of the conventions I use when setting up the various dialogue files, so he can find what he needs. Good news is, he thinks it's a lot better than when I was writing dialogue in The Coming, which is a good thing. It means I've been listening to him! *In Genie from Disney's Aladdin voice* HE CAN BE TAUGHT!

Till tomorrow...

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Today's music comes from another classic fighting series (best of all time in my eyes), Soul Calibur. While I have take it from Soul Calibur IV, I'm pretty sure it's been used since at least Soul Calibur III, maybe even Soul Calibur II.

The thing about the music in this game is that all of it has that epic feeling. So, you can only imagine the ideas that come to my head when listening to it.

Enjoy!

 

2/2/11 -Tuesday: THINGS ARE LOOKING GOOD...

NORMAL UPDATE

With all the new areas I've been creating, I've been testing them in isolation. So, I put some time into some gluing tasks. This included making sure the current end of the alpha links to the new sequence, and likewise, all of the new areas are linked to each other.

I also did a lot of plot related tasks for all the various things that happen in the areas. Nothing was major, it was more of the number of things I had to do. You know, link this area on enter to a cutscene, start a staged dialogue after cutscene, etc. As I posted above, it was all about being able to run through everything at once, and not testing separately.

At this point, I feel okay with how the new sequence is coming along. I'll need to clean up the intro cutscene a bit, the levels themselves definitely need a few more passes, and I may need to add some more dialogue options in various conversations. The one thing I think I have pretty spot on is the combat. Of course I'll change things, but at the moment, I feel the most comfortable with that particular aspect of things.

Next up is to finish prototyping this new level, which needs to have a vastly different look and feel to the previous levels I've created. There are also a lot of plot related things happening in this level, and of course, some more combat. Keeping in line with my combat design philosophy, the player will begin to really get tested at this point. The first level was a "Hey, I got some new abilities. Wow, these are cool, I feel so strong". Now, it's time to knock them down a peg :)

I'll also be making the first real big boss battle. This has something I've had in my head for a while, but it has changed a bit over the past few weeks. I need to make it a fight where the player has to utilize their new abilities, make it hard, but not hard as in, giving the boss 16,000 HP's. I think that's a lazy way to make a fight harder. Anyway, I'm confident once I get into things, it'll change even more, but end up working out well in the end.

On the editing front, Jason now has all the files needed in order to go through each conversation with his proverbial red marker, and let me know where I've messed up. I'd like to think I've gotten better since my last game, making his life easier, so we shall see. I've also talked with Sunjammer about the more elegant solution of sharing a database, but I only had time to acknowledge his post, as I was pretty busy last week. So, I still need to get that resolved.

On the art side of things, not sure if I mentioned this, but Archon knocked out a couple new icons for some of the custom abilities. I say he knocked it out, having no idea how hard it was, but I'm glad just the same :) We also have some other new and exciting things coming from him that I can't wait to show off.

Well, that's about it.

Till tomorrow...

STATE OF THE UNION

Ah, the state of the union, or for this month, the state of the Dragon Age modding scene. So let's get this out of the way: How many people are actually going play this game? The thought comes to my mind every once in a while, depressing me slightly, before I shake it off and keep on developing. I guess it's because of previous history.

I started The Coming in April of 2004. So, I guess the NWN community had been around for 2 years, maybe a little less. When it was reeleased in July of 2005, it had a very large pool of people to play it. And let's not forget some very important things:

  • It had a pre-determined PC
  • It had nothing to do with DnD

Even with these filters, if you will, I still was able to get a very large number of DL's, as well as votes. Now, I did agressively market the game, to the point that I may have put some people off, but it was well worth it. Of course at the time I made the game, I was damn proud of it. Whnever someone said something negative about it, I thought they were a fool.

Eventually when I started Cry The Beloved a few days later (how do you like that for downtime!), I took those negative comments, and ended up making, in my opinion, a much better game. I gave people more of what they liked, and got rid of the stuff they didn't like. Simple enough :)

Now, that game was released 15 months later in October of 2006, and NWN2 had just been released. So here I am, with a game that is twice as longer as my first, has 2 times as many party members, more custom systems, escapable cutscenes (this was a big thing people complained about in my first game), and much much more. What's the end result? Less people play it.

I don't have the numbers if front of me, but I think The Coming has about 30K DL's, with close to 300 votes, at an average ranking of 9.77, or something like that. Cry The Beloved has about 10K DL's, with maybe 180 votes, with a ranking of 9.93. While I am very proud of that ranking (puts me in top 5 I think of highest rated NWN modules of all time), even I am not that big headed to think it's exactly on point. There could have been people who voted low on The Coming, and just never tried Cry The Beloved. So, all the people who loved the first one went on to the 2nd one, voted, and of course the votes are inflated. Yes, I have gotten more level headed as I've gotten older :) I still maintain that Cry The Beloved is an infinitely better game than the first one though!

Anyway, here we are with Dragon Age. Again, I'm about to release a game for a game whose sequel is abou to come out. It's not like there were that many people DL'ing playable modules, and is that number going to shrink when the sequel comes out?

I guess long (very long!) story short, I honestly feel that this game is even better than Cry The Beloved, and just like the jump between the NWN modules, I may get like a 3rd of the DL's that Cry got. It's slightly depressing that you keep finding less and less people playing your games that you think are getting better and better.

Oh well, time to get back to development...

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Today comes from the first game I ever played & beat for the SNES: Actraiser. This is really where my love of video game music comes from. Sure, I loved the music in earlier Nintendo games, but this game took it to new heights. Classic stuff, really.

Enjoy!

 

 

 
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