Friday, March 30, 2012

Traveling the Multiverse: the Wasteland

And we're back with the third in the series.

This time, the player finds himself in a world where the apocalypse has already taken place. All the major cities have been destroyed, there isn't any civilization to speak of, and the few survivors are hiding out in caves deep underground.

Nice place you've got here.
You can find out what happened exactly if you think you can afford to waste time. In any case, you will have to find a way out and escape the tunnels.

Excuse me, have you seen a way out?
Unfortunately, you'll end up in a deserted wasteland. Under a leaden sky, bones brittle with age are lying in the sand and the air smells of death and decay. Just your luck!
Is it gonna rain or something?
I hope this bridge is solid...
Eventually, you will come upon the ruins of a once mighty city....

Hello? Anyone here?
A tower stands half buried in the middle of the desert... perhaps someone still lives here?

Engulfed by its shadow...
What you'll find inside is best left unsaid...

...and found.
Those creatures on the last screenshot are a lot more deadly than they seem, trust me.

This dimension is the second one in terms of content, with only Winterscale surpassing it. It comes at the end of the module, while Winterscale more or less starts it off, effectively framing the story between two great big chunks of narrative goodness, with smaller and crunchier bits in the middle - which I won't show because they're too small to constitute a whole post, and I'd like to keep some surprises up my sleeve.

Friday, March 23, 2012

To ride or not to ride?

I'm wondering whether or not to include riding in the module. It would look like that:

Yes, because in Madness and Magic, you do not ride horses. You ride giant tigers. That's much cooler. (I'm using the excellent DG_Mounts hak.)

So, to ride or not to ride?

- It looks cool.
- It adds originality to the module.

- It would probably be a nightmare to implement correctly.
- I don't really like the appearance of the tiger.

Still undecided. Grumble.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Traveling the Multiverse: the Elven forest

Here is the second installment in the series of posts showcasing the different dimensions the player will travel to. Actually, I'm cheating because the Elven forest belongs to the same world as the city shown last week, but it still counts.

A forest inhabited by elves seems to be a staple of many modules, and I explored many in my time as an adventurer, but I always felt they were lacking something. When I first envisioned this part of the module, I knew I wanted my elven forest to feel special. I searched for a way to accomplish that during a long time, and then I stumbled upon the suspended city tileset by Helvene and I knew I had my answer.

Down on the ground.
And up in the trees.
The player will arrive in the elven city while the threat of war is still looming, which will complicate matters. Even if he's an elf, he'll be regarded as a suspicious individual.

All alone in the trees... because I haven't created the NPCs yet.
But the elven kingdom doesn't consist of just their treetop city. No, there are darker, far more dangerous places in the forest, and the PC will have to explore them as well.

My PC is an elf so the forest doesn't seem so dark... but it'd be different for a human.
The giant tree at the center of it all...
The forest also hides its share of ancient temples long forgotten.

The entrance to some elven ruins.
 Temples holding secrets that should perhaps have been left alone...

Yep, those are bones.
Coming right after the bustling streets of Winterscale, this part of the module is designed to give the player a sense of the loneliness he will experience while advancing through the module. He will come in contact with various civilizations and gets to meet a great number of people, but ultimately he stands alone. Unless, of course, he choose to bring along the provided henchman, but I'll save that for another update.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Traveling the Multiverse: Winterscale

This is the first installment in a series of posts which will present a few aspects of the different dimensions the PC will be visiting throughout the module.

We open up with Winterscale, the area I'm currently working on, and incidentally the biggest in terms of areas as well as NPCs and quests. This seemingly peaceful coastal city is one of the first stops in the quest of the PC - out of a total of 7 planned dimensions.

Pictured: a perfectly peaceful morning.
However appearances are deceptive, and our fair city is on the brink of war with its elven neighbors. Playing an elf will will slightly up the difficulty, but it might also open up new paths...

The streets are deserted at night.

To make matters worse, a new cult is on the rise in this part of the continent, and people are not quite sure what to make of it. The worshipers of the Red god seem harmless for now, but is it gonna last?

An evil temple? Not at all, why do you ask?
Fortunately, a city this size means you can enjoy all the wonders of civilization. The famous Golden Duck Inn, the finest Inn of the continent, will offer you the most restful night of sleep you've ever had - for the right price, of course. If you're feeling particularly wealthy, you can rent the Royal Suite, which is comprised of two bedrooms and a lounge.

It's also the most costly Inn of the continent, but it makes for a far less catchy title.
Or why not visit the Great Library? The monks running it claim it houses every single book ever written - the interesting ones, that is -, but that can't be true, right?

(It's not, because I didn't have time to write them all.)
And finally, the obligatory magic shop.

What's going on with all the lights?
Those are just a few examples of what you can find in Winterscale. I tried to find a balance between a realistic numbers of areas and what I needed to tell my story. The PC isn't supposed to linger in any given location, but rather follow the path taken by the sphere as soon as they know where it went. Hence there won't be a lot of quests in Winterscale - I've got three done at the moment, and about 4 more planned, but a lot of those are mutually exclusive. It's about choices and quality rather than quantity. I've chosen the same approach with areas: many are just optional, intended to give flavor to the world.

In truth I have to restrain myself from constantly adding new areas, quests and NPCs, and I do this by reminding myself that I actually want to finish this module.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Writing dialog

Guess what the hardest part of modding is?

That's right, it's writing dialog. Writing *good* dialog, that is. Essentially, good dialog means two things to me, two things that what I want to offer the player:

1) NPCs with a distinct personnality - with their own backgrounds and interests.

2) Choices.

The first can be achieved in many ways: describing the NPC when the PC first meets him, for example, or giving him a quirk that will define his behavior, or simply having him react differently based on the PC's race or state of dress (or undress). As for the second, it just means having more than one branch to choose from in conversation. The various branches don't necessarily need to lead each time to a different answer from the NPC: what matters is that the player has the choice.

I really liked the way it was done in Planescape Torment, and I've drawn inspiration from it. Especially the [Lie] and [Truth] options - you'll find some in Madness&Magic.

Writing dialog is also very time consuming. Even when writing full tilt, I rarely churn out more than 2000 words a day. Maybe I'm just slow. To make it worse, sometimes in my creative frenzy my brain tend to switch to French. Bad brain. No cookie for you.

Here is an example of dialog in my module.

(Click to enlarge it unless your eyes came equipped with a zoom function.)

In fact it's the very file I'm working on right now. It's part of the main quest of the module: the player is looking for the sphere and that particular NPC happens to possess information about its whereabouts.

You can see I provide a description of the NPC at the start - yet another wizard. Then you've got the main reason why she exists, the question about the sphere. The second option is a placeholder link for another way to get the info about the sphere which is still linked to this NPC - and it's half in French too, because I'm that lazy. The rest is flavor text; it doesn't have any plot relevance but the player can ask her about her appearance and whatnot. The PC's class can change the way she reacts to him, as well as his previous actions.

Keeping the conversation consistent without cluttering it too much is a real challenge. Definitely the hardest part of modding for me. Fortunately it's also what I enjoy the most.

And on that note, I'm getting back to it...