Custom Class - Dreamweaver  

Uthenera - the ancient Elven custom where the Elders retired into an endless sleep to give the young a chance to lead. A tradition honored and celebrated by all Elves when they still ruled Arlathan. A facet of Elven history that slowly faded away as their immortality was eroded by the touch of humans' short lives and finally receded into oblivion when Arlathan fell.

Uthenera - transformed from a natural progression of Elven life to a gift for the most ancient bloodlines who could resist the human taint. When Arlathan fell and the Elves were forced into slavery by the Tevinter Imperium, the last vestiges of these bloodlines lingered in the few who chose bondage over death. The center of a makeshift society of elven slaves, they were cared for and protected - a symbol of hope for an unlikely future and a reminder of the culture they had lost.

When Shartan, with the help of Andraste, brought freedom back to the Elves, these descendants of the most ancient finally had a chance to learn and master the craft which allowed them to be in harmony with the land beyond the Veil. The few that did master the art learned to their dismay, as their Elders had, that the Fade, now corrupted by the Magisters' pride, was not a welcoming place anymore. The absence of Falon'din to guide them made Uthenera a self-inflicted punishment rather than the ritual it was meant to be.

A few Elves began to experiment with the teachings of Uthenera in an attempt to protect themselves when in the Fade. Though unsuccessful, they did stumble upon a means to siphon the spirit energy from the Fade to protect them while in the waking world. These few were called Dreamweavers - masters at controlling the spirit energy that makes up a world usually entered only in dreams.

When Halamshiral fell, the few Dreamweavers almost faded into extinction. The few who remained roamed the lands with the various Dalish clans. Their descendants, trained like the other Dalish with sword and bow and inheriting the innate skills of spirit mastery, are the Dreamweavers now in existence. Usually at the front of any foray into ancient Elven ruins, they still thirst for the knowledge that was lost when Arlathan fell - a time when the forerunners of these Dreamweavers were even more powerful and capable of acts that are only spoken of in hushed tones of awe...and scorn, for they chose not to use their talents in Arlathan's defense.

                                       The Dream Skill tree in TQ (from TitanCalc)

Inspired in part by the Dream skill tree in Titan Quest, this class will feature a suite of spell-like abilities focusing on spirit damage and proficiency with melee weapons. They will inherit the Sleep chain of spells from the original game; everything else will be custom talents specifically written for BaL.

Of course, it would be too much to expect the creation process to go smoothly in the Toolset. There is an issue with the character model not showing up when the background is selected and it has been reported by many in the forums. I did have this working at one point when I first started experimenting with custom classes so it is just going to be a matter of going over each 2da and script change and see what is wrong.

...and of course, the icons. These are just placeholders for now till I start working on creating icons for the classes and their abilities.


Game World Update - Leeward  

Before I go into the update, I must confess that the majority of the past week was spent (re)playing HoMM5 and Divinity 2. I was having designer's block and couldn't get myself to finish the level I had started. Instead of ploughing ahead and ending up with a lackluster level, I decided to take some time off and it did wonders. After getting the fan-made manual for HoMM5, I decided to play on Heroic difficulty and I must say, it was much more enjoyable - the fights were difficult but the knowledge of every game mechanic (thanks to the manual) made it a vastly superior experience compared to the first play-through I did.

                           Tactical battlefield in HoMM5 (left) vs AOW:SM (right)

Though the tactical battlefield paled in comparison to Shadow Magic - where the battlefield was about 20 times bigger and units had more varied abilities, it was still fun!

On to Blood and Lyrium...

Leeward is a village on the rise again.
Founded by a group of miners who had struck gold on the hills near West Hill, Leeward was once a booming frontier town where the reach of law was present only to accept bribes and killings over gold were a daily occurrence. As the gold dried up, Leeward shriveled and the hardy folks who had nowhere else to go made a living out of poaching and wood-cutting.

All that changed when a lone poacher by the name of Isiah stumbled upon an untapped lode high in the mountains. Leeward was forced to reprise it's role as a frontier town - only now, nobody wanted to stay there for too long. Meghren's tax collectors regularly visited the town with armed guards in tow and confiscated all the gold they could.

                                            Work in Progress: Village of Leeward

Small groups of prospectors stocked up in Leeward and spent days camped out near the lode, hunting for the vein that would make their future. Those that were lucky enough to strike rich braved the perils of the surrounding woods and escaped back into the lives they had left behind. Those that weren't went back to Leeward to prowl the streets looking for the next group that went up to prospect - either to hire themselves out as guards and guides or to steal their supplies so they could go prospecting again.

I put this level down on paper with all the details I would require. However, I still had to rework the entire level from scratch after my first attempt resulted in too small an area - I realized I still hadn't got the sense of scale when designing exteriors. The plan is to finish this level before this weekend and get the basics of another exterior level complete before I leave for my vacation in July. That way, I can concentrate on filling them out and tying them together on my laptop during the vacation and polish the levels up later.

I also plan to start posting more frequent updates (when possible!). The next one will be on Friday and will feature one of the new classes that will be available in Blood and Lyrium. Till then....


Design Decisions - Part 2  

In my previous post, I had mentioned how certain skills were unusable given the current design of Blood and Lyrium where the player will take on the role of a Dalish Elf ruin-raider. For those that aren't familiar with Dragon Age lore (are there any readers of this blog who aren't? but anyway...), the Dalish live in isolation as much as possible. They do not live among humans or dwarves, they do not undergo military training alongside them and they most certainly do not learn magic in the Circle of Magi.

                           The same classes for races that pretty much live in isolation

Given this, I did not want my Dalish Elves to follow the same Warrior/Rogue/Mage classes that have been established. I understand Bioware did this since they had to cater to each origin and having race-specific classes would have added a big overhead (though that would have made the UI more flexible at least). But hey, us module makers have the freedom to do that! Players in BaL will have the option of choosing one of the two new classes for playing - and only one of those two.

The custom classes to be added in BaL do not have a rogue flavor. This meant that the core rogue skills - disarming traps and lockpicking - had to be factored in as skills so that the player will have access to them. That was another reason for the redesign of the skills system.

On to level design...
I finally decided to buy a replacement RAM kit since the RMA was taking too much time (and this will put me in a position to get up to 8 gigs when it does come). I finished up one more interior level and will be working on filling it out with NPCs, dialog and quests this week.

                                               The Lucky Horse Tavern

This area will feature a lot of ambient behaviour on the NPCs and will probably require a few scans through Beerfish's excel utilities to pin down the animations required. This will the first time I am going to do extensive ambient behaviour set up so it should be interesting.

Till later...


Design Decisions - Part 1  

One of the primary concerns with any custom module is to judge how far a character will progress in that module - what is the optimum level range that a player will end up at? What sort of skills will be used in the module? Will there be redundant skills or talents that a player will never find a use for?

For Blood and Lyrium (and the game, in general), I felt some of the skill trees were redundant or tacked on or just plain unusable given the module design (more about this in the next post).

For example, we have an entire skill tree dedicated to making traps. However, only the rogue gets the necessary talents to disarm traps. This seemed illogical to me - if a person is skilled enough to put together complex traps, shouldn't he be able to take part those same traps? Or at least simple ones?

The other thing that bugged me was stealing. I am a big fan of improving skills as you use them a lot and stealing is a prime candidate for this. How can a warrior in heavy armor and wielding a great sword (especially, one of those ridiculously big swords in the game!) steal successfully from anyone other than a dead person? And unless you had a Fagin to 'mentor' you, how can you just become better at stealing?

                                             Skill Tree in Blood and Lyrium

In my module, there will be just one skill each for Stealing and Trap Mastery. That's right - Trap Mastery. The player will be able to both construct and disarm traps using this one skill. Trap and stealing difficulty will be handled via Cunning and Dexterity as primary modifiers and armor/weapons as secondary modifiers.

Combat Tactics will also completely disappear from the skill list. The player will be given a set of slots at the beginning of the game and that's it. I am toying with the idea of purchasing additional tactics slots by undergoing training from select mentors but it would have to fit in with the whole story to make something like that work.

I am not completely happy with the way the skill tree turned out, though. I will probably get in touch with FollowTheGourd on the Bioware forums to see if he has any idea to hide the empty squares and arrows.

...and lastly, a short update on the level design progress. My RAM started throwing errors and causing random BSoDs so I had to RMA it. While I am waiting for a replacement kit, I am stuck working on my laptop which means less level building. I have been using this time to finish up some of the 2DA and scripting work required and also writing up more of the story so it hasn't been a complete waste of time!

More on design decisions for Blood and Lyrium in the next post!


Level Design  

First, the big news - I am going on vacation for a month in July. Back to my parents' place in India with it's sunny weather and rolling farms. I will be taking my laptop with me - it is a pretty decent laptop but I am not sure how it will handle the heavy level editing required for Dragon Age; certainly not on par with my desktop at home. So, the focus for this month is going to be level design and building - I can then work on the areas, scripting, conversations, etc. while I am on vacation.

I have been laying out the levels on paper - I am not going to make the same mistake of reworking entire levels like I did when I started modding. The plan is to get the basic level design complete for Act 2 and a bit of Act 3 too. These acts will contain a few exterior levels and these are the most resource-hungry to design so the first priority is to get them done and out of the way. They are also going to be different in terms of layout - one of them will be a small one-street town, two will be small villages and there will be at least 2 more forested areas.

The next few blog posts in this month will showcase those levels. I also plan to start writing a series of articles about the game-play changes being done for Blood and Lyrium - there are some aspects of the core functionality that I feel are superficial or can be re-designed.

Before I sign off, I would like those of you not familiar with AmstradHero's blog to grab yourself a cup of coffee and read his latest articles on level design, texture blending and general game design. A very coherent and useful series of articles for any builder (player's feedback welcome too!)