Time for an update?  

Work on the new interior level is progressing well. The basic structural pieces are in place now. The tricky part is in finding the right VFX for the level. At this point, I'm not there yet and quite likely, won't get to that part till later. Why? This level was conceptualized around a big boss battle and until I have the mechanics of the battle in place and tested, the level will remain in it's rudimentary form. This way, if at all a rework is required, I can re-do the level quickly and re-test. This will also be one of the final areas the player encounters so as such, there won't be any screenies coming out on this area till release.

In addition to the level building, I have been working on some of the systems within the game, most notably the loot system. I mean, it's high time some of these are done and integrated into the module for balance testing.
First off, the loot system designed for Dragon Age is a very versatile one; requiring one to just modify 2DAs or add additional ones if required. I consider this much more flexible than manually assigning loot for every container/mob and is also much easier to tweak and adjust. So, I won't be making many changes to this system in its basic form.

However, there are a couple of issues with the actual loot in Dragon Age.
One, loot distribution was bad. I am not talking about vendor trash here. Vendor trash is an essential component of any loot system - it is not possible to have every drop contain an item that will be an upgrade to the player. Besides, vendor trash helps generate gold which can be used to purchase other useful things.

This fish is not meant to be cooked!
The problem I see with DA loot is that the distribution of the items for the different treasure levels was bad. Towards the very end, you come upon a locked chest that requires level 4 lockpicking and possibly, extra cunning to break through. You eagerly open it...and find a Health Poultice inside. Oh, the disappointment! Or you find the rare Manuscript Copy. Most of the highest level chests/creatures either gave you potions or money or trash, with some giving runes - which can be more easily purchased.


Second, usefulness of the items. Either the items were inferior to what you already had (even in late-game loot since some of the best items can only be purchased) or you ended up with lots of salves and poisons. Now, if the game mechanics required you to use them, it wouldn't be so bad but I hardly recall using any salve or poison when playing in Hard difficulty. Maybe in Nightmare? Further, unless you are min-maxing and/or playing with a reduced party size, you don't need the best equipment to get through DA. Which results in a lot of gold lying around in the player's inventory. Admittedly, it is not possible to implement a good economy in a single-player game but nevertheless, I think some of these points can be addressed.

How? I cannot just cut down the loot drastically because players expect some reward for the fight they just won. In the same vein, I can't just give out rare and powerful items because that will trivialize the gameplay. There has to be a balance between the two and while there are multiple ways to go about it, I hope to deliver an enjoyable and useful system with BaL. I will cover the details in my next post.

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4 comments

  • Jye Nicolson  

    February 7, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    "In the same vein, I can't just give out rare and powerful items because that will trivialize the gameplay."

    That's really a tuning issue. DA:O's gameplay is really very forgiving, but that's not an inherent trait of the engine. Look at Golems, or even my own Classic Week or Dirge - very strong gear but the boss encounters remain very challenging.

    I like to manually place important drops because it helps tune boss fights if I have a reasonable expectation of the party's gear level when they reach them.

    Chests do flummox me a bit because there's a reasonable expectation that the talent points invested by a rogue will have some payoff. If you're offering respecs though, as I do and believe any conventional standalone mod should, putting good gear in a chest makes a see chest --> trudge back for respec --> loot chest --> respec back strategy optimal, which is just silly. In Classic Week I treated them as a rogue quality of life issue - chests behind many traps (for a good XP stipend from disarming), filled with poison reagents and dex/cunning accessories. Not sure how effective that was...

  • Timelord  

    February 8, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    That's a valid point and in line with the approach I am taking too - pre-placing powerful items so I know what gear the player will be bringing to a scripted encounter.
    However, one thing to keep in mind is that both Golems and your modules have the player starting off at a considerably higher level. Providing good but not overly powerful items at lower levels is more of a challenge than at higher levels, IMO since the impact is greater when the player is still relatively weak.

    I admit chests are a challenge to balance with any approach. They will be very scarce in BaL to avoid that headache.

  • yic17  

    February 8, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    Dragon Age 2 is about to come out .. hope BnL will be out soon as well =)

  • Timelord  

    February 10, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    yic17, I under-estimated way too much when I said this would be released in Feb (partly because I had huge chunks of free time till Jan). Now, RL is much more busy so I am just working when possible on this. That said, I'm not too worried about DA2. I have seen the screens and videos and I think the DA:O modding scene will make people come back to it once DA2's campaign is finished.

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