For my New Media class, each of my peers and I are doing individual multimedia projects in which we are learning new technology and examining our own work through the theoretical frameworks we are learning in class (the ones I am writing about in this semester’s reading notes assignment). Anyways, this is my project proposal, so away we go!
For this project, I am going to try to create a playable game mod for Dragon Age Origins. My intended audience for the development of this project is my professor and peers from ENGL 866: New Media. The majority of my peers are female (with one male in the group), and all of them are in the English and Creative Writing departments within the PhD, MA, and MFA programs at Old Dominion University. From what I know, some of my peers in this course are not gamers, while the others are gamers with varying degrees of familiarity, ranging from beginners to someone who is a hard-core gamer with experience in coding. This range from non-gamers to a hard-core gamer makes my project interesting because my end product should be accessible throughout the spectrum, being refined enough for a gamer to enjoy it as a text while a non-gamer can still maneuver through the gamespace and controls with relative ease. My secondary audience is anyone who stumbles across this blog and wants to follow the development process of this project (there are plenty of other steps coming soon to this blog, if you are one of those not-in-ENGL_866 readers). Unlike my knowledge of my peers’ experiences with gaming, I cannot assume to know other people reading my blog, so my project should be just as accessible to anyone taking the time to delve into my multimedia project. The tertiary (and final) audience would be other gamers who are familiar with and play the Dragon Age series, so the end product should be (hopefully) something gamers would want to add on to their own games.
With my three levels of audience discussed, what is the purpose of this particular project? My aim in this project is two-fold: 1) to learn, for myself, how to create my own text (a mod) out of a preexisting text (the video game Dragon Age Origins) in order to better understand the tools of the industry, and 2) to create a mod that builds onto a theme from the game (coping with loss, the nature of self-sacrifice, what it takes to become a leader, how messy human politics can be, or the consequences of fanaticism. There are plenty of other themes to choose from, but these were the ones that interested me the most) to better understand how the building of a game mod can reveal the processes that underlie narrative creation and collaboration in a digital space.
In regards to the first aim, the reason I am trying to familiarize myself with the Dragon Age Origins Toolset is because I would like to someday enter into the video game industry and Bioware is one of my favorite developers are they are able to intertwine engaging narratives and characters with fun game mechanics (from fighting styles to the dialogue wheel). Despite wanting to be the storywriter for a video game studio, a working knowledge of the tools being used to design the games would not only make me a better candidate, but would also give me a greater sense of what I could do to create a story players will enjoy and one that would actually be feasible for the designers/artists/programmers to create. On their website, in the Careers section, Bioware lists that for an Assistant Designer position, the candidate should have “Experience using world building toolsets (Unreal, Unity, Neverwinter Nights, etc)” as well as “Practical level building experience [and] Good scripting and commenting skills.” With this first aim, I am my own audience until I become familiar enough with the toolset to create game mods that I could potentially use as part of a job application, learning what works and what could work better after having played around with a mod design.
With my second aim, which is more inclusive as to who is my audience, this purpose is also two-fold in that 1) I am attempting to show non-gamers what a game mod can do with narrative by building off of a preexisting text, and 2) to provide an experience for those who play Dragon Age that deepens their own interaction with the game itself. Game mods allow creators to manipulate the gamespace and character design to enhance gameplay by creating a new look for a character design (through things like facial features), adding to scenes, or by creating entirely new scenes, and many of these mods can be shared among players and added into each others’ gameplay experiences. In a sense, game modding creates a collaborative space for players, though the act of modding can be a solitary endeavor, in which they can engage with themes explored in the official games. I am choosing to work specifically with the Dragon Age Origins Toolset because the narrative in the game is so complex, the characters and their relationships with one another are intricately developed, and the game does not shy away from dealing with messy and harrowing themes. The game provides a great jumping off point for me to create a mod in which I present a new perspective to an in-game situation, or to use the tools/setting/character design that is already in place to create my own, related scenario. By presenting to my intended audience, a game mod of my own creation, I am hoping that we can start to see how the process of modding can change the way we see a delivery of narrative in the digital era and how digital tools are allowing us to reshape, share, and instruct one another in a collaborative space that is not bounded by physical space.
**Update: As I work deeper into my project, my aim is to look at the ways in which narratology’s Possible Worlds Theory can be applied to modders’ creations, especially those that are shared in collaborative spaces and integrated into other gamers’ own gameplay experiences. I am choosing this theory, in connection with software studies and world building, as I am curious about how unofficial creations being added to official gameplay changes the shape of gamers’ narratives (especially as the dialogue wheel game mechanic allows players to direct their experiences within the gamespace, building relationships and reactions to events through choices they make). By potentially linking Possible Worlds Theory to software studies, I am hoping to uncover how the software the modding communities are using have shaped the gaming culture as a more collaborative space, allowing to help build the worlds they and others participate in even outside of the game studio’s original scope.
For this project, I will be using the Dragon Age Origins Toolset offered by the developer, Bioware, on their website to create my own mod for the game. Bioware explains that they allow players to use their toolset for free as a way to engage with the game and other players on a level beyond playing: “Create your own add-ons to extend the main campaign in new directions; Tell stand-alone stories in the Dragon Age setting or in a setting of your own devising; Share resources with other modders to enhance each others’ works; and Look ‘under the hood’ to see how memorable moments in Dragon Age were done.” As this is my first time attempting to mod, everything is going to be new in regards to my learning how to maneuver within the technology/software. Initially, a majority of my time will mostly likely be spent looking through websites like Nexus Wiki’s section on “Using Dragon Age Mods for Dummies” and Nexus Mods Dragon Age, and a forum on Reddit about how to mod specifically with the Dragon Age Origins Toolset. Other gamers, along with the official wiki tutorials provided by Bioware, are going to be my greatest asset in learning how to mod and then learning how to mod something that is playable for my peers, as they are used to muddling through the technology and creating their own add-ons outside of the official toolsets. Since I am more of a visual learner, YouTube is also going to be another source of how-to guides/references (like the video I have provided below) as well as ideas of completed projects (also shown below).
Overall, I am really excited to get my hands dirty with this project because modding is something I have always wanted to try (it feels a bit like writing fanfiction, but works on a more interactive level because other players could potentially take the mod and add it into their actual gameplay), but have never given myself the time to sit down and try. Coding and working with computer software beyond the basic applications is not something that comes naturally to me since, while growing up and even now, I would rather play with a finished product than attempt to figure out algorithms and the mechanical workings of interfaces. This project, if I can pull it off, would allow me to “get under the hood,” as Bioware suggested, and see how video games actually work.
However, it is the coding/algorithm/under the hood aspect of this project that makes me more than a little nervous. Verbal and written communication is what I have spent almost all of my life working to hone, and coding is a language composed of my least favorite things, numbers. I am nervous about this project because I want to do a good job, to show myself that Yes, I can get messy with what is going on beneath the surface of video games and not be overwhelmed by the process. This, in turn, makes me for nervous since having a handle on and familiarity with toolsets tends to be a requirement for the job I want to do, even though that job is to write for video games rather than program them. I understand why knowing how to use a toolset is necessary and rather handy on the job since it gives a writer a way to speak with other members of the development team, but that brings its own pressure of being good at it (not to say completely proficient, but a working understanding). One step at a time, I guess.
But how do I frame this in a way that is cohesive with what I have been learning so far (and will continue to learn) this semester? Thinking back over the readings I have done and made notes for, three concepts that inform this project are Tornatzky and Klein’s innovation, Brooke’s invention as proairesis, and Gane and Beer’s take on interactivity. In regards to innovation, this concept really informs what the creators of mods are doing because they are creating additional character designs, extending scenes (such as the game mod I embedded in my Technologies section), correcting glitches that occur in-game, creating a new character class (officially, the game only has three–mage, warrior, and rogue), and other enhancements to gameplay (such as modifying a spell). Most of these mods are add-ons that do not change the game entirely and do not exist as isolated pieces (though creating unique scenes can be isolated), and they work towards improving the gameplay experience. For invention as proairesis, Brooke’s remapping of this particular rhetorical canon is useful because game modding takes one existing text (the game) and allows players to create whole sets of other possibilities that can be added into their games. Moments in the game, then, are not to be seen as resolutions in so much as they become points of departure for modders since every scene, character, class, and spell can be altered to create something new. For example, the mod I have shown above is an extension of what happens in the game, but it is developed to deliver a more poignant moment for the player and her characters. It is a possibility of what could happen in the space where the game’s official path skips over. For my last concept here (there will be plenty of others in the process of the project), Gane and Beer’s take on interactivity is useful not only because video games (like all media) are considered interactive, but because the look to Tanjev Schultz’s understanding of how new media in general is considered interactive: “New media interactivity is, for a start, instantaneous, and tends to work in ‘real-time’. It also, in theory, offers the promise of being more democratic: ‘the formal characteristics of fully interactive communication usually imply more equality of the participants and a greater symmetry of communicative power than one-way communication’” (qtd. in Gane and Beer 95). By allowing their players a chance to create mods through their toolset, Bioware is creating a space in which players are allowed to extend the discourse of the game in a way that does have “greater symmetry of communicative power.” That is not to say, though, that players are equal with the developers since modders must work within the confines of the software (the mods must be compatible with the preexisting coding), but the toolset gives players the chance to create something of their own, however small, and share it with others.
To Begin a Project, the First Step Must Be Taken