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Learn Tech and Reflect about Modding_Part 2_Reflection

This is the second portion of my Learn Tech and Reflect assignment, with the first part as my annotations on tutorial/support sites for modding.

And away we go!

As only academics can with reflections. Image hosted on Tumblr.

As only academics can with reflections. Image hosted on Tumblr.

So this weekend was my first time really opening up the Dragon Age Origins toolset and mucking (it’s really the only way to describe it) about with the software. I had some trouble installing the toolset since Windows 8 is not completely compatible with Microsoft SQL 2005. The official wiki for the toolset was quite useful for this issue since it is a common one for users, and there were plenty of instructions for different errors that might have occurred when trying to download the SQL. But what did I learn after sifting through tutorials, video demonstrations, forums, and wikis on modding once I got the installation settled?

Actually, quite a bit. I found out that mods can range anywhere from new costumes to head morphs to magical items to new spells to rebuilding an area that has been devastated in-game to creating an isolated scene to creating fully functioning quests.  I also learned just how collaborative a community can be fostered on different sites that are devoted to modding, with plenty of creators willingly sharing knowledge they have gained and modders of all levels sharing their work to receive constructive feedback as well as giving others access to mods. As a new modder, I didn’t feel uncomfortable exploring the forums, clicking on threads geared towards those who have little to no experience with the software and its limitations. I was bracing for some presence of trolling from users who felt that modding was their territory and not for those who were considered “noobs,” but this wasn’t the case in any of the forums’ threads that I explored, which was rather refreshing.  I have also learned about different technical jargon that will come in handy when I am starting to make my first forays into modding, such as scripting, morphs, reskinning, override files, different types of files (UTI, for example, which is Uniform Type Identifier), and console command. The Nexus Mod forums were a great resource for this because users are actually dealing with these issues in their own work, rather than dealing with the terms on a theoretical level. As someone who is taking first steps in the world of modding, seeing these problems being hashed out is both overwhelming because there are so many issues that can arise and encouraging because each of these problems seem possible to overcome in time.

Reading tutorials by themselves does not generally do anything for me as I am more of a hands-on learner, so I spent much of my time switching back and forth between the toolset and whichever tutorial I had been reading. The official wiki for the toolset was the most useful to start with because so much of it is directed towards those who are new and would be the ones in greatest need of a tutorial, though the linked tutorials increased in difficulty further along in each page so that experienced modders would still be able to come and find the information relevant to their projects. The Getting Started section, which was different from the Tutorials section, was where I spent most of my time as it explained how to install the software and then also how to check to make sure that everything is in working order in terms of connecting to the Bioware Dragon Age database and making sure that the Palette section of the toolset actually had assets stored. This will also be the place where I will go as I start to learn how to create what is known as a modulewhich is “A module is a playable set of resources, which can be”: 1) “A campaign that players can embark on,” 2) ” An extension to a campaign,” or 3) “An extension to all campaigns” (Dragon Age Origins toolset). For my own project, I think that a new campaign will be my goal if I can learn to navigate and manipulate the toolset, and this wiki will provide me the technical terms for what I want to create and what tools I need to create it.

Where do I go from here?

As I continue forward with my project, I am definitely going to have to sift through more tutorials, looking for ones in particular that are geared for beginners but are also designed for campaign creation rather than just smaller mods like head morphs or armor creation. I also need to look into more video tutorials (though ones that go more in-depth than the video demonstration I have listed below) are going to be helpful since I am a visual learner, but it will be interesting trying to find tutorials that are specific to this toolset as there are supposedly two others modding software. The official wiki is going to be one of my best resources because it covers many topics (such as “variables,” though they recognize that the information they provide will not always be needed: “the vast majority of the variables in this table are only referred to by core scripts; most modders will likely not need to worry about these”) that have charts and images to help users figure out what they need to do and what elements they are looking for, and has troubleshooting articles. As I do further work, I may need to look into installing a Lightmapper software, which is used with modifying levels, and then looking for tutorials specific to using that supplemental software. Gaining a working knowledge of how a toolset works will let me start to apply narrative theory as I work towards creating a small campaign/quest.

Resources I Annotated

BigDownload. “Dragon Age Origins Toolset Demonstration Part 1.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

“Dragon Age.” Nexus Mods. Nexus Mods, 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Dragon Age Origins Toolset Wiki. Bioware Social Network, 08 Oct. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. 

“Forum: Dragon Age Origins Toolset.” Bioware Forums. Bioware, 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

What do we say to the God of Death? Image hosted on the site GifSec.

What do we say to the God of Death? Image hosted on the site GifSec.

This should be enough. Image hosted on the site Rebloggy.

This should be enough. Image hosted on the site Rebloggy.

As Halloween Revels Closer


Learn Tech and Reflect_Part 1_Annotations

Ready for lovely modding tutorial annotations? Image hosted on the site PandaWhale.

Ready for lovely modding tutorial annotations? Image hosted on the site PandaWhale.

Image hosted on Reddit.

Hopefully, it will be like this. Image hosted on Reddit.

BigDownload. “Dragon Age Origins Toolset Demonstration Part 1.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

This basic tutorial video about the Dragon Age Origins toolset was created by Fernando Melo, who is currently the Director of Online Development at Bioware (the company that designs the Dragon Age series, among others), with Ferret Baudoin, who was one of the lead writers for Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age II, as a guest. The video is rather informative for a beginner as the speaker breaks down the basic elements offered in the toolset’s palette (it holds the “categories of assets” modders can access), starting with the areas (settings) for what will be crafted as the start location for the mod, especially since the speaker is so familiar with the technology and the game being explored. To give viewers a sense of what can be done with the software, he opens an “area layout,” which he uses to give viewers a guided tour of the 3D landscape of a layout that is used as a battleground for players in the early parts of the game. He takes the chance to introduce beginning modders to the implementation of scripting (which, according to Wikipedia, is “a scripted sequence is a pre-defined series of events that occurs when triggered by player location or actions that play out in the games engine”), though he mentions he will not be discussing how to script in detail until the toolset had been officially released to the public. The video has a definite weakness in that the screen being displayed is too distant to allow viewers to clearly see the menu items, so viewers must depend on the speaker to identify which selections he is making in the various menus. This is also a problem when the speaker talks about the variables of each item that are listed in the “Object Inspector” box. One other limitation of the video is that it was created before the official toolset was released (the creator mentions that they only have uploaded “what was needed to make the demo”), so the items in the toolset are very selective because the toolset had not yet been finished, but this limitation is easily resolved by locating tutorial videos released a little later.

“Dragon Age.” Nexus Mods. Nexus Mods, 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Out of the four sites I have listed here for my annotated bibliography entries, Nexus Mod’s section the Dragon Age Origins toolset is the most devoted to the products of the modding community, with the creators providing the files and instructions for other users to download and implement their mod into the actual gameplay. What struck me first as I explored the website was just how collaborative the community is, with members willing to share their hard work with others to make the game more enjoyable and customizable. As I begin learning how to use the toolset and to develop my own materials, this site will allow me to see what is possible in toolset through what other people are creating (as well as the limitations with what even experienced modders could not make or could not get to work). The site is split up a bit differently than other tutorial sites I have been looking at, as it has categories for “Files,” “Images,” “Videos,” “Forums,” and “Chat,” rather than direction categories for the types of mod creations. For my project, the Forum is going to be the place where I go the most on this site as it deals  with more than just modding, going as broad as news about and technical support for the game series to spoilers about the game. There are even sections devoted to troubleshooting for building and modding, as well as requests for mods (which enhances the collaborative nature of the community as creators seek requests for what other players would want to see in the game as well as players asking for mods they would like to see created) and spaces for mod talk. For my project, the sections of troubleshooting for modding, mod talk, and the section for articles about Dragon Age mods are going to be the most useful as supplements to the official toolset wiki and various YouTube tutorial videos as it will be nice to read issues other users are having in comparison to my own difficulties navigating the toolset as well as see what can be done with mods (giving me a greater idea of the kind of scope I want for my project and the work it will take to make it happen). While the forums are created by other users, there seems to be very little trolling in the forums, as more experienced modders are very careful in breaking down explanations for new and other less experienced modders, which is not always the case for gaming communities.

Dragon Age Origins Toolset Wiki. Bioware Social Network, 08 Oct. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. 

This resource is the official wiki set of tutorials for Bioware’s Dragon Age Origins toolset (the studio has other toolsets for games like Neverwinter Nights), and includes a link to the Dragon Age help site for users who experience issues the wiki site does not or cannot cover. Within the wiki, there are eight overarching categories: “Getting Started,” “Tutorials,” “Design,” “Art,” “Cinematography,” “Sound and music,” “Script,” and “3rd Party Extensions.” The Getting Started section was the first entry I read through as I started downloading and installing the toolet, skimming through the section on potential comparability issues since the toolset was designed for Windows XP and Windows 7 since I have Windows 8. This site was particularly helpful because I did have an installation issue, but it was with a program called Microsoft SQL 2005 (my computer could run, but made me jump through metaphorical hoops to download properly), which I found was a common issue for users. The tutorials section, which expect to spend a great deal of time perusing, is broken down into links to tutorials into beginner’s needs and moves out to larger tutorials with the promise that, “This set of tutorials forms a series, each building on or filling in omissions by the last.” The tutorials section does not just deal with how to create mods, but also how to export and implement those mods into the gameplay experience, and links out to other external sites with tutorials that I will most likely be scrawling through when I start to dig deeper into the toolset. This resource is going to be both very helpful and a little difficult to navigate, with each entry linking technical jargon to other pages, making it a web of linked pages that can be a bit overwhelming for a new user.

“Forum: Dragon Age Origins Toolset.” Bioware Forums. Bioware, 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

The Dragon Age Origins Toolset Forum is a great resource for modders of different levels to post questions, betas to test, information about patches, and issues and potential solutions, among other threads. As someone who is both new to modding and new to the Dragon Age Origins toolset specifically, this may end up being the place for me to get started as I learn how to navigate the toolset and also act as a space where I could present questions and receive feedback about practical applications. The forum is broken down into seven broad categories: “General Discussion,” “Level and Area Creation,” “Cutscenes,” “Audio,” “Scripting,” “Project Announcements and Recruiting,” and   “Custom Content.” One of the most interesting aspects of the collaborative community being fostered in forums are the “community contests,” particularly the ones hosted through a thread titled “The Toolset doesnt have to be hard! Noob-friendly video guides for the Community Contests.” In this thread for “Noobs,” the topics range from prop-making to level-making to head morphs, with links to video tutorials and lists of outside software needed for the side projects. The forum has ties to Bioware’s official toolset wiki, with users linking out to tutorials to read first before returning to the forum to ask more specific questions, but this relationship goes two ways as the official wiki pulls useful content from users’ posts to fill in tutorials. There are no major limitations to this resource, except for the amount of time it may take to wade through the thousands of threads and responses (the site has a search tool, but that is useful if I know exactly what I am looking for when I come to the site), but this is also a good thing because searching through the threads can lead to surprising and inspiring finds.

**This is the first part with the second as a reflection on my wanderings through these support sites.

A Little Dragon Age to Lead Us On