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Project Update_November 30th

Oh project update, how I welcome thee to my (dark) side of the webverse.

**Warning: Strong feelings ahead. 

Modding project, thy name is cruelty. Image hosted on the blog Leaving a Little Sparkle.

Modding project, thy name is cruelty. Image hosted on the blog Leaving a Little Sparkle.

Project Outline:

My project is really two-fold in terms of what I need to do: 1) learn the software to be able to make a functional mod and 2) muddle through the kind of narrative theory I would like to work on in practical application when creating a mod.  I have been looking at tutorials made by other modders and theory application is absent from their work as they are trying to fill in gaps they found in the game and extra applications/looks they think would enhance their gameplay and the gameplay of others (such as outfits, weapons, and avatar skins to be more inclusive).

Annotation: Ah, to have such hope as I did then about tutorials and YouTube demonstrations. My goals are still the same for the project, but I have had to scale WAY back on what I was hoping to do with my mod. As a nOOb at the toolset and modding in general, it is going to be impossible for my to develop an entire quest since I am still having trouble placing a functioning cave entrance to link two areas together. I have outlined the small quest I was hoping to create, but small victories do not equal winning my war against non-user-friendly toolset interface.

Is it madness if you try to do something and curse the same time every time? Don't answer that. Image hosted on the blog Best Gifs for Me.

Is it madness if you try to do something and curse the same time every time? Don’t answer that. Image hosted on the blog Best Gifs for Me.

What I will need to do before truly diving into the project is to settle on a narrative theory that intrigues me enough to see how it would operate in a gamespace, most especially in a user-modified gamespace, and I am leaning towards using Lubomir Dolezel’s Possible Worlds Theory in his book Heterocosmica. Since my major goal is to make a playable quest for my peers, I may head in the direction of possible worlds theory as a way to see users’ creations as extensions of the actual game. Players are creating possible worlds based on their experiences within the game, creating other experiences that the game developers may not have had time for or something they may not have imagined themselves. It is this aspect of my project that I am aim to extend further after the semester has ended because I want to see how possible worlds theory understands and theorizes fan creations that become part of an extension of the original work for other gamers, and to understand how a modder’s work is shaped by the the gamespace’s internal structures (i.e. the logic of the gamespace in terms of what characters can do, how well the mods fit in with the larger structure by the game, and how the characters in questing mods behave and speak in line with the game’s cast of characters).

Annotation: Lubomir Dolezel’s possible worlds theory is making my shoddy attempts at creating something actually worth it. As I clamber areas together that are nowhere near each other in the actual game, I am curiouser and curiouser about whether players can/will construct mods of mismatched areas. Do the gamers adhere to the map of the game and do their best to keep the original map’s integrity alive? Or do they feel they can tweak and swap areas to better suit their interests? The potential to script backgrounds and goals for characters in their mods also works with possible worlds theory. However, I need to dig deeper into Dolezel’s theory to see if he discusses fan/other external authors helping to reshape a fictional world, or if he sticks solely to analyzing the ways in which the texts construct the laws that hold them together (alethic, deontic, axiological, and epistemic). For now, I have more questions than answers and (many) more failures than victories, but that’s part of getting messy with modding.

Updated Timeline:

Week 1 (11-3 to 11-9):

Week 1 was devoted to learning more through the tutorials and learning how to navigate the toolset since the learning curve for the toolset for a beginner seems pretty steep. My main goal was to start with a small modding project to see how much I could do in a small amount of time and then try to see what kind of project is doable for the next three weeks by comparing with notes on forums. My main goal for the overall project is to create a quest, so I need to piece together what is required in terms of the toolset to make a quest: characters, scripting, music, object-behavior(?), and environment(s). The toolset has so far proven to be a bit beyond my grasp, but I am still trying to figure it out.

**Some of the tutorials I watched in preparation during this week were by YouTube userdragonage22: “Downloading and Installing the Toolset,” “Creating a Room,”Altering Outdoor Terrain,” and “Adding Walls and Placeable Objects to Your Room.” I supplemented this withDragon Age: Origins Toolset Experiment 01” by YouTube user Wazuki Vanguard to give me a better idea of other people’s struggles and to make sense of the toolset. The basics for the project are going to take me longer than I was expecting (bracing for?), but practicing with the toolset will be the only way to really get over my hesitation with working the mod.

Week 2 (11-10 to 11-16):

 With a better idea of what I can initially do, Week 2 will start off with planning what my mod will look like by designing it on paper through small descriptions of what I want to do. If I find that my mod really does end up being a quest, I want to plan out the general quest, a character list, and the overarching story of what the quest is and why the player is undertaking this particular quest, and whether or not my quest fits in with the official gameplay experience.As I make the mod, I will start seeing how the mod can work within Possible Worlds Theory as player creation being an extension of official gameplay, especially with such a strong collaborative community that modders have created as they share their mods and how they create those mods. The mods themselves become part of a player’s gameplay experience, changing certain moments in-game that give them a different perspective of the events they are working through, such as a romance option, a character skin (the physical look of a character), or a scene extension that is not official in Dragon Age Origins software.

Annotation: This goal for week 2 was pretty accurate, but also came with a lot of cursing and head banging as I threw myself with abandon at the toolset interface. As I stared longingly at other people’s functioning mods and my own mishmash of nonsense, the possible worlds theory I decided upon has actually gotten me pretty excited to examine mods. The quest I designed has been since pushed aside for notebook space on taking notes on how to create things in my module. 

Week 3 (11-17 to 11-23):

 Week 3 will be the time period where I start rethinking how I approach my mod and the scope of the project as I adjust to match my (lack of) skillset. Hopefully, I should be making significant progress in shaping my mod towards a viable project, rather than a shamble of modding attempts in one environment. My goal for this week is to look at the mod that I have planned out on paper and see if there is a way for me to start building a functional mod that is on a manageable scale for this semester’s project and then setting aside the rest of the potential mod for the larger project I am planning.

Annotation: This week was devoted to learning how to set up an area in which the mod will take place. I did have an easy time setting up what is known as a waypoint, which is just the toolset’s fancy way of saying the starting point where the character will appear. I ended up creating two modules “1st Try” and “2nd Try” since I mucked up the first module. I learned about module hierarchies and understanding the different camera perspectives, with the second one being extremely difficult to figure out until I found my attachable mouse. The rest of the week was devoted to crawling back through user guides and watching videos of successful mods as I tried to get a handle on the Palette that is the core menu of what I am working with. This was also the first time I started to wonder about how characters are generated if the mod is not to be integrated into the actual gameplay. 

Week 4 (11-24 to 11-30):

 Week 4 should be the culmination of all of my attempts, with a cohesive body of work in terms of a mod. This week will be about learning how to integrate my creation into the official software and make it accessible to others. This may require digging further into forums and tutorials, and scouring through YouTube for more user-friendly tutorials/demonstrations. There may be hair-pulling and rocking in a dark corner with my dogs looking on in concern. This too shall pass. Maybe. But, finalizing a functioning mod and figuring out how to distribute/give access to my peers and professor is going to be an important element to the work for this week. This will, hopefully, be the time when I look towards more difficult tutorials at how to extend the quest outwards for a longer project (such as a series of quests with an overarching narrative) and creating new characters who are fully voiced once the semester is over.

Annotation: So this week has been devoted to attempting to link two areas together to give myself space in which I can start building a quest, but it was also the center of a LOT of frustration as I went looking for information on character generation. Some of the topics I ran into while searching for what has now become my holy grail of character generation information are modifying head morphs, scripting, modifying character backgrounds, companion scripting, placeable objects, and inserting higher level characters. Search status: Unsuccessful. After cursing at the computer, I went back to the Placeable Objects tutorial since it gave me a clue as to how I am supposed to link two areas together. The tutorial I read was moderately useful, except that the author centered on how to place an interactive hut door, which I found out is different than trying to place a cave entrance. Status of cave entrance: MIA. Frustration level: High. The struggle with placeable objects continued with the hope of placing an altar and Urn of Andraste into a cavern (more on that endeavor in the Victories section below. Yay!). Status of altar and Urn: Safe, placed, and tilted. 

Week 5 & half-6 (12-1 to 12-9)

Week 5 and half-6 are going to be devoted to finishing up what I can with the mod-ish, going back to Dolezel’s book Heterocosmica, and writing the reflection. I can honestly say this will be the shabbiest mod I have yet to see, which breaks my spirit a little bit. I misjudged the learning curve for the software, thinking the interface would be more intuitive and the tutorials would make more sense. The bulk of the work I have done thus far has been to shift wearily through tutorials and YouTube guides to find a logical starting point for the mod in an effort to make a quest. The notes I have taken as I slog through the Dragon Age Origins Toolset Wiki are especially helpful since I can’t seem to remember how to do something as simple as create a new area without glancing back at the instructions I wrote for myself. **Personal goal: Rewrite the entirety of the wiki so as to save others like me massive headaches in the future, and I need to buy more Advil.

This defeat to full productivity is a bitter pill to swallow. Image hosted on the blog Best Gifs for Me.

This defeat to full productivity is a bitter pill to swallow. Image hosted on the blog Best Gifs for Me.

Victories:

So this section is going to be a bit shorter than every other section because victories have been few and far in between. Like seriously far in between. After all of the frustrations of the initial setup, it felt nice to have the toolset looking fresh and ready…and totally blank. I admit to having mini-panic attacks during my first two weeks of having to try to figure out how the toolset actually works. The palette doesn’t exactly say much about what to do or how to use the elements it offers; the little symbols reveal their names when the mouse hovers over them, but that only goes so far. My first victory came after learning how to create a module and then how to upload my first area. The area creation seems super tricky at first because it requires the user to select an area from the file folder, but the file folder only lists coded names like brc201d or hrt000d.

…..

Reaction: Holy sweet mother of monsters!  Image hosted on the tumblr AnimeOST.

Reaction: Holy sweet mother of monsters! Who comes up with these titles?!
Image hosted on the tumblr AnimeOST.

Toolset:10000000000
Summer: 0

After my freakout session in which I imagined having to open every possible area to see what they were, I noticed on the “Area Tutorial” that the authors had been kind. So very, very kind to poor to lost souls like mine. They had included an entire Visual Index dedicated to showing images of the areas with both the file name and a description of what that meant in terms of the game, which gave me a reference and jogged my tired brain since I had explored each and every one of those areas some years before.

This is the face of victory. Image hosted on the sited Gif-Animados.

This is the face of victory. Image hosted on the sited Gif-Animados.

My second, and latest, victory was learning how to create and set up “Placeables.” My first attempt with a placeable object was a door as I was trying to learn how to link two areas together. I admit that I failed that attempt with remarkable speed since the tutorial I was reading about dealt with a hut door and I was trying to work a cave entrance (and the tutorial went a little too fast and confused the hell out of me). After grumbling a bit and patting myself on the back for finding the “Interactive” stat, I finally left the should-be-save entrance to the side and muddled around with another placeable object. I recognized the altar for an in-game object called the Urn of Andraste (it’s a great quest) and thought that placing it in a cavern different from its place in the game would be a way to create a goal for the quest I will done day be successful in creating (eons ago in a galaxy far, far away). I did all right setting up the altar, but burned myself to the ground in frustration when I thought it would be a lovely idea to add the Urn of Andraste to the top of the altar.

First attempt: the Urn was in the altar. Okay….

Second attempt: As I tried to figure out how to move the Urn to sit on top of the altar rather than, you known, within it, I figured out how to turn the altar so that it faces a different direction (since the altar seems to look the same on both sides, I just left it as I had changed it).

Third attempt: Finally figured out how to raise the Urn without shifting the axis of anything. However, when I finally worked out how to zoom in and then change the direction in which I was looking, the Urn was hovering somewhere above the general direction of the altar. Um…crap.

Fourth attempt: As shown below, the Urn now resides atop a tilted altar…just going to leave that there. No, no. Don’t try to clean up the mess. Stop. Nope. It’s going to stay tilted.

It's a small (and tilted) victory, but it's something to keep massive frustration at bay.

It’s a small (and tilted) victory, but it’s something to keep massive frustration at bay.

So these were my two biggest victories. I could cry in frustration from how gosh darn excited I was to have been able to work these two small tasks out with the help-not-help of the tutorial guides I poured over in my quest to be an awesome beginning modder. May the gaming gods have mercy on whatever Frankenstein’s monster I come up with as the semester ends.

Failures and Concerns:

Oh, where do I start with this section? Which concern outweighs the others to talk about first? Ah, fuck it. So I knew modding would be hard and that there would be times when I would want to possibly throw my computer out of the window before having to listen to another YouTube video user talking about modding as if none of the words were too technical and as if the interface of the toolset was highly intuitive. I knew it would be difficult for someone who has never tried to mod at all before, but this is ridiculous!

Too much! Too much! Image hosted on the site Oh, the Books!

Too much! Too much! Image hosted on the site Oh, the Books!

I used to think that time was going to be the biggest concern because I am trying to learn to mod while also staying on top of other coursework and an internship, but time is only a concern because of the learning curve associated with the toolset itself. Even with tutorials and demonstration videos on hand, there are still parts of the toolset I cannot use properly and questions I have that I cannot find answers to.  Bioware’s official toolset wiki is a total pain in the ass to navigate because it claims that it is set up in a way that provides basics first and then more challenging modding skills later. My biggest headache has been trying to figure out how a playable character will be generated in the module I make if someone were ever able to “play” it.

Screen capture from the toolset wiki's list of tutorials.

Screen capture from the toolset wiki’s list of tutorials.

For the “Character Generation Tutorials,” the emphasis is not to discuss whether or not a playable character will automatically be generated in any module created and how to script a character’s generation if the module doesn’t automatically generate a playable character. Instead, it is about how to alter characters’ backgrounds and scripts, create a new class of character, and start a character at a higher level than level 1. I initially thought the “Background/Origin Tutorial” would provide a basic understanding of character generation in the mod, but, instead, it seemed to assume that the person reading already had that understanding and wanted to continue on his/her merry way of making the playable character even more badass. *goes looking for more Advil* The list underneath this set of “Character Generation Tutorials” would look promising except that it focuses only on “Companion Tutorials,” meaning that the playable character has to exist prior to a companion being added to the party. I am beyond tempted to email the webmaster that I am going to revise the entire bloody wiki to make it user-friendly.

Feel the rage, Dragon Age Origins Toolset wiki webmaster! Feel the rage. Image hosted on the site Soda Head.

Feel the rage, Dragon Age Origins Toolset wiki webmaster and contributors! Feel the rage. Image hosted on the site Soda Head.

Feel the rage of an overwhelmed academic! Image hosted on the wiki for Lego Message Boards.

Feel the rage of an overwhelmed academic! Image hosted on the wiki for Lego Message Boards.

In despair, I turned to YouTube tutorial videos/external website centered on Dragon Age Origins toolset tutorials. I found plenty of hits for creating awesome “Head Morphs” and swapping faces and changing expressions and facial hair for playable characters, but nothing on how to get the playable character in the mod. *gets more Advil* Maybe it’s a stupid of mine and is such basic knowledge that no one feels the need to write about it, but I work best having all of the knowledge available and working through activities I set for myself by writing out my own instructions. I even downloaded the Dragon Age Origins Character Creator in hopes that I would have a set playable character. But, as I found out after spending time mucking around with the setup and looking at what I could do with the character creator, the character creator does not link to the the toolset; it links to the actual game, allowing users to have created their characters before the original game had been released. I did find a section buried within the scripting tutorials about how to add and change information about the characters, but again, that was chaos incarnate with all the lines of scripting text needed to do any of that nonsense. I have since surrendered on the topic after two days of crawling through wiki pages, YouTube videos, and external sites, and have moved on to linking area tutorials.  *empties Advil bottle*

If my mother is right when she said that a face could get stuck in one expression if I frowned long enough, this would be the winning expression after this modding experience. Image hosted on the website NeoGaf.

If my mother is right when she said that a face could get stuck in one expression if I frowned long enough, this would be the winning expression after this modding experience. Image hosted on the website NeoGaf.

All of this ranting/mental breakdown is to illustrate just how much of a loss I am at when it comes to figuring out a logical order for how to create a quest mod, or any mod for that matter. I have been trying to put my notes into some semblance of order following parts of the module I have been successful in setting up, which is helping me to not toss my computer out of a window before moving to Seville. Ah, sweet Seville. *sigh* I’ll keep banging away at my laptop and jotting down rude thoughts to myself about my own ineptitude since this has produced the best results so far.

Mind the awful handwriting.

Mind the awful handwriting.

Forgive the awful handwriting.

Some semblance of order can still be chaos.

As we bid goodbye to November