Posted On: September 8th, 2011
Posted By: Tolero
Senior Community Specialist
Visitor Note: Even if you don't speak English, you are always welcome to post comments in your own language and I will make diligent efforts to understand you! If you like language, DMB may be for you.
Taking a detour from all my recent language blogs to talk about some game specific fun. Since U11 is next week, it seemed like a good time to talk about some of the work that went into this update from a story telling perspective!
The World of the “Ninja Dev”
Ninja Dev is a term we jokingly use around the office in reference to Community team members. See, people often see the Community folks as mere forum shepherds. They imagine us to only be ferrying messages from the forums to the devs when we’re not swinging the “mighty moderation stick”. But there are parts of our work that get to touch DDO in other ways - even the game itself once in a while. None of these things are “regular” parts of day-to-day life on the Community Team, they are simply opportunities that arise from an excess of things that need doing. It’s a nice change of pace that not only gives us a chance to flex our creative muscles, but helps us stay up-to-date on D&D product knowledge. Update 11 was one of those times where we had the chance to help contribute more directly to the game, and get in touch with hardcore Eberron lore subject matter.
Secrets of the Storytellers
How the Dev team decides what stories to tell and which in-game/out of game plots to touch is a level of detail that is more in Purplefooz’s expertise. I can speak only to what it is like to help chip in once the plan is in motion. For this particular release, we were brought in fairly deep in the quest team’s process - the story arches and themes were already decided, and much of the work on the quests was already underway. Instead, we had the chance to help the team add things to the quests that help re-enforce the story they’re trying to tell.
In a live action game, it’s an interesting challenge telling a story to an audience that can be looking around and doing anything at any time. You don’t really get to tell the story in a very linear “movie” or “book” style way.
- Will they be distracted by their group and miss the line from the NPC about what evil scheme is afoot?
- Will they die right before they were supposed to see the clue about the enemy’s ultimate weakness?
- Will they be afk when the big reveal of who the traitor is happens?
- Will they be narrating their plan of attack over top of the villain’s monologue about why he’s doing what he’s doing?
It’s like trying to put on a play for an audience who can roam around inside the stage and set and interact with (or totally ignore) anything they want. To help mitigate this, the quest team tries to add parts of the story reveals in a variety of ways. A plot reveal may not happen in one line of an NPC window (that we know you’re going to quickly click through… oh yes, we know). That plot reveal may appear in 6+ different smaller ways: the NPC window, the text that pops up over monster heads in a fight, the way a room is laid out with props, the way something is described in your quest objective, drama sequences where you can’t *yet* attack the enemy, quest objects that contain text, and the DM narration. The same concept is presented from many angles repeatedly. In this way, the odds of you being exposed to the story is greatly increased compared with a linear NPC rant. We also have to vary it so that people who are paying attention don’t quite feel so “hit over the head” with it.
For U11, we added some of the flavor pieces that make up part of that net of story telling. As you’re running around in the Update 11 content, you may chance upon journal entries that describe Cannith and Warforged lore from three different perspectives. Writing them was an interesting process that involves a lot more team work than you might expect.
I think it’s an easy misconception to have: this notion that quest makers sit down and vomit out some NPC dialog off the top of their head and shove it in, because the NPC’s have to say SOMETHING right? There’s a considerable amount of teamwork and research that goes into it.
Step 1 - Group Outline
First Cordovan and I sat down with the team to discuss what the major points were that the text had to cover, and what tone the writing should have. What primary idea should be conveyed? What idea can we afford to leave out? How lengthy should the entries be? Are we comfortable with how those topics relate to established game or book lore? What is the emotional tone of the NPC? Who should the NPC remind you of (if anyone)? Once everyone is in agreement, and we’ve considered as many story road blocks or inconsistencies as possible, it’s time to start digging up reference material.
Step 2 - Secondary Research
Primary research is done by the content devs during the initial work on the main story arch. Usually that means they’re making sure that the quest story doesn’t conflict with existing Eberron lore, or that if we are altering the DDO world from the book world, making sure it isn’t too outlandish. When it’s time to add those smaller details like the flavor text, then it’s time to dig even deeper. For those of us writing for NPCs, we spent time reading through as many D&D source books and novels as possible for anything that already defines characteristics of the NPCs or setting. If the NPC already exists in the fiction somewhere, it’s important to know what has been said already about them or by them.
In the case of iconic lore characters, you look for things that you need to avoid contradicting. You seek examples that you can emulate when writing the NPCs voice. When it comes to quest NPCs, you have to review how the quest plays out and work closely with the quest designer to make sure the things said by action text match the things said in other places by the same character. For example, you don’t want a character in the quest to say he’s afraid of kobolds and then in the journals talk about his love for kobolds. What a potential mess!
There is a type of character that can prove to be challenging to write for. In the case of Lord of Blades, we obviously had a lot of reference material to work with because he is very prevalent in the books. This can give you something to work from. With the other head artificer, we had the quest itself to try and line up with. This also gives you something you can work from. Of course I ended up with the third kind of character…the enigma …. the character who speaks “from the beyond.” These characters are a blank slate with little material to guide you. It can be liberating… or treacherous!
Step 3 - Improvisation
Sometimes you have to write material for a character that a player will never necessarily meet or see in the game. This is both challenging and fascinating. The purpose of the character is to get a player thinking about what could have happened before now. It allows players to dig into the backstory more if they want. This means such characters are barely defined, and you have to try and come up with things from scratch and make sure it still fits the world.
It was quite interesting to give a voice to Aaron d’Cannith, the creator of the Warforged. Trouble was, precious little was known about him! All source material referenced him only briefly or indirectly, so I didn’t have a lot to work with in terms of how he acted or spoke. Instead, I had to base it off of how *other* characters are said to have reacted to him. While I was happy with the results, it’s ultimately not up to me to decide if it’s “good enough”. That’s for the review process.
Step 4 -Revisions
We reconvene with our materials, and the content team discusses which aspects of the writing are portraying the message well… and which ones aren’t doing so well. Which parts are too long, or don’t seem to make sense without a lot of context? Did someone use the wrong name for a lore item or character? In some cases, whole sections must be rewritten, shortened, lengthened, or cut all together.
Step 5 - Cliffnotes
One new step to the process is remembering to write things in a way that won’t flabbergast a translator, and to include notes of clarification. See, you don’t want to use a word like “forged” and then have a translator confused about whether you’re speaking of the verb or the game race.
Step 6 - Product Placement
From the writer’s perspective, once we’re done with the revisions and everyone is in agreement, the text is sent to the quest team and our work is done. The quest team’s work has only started. The text must be placed in the world in the way that it is intended to be accessed.
Is it DM text? Then the proper triggers must be put in to ensure that a player is exposed to it at a good time.
Is it something that appears floating over an NPC’s head? That NPC must be set up to say the text, and under what conditions. If the text was “ow don’t hit me there” you probably don’t want the NPC saying that when he’s not being hit.
Is it an object a player will click on? What is the object? What’s more, if it’s something the player must pick up… WHERE will they discover it? Placement of objects is just as important - the item must be in a spot where a player is likely to find it. That spot must also make reasonable sense for what the text is. If the text is a love letter, you had better have a good reason for the player to find it lying in the bathroom of the arch villain’s cave.
I hope you’ll enjoy the Update 11 content, whether you’re a lore fan or you just like killing monsters. If you are a lore fan, even a beginning one, I encourage you to seek out those little journals in the new content! You’ll learn lots of interesting things about not only the story of U11, but warforged and artificer lore too.