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=Dev and Story= 13Jun2010 The third times the charm for some Design Notes!

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6/13/2010 2:42:38   
Legendary Loremaster

This is the third time I am trying to post this set of design notes over the past several days I have tried a few times but each time something happened to deter me. This afternoon I had nearly fully typed a version in Firefox when my browser crashed and the entirety of my hours of work at that point disappeared into the aether. I sometimes think the forums need a draft feature like many email clients and some other threaded conversation software. This time I am typing my post in Microsoft Word first. This also has the added benefit of helping to fix my atrocious grammar and spelling. For one as grandiloquent* as I am, a side effect of my autism spectrum condition, I truly have a grave lacking when it comes to basic editorial skill.

At any rate I digress.

Like my colleague I have noted that we have been relatively silent with our design notes in recent memory and so it seems time for some contributions. This particular posting seeks to address two related but distinct issues. I would like to give you some insight into the actual process of storyline development and I would like to introduce to you the newest member of our storyline development team for AQ/WF. In the process I will likely provide you with much tangential but informative information as such is generally my wont.

And now because I am, in addition to being longwinded and erudite, a somewhat contrary individual I will address these two issues in the opposite order in which I introduced them.

The subject of the story development team is a complex one. As I indicated in my first set of design notes under this new system and in several of my prior storyline developers’ notes as well, there is not a single storyline development team. This is true not only across AE’s many games but even directly within AQ and WF itself.

While I have a core team of storyline developers that work underneath me, I also have the distinct pleasure of working on storyline development with many other segments of our design team. There is much crossover here. For instance Zephyros, who is the regular release coder and a key mind on the KoO, is often my final editor, he also is a pretty darned good writer in his own right and much very good material is in his capable hands.

Some of this you have clearly already seen. Some is a long while off. Zephyros however is a definite asset to storyline. It is he for instance who has taken on the task of converting my fictions from their present forum based form into content for the hall of memories. I will of course directly be involved in that process but it was his idea first and a good idea at that.

The hall of memories as it happens seems to be one of my own more brilliant contributions to the mechanic of AQ as a whole. I have been quite happy with its results and it seems very popular with a fairly substantial part of our user base.

Several additional KoO particularly Aelthai and Radagast also take part both in editing my team’s material and in writing their own. Even the KoO’s illustrious head has been known to contribute somewhat invaluable insight. Aside from the KoO, our game lead Galanoth is a prolific contributor and Cyrus also has contributed considerably to the development of AQ’s story. I must say I really enjoy working with Cy on that aspect and truly enjoy his writing.

As a point of fact any of AE’s many staff persons may suggest or offer storyline content for AQ. This situation means that the realized canon (that material that has actually occurred in game), the meta-plot (the combined canon of all of our games), the deutrocanonical material (material not yet in game but released by us in some official capacity, and hopefully to make it in game eventually. My histories for example), and the quasicanon (material that we are working on and intend to put in the game but that may change during the actual development process), can all become blurred.

As many of our designers are players first, and play all of our games this can become an issue not only for our players but within the team itself. Remembering if a character acted a certain way in AQ or DF for example can be a challenge.

At times it is fine for it to be implied that the events occurred in all games but the fact that each game exists in its own continuity means that our geography, cosmology, and characterizations may vary considerably between analogues.

This long and rambling tangent serves to illustrate the fact that the story is complex. And while it may seem at times that we are not concerned with coherence and consistency in actuality we are very concerned with these things and very little that seems random, inconsistent, or a plot hole is in actuality any such thing.

This segues nicely into introducing my new storyline developer, for you see Ganden, though very interested in the metaplot, whose work as an ArchKnight for me in AEGD established him as a brilliant and capable community oriented individual, and whose writing for the Zardian established him as a writer par excellence, was himself until very recently not a player of AdventureQuest at all. He joined the AE community through our other games instead.

It may seem somewhat strange to ask to join the writing team of AdventureQuest a person who has in essence not played the game, but you see Ganden provides a unique and invaluable perspective, since he is so interested in meta-plot. He provides the perspective of the new player to the game. This perspective means that he can see things that more jaded developers who are already well familiar with the back story and what we intend may miss entirely. In addition his considerable skill, detail orientation, and meta-plot orientation make him very useful in sorting out the complex web that our many writers weave.

Ganden has already been a considerable aid to me and I expect great things will come from him in the future. Though it may in fact be a while before his own writing appears in any game.

This brings us full circle back to the subject of how the development process works. Until recently storyline was written by a member of my team, and generally layout and animation for our material was handled by Galanoth. Galanoth himself coordinated the art and animation processes and passed material on to the coders for final polish and release. This process was necessarily slow. Galanoth is a busy individual and we have many writers, a limited number of artists, and a very full schedule with a large backlog of story content.

As the hall of memories has moved forward, as my skills have diversified, and as Galanoth has become much more busy, the tendency to increase the number of secondary releases that contain cutscenes and other in depth material has increased.

With this increase has come a shift in the story development process. I myself am now often involved in the initial layout art and quest composition, and also in coordination, connection between stories, animation, coding, and rewriting aspects of the design process.

The general design process now works something like this:

A proposal for a story is discussed with either Galanoth, Myself, the both of us, or the staff entire.

Based on this proposal the author writes a draft script, either as part of an overall arc or outline or as a standalone release. This material is shared with other developers. This is polished and edited and then forwarded along to a progressively larger portion of our team as the storyline becomes closer to a final state. The storyline is then woven into the overall plot of the game and the meta-plot entire with the connections being written as needed.

When the storyline is considered close to complete, any art requirements are assessed and Galanoth forwards these to our talented artists to complete as time allows. Because our artists are overworked and have limited hours in the day a script may stay at this stage for some time.

Once the art is complete, or if limited or no new art are required, a layout artist and animator will then put together the alpha form of the release in flash. Once animation is completed the layout artist will upload the material and one of the coders or Galanoth himself will place the quest in a condition where we can test it.

The team will run through the material in order to try to detect editorial issues, inconsistencies, problems with animation and the like. This can take some time as well. At this point the material will be assessed for coding needs and where it fits within our release schedule and Galanoth will either schedule the release or determine with the team where the material best fits.

Any items, pets, npcs, guests, and monsters will be examined by the KoO and with input from the rest of the team they will try to come up with stats and flavor that are consistent with the art and story theme.

Only once these are decided can coding processes necessary to full bring the quest to life occur. In this final stage additional testing occurs and Galanoth and/or Zephyros often add some finishing polish to both dialog, art, and material. Often by this point we are right up against the scheduled release time and after some final testing of the beta process the links necessary to actually release the quest are put in place and any staff only testing features are omitted.

What ideally happens then is that when the release day occurs some levers are pulled, switches flipped, buttons pushed, and variables are set and the content comes live. Of course because the process is as lengthy as it is, because we already view the content knowing what it supposed to do, and because we all have many tasks to handle sometimes things slip through.

Ganden’s somewhat less initiated eyes, should help us somewhat to detect a greater number of these sooner rather than later.
All said in done the actual process from concept to release can take much more than a year for some releases. Indeed my own first writing for the game was a process of nearly five or six before it actually occurred in game. Of course there are definitely exceptions and less intensive content from a development perspective, and more timely material related to immediate arcs can be developed much sooner.

All of this very complicated process is made possible by the very many talented individuals we have on our team and the fact that our team dynamic is very familial. This means of course that we sometimes fight like siblings but that we all come together like a family to put out the best game we can for our extended family, the community.

* Perhaps nothing proves my grandiloquence more than the fact that I actually use this word, twice now, in sentences. For the uninitiated it means that I am bombast. I.e. full of pompous hot air.

< Message edited by Falerin -- 6/13/2010 2:53:50 >
Post #: 1
6/13/2010 18:54:34   
Legendary Loremaster

It occurs to me that one of the other things design notes are supposed to do is to provide sneak peeks and teasers of upcoming content.

Just as I have been grossly slacking off in providing design notes at all. I have also slacked off considerably in the teaser department.

So here are a few teasers from the next HoM quest. To whet your whistle as they say.

  • Spoiler 1:

    Cenara: Drageth became king...

  • Spoiler 2:

    Kendrel: We do not forget the debts incurred in the war against the Network easily. Lavistra and Brontus are closing the rear as we speak and the Brilhado have to the air.

  • Spoiler 3:

    Mysterious Stranger: Didn’t the birdies tell you, Ardendor? Oh, what unreliable messengers those birdies are. Not like homing pigeons at all! Heheheh. I told them to tell you that I am not finished with you.

  • And finally Spoiler 4:


    This text is not spoken but is elsewhere in the release:

    While close analogs are the clear result of the divergence of choice in the stream, there exist as many, if not more, analogs who result from time flowing as time is wont to flow toward convergence, toward fixed and recognized parallels.


< Message edited by Falerin -- 6/13/2010 18:55:00 >
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