Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rotted Report 07: Adjusting my perspective

It's been some time since my last Rotted Report. Bet you can guess what I've been up to recently.

I was really torn about whether to buy Dragon Age 2 on day one. For one thing, I wasn't thrilled with what I was hearing about the game's development. For another, I was afraid of what I might find - namely, that the game had trampled on some of the ideas central to my standalone mod.

I was half-right. Dragon Age 2 has turned out to be a fun game that's well worth the $47 I paid for it. Unfortunately, my fears in the second case have proven well founded.

When Dragon Age 2 was announced so soon after Origins, my heart sank - likely in unison with every other modder working on a standalone mod. With Dragon Age 2 coming out in mere months, it raised the question of whether there would be any players still around to play mods for Origins. In addition, those of us working in the Dragon Age setting faced the possibility that the new game would include plots, characters, or themes that were similar to what we were working on.

But wait, you say, what are the odds of Bioware coming up with material that bears any sort of resemblance to something created by a modder working on his own?

Quite high, actually.

The fact that two people or groups working on their own can come up with virtually the same idea is one of the more interesting things I learned from working with Ossian on various game proposals. Creativity is not divorced from logic. When you sit down to think of The Perfect Idea, you go through a thought process that could well be shared by others. For example, you might ask yourself questions such as:
  1. What has never been done before, or at least hasn't been done recently?
  2. What are the most interesting facets of the setting (that haven't been explored)?
  3. How can I work off of the expectations set by previous works?
  4. What kinds of things are happening in the real world that I can riff off of?
It's no surprise that when you follow the same steps, you come to the same place. That's especially true when you're working in the same setting, and even more likely when that setting is as new and (relatively) underdeveloped as the world of Dragon Age.

This may also explain why crappy Hollywood movies come in twos - Armageddon/Deep Impact, Volcano/Dante's Peak, Milo and Otis/Tango and Cash.
As I mentioned in my Dragon Age 2 playthrough series, I was disappointed that Bioware didn't do more to expand the setting for the sequel. Given the short turnaround, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. It seems like Bioware's strategy for producing a full-length RPG in record time was to turn designers loose on existing lore, avoiding the entanglements and conflicts caused by an expansion of the setting. This is essentially how Ossian was able to deliver a 15-hour adventure pack in less than a year, with a team of designers spread all over the globe. Each of us enjoyed a relatively high level of autonomy to work on sidequests just as long as we held true the setting.

But Dragon Age is not the Forgotten Realms, and with limited material to work with, there's a lot of overlap in ideas even among the Dragon Age 2 sidequests. Sadly, there's also some overlap with some of the major ideas in The Rotted Rose, though I'm reluctant to go into more detail until I decide what, if anything, I'm going to do about it.

Remember "The Simpsons Already Did It" episode of South Park? I sure do.
One side of me argues that I should just move forward as planned - get the thing done, and if anyone suggests I "copied" Dragon Age 2, point out that I started working on my mod when Origins first came out. However, the other side of me fires back that a short game like this really should revolve around a unique idea, and with mod-making being nothing more than a sidelight of mine, I should ignore any artificial deadlines and just keep working until I'm satisfied.

I don't exactly know where I'm headed from here, but I imagine my two sides will compromise. The Rotted Rose is pretty modular, with four mostly self-contained "subquests" making up most of the game content. Those quests could remain the same while the story's framing and denouement change to something more original. I'm still not sure, though. I'm going to finish Dragon Age 2 (hopefully tonight or tomorrow) before giving it some serious thought.

The only thing I do know for sure right now is that I need to finish my mod before Dragon Age 3 comes out. God, I hope Bioware doesn't have an announcement coming up.

The Rotted Report is a periodic update on my upcoming standalone adventure for Dragon Age. Feel free to stop by The Rotted Rose project page on the Bioware Social Network. 


  1. Hollywood movies always seem to come in twos, especially in the animated feature genre. I wonder if there's some knowing symbiosis at work there. It took me a long while to figure out Despicable Me and Megamind were two different films.

    I've become used to seeing ideas and plots I'd thought of turning up in BioWare games. You're absolutely right that the process of coming up with a great idea often yields similar results between half-competent teams of designers. In a way, it's somewhat depressing because it echoes a sentiment you made near this blog's inception: there are no original ideas left, and all anyone is really doing is shuffling tropes around.

    Personally, I'd suggest you continue with the vision you had in mind and not worry about DA2. I've found that having to re-evaluate fundamental aspects of a story because of outside forces is a sure way to lose enthusiasm and momentum, particularly on a mod project. That's just me, though.

  2. You're probably right, Alazander. I always have to fight the urge to revise when I'm working on my own. If I'm being honest, I have to admit that this is, to some extent, just an excuse to try some new ideas after being saddled with the same ones for awhile.

    There's definitely more going on with Hollywood movies. Those scripts can circulate for years, so it's not necessarily the original concepts that are synchronous. It probably has a lot to do with the creative climate that makes the movie marketable at a certain point ("superhero movies are played out - let's dust off that supervillain script we have an option on"). Plus a bit of one-upmanship.

  3. You are lucky, my mod background was totally destroyed by DA2 and potentionally DA3.
    But I will still continue working on it and try to flesh out an alternative Thedas.