Disciples II: Dark Prophecy Designer Diary #10

Designers Eva Bunodiere and Emanuel Protopapas talk about what it takes to construct the scenarios in Disciples II.

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Entry #10 - 09/05/01

By Eva Bunodiere and Emanuel Protopapas
Scenario Designers, Strategy First

[Editor's note: In a GameSpot first, two designers have contributed to a single designer diary entry. The first two pages are authored by Eva Bunodière, while the last page is written by Emanuel Protopapas, both of whom are scenario designers for Strategy First's upcoming Disciples II.]

It takes a lot of planning before the game reaches this level of fit and finish.
It takes a lot of planning before the game reaches this level of fit and finish.

Every gamer's dream is to one day actually be paid to work on the game that he or she loves. Yes, it can happen, and it actually happened to me. Let me introduce myself. I'm Eva Bunodière, production assistant for the Disciples II team. I may not carry the glorious title of lead programmer or even producer, but even I have the honor of working on this game, which all you loyal fans will soon be playing. I'm trained as a programmer, and so my background is mostly in programming and quality assurance (QA), as well as countless of guilty hours spent playing various turn-based games.

And now on to the interesting part, describing my duties... Believe it or not, when many people hear the title "production assistant," they sigh and think, "Oh yeah, one of those coffee-go-getters." Completely untrue. I don't drink coffee at all. Instead, I start off the day with a little musak: "Mr. Roboto" by Styx really gets me going. And then I'm off, busily planning my newest scenario. Now I'm going to let you all in on my little secret...

It does take loads of planning to make a really great quest. For it to be perfect, you need just the right balance between being too easy, too hard, how many units, how many rewards, and how many events you want... There's quite a bit of work involved.

We generally start off by just brainstorming some general ideas or themes that we'd like to base our map on. For example, we could decide that the theme will be that the player must retrieve a certain item. Then we polish the idea a bit more, deciding on which races will be involved and exactly why anyone would want that item anyway. Then we add in details about what kind of terrain these races are living in--mountains, plains, or islands. Based on the number of races and the feel that we want to give the map, we then decide on what size and begin the all-important phase of actually sketching with pencil on paper what the map is going to look like. That's right, blow the dust off that old pencil you haven't touched in months, steal some paper out of the printer, and let's get creative!

Finally, our map is starting to take shape! I like to draw little mountains and little trees and little itty-bitty orcs...and then I get to place my gold mines and mana sites...and then I color-code each little item. The bags get the pink highlighter, the gold mines get the yellow ones, and...well, you get the point. I mean, come on, how often do you get to use a whole pack of multicolored highlighters? Not that often, eh? I didn't think so. Of course, when deciding on where to place the sites, cities, and mines and those kinds of things, we have to take into consideration that we've got only a certain amount per map, depending on the map size. Thankfully, Danny (our Disciples II designer) wrote up a lovely map standards document, which makes our lives so much easier. To compensate for that little morsel of help, Danny has also found other ways to make our lives a living hell, but I won't go into that here.

Personalizing Your Work

The game's scenario editor will let you create and customize maps completely to your liking.
The game's scenario editor will let you create and customize maps completely to your liking.

The next step would probably be to decide on the names of all the cities, ruins, and sites and make sure that they all tie into the plot. Then I'd make up a list of all the items that I want for this map, using the above mentioned standards to decide how many of each type of item I'm going to use and also remembering that if it's an easy map, I won't just be handing out the Dragon Shield that's going to give a plus-50-percent armor. Before deciding which item goes where, though, we have to place the enemy parties. This is where it gets tricky.

You want to make sure that you've got enough parties to make the game interesting...but you don't want to make it so hard that a newbie player will just give up after being annihilated by a Red Dragon on the second turn. And on top of that, you have to make sure that all of your enemy parties make sense...I mean, why exactly would a cultist be fighting alongside a defender of faith? It's possible (this is your fantasy), but you'd really need a strong explanation for that one. And you can't just place a couple of goblins here and there--how's the player supposed to gain any XP? The enemies have to be challenging. Phew. Makes for a lot to think about. Plus, there's the fact that one person's "tough" enemy is another's "easy." I could go on and on here, but I think you get the point. Only experience will be able to dictate to you the correct path of action when placing enemies.

Now comes the really fun part: Switch on the old computer, crack open the scenario editor, and go wild! As long as you're following the very explicit and detailed plans that you've written up, you'll probably find that lots of things that you thought would work on paper don't look so good on the screen. No matter, with a little imagination and a little help from the landmarks section, you'll have a brand-new, original, and completely "you" map.

I'm guessing that all of you are probably familiar with that part of scenario creation if you've tried it with Disciples. But there's something completely new and cool that comes with Disciples II--events. This is what really brings a whole new realm of possibilities to the game. Trust me, you are going to have so much fun creating these. There are all sorts of things you can do. I'll just give you a couple of ideas here, but the possibilities are really almost limitless with a bit of effort. How about casting a "healing" spell when the Empire moves a party next to a nice little statue that looks like a shrine? Simple. Click "add location" and click next to the statue. Give it a name and a size. Next click "add event," give it a name, select "Empire" as the race that'll be affected, as a condition select "enter zone," and then select the location you just created. Then, click "add effect," select "cast spell on trigger," and then select the spell "healing." I told you it was easy. This is when writing up your story about this map really pays off, because you can actually make the story come to life by using events to make explanations pop up and neutrals strike back when their cities come under attack. Or you can have them ally themselves with you if you want to help them or even make mountains disappear after killing a certain stack--and that's just the beginning!

And now you're finished! Don't even hesitate about gloating. Post it on the forum and send it to all your friends and every Disciples II fan site you can think of. Of course, I have the luxury of knowing that my maps will actually be shipped with the game, but please don't be too jealous. I am being paid for this, after all.

A Male Perspective

By Emanuel Protopapas
Scenario Designer, Strategy First

A midsummer's dream come true is the only way that I can describe what I am currently doing, which is writing a developer diary about Disciples II: Dark Prophecy and creating some scenarios for the game. There are different ways that I could write this diary because I was fortunate to have designed scenarios for Disciples: Sacred Lands Gold Edition and its sequel Disciples II: Dark Prophecy. One interesting idea would be to write about the different scenario editors that each game has. While another could be to write about the different experiences that I have had on both the titles. There are just too many ideas to work with, and that is what makes it hard to decide on writing about just one. The best story that I can write about is the process that each of us has had to go through in creating a scenario for Disciples II.

Properly balancing a map is an important task for all designers.
Properly balancing a map is an important task for all designers.

Being the guy that I am, I agonize about whether I should do things the easy way or the hard way. Of course, like most people, I have to do things the hard way. When I first created scenarios for Disciples: Sacred Lands, I would turn on my computer and monitor, connect to a radio station through the Web, and start up my scenario editor and do whatever I wanted.

I like dragons, so I'd say, "Why not have a dragon here, here, and here? While I am at it, why don't I have a red, white, and blue dragon in one party? And the reason that you have to beat this guy is just because." No reason--just because! Then eventually I'd have dragons everywhere defeating the players. Once that map was made, I sent it out to my coworkers to play, and I would smile like a Cheshire cat waiting for praise, only to hear, "This sucks! I hate it! This is not fun, I keep on dying all the time." I was in shock! How can this not be great? I mean, I devoted time to this map! So I'd create another map--this time, with dragons, devils, witches, and no potions or cities. Again I felt proud about what I had accomplished, and again I received the same reaction. So finally I learned to create scenarios the easy way, and that's to take the time to do things right the first time. What I learned some time ago about creating scenarios is to learn as much about the game as possible. Before I even turn my computer and monitor on, I talk to the producer and the game designer and ask them questions. I ask questions about the game and the game's story and what is available for me to work with so as to not undermine or compromise the game's story. After talking to the producer and the game designer, I take the time to learn about the characters that are available, and this includes knowing what the characters are capable and incapable of doing. After reading about the characters, I move on to the setting of the map. In this case, the setting includes the size and the difficulty of the scenario that I would like to create. I decide how many players are going to be involved--will it be a one-player map with the Empire or a two-player map with the Mountain Clans and the Undead Hordes? Once I decide what the setting will be, I then try to write a story and create a feel.

Deciding what sort of feel depends on whom I would like to concentrate the story on. For example, in the past, I would make a map where the Undead Hordes were involved in a mission, and I decided that the story would revolve around them. To get a feel of the Undead Hordes, I thought to myself, "When you look at the Undead Hordes and read the story about who they are, what is the first thing that comes to mind?" For me, there were two things that came to mind. I felt that the Undead Hordes were very Gothic and tragic. The Undead Hordes, in appearance, created a scary image of the walking dead. Knowing that, I fired up my computer and started to surf the Net for Gothic and tragic literature. From there, I read some of the works of Lord Byron and tried to train my brain to look at things differently. Finally, I came across T.S. Elliot's The Waste Land, which was a reflective piece about life after the Great War. The Waste Land is a horrific and sad epic felt by the people of the 1920s. Once I had finished it, I wrote a story about people reacting against the constant chaos of war.

With the setting and story decided, I had to do the most important part of creating a scenario, which is getting everything on paper, creating a plan and working over the littlest detail. I have learned that getting it done on paper is very important. If it doesn't fit on paper, then it won't work!

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