Disciples II: Dark Prophecy Designer Diary #12

After a long absence, Pro Sotos, producer at Strategy First, returns with an update on Disciples II.


Entry #12 - 11/13/01

By Pro Sotos
Producer, Strategy First

One of the things I like most about working in the computer games industry is that we actually get paid to have an argument about whether a paladin would fall in love with an undead creature. And it's sad I actually had that discussion more than once during the development of Disciples II. The reason that we discuss these kinds of things during work hours at Strategy First is that we are trying to make the best games possible and we take every single aspect of every game very seriously. I mean, come on, how many times have you actually said to someone, "No that's impossible! A paladin and a vampire could never fall in love and have children"?

This man-at-arms is certainly not in love with the death knight.
This man-at-arms is certainly not in love with the death knight.

We also look for ways to improve the game in other areas, such as performance, art, and content, and this designer diary looks at one small design change that had an impact in more than one area.

Last week, a minor adjustment was made to the programming code, and it added an element to the game that had a greater impact than was expected. This code not only fixed a problem better than we hoped it would, but it also gave us the possibility to be more creative in our designs.

The problem occurred when the "end of turn" button was hit on very large maps with many races. Without getting into too many details, once players ended their turn, it took a very long time for the computer to play the turns of the other races. So there was a small effort put into shortening the amount of time players had to wait for their turn to come up again. The idea to solve this problem was to lump all of the semiplayable races into one race. To gamers, this is an invisible change because there is no difference in what they see, but there is a considerable savings in processing time for the computer, which translates into less time spent staring at the computer screen. So now, instead of four fully playable races and nine semiplayable races, the computer sees four playable races and one semiplayable race. In terms of gameplay, the only difference is that gamers will spend less time looking at the computer screen in between turns and more time playing the game.

That isn't the only thing that came out of the optimization, though. A new feature was added to the scenario editor, and it allows players to create new races. Now that might not mean much to the gamers out there, but for the level designers working on the game, it's the best thing since sliced bread! By having the ability to create new races, they have more flexibility in creating their scenarios because they no longer have to make square pegs fit into circles. For example, in a quest that I worked on, the story was about this peaceful valley that was inhabited by the Empire and the Mountain Clans, and they were invaded by vampires, skeletons, liches, and werewolves. Before this feature was added, I was stuck calling this menace the "neutrals," which is really not a very threatening moniker, but now I can call them anything I like, like the "evil spawn from Jersey" or something more appropriate like the "invaders." All I have to do is press the "add custom race" button and enter a name. Once the name of the race has been entered, all I have to do is select the parties I want to be included in this new group and reset that information, and that's it.

As the producer on Disciples II, I can tell you these small changes improve the game immeasurably. They shorten the time the player waits and gives the level designers more freedom to create more compelling stories.

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