Creation Kit – Writing Quests After the Fact

Anum-La Ambushed by SellswordsOne of the reasons I don’t like the narrative of the Mass Effect Trilogy is because I don’t think it was designed to be one.  While I wasn’t in those early production meetings – I was more likely washing the windows – it seems as if ME1 was a finished product that sold well enough to produce two sequels.  That is to say, there was never a plan to write the story in three segments, just as there was never a plan to write quests for the NPCs in the mod.

Fortunately, I did have enough foresight to consider the possibility that a scripter would arrive, although never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be me.  The point is, the NPCs have enough loose ends to where tying them makes narrative sense, even if – due to the nature of the game – that narrative is not altogether linear.  In other words, there will be no god babies showing up and telling you to jump into the Matrix.  The quests were parts of the story I always had in mind.

At the same time, I also have no qualms about the majority of NPCs being left as is, because it fits the overall motif of Skyrim – cold and gloom, doom and thu’um.  In fact, the one thing I do not want is to have the player solve every problem and create some sort of twisted suburban utopia where everyone owns sport utility horses and their happiness is completely reliant on your ability to fight, fuss, and fetch.  When making any type of immersion based game, it’s a fine line.  You want to avoid the parts of reality that are dull and tedious, while at the same time not straying too far from reality that it ceases to be real.

Either way, I have my reservations about making such large alterations after the fact.  The struggling writer, Jaspar Gaerston, is a perfect example.  As he is, the character works well as a symbol.  He represents everything that’s depressing about winter.  So while there’s a loose end that needs to be tied(Adonato’s odd critique), it was hard devising a quest for him knowing he would derive some sort of happiness and achievement from it.  Jaspar as a metaphor would cease to exist.  In the end, Jaspar the growing, maturing writer took precedent.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a quest if it turned out Jaspar was some under-appreciated uber-genius that Adonato ignored.  However, I also didn’t want to diminish that original conversation, and how much the inspiration of his Orc muse meant to him.  Thus, when you play the quest, the conflict addresses Jaspar’s confidence and his technical ability as a writer, as opposed to the emotional epiphany and growth he achieved when he met Gromash.  There’s even a line in his older dialogue that hints at how he will improve.  When time travel is invented, I must thank my past self for putting it there on my way to kill Hitler.

With other quests, like Anum-La‘s, the difficulty comes in the sheer number of lines Lila Paws has already recorded.  Fashioning a quest for her is like playing reverse Jenga; you’re basically sticking a new block in the middle of the tower in a way you hope contributes to its stability as opposed to toppling it.

Again, it helped that I had a plan, albeit a murky one.  The same is true for Zora, were I to write something that involved her sister.  The fact that much of her random commentary would fit in before or after a hypothetical quest will make it so I don’t have to tear my hair out re-writing or conditioning every line.

However, even if something doesn’t make complete sense, the beauty of the Creation Kit is in the power to condition.   With Anum-La, I made a specific string of dialogue a prerequisite to the entire quest.  Other dialogue can be conditioned in the same way.  In that sense, it isn’t like a Jenga tower at all.  If, while playing the mod, you find a block doesn’t belong on the top of tower, it can be easily moved to the bottom, even after the fact.

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