The team at Grimlore Games recently released a Modding Tool and empowered their community to create content using the very same tool that were used to create the game, including our very own articy:draft 3.
Articy: Can you shortly introduce yourself and the team?
Johannes Scheer – Grimlore Games: I’m Johannes Scheer, the lead level & content designer at Grimlore Games, and with our team we are focused on high-quality strategy and roleplaying games, our newest release was SpellForce 3: Fallen God. Usually there is a lot of RPG content in our games and we spent a lot of time creating it. Over the time articy:draft became a main pillar of our content creation process to create dialogues, quests and missions for the game.
Peter Sabath – Articy Software: Hi, I am Peter and my current position at Articy is the CIO position. I am in the core development team for articy:draft and working on it since day one. Knowing nearly all parts of the code helps a lot to get such a project going.
Articy: With a recent patch of SpellForce 3: Fallen God updated modding tools were made available to the community. Can you tell us what people are able to create with these tools?
Johannes Scheer – Grimlore Games: The modding tools including articy:draft were the same tools we used to create the game. Modders have full access to what we used. They can create their own maps, in combination with the dialogue and quest logic tools they can create custom campaigns, script new game modes or mechanics. Even the RTS races are moddable, meaning mods can modify the gameplay of races or change balancing values.
Articy: You used articy:draft for the development of SpellForce 3. How did it come about that you included it in the game’s modding tools?
Johannes Scheer – Grimlore Games: When we were working on the content creation pipeline for development we were using articy:draft for writing dialogues. We had a need for game logic tools which are connected to quests and narrative. Because our games have a lot of content we also needed multi user editing in all our tools. articy:draft had the ability to deal with both, so we added the possibility to create map logic, quests, NPCs, factions and many other game logic issues to articy:draft to have it as a one-tool solution. We created an export plugin to export it to our game data so that the game can use it. With that we can write dialogues, plan narrative content and fill the world of the game using only one tool. With this approach we can for example create an entity like a NPC both as the participant in a dialogue and we can place the same entity in a location (level) as a reference without having a tool that is used for dialogue writing only and another tool that places content to the game world.
Articy: Peter, what was your first reaction when Grimlore approached you about using articy:draft as part of the SpellForce 3 modding tools?
Peter Sabath – Articy Software: My first reaction was “Great idea, that’s nice. I like to see our great tool together with such a well-known IP like SpellForce”. And then – as many developers do – directly started to think about the challenges and solutions for such a project.
Articy: Did you face new challenges while working with articy in this new area of application?
Johannes Scheer – Grimlore Games: Even when you integrate articy:draft as editor for your game logic, it is a visual editor for the logic, but not the logic part of your game engine. We still needed to build for example a quest system in the game engine that reads the data from Articy’s exports, which resulted in a lot of exported data for all the game systems. The biggest challenge was surely that we made two addons for the game, all contained in the same articy project, but each stand alone version of the game needs its own exports. That means we contain all the content for three games in one project and split the exported data into different games.
Articy: Peter, what technical challenges did you face in creating a special app version that is distributed for free to the SpellForce 3 community?
Peter Sabath – Articy Software: One of the challenges was that the team at Grimlore needed to provide reference content that should be useable, but read-only. It also should be updatable from their side.
The solution for that was to use articy:draft functionality that is normally used only for multi-user projects, the partitions. With that it was possible to structure a template project in such a manner that reference content was in partition files that were separate from those the user can modify. We provided a tool that allows Grimlore to create and digitally sign their template project, so they can update and publish that without a constant back and forth.
Grimlore team set up a web service to provide a plugin-Id that was integrated into the ID generation of content objects in articy:draft. This too was a feature that was taken over from the multi-user version. With this approach content/plugins from different contributors can be integrated into one target game without having ID conflicts. Grimlore team did some great deal of writing the integration and export to their used game engine using the articy:draft provided MDK to write plugins. Decoupling this modding version of articy:draft from our normal licensing and doing some joint branding was a nice and easy task.
Articy: What advantages come with giving the community access to the narrative tool the developers used in addition to the level editor?
Johannes Scheer – Grimlore Games: Developers can never create that much content like an entire community of players could do because each development team is outnumbered by the amount of players of the game. But that is only possible if we give them the tools to make it. With our level editor modders were able to add new multiplayer maps to the game, but with the narrative tools they can even add quests, single- and multiplayer content and even entire campaigns to be played and shared. The tools are the same we used for development, with all flexibility in creating new content.
Articy: Do you have any tips for developers out there who might think about using articy:draft as a way to mod their game?
Johannes Scheer – Grimlore Games: It is a flexible tool solution for games with a lot of narrative content and parts connected to it. The implementation of quest logic tools in articy:draft with references inside of articy:draft can backfire when mixed with other tools, for example having an additional dialogue system where the dialogue logic is handled, but your writers write them in articy:draft. In such a scenario it could lead to having a hard time to deal with references to Articy’s objects. To get rid of that you should think about keeping articy:draft as your monolithic main tool to create narrative-based game content. You can use its features to plan missions, quests, write dialogues and connect them to the quest and level logic, but it is not made for non-narrative parts of your development.
Articy: Peter, if someone is thinking about using articy:draft as a modding tool for their game, what would you say is the best way to get the process started?
Peter Sabath – Articy Software: A big pro is good data and workflow analysis before starting customizing articy:draft. Since we mostly don’t know the studio’s title we start to ask many questions to get a common vision and understanding of the use-cases with the partner studio. If everything goes well here we try to split up work packages for both sides.
I would also to thank Reinhard Police from THQ Nordic for the good collaboration in making this version possible.
Do you also like to create your own mods and add them to the game?