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Leonard Bedner Interview

2014-09-25

Most of you may be asking who is Leonard Bedner? Well to keep it short he is a talented modder who made the The Rose of Eternity mods for NWN, and Dragon Age.

He also worked for Ossian Studios on a variety of paid mods that were eventually cancelled by Atari, and CD Project. So lets get started with a brief description of the mods.

The first mod was called Darkness over Daggerford and was supposed to be a paid mod till Atari pulled the plug. They also stopped funding for further paid adventures.

It didn't stop the studio from releasing it for free.

Darkness over Daggerford is a classic Dungeons & Dragons module for BioWare's award-winning PC role-playing game Neverwinter Nights™. Taking place in the Forgotten Realms, the most popular of the D&D settings, and produced by former BioWare producer Alan Miranda, Darkness over Daggerford gives players a 25-30 hour RPG with a strong Baldur's Gate feel.

Developed by Ossian Studios for over a year (and previously a BioWare Premium Module), the game achieved instant success in the NWN community with a never before seen response at IGN's Vault, breaking records for meeting all Hall of Fame requirements in less than 3 days!

He next worked on a new premium mod called Mysteries of Westgate, and you guessed if Atari still found a way to mess that up also. The game was delayed and Ossian Studios was forced to add DRM. I still remember how my game code was rejected.

Nowadays you can buy it DRM-Free on GOG with the NWN2.

Mysteries of Westgate is the first Adventure Pack for Neverwinter Nights 2, developed by Ossian Studios. This single-player Dungeons & Dragons game comes with over 15 hours of non-linear gameplay, an epic story of horror and intrigue with multiple paths and endings, new creatures and tileset, as well as brand new music and voice-over. In this city-based adventure, players can explore 4 bustling districts of the city of Westgate: Harbor Loop, Market Triangle, Arena District, and subterranean Undergate.

While working on both those mods he also helped work on a new expansion for The Witcher called Scars of Betrayal. once again disaster struck as CD Projekt pulled funding, and it wasn't released.

The Witcher: Scars of Betrayal is a canceled add-on for The Witcher. It was in development by Ossian Studios in 2008 but was canceled due to issues on CD Projekt RED's end.

So after reading all that I hope it was enough information for the following interview.Wink


Couchpotato: Can you share some information about yourself for the readers of our website?

Leonard Bedner:
My real name is Leonard James Bedner, I'm 34 years old, and I live in Poughkeepsie, NY, with my beautiful wife of 4 years (16 total years together!). By day, I'm a software engineer for iHeartMedia (previous Clear Channel Media) in downtown Manhattan, NY, working on the iHeartRadio product. Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that we are expecting our first child (a little girl) in early December!

Couchpotato: What are your top five RPG games you played you have played over the years?

Leonard Bedner: As you can see by the dates, I was heavy into the "Square Soft Golden Age" of the 90's, then I discovered this whole new "Western Styled RPG". Still a fan of either, if done right, but besides maybe "Lost Odyssey" and "Bravely Default", I haven't been too impressed with JRPG's since I've gotten older.

- Final Fantasy 4 (1992)
- Final Fantasy 6 (1994)
- Chrono Trigger (1995)
- Baldur’s Gate 2 (2001)
- Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

Couchpotato: So what got you interested in modding NWN back in the early 2000's, and What are some of your favorite mods?

Leonard Bedner: I had been cultivating ideas for "Rose of Eternity" since 1999, so when I discovered that I could make my own games with the Aurora Toolset, I jumped at the opportunity. Interestingly enough, I had bought NWN back in 2002 thinking it was going to just be a "3D Baldur's Gate", saw the "henchman" system, realized you could only have one at a time, and sort of lost interest immediately.

2 years later, I discovered the power of the toolset, and hopped right back in. Plus, I was just finishing college and interning at this small software studio at the time, so I felt I would have a leg up on things (already knowing how to program and whatnot).

As far as favorite mods, I admit that I did not play many. Hell, I never even played through the OC, SoU, or HoTU. I kind of get into this bubble where I just focus on my own stuff and block out the outside world. However, when I did come up for air, I do remember having fond memories of:

- Alazander's AL2: Crimson Tides of Tethyr and parts of AL3: Tyrants of the Moonsea
- parts of Stefan Gagne's The HeX coda
- Charly Carlos' Dragon's Edge: Chapter 1 (pretty sure he would go on to be hired my Bioware)
- parts of Rick Burton's Twilight

Had I the time, I would still like to dig into the following:

- Savant's series
- Baldercan's Prophet series

Couchpotato:  What’s your opinion on the various engines used for NWN 1+2 mods? If I remember correctly NWN had the Aurora toolset, and NWN 2 the Electron toolset.

Leonard Bedner: NWN/Aurora Toolset

Pound for pound, the best toolset out there, in terms of ease of use, what you can create, and how fast you can do it. I mean, what were there, at least 6000+ NWN modules created before the NWVault shut down?

As I have done most of my modding with this engine, I have great memories of it. When I created my first game, "The Coming", there were lots of things I had to learn, which limited how much content I got into the game. By the time I was done, and moved on to "Cry The Beloved", I was a damn machine, just creating content at a breakneck speed. 2005-2006 was the most productive time for me, modding wise. Never could I have done that with any other toolset.

Tying everything together was the stellar support Bioware gave to the toolset. Patches, forum support from employees, Bioware Wednesdays... It was awesome, and I feel lucky to have come up during those times... *tear drop*

NWN2/Electron Toolset

This is a weird one. While I did use it to work on Ossian Studios' Mysteries of Westgate for a long time (not as long as the time it took Atari to implement the damn server side authentication check!), I was part of a pretty large team. I think we had 4 writers, 3 technical designers, some level designers... You get the point.

As a technical designer, I mainly focused on implementing parts of the core story path (ambush at the docks at night, Quelzarn attack, etc.), as well as a litany of side quests. By the time I was called to implement something, the level was already complete (or at least in a condition where I could prototype my work), the dialog already written, so that removed a huge component of work for me. Actually, now that I think about it, I don't think I ever even attempted to create a level at any point. I probably should have, as I assume it would have prepared me for the DAO toolset level design tools.

All of that said, I still had a great experience with the Electron toolset. I'm glad they kept a lot of the scripting functionality from NWN1 and just extended it where applicable. It made jumping in to do work that much easier. There were also little things, like actually being able to see all your resources outside of the toolset itself, which allowed our setup of version control to work much easier.

Also, while I did not dabble in it, I loved the fact that you could create your own plugins (our lead programmer, Kevin "codepoetz" Smith made extensive use of this), as well as the custom UI's you could make via XML.

Hell, as I sit here and write this, I'm sort of wishing I had made a project or two of my own with it :)

Couchpotato: Did you foresee your mods becoming as popular as they have over the years, and I was always curious where you came up with the idea of Rose of Eternity?

Leonard Bedner: To your first question, I had high hopes for "The Coming" when it came out in 2005, but didn't expect it to take off as fast as it did, or for it to be as popular. Now, with "Cry The Beloved", I won't even lie to you. I knew I had some big. Let me explain...

I think the best part of NWVault was the ratings/review system. For whatever reason, people seemed to take such pride in writing their reviews, negative or positive. With "The Coming", there were some major issues with the game that, while people were able to get over and enjoy it nonetheless, needed to be pointed out. You know, things like:

- unskippable cutscenes
- boring "kill x amount of y" quests
- game length
- unskippable cutscenes
- unskippable cutscenes
- unskippable cutscenes :)

What I was able to do with "Cry The Beloved" was nip all that stuff in the bud, while maintaining all the good things that people loved about "The Coming", as well as expanding in pretty much every category.

So yes, when "Cry The Beloved" was released, in the back of my head, I told myself, "I got a winner here!” I think on some level, you need to have that confidence that what you're making has to be really great. For me at least, it's what drives me and stops me from becoming complacent.

I will say that I'm surprised that people *still* remember the series from all those years ago. It always brings a smile to my face when almost 10 years after release, someone on a forum says that they enjoyed those games :)

As for where I came up with the idea? Whew, that could be an interview all its own! Long story short, back in April of 1999, a friend and I were sitting on a cliff in Poughkeepsie, NY, overlooking the Hudson River, looking at the Hudson Bridge. I'm not sure how it came up, but one of us made a comment like, "Imagine an RPG where at the beginning of the game, they're building a bridge, and throughout the game, you see the progress of it, and eventually, you're able to cross that bridge?

It sounds simple (maybe stupid?) enough, but from there, we started brainstorming about what could possibly be on the other side of the bridge. What types of lands would the adventurers find once the bridge was complete? From there, I grabbed a lot of loose leaf note paper, a few pens, and we just started writing ideas down. I think the first thing written was that the people on the other side of the bridge would be called, "The Defenders of Legacy". Where that name actually came from, sadly, I don't remember. I also remember writing down that there were 3 adventures, someone in a green cloak, a woman robed in blue, and a wizard. These people would eventually become Aramus, Clopon, and Challseus. From there, we continued to brainstorm, and these few pieces of loose leaf paper turned into damn near a book of ideas, which I know refer to as the "Rose of Eternity Bible".

Couchpotato: Congratulations on releasing your new mod Rose of Eternity: Family & Country for Dragon Age. How has the mod been accepted among the community, and I have to ask why the Dragon Age toolset this time?

Leonard Bedner: Thank you, it's been a long road for sure! I think it's been accepted quite well. I had the tricky proposition of catering to both old and new fans, and I think overall, I achieved that.

As for why I chose the Dragon Age toolset, it was simple. I always want to be using the most cutting edge toolset available (which it was at the time in late 2009), and there were too many features it included which I couldn't pass up, like the cutscene editor, or the ability to have fully controlled party members. Also, I believed that it would receive the same support as the NWN Aurora Toolset.

Oops :)

Couchpotato: On the topic of the Dragon Age toolset do you have an opinion why it never become as widely used as the other toolsets? To me it was simply abandoned after release by Bioware,EA,and the mod community.

Leonard Bedner: There are many reasons it never took off.

First was the difficulty in which many people found to even create a basic quest mod. While pretty much everyone could get in and create something in NWN, with DAO, the entry level was raised.

Because a huge percentage of people weren't able to make content, there was, well, less content available. And that turned into a viscous cycle. The less content that was available, the less active people there were in the community. And the less active people there were in the community, the less content that got made.

Now, with regards to Bioware's end of support for the toolset, I'm not sure where it came from. I suspect EA saw that there weren't enough people in the community to say, "Yes, we will continue to support this thing".

A great shame, really :(=

Couchpotato: Can you talk about how Atari handled the whole process for paid mods when you worked at Ossian Studios? I recall Darkness over Daggerford, and Mysteries of Westgate both had problems.

Leonard Bedner: I joined Ossian Studios at the tail end of development for Darkness over Daggerford, so I wasn't privy to many of the details surrounding Atari's abrupt cancellation of Bioware's Premium Module initiative. But the rug was seemingly pulled from under our feet with nothing we could really do about it. At that time, about a year's worth of work had already been done on the game, so it made sense to continue work on it and release it to NWVault for free. Looking back, I believe that helped Ossian, because we gained more fans than we would have if we had sold it via the Premium Module program.

As for the pain that was the development of Mysteries of Westgate, I was there from start to finish, and I remember it quite well. Shortly after DoD was released in late 2006, I took some time to myself to release "Cry The Beloved" a few months later in October. After that, I had a month to myself to recuperate, then I began receiving the design documents for what would become MoW. For me at least, development started in earnest in late November/early December.

Now, throughout 2007, things went pretty well. Then towards the end of the summer, I was CC'd on a bunch of different emails discussing this server side authentication solution Atari wanted. I didn't think much of it, because hey, it was a digital download only game. I got that.

I don't remember the exact date, but around late August/early September, I was done with my main development. I was then tasked with creating the cutscenes in game that would become part of the intro movie that Alan would later put together. From my perspective, the release of the game was imminent. Then, it began...

For whatever reason, excuse after excuse began to come from Atari over what was going on with the server side auth check. One day, it's "We're not sure how we're going to implement it", then, it's, "We've hired a contractor to write the net code, should only be another few weeks", and after a few weeks, it's "We had to bring a more experienced person on board, sorry, going to take longer".

From my perspective, it just seemed like we were a lower priority to them, and since the company was obviously in disarray, no one was thinking about us. I mean, this went on forever. Think about it. I finish development in late 2007, and it doesn't come out until 2009? During that time, not one, but two expansions came out from Obsidian!

Couchpotato: On our forums a few weeks back you mentioned other mods where in development that you weren't on the team, and I was wondering if you could talk about them also?

Leonard Bedner: After work was finished on MoW, Alan decided to split the team into 2 groups. One working on a new NWN2 adventure pack, the other, working on a Witcher expansion. I was part of The Witcher expansion, so I did not know much about the NWN2 expansion, other than the fact that the setting we initially proposed was shot down because it would have conflicted with the setting Obsidian would end up using in Mask of the Betrayer.

All of that said, a lot of work went into that adventure pack, with full documentation and everything. I actually don't remember the circumstances behind that project being shut down, now that I think about it.

Couchpotato: You also mentioned a Witcher mod called Scars of Betrayal. Can you share any details about the project? I remember reading the reason for the mods cancellation was lack of funds by CD Projekt.

Leonard Bedner: When the team was split into 2, I was placed here, because The Witcher Adventure Editor had a pretty robust cutscene editor, and since I had a lot of experience making cutscenes in my NWN games, it was a perfect fit. The adventure itself, if I remember correctly, was to have many more roleplaying elements in it than a normal line of quests in the core game.

When I started my work, I was immediately blown away. The level design guys had already created the area for the main town in the game, and it was HUGE! I used to just run around and take in all the sights, while listening to that wonderful Witcher city theme.

Although I have to admit, development itself was pretty difficult. It's hard to narrow down exactly what it was, but the Adventure Editor wasn’t really intuitive (to me anyway). For instance, creating quests and all the possible outcomes were done via a visual tool, which you would think would be pretty easy, but in my experience, it was the exact opposite. I'm sure if I had more time with it, I would have eventually figured out all the intricacies, but, right on cue...

...CD Projekt had to shut down work on the game. I don't remember all the details, but there were changes being made at CD Projekt, and unfortunately, we were one of the ones to get the short end of the stick.

Interestingly enough, if I remember correctly, we ended up finding out that we weren't the only ones contracted to do work for them. I believe DLA, of Wyvern Crown of Cormyr fame, had something going on with them too. I don’t know the details of that game, however…

Couchpotato:  Do you have any advice for new/veteran modders based on your experience in game/mod development?

Leonard Bedner: For all modders out there, I would think really long and hard about what you want to work on, and determine how much of it can be done by yourself, or with a team. If you can do it on your own, that's great. Get to it!

If you need a large team, take a step back and think about what you're getting into. Remember, none of us are getting paid here, so if you are able to get a team together, be prepared for the revolving door, because hey, life happens, and team members will come and go.

Things start out great when a project is conceived, everyone is excited, etc. But as the realities of development start to weigh on people, they'll eventually begin to drift in other directions.

Because of this, you should always know at least the basics of every component of modding. That way, when your level designer stops returning your emails, you can hop in and finish the job. When your scripter has just had a baby and has 100% less free time, you don't want to be left high and dry, not knowing how to finish their code.

All you need to do is look at all the large projects that have been started for NWN/NWN2/DAO, but never finished. In my opinion, these 30+ teams just can't be sustained.

The shining example of how to do it is the NWN2 mod, Baldur’s Gate Reloaded. I mean, we all know that's a HUGE game. And yet, the team was very small. I'm sure there were other people involved, but I remember Drew and Shalina for many years, just plugging away at everything. That's how you do it. A smaller team of dedicated, focused modders.

Couchpotato:  So after all the mods, and other projects overs the years what now?

Leonard Bedner:  Yep! When I develop games, I don't play games, because I'll get too distracted. I miss video games very much, so I am happy to be able to enjoy them again :)

- Divinity: Original Sin
- Radiant Historia
- Dragon's Dogma
- Destiny
- Dark Souls
- Kingdoms of Amalur
- Super Mario Galaxy 2
- Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
- Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
- Dragon Age: Inquisition
- much more!

Looking further into the future, I'm going to of course support Family & Country with patches and such. And there are other things I'd like to do to support Rose of Eternity in general, like revamping the website/blog, creating an internal WIKI page for it, and just continuing to build the world.

As for other mods, I have to take my own advice, and sit back and think about things... Now that I know how much work is involved, can I do it again? How long will it take? What people will I need? Certainly, VO actors. Would be nice to have a level designer or 2 to speed things up. These are the things that are going on in my head at the moment, but I won't worry about it too much, I really just want to enjoy my free time.

Since 2004 (which is when I started working as a software engineer), I've only had maybe 12 cumulative months of time when I *wasn't* working on some project. I don't really know what it's like to come home from work, and just...relax. I know it sounds crazy, but my mind continually tells me I'm supposed to be doing *something*, so at the very least, I want to recover from that :)

Couchpotato: Thank you for the interview Challseus. Do you want to add anything before we finish?

Leonard Bedner: I want to first thank you for the support you have given me since I initially unveiled Family & Country. I have, by far, received the most support from you and RPGWatch, more so than any other site out there, and I really appreciate it.

Secondly, I just want to thank everyone who has worked on any of the Rose of Eternity games over the past 10 years. From the writers, to the editors, to the artists, testers, actors... I couldn't pay you for your time, and yet you still contributed to my vision. *bows*

Finally, thank you to all the fans out there that have supported me over the years. As cliché as it sounds, I literally wouldn't be here without you!

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