Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Playing God

Or at least trying!! The whole team has been cranking up on Stygian Abyss. While my time is mainly taken up by Live Content and bug fixes, I've been contributing quite a bit to the expansion. Lately, it's all been about world building. Except, there's no resting for me on the 7th day because after 6 days, I'm far from being done!

Seriously, world building is the coolest thing ever. I always wanted to dabble into that. Granted, I did a bit of it when I was Level Designer, but it's not quite the same. Back then, I would design the layout, size, shape, main path... Now I get to do all that, but also get to dress it, make it organic and give it life. And man, is that ever time consuming! Any of you who have spent insane amounts of time customizing and decorating your UO house (or for non-UO players, if you have done it in games such as The Sims), try to imagine doing the same but for an entire city!

Why does the whole process take so much time? Well, first you need to decide what kind of environment we're building. In this case, we're on the Gargoyle City so the artists and designers had to come up with a look. I mean, if you were to walk into a Gargish civilization tomorrow morning, what would you expect their architecture to look like? How would that architecture be affected by the world they evolve in? When laying out the city, you have to factor in their type of society and the reality they live in. A nation in peril and under constant threat will likely build its cities like fortresses whereas societies accustomed to peace and abundance are more likely to be very spread out and maybe even nomadic.

Then comes the whole inner streets of the city itself. Government buildings should be easily accessible while fairly well protected. Markets should be laid out in a way to facilitate shopping while avoiding bottlenecks, regrouping similar trades, with the banks not too far away, with all of the above near main roads. How is the interaction between inhabitants affecting that layout (hierarchy, politics, religions...)? Are the roads wide enough? Are the buildings spacious enough? How annoying is it going from point A to point B? If I was living here or visiting this place for the first time, what would be a natural path for me to follow? Would I get hopelessly lost if I landed here tomorrow morning? Does the main path make sense or am I itching to rez-kill the architect?

But the worse part (yet also most fun) is decorating. Yeah, that building is sexy but it needs life. Problem is, it's one thing to decorate your own house, but decorating a world is a whole different ball game. It has to make sense for the target civilization. It must account for their customs, beliefs, politics and economics. But also for the fact that hundreds of players, their pets, spammers and spellcasters will be strutting their stuff alongside the NPCs that populate that world. So yeah, you could go all out making it pretty, but too pretty can also mean too laggy.

Until I started in this industry, I never really paid much attention to how buildings or cities were laid out. Well, except when something was clearly wrong with it or aggravated the heck out of me. If you walk into a castle and the prison is accessed through the king's closet, you would probably raise an eyebrow. You might actually be cussing up a storm because you spent 2 hours looking for the cells in the lower levels of the castle (as traditionally is the case) only to stumble on them by accident when exploring the higher levels while trying to complete a different task. But when a world/city is well planned, because things flow so well, you do not realize how much work was put into making it a seamless experience for you.

I'm not going to break any world building speed record but I sure am having a blast. So far, I've seen what I've made. I won't call it good (you be the judge of that!) but I think it's alright. Though as a wee bit of a disclaimer: once SA launches, if you ever fall through a hole in the floor and your character breaks a leg, don't throw stones at the world builders. It's probably my fault! :P


Hawkeye Pike said...

I can imagine how much fun and yet how much work world building is! When I build a house, it has to be coherent. I also like to build little gadgets and secrets into a house. Things an adventurer can discover incidentally. I liked the way this was done by world builders in early UO (most of these features don't work anymore, alas). Like a secret passages to the Lost Valley. A hidden tunnel leading into the cellar in the Hede Maze. Secret doors in the Yew Prison. I wish the world had more secrets to discover, to make adventuring more fun.

John said...

You have no idea how jealous I am of you. :-D
(make it pretty, screw the lag!)