basilmemories: (Scholarly pursuits.)
basilmemories ([personal profile] basilmemories) wrote2010-09-17 02:08 pm

Taking a break from my app to mini-rant about level design.

I’m trying to stay awake here so I’m rambling about another topic briefly… and thing I might nap for a few hours anyway because fuck my body picks the worst time to sleep ever.

So! I’ve noticed something in 3d rpgs, mmo’s and maps in general. Some games will slap down a few buildings, add some npc’s and call it a day. They may add doodads or other features or even have high-resolution textures for realism, but the fact remains. When a player goes through the world it doesn’t feel immersive.

There’s a damn good reason for this, height and features.

Take a look around you. Take a look at your road. Is it flat? No. there’s a raised curb and a concrete gutter near the side, and if you live in a small town your main road sure as hell isn’t going to be flat. It’s going to be dipped in with the rest of the buildings and the land raised higher. And if your town gets rain then it’s going to pour down into the main road, being rather unpleasant unless it’s paved or there’s a gutter on the sides of the road for the water to run into. Even a paved cobble road is a bit lower then the landscape. The more well-traveled something is = the dirtier and more worn away the area is. In addition even a town in a grassland/flatland is going to have some elevation changes. Slight dips, slight hills, and the local populace isn’t going to make sure every building is at the same elevation. They’re going to work with the landscape and put roads where it’s convenient, and buildings where it’s convenient. These seem like basic concepts, but go run around your average free rpg/mmo and see how many times they fail to do this.

Another thing are features. Okay so there’s a gigantic-ass statue there, why? Why would anybody build something so big? Why would a blacksmith be far away from a mine? Why do you have an Inn far away from any traffic when it’s the only inn in the town? Why on earth would a town build itself near the local den of the fangwyrms, or something. These are all questions that need to be answered in the lore, or they’re going to make to town look like a Darwin award waiting to happen. The placement of the buildings and the layout of the town says a LOT about the population. Let’s look two fantasy town ideas.

The waterfall city: Popularized in every fantasy novel ever and even in books like Dinotopia, The waterfall city is just that. Someone fucking loved water features and thought that even better then a goddamn fountain would be a goddamn waterfall. This also applies to things that look like other things spouting various substances. Stone dragons breathing lava, great gargoyle heads spewing the sewer down onto the rocks below, you name it. But what can we get out of the people here? Well they like to build big. They’re willing to create grandiose structures that may or may not be easily defensible, so they’re proud about their city or possibly even were trying to prove themselves to the world when they built the place. This is almost always a planned city just by the level of work that needs to be done and how on earth to work around the natural forces, so you can bet that at one point the city was wealthy. If the buildings aren’t in neglect then it means there’s enough funds to keep them updated, so this is probably a capital city. If it isn’t then it still means that it’s controlled by someone with a lot of wealth or power, like the church, it being a part of a major trade route, or home to some well-funded scholars.

Secondly we have a small fishing village near a mouth of the river. Almost always the small towns aren’t planned, so the buildings are going to be near where the most activity is. In this case it’ll be clustered around the water and the docs, and tapering off near land. If the focus of the town shifts to something else then there’s going to be a greater concentration of buildings in that area and the lesser-used buildings are going to show their age more. If the city is heavily defended it means it’s probably a military city where the main income of food/trade comes from the waterfront (and the citizens are a little paranoid). If the town isn’t heavily guarded then it’s most likely a small settlement that could develop into almost anything.

Basic things like this are freaking important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve logged onto wow to level grind, but I spent more time exploring the world. The cities and world are fleshed out, things are placed for a reason (generally), and you can infer a personality from the people of the city. With a few exceptions road travel is broken up by bridges, sweeping hills and valleys on the side of the road, and features placed along the way to keep things interesting. Is it cheating my comparing every amateur level to a game with a huge budget and millions of players? Yes.

But seriously, nearly every map editor has the functions to raise and lower elevation. If people tried it then they might see how little things like that and working on the canon of a town can help so much.

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