Monday, April 5, 2010

When do you toss out an area?

So at what point are you willing to toss out an area and start over? This screnshot is from the rebuilt town of the player stronghold. I tossed out the old town exterior over the weekend and rebuilt everything. The old town just wasn't that good, which is odd because it's one of my most recently built areas.

The town was plain, it had a lot of buildings that were just there taking up space, and I'd made it 32x32 to incorporate some things, so performance was poor. Bad builder, bad. Here's an overhead screenshot. It did extend a bit farther at the bottom outside the walls, those two herizontal paths at the bottom were the borders of walkable space.

I started by making the decision to split the town into two areas. The old town had a stream that seperated the rest of the town from the upper class/stronghold area. I kept the stream, but made it the boundary between the two areas. In the "main town", I kept the church you see at the center, in the center of the new "main town" for two reasons. First the town church is at the geographic center of many historical towns, and second was a plot reason.

I kept the general geographic layout, with the stream running diagonally. But I eliminated the houses between the church and stream. There were plenty of houses that were doing nothing already, they were just there. Then I divided the area around the church into three "districts", merchants to the SE, general housing to the SW, and some buildings the player can unlock to the NW.

It's a tighter, more SoZ style: all buildings have some game purpose and can be entered. It's a contrast from a more realistic style where not every building has something of interest to the player. The main town is now 12x12, and not all of that is used because of the diagonal stream, so it's closer to 12x10. To do this the cliffside gladiator pit had to go, but I didn't have gladiator combat. I still have a spot where I could make a transition to a new gladiator pit area and keep it inside city walls (or just put the pit outside the walls). With the smaller area, I was also freed up to put in more detail with placeables and the like while keeping acceptable performance.

I also built the basics of the other area in even though the player can't reach them. Terracoppa is your friend :-) This allows the adjacent areas to be consistent. Of course once I'd copied the area into the new area I made sure that all the objects from the other area got turned into environmental objects to improve performance.

In the upperclass/stronghold area (East and North of the stream), the upperclass area got compacted so there are no more general buildings that are just there.  The stronghold got it's whole area though, since the stronghold is a prize for the player and I wanted to keep the ability of the player to walk around and admire the grounds and the view. I did make the stronghold entrance closer to the upperclass area, but still gave it some seperation with the "forest grounds" you see. The area wound up 16x20 or so.

Fun with VFX:

Old stuff I never blogged: These screenshots came out of a request on the official forums to see about having custom weapon fx. The idea was to see if it would be possible to put rings on a weapon to make some martial arts weapons that have rings. Actual weapons with rings is basically impossible. Ring vfx would be pretty close to it as well, since you'd need very tight sync between the weapon location and the vfx location.

In our first shot, I applied the force field effect to the weapon. Totally useless, it doesn't make a actual force field that blocks monsters for instance. But this is kind of interesting. If you unequip the weapon (second shot), the effect remains in the place it was when you unequipped it. Turns out all area vfx do this. The force field effect scores a 0/10 for practicality, it's huge, jumps around lots when weilded so it's visually distracting, and doesn't actually make a "blocking effect" like you'd expect from a force field. When re-equipped, the "placed" vfx disappears and the vfx goes back to the weapon location.

Here we have a leaf effect on the weapon. Look closely and you can see the leaves dropping from it, making a trail as the player runs. Good for a druidic weapon I bet. 9/10. Not distracting, gives an indication of weapon use, high on role playing goodness. Druids and other nature lovers might not like the implication of falling leaves though. Maybe leaves in place "growing out of the weapon" would be better.
Close up of the leaves effect.
The mind flayer come effect on a weapon. This follows the weapon around. It looks pretty strange in motion as the effect itself is animated. Not very practical as an effect on a player weapon, it jumps all around when the player is in motion and is distracting. Maybe for an undroppable boss weapon combined with some mind effects OnHit. 3/10
Priests of Auril rejoice! The snow mace! When equipped, it snows. Kind of hard to see in the shot. This is the standard snow vfx, placed on a weapon. An area fx, the snow stays in place when the item is unequipped. 5/10. Better than the force field since it's not very distracting, also it has fairly obvious role playing signifcance. You could probably script this weapon to have some kind of mild aoe cold effect when weilded. People who want cold damage will likely go for the default cold vfx though. And the snow vfx remaining in place would be bad for performance.

This one didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. It's an invisible or shadow vfx (I can't remember which) effect on the mace. I was hoping to make a semi-transparent "shadow weapon". I tried several similar vfx. But no go. 7/10. It looks good, just not what I was trying to achieve. Not visually distracting (when not moving, the vfx is essentially invisible).

I didn't explore using odd vfx on weapons further. It was simply done as an experiment.


  1. I've remade some areas 3 or 4 times. My general rule of thumb is that if something is bothering me, then it needs to go. This, as you might imagine, creates an exceptionally large additional workload, but I think it's for the best.

  2. Hi Kamal,

    As you probably know by now, area design is my weakest part of design and so I am not very good at working out when an area is particularly "good" or "bad". However, I can appreciate the difference between having buildings that can or cannot be entered and realism. I have noticed in my own design, I have drifted somewhere in between, where some buildings can be enytered and others have little to offer, and only there for effect.

    Your work on VFX is interesting. It's not an area I intend to adjust too much, but reading about your results may make me reconsider one or two weapons I had in mind.


  3. If you take the vfx design to another level, that is creating them from scratch rather than assigining existing ones, you can go a lot further to making things work the way you want. I already do this regularly, but I never had sucess making the weapon trail useable in the toolset (Assignable, such as ice/fire/acid are right now).

  4. In commenting on why you think you areas look bad, to me the first thing that jumps out is everything is completely flat, as if its NWN1.

  5. Your areas look quite good, and the lighting of your screenshot in particular looks really nice.
    However, if I had to give you advice on how to improve your areas, I'd go with the following three things:
    1) Height variance
    No area is completely flat, so introducing small height variances makes a big difference in increasing the quality of the design. Small mounds in the grass, making the road slightly lower, etc, all help.
    2) Texture blending
    I'd suggest using a blend texture to mix between areas - e.g. a thin layer of dirt between the path and grass.
    3) Color Tool
    This should be your best friend after you've laid down your textures and/or placeables. Ground underneath placeables should be a bit darker, add a bit of brown in busy areas...and so forth.
    If you start doing those things as well, I think you'll have some really high quality areas.