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Roaming the World

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Now...I have come to a fork in the path on the design of my game...again. I am moving my RPG into the first-person perspective, and wish for a lush environment. The problem is that the world I wish to create is no small patch of land. When I have seen games such as Morrowind (see note one) and MMOs (see note two) get some areas detailed more than the others due to the vastness of the world, combined with a first-person camera, will diminish the quality of the game by a good deal. Now, I could change the game to use a level style design in which you choose the place to go and the path to it is a level, though that will get rid of the exploration factor that I see as a big plus in FP-RPGs. Or I could just take another couple months doing nothing while the level designers design the game world in enough detail. What should I do? Note One: I chose Morrowind over Oblivion because it has more of a landmass and more diverse areas. Note Two: I am not comparing my game to an MMO, it is just an observation of some MMO games.

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Procedural techniques are a must if you wish to have a big detailed world and still have time to do other things. Maybe a tool for generating heightmaps from a sketchy worldmap and few more detailedly described areas (towns and such) and other tools for vegetation and other content not to be placed by hand would be sufficient. Then you would have a good enough enviroment to both do development and more detailed world design (the intricate little encounters and plots to plummet the world into darkness) on parallelly (such a monster of a word).

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Im working on a similar system and found that you may need a grid map of prebuilt seed values for procedurally generated content (because random just wont produce a consistant cohesive arrangement of terrain across a worldscape) and a set of templates of land contours/patterns to be welded together with splatted textures of flora/fauna/terrain detail to populate the mesh surface.
Likewise more complicated procedural arangements (more templates) of humanoid inhabitations/locations to fill in large 'generic' areas (with local themes to vary them across the map), and with a smattering of handmade special sites (significant to the plot).

Heightmap terrain form the bulk with meshe chinks in various places where overhangs are nessessary.

A Tunnel building system for underground sites and building interiors....



Oh and then to actually make something interesting, a quest generation system thats about 20X as complicated....

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The philosophy I adopted was to decide that any and every part of the world needed to be detailed. But detailed takes time so not all of the world can be ready right from the start (especially when the number of world designers is small or in my case just me).

From a technical point of view I therefore developed an engine where new parts of the world can just be dropped into the game without any need to change the game code in any way - new map cells can just be dropped into the right directory and the game engine will detect them and use them.

From a gameplay point of view I knew I needed to limit the player's movement so that he/she could only access parts of the world that had been completed. Rather than have very obvious levels, I divided the world up into islands that are almost only accessible by boat (which are controlled by NPCs). As a new island is completed a new NPC and boat appears (or an existing NPC updated) and new parts of the world become accessible.

Some of the islands are pretty much self contained and included just to explore and offer side quests. Others are included to develop the main quest - bit like levels in a way but 'levels' that make sense in the game world rather than obvious 'you are now entering level 3' levels. And once all the world content is included then the freedom to explore where ever you want is there.

I didn't go for procedural world creation so can't comment on that but I have spent a lot of time creating world editing tools that allow for very rapid world design (the game editor is actually part of the overall game engine so I can create and play (or test) extremely easily).

Give yourself the ability to have a world the size of Morrowind, but also give yourself the ability to create it gradually.

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I'd be interested to see what you do with the idea. I've been working on something similar in 2D. For an example of what even a simple, ad-hoc procedural terrain generator can do, see this. You can also look up standard algorithms for making realistic terrain, like "Perlins noise" and the "diamond-square algorithm." I also suggest looking at the shareware version of the game Unreal World (no relation to Unreal), which uses randomly-generated terrain to create a Scandinavian-style wilderness. As for matching terrain types to height, you might do something based on absolute height and slope, eg. high steep areas are bare rock.

It's a good idea to divide the game into "zones" or "cells" like Morrowind does so that you don't need the whole world to be built before you start doing other work. Just set it up so that if no file for the zone exists, it's just a blank grassland or water.

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