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Map playable area boundaries

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I am drawing up first drafts for my single player RPG world map. I am not making a map of the whole planet, just the region the game takes place in. There is a coastal swamp surrounded by mountains behind it with a rain shadow desert on the other side. A few problems I am having are figuring out how to restrict the player to the region of the world the game is in without breaking immersion with message telling him he can't go further. There are some problems cutting off the swamp and pulling in the desert but the biggest problem is that I have airships in the game intentionally able to go over the mountains for plot reasons, so how do I keep the player from going where he shouldn't? I suppose if I leave lots of mountains behind and surrounding the desert then the player can't go further on foot so long as there are no foot paths for him to go through them, but how do I keep him from going further up or down the coast past the swamp region?

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Seems to me you're getting into the "here be dragons" realm of mapmaking. If he's on the ground, spawn a tyrannosaur or something to eat him and/or chase him back to the proper map sector. If he's in the air, have bad weather patterns stop him, or have the ship be dependent on ambient air temperature, and beyond certain latitudes it loses bouyancy. Terrain obstacles, like mountains, a river, quicksand, etc. could keep them in check.

It'll likely still "feel" like a boundary to the world, but you can make it "squishy" by mapping a lot of terrain outside the useful map area and letting them get there, but never last long enough to get through it. To the north, the temperature drops and your stamina slowly drains. Calculate the absolute maximum travel distance any player could hope to achieve with the best gear and skills, and then map the frozen waste out so that it'll still reach to the horizon when they collapse/crash. Put a "soft place" at the edge of the desert, where the player's compass doesn't work and every few minutes, they either fall down and rotate randomly or are caught in shifting winds that throw off their heading. Let them wander aimlessly out there for a while, with no landmarks and no nabigation tools, then have them appear at the edge of the map again, able to walk out of the sandstorm and into the normal map.

Be creative. Do not, however, hide awesome treasure or quests out there. Make it punishing and unforgiving and totally worthless to push the boundaries of the world. You don't want people compulsively experiencing the intentionally crappy part of your game because you put a cookie there.

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I don't think the answer is as much about really good obstacles as just about designing a lack of incentive.

If you're walking down a dirt road, and there are simple baskets propped in-between the houses along it, very few people will question their inability to move the baskets out of the way or step on them, as long as they don't have sufficient reason to go in-between the houses. The prop is terrible as a physical barrier, but perfectly reasonable as a "your character doesn't want to go here" barrier.

Bushes, trees, signs, stumps, dirt piles, weeds, fences.. anything will work, as long as the player doesn't want to question it. If there's a good reason to get somewhere beyond curiosity, you'll probably want something that's beyond the player's mobility, like a cliff, river, boulder pile, or swamp. Whatever the setting is, it should be possible to come up with a lot of ideas for both types of barriers.

For the record, even terrible barriers (Oblivion or Fallout 3) don't bother my immersion much. It might be because I'm a developer and go into games with that part of my immersion already broken, but I think this type of thing is just an interactive restriction that most players know to be necessary to create an interesting environment. You'll always have someone complaining about it, but that type of player won't be happy until they're wearing VR suits with brain implants.

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Depending on how you present the game map to the player, you could also just be in the realm of "this goes on forever".
Zork has the never ending forests, you can go east into the forest all you want, you don't actually go anywhere.
There is the infinite stairway / hallway in many games, where they just teleport you back down the hall a ways.
This breaks if they can look at some reference and see that you are just teleporting them backwards, but it might be doable depending on your presentation of the map.
On a 2d map it is easy, since you just put stuff past point X, but it just tiles and repeats long enough to give you room to teleport the player. In text it is as simple as zork did. In 3d you can put environment effects up to cloud the player's ability to see their world (sand storm, fog, heat haze, rain, snow, etc.) then you've limited their visual range enough that you can keep teleporting the player without them being able to see the change.

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Mountains that go above the flying altitude of the airships ??

Airships to have a shorter range than from from their fueling bases to the moutains/past swamp??

Massive storms on the water which quickly destroy airships??

Swamp is harder with airship otherwise would have been reasonable to have them become impassible for land travel.


One idea may be to have repeating terrain that has nothing significant in it where you can just keep going (cycling similar terrain chunks) but player just winds up wasting time (told ahead of time theres nothing there). Endless mountains/endless thick swamps (with gnarly trees that you cant land in, etc...)

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I can probably bend the plot such that the PC doesn't know how fly an airship on his own and relies on a pilot (who obviously only goes where the area is legal). How can I block the swamp border?

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It's probably a good idea to let the player know they have reached the edge of the map. That way they don't become frustrated by wondering if they need to level up first, or find some magic item to tackle the "challenge". The player needs to know whether this area cannot be gone into yet, or this is not a playable area.

Maybe a 'fence' of intermittant poles with skulls on top. The user interface could provide some sort of feedback as well, perhaps a 'no' type sound when attempting to advance past that point. Or a lighting change. Animations could be the toon shakes his head and goes 'no way', or the baloon lands and the pilot says this is as far as I go.

In Fallout 3, I was persuing a freed slave, to see where she went. Eventually, she went off the map, but I didn't know I had reached the end of the map. My toon stopped following her, and I made several attempts to track around a small hill. I finally found out when I looked at the Pip-Boy map.

[Edited by - AngleWyrm on January 26, 2009 7:42:52 AM]

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Even if you want to give the player the freedom of flying the airship himself you could use what Final Fantasy IV does and have a lot of regions that are completely forested, or mountainous, or swampy, and just use the excuse that an airship can't land in these treacherous environments. Another option is to allow the player to land in places, only to get decimated by monsters far beyond their level (or the townsfolk not talking to you, or charging 8 billion dollars for the good weapons because you're a stranger, which makes progression in this part of the quest impossible until you complete a related quest).

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If you don't want the boundary to break immersion you have to make it make sense in your world. In the game I'm working on the map is divided into a series of islands and the player can't swim between them or navigate a boat on his/her own. As a result the boundary exists and makes some kind of sense. At the same time it can be overcome through NPC controlled ships sailing between them (meaning I can 'grow' the world in an episodic way and have some control over the story evolution).

Could you do something similar and just surround the play area with water (especially as you mention a coastal swamp)? Even rain shadow deserts can be next to the sea (take a lot of the west coast of South America as an example). The rest of the world can be hinted at, but just outside of the player's reach with perhaps only a special type of trans-oceanic airships having the necessary range.

Otherwise how about using the fact that you are using airships to your advantage. Beyond the already mentioned possibilities of the massive storms destroying airships (all that hydrogen just waiting for a flash of lightening), airships (at least in the real world) tended to be blown off course by high winds. Extend the world outwards a bit in each direction from the real playable area and as the player moves off course let the wind get stronger and stronger until the airship is effectively brought to a complete stop (or possibly even better blown backwards with overheating engines and other damage along the way).

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