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Khaiy

City Size in RPGs

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So, I'm still in the design phases of my dream project, an SNES-esque RPG. One of the things that always bugged me a little bit about RPGs is the size of the towns. They generally had a few buildings, but not enough housing for even 100 people, let alone a great city.

This was understandable for both technological limitations at the time (there are only so many things that could fit into memory on a Super Nintendo cartridge) and design practicality (buildings are only significant if you can interact with them in some way, which requires more time/effort/money/memory to create).

But as a hobbyist in 2010, these limitations are less severe. So I wanted some feedback from people here. In an RPG, would you care much if the towns and cities were of the traditional, small size, or would a larger one be more interesting or immersive for you?

My current leaning is towards a larger town, with the following features:

1. A fast-travel option will exist (like in Persona 4), so that you don't have to walk all through the town if you don't want to once you've been to the particular location you want.

2. Sufficiently large cities will be divided into districts with specific functions, like wealthy residential, slums, markets, farm land, docks, etc. The populations of these areas have effects on the state of the city itself, and the player will be able to incite revolts and other behaviors provided that the appropriate people are courted/areas affected by player actions.

3. There will be opportunities to interact with crowds, such as following a random NPC 'home' (determined dynamically), causing confusion and distractions to escape pursuers, and other features.

4. I'd like for major NPC's that the player can recruit to be enmeshed in their city more than just by arbitrarily stating their position. For example, an aristocrat's decision to join, help, or hinder the player could be influenced by a player helping a charismatic dissident from the slums affect social change.

This is a rough list of things I'd really like to include, that I think will really only work well in a large city. I'm not married to any of them, but they all tie in with other features I have really been hoping I can make work. If you'd like more details, just ask, but for the start I wanted to focus more on people's intial opinions about city size in games.

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Quote:
Original post by Khaiy
So, I'm still in the design phases of my dream project, an SNES-esque RPG. One of the things that always bugged me a little bit about RPGs is the size of the towns. They generally had a few buildings, but not enough housing for even 100 people, let alone a great city.
It has nothing to do with technology limitations. They are games. And games are best when they are focused on something, and not filled with unneeded bloat.

Back when I made a giant persistent MMO type server for another game, we eventually took our giant cities, and optimized them down to the main 'commercial strip', and other mission critical areas. Otherwise, they took focus off the game. They still were designed to look like smaller parts of something much bigger however. You just need to block off paths that appear to lead to highly populated areas.

We even took out all the different types of shops, and had the vendors all right next to each other. Some vendor types were even combined to save time. What's the point of crossing 3 zones to talk one vendor, and then heading to a different neighborhood to buy another kind of item. What if you needed to make 2 visits to each? That wastes 5-10 minutes right there.

The game was about going out, exploring, raiding dungeons, and completing randomized quests. Not walking around 63 blocks of houses and debating who has the best lawn ornaments.

A town in a most RPGs is like a pit stop in a racing game. You go in, you exchange items, maybe talk to a few key people, and maybe turn in some fetch items, and then get back out to doing what a character in a RPG game should be doing in the first place. They should be designed to get you in and out.

But some people shut-ins want an RPG to be a replacement for their non-existent social life, and want everything in there, down to the tiniest detail, so they can live a their second lives in there.

Quote:
Everything else
It sounds like you are more interested in a fantasy world city simulation then a traditional type of RPG. Not a bad idea. Things are different if the whole game world is a big city.

I see a lot of GTA: San Andreas / Saint's Row in your numbered points. :)

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I also see the city size problem in games where it tends to be of what you are asking. Meaning some cities, towns or villages tend to be small or medium small to accommodate the need to have many people walking around being involved with NPC'S or other PC characters if the world was live if the game was on a personal computer or home console. Or having the npc stay in one spot to save the time for animators to move these sprites all over the city map.

I would like to venture into more of the stores, homes, businesses, companies or the like there of in video games. When I play action adventure games or role playing games or horror games, I see all these doors that are closed and the game keeps you moving onward in a linear path to the end and more than likely make the player walk back and forth from field play to the city just to heal up or buy weapons, armor, items, accessories or other help from the tavern or arena for field exploration.

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Holy crap, a fantasy city sim sounds awesome. Try to attract heroes to trade there to boost your economy, invasions by monster, guild politics, magic. I would buy this.

Ontopic: I agree about focusing it, in real life that happens any way (CBDs). Maybe have the other areas to but keep all the shops and main quests in one place.

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Re: Khaiy

I think in terms of this design, this decision be one that you don't need to make up front. Just start with the smallest functional city (functional with respect to the purpose of the game), and decide after the city is functional. At that point, you could ask your testers/players whether they prefer a larger city.

Suppose we tell you that we want a large city, you make it, and it turns out to be a bad idea, then you just waste a lot of time. If we tell you that we want a small city but a large city would work better, you expand it and you lose nothing.

The question could go in the other direction:

Suppose you are dead set that you want a large city, how would you design the RPG so that the size of the city is the main asset of the game?

Note that if you don't have real data this question is equivalent to: Suppose I want to make a huge one-shot bet, where should I place my bet?

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Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

I think that I might not have been clear enough about my intentions in my first post. I'm not interested in making large cities for the sake of having large cities. I would ideally be coding features that would make a larger city relevant. My point about technological limitations referred to the 16 bit days of RPG's only, where I'm sure that features were designed such that a large city would be pointless and a waste of memory and effort. My hope is to design a system that will allow for a city that is larger without being irrelevantly so.

My concept is probably better described as Daaark put it, that I'm looking at a fantasy city sim sort of system. But rather than have players design and administer the cities directly, I want the cities' statuses to affect other aspects of the game. The cities and their administration will operate off screen, but game events will change based on what happens within them.

If I needed to, most of this functionality could be relegated to the background and not need a city that is geographically large as far as the player is concerned. But each city is (ideally) going to be a large area containing things that the player can do, and characters that they interact with, etc., but there is a world outside of cities including smaller towns, dungeons, a world map, and so on.

Wai, thank you very much for your response, I think that your suggestion is the best way for me to proceed at this point.

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I think even the cities currently in WoW are too big. If I'm still hopelessly lost in it after I've walked through it 3 times, it's too big. I thought the city in Summoner was too big. The ones in Fable and the various Final Fantasies were a pretty good size. I'd have to actually look at them and count, but towns that have about 8 screens worth of content seems to be about the max before I start getting confused.

You can compensate for a big city somewhat by making a good mini-map of each city, and also making each area within the city look visually distinct, and one road different from the next. But overall I agree with the point that it's important to avoid bloat, make sure each thing within the city actually contributes something to the game and don't worry about realism for its own sake.

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A lot probably depends on the kind of view the player is seeing. If they are having to walk around in a 3-D virtual reality kind of view a large city could be nasty, but if they can view it in a map-like way and run around across the map without even having to go around buildings it need not be so bad. Though even there it would probably help to have some kind of visual indication to tip them off as to which buildings they can actually enter or somehow interact with and which are just graphics without any real function to them.

The degree and common-ness of persistence is probably also a factor. If each of many thousands of buildings can each be entered and any one of them could contain an area where things players place there persist, then the larger the number of such buildings the more ability players have to stash stuff in a needle in a haystack manner, relying upon the unlikeness of anyone actually doing a house to house search as some slight degree of "safety" for stashes of stuff...

So far I have been finding that having a whole lot of buldings simply drawn on the map without being enter-able does not seem good, whereas a huge "suburb" of buildings players can buy and own, or even buy entire subdivisions of to sell house by house to other players, is looking okay...

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well, it would depend on the game. if the focus of the game's story was about a sprawling city, then yeah it would make sense to have a huge city to explore. but if the focus of the game was killing some d-bag wizard who kidnapped my girl, then no i don't want to tromp through a massive city for 15 minutes just because it's more realistic that way.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
I think even the cities currently in WoW are too big.
I remember years ago back in the beta, there was this one town near the start of the game that was in a castle, and it was just road after winding road of nothingness. It took ages to get to the 3 or 4 hot spots. Just browsing the various shops there could eat up a half hour.

Just make it look like your town zone is a part of a much bigger space, do other things with NPC dialogue to create the atmosphere of a larger city.

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Original post by JamesPenny
Holy crap, a fantasy city sim sounds awesome. Try to attract heroes to trade there to boost your economy, invasions by monster, guild politics, magic. I would buy this.


They've made this game (sort of, it's actually much simpler than what you describe), it's called Final Fantasy: My Life as King, it's Wiiware.

Back to the topic at hand though, I think the kind of game you want to design is what D&D players would call an 'Urban Adventure' - everything takes place in the city. No need for many (if any), outside environments, all the quests, NPCs, adventure sites, etc, are all located within the city.

That being said, I think when you consider just the massive size of a city, you don't want players to have to walk through countless residential neighborhoods full of locked doors (unless you want to spend years making each house, even then there likely wouldn't be anything relevant to the game in each one.)

From my experience, the best way I've seen to implement a big city is to subdivide it into sections, and take a 'snapshot' if you will of each section, say a 5x5 block square where important things will happen, they do this kind of thing in Neverwinter Nights and other more recent RPGs. That way you get a nice bit of the city's flavor, plenty of room for NPCs and quest locations, and not a lot of needless running around.

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Cities seem to work for the action/driving games because their maze-like structure helps provide the challenge for the whole race/chase/evade gameplay. I can see crowds working in a similar way, acting as a kind of "strategic terrain" for the player's actions. I think, though, that you need lots of worthwhile actions to justify such a large size. Real cities are quite repetitive and so are the citizens within them (at a very basic, abstract level). So one thing I'd concentrate on is making the citizens into archetypes (guard, beggar, priest, noble etc.) which present a strategic challenge when mixed in varying concentrations in the different areas. One or two beggars, for instance, near a noble and guard might offer a chance at distraction or intervention in order to raise your reputation. If you could predict things about their behavior streets could be akin to random strategy maps.

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I like that concept quite a lot wave.
Another suggestion would be to keep the NPCs nameless and mostly unresponsive if spoken too. That allows you to create a large number of them for the same of filling the streets and creating that tactical situation without distracting from the important NPCs. You could also assign houses to each at random and have TES: Oblivion style AI wandering, but lock the houses. At any point, if a new important and named NPC is needed, you can change a nameless one into him, guide the player to him, and maybe allow him access to that particular house.

The whole idea would be to make the player feel like there was a lot there without wasting development time actually making it. Procedural content could also be used very heavily in this sort of situation.

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Something to keep in mind about cities that most games usually fail to notice: Cities are densely populate.

Another thing to consider if you're doing a medieval setting is that cities usually were very small, only a few thousand people to a good sized 'city', and they were notable due to their population density. 2-8000 for a good sized city on a few hundred acres.


If you are going to build a city in your game, then it should look like a city! Oblivion is a great example of how NOT to do a city, especially one in a medieval like setting. The buildings are large, spread out, and there aren't many people wandering around. A real city would have had the entire capital from Oblivion in a space smaller than one of its zones.

This has two main effects:
1. By packing in the people into a smaller space, it gives you the feeling of it actually being a city. Most of the people don't have to actually do anything, just make it look like they are going about your day. (NPCs that you actually care about can be denoted by their better clothing, or more notable location.)
2. Reduces the time you spend moving between points of interest. Yes, putting time into a city to develop it better means you can then spend less time moving through it. If you are going to the work to make a realistic city, then you are going to have more shops and things the player is going to be interested in a smaller area. Rather than having all the shops spread over the city, you're likely going to condense them down so all shops of a similar type are in an area. Games like Oblivion make you walk farther than you really should because they have so few buildings that they end up having to spread them out in an attempt to make it look 'big'.

The thing most games have really lacked is the 'extras' from movies. Would you believe a movie if it were set in New York at rush hour, but the only people you ever seen were the handful of main characters? NPCs don't have to have a purpose besides simply being there to move around and take up space. They just have to be easy to identify as not important to you/quick to skip over. If someone doesn't have anything to say, then I shouldn't be able to start a dialog with them, they should simply brush me off and go about their day.

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Exploring towns in Zelda, FF, and other classic RPG's was always one of my favorite activities. I too never had the impression of being immersed in a large town or city though in classic SNES RPG's and adventure games. I took them as iconic representations of towns rather than actual towns. Though if you think about it, almost everything in a classic RPG is an iconic representation anyway rather than the genuine article. The towns and castles on over-world maps were literally icons.

I've always favored bigger towns with more realistic scales and populations but I know this can be a deterrent to individuals who get lost easily. I'm the sort of person that can be dropped in the middle of the woods and still know which way is North. After visiting a location once I can picture the surrounding topology/geography in my mind as if I had a Satellite view of the region. Since I rarely ever get lost or confused about direction or location in games or real life I've always favored a little more complexity since complexity typically brings with it more variation and visual interest. However, I can understand how unneeded complexity is an undesirable feature if it leads to confusion.

I think it comes down to communicating to the player the important features and regions of your town or city so that they can easily understand what they do and don’t need to pay attention to. If each building or location in your city possesses implied importance then having a large city can be a bad thing as players will feel overwhelmed. It's important to establish a visual language in your town that communicates to players, which buildings are significant and which buildings and structures are unimportant. Hopefully, in this situation the unimportant buildings, locations, and features of the town simply become background flavor.

Centralizing and condensing the important buildings (shops, banks, inns, etc.) so that travelling between them is reduced is also important. My main motivation for exploring the rest of the town should not come from a necessity to find the shop I need, but rather as you have mentioned to engage in some secondary activity such as inciting a rebellion, rubbing shoulders with affluent members of the community, and so on.

Having navigation markers to help guide players to important locations or individuals in the city may also be something to consider. When playing Assassin’s Creed even if I wasn’t completely familiar with a city’s layout when I first arrived it didn’t matter because I had navigation points and markers to help guide me to those parts of the city that were important. Obviously this is a different genre and the game was handing me objectives to move me along but there are still some concepts that can be gleaned from this example.

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For case studies of "realistically" sized cities in games, take a look at The Elder Scrolls: Arena and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Whether this use of scale was useful is subjective.

I'd say leave in the parts of the city that matter to the gameplay, then imply the city's actual size through other means. Unless you're going for a full-blown reality simulator, faking the city's scale would be good enough. You'd still be a step ahead of most games that don't bother to suggest any scale of their cities.

Now, if the entire game were to take place in one city then we'd have a different story.

Quote:
Original post by WorldPlanter
I too never had the impression of being immersed in a large town or city though in classic SNES RPG's and adventure games. I took them as iconic representations of towns rather than actual towns.

Most games are iconic by their nature. The miniature towns are along the same lines as nondescript red potions that heal you, a person's abilities being rated by numerical "skills", and gold being the currency of everywhere.

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Pen refills are better than games, you say? Wow, I had no idea! Thanks for telling me this, and sign me up for one of those sexy hot pen refills -- strike that, make mine a double order, gimmie 2(TWO) pen refills. Now. Thanks. And don't come back.

On Topic: Measure the size of a city by the number of interesting interactions it presents to the player. Go for density of interactions, where turning around can get you three different shops, and you can get lost in a wealth of detail within just twenty paces. Where every NPC has a story to tell, or wares to sell, or a mission to give. That would be a fun city. Notice how different it is from scattering a few points of interest across a vast sea of boredom?

This is a vote for quality over quantity, where quantity can be relegated to backdrops and atmospheric sounds.

[Edited by - AngleWyrm on December 12, 2010 7:13:55 AM]

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I always liked the idea of localization
In that you have localized point of interest that you travel to that is fairly compact with lots of details and interesting npcs while still giving the impression that it is just a part of a large city
In case of MMO I like the idea of organically made cities where every house represents a player,and the city grows with the player base
You could also try to procedurally generate the town and then manually add the points of interests,however I do recommend the points of interest to be tightly connected and especially detailed just like you would if it were localized

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