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Default Using Details to Craft a Coherent Game World @ Sinister Design

July 28th, 2011, 02:20
It's the little things that make all the difference, says Sinister Design, in a new editorial that asks for coherence in the game world:
Consider the time-honored tendency of RPG developers to throw demons and dragons into the same end-game dungeons together. That makes some sense from a design perspective: you’re at the end of the game. End-game encounters should be the most challenging, and demons and dragons are perennially the most powerful monsters in RPG worlds.
But from a narrative perspective, this is actually quite problematic. In cultural and literary tradition, dragons tend to spend their time hoarding material wealth, and demons are notorious for tricking others into signing unfavorable contracts. It would probably occur to a developer who had done his homework that, sooner or later, a demon would trick a dragon into signing away his hoard, leading to an explosion of racial animosity within the antagonist’s ranks.
I want to see RPGs where where hatred between different monsters under the antagonist’s command leads to internecine fighting, or even a segregated dungeon. (A few RPGs–Fallout, Din’s Curse and Planescape Torment, for instance–have attempted something like this.) I want to see RPGs where the differences between different monsters and groups extend beyond elementary combat considerations. In short: I want to see RPGs where enemies feel like they are unique living creatures inhabiting the game world, and not just cannon fodder to pad out the total play time.
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July 28th, 2011, 02:20
In short: I want to see RPGs where enemies feel like they are unique living creatures inhabiting the game world, and not just cannon fodder to pad out the total play time.
Closest I can think of this is Baldur's Gate 2. I don't think there's a single area where monsters are just grouped or roaming around to harvest XP from. I don't think it's as dynamic as he's implying, but all the encounters in BG2 were pretty sensible and hand placed.
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July 28th, 2011, 03:16
some OB mods did this well including, iirc, the well known OOO. I even recall seeing a group of minotaurs travelling with obvious purpose (they didnt seem to take notice of me even when i was within sight range). I followed them out of curiosity and it turned out they were going to another cave/dungeon to fight a group of ogres.
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July 28th, 2011, 03:22
I think the Gothic series is the closest to a sensible ecosystem I can recall. Fallout also uses reasonably sensible enemies. For me. BG2 still has too much of the random mobs hiding in a dungeon for some unknown reason and there's no real sense of how it all fits together.

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July 28th, 2011, 05:32
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
I think the Gothic series is the closest to a sensible ecosystem I can recall. Fallout also uses reasonably sensible enemies. For me. BG2 still has too much of the random mobs hiding in a dungeon for some unknown reason and there's no real sense of how it all fits together.
I disagree. The Gothics were full of random flies, bugs, birds, boars etc., that were sitting around the countryside waiting for you to kill them for XP. The only "random" feeling creatures I can think of in BG2 are the goblins and kobolds in the sewers, but sewers seem sort of appropriate for these, and they were a pretty small part of the game.

In BG2 you didn't just travel around the countryside killing wildlife to make yourself stronger like in Gothic. A big part of the Gothic games is killing wandering wildlife.
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July 28th, 2011, 08:32
"Random" has a connotation here that doesn't fit, in my opinion. Would I not not find wildlife - as opposed to monsters - in any forest? I find the placement quite realistic.

I don't mean to suggest BG2 is bad but, for example, take the Windspear Hills dungeon. There are orc archers, then some sort of random monster, then a troll with hobgoblins, then a couple of golems, then vampires, then shadows and a wraith — and then humans. I can accept that trolls like hobgoblins but do they really get along with vampires and spirits? Do the humans at the end of the dungeon really move past all those monsters? It's less of a cohesive ecosystem and more of a selection of challenges as a game.

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July 28th, 2011, 08:55
This is exactly what i want more. Realistic worlds like those built by origin (We create worlds). I never forget i.e the feeling I got when I first encountered the lizards in ultima underworld. They lived next to fishing lakes and you could try to learn their language and trade with them. Som where hostile but there were peaceful lizards too. You could almost sense that they had somkind of culture there.

Underworlds dungeon was segregated (learned a new word) and thats one of the reasons I liked it so much.

While playing the first gothic I hoped it have somthing similar but I didnt find any. Monsters were monsters and humans were humans. Not that the human cultures were interesting. Especially the first village is very memorable.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou
"Those who dont read history are destined to repeat it."– Edmund Burke
Last edited by zakhal; July 28th, 2011 at 09:07.
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July 28th, 2011, 09:05
I want to see RPGs where where hatred between different monsters under the antagonist’s command leads to internecine fighting, or even a segregated dungeon. (A few RPGs–Fallout, Din’s Curse and Planescape Torment, for instance–have attempted something like this.) I want to see RPGs where the differences between different monsters and groups extend beyond elementary combat considerations. In short: I want to see RPGs where enemies feel like they are unique living creatures inhabiting the game world, and not just cannon fodder to pad out the total play time.
I own those both but have never played them (the latter two). Sounds like I need to give em a try.

Actually I dont have dins curse but reading about it makes it sound interesting. Apparently it was a gamebanshee runner up of 2010:
'Or, to put it yet another way, I prefer Din’s Curse to Torchlight. Pop that in your pipe and smoke it.' - Rock, Paper, Shotgun

'Din's Curse is like Diablo, but with dungeons that fight back.' - Tom Chick (Fidgit)

'There's a rare sense that anything can happen, as you're constantly surprised by events.' - Desslock (PC Gamer)
Each town really does live and breathe in Din's Curse, and perhaps even more importantly, each dungeon. When you set foot in your first dungeon you'll probably see a major difference right away between Din's Curse and Torchlight or Diablo or other hack and slashers like this – there is an entire ecosystem at play here. The enemies aren't just waiting for you to kill them. In many cases they are fighting each other, gaining their own experience and getting stronger themselves! Even the townsfolk can manage to fend off a stray demon or two.

In this sense, Din's Curse provides the player with a true sense of urgency. While you need to take time to gather loot, prep in the town, and take care of the occasional starving NPC, at the same time every second you spend doing one of those things is a second you are giving evil to grow stronger.

There are endless stories to be found here because of this gameplay. The story above is adapted from a town I miserably failed to save while playing for this review (names have been changed to honor the dead/hide my shame). But if you give Din's Curse a try you'll have many moments like this yourself. Moments where you are so very close to finding that key villain to stop him from building some earthquake machine, only to receive word that two more townspeople are starving AND a demon horde just broke through a few levels up and is storming toward the dungeon entrance. Do you turn around and stop them? Do you plod forward and hope the townsfolk can hold them off long enough for you to kill the source?

It doesn't just matter in terms of the narrative you are creating for yourself – if enough townspeople die, then you fail. Which means Din will not be pleased. And remember, the overarching goal here is to get yourself back in the good graces of ol' Din so that you can be released from the curse.

http://rpgfan.com/reviews/Dins_Curse…War/index.html

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou
"Those who dont read history are destined to repeat it."– Edmund Burke
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July 28th, 2011, 18:02
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
"Random" has a connotation here that doesn't fit, in my opinion. Would I not not find wildlife - as opposed to monsters - in any forest? I find the placement quite realistic.
Uh, five giant killer flies buzzing in place 50 meters from a working farm? Bloodthirsty boars and ostrich things 20 meters off a main road? Over and over and over? The entire population of peasants would be killed off in a week… Hell, even the main hero character is pretty powerless at the start. How would an old woman fare against one of those killer ostriches that are everywhere. They're sources of XP and reasons to run away, nothing more.

I get your point about the Windspear area, and agree to some extent. But at least Windspear Hills is supposed to be a far away desolate wilderness, and it's the home of a giant intelligent red dragon's minions who guard his dungeon. OK, it's not realistic… I mean it's a fantasy game after all. But the orc archers and giant killer ostriches aren't just hanging around right outside of town waiting for you to kill them so you can level up. They are part of a story.
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July 28th, 2011, 19:48
Originally Posted by Ovenall View Post
Uh, five giant killer flies buzzing in place 50 meters from a working farm? Bloodthirsty boars and ostrich things 20 meters off a main road? Over and over and over? The entire population of peasants would be killed off in a week…
It´s not over and over. There are no respawns, just additional spawns which occur on some chapter transitions and the more dangerous spawns are then story related.
Anyway, farmers do mention field raiders being a nuisance, for example, and those "bloodthirsty" monsters usually don´t attack humans unless in very close proximity and don´t routinely raid human settlements, as is the case with most of carnivores in real world afaik. Besides, I wouldn´t call scavengers (if that´s what you mean by "ostrich things") exactly bloodthirsty, they´re more akin to vultures I think.
Also, the farms are usually supposed to be protected by mercenaries or militia so it´s not like the game doesn´t address potential dangers around.
Areas with higher concentration of dangerous monsters are further from the civilization and humanoids you can meet in such areas are usually more resourceful (bandits) or knowledgeable about the wildlife (hunters, the witch).
While the game doesn´t really simulate the wildlife relations, you can from time to time see some species fighting between each other.
Later the environments become more dangerous (more wargs or dragon snappers), but that´s not the usual state of things and it´s story related.

Imo, pretty much the only problem you have here is the scale, but a game with everything "hand-made/placed" simply needs to do this kind of extrapolation/abstraction to be creatable. Even games with a lot of procedural generation do this.

Monster placement in G2 is certainly not random.


Originally Posted by Ovenall View Post
How would an old woman fare against one of those killer ostriches that are everywhere.
Those "killer ostriches" do not attack on sight so she´d probably just avoid them, or she wouldn´t travel alone. There´s even a quest where you need to help a woman with a kid in this manner.

Originally Posted by Ovenall View Post
They're sources of XP and reasons to run away, nothing more.
They´re sources of making the gameworld more believable (including more believable at being harsh), making the exploration more exciting and provide the player with more training and resources if one chooses to pursue these.
Besides, quite a lot of wildlife is involved in quests directly or indirectly and there are many story related enemy/monster spawns as well.
The various relations between wildlife, other enemies and human conditions are even more pronounced in the chapter 2 and basically provide the ground for the bulk of that chapter´s story/quests.
Last edited by DeepO; July 28th, 2011 at 20:50.
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July 28th, 2011, 21:02
Heh. I should know better than to offer even minor criticism towards Gothic here…

Field raiders are a "nuisance"? Six foot tall beetles that hang out in groups 100 meters from a farm, which if approached will chase you down and tear you apart? Yeah I guess that's a nuisance.

I'd hate to hear what their real problems are.

No respawns does make it somewhat more "realistic" than World of Warcraft. And yeah, they add some quests where you interact with the giant bloodthirsty monsters that flock all around the large city.

I'm not saying the Gothics are the most illogical games when it comes to this issue, but really… there's a large town and as you say, militia and guards protecting the farmers and peasants from these giant killer monsters which are all about. Then one guy visits the area and can completely wipe them out (until the next chapter). The militia and guards must have been sitting on their hands all this time to let herds of giant killer beetles roam around eating all the crops.

What a nuisance! But a good way for a nameless hero to level up.
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July 29th, 2011, 00:06
You're overanalyzing it big time. We can sit here all day and pick apart illogical monster placements in any crpg. Not every group of monsters in the BG series was "part of the story". Not by a long shot.
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July 29th, 2011, 17:38
Originally Posted by JDR13 View Post
You're overanalyzing it big time.
Isn't analysis of the issue the whole point of the article and this discussion thread?
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July 30th, 2011, 16:39
Originally Posted by Ovenall View Post
Isn't analysis of the issue the whole point of the article and this discussion thread?
Yes, but I think your latest criticism kinda spun the discussion outside the original topic.

Anyway,
Originally Posted by Ovenall View Post
Field raiders are a "nuisance"? Six foot tall beetles that hang out in groups 100 meters from a farm, which if approached will chase you down and tear you apart? Yeah I guess that's a nuisance.
My point was the in-game characters aren´t oblivious to the field raiders.
The raiders aren´t "just there" for player as random cannon fodder, they also constitute one of the reasons farmers need protection and on the surface the whole presence of mercenaries is pretty much based around protecting the farms (under the surface however, their presence is more about controlling the resources). Add to that the fact all of´em are just escaped convicts and you may see why their protection is somewhat lenient. The fact you don´t see them protecting the farms in a more active manner may also be more about technical limitations and the game simply "tells instead of shows" here. You do get few quests related to this - you can help one of the mercs to clear a field raiders´ nest and, iirc, if you´re a member of paladins one quest sends you to deal with a field raiders´ raid on one of the farms.
Also, the field raiders are among the weakest monsters in the game and they´re definitely weaker than the mercenaries, so no inconsistency here.

Originally Posted by Ovenall View Post
I'd hate to hear what their real problems are.
Well, later in the game farmers from one of the farms flee into mountains because they found the environment to become way too dangerous and they only return if you find a better protection for the farm.

Originally Posted by Ovenall View Post
I'm not saying the Gothics are the most illogical games when it comes to this issue, but really… there's a large town and as you say, militia and guards protecting the farmers and peasants from these giant killer monsters which are all about. Then one guy visits the area and can completely wipe them out (until the next chapter). The militia and guards must have been sitting on their hands all this time to let herds of giant killer beetles roam around eating all the crops.
First, in regards to "Then one guy visits the area and can completely wipe them out (until the next chapter)", well, duh, welcome to the world of cRPGs .
This issue may be more pronounced in single pc games, but all cRPGs I remember contain this asymmetry (for example in Might & Magic 6 it´s particularly hilarious).
Doing so in Gothic at least isn´t exactly straightforward thanks to lack of level scaling or rigid area scaling.

Second, G2 happens in times the lands are in major turmoil - the world is full of escaped convicts, the former prison is full of orcs and other main enemy´s minions which progressively leak to the other parts of the world.
The militia/paladin faction is weakened cos a good chunk of´em is stuck in the former prison colony and they´re not really selfless anyway, they´re in it mainly for the ore.
Mercenaries mostly don´t give a shit - most of them want to leave for the mainland and they´re only protecting the farms for negotiating purposes with the city. And most of the mages are your usual shut-ins.

The level of dynamics you imply the game should have wouldn´t probably be possible for technical reasons anyway, but given the game´s story contexts I don´t think there´s really any need for it. The dynamics are mostly in the changes which occur on chapter transitions and quests you obtain throughout.
And I have to maintain that the game´s more static aspect aka monster/enemy/npc placement is unusually well thought out from both story and "ecology" standpoints. There´s always a reason why these are where they are and the placement is rarely (if ever) inconsistent with other game´s aspects.
The world is supposed to be harsh after all and even more so during the time of the adventure.
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