Hollow Earth

Development: Fens


Fens was my second Age, coming about the same time as the new version of PyPRP was developed. Fens was the first Age I made with a specific purpose in mind and a theme in which to display that purpose. The purpose was to make a swamp Age. The theme would be “as natural as possible.” The Age, like my others, served as a testbed for new concepts as well as an environment in which I could experiment.

I was inspired by a piece of Cyan concept art I had seen titled “Glades.” I knew I wanted people to wade around in the Age and feel like they were slogging through a bog (I planned to perhaps have some areas where the land dropped off and your avatar momentarily went into the goop before swimming back up, but that wasn’t in my skillset at the time). Another thing I wanted was an island. All of the Myst Ages had at least one island and I wanted to have a single island and let the player explore out into the rest of the marsh (where things might happen over time, obscured by the fog). I also wanted the Age to be dynamic, changing frequently. While I haven’t done much recently, I do want to keep it somewhat up-to-date. Finally, I knew I wanted to have the Age be “fan-run” in that I wouldn’t provide any of the information about what the plants/animals were, I’d encourage explorers to write up what they thought and include it in an in-Age journal. The possibility of inclusion in an Age was something I saw as necessary for Uru to live (after all, if the only real avenue for involvement is in making Ages, how will people who can’t/won’t make Ages get involved?).

Fens in many ways embodies many of the challenges most designers face in creating beleivable areas in games. One such challenge was getting an acceptable amount of detail into a model without overwhelming the computer rendering it. Most of my models were very low-poly, like the semi-circle plants. The one exception to this was the model for the trees, which used many faces in the lower half of the tree. This was because I built the trees by taking a single cylinder and connecting it to a series of twisted “roots” cylinders.

Another challenge was in limiting the space in a believable way. My first concept of the Age was an unending series of small islands the player could start exploring, but eventually end at some variation of an invisible wall.Once the first island was designed, however, I decided that even a small series of islands would get repetitive and the invisible wall would inevitably seem arbitrary.I decided instead to place the island inside a basin in the fog. The basin realistically limited the area the player could explore while providing an area where the player’s imagination could go wild. Originally, the basin top was going to be lined with the same style of trees as the tall mangrove-like “fengroves” in the swamp. This was scrapped when testing showed players weren’t sure how those aquatic trees could grow above the basin without compromising the basin’s integrity. Instead, the basin was lined with more traditional deciduous trees similar to Eder Tsogahl to show that the upper level of the basin was drier. “What’s over that edge?” or “what’s in the fog?” were questions I wanted to always put in the player’s mind.

Creating a diverse set of flora while preventing repetition was another key challenge. In early designs there were many more “fengroves”. Because the “fengrove” trees are all duplicates of the one on the initial island, this led to the swamp seeming repetitive and it was easy for players to get lost in the forest. Later on I added bulbous flowers that were essentially trunkless “fengroves.” Even though they used different models, different textures, and had a distinctive sillouhette, their elevated roots were still too similar to those of the “fengroves” and the flowers seemed too fake. Similarly, earlier releases featured fully-modeled grass similar to the grass seen in the Cleft. These 3D blades were removed because they were all unlit and were not visually-attractive. There were also more small mushrooms in previous versions of the Age. These were placed to create an appearance like the beta shots of Teledahn’s shroom forest. Unfortunately the mushrooms seemed too repetitive and testers got lost in them so I reduced their numbers and replaced many of them with the semi-circle plants. One organism that has stayed throughout all iterations isthe blue parasite blobs. These were designed to be relatively-high-poly sacks that would flop naturally from whatever surface they were placed on and would connect to the surface via very low-poly “roots”. The design of this organism made it so that it was easy for me to naturally distribute them without a lot of work. The “roots” were simple to stretch to a surface and the high-poly blob was easy to shape to look naturally affected by gravity. I positioned them i nthe world so that players would naturally attribute them with decay. The dead tree has many of them on it while the listing tree has a few more than a regular tree does, giving the impression that they both come along with decay and also cause it.

The listing tree was the second tree actually put into the Age and was the first major landmark outside of the link-in island. It was designed to be at least partially climbable and future ideas for this tree was to have it act as a natural foundation for a treehouse. These ideas were incorporated into the home on the side of the rock statue.

The dead tree came later as I began emphasizing natural landmarks players could use to navigate the Age. The tree was made to be a kind of natural observation post while also showing the Age in decay. In initial designs, the tree was going to be a natural bridge up to the basin top, but this was discarded when I decided opening the basin lip would push the release date back too far.

The house was a last-minute idea to serve as a location for the Age journal and credits booklet.The original design was going to incorporate geothernal energy tapped by the large connection tubes. While the house turned out smaller than that, the tubes remained. Overall, the house may one day be scrapped for a larger “forest lodge” style house.

In the future, I’d like to add animals to the Age beyond the distant birds. Numerous concepts for other creatures have come and gone, however. Regionally-triggered animal appearances similar to “shroomie” in Teledahn are an ultimate goal, however this seems a long way off. The next major update will be releasing a beach area and the tunnel to it from the main basin. The beach area would incorporate new techniques for limiting player movement and reveal the Age’s ocean and nearby locations.

As always, I hope you have fun exploring and I encourage you to send in your contributions for the Age journal and try your hand at classifying the flora and fauna. I would like to get a wiki set up (perhaps using the DZS) where people could submit their ideas for the plants and animals. Regardless, I hope you have as much fun exploring this Age as I had creating it.

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All posts are my opinion only and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others.
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