Hollow Earth

Story Update

So when I started doing stories and Ages for Uru, I set up a tiddlywiki, an offline personal wiki with all my lore information. Since then, tiddlywiki seems to no longer work on any browser, so I spent these last few days working on porting my lore to Zim to manage it. In doing so, I came up with some interesting statistics:

  • Over 25 Age concepts.
  • 50 Character profiles
  • 2 D’ni Areas
  • 1 Major historical event
  • 2 Groups
  • Over 20 Stories

While I’d love to release all that stuff, it’s clear to me that a lot of this needs pruning. Most of the Ages and characters particularly were one-off characters used in one short story with nothing else really planned for them. Others vaguely tied into a story arc, but just in kind of a wink-wink reference that people might get. So, to keep myself sane and focus my stories on the still-massive amount of content I would like to produce, I’ve established four main story arcs that I’ll be focusing on:

  • The Ishveer War Arc
  • The Tharel Arc
  • The Shomat Arc
  • The Devil Arc

Of those, the Devil Arc is the one I’m most excited about. It feels to me like a lot of good modern stories where every little thing is connected. That arc currently spans 11 Ages and 15 characters, although that is liable to change in time.

Next would be the Sholek Arc. I considered ret-conning and merging this into the Devil Arc, given that hey both touch on similar concepts, but Sholek is such an interesting character that he needs to stay in his own timeline.

Ishveer and Tharel are less “Arcs” and more centered around their respective Ages, but require more story work than other one-off Ages like Eder Jonim.

The rest of the stories and Ages and Characters etc. not in those arcs are sadly going to either go away or be repurposed. A lot of the Ages were, if I’m honest with myself, just an excuse to use a D’ni-sounding name.

The hard part, and my future work, will be on building and strengthening the Age concepts I already have. Chiefly, I want to define things to *do* in each Age. I love making scenic Ages like Fens and Bimevi, but I also want to get into working with more technical Writers to make minigames for my Ages. Uru needs more Ages where there are things to do, not things to see, and that’s what I plan on providing.

Filed under: Ages, Development, Uru Community, , , , , , ,

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.

Filed under: Ages, Development, , , , ,

Prominence: A Word on the Fan Age Proposals

Hello again. It’s been a long time. How have you been?

I’ve seen all the proposals tossed about and had some thoughts. People will debate this and Cyan will be the final arbiter. I have little faith these days in the latter, so I talk to you; the former. This is not just a debate about python coding or storyline. This is also a debate of prominence. The prominence of fan Ages in the world. I believe foremost that fan Ages deserve high prominence in the game for they are the examples with which we draw people in. But let’s back up and examine the other concepts debated: coding and storyline.
In the realm of coding, I feel it is obvious that an addition to the existing Nexus or placing books around the Ages makes the most sense. Duplicating the Nexus is a tricky proposition and creating all that coding busywork when there are other viable paths is folly. This community and potential content creators do not need additional hurdles to jump. They need simple code, they need stable worlds, they need a firm hand, not a shaky “Fan Nexus.”

People will defend this Fan Nexus by citing storyline consistency. As my grandfather once said, that’s a load a whooey. Uru has the least consistent storyline of any game I have played so far. Minecraft has a more consistent storyline and you make that story up as you go along! If the old Mysteriacs are right, Cyan was willing to sacrifice story integrity for a cushy retirement just a few months ago. Have they really rediscovered their philosophy so quickly?

No, what this really comes down to is fan Age prominence. Cyan insists on pandering to the old guard who want to keep fan Ages away from Cyan’s Ages. Fan Ages must have prominence in the game world or we will never see the benefit. No one other than a liar or a hermit cares these days about how a fan Age meshes with Cyan’s storyline. People want content and this should be made as easy as possible. Storyline should be considered, but not in this draconian fashion.

This brings me to the point of all this. Ages should be placed where they make the most sense. An Age’s placement should be dictated by its lore. If the “Age” is a City location, it should be placed in the Nexus. If the Age is D’ni written, it should be placed in a public book room. If the Age is like my Toroolbah or Fens, it should be place in a location fit for it (either a fan hub Age or a private spot).

Those are my thoughts. Now tell me yours. Leave a comment below and vote in the poll for which of the options you would choose for future fan Ages.

Filed under: Uru Community, , , , , ,

Future Development

With Open Source now a (semi) reality, I feel it’s time I got back to age development. The problem I’ve always had is deciding what I want to work on. As a result, I have a few ideas which never really go far. Right now I’m torn between expanding Ages like Fens or Toroolbah and developing brand new Ages like Fasek or Tharel. So help me out here. Vote in the poll below and/or leave a comment on what I should tackle next. I promise I’ll release something <valvetime> soon. </valvetime>

Filed under: Ages, , , ,

Learning from Others: Left 4 Dead Cold Stream

With the source for Uru newly released, it made me think about other fan content I’ve seen and the potential pitfalls involved. In short: Fans should have the rights to download the fan ages they choose to include in their experience.

For those who don’t know, Cold Stream is a custom fan-created map for the Left 4 Dead 2 game. There are lots of fan-created campaings and maps for the game, but what stands out to me is the fact that Valve included the Cold Stream beta map as a small downloadable update. What I dislike about this, and where I see this as a problem for Cyan, is that Cold Stream is not as good (in my opinion) as other maps available. However, Valve has nonetheless included it in an update.

The issue for Cyan is this: Fans are not going to be happy when the ages they want to play are not included in the game. Left 4 Dead solves this by letting anyone add campaigns at will, but Cyan has said that “As new writers arise with new books, the books are tested and documented – and books that are approved by some new kind of maintainers guild will (hopefully) find their way to the MOULa server where the public can enjoy new worlds once again.” This implies strongly that fan content will be vetted and added to the MOULa server (which is great). The problem that I see is that there’s no alternate way (at least for now) for fans to still explore the Ages not yet released on the MOULa server.

Filed under: Learning from Others, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

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