Sunday, January 13, 2013

Arilou Turns Ten

It's hard believe, but it was ten years ago on this day that I was promoted to the rank of junior wizard in a little known game called Wyvern. Although the game has twice gone down for long periods of time since that day and I have since retired from it, I have consistently been affiliated with the game, in some capacity or another, for that entire time. I've done and seen a lot along the way, but as I did in my five year anniversary blog, I'd like to use this space to just reflect on my early days with the game.

If you go back to the last anniversary blog of mine, you'll see me discuss the development of my first area, Forgotten Oak. I had actually been planning to mark this date by releasing at least the redone village maps for that island of lost souls (fyi - in my plans for the area, the island map would be done away with and also replaced with dozens of individual maps that you would have to traverse much like Amita, only on a larger scale). However, since that's not possible with the game being down and all, let's talk a bit about my second completed area; Amita.

You may not know this, but although Amita is the second area I released, it's actually the third that I worked on. My second attempt at an area was a quest for the golem temple that's to the east of the Forgotten Oak village. I spent about two months working on it and got to almost 200 maps before realizing it was absolute garbage and decided to trash the whole thing. Ultimately, it was an important learning experience and while I still had a ways to go at that point, it helped me when it came to future projects like Amita.

Ironically, though, Amita is something I put together in about 26 hours in response to a discussion on the wizard forum about how we needed more low level content. The end result was 37 maps (it has since ballooned to over 250 maps - I kid you not) including six Orc Tower maps that I had previously worked on with the intention of putting directly on the world map (it was to appear on the land mass that later housed Terrim, but I re-purposed it while working on Amita as I realized how well it fit). Believe it or not but that simple tower was actually ahead of its time. I had been noticing how common it was for people to get trapped in multi-map monster areas, as anyone who has played for any amount of time has, and so I decided to create this tower that starts with a non-claimable map and then diverges into five monster maps (east, west, north, up, and down). To illustrate this I combined the maps together in one image:

It may not seem like much, but it was something different and I was able to build on it to make it a lot more interesting at a later date. If you go there when the game is up, you will see that each of those side maps now has multiple maps and there are paths leading from one to the other so a player can find their way out by progressing forward if their path backwards is blocked. I never did get a chance to release a redone version of the top or bottom floors, but the kobold basement has become kobold tunnels with lots of little paths in the general shape of a spiderweb. So that same multi-path motif continues into the rest of the tower's maps. It looks a lot better now, (see the below image of the entrance for comparison) but I'm disappointed that I didn't originally take the time to properly measure all the maps so that these side rooms and hallways all fit together like puzzle pieces. This especially became an issue for me after I finally fixed Amita's main maps so that they could come together properly when I made those sign maps for it (it had bothered me for awhile, but working on that map gave me the push I needed to make it happen).

Speaking of Amita's central area, obviously it didn't always look as it did now with forest paths and districts having their own maps. Originally it was this big 40x43 map that you can see below (note: not all graphics are the same as the ones players saw when Amita went live and, yes, I know you can see what's behind the hedges, but it's not a trade secret so don't worry about it). I don't know why, but when designing it I felt compelled to start drawing a wall in the upper portion of the map and I suddenly asked myself why there would be a city wall in only one portion of this forested village's map. I had just previously read a book about a city with inner walls that was meant to separate the wealthy from the near rebellious rift-raft and that's when it hit me that this would make a good basis for my own story and Amita's plot took off from there.

Next thing I knew, I had the gatehouse and the secret tunnel in place. Then I started dropping plot points about how the villagers hate the merchants, how there's hostility between the peasants and the guards, (hence the two taverns) and how people have been using the tunnel to escape the harsh rule of their tyrannical "king." It's interesting because I was trying to get away from Forgotten Oak's dark design with both the area that I scrapped and Amita. Instead, I ended up with was something that appears light and happy on the surface, but is dark and oppressive if you look deeper. I have found that this is a common motif in my work as a paradise itself is just not interesting. There needs be some intertwined madness on, or bubbling just below, the surface.  Otherwise, what's the draw for people to want to learn more about the area they're in?

Getting back to map design, I think we can all agree that Amita has come a long way since it's early days. Although, I actually started seriously updating it toward the end of 2003 as I made an account to further test the area to see if there was anything I could tweak. I was hoping just to get a feel for anything that might be annoying for new players so I noticed, for example, how irritating it was to die in the merchant houses and then have to go all the way down to the hospital to heal and then go all the way back up to continue fighting. So I added fountains to the church. I also noticed how annoying it was to have to go through patches of tree terrain, especially that patch just southeast of the church. So I began to wonder how I could maintain this forest look and, at the same time, make it easier for people to get around the village as it's a low level area and they don't really have to deal with that in Davos or New Verden. Then it hit me, like a ton of brick,s that I should split that one map into a whole bunch of maps, which I very quickly did and then put online without any fanfare. Ironically, it's not easier to get around as there's now a lot more space to traverse and new players often get lost (causing me to eventually put mall style maps of the village all over the place). But, it looks awesome and it's a whole lot more realistic.

I don't know why wizards had never done this before. Instead, wizards would generally make really big town maps and since large maps were a problem, Legolas would sometimes suggest that people make them smaller by splitting them in two. That's what ended up happening Coran - It was one big map and so Zifa took the top half, copied it into a blank map, deleted the bottom half in the original, and added teleporters between them. Zifa put a lot of detail in that city and so it doesn't look like a big box, but most towns did because that's what they were. The first thing everyone would do when making a town was create a big blank square or rectangle and start filling it in with wild abandon. Part of it may be laziness as it's easier to keep track of, but multiple maps just "feel" great in-game. There's such a scope to them that it that makes you feel like you're really exploring a majestic fantasy city or a wooded fantasy village when done properly. And it looks really great when you take all those maps and put them together in one big image. You've probably seen the small version of that for those direction signs in Amita, but one day I'll probably put a larger version up on my website. In the meantime, here's a look at just the slums so that you can compare it with the original version of Amita's main map.

All in all, Amita is my favorite area [of the areas that I have created] and my closest to being completed. Not that you can ever really declare an area completed in this type of game as there's always the possibility that new ideas will cause you to add on to existing content. But, it's not too far off from my current vision. I had planned to release some redone maps along with completed guard housing maps, maps for the logging operation that is the reason behind a select few's wealth, a small quest series, some additions to the PK Forest, and I wanted to filter some more mini-quests into existing and planned maps. It may sound like a lot, but I had been expecting that I could get it all done by March 16th, 2013 (ten years to the day that Amita was made public) and jokingly announce that I finally completed an area. Alas, the second great downtime put "a bit" of a kink in that. Although, even though I'm now retired, there exists a certain amount of completed unreleased content that I can throw up on the server when the game comes back (assuming, it doesn't go open source or anything). So if you're fan on Amita, you have that to look forward to.


-That rocky path was actually inspired by my grandparent's property. There was originally a house there that had a stone pathway leading up to it, but it burned down and they rebuilt it further back. However, since they no longer had enough matching stones to reach the front of the house, they moved a few right below the front porch and let the rest of stones be taken over by grass. Anyway, one day I was there playing cards with my siblings and father while my mother was working outside when suddenly, my mother came in to declare that she had uncovered one of these rocks. Having grown up with a love for the idea of digging up the unknown (and thus wanting to be either an archaeologist or paleontologist) I was legitimately excited and went right out to help her dig up the rest while my siblings and father basically responded with a collective "meh."

We didn't end up uncovering them in order, (and we never did finish) so as we were doing this there were breaks in the path. I liked that uncompleted image so much that when I went to make Amita I wanted to recreate that, but we didn't have anything resembling those stones. As a result, I just used the stone terrain until, one day, Legolas commented on how he didn't like the look and I concurred, telling him what I had envisioned. The next thing I knew he presented me with those stone road graphics that are remarkably dead on to their real life inspiration, which is a testament how awesome Legolas is. Anyway, I happily went about placing them throughout Amita and made sure to maintain the breaks as the idea is that there once was a completed road here, but it has hasn't been properly maintained and therefore grass and dirt has overtaken parts of it.

-Amita's similarities to where my grandparents lived [in the latter parts of their lives] doesn't stop with the stone pathway. It was very green and lush with a few evergreen trees on the property and it was surrounded by woods on all sides. If you go down to oneof the meadows, there's a path leading to a creek just like there's a path leading to the creek in Amita (although the one in real life is much, much smaller). The real life creek doesn't end in a pond, but actually neither does the Amita one - Nobody knows this, but in my head the creek actually continues on underground.

-Wrath of the Fey isn't the only quest I had planned for Amita. I have a write up (and some partially completed maps) for a four part quest series that throws you into the plight of our villagers as a way of exploring more of the area's backstory. Each individual quest has its own name and the series of those quests is called "Trouble in Paradise" which is a play on the idea that Amita looks so wonderful of the surface but some really horrible things are going on there.

-I used to play this Sega Genesis game called "Light Crusader" that was about a knight who returned home to find the kingdom he served was going through a hard time. To make a long story short, villagers were disappearing and nobody knew why. Well, you would go around talking to the remaining villagers and all the while this very sad music would be playing that, at least from memory, kind of reminded me of the church music that Wyvern has. So, when I heard that I knew that's that was the music for Amita. When I listen to it, I conjurer images of a guard knocking a peasant into the mud, a mother weeping as her child is taken off to be trained as a soldier, and a family shivering in the cold because their house burned down. Basically, all these really horrible, sad, depressing things. Therefore if you ever wondered why I chose that music for Amita or if you thought that I put no effort into the selection... well, here you are.

-Amita actually means sister in Latin. The reason I selected this is because I thought that it would be great if Amita was built to be the sister village to New Verden and now it's this closed off enclave that, frankly, is no New Verden at all. But, also an interestingly little bit is that I decided to create a little theme around this and use Latin words for many of the names of npcs throughout the village. I picked words that represented something about them so, for example, Panis means bread. Unfortunately, I didn't realize some people might misconstrue that at the time, but luckily only a select few players have ever brought it up [and one wizard].

-Since the ogre chieftain map hasn't been available in the orc tower for quite some time, you may not be aware that there's actually a note there from the Oaken Village sorcerer responsible for luring the orc hoards to the island. In the letter he promises that orc tribe a reward if they come to the island and join other tribes in the besieging Oaken Village. So, there's a nice little tie in there.

-There's a lot of hidden little bits within the village that you're probably unaware of it. I love easter eggs in games and there were actually quite a few in Wyvern's early content that are fun to look for. So, I threw a lot into Amita. Hint: Certain trees might have something carved on them if you look closely.

-You may not have been around long enough to remember, but there used to be a gateway on New Verden's west wall that led to the path that led to Davos. Obviously, that means that you would arrive in Davos from the east, not the west as you have undoubtedly become so used to it. Well, I had actually designed Amita with the intention that when you got to what is now Davos' entrance, you would come to the path that leads to Amita (this, btw, is also why the creek ends like it does as I couldn't have it continue to the edge of the map and then not re-appear in Davos). However, Rhialto immediately began speaking about finding a place for it on the world map, so I didn't even bother mentioning that and an icon was then created/placed a little bit south of New Verden. However, some time later, Legolas came to me with the idea of putting them all together with the tutorial in the center. So those three villages ended up together after all.

-Have you have been to the maze east of the orc tower and been frustrated to no end while trying to navigate multiple maps? Well you're not alone. Few have ever completed it since its too complicated for players new to the game and it doesn't reward experienced players enough to encourage them to try it. But, yours truly has been caught in its web even though I designed it - As you may or may not know, the trick to the maze is unlocking items hidden within it in a specific order and, when working on it, I made a little hand drawn map detailing what order players had to go in to aid me when putting it all together.

Well, when all was said and done, I got this idea that I should test it as a player would to get a feel for how difficult it truly was as wizards hadn't been linking together multiple mazes like this and so I didn't have a solid reference for what I was putting players through. As a result, I didn't use any of my wizard powers to help myself get around and I turned that hand drawn map over. Well, big mistake - I completely forgot the order and was stumbling around for who remembers how long going back and forth through the maze trying to randomly figure out where I had to go to next and I cannot begin to tell you how out of my mind with frustration I was. So, for those few of you who have taken up the challenge, I want to let you know that I feel your pain and am so very sorry.

That said, I'm not so sorry that I can say that I would never have put anyone through that again. In fact, I had planned to utilize and expand on the idea of linking together maze maps in future areas. I won't go into that now, but perhaps I'll blog about one of my more evil unseen designs in the future.

Have a question regarding Amita? Ask me in the comments.


Clubbz said...

There was a point in time when I considered building up collection of pixel art, and maps for submission. I totally understand what you mean about multiple maps instead of one large area. I wanted to make large maps, because they were easier to manage and visualize in your head when placing buildings and decor, but at the same time I thought just the sheer size of them was atrocious and it would be much better to have several small maps, which helps much more to bring the area into an imaginative perspective for players.

The result was, I even had towers with more than one map per floor, and an overly complex bridge fort. Even though I gave up before building anything worthy of submission, I was much more satisfied with the multiple map setups for areas I had, than the larger maps I had started with.

It's nice to see that even a long time wizard like yourself, started at a stage just like everyone else.

Arilou said...

It's always easier when you have an outline to work from. With my redone maps I had that original map to look at and so I could take this piece and expand on it and that piece and expand on it and then maybe add a few new pieces to help everything coalesce. But, when working on something new I'll usually get out a piece of paper and scribble an outline with markings for transitions between maps and such. I can't draw, so they're often very basic, but they do help.

Another thing I had gotten into, after the first downtime, was combining various maps together so I can see how they look as a unified space. The map editor prevents you from making maps bigger than 100 x 100, but I can get around it for private use and so I'll make this huge map and start copying and pasting individual maps into it. I don't do it with everything, but I do have very nice views of things like Amita and the Pk Forest that I can scroll through in its entirety in the map editor or see from various different sizes as I've made them into .png files. Those particular areas were combined after the fact, but I started to see the value in combining collections of maps as they're made so you can better get a feel for where you are and where you have left to go.

clubbz said...

I understand completely. When I was working on my attempt I had a notebook at my computer desk where I jotted down designs, quest ideas, npc topics of discussion. I wrote down anything that came to me because I wanted to to make it as deep of an experience as possible. It was a fun experience, but I found the map editor to be a fair bit clunky, and the slowness of using it, mixed with the busy spurt I had in real life caused my interest to stretch to the point I gave up on it.