The last week has been all about area building ... and I had to remind myself of all those aspects needed to build (what I believe to be) a "believable" area design. I am the first to admit that my art design skills in this department are only adequate. However, I do like to think that I put enough thought into other general aspects of area design, such as lighting and sounds, to make an area a cut above the average. Basically, I like to include aspects that give a place a degree of atmosphere, which lighting and sounds (if used carefully) can transform an otherwise dull area, into something quite interesting.
1) LIGHTING: You will probably have a vague idea of the type of area I was building from this week's screenshot. However, I am deliberately skipping specifics to prevent spoilers, and even the screenshot may leave the reader with questions. However, the point being, I like to vary lighting according to the type of area the PCs find themselves in. And, the working line for me is, if there is no light at all, then it should be absolutely black! i.e. I try to avoid using any lighting that does not have a source. Therefore, each area I design must come with its own selection of light sources, or the PC must provide their own light via torch, lantern or magic.
The light source objects are dictated by the area type. If it's a natural environment, like a cave, then I tend to go for glowing flora or (if inhabited) wall torches, or even a combination. i.e I try to avoid man-made (or spell-like) light sources unless they can be justified. The main point, however, is that every area should (in my opinion) be able to be lit or placed into darkness according to light sources within the area. Being caught in complete darkness should be a possibility in some situations, and the player should be conscious of this by observation of the area lighting.
2) SOUND: Another aspect of design and probably just as important as the area lighting, are the area sounds. After setting the lighting, I tend to move on to adding the sounds, including the music and ambient sounds. However, I believe it is the positional sounds that go a long way to helping the player feel immersed within their environment. These can include simple sounds of water (pouring, dripping, splashing, etc), and critters running out of sight. I even try to include sounds that may alter with time or player interaction such as camp fire crackles or claps of thunder and rainfall. This latest area came with its own selection of sounds, which I hope should all add to its mystery and allure.
3) INTRACTABLE OBJECTS: Having setup the area lighting and sounds, I always like to add an interesting selection of objects for the player to interact with. This is what gives the current scenario (or area) the "meat on the bones" as it were. Note, these objects will vary from area to area, but are normally well understood by the player, and include such things as junk piles, bookcases, and chests, etc. However, I also like to use this time of area design to try to develop something "new" if possible, even if it's just a minor interaction. This "new" object would then be added to the collection of objects I can continue to flesh out future areas for the player to interact with. Over time, the collection of objects with which the player can interact should grow bigger or have new variations of such.
4) ENCOUNTERS & EVENTS: In the course of building module 1, I have gone through many renditions of various trigger and encounter events due to the many different requirements I have needed in module 1. Thankfully, now, I have a healthy selection of them to help populate a dungeon in a way that makes combat encounters efficient and (I believe) balanced. Therefore, it did not take me long to quickly add the monster events to the area, and all I am left to do now is add some comment events as I consider what should become available to the PCs. As some of this is tied to the bigger plot, these tend to get added later.
5) BACKGROUND & PURPOSE: Once I have all the basic area design in place (as above), I like to ensure that the player also leaves an area with a feeling of accomplishment, and some kind of memory of an area. It can be a simple as having the player complete a quest stage or acquire an item of importance, or even simply have a tough fight. The bottom line, however, is I want the player to feel they have been satisfied with what they have achieved in an area. My general goal for this, is if I test the area and do not come away feeling I either learned something, gained something new, or simply experienced a different aspect of gameplay, then it has not served a good purpose. Generally, I like to be able to tick as many of these aspects with every area, but overall design determines if this is warranted or not. I certainly try to minimise those areas that feel more of a "grind" than a source of adventure.
AN OLD ISSUE
Just for the record, I experienced an old issue of a placeable object not responding to a player's left click. To remind myself and those readers interested, if a placeable has zero hit points, then any onused script is ignored! I wrestled with a new prefab object for at least half an hour before I spotted this old issue again. Thankfully, however, even though this caused me some lost time, the benefits of building with all the existing scripts available to me helps go a long way to shorten the area build time.
So, the area that stole my attention is now "finished" apart from some final event triggers (if I decided they are required) and some plot elements that are still in development. I am happy with the way it turned out, as I have employed all those aspects I learned from my first module, including ensuring the PCs have room to move, and any combat zones are reasonably spaced.
In the coming days, I hope to go back to the original area I was working on and to look at other areas that can be transitioned to from it. In all, there are around another four areas that I need to build from scratch that transition from the area I am currently referencing. Once they are all done, I can move onto another area of the module. At this stage, everything feels quite a long way off. However, if I can continue to build areas at the rate I am at the moment, then I am more optimistic that module 2 will see completion one day.
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