Feature article by: Matthew Florianz
Slywood - the Background
Slywood is a dark place amidst the lush and green lands, which compromise most of upper Ringfell. Ringfell in the old times was a coastal area. What is now called lower Ringfell (one of the three areas) was then a bottom of an ocean, which now is long dried up.
Slywood though hasn’t always been quite as dark and gloomy as it is today. There have been times, very recent times even, when it was as bright and fertile as the other regions. That’s not to say it wasn’t always a bit peculiar. The crops growing on the fields were known to be different from crops growing anywhere else. Not even three mills could handle the amounts produced each year.
And the strange gargantuan sword that towers over Balemeadow, has been the source of many fantastic stories. No item of this kind was ever found on any of the known shards. It’s not even certain who or what put it there.
But then, in an instance, everything changed. As if the soil had turned sour, all that was once living was vanquished in a single moment. A strangle glow started to emanate from the tip of the swords hilt, engulfing the entrance of Balemeadow’s underground storage tunnels.
Yet with an entire population missing and perpetual dark skies, Slywood’s not entirely bleak. Behind it’s gloomy demeanor, characters roaming it add plenty of color.
There’s Traitor’s Rest on the far side of the shard, which harbors all sorts of adventurous and shady characters. After all, alll those vanquished citizens did not take their belongings with them and what are the obstacles for those looking to garner a bit of fame and fortune?
In Slywood, rivaling factions have set aside their differences, because with no enclave control there’s money to be made. The prospect of a coin or two, binds all in its pursuit, until the end of such a profitable journey might be reached, of course.
Slywood– the Design
Roles in the game design are never quite predefined. A coder might for instance take on several roles as he or she tackles the creative problems that come from trying to fit visions within the restrictions of code and hardware. I never liked the word artist in the context of creativity because everyone working on this project has proven to be an artist in their own right. We might not all understand the beauty of simplifying code, or making something load just a little better, but we sure notice it when the person working on these“trivial” tasks has not been inspired.
Although I am officially the game's Lead Audio Designer, I too have done more than just one job. When the opportunity came to work on a level (thank you Bert-Jan!!!) it was a nice deviation from recording growls for monsters, making music and putting (again) a batch of slightly-different-crickets into a level.
It wasn’t even so much planned that Slywood would get a full redesign or that I would work on it for months. Initially, all that really needed to be done was to move the graveyard to an area that wasn’t being used, and make it larger. As soon as this was done, I should have been able to do the sound and since I was waiting to begin working on it, I have volunteered to move it myself.
The lore of Ringfell talks about mass extinction, yet the old graveyard didn’t quite fit the lore. No one is to blame, it just didn’t add up. As I was moving the graveyard, I've asked if I could perhaps redo more parts as well, since it was a nice deviation from well over two years of making just sounds.
So, it’s not that the work already done was bad, by no means. You have all seen the screenshots and Slywood already looked very spectacular. There just hadn’t been a lot of time to finish Slywood, especially compared to how long I was able to work on it.
I think, especially for an MMO, you have to somehow give people the impression that the world they travel in, has been there long before you (the player) set foot on it. There has to be something interesting to look at wherever you are, be it a unique tree, an abandoned house or even a nicely carved out road. You have to always see that there is an underlying design with its own rules. Much like nature has its own rules, which we don’t necessarily have to understand, but which we recognize. If an area looks like it has been designed, you feel there’s more purpose to be in it. Perhaps that makes little sense, but like nature, you don’t have to understand my pet-peeve little rules. ; )
Road to traitor’s rest
Since I had some extra time, I decided to do more with the landscape itself by adding more height differences. This takes an incredible amount of work as you are moving each little point that makes up the terrain by hand. If you move one point from the other too much, things look too angular, if you smooth everything out, you loose the detail again.
When the terrain began to take shape, trees had to be put on their own little hills and the textures around the trees were painted differently. By the way, those trees you see above, were done specifically for SlyWood by Erik Bakker, who has doubled as game designer, level designer, modeler and even a bit of character artist himself. All I really did to Slywood was moving things around and pull and tuck at the terrain. It’s a bit like playing with lego when I was younger. Frank Bakker (unrelated I’m told) helped with the lighting.
Once the forest and graveyard took their shape, I've divided the entire landmass into several sub area’s with their own distinctive mood. There’s of course the forests, swamps, a huge tree, and several area’s with old buildings and ruins.
As building progressed, I tried to do new things which each new area. When you walk there’s should always be something (to keep you interested in walking) on the horizon.
Although we are a fantasy game, we have a pretty unique setting. The fantasy in Spellborn is rooted in natural occurrences and physics more than magic. Though the Deadspell Storm is believed to have been created by long lost magic, it looks and feels more as if the elements have gone awry.
The visual appearance of magic in the game is often elemental, using rocks, fire and lightning, but there are many exceptions and the following would fall somewhere in-between. It’s something I hadn’t seen yet in the game and figured could be cool. The material which makes shard ships float could also be used to make other things stay in the air:
We’re working very hard to get things like these in all the levels and it’s an advantage of having been given a bit more time. The five unique High Houses, found on parliament are such a thing. The world has certainly become more organic and lively over the past few months.
Finally there are the three mills, belonging to three brothers of a rich family. Those mills have been depicted in the screenshots before. In the old map they overlooked a spacious area, lumbering over it like frozen guards. The image was very impressive. Still, I figured, from a gameplay perspective, it would be more fun to create a unique area around each of them. This also gave the sound designer (whom I know intimately) a chance to use something else than crickets for once ; )