The time has finally come to work on 0.5. As much as I enjoyed working on 0.4, this is the release I’ve been really looking forward to, and the one where imagination can really go wild in terms of flags, histories, civilizations, rulers, wars, and all the detail that goes with them. Why was one king known as “The Red?” Why was another civilization persuaded to go war with its oldest and closest ally? Who first began to worship Muulnaroth? Who founded the Cult of Sand? This is the kind of stuff a fully-developed and fleshed-out “epic” world should contain, and it’s great to be able to work on it now and put some serious time into the social, rather than natural, side of the in-game world-building.
The first stage of this has come in the form of flags. Currently there is only form of flag viable in the world, which you’ll have seen in the current release. They are all modeled – though some are a little more exotic than others – on real-world flags, predominantly European ones, though some resemble eastern/central Asian flags too. I thought about having some flags akin to many modern African flags – with distinct items and the like emblazoned on them – but the resolution of the flags prevented that. However, this was a blessing in disguise, since it lets me use more “symbolic” flags in other situations.
Civilizations are now being split into three categories with significant gameplay variation between the three. I’ll talk more about this in a later entry, but the three categories are “Feudal“, “Nomadic“, and “Hunter-Gatherer“. Nomadic societies will be generated in deserts and upon plateaus and plains; hunter-gatherer societies will be generated in tundra regions, and possibly in tropics too; feudal societies will generate everywhere else. All societies will avoid colonizing polar regions, whilst feudal societies will be reluctant to attempt too much conquest in deserts, jungles or tundra, though they will if pressed, and will certainly be willing to start up trade links. Equally, certain rulers who are particularly keen on imperialism may seek to conquer these not for any pragmatic or practical gain – territory, resources, whatever – but simply because they are there. Our own history is replete with wars fought for such foolish and quintessentially human reasons, and it seems like this is something that should be reflected.
So, I decided to revisit the symbolic idea. It wouldn’t really make any sense for nomadic or hunter-gatherer societies to have the same kinds of flags as their more stationary castle-building cousins, so they needed a different type of flag. I did a lot of research into the flags of various non-European societies from the past, or the symbols, sigils or whatever other terms were used, and eventually decided on two different aesthetic styles.
For the nomadic flags I decided on two components – a border and a symbol. The borders pick from a variety of ten, all of which are basically either a single line or a pair of lines, but that vary a little in size and shape. For the symbols I decided I wanted to focus on ones that were either dramatic, military, or more generally “symbolic”. A very different kind of symbol is used for the hunter-gatherer societies, as you’ll see below, but for these I wanted a particular kind of look. These are generally more militaristic societies than the hunter-gatherer ones, more concerned by trade and “statesmanship”, but that need to put forward a strong external image. Many of the symbols fit this bill – maybe a hand, or a fist, or a fire, or a sun, or some swords or other weapons, or an anvil, and the like. Many of the nomadic societies we (in the west) are most familiar with are those from central Asia. Much of my inspiration for these flags came from both contemporary and older flags from central Asia and the eastern-most parts of Europe and seeing the kinds of symbols they would place upon flags. Some – like sickles – were just damned impossible to actually depict within the limitations, but most of the others along with a large number I also came up with myself came out very nicely. Whilst implementing such symbols into full flags in a small version would have been near impossible without an entire database of custom tiles and symbols for it, when the basis of the flag is a symbol which takes up the majority of the square, I think they work quite nicely.
The hunter-gatherer flags, on the other hand, I wanted to be simpler and to contain symbols directly relevant to nature or survival – the kinds of symbols one might imagine a “clan” adopting, but not perhaps a “nation” – and to only have two colours, the foreground and the background. The symbols in this case fall into two categories – the majority of the symbols are animals, though a few represent more abstract things like a field of stars, or a human, or a simple building. There are currently twenty-eight designs of each type – given that each world is unlikely to have more than half a dozen nomadic or hunter-gatherer civilizations generated, it’ll be a while until any player has seen the full selection (especially if/when I add more to the database). There’s also variation in the colour scheme used by either type of flag. Feudal flags select either a pair or a trio of colours from a large set (as long as that trio has not already been used); nomadic flags select one from ten different presets of colours that look suitable together; hunter-gatherer flags have a selection of dark colours to choose from, three very pale colours (which are basically variations on “white”), and then 50% are inverted so some have light backgrounds and some have dark.
Hopefully the variation will do several things. Firstly, and most obviously, it should just contribute to a more varied and more believable world. Not all civilizations in history have flags (or symbols, sigils, whatever) akin to those of Europe, and this should help in that regard. Secondly it will mean you can immediately identify the type of civilization you’ve encountered from its flag, even if you know nothing else about it. Seeing someone with a shield marked by a particular symbol, or catching a glimpse of part of an army travelling with a banner will be able to give you at least some information about their civilization, and – given that different types of civilization are restricted to different biomes – have some idea of where that civilization might hail from. Thirdly it’s just another aspect of civilizations that differ according to their basic phenotype (though more on this in another entry) and reinforce the differences between the different sorts. Next week I’ll likely be talking about the early stages of city, road and town generation, and showing off some snazzy new screenshots of how the world map for 0.5 is currently looking.