The Value of a Good Door

0.6 is nearly finished. There’s very little left to do – I need to finish off the changes I want to make to market districts (shouldn’t take more than a day, or two at the outside) and then it’s onto bug fixes, glitches, edge cases, etc. Every city district except docks will be open for visiting this release – I’m leaving docks until we have NPCs and ships going around the world so that I can implement it all in one go. Equally, things like generating memorial statues and so on are going to be left for a little bit. For 0.6 there’s quite a lot of small bugs that do need fixing, however, so given the volume of remaining work required – and the fact that for a lot of this month I still need to finish off my doctorate and present at two conferences, one of which is the ProcJam in London – I think a release around the middle/end of November is realistic, with the 0.7 release after that aimed at a much smaller timescale (two months instead of seven, say?). A lot of these bugs are minor fixes, but a few – a particularly stubborn issue with road generation, some strangeness involving territorial expansion, towns not generating properly 100% of the time when they’re at the “end” of a road, etc – may take a little longer to divine the causes of.

Anyway, this week I’ve finished off the remaining procedural graphics for 0.6, which basically means doors. This took me about two days of graphical design. There’s now over two dozen different designs for doors when you look them up – the rest of this brief entry is four different screenshots. Two are from feudal cities, one from a polar hunter-gatherer settlement, and one from a graveyard. Some buildings share the same door patterns, though most are distinct and varied. I’ve also put some finishing touches to city centers, fixed a couple of the easier bugs and some typos, written up a new guidebook entry on “Buildings” for this release, and also done a lot of lore writing/planning which will begin to slowly seep into the game in the coming few releases. Additionally this week I’ve been submitting a vast number of abstracts to game studies conferences in the coming year, so that’s taken up a fair helping of my time too. Without further ado, here’s the four screenshots – hope you like ’em, and see you next week.

Door2

Door1

Door1

Door3

City Centres Part II: The Drastic Improvement

Y’know, looking at city centres now, I’m almost embarrassed by how plain and downright uninteresting they looked last week. Nevertheless, I suppose this serves as a good indication of how much can be done with a week of time, some thought, and some excellent suggestions from my fans (even if a lot of that week was spent house-hunting and a wide range of exciting vaccinations). So, here’s how centres currently look. Those that have a cathedral (a Vatican-esque building, only one exists for each religion, in the home civilization of that religion, and if the religion is a theocracy, then the civilization is ruled from there) look like this:

NewS

…whilst those without a cathedral look something like this (the core “wall”/structure is the same shape, you will note, as the corner towers and the gatehouses in each district, which is different for each civ):

NewS

There’s a range of buildings here, and each of them I tried to make look visually distinct in order to both add variety, but also add in identification when you may encounter a number of these potentially quite large structures exploring a city centre.

Embassies

City centres contain a few embassies to other civilizations. These are the only buildings with walls around them – I reasoned other civs would want to have some sense of security for their footholds abroad. They also have a pair of flags outside (the white symbols) which will show you what nation that embassy belongs to. I also decided it would be interesting if they used the brick style/colour of that nation, not the nation of the city centre – as you can see in these pictures, this combination and the flags make embassies very easy to identify. At the same time, I had to make sure there were never too many in any one city, so you can’t learn about too many other civilizations at once. There will never be more than three embassies in a city centre, and two is around the average. They also have their own gates leading into the embassy grounds.

Courts

For courts, I found myself thinking about the shape of courts in the real world, and I came across the Star Chamber (mentioned in the Baroque Cycle, a secondary inspiration for the game). From these I decided to have courts roughly follow variations on the shape of a star, some more circular than others, some more pointed than others (though truly circular buildings are generally arenas in lower-class districts). In the first picture the court is the second building in the last column, and in the second picture it is the top-left-most building. These only appear in civs with certain justice policies, and they may be hubs for information like the wanted level of certain NPCs, bounties, and might play a role in any future legal systems that the player can fall foul of.

Guilds

I’ve added guilds. Currently these are mercenary guilds, from which you’ll be able to acquire the most expensive and best allies (vs taverns, slave markets, etc). Fancy recruiting from the Legion of the Black Flame or the Chapter of the Bloody Fist? For these I drew inspiration from real-world guild halls which often consist of several buildings over several layers (there are many where I live in York) – guild halls are thus buildings with many “layers”, and you can see one in the top-left of the first picture, and the second across on the top row in the second picture.

Slave Markets

These will crop up (as you might expect) in slaving civs – they will be closer to the open-air markets in nomadic fortresses than the enclosed shops that predominate in feudal nations. There aren’t any visible here, but they consist of a small number of thick, straight lines, with clear “market areas” at their intersections where you’ll find vendors in 0.8. Where guilds offer skilled and well-trained allies, slave markets will generally offer somewhat less competent allies, but cheap… though that’s not to say some skilled allies might not have been trapped into slavery here and there.

Galleries

Art galleries. These are generally either an L shape (start of third row in picture 2) or a U shape (third down in third column in picture 1). These are similar-ish shapes to stables, but you’ll never find a stable and a gallery in the same district (and galleries, like most other buildings, have signs outside to denote their function). They are going to contain paintings. These are going to be awesome.

Memorials

Several people suggested these, and it fits in very well with the future history-changing mechanics. These were inspired some of the larger real-world memorials which are more like something you walk around, though these also have a “statue” in the middle which will be related to a historical event. In the top picture you can see one third in the top row, and in the second picture one is third on the bottom row. Statue generation will not be fully present in this version, in the interests of actually getting it released before the end of November.

Mints

All city centres have a mint for the bank of that nation – these are similar to banks in that they are built around “blocks” and a square-zigzag pattern. The bottom-right in the first picture and the bottom-right in the second picture give some examples.

Parliaments

NewSFor those nations with a democratic preference, they are ruled from Parliaments. They’re based primarily on the UK Parliament building, and have “corrugated” walls, and often clock/bell towers and multiple entrances. Here’s an example from another city on the left. Like many buildings in city centres I would think Parliaments will have some guards patrolling outside them, and might have vaults underneath containing something. This is around a fifth of all civilizations, so parliament buildings are relatively rare buildings to crop up in city centres. Parliaments, like Mints, take up two “blocks” of a city centre, whereas all the other buildings listed here only take up a single block. There are also gardens and lakes around most city centres too, though those particularly packed with buildings may have little room for the greener things in life.

Wonders of the World

There will also be fifteen super-special buildings, approximately one in each city. In a few worlds one or two might not generate, or one or two cities might be without a wonder. These will be buildings that are sometimes in the centre, sometimes elsewhere, which are special and unique (the Panopticon in a previous post) and are to do with the story. More on these as and when.

IN SUMMARY

City centres are now actually interesting to walk around. I need to work on flag generation, but that should be a pretty snappy task. Otherwise they’re pretty much finished. Hopefully next week (or at worst, the week after) I should be able to unveil an image of a complete city, which should look bloody amazing.

A final note. Development is now about… 80% of my activity? I’m not really full-timing it yet, but I’m not far off. There isn’t much more doctorate that needs doing, most of my time is spent waiting for feedback and then sending in more edits. Moving house is, as things always do, proving trickier than expected, but we’re still hoping to move in November. Lincoln (where we’re moving to) seems to be a town inundated with flats with low ceilings, and for someone of my elevation, that is sadly not workable, not to mention that almost every flat seems to come with damned tiny bedrooms. Development is going to stay rapid until then, though, so don’t think the fact I’m not full-timing yet doesn’t mean we aren’t back to weekly URRpdates (I remain oddly proud of that term), because we are!

(Lastly, yes, I do know I switch between the UK/US spellings of centre/center constantly in these entries. FORGIVE ME)

City Centres Part I

I’ve finished up Military districts – each part now has a wide range of variation in terms of how it appears, as well as where exactly on the map grid it actually appears. Some military districts contain features others do not, but all contain sufficient locations for two training NPCs to spawn – something we’ll get to once 0.8 is properly in the works. I’ve now begun work on City Centres.

I’ve been struggling with city centres. What you see in this entry is already the third iteration, and I’m not sure how much I like this one. There also isn’t much to show yet. This is partly because most of this week has been spent looking around flats and investigating a possible academic post that might be coming my way, and because much of what I’ve been doing is under-the-hood stuff. There are ten possible layouts for city centres, as aptly illustrated by this lovely MS Paint infographic:

City centres centers

I am sure you can see why each is named the way it is, and the number notes how many things may spawn in it (large buildings discussed in this paragraph count as 2). There’s a key difference between the last three designs – star, fat X, and cross – and the other seven. There are two types of building that are very large and need extra space in a city centre to spawn: these are religious cathedrals (the hub for each religion), and parliaments. Cathedrals only spawn in nations designated as the home nation for that belief, whilst parliaments only spawn in civs that have the Representation policy as their choice of leadership. In the first seven, the cathedral will spawn within the square – these can be of almost any shape and having this shape adjust the spawning of the rest of the district causes things to spiral into revolting complexity, so they are contained within this area and some interesting patterns of grass, road and fountains on the ground around. If there is a parliamentary building, meanwhile, it will cut across the other larger sections. However, if there is no religious building, the last three designs can be used, since these have no room for cathedrals.

City centres also contain other buildings – currently each contains a mint, a number of embassies for nearby nations, and at least one garden. However, I think this is a little sparse. Below is a very early example of how a city centre currently looks: this one contains a cathedral in the centre and various buildings around it (gardens do not yet spawn).

NewS

NewS

The Mint is the building in the bottom-left corner (after posting this entry I intend to change its design significantly, but I always want to upload at the weekend, so it is staying that way for now since I don’t have time to add new designs and upload this in time) and the rest are embassies. However, I want fewer embassies – we must maintain some mystery! – and more other buildings, but I’m not really sure WHAT. There are a small number of unique structures that can generate within city centres which I’m not going to give too much away on right now, but I need more. I’m happy for the overall structure to be very careful and regulated like in the above example, but more variety is clearly needed. I considered libraries/universities, but having so many books in the same location would damage the game balance of how I want books to work. So, bearing in mind that gardens are not yet present, nor the other thing unique to each centre, I still think they need more variety, but I’m not really sure what else could be included – thoughts? I never finish or release anything until I’m entirely happy with it, and centres are definitely lacking some interest at the moment, and this needs fixing. Throw me your ideas!

Edit for clarification: monarchic and stratocratic rulers rule from the city castle; theocratic rulers from the cathedral; representation leaders from the parliamentary building.

Military Districts

Until today three districts remained without generators: docks, military districts, and city centers. I knew how I wanted the centers to generate but hadn’t worked on them yet, whilst docks I’m leaving until I actually implement ships and naval travel, but military districts needed to be done this releae and were proving very challenging. I didn’t just want to have huge regions of endless barracks – I wanted something much more varied – but at the same time I wanted to try to only add things that would have gameplay valuable if/when you gained access to a military district. I’ve settled on a middle-ground between the two – some areas are just for decorative purposes and to make the world feel consistent, coherent and real (akin to farms, for example), whilst other parts have clear gameplay goals, will contain important NPCs, etc.

So, military districts (like upper-class housing districts) are split into four parts. Each of these has a number of features which slot together in a fairly complex manner, and in a range of different orientations. These can be: Barracks, Parade Grounds, Archery Ranges, Siege Weapons, Armouries, Officer Quarters, Hospitals, and Stables. These combine in a range of different permutations to produce military districts. Each military district is also guaranteed to include two special combat NPCs – these may be able to raise a stat, or train you to use some of the more complex moves for a weapon. More on this in a few versions time when we’re doing weapons and combat. Here’s a labelled example:

NewS

Archery Ranges and Siege Weapons are self-explanatory, and (currently) for decoration only (you can’t raise stats by using the ranges or anything like that). All the others, however, will have gameplay use. Barracks contain troops, their beds, possessions, etc, and therefore may contain important NPCs. Parade Grounds are self-explanatory, and once we have NPCs in two versions time, you may be able to see soldiers marching around there in times of peace, or actively drilling in times of war (not sure how much variation it’s worth thinking about here). Armouries are most certainly not decoration and will contain huge numbers of weapons if you can gain access to them, but will be well-guarded. Officer Quarters will contain high-ranking military officials, and possibly some expensive items too. Hospitals will contain a range of healing items and those able/willing to heal you for a price (or if you are a close ally of the civilization), and Stables, funnily enough, will contain lots of horses (though I am still working out how exactly riding is going to integrate with the rest of the game). There will also presumably be patrols moving around the outside ring road of the district in the future.

I tried hard to make each building recognizable by shape, which is something I’ve already been putting a lot of emphasis on with the different kinds of special building that spawn in housing districts (banks, theaters, arenas, etc). In this case stables are all right-angled shapes, barracks are a 9×7 grid, hospitals are more uneven, organic-looking lines and branches of building, officers quarters are a loop than encloses an area within it (or sometimes two areas), armouries are either octagonal or a number of octagons with a large gate at the front, while catapults and archery targets have distinct characters by which they can be recognized. The circular buildings – there is one in the top-left near the central fort, and one within a loop of road in the bottom-right – are the buildings that house training NPCs.

However, military districts have two restrictions on your entry – they are expensive to enter, and you must be very friendly with the civilization in order to gain access (or be playing as the player class which allows you to try sneaking into districts, though I am still figuring out the exact mechanics there). Starting in a civilization with a military district will therefore be a significant early-game boost, though I will try to balance this by giving significant value to non-militaristic civilizations too. I’m currently working on the lookup images for these new items. We already have archery targets:

Target

And I’ll get siege weapons done soon enough. Along with city centers and upper-class housing districts, I want entering military districts to be a significant investment that makes you think about whether it’s worth it for what you may find inside. However, these – along with markets – will be arguably the most valuable districts to explore, although market districts are deliberately free to enter. If you’re low on money you can always check out a market district (assuming you can get to it within the city), but you’ll have to think harder about entering those other districts. So, all that remains to be done here is siege weapon lookup images which I’ll probably draw this week, and then as everything else we need some appropriate door graphics, but otherwise they’re done for this release. Once I’ve got them finished off I’ll be working on city centers, at long last. I’m anticipating a 0.6 release somewhere around mid November, which is also when I hope to finally start my full-time development year. In the real world I’m currently house-hunting (at last!) and hoping to move at the start of November, and once I am settled in the new place, that’s when the full-time year starts. Updates as and when…

Upper-Class Housing, Banks, and the Panopticon

Upper-Class Housing

This week’s main project has been on upper-class housing. There will only be one of these districts in each city and will contain three manors for the most important families in that civilization (including your family); a number of smaller manors for the “second tier” of wealthiest family within that nation; then a range of large houses (larger than what any other district offers) for other wealthy families but ones who cannot quite afford one of these ostentatious manors. In this version you will begin the game in the courtyard of the manor for your family, whilst in other versions once the early-game story introduction is in place, you’ll spawn within the manor (though once you know what the introduction is, you will naturally be able to leave right away and begin the game).

TerrainTest

For the sake of interest I also put together an image to show the four different levels of housing. Note that this is four screenshots stitched together – hence why the roads do not match up between districts – but remains nicely illustrative of the four different levels. I’m very pleased with the kind of variation between upper class/middle class/lower class/slums and can’t wait until the point where I can put together an entire image of a city in all its glory. Markets as discussed before are finished, recreational and medical districts are being removed (and absorbed into others), and my next district is probably going to be military districts, though that requires quite a bit of thought first about what exactly I want spawning there.

Trend

Banks and Currencies

For the most part currencies are scheduled for a few releases hence (at least the generation of their images, exchange rates, etc), but since I came up with an interesting idea for banks on the strategic level of the game, I realized I need to implement at least the names of the currencies now even if their full realization would have to wait. As in the real world, the overwhelming majority of coins are metallic, though there are a very small number made from rather more unusual materials that you may come across (no more than one or two per game). Each currency is termed according to the material of its construction and the image that will be on the coin – you might encounter civilizations that deal in Golden Stags, Silver Wolves, Steel Fires, Bronze Axes, Copper Dragons, etc. Some also break down into lesser denominations like shillings, pence, cents, etc (a quick Google for a large number of these terms proved incredibly helpful).

Now, each civilization (Feudals only) will have a central bank with branches in some of its middle-class districts. I wasn’t sure at first what role these could play, but I had an interesting idea for the strategy layer of the game. As I’ve talked about before, the strategy layer of the game will involve navigating the world map in a range of difference ways. Different terrain types and elevations will take different periods of time to go across; some nations will be friendly, some hostile, some unknown; whilst mountains can only be crossed with a mountain pass, deserts with a caravan, and the ocean by finding a trade route and someone willing to accept you onto their ship. One other aspect of this layer is money – different districts will cost different amounts to enter, some exchange rates will/won’t be in your favour, and as you move around the world, you’ll quickly leave your home civilization far behind. Thus, once the strategy layer is implemented you will be able to invest your money into the bank in any civilization you pass through, and interest will accrue, but only in increments of one month and can only be collected if you pass back through that civilization again. The one-month requirement prevents farming (there is no way you can wait around a full month!) whilst it will raise another interesting strategic decision. Do I leave some money here on the assumption I’ll come back later to collect it? How much currency do I think I’ll need on my journeys before I next return to this city? Etc. It’s just a small aspect, but banks now spawn in middle-class districts, ready to receive future customers.

Special Buildings

Some more work on special buildings. There are going to be roughly twenty-five in total, and whilst they will not all spawn every game, a decent number of them will; they will then be distributed through-out the world’s cities. This means not every city is going to have one, but most cities will, and these special buildings will be especially prominent in world histories. Some will relate to the core quest, some will relate to other things, and they’ll generally add a little more variety. They will also allow me to further explore some of the sociological themes I want to get at in the game, so below is a screenshot of the player walking around the outside of the Panopticon prison (which this time happened to spawn in a near-polar nation):

PanopNext week, I can safely predict (for once) I’ll be talking about nomadic fortresses as I’ve been working on those the past couple of days. They’re starting to come together and have also helped me come to some conclusions about the role of military districts in cities, certain things to do with weapons (coming a few releases hence), and also to think through some other things about the strategy layer I’ll share next time. Until then, hope you enjoy the Ominous White Pentagon and the city districts, and let me know what you think.