Slywood: Story of Design
Feature article by: Matthew Florianz
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.
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.
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.
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. ; )
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.
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.
Developed by Spellborn International, The Chronicles of Spellborn will introduce gameplay that challenges MMO gaming conventions. No longer will back stories be irrelevant, players will move back and forth in time to experience the storyline. The Spellborn team has thrown out the old "auto lock" MMO attack system. Players will actively maneuver and aim in combat while they manipulate a "skill deck" that allows them to string together hundreds of different possible attack combinations. Also, armour and weapons do NOT affect combat so players can dress exactly how they like from the very start. Finally, the successes and failures of every player from the lowest to the highest levels will determine the fate of their House and the rest of the world.
Players selected to participate in the closed beta will be the first ones to experience this new model in MMO gaming. They will assist the developers in testing gameplay and provide feedback directly to the developers. The closed beta test began with a limited number of applicants. More beta testers will be added periodically over the next few months. In early 2006, the Spellborn International team plans to hold a large-scale open/stress beta test.
What differentiates ‘The Chronicles of Spellborn’ from other MMORPG?
- Dress to impress: From day 1 you will be able to look cool by choosing and changing clothes, armors, weapons, skills.
- Influencing the world with your actions: This ranges from lifelike statues of your character in Quarterstone to unlocking and owning new parts of the worlds through questing, politics and conquest.
- ‘Join and play’, you don’t have to walk whole marathons before the fun starts.
- ‘The Chronicles of Spellborn’ combat system based on skill decks. You will be able to create your own individual fighting style.
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