Minimalistic building
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Alayla



Joined: 11 May 2005
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Location: Prague

PostPosted: Sun Jun 12, 2005 7:09 pm    Post subject: Minimalistic building Reply with quote

How much - or how little - does one need to create distinct areas with enough atmosphere?

This is something I have been faced with recently. In traditional building, where you have several types of descriptions for rooms, mobs and items, the limit is only one's imagination and writing skills. But what if you didn't have these? Is it possible to still create worthwhile, unique areas?

As some of you may know, Godwars II relies a lot on generated content. The dungeons (or lairs) in particular are rogue-like, randomly generated areas. Although in the future there will be more ways to make them different from one another, such as traps and special encounters, right now the only difference is the selection of mobs that populate a dungeon. The mobs only have a short description and a few special messages/behaviour flags, as well as stats and tactics. While this is a temporary situation in many respects, it got me thinking whether it is possible to create areas with atmosphere using such limited description options.

What is your take on this? I know rogue-likes can do this rather successfully, but it sure is a far cry from building as we usually know it. Is thinking out of the box all it takes?


Last edited by Alayla on Tue Jun 14, 2005 1:51 am; edited 1 time in total
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Ashon



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2005 1:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sure, real easy. Change the Name of the Longsword to Katana, the Goblin to Tengu, and the Leather Armor to Kabuto, and you're already well on your way to making a Japanese themed area.

I've thought oft times about doing Thematic Rules for my content generation (Building). But I've never really sat down and figured out what they should be.
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Molly O'Hara



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2005 8:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is a hard question to come up with any answers too, because it's so far from everything that we normally think of as building.
I guess that is the main reason why I am not very enthusiastic about code generated descs - they seem to have as one of their goals to get rid of - or at least minimise - the need for builders. I also think that what you are touching in this question is another of the major drawbacks. The code generated descs can generate useful info about the present situation of your character, they can be coded to always come out grammatically correct, they sure look a lot better than some terrible zones I've seen done in Twink Muds by unskilled and/or lazy builders, and they are probably really useful if you need to flesh out really large grids very fast and want them at least somewhat varied. (For instance they would work very well in in new muds under development and in pure PK muds).

But how do you generate atmosphere with them? That's a tough order.

Ashon mentioned describing mobs and objects following a set theme.
I'd like to elaborate on that.

The vegetation, assuming this is displayed as objects separated from the rest of the environment, can tell its own story. Whether the grass is just grazed down to the roots, or the ground is covered in guano, or the tree trunks are scarred by clawmarks, or big trees have been uprooted, or something really HUGE has been nibbling at the treetops, it all gives a hint on what kind of wildlife you are likely to encounter. The absolute absence of any conceivable wildlife, like birds and small game, tells a kind of story too. And if everything around a cave entrance is charred and scorched by fire, chances are there could be a dragon inside... (You have to make sure that this cannot conflict with ANY of the code generated descs however. Might be a problem there).

'Trash' can tell a lot about an environment too. The rests of someones meal - whether it is the pityful bones of the last traveller who ventured into the zone, or just a greasy newspaper that used to contain fish-and-chips - it would set some sort of theme. Newspapers, scrolls, ancient tomes, faded warning signs or just crumpled letters and discarded notes can be useful for other things too, to tell stories, or scraps of stories, which the players will have to piece together into some sort of context themselves. (This is a trick I use quite a bit in my own zones, as foundation for quests).

Then of course you can use sounds and smells. These can be simulated by zone- or room-based scripts, which probably can be made quite suggestive. With as many variation as possible within a set theme, and a low random chance to trigger, ir would be possible to keep them from becoming too repetitive. These messages too have to correspond with the room descs of course.

I assume KaVir's system is based on type of terrain (what we call 'sector'), weather, time of day and possibly season and the scripts could be set to check for the same things too. And perhaps you could define a part of the grid with some borders, possibly a moat or a fence or wall with a gate in it, name it something like 'The Realms of Lord Hatworth' and then base all items, mobs and smell and sound scripts in that enclosed area on some background story that you make up about Lord Hatworth, the hag-ridden, retired crusader, who got betrayed by his wife and best friend while away, and now hates all women - or whatever you can think of...

I bet it will be a lot harder to create that atmosphere than with traditional building. But then again, you can't have it all...
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Scandum



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think you would follow the same concept Red Alert uses.

The ability to place things on the map you find worth putting there, a well, a house, a shop, an apple tree, a city wall, a gate, you name it. A basic hashing concept can be used to seperate default rooms from custom rooms.

This would require some coding work, but would result in a more realistic world than the vague fluffy over-rated text descriptions, dynamically generated or not.
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Lindahl



Joined: 29 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 6:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's no reason you can't offer both. Check to see if the description text (all of them, for consistency) are specified, if so, use the builder's descriptions, if not use the generated descriptions. Doesn't prevent spelling mistakes or any of that, but it'll give builders a chance to build first and then describe later, as they want, allowing them to put more time into the details that are important. You could allow them to insert sentences between generated descriptions. Lots of possibilities.
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Ashon



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 6:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Molly O'Hara wrote:

But how do you generate atmosphere with them? That's a tough order.


If you wanted to spend the time you could create a library of thematic adjectives, and when a zone or room, or whatever, becomes or is of that certain theme, it would update the adjectives in the description. A system like this would be quite similiar to say one of the more standard weather day/night systems.

Of course, extension and expansion of the system is crucial in any Code Generated Description. The obvious step would be to make the zone's adjective modifiers: Dank, Goblin Inhabited. And it would build the descriptions using both the Dank library, and Goblin Inhabited Library.
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Sandi



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 7:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The little taste I've had of GW II gives the impression that typing "look" to orient yourself is a DIKU habit that will fade...

Don't worry about the descs, I don't think they're as big a part of the environment as they are on a static MUD. I'd try using "ambience mesages" to fill in the blanks and give a feeling of local atmosphere. It's more in keeping with the "real-time" flavor of KaVir's design.
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Alayla



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

With a few exceptions, most replies here suggest ways to add more descriptions, but that was not really my point. I'm not looking for a solution to a specific problem, but rather musing about a broader issue it raises - hence the name of the thread, minimalistic building.

I've recently spent a few days playing ADOM, which is a rogue-like, and I found it interesting how little is needed to stimulate a player's imagination. It is a different way of building, for sure, but maybe there is a lesson in efficiency to be learnt, even for muds that use standard description systems? Can less be sometimes more? When does it become too little?

Edit: And also, if it's not detailed descriptions that create atmosphere, what is the magic ingredient?
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Maraz



Joined: 18 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Can less be sometimes more?


I think that having quite short room descriptions if well written could indeed create a better effect than long descriptions. So I'd have to say yes to that. Less can definately be more. If the descriptions are short people are more likely to read them. Also adding detail doesn't necessarily increase atmosphere.

Infact I think you could probably use the theory of marginal returns to work out how much something adds to atmosphere. For those who aren't familiar with the concept of marginal returns the theory in this case would be that to begin with every item/mob/line of description etc. that you add to a room creates a certain amount more "atmosphere" but the amount it adds becomes increasingly less. The third line of description will add more than a forth line would etc. So Expanding a room by 1 line from 1 to 2 would could be a big increase whereas expanding from 10 to 11 would be a very small increase. I'm thinking of it in terms of lines and atmosphere but a better way to think of it might be input and output. Input being what's there and output being the effect this has on the player's experience (immersion?).

At a certain point it would be possible that adding more would detract from the atmosphere.

Whereas the aim of builders would usually be to create the greatest possible quality regardless of the marginal returns (ie. even if only one person in 100 apreciated an extra description of an object, or found a secret room this would be worth it; or infact some builders might consider it necessary even if no-one apreciated it), a minimalist aproach might focus on trying to create the most efficient system. So they would stop at the point when adding extra detail wouldn't give a worthwhile return.

A minimalist aproach could certainly be useful when building large areas. However I don't think that minimalist building would be as rewarding for the builder.

I'm not really sure if what I've written is answering your question - I'm not even sure if it makes sense - so apologies in advance.
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Alayla



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maraz wrote:
I'm not really sure if what I've written is answering your question - I'm not even sure if it makes sense - so apologies in advance.


I'm looking for opinions, rather than an answer. Smile
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Cornelius



Joined: 13 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alayla wrote:
And also, if it's not detailed descriptions that create atmosphere, what is the magic ingredient?

Player (not builder) imagination is the deciding factor here I think, which is both good and bad news. Good in the sense that if you have an imaginative player perusing your zone, you can get away with a minimalist approach, bad in the sense that it requires trusting your players to have such attributes- which is often hard to do for a designer. As a builder I am sure you have a rather active imagination, especially to become so stimulated by a rogue-like, do you trust your players to behave similarly?

But as far as making areas feel distinct with only the availability (and placement?) of pre-described content, I can only recommend having a lot of hard coded variety and very many options for the builder on how to control that variety.

For randomly generated zones
Be able to choose the average width and length of hallways- to entice claustrophobia; the placement density of antechambers and the location density of columns within those antechambers- to present a sense of grandeur; the proximity limits of light sources- for that dark and mysterious feeling; the appearance of mazes and dead ends- for paranoia; whether windows are barred, doors blocked by gates, wood or riveted steel- for dungeonesque motifs. etc...

For randomly generated roomdescs
You should be able to define the type of material used in flooring, ceiling, and walls; choose a level of decay, a library of symbols, motifs, architecture style; the presence of extraneous material- i.e. rocks, bushes, skulls, coffins, spent arrows, water leaks, bloodstains, mists, etc

You get the picture- also, being able to design certain 'set-pieces' that may or may not be used in any zone incarnation would be fun I think- especially if they were integrated into a quest. Perhaps the quest would either exist or not on occasion or maybe it even changes zones- and taking a bead from another thread when it changes from the egyptian themed dungeon to the asian palace themed one the 'sceptor of ra' could become the 'rod of confucious' Smile

This is all I am sure in line with the design tools that Blizzard used in creating Diablo- and just like they could create the different feel of the church, dungeon, catacombs, cavern, and hell levels- I think it would work with any type of theme given the correct variety of options to account for it.

-also as I beleive someone else mentioned changing the movement messages and zone echoes to reflect the type of zone would be very effective. Nothing would creep me out more than exploring a new zone that constantly echoed "a blood curdling scream emanates from deep in the mine" or "you sense a large ominous shadow quickly pass over you from behind, then it is gone...", etc. of course once I have gone through this zone a few times such echoes would become annoying but the first time through- trembling with anticipation on what the crafty builder has hidden behind the next turn... yeh, it would freak me out- but then I, like you, have a rather active imagination...


Last edited by Cornelius on Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:46 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Ashon



Joined: 11 May 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alayla wrote:
It is a different way of building, for sure, but maybe there is a lesson in efficiency to be learnt, even for muds that use standard description systems? Can less be sometimes more? When does it become too little?

Edit: And also, if it's not detailed descriptions that create atmosphere, what is the magic ingredient?


Zork created a great atmosphere with: It's Dark, you may be eaten by a Grue.

Descriptions are a big part of the the thematic feel to the zone, but if you want to take that further, using senses really adds to the atmospere in the zone.
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Alayla



Joined: 11 May 2005
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Location: Prague

PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cornelius wrote:
Nothing would creep me out more than exploring a new zone that constantly echoed "a blood curdling scream emanates from deep in the mine" or "you sense a large ominous shadow quickly pass over you from behind, then it is gone...", etc.


<tangent>
The creepiest messages of this kind that I've ever seen anywhere were in fact not "related" to the area or anything in it. There's an area on a mud I used to play, that echoes things like (quote may not be exact):

Now, that wasn't a very nice thing to do to your brother, was it?

That really hits the subconscious. Super creepy.
</tangent>
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Molly O'Hara



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2005 1:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Room messages, however creepy, can easily get spammy or repetitive.

Luckily it's pretty easy to check if the player is visiting the zone for the first or the umptiforth time, and adapt the message to that. It also helps if there is a really large variation of phrases to choose from. Since the room descs are code generated, most likely the listen or smell messages could be too, based on the zone and whatever variables you write for them.

But preferably these messages should not be automated, they should be triggered by a conscious action of the player.

You type LISTEN and get a creepy message in return, ideally one of about 500 differet
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Sandi



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PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2005 5:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Molly O'Hara wrote:
But preferably these messages should not be automated, they should be triggered by a conscious action of the player.

Molly, I'm curious as to why you say the messages should not be automated. If I could only hear things when I typed a command, I'd expect the command to be called "unplug". Smile Seems to me, to be distracted by a sound or a smell adds to the realism of the environment.

Quote:
You type LISTEN and get a creepy message in return, ideally one of about 500 different

*grin* You know, there are some good sized areas that don't have 500 lines of description!
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