Tabula Rasa - Magma Caverns - Michael Hutchison
NCsoft has been kind enough to supply us with a pair of developer diaries discussing the rework of Magma Caverns. In this first diary, Lead World Designer Michael Hutchison gives us his take.
The rework of Magma Caverns was undertaken as part of our team’s efforts to make each area of the game as consistent as possible with the other areas of the game. We’re always looking at ways to make the players’ entire experience in Tabula Rasa feel as polished as possible, and to improve upon areas that might not hold up as well as others. With Magma Caverns, we felt we had a really great opportunity to make dramatic improvements to map flow, mission design, visual interest, and overall quality of presentation. I am here to talk about my perspective on what Magma Caverns was and what it will be, with Deployment 8, coming up soon.
As we considered the area more, we got excited by some new ideas, and the prospects of making some notable improvements to the map and its missions for the players. We were motivated by a few main concerns, which guided our criteria for the re-work. Among them: that the instance should offer more level-appropriate content, that it should have a tone in keeping with the storyline, that its conclusion should be more satisfying, and that the visual points of interest should be highlighted in more dramatic ways. The layout of the previous version of Magma Caverns didn’t allow for a direct flow through the space, in keeping with the sequence of events in the missions. In fact, it was even possible to miss entire sections of the map depending on the path you took within the instance. So, the map just wasn’t being fully utilized. Of course, changing this was important so that no player would feel cheated out of content and visuals. Plus, as developers, we just want to make sure players get to see all of the things that we spend so much time creating! All of this prompted us to look at how the map was built from the ground up, and identify ways to drive players to each area of the map regardless of the choices they made, while also eliminating any backtracking. Essentially, we ended up giving Magma Caverns a complete overhaul. In looking at the world design of the previous map, there were areas that I thought were very well done, some areas that I felt had greater potential, and some locations we felt needed to be added in order to support the story and backdrop of Torden Abyss. We added a new location called the “Arkhara Research Station,” which is an abandoned Brann research station that monitored the seismic and volcanic forces at the nearby “Agni’s Cauldron” caldera. We placed this new location at the entrance to the map, and it is there that the player will make the choice of whether to align himself with Penumbra or the Rebels. This choice will lead to one of two locations beyond: via teleporter to the Rebel Camp, or through an adjacent cavern to the Agni’s Cauldron point of interest. Either choice will send the player on a mission chain which will lead them on a path through the entirety of the Magma Caverns instance. Agni’s Cauldron is one area that was left virtually unchanged from the previous version of Magma Caverns, although players will now enter it from a new location which makes a stronger first impression. Agni’s Cauldron was a cool and unique area already; I simply added additional polish through some new visual effects and lighting, and tuned the sky a bit to make it feel like it is part of a much bigger environment above. In a remote corner of the previous map, there was a small, but well done location where some raintree seeds had been able to take root via some small holes in the cavern ceiling. This small grotto provided a contrasting glimpse of life in an otherwise hostile underground. I really liked this concept and wanted to expand it into a full blown point of interest and make it into one of the signature locations of Magma Caverns. And so was born the “Sakra Oasis,” where a caved-in cavern ceiling has allowed a grove of raintrees to enter from above. This creates a parallel to the Ruins of Tampeii area on the Torden Abyss shared map, where the same thing can be seen happening; so this was a nice way to tie the instance in with what the player already knows about the environment surrounding Abyss. Another place where I took a previous idea and expanded on it is at the Magmonix Grounds, where a Magmonix graveyard is caught in the middle of the struggle between the Rebels and Penumbra. The original map had a small cave, somewhat off the main path, which had some Magmonix remains tucked away inside. Again, I liked this concept and wanted to expand it into a larger, more unique, and fully realized location. So, I created a cave section off of the Magmonix Grounds to create the graveyard. Adding this location served a few purposes. First, it provided an area with more level ground, which, due to their size, works better for these creatures’ movements. It also makes engaging in combat with them easier, since the player has more space in which to move around. Having Magmonix in the map is important because they add more indigenous life to the Magma Caverns, therefore helping to present a more complete ecosystem. Lastly, just having the location there tells a story about Magmonix, how and where they live, and what they do when they die. It’s a small way to enrich the fictional backdrop of the game and its settings. All in all, we’re very satisfied by the work we did to improve this instance, and hope that those players who have seen the previous version will agree. For those who have not yet seen the Magma Caverns, I hope they’ll find its visuals unique, and its replay-ability exciting.