People say “home is where the heart is,” and while that’s true, it’s so much more than that. Home is where you spend your childhood, where you host and eat dinner with friends and relatives, where you play games, practice your trade or craft, and where you raise your family. Home is your safe haven. It’s where you keep your treasured keepsakes, favorite paintings, and your grandmother’s rocking chair. In short, your home is an extension of you. Unfortunately, most other MMOs forget that fact and either skip player housing altogether, or overlook the many mechanics that can be tied into player housing.
In this week’s design journal, we’re going to talk about player housing and architecture in Chronicles of Elyria and the many game mechanics they tie into. We’ll talk about when and where you can place your buildings, how buildings provide player-benefit, how buildings interact with their environment, and how the very flexible building system allows you to create just the right home (and other buildings) for you.
One of the first questions we get asked when we tell people there’s player housing in Chronicles of Elyria is whether we’ve got instanced or open-world housing. When we first thought about which system to use, we observed so many more advantages to open-world housing that it wasn’t much of a decision, really.
To begin with, in systems with instanced housing it’s common for players to use pre-existing, pre-placed homes. However, there are so many opportunities for customizing the exterior of the houses – the materials used, the landscaping, etc. – that we didn’t want to pass up that opportunity.
Another problem with instanced housing is there generally isn't a way to interact with the outside world while inside your house. We really wanted people to be able to move in and out of homes quickly and easily, without having to go into loading screens. This is true whether you’re coming out onto the balcony to rain arrows down on invaders in the streets below, or if you're an assassin sneaking into a window to assassinate a king.
Also, as Chronicles of Elyria sports a fully destructible environment, we didn’t want the destruction of one building to result in the destruction of many “instanced” homes that all mapped to a single physical building.
Finally, we use the same system of housing to build both homes, as well as shops, smithies, auction houses, and other forms of buildings. With an instanced system, you’d have to remember which instance you wanted when entering a building and use the button on the wall like an elevator. This way, you always know precisely where the blacksmith is on the map.
Now that we’ve established houses and other buildings take up physical space in the world, the next question we get asked is how big can buildings be?
The short answer is, it depends. The maximum size of a building is determined by the availability of resources, the type of terrain you’re building on, and what technology is available for construction. Initially, it may only be possible to build one or two story homes. However, with enough wealth, the right technology, and the right terrain, it’s possible to build massive castles or keeps with multiple floors, large wide open areas, dozens of rooms, courtyards, and other architectural features.
It’s even possible to build bridges between two adjacent homes in order to combine them into larger structures.
The next logical question is “where can I build?” It’s not uncommon for games to limit construction to within specialized housing regions. In Chronicles of Elyria, you can build buildings pretty much anywhere.
The world of Elyria is divided up into sections of land called parcels. These parcels are 64m x 64m and can be further divided up into zones. It’s possible, right from the get-go, to construct a building on any parcel of land or zone that you own or lease (with permission to build). As we’ll talk about in a future design journal, it’s even possible to construct buildings on land you don’t own. If you can defend your new structure for long enough (adverse possession), you may even take ownership of the land!
Aside from those restrictions, you can construct buildings pretty much anywhere in the world where the terrain is suitable. If there are obstructions in your way like trees or rocks, you can remove them via mining or logging.
In those rare instances where the land isn’t immediately suitable for construction, it’s sometimes possible to work around it. For example, if the land is uneven, it can be flattened by laying down a foundation. Building a foundation acts as a sort of terraforming, raising up the land where necessary to create a nice, flat space for construction.
In areas with shallow water such as bogs, beaches, etc. stilts can be used in order to raise the base of the building up out of the water.
It’s even possible to mount large platforms to the side of massive trees in order build light structures on top of the platforms. That’s right – tree houses!
As I mentioned at the beginning of the design journal, far too often MMORPGs take for granted all the great mechanics housing can be used for. So now that we’ve talked a bit about where you can build, let’s talk a bit more about why you’d want to build. Housing in Chronicles of Elyria is designed to address several different design mechanics including:
As discussed in previous design journals, Elyria is a dangerous place and players have a powerful need to survive. While inside of your home the typical survival mechanics such as hunger, thirst, temperature, and personal safety become far less important. It’s assumed as long as you’re in your home and your town has supplies, that you’re not going to die of either hunger or thirst. Furthermore, while resting in your house your energy levels will stabilize, preventing you from getting further fatigued. Finally, assuming your home is built with the correct materials, there’s little risk of hyper or hypothermia while inside the comfort of your house, regardless of the outside temperatures – worst-case scenario, you can always light a fire in your fireplace.
As a survival RPG, Chronicles of Elyria has extremely limited inventory. Basically, if something isn’t in someone’s backpack, and it’s not visible on their person, they aren’t carrying it. Given that, players need a safe place to stow their unused equipment, their treasures, and their trophies. Your house, business, or warehouse is an ideal place for storing such items. But, as we’ll talk about next week, it may still be a good idea to store items in locked chests or even in hidden safes (See figure 3).
Crafting in CoE, like in many other RPGs, is done with the use of crafting stations. Depending on whether you want these stations to be publicly accessible or private, and whether you want your building to be viewed as a residence or a shop, it can be a great place to put your crafting station. Why does that matter?
There are no specific building patterns in CoE for things like “smithy”, “lumber mill”, “warehouse”, “inn”, or “shop” - only patterns for floors, walls, etc. Then there are also patterns for different types of important furniture such as anvils, looms, writing desks, bars, mayoral desks, judicial stands, etc. – all used in various professions.
In the end, rules about what can exist in the same space, or in different spaces, dictates what a room is – bedroom, living room, work-room, etc. and what type of building it is. So if you want to create a bedroom, simply create a room with a bed in it. What to make a public blacksmith, make a publicly accessible room and throw an anvil and forge in it.
Customization, Personalization, & Secondary Benefits
Inside of houses there will be tons of different types of furniture like dressers, beds, changing and crafting stations, bookshelves, kitchen tables, ovens, fire places, furnaces, etc., each of which provide additional benefits to the home as a whole, or to the people residing within it.
In addition to the different types of furniture in the house, there may be smaller, or more cosmetic items such as pictures, rugs, sculptures, coat of arms, and other things to keep on the mantle. In nearly all cases the items can be crafted by artisans of the correct profession, and in some cases those additional novelties can provide additional benefits while you’re in the home, such as inspiration when performing certain crafting skills, etc.
As we’ll talk about more in later design journals, maintaining one’s status as a vassal or nobility is a demanding job that often leads to socializing and entertaining others at your residence. If you want to work your way up in the social class, be prepared to play the Dance of Dynasties.
Finally, and perhaps the most important mechanic thus far, is the role housing plays in the family system. The phrase “noble house” comes not just from the family’s name, but also their physical place of residence. In Chronicles of Elyria, your social status, wealth, and the size of your family is closely connected to your home. For example, as part of the process of having children it’s necessary to have allocated a private space for your new child. In most cases, this means a bedroom in your house. In other words, the number of children you have is capped by the number of rooms in your home. The wealthier and larger your house – the more noble your “house.”