Gamedesign Journal: From Mind to Paper
Michael Wolf Visser, Lead Content Designer for The Chronicles of Spellborn, has written a developer journal which uses the example of Quarterstone's Green District to explore the process of giving form to thoughts, and bringing ideas through to fruition during the design process.
Hi all, I'd like to first of all send you the best wishes for 2008! It is not quickly that I sit down to write a dev journal, not because I do not want to or that it takes too much time, I simply have other stuff floating in my mind that I'd like to put to paper first. So, now that most of the characters in my head are still asleep and the office is still devoid of life other than me and the critters in the carpet, I thought I'd take the change to explain how I personally, put things from my mind to paper and how that eventually becomes something you can walk through in a digital world. The Shards of Spellborn There are numerous examples of what comes into your mind and what makes it to paper in the Shards of Spellborn. The main idea and story line is so befitting freedom of thought and implementation of the weird and wonderful twists of a human brain that whatever you can think of can be accomplished. This is also true for The Green District of Quarterstone, and this district will be the main focus of how some of my ideas became reality... to some extent of course. When we first started off with Quarterstone, it was a city split into four different districts all of which connected to the main platform on which the Oracle resided. But after some thought and some time passed, more districts were put to the test and bridges leading from the Oracle to these new districts were built. The last district to be added to the whole of Quarterstone was the Green District, a place where the forgotten inhabitants of most of the city's populace still roam, albeit a bit mutated, and where the endless fires of the AIOR infestation still burn away at everything there. A black hole is what the Green District was until a colleague and I sat down to discuss what could possibly fill this hole. We covered collapses, drowned villages and huge temples, but in the end we decided to uphold the main function of Quarterstone as a city and make it a suburb for the blue collar workers and a place for research and development for some of the High Houses. All in all a good idea, for it gave us something more to work with. But twisted as we were, we turned it sour for those living amongst the narrow alleys of what was lovingly called 'The Stacks' as a magical experiment deep within the bowels of the districts main research facility, the Citadel of Ail, went terribly awry. Tons of magically infused ore residue, known as AIOR, spewed from the massive hole that was torn out of the building. The crystalline fragments nestled itself into living tissue and started mutating the populace. The Enclave in their panic closed off the Green District for fear of spreading this mutating disease and all hope was lost for those desperately trying to escape the explosions aftermath. The Arcane Surge as it was called was the end of life in the Green District, but also harboured new life, for the empty and tormented husks of those unfortunate to be in the Green District at the time, still lumber through the empty streets as the Shunned. Confrontation Now it all sounds nice and comfy there, mutated people scavenging empty streets and burning ore residue spewed from large holes in giant structures, but this was all in our heads. After we put it to paper, read it again ourselves and decided to hand it over to the Art department, people started to look at us questioningly. 'You want to make all this?' was the question that first came from their lips and both my colleague and I simply nodded... Two days later, Romano Molenaar our Lead Concept Artist came up to me and showed me the first concept drawings of the Green District. And although I expected nothing less from him, I was still awed by the perfect vision he and I seemed to share when it came to the visualisation. Creation and Implementation After the initial design had been handed over and the first concept drawings were made, signs of the Green District started to emerge from the modellers and texture artists. The level designers came up with a basic shape and I sat down to add lore and ideas to the various areas that made up the Green District. Adding lore and ideas also contains the naming of the areas and being the weird guy that I am, I added a little homage to a man that I respect a lot, Chris Metzen. So somewhere in the ruined debris of this once splendid district he has his own retreat. I doubt he'd like to dwell there now, but at least it looked nice prior to the surge. The first thing that made it into the map, were the two separate housing areas. At first they were not ablaze yet so the impression they left was rather cold, but I knew the guys over at level design would do the fires soon enough and when they did... well it all changed really. The fires added an atmosphere so compelling that I could almost feel the claustrophobia the inhabitant at the time of the surge must have felt. Next came the Empyreal Parks, located on both sides of the grand walk that lead to the main entrance to the Citadel of Ail. The large Philosophers Labyrinth with its hedges and massive statues, the empty animal pens and the cascading ruins of all sorts of beautifully crafted structures added the final touch. But the art guys had one little surprise up their sleeves that I had not dreamed of was possible at the start of writing the design. A massive twisting maelstrom of AIOR particles twists and turns above the Citadel of Ail's main spire. A storm so violent that all over the district ash and soot falls from it's long reach. As an added bonus, the guys even made the eye of the storm visible from the Councillor's chambers within the Citadel. Needless to say.. I was relieved and awed to see that what gets written op paper really makes it to something digitally. Breathing atmosphere Now that the time for the release of the game comes closer and closer and talks of the closed beta reaching its new state of operation is being whispered amongst the various departments, my hopes are such that everyone setting foot inside the Green District, actually set foot within a small part of my mind. There you can see for yourself how twisted thoughts can become and how skilled professionals can create something unique from a bunch of words on paper. The screenshots that have been recently released show you a small part of the district, the burning roofs, the centre of the Labyrinth and the ravaged bodies of the Shunned. I hope that in the near future, you yourself can venture into the dank and moody, yet dark and breathing atmosphere that still haunts the Green District.