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This is officially the first screenshot of Revolving Sky !

The open world dilemma

I’m a huge fan of Skyrim, but there’s (in my humble opinion) a small flaw in it : you spend your time chasing little icons around, either on the map or the HUD compass.

To go somewhere, you track the required icon and move forwards (or travel fast if you can). Skyrim has some of the most beautiful landscapes seen in a videogame : evocative, mysterious, sinuous. Yet you’re generally focused on tracking icons on your HUD display. You spend your time drawing dotted lines between events and locations with a nice but almost accessorial world.

Skyrim map
Skyrim map

That icon problem has roots in a deeper game design dilemma : you don’t want your player to get lost as the same time as you don’t want to deprecate the density and freedom of an open world. That’s the complexity induced by an open topography, and the best game design answer to that is all about icons, markers and fast travel.

Shadow of the Colossus created a clever variation with the sword you have to orientate towards light to show you the path to the next giant. That’s a good trick, because it doesn’t work everywhere : it enables shadowy areas where your sword is useless and you have to rely on your wits to find your way. It’s another proof of the amazing game design lesson that is Shadow of the Colossus… but that’s still a trick.

Compass-beam in Shadow of the Colossus
Compass-beam in Shadow of the Colossus

 

Game changer

Games like Minecraft and Proteus changed everything. They’re excellent examples of « out of the box » designs. If you want to solve your open world dilemma, just change the definition of what is a « world ».

In Skyrim, the « world » is a predefined topography spotted by many locations and events you trigger accordingly to your advance in the game.

In Minecraft, the world is infinite and easily renewed. Locations and events are spread along your path accordingly to a balanced system that unfolds the world procedurally.

The balance of the system is such that there’s always a new location to reach, a new goal somewhere in the distance. To find the first inconsistencies you really have to go many thousand miles ahead, where the floating point errors break the world apart.

But even that participate to the gameplay : these glitches are the fabulous « far lands », a lot of people talked about it but how many have been there…

Where is your place in Minecraft ?
Where is your place in Minecraft ?

No need for marks on the map in Minecraft. If you miss something, just go forward to find a new adventure, another instance of what you’re looking for. There’s no dead corners. In this, Minecraft is a pseudo dynamic topography : the landscape doesn’t change accordingly to the player’s actions but as you could renew the world, go forward to see something new or just build your own landscape, you will actually be able to shape the places you discover and define some land or cave as your new « home base ».

Proteus, towards the sun
Proteus, toward the sun

Proteus goes even further : the world adapts to player movement, where he stays, where he looks, where he goes. The player is part of the world itself. The player reacts to what happens on the island, and his reactions have consequences on the whole world (and so on…). You’re attracted to certain spots and that triggers certain changes, which in turn make you look somewhere else, always a bit further, always different.

Proteus is an exceptional work on dynamic topography.

 

Dynamic topography in Revolving Sky

I’m trying to add some of these mecanics in Revolving Sky, through a simple hack of our euclidean geometry (take that, mathematics teacher).  In Revolving Sky, you play the crew of a ship that glides around a giant gas planet. There’s no obstacle in Revolving Sky, you could choose any direction and just go forward infinitely.

Your ship goes in every direction
Your ship goes in every direction

What I’m trying to do is to create a topography that is not exactly real, at least in our classic geometry. As you go in a direction, you enter a certain environment. For example if you go east, you will enter east environment.

Entering west environment
Entering east environment

A given environment has specific colors, terrain shapes, type of cities and enemies. Each environment evolves according to how the player advances in it.

But each environment (or direction) is unique. In my example you entered east environment. From there let’s say you change your course and head south. You will enter south environment.

From west to south
From east to south

But there’s only one south environment, meaning that wherever you take the south direction, you will always enter the same environment (actually it’s not completely true because I track the last three or four direction change, but you got the idea).

S3
Every south is (almost) the same south

It creates some sort of simplistic topography were all south path lead to the same south environment. You could say it’s a non-euclidian topography (that’s a bit presumptuous).

This is another answer to the open world dillema. The player is in control of a direction, not a position on a map. This system is interesting because it provides the player with an easy to understand logic that creates complex behaviours.

path

  • The player is still able to explore remote parts of the world and follow a trail (by combining different environment through direction change as in the example here ->). As we keep track of direction change, we’re able to « hide » events at the end of a specific path.
  • The player is still able to go back on known grounds. If the best merchant city is located North West then he just has to keep going through Northwest environment to find it again.
  • Horizon becomes a key gameplay element : sun, moon and constellations are important landmarks, you could have quest like « chase the sun to find the golden city ».

It’s where the « gas planet » becomes a detail of some importance : as there’s no solid ground, everything is moving one way or another (cities, ships, …) it’s a good way to make such a topography believable.

I’m still heavily working and testing this gameplay, but it’s quite promising !

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