Dev Blog: Schwarzwald

Schwarzwald (which is the german name for the Black Forest) is a turn-based multiplayer survival game I am developing.

Development of such a game starts with a simple prototype. First you put the building blocks into place before you paint them. So as a kind of introduction, here is the first prototype screenshot that I made:

Everything is very primitive, obviously. But that was the basic layout and it still is, even though in the current game client (we are running the beta test right now) it is not so clearly visible anymore, because — that is the topic I want to talk about — details.

While the core structure remains the same, the game today looks quite a bit different, not just because the visuals have, obviously, improved and placeholders replaced by actual models and the GUI a little worked on and background added and so on. No, the magic of bringing a game world alive is in the details. Many of which players never consciously notice. Here are some in Schwarzwald:

If you look at this screenshot and look for details, especially the ones that create an organic, life-like impression, there are a few things you might notice.

The first is that there are different models for houses, even where they apparently are the same size and type. And that is exactly true. There are three levels of houses in the game: Huts, Wood Houses and Stone Houses. In this screenshot, there are mostly huts and two wood houses. But the huts do not look all the same as in the first screenshot. Firstly, there are four different house models. Secondly, all the huts are arranged slightly differently, by rotating them. So even if two huts are the same, you do not see them from the same angle.

But there is more to this. A random variation would destroy an important principle — consistency. So the distribution is pseudo-random. If you compare these three screenshots, which are from 3 different turns in this game, but the same corner (lower left) of the map:

You see that the huts are always the same and always rotated in the same way. To appreciate this fully you need to know that the server, where all the data is stored, knowns nothing of different house types and rotations. This is entirely done in the client software, using pseudo-randomness.

If you look closely, you can spot that the forest, however, is different in the three shots. The forest is generated randomly.

There are other details, and that is what is more interesting because they actually have a meaning. Have you noticed in the screenshots that there is smoke coming out of the chimneys of the houses? In the actual game, this is animated as well. However, smoke only comes ouf of houses that have someone living in them. If, for example, a family builds a second hut for storage, smoke will only come out of the house they live in. Or if a family dies, their hut will no longer show smoke.

One more detail is only visible in zoomed-in views, and not in the screenshots, because the beta games are still in the first few days, so let me show you a screenshot from the editor:

Here you can see the smoke more clearly, but there is also one other detail. Near the entrance door, in the bottom center of the picture, there is an open coffin, with the lid against the wall of the house.

That coffin is only visible in-game if someone in that house died the night (i.e. turn) before.

In the zoomed-out overview, the coffin is barely visible, but anyways it is there and players who find it and understand how it works will certainly have a feeling of discovery.

These kinds of obsessive details are something you find in many great games, from text adventures that anticipated crazy commands and have a funny prepared answer to 3D shooters.

In my mind, details like this bring a game world alive and make it feel real and less constructed. I plan many more, among them a forest that shows more stumps and fewer trees the more players gather wood in it.

We humans gather so much information with our eyes, most of which is not even processes consciously. The clearest sign to our brain that something is amiss is if there are not enough details in the world, if everything is straight and perfect and simple. That is not normal and our brain will notice that something is not as it should be. That is why in movies or rendered art, small imperfections make something look more real, because they break up the perfection.

I hope you have enjoyed this short trip into a game designer mind. There will be more texts about other aspects in the near future. Until then go and check out the game and join us in the beta test.

http://schwarzwald.lemuria.org

And if you like the game, remember to like it on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/schwarzwaldgame/

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