Creating our first indie game #2 — Rokh’s Map Conception

In this serie we share our plans, our progress, our success and even our struggles making our first indie project Rokh, a multiplayer survival sandbox game set on Mars.


Hi Colonists,

First of all, we want to thank you for the many positive reactions we received to our first Dev Log! We’re absolutely pumped by your feedback, and therefore couldn’t wait much longer to introduce you to our second Log for our Dev Diary.

Today we want to focus on the map you’ll be surviving on in Rokh.

Designing this map is one of the biggest challenges we have to deal with because it’s at the heart of Rokh’s core experience.

Mars has always been a great source for public imagination. And with close to 30 movies set on it, you can pretty much find 30 versions of the Red Planet. But even if Mars represents a dreamy environment to recreate in a persistent video game, we’ve received a clear community concern after our announcement: the barren nature of Mars means it can be perceived as a “dead” environment.

Mars is definitely not a dead environment, and for sure, Rokh’s map will prove that. It will have craters rich in exposed resources for you to harvest, smoke rising from once thought dormant volcanoes, ancient river beds lined with sedimentary deposits, ice veins waiting to be melted down into drinkable water, convenient rock formations creating exploration paths and combat opportunities, mountains posing daunting construction challenges to the brave and much more…. All these natural landscapes tie into and reinforce our survival gameplay features.

And yet… Be cautious, colonists! Mars may be your best ally, but can just as easily turn into your worst enemy.

An early map concept with natural landscapes

We’ll take the opportunity here to explain how we’re going to create our own Mars with a unique look and feel, yet based on hard science facts.

Rokh’s Mars will be grandiose, frightening, and calm.

General facts

For starters, let’s take a look at the general, raw data about our map. For Early Access release (planned for september 2016), the map will be 400 square kilometers / 155 square miles. This exact size is not a randomly chosen number that happened to sound pretty cool, but has actually been dictated by two majors factors:

  • Exploration: We want the exploration to be a challenge while remaining fun. Walking hours to get to a certain point can become pretty boring. At the same time, we don’t want all players to spawn too close to each other. With the chosen dimensions, we feel like we have the best compromise.
  • Engine: To guarantee the stability of the game, we had to play with Unreal Engine’s constraints.

We’re focusing right now on surface elements and verticality. Mars is well-known for its giant volcanoes (Olympus Mons on Mars is one of the highest mountains in our solar system at 22 km / 72,000 ft. high), its eroded cliffs and its asteroid craters.

Early modeled crater in our work-in-progress map
Verticality illustration

The natural verticality offered by Mars is a strong aspect we want to push in our game, as lots of survival games are mostly focusing on forest and cave exploration. On the other hand, we’ve received quite a few requests from our community to integrate caves in our map design, so that’s something we’re keeping in mind moving forward.

Combined with Mars’ gravity, the verticality of Mars gives us some interesting user stories like this one:

You are out exploring and searching for resources when your scanners pick up something interesting on the other side of a narrow gorge. The gorge stretches a long distance in either direction — you could try to find a way around, but that is going to eat up a lot of your oxygen and suit’s battery. You decide to jump.

Sprinting toward the edge, you jump but miss the opposite side. Mars’ gravity isn’t as strong as Earth, but it still hurts. Thankfully it’s not a fatal mistake — yet. Down at the bottom of the gorge, your suit is warning you of injuries, it’s hard to even walk and you know jumping up to ledges (assuming you can even find a safe ascent) is going to consume your limited oxygen at a must faster rate. So much for saving your oxygen. You check your pack for supplies: some solar cells, copper wire, a bit of water, and a mining pick. What would Mark Watney do?

Landmarks

On top of natural elements, we will also integrate specific landmarks for you to explore like the wreckage of a space station. Inspired by our strong backstory, these landmarks will create a great narrative (but always unscripted!) dimension to your experience, which most current survival games clearly lack.

Early sketch of space craft wreckage

Our map creation process

To create an incredible map, we’re using a mix of hand-crafted terrain features and World Machine. This dev tool is great because it allows us to create a natural-looking map with extreme dimensions. We take advantage of its texture separation algorithms and awesome erosion modeling features, making World Machine the best tool to give our vision of Mars an immersive appearance. Finally, this tool conveniently bridges a gap between two types of map creation processes: hand-painted terrain features of the map with procedurally generated parts.

World Machine software allows us to model Mars in the most realistic way

As you can see in the following visuals, we’ve started to model the shape of the different types of natural landscapes we want our map to have.

Untextured map with work-in-progress lighting

What’s coming up next?

Next week we’ll talk about “Habitat” — one of Rokh’s central game features that allows colonists to design and construct their very own, permanent base on Mars.

Stay tuned and, as always, don’t hesitate to shoot us your questions here or on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and Reddit).

Enjoy your day!

ROKH DEV TEAM


Originally published at www.rokhthegame.com on February 17, 2016.