The creation of a new point of interest for adventure mode
Building content for Hytale involves a collaborative process that we’ve developed in the course of more than three years of work on the game. In this blog post, we’re going to demonstrate this process by showing how our artists and world team developers work together to create new prefabs. As detailed in our first post on world generation, prefabs are essentially blueprints for new environmental features, which means anything from rocks and trees to entire structures and special encounters.
For this example, we’re going to be focusing on the elemental stone circle point of interest, specifically the earth circle found in zone 1. In this case, an initial rough build was done in game to outline the basic look and feel of the prefab.
This very early version established the mood of the piece and also its role in the game. Points of interest like these are an aspect of Hytale’s world quest system - they provide reasons to go exploring and the idea is that players will come to recognize the type of encounter they’re about to face whenever they see one. The exact challenge provided by each of these elemental stone circles may differ, but each acts as an arena for a combat encounter that is triggered when players interact with the area in a particular way.
When this basic outline is established, the next step is for a concept artist to produce more detailed variations that are suitable for each of Hytale’s zones.
These designs were created by artist Polina Logado. The creation of a new prefab often begins when an artist is provided with a brief, but the nature of this brief varies. “There are two ways, usually” Polina says. “The first is that we have some idea of what we want to do but no visualization yet. We know it might be a cave, for example, and in the cave will be an interaction with a certain NPC. I know the zone, the NPC, and roughly what’s going to happen, but that’s it so I have a lot of freedom. In this case I would do three to five rough variants, and we’ll pick one or two to develop further.”
For a prefab like these stone circles, the brief was a little more fixed. “For the stone circles, the description is self explanatory” Polina says. “Each should represent the zone it is in and should be a certain size. My task is to provide ideas in terms of colors, the types of blocks that can be used, what the atmosphere could be, and the general shape. The world team doesn’t follow this first iteration to the pixel - they take these pictures and try to recreate the mood in general, see what’s possible to build which looks as close as possible to what I envisioned.”
This shot shows an early version of the prefab, built in game by world team developer Baxter. At this stage, the challenge is to adapt the original art into block form - choosing block types, applying extra details, and establishing the size and shape of the point of interest as it will appear to players.
“If I’m working on something that’s been painted, I’ll do a build as close as I can get it - with the idea that sometimes things aren’t painted in block form” Baxter says.
At this initial stage, artists and world team developers don’t necessarily work together - the idea is that concept artists establish their own vision for a piece and then the world team adapt it using their understanding of the block system. For this reason, we don’t require artists to design with blocks in mind.
“In the three and a half years that I’ve been doing this, only maybe once did we draw something that it wasn’t possible for the world team to build” Polina says. “They can build anything. I try not to go with too many curves or complicated shapes because it can look noisy, but more or less I don’t really limit myself because the world team is excellent at avoiding this in the final builds. I know it’ll look good - that’s kinda amazing, and it comes with experience.”
It’s at this point that collaboration on the new prefab begins in earnest. You can see one example of this above - Polina has taken the screenshot of Baxter’s build and produced what we call a ‘paintover’. Using the in-game build as a base, she has provided ideas for implementing the flow of the stone circle as depicted in the original concept art, albeit now adapted for the scale of the piece as it will appear in game. “It needed to be more layered, have a sequence” Baxter says.
In addition to paintovers, artists and world team developers will also take advantage of the dev server to gather feedback and work on improvements to the design. “We’ll look around and try to understand how it looks from a player point of view” Polina says. “Is it interesting enough? That takes a while. They’ll look at my notes, try to recreate them, and add their own ideas. There are usually five or so iterations in-game compared to just two at the drawing stage - I get a lot of feedback, and there’s more to work with.”
Here’s an example of the finished earth circle as it may appear in-game. ‘May’ is an important word, because the final step in implementing a new point of interest like this is incorporating it into Hytale’s world generation system. This means establishing rules that determine where and how it can spawn, and how the prefab might adapt to create a consistent overall effect despite potentially appearing in a variety of different contexts.
Generally speaking, you’re more likely to find a stone circle on flat ground where the effect of the original concept art can be consistently realised - but if the circle does appear on a hill or cliff edge, the prefab spawning system will adapt the shape to suit. “There’s a lot of randomization that can happen with one layout of the circle” Baxter says.
This is the end result we’re aiming for - a unique landmark that combines the feel of a hand-crafted build with the dynamism provided by worldgen. We’ve built thousands of prefabs so far, of varying degrees of complexity - and we’ll build many more as we continue to flesh out each of the zones that make up the world of Orbis!
As for what exactly happens when you activate an elemental stone circle - well, you’re just going to have to wait and see. In the meantime, here are a few more examples of points of interest created using prefabs:
A ruined settlement.
A Trork watchtower.
A crumbling castle.