The MAP: World Building with Silent Plains
With the upcoming Developer’s Stream going over world building along with the HDRP, I wanted to capture what has already been stated regarding world building for those who may have glossed over the last world building content that followed Project Faerthale.
The MAP which was shared with us following the completion of Project Faerthale has been discussed at length, but one of the less talked about characteristics was the contour of the map itself. While this map does have noticeable contour across much of its surface, there are areas which appear to be painted rather than actual terrain blocking. For instance…
Here, we see very detailed terrain forms within the general boundaries and even extending to the outside, but then there is just mountains painted over top of just flatness. Hypothetically the whole continent, even outside the boundaries into the areas labeled as LOCKED on the map may need a first pass on blocking for the terrain generator to put up something as you peer into the unknown areas, waiting for the day you can explore them.
This is important because in order for Alpha Testing to begin, the entire continent had to be playable; not only playable, but enough content to satisfy an entire play cycle from 1 to 50. Obviously, there will continue to be content that is added, but the heavy lift needed in order to bring HDRP online is the terrain blocking for EVERY nook and cranny of the every zone zone.
We learned during the stream that several zones that were already created using the old method of terrain height mapping were redone as part of the Project Faerthale process. This shows you how much can get done with a small team when the proper tools are in house. Not only were they working shaders and painter and assets for Faerthale, they also had time dedicated to remaking entire zones using another amazing tool for Unity call ProBuilder.
ProBuilder allowed them to remake the terrain basically on top of static terrain that was scalable, malleable, rotatable – basically the terrain generation version of a Wonkavator. Having the zones remade in this fashion gave them the absolute control to quickly change huge swathes of terrain, tile specific, and tweak them as needed. By the end of Project Faerthale, this had been done to Thronefast, Black Rose Keep, Avendyr’s Pass, Faerthale, The Murk, and the zone that “started that way” was Silent Plains.
All the zones above had been modified, enlarged in almost every case, rotated, and relocated in order to fit the world as just that, the world. This involved the real issue of taking each piece and really deciding the scale and interconnectivity of each zone. Not to say it could not change, but the size needed to be pretty well decided by the end of Project Faerthale. And we see that several months later, we were given THE MAP, released only after they were fully committed to what the continent of Kingsreach would be like. So far, everything they have shown us has fit with what THE MAP is.
It is also important to note that due to how they have constructed the world, where you stop to populate new tile information while traveling or where the clients are huddled together into zones, is an arbitrary line that can go anywhere on the map. So it is important to view the world through that lens. In the image above, the coloring that was overlayed on THE MAP has been removed from Silent Plains so that you can’t tell where anything else except for the other zone colors, basically taking the uncolored portions of the map and blending them in with Silent Plains. This is because the general area of the zones as provided in the original with the color blocking is only that, a general idea. Zone in spots such as narrow passages in other MMOs where you are funneled into an area to load a different zone is wiped away. The devs can give us a full boundary with the inclusion of climbing, allowing zoning from the entire boundary if they so desire.
What is it that makes this so relevant? Why make this article if this has been seen before? This has a huge impact on exactly where this game is in terms of development of the world at large. If you need to, just re-experience the Environmental Art Dev Stream here: (14) Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Environmental Art - How It's Made - YouTube. Tourke is jumping out of his skin trying to relay the importance of having this capability. See the image above. Once the developers decided that Avendyr’s Pass would need to be enlarged a great deal, moving Hanggore was necessary to put some space between the humans and the orcs. Avendyr’s Pass was remade using ProBuilder. Then, as Tourke explains it, picked up the entire encampment of orcs with all tree and rock and building assets, and slid them to a position farther away where they wanted it. The mountain pass that leads up to Hanggore was cut out in ProBuilder between 30 minutes and one hour. ONE HOUR! Now the greyboxed and blocky terrain above may look like it isn’t finished, but getting from that blocked terrain to game quality is almost nothing. Take the next image as an example.
Here we see a small tile on the right that had been part of the old “Oldwood.” Tourke cobbled together some rough mountains in a few minutes and took some of what had previously been done and just dropped it right on top of what he created. He then baked it immediately with the knobs and dials in Unity already set for where grass and trees are to go and it baked the tile out to look like the right side. In short, the rough blocking is transformed via the tools they have to erode and blend the terrain. Thus the entire world, once blocked, needs only the proper zoning for flora and climates to be added to take that rough information and make it gorgeous. The zones mentioned earlier, TF, AVP, Murk, Faerthale, Silent Plains, BRK; they were said to take maybe a month to get to the full bake on the zones, and that is with everything else going on during Project Faerthale.
Moving back to Silent Plains, this zone was started sometime after making the transition to Houdini and ProBuilder and was “finished” during Project Faerthale. It is the heart of the entire continent, connecting all races together. It is also the metaphorical heart of the continent, where the great deeds of old were accomplished. It's history is vast and complex. That said, there was nothing to drop into this zone from before. That tells us that until Project Faerthale, no assets had come together to create Ru’lun or the Silent Sanctum or any content on Silent Plains until then. That means the creation of all the terrain would be fed through the content, art, and lore departments prior to final design. That is a lot of check snecessary prior to giving a solid pass on the entire zone. We know to what it connects. We know major land masses. We can even make assumptions on the way the terrain is blocked in Houdini and the way The Gate looked during the Wild’s End stream. There are terrain pieces that are cut out to create ruins, large foundations, cave entrances, etc. Let’s look at the coast of Silent Plains.
The port city of Ru’lun is listed on the original map at the bay where the large river cuts through the heart of Silent Plains. There is a close match to this area on the new one as well. Notice the very bright terrain just prior to the river dumping into the ocean. That brightness indicates a sharp terrain contour falling from south to north, or a high peak protruding from the area to the west and a little to the east of the river. This is a very specific amount of terrain generation, much smaller scale than the larger blocking around it, denoting some extra attention given to this area. Then there is a large flat plain to its east, a very large plain to create a large city protruding out into the bay.
Later in the Dev stream with Tourke, he discussed the very faint bridge you see crossing the river here in its bell curve and creating a fairly level path that leads to it through the water gap in the mountain. These flat paths are visible all over the Silent Plains map.
Note the distinct veins running across the zone. They extend to and from the major hubs on the map, from AVP to Faerthale, and also heading south on both sides of the river leading down to its delta. Another place they seem to run across appears to cross the river directly in front of a steep valley pass.
This is a deep crevace here in the river’s fork, leading up to very strange and unique terrain. The uniqueness of its location and shapes have led me to speculate on whether this is the location of the Silent Sanctum in past articles.
There is no information to date that would provide a definitive answer either way on the speculation. I do still believe that the majority of information favors at least a location within Silent Plains and not The Roans zone. That being said, several months from now, Alpha testers will know for sure and those of us who are not may still be out of the loop due to NDAs.
In summary, the fast pace at which the zones mentioned by Tourke specifically in the Environment Art Dev Stream were iterated and brought to a solid state in just a few months is a compelling argument for the rest of the zones on Kingsreach to, by now, be at the same level. It is possibly that all of Kingsreach has now been brought to the same level as those during Project Faerthale. So much time has passed since the end of Project Faerthale that huge swathes of the other two continents could already be done as well. Tourke and Roenick seem to be the main force driving the terrain train at the moment and given the work being focused on now is content, classes, and network stack, Tourke could be jamming away each day building more world for the content creators to play on. The HDRP will utilize the maps, the shaders, and the zoned asset population layers to generate a gorgeous environment that can be streamed in bite size chunks as we move across Terminus to make the zone lines only necessary to keep client and NPC/mob population within sizable chunks. Peering across a mountain top from Hanggore and seeing the Silent Plains below and potentially the mountains bordering the east side of Faerthale in the faint distant is going to be a sight to behold. I just hope the testers are able to share a bit of it with us.