Biomes and Getting Lost

For the last week I've been experimenting with biomes, ala Minecraft. Basically, I was successful in creating some randomly placed forests using a simplex noise generator. Perlin noise is widely used, so there isn't a ton of support out there for simplex. However, simplex is faster comes out with nicer looking results. Since I'm a freak for optimizing code, I couldn't let myself use Perlin. The results are pretty cool. The next step will be to tweak the borders of these regions and make sure that they blend into each other. Right now, there are hard lines between regions. Blurring these lines has been a bit tricky, but I can handle it.

The only real problem that I have with biomes is that players may go out to explore these areas rather than follow the linear path that would take them further up the wall and through the game's story. I wouldn't want someone wander off to some random volcano in the distance thinking that they can get a boost there, when really the nearest elevator is a kilometer in the other direction. It's a linear game set in an open world, so there is a real possibility that players could get hopelessly lost.

My solution may be to have a system that clearly defines waypoints for the player. Mirror's Edge had a button that would turn the player to face the next waypoint in the sequence. The challenge would be to teach the player to use this function. I've designed the game to be mostly intuitive, using WASD + mouse controls. Adding another button to the mix is unintuitive, which means an on-screen prompt/tutorial would be required. I have been resisting adding unnecessary complexity to the game, but this may be unavoidable.

An alternative would be to have some clear and consistent visual signal that would indicate where the next waypoint is. A light, a flag, etc. would serve this purpose. Will have to experiment a bit with both systems and see which one works best.

Oh, and Against the Wall was featured on Giant Bomb the other week!

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6 comments on “Biomes and Getting Lost
  1. Znack says:

    Maybe the staff could glow or pulse or give some sort of indication when the player is facing the correct direction they need to go? Something like how they did it in Shadow of the Colossus perhaps.

    • Michael says:

      I was thinking of something Shadow's sword. I would like something more passive though, your idea for a glowing part of the wand is a good suggestion. I could also just trust the player to find their own way. Or perhaps there could be backup elevators far to the sides of the main path?

  2. ben says:

    I would suggest something similar to the north star etc. It would be very tasteful and keep the UI minimal. Also, very easy to implement.

  3. Urthman says:

    I wouldn’t want someone wander off to some random volcano in the distance thinking that they can get a boost there, when really the nearest elevator is a kilometer in the other direction. It’s a linear game set in an open world, so there is a real possibility that players could get hopelessly lost.

    Maybe I’m a tiny minority, but that’s exactly what I'd want. If you can’t ever get lost, if you can’t wander off in the opposite direction from the next plot point, it’s not really an open-world exploration game. Sure, include an optional hint for people who get frustrated, but don’t prevent people from getting lost at all.

    And please, if you have some mechanic like a wand that glows whenever you're pointing in the right direction, give the player the option to turn it off. While I understand your reluctance to add another button to the controls, giving the player an option to press "H" for a hint is a lot more immersive than forcing the player to quit out to the menu to turn the hint system on and off. Maybe the default could be something like the wand glowing on it's own without an extra button, but the player could opt to switch things so that it required a button press before giving hints.

    Also, the thing Mirror's Edge did that was brilliant was not the push-a-button-to-figure-out-which-direction-to-go, it was the subtle use of color to draw the player's attention into going the right way (I'm not talking about the active hint situation which would make your next jump target glow red). I was constantly impressed at how many times I'd get chased out into an area with multiple ways to go, seemingly pick a direction at random to run, and find I'd somehow chosen to go the right way. That's some amazing design work, and I think it was mostly done with color.

    This game looks wonderful. I'd try the alpha but it looks to good to risk spoiling at all from the finished game. Thanks for all your work on it. I'm really looking forward to this.

  4. Clinton says:

    Have you thought of making the clouds always move in the direction of the waypoint? It's a very subtle way of directing the player and looking at clouds is nice.

    Love the concept.

  5. Michael says:

    Clinton: Changing the clouds would be a bit odd, I want the wind to be consistent for the windmills in the world and such, plus actually changing the direction would be a bit jarring, especially if the clouds go vertically.
    Ben: A guiding star Would perhaps break immersion. If I have a guide, it should be something that can be justified… a compass that points to the nearest checkpoint/guide-stone in the world? Still, not a fan of adding superfluous mechanics.
    Urthman: Perhaps I should just trust players to create their own experience in the game, rather than leash them to the content. And yes, Mirror's Edge using color to guide the player was a nice touch that could work in my world. The player would follow all the bright red objects, let's say. If the player is lost, they would look for the nearest red-thing, or follow their own path back to where they once were. This could work, but I'll need to test it a bit to make sure that people do not stray too far.

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