Creating a world – such as Cordeus – from scratch can be a daunting task! There are all kinds of aspects and unknowns to take into account, and when building a 2D block environment like in Windforge, those unknowns can become even more complex. How do you make an interesting, rich environment out of Lego blocks, that can be procedurally generated in countless new variations, help develop the story line, and look great doing it? We have been faced with both technical and artistic challenges during this process that, in the end, has produced some results that we’re really proud of.
Step 1: Start with the Seed
Certainly, the process starts with a fleshed out, high-level idea about a world and what makes it tick. In this case, a gaseous, sun-like, molten Core that holds in orbit a number of floating islands. The proximity of these floating islands within the atmosphere is what creates variety in environmental ‘zones’. These high-level ideas are the seeds that start the creative process, and this is where the real work begins.
Step 2: Infuse with Art
Moving from the concept phase to completed game art is definitely an iterative process full of questions and answers and interpretations on the artist’s side of things. Armed with the conceptual ideas, the artist begins to visualize ways to express the finer points. For example, the Wild layer is a Rainforest-like environment, so how would an island that was very wet and rich in sediments and minerals age and grow over time? How would the Upper Atmosphere islands show the erosion caused by wind currents from the Luftart and Luftvein? How do you convey the dead, almost alien landscape of island shapes shrouded in poison gas? This is where the artist gets to tell a story; the more developed this visual story becomes, the more engaging and immersive the environments will be.
Visual variety and expression is an important part of gameplay. Having new environments and unique elements to each zone (for example, poison gas in the Gas Layer and giant, mineable trees in the Wild Layer) encourage the exploration aspect of Windforge. It also helps to signify where in the world the player is, without having to continuously check a map.
Step 3: Nurture Your Prototype
This is where the impossible meets the possible. Artist and developer work together to work out the kinks in actually implementing the concepts into a working prototype. In Windforge, we were faced with the challenge of taking a 2D building block game and portraying it in a hand-drawn, stylized format while still taking advantage of procedural generation. We developed the idea of creating Island Stamps, a sort of sandwich of graphic assets and building blocks that can be tiled to build larger island formations. Each stamp contains a number of layers including the foreground image, the blocks contained inside each stamp, and the background graphic used to show caves, tunnels and mining sites. This method gives the illusion of depth while also putting an organic face on a geometric structure.
Each island stamp is unique in it’s shape, size, and how they tile off each other. While art creates the facade, programming code provides the bones of how different stamps orient themselves as islands. For example, in the Gas Layer, the island stamps are connected in sparsely vertical, string-like formations to emphasize the barren, alien landscape while in the Wild Layer stamps are packed closely together in a dense thicket of stalactites grown from the run-off of thousands of years’ worth of sediment.
Experimenting with the prototype stamp interactions allows you to fine tune the unique look and feel of each zone.
Step 4: Watch It Grow
After prototyping the stamps, we are able to create the final product and generate unique zone formations with endless combinations to build the world of Cordeus. Add to this the various Flora and Fauna unique to these islands and you can literally watch your world grow.
But it doesn’t stop there! We have also been experimenting with new uses for the island stamp prototype by applying different graphic implementations, such as Skywhale and Squid mining. Once the technique is ironed out, you’re really only limited by creativity and, of course, time budgets! We believe that this approach to procedural block generation visually sets Windforge apart from any game we’ve seen before, and allows us to create a unique, immersive experience for players to get lost in the World of Cordeus.
As always, if you’re interested in seeing Windforge on Steam, remember to vote for it on Steam Greenlight.