We've been extremely busy over the last few weeks and unfortunately this has bit into our blog schedule a little. Rome will definitely be the biggest launch we've ever done and some things need to get finished fairly early so that everything can be prepared for launch day. But enough excuses and onto the blog ...
One of the aspects of the game that we really wanted to develop with Rome was the diversity of the scenery. Somewhat limited by nature and history, we had to figure out ways to diversify without having obvious go-to biomes like desert/rainforest/tundra. In Hegemony Gold the land itself was diverse enough to be able to tell where you were on the map at any given time, using signifiers like the coastline and islands. But in Gaul, much of the map is taken up by a nice big chunk of Western Europe. So how do you make parts of Europe look like different parts of Europe?
First thing we did was decide that we could use trees, plants and grasses as a diversity technique. Though it's true that the biodiversity in Europe is a lot different now than it was then, there only remains so much information on what sort of plant life existed in each area, so most of our data was based on modern statistics. The general areas we based on known biomes, using the WWF ecological land classification system.
We took off to the library and made a nice little book, like this:
Using the resources available from the Toronto Reference Library, we developed lists of trees, as well as bushes, shrubs, flowers, and grasses for each biome on our map. It was broken down into 12 different biomes, some larger than others, and many that had plants which crossed over into both. Some examples of these would be Atlantic Mixed Forests, Appenine Deciduous Montane Forests, and Celtic Broadleaf Forests.
We made exhaustive lists, but as with all game design, we were limited by technology to how many trees we could actually exhibit in game. So we narrowed down our biomes into much broader ideas: Britain, Gaul Marsh, German Forests, Gaul Forests, Mountains, Alpine Mountains, and Mediterranean. Many of the biomes share trees and shrubs, but we tried to keep them as visually different as possible.
The coastal along the Mediterranean
In order to do so, we made a few design decisions. The first one being that trees with an extremely distinctive look should be kept to one biome only. So for example, even though Aspen and Birch trees can actually be found fairly widely through Europe, we decided to use them only Britain – that way that area of the map has the distinctive mark of the white-bark trees that allows the player to get a better impression of where on the map they are, even zoomed in. The clear silhouette of the stone pine, on the other hand, makes an easy visual cue for the hills in the Mediterranean.
Aspens and stone pines in the SpeedTree editor
Other things that we kept in mind for the biomes were water colour, and seasonal variation. We wanted to make sure to keep trees that had the most seasonal variety in the places where it would be most obvious – the deciduous and broad-leaf forests. So though some of those trees may be in other places, like in the Mediterranean, we wanted to keep the look there still fairly fresh and green, even in the winter months, so we avoided trees where the leaves would change colour.
Germany with a hint of the Black Forest
We also used the soundscape to help differentiate regions, so you'll hear more “creepy” sounds in the Black Forest (inspired by Caesar's descriptions of the fear it invoked in his troops) versus more friendly bird and leaf noises in the deciduous forests. But we can get into sound design in another post.
We'll try not to keep it as long before our next post because we've still got lots we want to talk about as we march towards release. And in the meantime, check us out on Facebook and Twitter. We've been doing some mini updates over on Facebook and you don't need an account to read them.
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