Elemental: Revisiting the Great Cities of (my) RPG Gaming

And yes, I'm a fan of Square Titles :P

By on December 18, 2009 7:06:22 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

ScottTykoski

Join Date 03/2001
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As of now, the Cities in Elemental are traditional TBS fare. You build them up, train units, harvest resources and give the AI key locations on which to focus their invasions. Building improvements on the map is kinda unique, but in general it's currently what you'd expect from settlements in any Turn-Based Strategy title. To you they are production centers...to your neighbors they're obstacles.
 
I'd like to improve the TBS city experience. Looking back, I don't really have any fond memories from settlements in previous TBS playthroughs. There was a cool planet in GalCic2 I got once that had, like, 5 super-rare tiles. And once in Civ4 I seem to remember a well fortified location that I could defend easily and made my center of domination...but in general, of the thousands of cities and planets that I've controlled, none of them really stand out in my mind.
 
Turning my attention over to RPGs results in a swarm of warm and fuzzy memories. Of the cities I've visited, almost each one holds a special memory for me. Who doesn't love the feeling of sending your party, near death from their recent adventuring, to the local town's Inn to replenish their health and spirits. Or stumbling across an distant armor shop filled the equipment significantly stronger than the 'leather vests' your hero's currently don.
 
In RPGs, Cities aren't just a strategic strongpoint on the map. They provide the user with special interactions, giving game worlds' life and 'soul' that permeates for years. 
 

  
- The Auction House -
Jidoor (FF6)
 
 
Obviously there have been many auction houses in games since, but my first experience with one was in Jidoor, one of the southernmost cities in the world of Final Fantasy 6 (FF3 for us SNES old-timers).
 
Nothing was cooler than taking your seat and waiting for the unveiling of the item you'd be bidding on. Rare Espers, items, and equipment were all up for grabs (with a few lame ducks thrown in for fun).

 

  
- The Judge and Jury -
Guardia Castle (Crono Trigger) 
 
 
It's a pretty compelling scene: have the player judged for the crimes of the hero they're playing. What made it TRULY great was that the player was not only judged for actions carried out per the story, but ALSO for the player's actions at the start of the game. Helped the girl find her lost cat?  That was a point in your favor. Swiped an old man's lunch for yourself. Point against you.
 
Now, the game didn't actually deviate based on the outcome of the trial, but as a set piece it was quite memorable.
 
 
- The Collector -
Apple Kid - Multiple Cities (Earthbound)
 
 
Nothing warms my soul than hard work paying off. In Earthbound, Apple Boy needed cold, hard cash to help aid in his creation of some amazing invention. Throughout the game, you'd fork over the dough with little in return (he was polite, at least).
 
You'll see this in COUNTLESS games nowadays, be it someone that's collecting money, berries, insects, metal ore...but Earthbound had some fun with it and never let the player really know if they would get the payment they deserved. Of course, if you stuck with it and kept his research going, it'd result in the Ultimate Weapon for one of your heroes...a nice payoff for being a nice guy.
 
 
- The Unwelcome Return -
Mysidia (FF4)
 
Having pillaged a village's great relic, only to be marooned helpless at that same village 5 game-play hours later, is a fairly humbling experience. Nothing beats taking the normally harmless action of talking to NPC's and making it hazardous if you talk to the wrong person (expecially the 'sexy dancer' that drugs you and turns you into a pig).
 
 
- The Arena - 
Coliseum in the World of Ruin (FF6)
 
 
A staple in RPGs nowadays, my first encounter with a battle arena was in FF6, after the world was ripped apart. You bet an item, and based on what you bet you'd get to fight a different opponent in one-on-one battle. Winning resulted in a better item (often something very-rare) while losing lost you whatever you bet. A fun (and risky) way to get those weapons and armor that weren't available in shops.
 
 
- The Invasion -
Defending Fabul (FF4)
 
 
While castles and towns are usually safe havens for the weary traveler, final fantasy 4 turned that backwards several times with story driven in-town battles. The most memorable was the defense of Yang's home, Castle Fabul. Wave after wave of enemy forces
crashed against those walls, creating an exciting and intense endurance challenge to the player (and frustration when Edward the stupid moron bard trips 5 steps from your destination).


 
Of the countless RPGs that I've adventured through, those are definatly the 'city interactions' that I remember best.  Not that this currently meens anything to Elemental, but as we walk that line between RPG and 4x Empire Builder, I want to keep the best parts of both genre's in our sights.
 
But enough about my console-specific memories of RPG past...what city-related experiences resonate for you guys?
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December 18, 2009 7:56:44 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The cities that stand out most in my mind from RPG's are the ones from Elder Scroll's III.

I remembers pending many hours playing this game and I liked the contrast between all off the cities. Be it the grunginess of Ald'ruhn, "your" house in Balmora, the temples and intrigue of Vivec, or the vines of Sadrith Mora all where very unique and reflected the differences of the controlling nobles. I would love for Elemental to be able to convey similar differences in architectural style and feel.

I also have fond memories of, when I had more time to kill, playing WoW. The cites where well layed out for some rather scenic screenshots.

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December 18, 2009 7:56:52 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Arcanum cities:

-Tarante, with its museum and its fake two-headed cow and clever orc, the thugs waiting for you at night near the university and the train station which wouldn't let you in if you were a magic user.

-Shrouded hills with its bank robbery quests and the stupid thief at the bridge which you could get around by either helping him, talking to him or fighting.

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December 18, 2009 8:00:46 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Arcanium was a brilliant concept executed only sufficently. I can count the number of steam punk games on my hands and that is a shame. Depending on how flexable this game is for modding I think it would have great potential for a steam punk mod.

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December 18, 2009 8:14:01 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Athkatla from Baldur's Gate 2 was absolutely replete with little nooks and crannies begging to be explored. I doubt you could ever really find everything there was to find in Athkatla. I loved that city, I wished that component of the game would go on forever.

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December 18, 2009 8:32:41 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Nathaniel Richter,
The cities that stand out most in my mind from RPG's are the ones from Elder Scroll's III.

Gotta second this. Nothing like stepping off the silt strider to Balmora for the first time to see this awesome adobe style city on a river, with guards dressed in armor made of giant insect shells and molded bone. It really grew on you as time went on, it was centrally placed so even if you didn't do the main quest you often stopped there to shop, and if you did do the main quest it ended up being your primary safe house, which gave it a nice homey feeling.

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December 18, 2009 8:57:27 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The one I remember the most is probably the first city you come to in Assasins Creed, whilst standing on the mountain trail, looking down on that enourmous city, seeing people milling about, and realizing, I could go there, and do whatever I wanted.

Now, I think that what makes cities/places unique for most people, is interactivity - the ability to *change* the city, and put your mark on it.

I was actually thinking about the first CIV game last night, and how each time you progressed significantly, you got to make a sort of building, unique to your style and how you wanted it to look. I'd love something similar in elemental, the ability to redefine and make your capital unique!

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December 18, 2009 9:10:22 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

Boogie! If I were a woman, or gay I would have just fallen in love with you.
Those are all amazingly well done cities in what can be argued as some of the best games ever made.

 

What about the Opera House in FF6?(It's been a long time but I still have a hard time using 6 when talking about it)

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December 18, 2009 9:17:14 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,
(FF3 for us SNES old-timers).

Man those are some good memories. I remember the day I got FF3 quite vividly in my mind, same with Crono Trigger. Those were probably two of my all time favorite games ever. FF3 was Epic beyond belief, and Crono Trigger had SOOO many endings depending on who was in your party and how you ended the game. It just doesn't get any better then that.

For more recent gaming, one city I liked was the ruined Aircraft Carrier on Fallout 3, can't remember it's name right this second. The other town I liked in Fallout 3 was the one that had the super hero and villain fighting when you got there.

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December 18, 2009 9:30:49 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Ratchett City, Raven

As for my favorite city, Sigil from Planescape Torment is far and above my favorite city.  For those of you who haven't played this cult classic, it was the successor to Baldur's Gate 1.  It won drammatic and resounding acclaim, but sold few copies.  No city in RPG history had more character than Sigil.  It was essentially the crossroads of the planes of the D&D world, with portals connecting to random places throughout the plane.  Portals are invisible until they are opened and they can be anywhere.  However, a key is required to open it which can be anything from a thought to an object.  Most of Sigil's denizens arrive there by accident and are unable to leave.  For instance, a peasant could be walking along in their native world one day, whistling a jingle in their house when a portal appears between the legs of their favorite chair (or just as likely a minor devil or archon from the Celestial or Infernal planes).  Those with power, however, use it as a gateway to the rest of the planes. 

It was built inside of giant doughnut shaped natural structure atop a nearly endless spire and is guarded by the anti-diety "The Lady of Pain."  She is as powerful as any God herself and wards away other dieties that attempt to penetrate her city.  She slays anyone who attempts to worship her.  Her minions rearrange the city on a whim and the city inhabitants can do nothing but watch lest they "fall beneath the Lady's shadow."

There have been few cities in RPG experiences that have been able to generate such a sense of simultaneous grandeur and hopelessness.  Anyone who hasn't played Planescape Torment should find it.

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December 18, 2009 10:50:21 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

I agree that TES III:Morrowind has amazingly good cities.  Vivec was incredible.  The major cities in WoW are well done visually, especially Ironforge.  They needed houses though.  Those will be tough acts to follow within the context of a TBS, I think.

One key in Elemental for me will be having big cities be much, much bigger than small cities - as opposed to just bigger numbers on the screen.  No TBS I've played has ever really captured the difference very well.

Also I think if you ripped off the "wonders" concept of Civ, but actually had the wonders exist on the map that could give individual cites a lot more flavor.

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December 18, 2009 10:55:59 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I like the direction you are going with this line of thinking. Some of my favorite cities are from some really old space games. Two of my favorite games are Space Rogue and Privateer. It was always very satisfying to battle your way into these places knowing that it was the perfect place in the galaxy to sell the cargo you happened to have. Also the city was where you got to buy your ship upgrades or even a new ship! After a profitable visit to a city, it was like playing a new game from then on. Also, it was a nice peaceful diversion from the never ending chaos out in space.

However my favorite city was the colony in Space Rogue(fuzzy memories here) that had lost contact with the rest of the galaxy for some time. So I went there to check it out, hoping that maybe they would have some really cool stuff to sell or a good market for something. I get there and it looks like a normal city so I let my guard down. The thing is there aren't any people around, so I'm thinking "Aha! everyone left. Free stuff!" So I head over to what looks like the market area to stock up on supplies for free, and suddenly this creature bursts from a doorway and is coming at me at greater than normal speed! It took my brain a couple of seconds to realize that I might be in danger, and by now this thing was between me and my ship! So I ran into the city with this thing chasing me around tables and through rooms and the whole thing was pure panic before I was able loop around and hop onto my ship! Aaaaaaaagh!

I love surprises.

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December 18, 2009 12:12:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Sigil in planescape torment ! No city can beat it.

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December 18, 2009 1:15:00 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

My favourite city memory comes from PnP.

 

It was a relatively generic fantasy setting and we arrived in this city only to find the center of it “old town” walled off.   At night screams echoed from the center and everyone in the town refused to talk about what was going on in there.  In fact most of them had been born there after the wall was up and they just did not know.   Well one day we decided that we should investigate.   We climbed over the wall and began spelunking but soon enough shadows peeled themselves off the walls, the howls became more intense, and a violin started to play.   We all got ideas in our heads that the others in the party where out to get us, and started fighting each other, one PC got stabbed to death in the corner by his best friend.  One of the PC's (who passed his willpower check) managed to see what was going on and convinced the other one that we needed to get out and fast, but they had to knock me unconscious and drag me out just as the howls and shadows were closing in.   We never went back and we never wanted to find out what was going on there.  It shook our characters to their cores.

 

Anyways.  Good time.   For game purposes, perhaps a necromancer could open a portal in a city and try to flood it with low level daemons.   They city could seal off the portal if it would like, if you do not have the magical power to deal with it, but doing so would mean that you lost the buildings that was in the zone and that you had to garrison the walls around it...or they could break free!!!  Perhaps there could be some corrupting influence as well.

 

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December 18, 2009 1:33:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting vieuxchat,
Sigil in planescape torment ! No city can beat it.

Agreed, amazing setting and atmosphere.

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December 18, 2009 1:36:02 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Oh god, if you guys can make each city (or at least some cities) in Elemental feel special in some way, that would be a dream come true.  In TBS games, the only cities I feel particularly fond of are ones built in particular terrain.  Cities blocking off choke points between mountains or on an isthmus being examples.  Of course, in a game like Civ, the importance of that fades as the game goes on.

Wonders were, I suppose, an attempt to make cities unique.  In reality, though, the effect was negligible.  It would only really matter if you lost the city containing a wonder - otherwise, it wasn't particularly important which city it was in.  Perhaps with the inclusion of adventurers in Elemental, the geographic location of these unique "wonders" (I'm just assuming Elemental will have something equivalent, I don't know that of course) could have an actual gameplay significance.

I would also like to see deep specialization in cities.  Cities would evolve down different paths, spurred on by a variety of factors (some under the sovereign's control, some not).  Coastal towns may grow to be major trading centers, or they may remain small fishing villages (not every town has to evolve into a generic metropolis!).  The villagers up in the mountains may develop a fierce independent streak, and their town could be difficult to rule by any sovereign at all.

Geographic proximity to certain map features could also affect how a given town develops. Hmm, maybe have characteristics of a town be based on local geographic features (mountains, swamps, coast).  Then add an additional set of characteristics to the town based on local "special" map objects (resources, volcanoes, shards, lairs of nasty beasties).  Then take a couple more things into consideration (isolation vs. being on the crossroads of a major trade route, proximity to borders with other civilizations vs. being "interior") to add a few more characteristics.  Then there are the effects of what the sovereign chooses to build in the city (wonders and such).  Then toss in some town-based random events over the course of the game which can alter or add to the characteristics of just that town.  I think with all those additive but independent characteristics, it would create a huge number of possible cities from game to game.

Sorry, I'm just babbling at this point...

 

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December 18, 2009 1:39:42 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I want to be able to have my empire center on a single vast city. Like Ankh-Morpork.

 

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December 18, 2009 1:48:49 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

This is just a personal thing, but I had my breath taken away by a City in Everquest.

Way back in the good-ol-days, my friend who got me to play was over in Black Burrow but I was over in the Commonlands.

The trip felt like it took weeks. Terrified out of my mind after getting molested in Kithicor due to me being a newb and not knowing about the night and the undead.

Long story short, seeing Qeynos after all of that work was the most beautiful city I've seen in a game. Probably just from the releif and the triumphant music that played when I zoned in

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December 18, 2009 2:08:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

To make cities unique, it would be worth looking into some geographically specific buildings, Buildings for swamps, for deserts, for forests, for mountains and plains.

 

More so I think it also should be important that certain cities be allowed to develop into legends in their own right, perhaps a town becomes famous for its fine quality armor.

 

One last point and all of these were touched on by Cauldyth is that some settlements should stay small.   Not every town should become a thriving metropolis.

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December 18, 2009 2:49:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


 - The Judge and Jury -
Guardia Castle (Crono Trigger)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqUzkUnfFvU&feature=PlayList&p=BCDB7374741762E9&index=6 (5:55)


By the way, Boogie, for future reference Youtube supports deeplinking to particular times in videos.  If you want to link to a particular time in the video, you can just append #t=XmYs to the link.  For example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqUzkUnfFvU&feature=PlayList&p=BCDB7374741762E9&index=6#t=5m55s

Edit: Now if only I could remember how to make a link on these forums...



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December 18, 2009 3:00:32 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

From roots RPG-land, I really admired Lankhmar, City of Adventure, and City State of the Invincible Overlord. After I played some in those settings, I pretty much lost my taste for traditional dungeon-crawling. Those city settings started out with far more atmosphere and topped that off with lots more interaction options for every character type--thieves got chances to be central figures, fighters learned how to do their jobs with no armor and light weapons, mages had to deal with being close to lots of their peers, priests had to deal with their temple hierarchies...

Fond reminiscing aside, I'm with Cauldyth and fairwater in hoping to see the game shape up to make city-spam a thing of the past. That seems to be an essential Step 1 on a path to the goal of making TBS cities memorable. Rich event logging and strong map-level connections to those logs seem like Step 2 (kind of a city version of the way that Judge and Jury setting worked).

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December 18, 2009 3:31:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The city in Thief: the dark project was very nicely done.  Granted, you never get to see the whole of it, but it was something to experience.  The haunted walled off section especially.  The place seemed properly immense, gritty, and alive.  That is a game I would like to get working properly again!

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December 18, 2009 3:52:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thinking this over more, I think RPG cities become memorable due to three factors.

1. Familiarity. Since this is a turn based strategy I think this work will pretty much be done for you, since you'll be "revisiting" cities every few turns to change production orders and such.

 

2. Individuality. You can't really become attached to a particular city unless it's somehow different from other cities. This is a tough one and I can't think of any way to achieve this without a lot of extra work from you guys. I like the idea one of the posters had about geographically dependent buildings. A city near a forest might have a lumber mill. One near a mountain might have a quarry. You could even go even farther with this, with the entire city having different graphics depending on where it's founded. A city near a forest will mostly be wooden. If lots of stone is available the buildings will be made of that. Near a flood plain? Mud brick cities.

This would be even better if there were emergent properties that made a city more individual if time goes on. City attacked by a necromancer? Perhaps it becomes haunted afterward. City produced a military unit that went on to have an obscenely high kill count? Maybe they built a monument to their soldiers.

 

3. It should feel alive. This is another tough one, but perhaps not as hard as number 2. One of the best things about the Sim City series of games in my opinion is that you really get the feeling people are living in these cities. There's traffic. People on the sidewalks, car accidents, helicopters and planes, ships. This was also a fun thing in The Elder Scrolls series. In Oblivion people went about their daily lives all around you. Morrowind was more static, but it was still fun to see how different quests intertwined with each other, and in my first playthroughs I always enjoyed hearing the local rumors. Give me traffic in cities. Wagons loaded with trade goods entering the city gate. Let me see people working. I always enjoyed how you could watch your peons go about their various duties in the Age of Empires series' bases.

 

This can tie into number 2. If your town has a lumber mill, it would be nice to see them actually felling trees and cutting up logs. Maybe it's an industrial town? If it is, I want to see haze rising from all the forges, and hear hammers ringing when I zoom in. If it's a military base, you should be able to see men drilling in formation.

 

Like I said, a lot of this is gonna be extra work on your part, but it's nice to dream.

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December 18, 2009 5:12:59 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

The greatest rpg city of all time is Sigil, of "Planescape Torment" fame! No other city in any game has ever come close to the depth of exploration to be had in it. Every five steps was another interesting character with another unique sidequest. Random attacks from street thugs, crowds of different races walking the streets, and the Lady of Pain's shadow looming over everything! Never have I had so much fun exploring every inch of a city before. I've played through the game over a dozen times, and each time I find at least new surprises by playing as a different class with a different alignment and/or party make-up. (And I'm a very thorough player.)

I also loved all of the cities in "Terranigma". Each one was able to be developed from a small village to a prosperous city by your actions. I liked the base you build in "Skies of Arcadia" for much the same reason.

Arcanum's cities are a great example of cities that had a lot of content inside of them.

The Orion system in "Master of Orion 2" was a treat in that it was this great system with an air of mystery to it, and a powerful guardian that let the imagination run wild with what secrets it may have kept from you.

I also have many fond memories of spending idle hours wandering around Kakariko Village in "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past." I would pretend to be the neighborhood kid doing yard work for the village by slashing the bushes with my sword, or going into the one house that had rupees hiding behind the painting and "robbing" them before running into the patroling guards outside to start a village wide manhunt.

"Chrono Trigger" has so many great moments that I don't even know where to begin. The trial scene is, of course, a very memorable moment that also taught you that your actions can actually have consequences in the game. The Millennial Fair remains special for serving as a great begining and ending to the game. All the little games to play, Gato, and earning those silver points to spend on all the characters' mimics; good times indeed! The exotic Zeal, heroic Guardia Castle of the middle ages, and the uncertainty of that first visit to Medina Village and it's hostile inhabitants; there is no end to the great locales in that game!

I don't have enough time to write about them, but the cities from Fallout 1 & 2 had tremendous amounts of personality to them. I especially liked discovering the power structure in each city. Was there a government of some kind, crime lords, local law, military, anarchy, etc.

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December 18, 2009 5:53:09 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

I would like to add Pravoca from the original Final Fantasy on the NES. It had pirates.

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December 18, 2009 6:32:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

One of the key things you guys really need to do first off is make a clear distinction between major cities and minor cities. Major cities should be large lively places and all of them should have significant character but a player should only generally deal with a handful in a game no more than a dozen perhaps altogether on the entire map (including major enemy cities) any more and they all kinda just run together. There is simply no way to have a hundred cities on a map and have each one stand out over the course of a single game...

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