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 19, 2009 12:07:51 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Final Fantasy 7 had the only city I can really remember the name of, Midgar. They portrayed a sense of scale you never really got to see in the game. The city with the amusement park also stands out in my mind for all the mini-games it had.

The cities I remember most fondly though come from the first two Quest for Glory (originally Hero's Quest) games. They were dripping with character from the Sheriff's "Goons" to the street merchants in the Arabian town.

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December 19, 2009 12:48:45 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Edit: Adjusted a few details

@BoogieBac, original post

I remember those games well. Good picks if you want to set a point. I could add comments for all of them, but I'll add other picks instead.

- The planet killing city -
Midgar (FF7)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBvnot7pkvg

I doubt that any single video would set the mood the city "Midgar" gives the game, but you should get the idea. It was an "utopia city" designed and built by an immoral company called Shinra. This city is powered by the life force of the planet itself (called mako), and it had a mood both dark and modern. It was large enough to have more than a few adventures in, where in many other games, you tend to have adventures outside the city. The layers, the different sectors, the subway, and even the sewers made the city look big enough to be the "whole game world" for all intents and purposes.

By the time you leave the place, it feels weird to do so. The land becomes greener, and most towns on the "outside" had a more rural feel in comparison. And its influence doesn't end there. I could go on, but I would likely go on and on and on...

- Collatoral Damage -
Kattelox Island (Megaman Legends / Rockman Dash)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjsxT7ygdMk&feature=PlayList&p=F57E23D858462BDC&index=8

The Megaman series are not known to have the best story lines or voice acting (Megaman X 7 was horrible enough that it could kill...), but it does have its moments. Early in the game, the main town in the game comes under siege by pirates. Not only do you have to defeat them, but there is a risk that the fighting will destroy nearby buildings. After all the fighting is finished, you get a side quest to "donate zenny" to rebuild the city.

What should be taken from this is, if you go run and hide so you can drink a potion to recover (or buy a drink from a vending machine), be prepared for your opponent to destroy the town you are to protect when they try to find you. You'll also have to come to terms with the damage caused because of your "heroism".

P.S. I don't think that the Megaman Legends series get nearly enough attention that it deserves.

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December 19, 2009 1:37:11 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

Ok, so lets really think about this.

Cities need to evolve into their uniqueness.  Factors that could result in that evolution.

 

Location

  • The city is surrounded by a particular resource, (or group there of) therefore it develops affinities for the products of that resource.  Ie.  Famed Armour from a town nestled between a silver and iron mine in the mountains.
  • The city is located at critical point on the map.  Ie, a mountain pass, or at the edge of another kingdoms empire.  This could allow for special fortification and buildings that build upon that pivotal location.
  • The city is located in a swamp, desert, forest, etc.  There may be a chance that you could build buildings specific to that location.
  • The city is located close to a non-playable race that comes to inhabit that city, setting up their quarters/ghettos.  Ie. Ogres move into town.

Events

  • As someone mentioned earlier, statues or memorials for great battles.
  • Tomb's and think large tombs for past rulers,(the ruler would have to do something momumentous to open up this option).  Ie. Great pyramids of Giza.
  • A magical event and the response of the player could make a town unique.  Ie. Opening up a portal to another worldly dimension into the town, and then it becomes sealed off but leaks corruption.
  • A city survives some terrible event and is for ever changed.  Ie.   Survives a plague and then dedicates itself to a god of healing.  Or a town is burned to the ground but is rebuilt with the catacombs of the old city beneath for adventures to explore.

Evolution

  • This one is fairly obvious, the more you do something in that town the more specialized it will be, if you make all your weapons here, or armour or troops, or grain.  You get the point.
  • Cities on boarders could set up smuggling operations, and overtime the city evolves into a den of thieves.
  • A city is influenced by the culture of another nation.

 

These are just some rambling late night thoughts.

 

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December 19, 2009 5:37:53 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It's fun to see many people remember fondly Morrowind cities. I don't. They all looked bland and void to me, with zero characters you could interact with (dialogues are the weak part of Morrowind). I preferred Arcanum because its citizens had day/night schedules, they would talk to you...

Baldur's Gate II's Athkatla was nice too, with its many inns, quests and events waiting for you at every other corner.

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December 19, 2009 7:12:57 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Baldur's gate 1 and 2! sigh, I used to spend hours just wondering around and clicking on every thing, pure bliss.

 

Warder

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December 19, 2009 7:45:27 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

This has got to be my favourite Game Design Conundrum! How to create the most immersive fantasy settlements in a TBS!

Why? Because on the level most TBS games work, settlements are central to communicating the culture of the fictive world to the audience. Therefore they become the primary inspiration of the audience to start imagining the details, fill in the gaps in the story framework that the game provides. Done well, descriptions of the places where people decide to live their lives, can make or break a game.

From a TBS game design perspective, I think the primary challenges are as follows:

1.   You can’t show it all, you have to tell as well.

in a TBS you usually can't create the whole city visually, with enough detail that it will actually feel autonomous, and if you do, it will usually lack personality, besides what it gets from its location. Therefore you will have to rely on text, pictures and abstractions (points/titles/categories) to create the personality of the city. In my experience what works best is to not use points to describe, simply because word, sounds and images are more evocative and help your imagination along. It’s more difficult/expensive obviously, although it can be done on multiple levels. The more emergent the text is however, the more it feeds your imagination and makes you feel that there is more to the city than a simply point based system camouflaged with a few words.

basic Example: So, the first step is instead of describing a city's size with integers 1 through 5, describe them as a list of texts

(1=[hamlet, collection of huts], 2=[village, small town], 3=[town, market town, county hub], 4=[city], 5=[capital])

Same for all other attributes you feel could help describe the city:

My dream has always been to go even further and script an emergent system to generate flavored descriptions based on game data, and these texts could then constantly reflect the city’s history and current status. This is something that was already done in a basic but powerful way on Commodore 64 (land of midnight).

"The [Small Hamlet] of [Touring] is situated on [the river smafok] near [the black forest]. It has been here [forever]. The population are [mainly Fishermen], with a [few Merchants] and [some Tradesmen]. etc. etc.

 

2.   Camouflage the systemic description. Support the players own story telling

If you want to create immersion, you need the formal system you use to describe they city, its attributes, classes, tables, rules, algorithms, to be hidden, yet reflected in your descriptions, but in text and images that add flavor and still lets the player understand what he is dealing with, and not numbers and stats. Using numbers and stats breaks immersion and asks the player to start crunching numbers instead of spending his time “role playing” the city. The gamers will start min-maxing and discussing stats instead of telling stories. Doing it right takes a whole new layer on top of the basic stats layer, which is probably why most games leave it out. Unfortunately, this is exactly where you should not save on resources, unless immersion, story and role playing is secondary to your design.

3.   Player attention and Communicating in ways that are easy to remember

In TBS games the player usually have many cities, or points of interest, you want him to spend time on. Therefore his attention is divided, and when presenting the location to him the first time, the description needs to be short and brimming with data that lets him tell it apart from other locations, as well as wet his appetite for learning more about the place. Therefore a short description that points out the special attributes and notable personalities or groups of people is a good start point. It should be possible to generate a short description like below, based on game data:

Example:

“Hadrum’s Point, is a bustling and dangerous harbor town, on the shores of the sea of shards. Towering over the town is a beautiful Lighthouse known far and wide. Hadrum’s Point is infamous as the home of the Powerful Cerulean Assassins guild. The ruler of the city is the Adventurous Count Smakodak, a famous rogue.”

This is IMO a pretty nice intro to a city. It is short and brimming with info generated based on game data, so it actually also tells the player something about the city’s opportunities (trade here, build a town guard, send the count on a quest, hire assassins, create boats here that sail further, etc. etc.). Coupled with a nice picture a la what we have seen in the journals, maybe with an “assassins guild” icon, and a picture of the ruler, it should be enough to give the player incentive to read the more detailed descriptions/stats on the town and start doing stuff to the town to see how it changes.

When it comes to creating a memorable city with more detail than just the introduction, think about what people in general are best at remembering. Personality comes from being able to differentiate, and from remembering history.  images, colors, faces, memorable texts, sounds, and names that evoke images and fit into a context, are all easy to remember. Numbers, Names that mean nothing in particular, generic text, generic graphics, are all difficult for most people to remember and do not evoke history in any way, because you forget them. Easiest of all to remember is stuff that reminds you of real life!

Also finding something rare and valuable is of course also very important:

So let’s focus on the easy ones and come up with ideas to use those:

Images: Obviously if the graphics of the settlements are customizable enough, and differ enough based on location, culture, race, etc, then a picture of the settlement can be great. Especially if specific landmarks, buildings, etc. can be used.

Colors: Color palette is a general tool to strengthen recognition and thereby personality

Faces: This is a whole chapter by itself. People are made to recognize faces, because other people matter a whole lot in an evolutionary sense. Therefore adding important personalities with individual faces, is a very very good way of giving flavor and personality to a location. This also opens up a whole new area of location description, in the sense that it asks the question: what is really most interesting about a city, is it the buildings or the people that live in them, their culture, who they are and what they do? I would always say the latter, hence when describing a settlement, describe the most interesting people there, the organizations, and their personalities, goals etc. This I see as the most important way of giving a settlement personality. In the end a settlement is all about the people that live there.

Text: again, text is much more evocative than numbers, inspiration and interpretation is more important in text than in numbers. Instead of having a city with a defense of 2, I would rather see that my city “is surrounded by a rugged 10 foot wooden barricade, with guard towers at strategically important locations”. Why? Simply because it evokes a picture in my minds eye. And I now remember that I build the wooden barricade around the city called blabu. Going from   Defense 1 to Defense 2 does not evoke anything in regards to story, it just adds to my stats.

Sounds & Music: Specific music, sounds that reflect the settlements size, location, culture, religion, again stimulates the most basic parts of the human brain in ways that numbers and text cannot. This is the reason why the best games have awesome sound. Inspiration: Heroes of might and magic series has awesome sound effects, esp. II and III. There are sound effects tied to every little location on screen, and depending on your view as a player, the overall audio experience is a mashup of all these. It works really well! Music: morrowind, oblivion, age of empires, neverwinter nights, guild wars (Jeremy soule!) is amazingly evocative music for creating moods.

Names: If you can make sure that names of locations fit the game context in some way, then you have come far. Instead of choosing random names from a list, let the names reflect the location, the area, the culture, as most actual city names actually do, although we tend to forget. It is of course more difficult in a game, since the player probably won’t know very much about this things, but it should be possible to create a library of city names or a name generator that uses game data to generate context dependant names.

Rare and valuable: Special abilities, and attributes are always cool: “oh this is the city with the assassins guild!” see the cool assassins guild badge it has!. Or, “wow, this one has the gold mine!” etc. etc. easy as pie, works a treat.

Real Life references: This is why borrowing from Real life cultures is a staple in fantasy and sci-fi. By e.g. introducing an oriental culture into a fantasy game, you automatically allow the player to use all his knowledge of the middle east, aswell as other oriental inspired stories, movies, games he has experienced, to interpret and build on the story seed you gave him. Using Cultural references allows you to say a lot without saying very much. Its free content!

 The one thing that is central to all of these descriptors however, is the elusive context: To help the story telling of the player the descriptions need to be in context. They need to be consistent and reflect the true game world. Since Elementals focus is creating a very detailed game world, I think you are the exact game that might be able to pull this off for real.

 

 

 

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December 19, 2009 11:25:46 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Reading over these posts I've been trying to think of any memorable cities in 4x games.  The only one that really sticks out to me is Orion, from Moo2.  When you found that planet, It became a major goal to build up enough fire power to take it out.  The thing that made it memorable, was that it was similar from one game to the next. 

So I think the first key, is name recognition.   To aquire that you need a good number of filler cities first. Cities that don't stand out.  Your typical 4x planets, towns, etc.

In order to make a city stand out, they could be consistent (like Orion).  The city of "varsis" for example could always be near a forest, and have access to a special type of wood for arrows.  Whenever you see varsis, you know it has an extra value.  The city of Kameel might always offer a major production bonus.  When you see this city you will remember previous games you've played where you were able to build up armies very quickly.  The city of "qualan" might have a massive library from a long forgotten era that grants you a large bonus to technology research.  The city of appleleaf might have an ancient wizards guild,  that grants you a major benefit to research of some sort.  The city of tigalville might give you the hero Tigal who will offer to join your cause.

 

The more powerful the bonus the city offers, the more powerful the defenders should be.  If they are not too numerous,  you will be able to remember them.  The bonus feature of the city should have a very large building displayed on the world map.  A good cut scene featuring said building  that looks sufficiently like the large building visible on the world map, and it's history for each one. These things would help to immerse you into the world, and make for memorable games with one or two of these powerful places as a focal point in your campaign.  While also increasing replay-ability.

Lastly, lets say you are playing a game and get a particularly high score.  One city has a stupidly high rating in some form or another (lets say it is a production hub). (enough to make it memorable to you).  When you win the game, that city could be added to the "special cities" list, the terrain type it was on saved, and given an appropriate building.  Lets say you won the game by conquering all of your enemies.  A tower of war could be erected to glorify your achievement in the cut scene at the end of your game.   When you find that city in another game, the same portion of the cut scene could be  played.  Showing your actual city, and the tower could give a bonus to your military morale empire wide if you control the city. The city layout could be the same, and it would be defended appropriately.

 

 Have a list of special buildings that can be enabled based on what special achievements you made during your play through.  Win in 100 turns or lest?  The city the game figures most critical to that success gets saved and a blitzkrieg monument is erected in it, allowing for a special unit to be researched that is suitable to a blitzkrieg style.  When you find it in a new game, a cut scene is played, telling the story of the great channeler Frogboy who united the plane in one crashing victory after the next without so much as a pause.  And how this monument was built in his honor.  This thriving city and monument are all that remains of his once great empire. Historical text in the town tell of the troops used after his victory to maintain the peace.  The rabid militia.  This unit now becomes available to build, but only in this town.

 

This way you get to have both some pre established special cities, and some that are more personally memorable to the player themselves as they play through the game again and again.

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December 19, 2009 8:57:48 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The ground-up diversity of Morrowinds landscape was amazing and gave an impression of genuine distance, I think the key to capturing this vibe is to make land-types impress themselves upon the architecture.

Athkatla on the the other hand, had an ambience unrivalled for my RPG experience...the way the sound and visuals combined to create the feeling of being initially lost and overwhelmed was incredible. Then to have this ambience pan out into the endless nooks and crannies of the storyline alongside the players growing familiarity was equally so. The key for me here was mostly the sound effects, but the sheer amount of unexplored (and self-contained) stories certainly helped.

Hope that helped.

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December 19, 2009 9:16:41 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.

I think this is a very important piece to making cities remarkable, memorable and awe-inspiring.  If all cities can grow into major cities, then there is nothing memorable about them, since they're all the same. As I see it, there should be three tiers of cities, minor (90% of the cities on the map), major (9% of the cities on the map), megalopolis (1% of the cities on the map).  Specific conditions should need to be met to create major cities, and so they'll be few and special, and a megalopolis takes special attention and care to build up, and are virtually a unique achievement of the kingdom its in.

Their rarity alone would make major cities and megalopolis's memorable, whats lies within the individual cities would add to their greatness.  These conditions would preferably be interchangable allowing a variety of strategies and ways to build big cities.

As far as specific things in a city goes:

The Great Memorial/Monument

Every great city has a rich history to support it.  And what better way to remember that history then to erect a large monument.  In major fantasy cities, this could be a statue of a great hero (like in baldur's gate 2, Tradesmeet), maybe its a simple stone wall with names scrawled on it (the monolith in Planescape: Torment), or a special tree (the white tree in Minas Tirith).  Whatever it may be it holds special significance to the citizens of the city, and is often something that inspires awe, wonder, or even fear into those who see it.

Maybe after a major event, or something important occurs, you could gain the ability to build some sort of landmark to celebrate or simply remember the occurance?

 

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December 20, 2009 12:05:11 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Morrowind's cities and Alkathla in Baldur's Gate 2 stand out for me as well.

I think it's about exploration, starting from how the city is revealed.

In Baldur's Gate 2, you spend a lot of time mucking about in the first dungeon, which is fairly dark and linear and frankly a bit of a grind. When you get out of there and into the city there's a real contrast: everything is bright and colourful and there are a hundred places to explore, the game just opens up and it's exciting.

In Morrowind you take a longish trip through a really interesting world, and then you see Vivec just looming out of the fog, and it's a really great design for a city. But even better is Ald'ruhn, House Redoran's main city. Ald'ruhn is built from giant shells, and has a sort of Sydney Opera House vibe. Again, the reveal is cool: for me I stumbled in during an Ash storm, and suddenly there are just these shapes. Again, in these cities there is all sorts of cool stuff to explore.

So the question is, can you capture the excitement of discovering and exploring a city with unique and interesting architecture and story content in Elemental? It seems tough. The trouble is, the only time I'm discovering a city is when it belongs to another player, in which case there isn't actually anything for me to do. My suggestion would be to have neutral cities (or minor faction cities?) where there are things for players to do than conquer them - marketplaces and auctions are an obvious one, attaching quests seems so as well.

Something that should be easier to do is to make cities unique, both by giving a faction a unique architecture style and by making cities grow differently - perhaps some sort of specialization system or a way to choose a building to be a prominent landmark? Or Wonders of the World? Or magical structures of some kind?

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December 20, 2009 2:38:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Wow, so many fond memories in this thread. I've been playing computer RPGs for quite some time, but I have to say that the ones from Elderscrolls 3: Oblivion stand out the most. Every settlement was unique, be it that it was fashioned from giant crabshells or huge mushrooms, or the metropolis Vivec itself.

 

Gothic 1 & 2 had also rather memorable settlements. Everyone went about their business during the day, to the pub in the evening and to bed at night. After a while some of those locales seemed like home because you knew them so well. "There's the smithy, over there's the fish vendor", etc. Everyone had a story and the whole place always seemed so alive.

 

In strategy games I liked (though memories are hazy) the cities in Rings of Medusa:

Cities were not just places to buy troops, but the game also relied on trade, gambling, ...

 

In a similar vein: does anyone remember Iron Lord and its mini games?

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December 21, 2009 3:50:27 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It's worth noting Civ IV has come the closest to this, with its unique improvements and resource system. It's still not great, but it's closer. I really hope you can work out how to do this; one way may be to take the idea of cities being characters, as if in an RPG, very seriously.

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December 21, 2009 4:34:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting KbT,
It's worth noting Civ IV has come the closest to this, with its unique improvements and resource system. It's still not great, but it's closer. I really hope you can work out how to do this; one way may be to take the idea of cities being characters, as if in an RPG, very seriously.

And why not ? What should you need ? I mean in a P&P RPG. What make characters remarkable are their stories, weaknesses. What make something unique ?

What would make a city unique ? Wonders are a good start, but in civ4 you can get 3 or 4 or 5 wonders in the same city. And they lose their uniqueness. Why not getting "free" special building thanks to what is alrady being built, thanks to whatever quests are being completed ? Think at it like the research. You don't choose the exact tech you need. You follow a global path.

Why not adding a choice in the game : after a certain point in a city growth you can make a choice. Do you want a "spécial" city (we need to find a word that would fit well in the lore of Elemental) ? If yes then you that city starts gaining some "uniqueness" points (yeah, I know I really need better words). After some kind of "breakthrough" you can choose something special about your city. The choices would depend on what is already built. A lot of inns ? then you can choose "Mother of allnights" and your city will attract more people, more gold, but you also get a lot more vice. You have a lot more quests with bad effects if you don't do them in time.

When you choose the path of uniqueness (or enligthnement - how do you spell that word ? - or darknessment - does that word exists ?) your city will always earn some "perks" that have always good and bad effects. Always.

All the cities we have fond memories of have their dark side.

That system would be cool IF there is enough choices to do. Think at it like that :

You start a game, and start building farms like crazy, researching the best farms you can get, and you don't have any houses, only hovels. Then your capital get to the 'town" rank. And you can choose a "path" :

  • Military : your farmers can defend the town. But you earn less money because you have a higher upkeep.
  • Diplomacy : that town becomes well know for its brilliant culinary art. You get a "Divine grain" to trade for in the diplomacy panel. Enemies also don't want to attack that town : you attacker needs to have at least 15% more diplomacy points to attack that particuliar city. But as they learn more and more about culinary facts, they lose their will to fight. You get a malus on all battles conducted in that town .. because beasts, magical beings and "pirates" don't bother eating well.
  • Magic : you start learning some magic from the soil your working on. You get one more earth point for every 50 farming point in that town. But sometimes things happens. You get magical earth beings attacking the town.
  • Exploring : Heroes hired in that town know how to survive with less food. they can last longer without supplies (in any system like that is ever used). But greedy rogues know that this town attracts a lot of heroes. And their gold.
  • Civilization : the hovels you're living in are really well made. (think of the hobbit's home) a lot more people can live in : 50 from 10. But as those who live there don't want other places to live, you can't never build anything else there (and never built houses that would affect prestige or have other use)

If you have chosen the military path, then you will have to follow it (at least for some times. For instance you can change the path every 3 or 4 ranks, but the most powerful "city perks" would only be available at higer ranks).

to get the right to make a choice you would need o have a city with something "special". If you have the usual "4 hovels, a farm, two barracks a school, etc." then you won't have a chance to choose a path. The palace would let you choose whatever path you want, even if you don't have the rigth buildings to make a choice. then you would always have at least one city that could become ... special.

That would be cool

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December 21, 2009 6:39:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

OK, I chimed in from 'there are no computer RPGs' crowd earlier. But I've been reading this thread with great interest so far, and I finally have a question for the folks who know lots of computer RPGs:

You've all named a bunch of cities, and sometimes more than one city per game. What was the largest number of cities you remember from a particular game?

I'm asking a sort of 'blind push poll' question here because I expect to learn that in most computer RPGs, cities are not numerous. That's true of every single fantasy novel or series I've read that includes maps in the books. But every epic-scale TBS map I've played has been prone to wall-to-wall cities, even if the map has the visual space provided by a sci-fi game like GC2. The problem almost seems analagous to finding the ideal size for a round-the-table RPG group. Playing through a serious epic is hard with just a handful of folks, but also gets hard when you start wondering how to seat 8 at your six-seat table, and adding players turns impossibly hard (or boring) right around there.

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December 21, 2009 8:19:53 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting GW Swicord,
I'm asking a sort of 'blind push poll' question here because I expect to learn that in most computer RPGs, cities are not numerous. That's true of every single fantasy novel or series I've read that includes maps in the books. But every epic-scale TBS map I've played has been prone to wall-to-wall cities, even if the map has the visual space provided by a sci-fi game like GC2. The problem almost seems analagous to finding the ideal size for a round-the-table RPG group. Playing through a serious epic is hard with just a handful of folks, but also gets hard when you start wondering how to seat 8 at your six-seat table, and adding players turns impossibly hard (or boring) right around there.

Well, in computer RPGs few cities is also a question of assets: it's expensive to build lots of cities. But in fantasy novels, you can check Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, those worlds have maps with cities, towns, castles, temples, ruins,... everywhere.

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December 22, 2009 12:30:36 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Maybe it's not the 'bestest' city (in RPGs I played), but I will never forget the moment when I walked out of the tavern (with my party) in Easthaven (Icewind Dale) and heard this music. Nothing can beat these sounds (ok, maybe the song from elven city in BGII) and the overwhelming snow all around you.

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December 22, 2009 1:25:51 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

New Reno!!!! Fallout 2. I feel sorry for all those that never experienced being an unwitting fluffer before. Good times.. i think.. or something. *cough*

My first post! More goodness to come.

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December 22, 2009 2:55:04 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

quote: "OK, I chimed in from 'there are no computer RPGs' crowd earlier. But I've been reading this thread with great interest so far, and I finally have a question for the folks who know lots of computer RPGs:

You've all named a bunch of cities, and sometimes more than one city per game. What was the largest number of cities you remember from a particular game?

I'm asking a sort of 'blind push poll' question here because I expect to learn that in most computer RPGs, cities are not numerous. That's true of every single fantasy novel or series I've read that includes maps in the books. But every epic-scale TBS map I've played has been prone to wall-to-wall cities, even if the map has the visual space provided by a sci-fi game like GC2. The problem almost seems analagous to finding the ideal size for a round-the-table RPG group. Playing through a serious epic is hard with just a handful of folks, but also gets hard when you start wondering how to seat 8 at your six-seat table, and adding players turns impossibly hard (or boring) right around there."

 

I think the reason, as I stated in my post above, is that noone has really spent time on figuring out how to make cities seem special, in a TBS before. The problem is manyfold, but i think the primary problem is, that as a player you don't spend as much time with your individual cities, as you would with a character/hero, because the game usually isn't tailored towards that sort of gameplay. 

consequence: if you want to spend resources creating special cities, It should be damn fun playing around with them, you should have tons of options, and even more importantly, the city should feel alive, and autonomous, constantly giving you things to do, like an RPG character who has skills, inventory, stats, achievements etc. If you make the cities completely controllable like e.g. planets in GalCiv2, they become boring, as they lost personality and become robots. Take your inspiration from the classic CRPG player characters and see how they are brought alive.

Furthermore, as written above, its really a question of communication. If you present the city as a group of statpoints, it loses all magic, because its just numbers, and it puts the whole algorithmic background on display. Solution: Camouflage the rules with cool textual descriptions, pictures and characters. more examples in my post above, but here are a few more i thought of.

 

examples:

 

Use characters as representatives of different areas of the town. Make these characters alive and dynamic, not just talking heads.

A dirty habor city could have a pirate as the harbormaster, whom you interact with to control ship and trade buildings. Maybe he requires some blackmailing in order to do stuff you want

The small hamlet maybe has the miller/mayor as the spokesman of the whole village. 

 

The head of the assassins guild in the capital city may be a strong ally, but could possibly also take contracts on other of your city characters as part of her job, giving having an assassins guild a backside. 

 

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December 22, 2009 4:43:28 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

In some old games I played - and forgot the name - you were a company that needed to do money thanks to trade. But you also had political things happening in Venice. You could try to become the doge. It would be a good idea to get some things to do in cities other than just building things. there were also a game that played in the ancient Rome. you had to deal with a TBS and a political simulation of the Senat.

And I like the idea of being able to graphically design my city.

Anyway, what do you think of my idea ? :

You start a game, and start building farms like crazy, researching the best farms you can get, and you don't have any houses, only hovels. Then your capital get to the 'town" rank. And you can choose a "path" :

  • Military : your farmers can defend the town. But you earn less money because you have a higher upkeep.
  • Diplomacy : that town becomes well know for its brilliant culinary art. You get a "Divine grain" to trade for in the diplomacy panel. Enemies also don't want to attack that town : you attacker needs to have at least 15% more diplomacy points to attack that particuliar city. But as they learn more and more about culinary facts, they lose their will to fight. You get a malus on all battles conducted in that town .. because beasts, magical beings and "pirates" don't bother eating well.
  • Magic : you start learning some magic from the soil your working on. You get one more earth point for every 50 farming point in that town. But sometimes things happens. You get magical earth beings attacking the town.
  • Exploring : Heroes hired in that town know how to survive with less food. they can last longer without supplies (in any system like that is ever used). But greedy rogues know that this town attracts a lot of heroes. And their gold.
  • Civilization : the hovels you're living in are really well made. (think of the hobbit's home) a lot more people can live in : 50 from 10. But as those who live there don't want other places to live, you can't never build anything else there (and never built houses that would affect prestige or have other use)

If you have chosen the military path, then you will have to follow it (at least for some times. For instance you can change the path every 3 or 4 ranks, but the most powerful "city perks" would only be available at higer ranks).

to get the right to make a choice you would need o have a city with something "special". If you have the usual "4 hovels, a farm, two barracks a school, etc." then you won't have a chance to choose a path. The palace would let you choose whatever path you want, even if you don't have the rigth buildings to make a choice. then you would always have at least one city that could become ... special.

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December 22, 2009 8:14:57 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

vieuxchat,  i think you are talking about the game machiavelli. that was great

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December 22, 2009 10:11:45 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Yes ! Machiavelli the prince ! That's it ! Great memories

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December 22, 2009 3:32:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting VicenteC,
... Well, in computer RPGs few cities is also a question of assets: it's expensive to build lots of cities. But in fantasy novels, you can check Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, those worlds have maps with cities, towns, castles, temples, ruins,... everywhere.

I quit reading modules for the most part in the mid '80s on account of being lucky enough to know refs who liked to write their own stuff. My fantasy novel thinking is probably a bit limited too, now that you remind me to think a bit more. I've never read much of anything with a (tm) on the cover, and my greatest favorites all shared a tendency to have maps more like Tolkien's LotR, with just a handful of true cities. For all I know, that's a 'minority' thing in the genre these days.

Do the numerous cities in those novels you mention manage to maintain some individuality, even if it's mostly cosmetic like the detailing for the city-states in Jordan's Wheel of Time?

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December 22, 2009 4:38:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRnSVN_ITdg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yV3JswQi48

Fallout 3 had very unique settlements. I think it had to do with the whole theme of the game. The only people that were friendly existed in tiny pockets of civilization. Every place seemed so unique, because there were so few settlements that were even large enough to call a town.  Each new experience was fresh and well recieved, like a gift or treat to add to your already unique experience.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nf-8R4UAD1w

This should convince you that Morrowind has great cities. Almost every single city has unique architecture, armor for guards, lore, and quests, plus the inhabitants are always doing something. Although a lot of the NPC actions don't make sense, its still cool to see people doing something rather than just walk and give you the death stare when you pass by. Whether it is talking to someone else, buying goods, going on patrol, or looking for their lost pet, there is always at least one NPC doing something that will spark your curiousity for atleast a few brief moments.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZO4_889zBjI

From 3:17 on.

Mass Effect had some of the most unique interactions with cities/colonies I have ever seen. Every planet had a completely different group of people with their own problems and quests to finish. You really felt like you impacted the world because of the vast amount of options and quest types which were all very different(all though some specific quests where quite grindy). The worlds had their own stories and obstacles that you had to surpass. Short descriptions of where you were also added to the city immersion. You felt like you had knowledge of where you were, like it wasn't some generic town you had to quest grind in yet again. Fallout 3 also did this, as you could talk to people to gain knowledge of other, more distant areas. By the time you found some new city or town, you had a pretty good idea as to what set it apart from other towns and cities.

Most 4x games that I have played lack these features completely, probably because that kind of immersion is simply not possible in a completely 4x game. 4x games are more about feeling like a ruler over a vast empire, so I am glad to see that Elemental is adding RPG elements beyond what I have seen in the past, because that will definitely help with the city immersion. The more rpgs elements there are, the more city immersion one will experience.

The Warcraft III Campaigns had amazing cities and towns/villages. The Campaigns were pretty lengthy once you played all the bonus campaigns etc. It was really really good, primarily because of all the cities you could set up with the editor. That would be amazing if Elemental included an editor such as that of the WCIII series that allows for such easy use. I'd love to make an rpg/campaign WCIII style with elemental. If you can't get the city immersion correct for normal gameplay, the modders could refine it.

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December 23, 2009 6:49:02 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think it's great that this is something you guys are going to focus on in design. But don't try to learn lessons from RPG cities -- those are carefully controlled aesthetic experiences which the design team can craft down to the smallest details. TBS cities are much more functional, in that they don't preexist in some game world -- you build them in order to advance your own game. So we should be thinking about how cities are memorable/bland in other TBS, and the best example is Civ 4.

As Cauldtyh pointed out, terrain is crucial.* In Civ, that fertile city-site with all the floodplains and the river becomes your empire's breadbasket. The fortress city barricading a mountain pass seals off your terrain from invasion (I find choke points deeply satisfying -- something about defining your play space). My most memorable Civ 4 city was actually a fortress (which can be used to hangar planes). I built one just off the coast of a hostile Japan, and used it to fly dozens of bombing raids with my B-22s; I named the fort Pianosa in honor of Catch-22. That was a cool moment for me, mostly because Pianosa had such a clearly defined purpose.

And so it is with those other cities I imagined: you build a granary in your bread basket, walls and barracks in your mountain stronghold, etc. Civ 4's failing is how generic these cities become in the late game. Early on, when you're scrapping for resources and can only build a few improvements, every city has a lot of personality, because you can't build everything. But as time goes on, more and more cities get crammed with every available improvement, because why not? So every city has a hospital, a library, etc., and thanks to your workers landscaping efforts, the map is an indistinguishable mess of roads and mines. As a result, I never play much past the mid-game.

So, my suggestion: give the player game mechanics to legitimize the kind of storytelling they'll do anyway. For instance, I'm the kind of guy who spends tons of time coming up with appropriate names for my cities. I'd love to be able to give the city more than just a name -- how about an identity? I'm envisioning a city planning screen, where you can do many of the things you do with your sovereign. I always thought it strange you just run a settler out and PLOP -- there's your new city. Anyway, here's an example of what I'd like to see.

Let's imagine that chokepoint city everyone loves to build. You've got this huge mountain range, and have planted your city in the only pass. You name it something like Portcullis. When you first found the city, I'd like a screen where you can pick out its traits and abilities, spending a certain number of skill points -- just like building a character in an RPG. So let's say I select the "Hardy" trait, to reflect the kind of fierce independent mountainfolk that will inhabit this town. Now any units I build there will get a modest bonus to defense. On the other hand, the city will be more prone to revolt, since they don't appreciate my sovereign's bureaucratic meddlings. And you could have negative traits, too, which give you more skill points to work with. "Den of Thieves" would mean a thief guild set up shop in your city and skims some of the gold produced there.

Considering how crucial cities are in a 4x -- you're checking in on them every few turns, after all -- I don't think players would mind this initial time investment.

* In fact, if you have great terrain generation, the city thing solves itself. A plains city with two cows in its BFC, gold right beside a river, isthmuses and mountain ranges -- these allow emergent narratives.

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December 23, 2009 8:05:58 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I was thinking of something : there could be two kind of cities, ordinary and special ones.

Tes "twist" is the special ones can only be built by someone ... special. Sovereign or heroes. Those special town would get access to things like political chambers, dynasties, special structures, buildings, etc. As a drawback those cities would get some limited independance : you don't choose what they build, but what path they want (civilization, warfare, exploration, etc...) and the hero/sovereign who build it would be the governor that would give bonuses to growth/prodction/etc.

When a special city is captured, it falls in the "ordinary" pool, but they still have the buildings already built. After enough turns you can call a governor and the city will be again a special one.

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