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Dev Discussion #31 - Environments

LieutenantToastLieutenantToast Moderator, Staff
edited June 22 in General Discussion

Glorious Ashes community - it's time for another Dev Discussion! Dev Discussion topics are kind of like a "reverse Q&A" - rather than you asking us questions about Ashes of Creation, we want to ask YOU what your thoughts are.

Our design team has compiled a list of burning questions we'd love to get your feedback on regarding gameplay, your past MMO experiences, and more. Join in on the Dev Discussion and share what makes gaming special to you!

Dev Discussion #31 - Environments
What are some of the elements that make for a more “realistic” or “lifelike” world when you play a game, from NPCs to environments and beyond? How much does realism matter to you generally?

Keep an eye out for our next Dev Discussion topic regarding guilds!

Greetings again friends! Thank you all so much for stopping by to share your many thoughts on environments, and what elements can make them feel more immersive and lifelike to you. After reading through all your comments for our team, check out a recap of some of your top feedback below:
  • Many agreed that day/night cycles, including NPC routines to match them, contribute to making a world feel more alive
  • Others highlighted the importance of ambient sound in setting the stage
  • Smaller environmental details (critters, wind, dust, raindrops, footprints, etc.) can help prevent an expansive world from feeling static
  • Some shared that realistic mob scaling, including enormous and difficult world bosses, sparked their senses of wonder and danger
  • A few provided their thoughts on when realism went so far as to be annoying, such as carry weight or hunger/thirst mechanics

Our team also enjoyed this quote that we thought shared a similar sentiment to what you all expressed:
Orym wrote: »
When you are consistent with how the world looks and functions and not necessarily in a realistic way, you can still create an immersive world that feels very believable.


  • arsnnarsnn Member, Intrepid Pack, Alpha One
    edited June 11
    Graphical fidelity and detail only plays a secondary role for me.
    The important part for me is build a coherent play between moving, audible and believable npcs and environment.

    The key part to accomplish a vibrancy I'd say is any kind of ambient movement, so even in a mostly static world elements like moving grass/trees, ambient animals, birds and dragons flying far overhead, can be placed. There should be something keeping everything live. It could be moving clouds or a fish jumping where a fishing spot spawned.

    The environment doesn't need every detail, it needs some details done well. A player can latch onto a few things here and there and the fill in the rest: the blade of grass in a corner to show nobody steps there is more important than hundreds on the side of the road.

    Then there is sound design. Similar to the above distant sounds and ambient sound should be attached to a believable context that is actually connected to what you can experience with your eyes.

    Make us feel npcs are not a means to an end.
    Please place NPCs with schedules and actuall reason to exist - not only in town, but outside of it too. Make it possible to encounter fishermen or hunters early in the morning, or in the evening when they go back to the town with their catch. Maybe the market will close some of it´s services at noon because the npcs did go home.

    Please don´t pit monster into clumps that are supposed to be aoe grinded with a 30 seconds respawn rate. This is probably the most obvious for mmos! The entirety of the environment is designed to host as many mobs so that everyone can kill to move on the next ride and forget about it for the rest of the experience.
    I´d prefer a more complex interplay where you need to look for certain animals and hunt them. Dears roaming the forest fleeing at slightest hint you approach them. Maybe even predators that prey on them and are especially strong and valuable to kill at night due to a wolf boss that howls at the midnight´s moon and buffs his pack.
    Please make crabs spawn in masses at sunset and make em rave when they move towards the shore :)

    I think a mmo that does some of that really well is BDO. Especially in cities you feel you are part of a living world, rather than an empty shell of clustered houses with a few npcs that are essentially interaction hubs for hundreds of players simultaneously.

    Edit: MMO´s unfortunately have a high pressure to produce a quantity of content, so some of the stuff might be out of scope. But some of it is actually doable especially with a solid world manager.
  • RLTygurrRLTygurr Member
    A day/night cycle is extremely important, and variable weather (maybe node progression dependent) would be a nice touch that really makes it feel more lifelike.
  • TrunkrollTrunkroll Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    edited June 10
    Coming across singular monsters that you have no chance to kill initially, so you have to avoid them until you come back later in the game much stronger. Much like Stitches or the Fel Reaver in World of Warcraft.
  • This isnt something that makes it more realistic necessarily but i love to see huge monsters in the distance that are god tier mobs that you can actually fight. Like dragons or animals the size of mountains. For npc's I like when every npc has some purpose. They dont all have to have quests but I dont like it when there is a crowd of npcs and they are just a back drop. realism isnt make or break for me but its a nice touch whenever i see it.
  • BloodmaceBloodmace Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    edited June 10
    Have a mob fluidity leveling effect.

    Let me explain. A hill giant shouldn’t be a level 10 creature that you see early game. It should be a near end game creature that does massive damage and takes hits like a tank. Same concept for rats or small critters, they shouldn’t be placed in high levels zone as filler mobs with end game levels. It doesn’t make sense. Every creature should have a limit cap based off their innate race. A fare few can break that cap and exceed their limitations, such as rare spawns that drop equipment, or the equipment being the reason they are more powerful.

    Just my thoughts.
  • Truth EternalTruth Eternal Member, Phoenix Initiative, Hero of the People, Alpha One
    I prefer systems that make sense for the game and can't be gamed as easily to realism. Avoiding systems that are too cumbersome to feel real, for example, realistic carry weight rather than stacks of materials, don't add to the fun.

    I've enjoyed (even partially) voice acted NPCs to bring life to the world, though I understand that's out of the scope of the project. Other than that, I find that having NPCs and enemies engaging in daily life rather than just randomly patrolling through the world seems much more lifelike. A cultist eating a meal in a hideout makes more sense than a cultist walking the same 10 feet back and forth. The wolf chasing a rabbit makes more sense that a wolf standing still in a field.
    Axiom | 18+ Gaming |
  • SorianLoreSorianLore Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    edited June 16
    From a pvp tactical perspective, It's very important for the environment to have components that allow tactics to reign supreme. For example, having the higher ground, or having thick bush to hide in (which would hide name plates if they hide them selves well for example), natural chock points, and paths through mountains and other areas which lend its self well for ambushes (making certain parts of certain trade routes more high risk than others).

    In short, the more realistic and life like the world is, the better experience people will have not only from an emersion standpoint, but mechanics (pvp or otherwise) one as well.
  • If it's a high fantasy world, or a game that is not based on realism (for example, cod or battlefield which are not meant to be mil-sims), I don't care as much. It's all about what's 'plausible' within the universe of the game and not go out of it.
    For me, what makes me interested in the world and fill it's alive are: different enviornment/biomes without repeating too many assets. Each place has its own "thing". NPCs should do different stuff around and not always the same, as well as interact in different ways. Nothing major or complicated. Something like the blacksmith is not always hammering the same thing in the same spot over and over.
    The sound imo is a MUST. Sound FX and environment is too powerful to not pay attention it. In fact, sometimes with a great sound design, you save yourself a ton of work of inserting visual details. I remember loving the combat in BnS because when you hit a mob with flesh, sounded like a punch, when it had metal, you heard a CLANK.
    The consequences of the world or the fact that you're not a super saiyan hero, that's something else too.

    Imo, "realism" is not the same as making the world interesting and making it feel alive. Because if you go for "realism" you have to care for animations, expressions, actions, cloth physics, etc etc. A lot of things that we know we can't have all at once in the game unless we play at 4 fps. WoW is a great example where you had cows in 2 legs as a playable race. That is not realistic AT ALL. But it made sense within the wow universe, it's accepted. And then also the world had plenty of things to do around. The distribution of space of activities and monsters, around a location, trying to find the balance between 'action packed' and 'exploration', is key for me. You don't want a zone that is too convoluted with things, specially if it's a high density zone between mobs, quests/npcs, settlements, other players. But you also don't want to have a desert with literally nothing that you have to run through for a long time.
    One last thing about environment that I truly love to make it feel like it's got its unique thing, is in zones where you deliberately put nothing (say, a cliff, or a zone in the desert that is just sand) put something hidden. Some item, some treasure, a hidden mob, something that you come up across only if you're one of those Asmongolders trying to break the game going above and beyond.
  • nonameftwnonameftw Member, Settler
    Having places and characters that have some significance to you.
    This can mostly be achieved through quest. By foreshadowing a significant place or NPC that they will later discover it can increase the feeling of "connectivness" in a world.

    If a player learns about some piece of lore and then later more or less organically finds this place/NPC it can create really cool moments. The less contrived the chain of events is the better. If it happens "on rails" its less rewarding.

    The best way actually to experience this is by learning of a lore place through some other means and then later finding it in the game.
  • Ryan LRyan L Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    In game environmental chat. Louder the chat closer you are to who is speaking. Toggle an option to shout or yell farther.
  • chaoko954chaoko954 Member, Alpha One
    edited June 10
    3D sound is a big one for me.
    Passing by a waterful and you can hear it go by, or you can tell where a mob is based on your camera position. I want to get lost in the world and really BE my character.
    The other major one for me is surprise while exploring. Anything you can do to the environment to make things feel alive and changing gives us that realistic feeling.
    Trees swaying, flowers blooming and dying, random mob pathing when they are not normally there. I want to see and hear the game world LIVE. Nature isn't static.
  • 2 things that I find very important.

    Interactions between NPC/AI, some animals being hostiles to others etc...
    Voice acting. Everything. Has. To. Be. Voiced. Maybe I got spoiled by ESO, but any silent dialog feels very very odd to me now.
  • azzuriaazzuria Member

    Nothing breaks immersion like seeing a world full of stuff that's just background. Windows and doors that open ( even if it's breaking the law ), being able to pick up things, move them.
  • RhoklawRhoklaw Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    You have 5 senses, sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Only 2 of these things can be addressed in a game. So the only thing you can truly compliment a beautiful backdrop or environment with is sound. Ambient sounds are extremely helpful in pulling one in to the desired level of immersion as is the style of music. Of course, combat music is engaging at first, it is always wise to have an option to exclude it as it can have a poor impact on that level of immersion over time.
  • acheretoachereto Member
    edited June 10
    (1) Environmental storytelling is pretty important. If an NPC tells you that there had been a bloody fight, there should better be some blood somewhere. If there's a shaman in a desert that has the power to raise life by their pure will, there should be some sign of that having happened in the environment. Sign that the NPCs living at a certain place have or had some kind of impact on that place.

    (2) Busy streets. Hopefully, there will always be enough players to come across whenever you take a ride from one town or city to another, but when that's not the case you should see at least 1-10 NPCs walking the path in different directions (depending on the time of the day and size of the town/city). These NPCs could be just someone to talk to or be part of some scripted event you could become part of if you choose to.

    (3) Music that fits to the situation: Walking or riding, being in a small town or a big city, fighting a small mob or a dragon. Being in a desert or a forest. All of this should make a difference in regards to the music being played.
  • AzheraeAzherae Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    Aside from the myriad of things Ashes has already completely confirmed to have planned, the following greatly help with my immersion and feeling of realism (somewhat in order of difficulty):

    1. The correct footstep sounds, especially if scuffing sounds on dirt change to mud squelch in the rain.
    2. The aforementioned rain, wind, snow, and other weather patterns, particularly if they can appear to at least some extent in settlements and aren't automatically excluded there (day/night cycles and related mob spawn behaviours are already planned)
    3. Relatively higher respawn times on enemies, and group behaviours for certain enemy types.
    4. Higher amounts of 'prey' or 'food' animals that can still fight back decently, with the related drops for defeating them.
    5. More specific fish per area, and capacity to find fishing spots, even if these don't randomize much.
    6. Multiple foods, some 'regional', made using these fish and prey animal parts, that are distinct and have somewhat notable effects.
    7. Good NPC and quest writing (this is vague but eh - can I interest you in a Giant Pile of Gushing Praise?)
    8. Branching or secondary objectives during quest lines.
    9. Special monsters in the open world with conditional spawns such as only spawning approximately once per day, being triggered by aggregate player actions, or lured by other items. Also things like hierarchies in Sapient enemies.
    10. Lore and signs of interaction occurring between other players and NPCs.
    11. Slightly shifting prices or numbers of items available through some monitoring of supply and demand.
    12. Bulletin boards or other methods of communication in towns that let players see things like Bounties or requests.
    13. A tendency for enemies, particularly humanoid ones, to be designed as if they follow the same rules as players, even if not in HP values.
    14. A diffuse lightning model with more change to color balance than brightness.
    15. Lots of effort put into things like the specifics of crafting systems to stick to some specific real-world or at least 'consistent' analog. e.g. if players get something like 'Pot Ash' when burning wood for smelting or cooking and then are able to use this in all the ways one uses this irl.

    That's... probably enough, I'll leave environmental design commentary to my team's artist.
    Sorry, my native language is Erlang.
  • RayuKORayuKO Member
    Cuando golpeas a alguien y la armadura sigue impecable no me gusta,seria mas realista y mas inmersivo si la armadura sufriera algun tipo de cambio desde sangre asta manchas por magia de algun tipo,eso seria realmente increible.
  • Lark WyllLark Wyll Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    In nodes for player stalls and shops instead of walking up to a counter and clicking an npc for a shop it would be nice to have an inference of what they are peddling visually behind their stall or in their shop. Kind of like what is being done with Caravans which is a neat touch. If they're transporting gold you see gold piles, lumber etc.

    It would nice to see stalls with consumables laid out on a display, weapons and armor laid out on a table to view etc. It would help give it the local irl Sunday market feel for farm fresh food and also not feel so much of a digital transaction.

    In Puzzle Pirates it was neat that you could go in a store who sold clothes and try on the weapons or garments on your character like a preview before you bought them. It added a cool dimension. All of the garments they had would be on a rack and it was actually a lot more interactive than any shopping experience I've ever had in a game.
  • maouwmaouw Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    As long as Realism in a High Fantasy RPG covers 2 things, I'm happy:
    1. Sustains disbelief of fantasy by consistent rulesets/explanations that apply globally
    2. The parts where fantasy makes a point to break away from realism are explorable and expressive

    For me this means the rustling of tree branches, responsiveness of foliage to wind/movement are not high priority but are definitely awe inspiring to see (bonus features with wow factor)

    Whereas assets that draw your attention should be interactable. If there are glowing berries on the wall, can I do something with them? The town has a bell tower, can I ring it? There's a giant tree growing in this area, can I climb it? If there's a sigil etched into a slab, can I cast a spell or do a quest with it?
    In general, even 1 basic interaction with objects (like in Animal Crossing) goes a long way to making objects feel more real.
    For plants - if I see a berry/flower/fruit, I'd like to be able to harvest it. If the leaves blend into other greenery in the background, I expect it to be non-interactive.

    For mobs, it's always cool to see them attack each other in the wild, but like foliage, this is a bonus feature.
    Instead, I'd like to see greater attentiveness to nearby commotion in AI behaviour - they notice when one of their brothers in under attack. They stay alert if they've been attacked recently. Momma bear gets enraged if you get too close to her babies.

    For mobs changing with the seasons - especially great with rare mobs. Common mobs changing is cool but not very impactful, changing some of them compliments the seasonal cycles of the rarer mobs.

    Finally, I do enjoy NPCs in towns who have daily schedules, but this isn't a must-have. It does help a town feel more alive though. :)
    I wish I were deep and tragic
  • NoaaniNoaani Member, Intrepid Pack
    Things that make a world seem not real to me.

    City placement. there should be an obvious reason for a city to me where it is, a place for that city to get a variety of food, and a source of fresh water that is adequate for the size of the city. There should also be an appropriate number of people on the street, and an appropriate number of houses.

    NPC's that man shops 24/7 is something I don't like. I'd like to see an MMO with shop keepers that are on a timer - more important shops for players can have a two shift system so they are always open, but less important shops imo should close down for half of each in-game day. Giving NPC's routines akin to Elder Scrolls games would also be a big step in making a believable world for MMO's, but I imagine that would come with it's own set of issues.

    In terms of world design, I want to see a world that is clearly a planet. There should be hotter areas in the middle, tapering off to colder areas at the north and south of the game world. If the game world is large enough to have multiple continents, there should also be a distinct difference in the flora and fauna of each. Since Ashes will have seasons, they should affect the world based on latitude rather than being an over all thing - and if it is winter in the north, it should be summer in the south - a world that has the same season all over is automatically unbelievable.

    Don't put a tropical rainforest next to an icy tundra without a damn good explanation of why this is the case.

    Transitions from one biome to another is also something that bugs me with many games. It shouldn't be instant - there should be a gradual shift from one to the next.

    Rivers should make sense. A river won't split in two and go off in totally different directions - a delta or braided river is the closest thing to this that would happen. Also, if you have two large rivers joining, then that should result in a river that is as big as those two combined. If a river needs to get narrower, ensure the speed of the water increases, if you can't increase the speed of the water, don't allow the river to get narrower. This is something Archeage got both right and wrong.

    The other thing that really bugs me with world design/believability is when you have a dungeon that is populated by a race that are supposed to be intelligent, and that dungeon just doesn't reflect that at all and is not an obvious place where they would live.

    If a dungeon has such a dungeon, there should be space to sleep, space to cook and eat, space for recreation, space for what ever religious activities the race takes part in, space for storage and space for any industry that may take place. The layout of these spaces should also make sense - it shouldn't be linear.
  • WatankaWatanka Member
    edited June 10
    I think that most MMO does a good job on the 3D environnement. The one important thing to me is the scale and avoiding to have many different small biomes next to each others. From what Intrepid have done so far, it seems to be really good.

    Things that are important and not well made in many MMO in my opinion :
    • First, there should not be content everywhere. It is important to keep some peaceful area were there are very few monsters and only some rare fauna.
    • Same thing goes with the environment itself. There is a cavern ? It can be empty. Not every cavern have a bear or a treasure chest inside. And if for once there is a treasure chest, that will be a great surprise. World of Warcraft is an example of this. In WoW:Classic, the player is just a character in the vast world that can feel a bit empty in some places (and that's great !). In retail, the world is made for the player with content and "reward" in every corner.
    • The main character of the game is the world, not the players. By this I mean that NPC and fauna must do something, not just stay in place waiting to be killed or interacted with. For example seeing a group of deer walking over a very long distance in the forest and at some point a wolf attack them. There is a group of bandit somewhere ? What they will do ? Standing inside their camp (with random walk around) or stay at a table playing card games / planning their next crime ? The second option is obviously better. It makes me feel like I'm not the main character and it is very important for immersion.
    • Day/Night cycles, weather and seasons are big bonus for the environnement only if it does not rotate too fast. If there is a storm every 6h, after two times I just don't care about it. But if it is every 5 or 10 days, it is an event where I will take time to enjoy the visual. By the way while I'm talking about this kind of stuff, the seasonnal cycle of 1 season/week is waaaay too fast IMO. 1 season/month is a better pace.
    • Sky is also an important one. Too many games ignore it while it can occupy more than 50% of our screen when playing. Creating nice moving clouds and fake mountains in the distance with the skybox instead of having a blue gradiant color / heavy distance fog, improves A LOT the environment. Don't forget to add some birds even if it's visual only.
    I'm a Tulnar ! So what ? fifi-60.png
  • Weather cycles and Unique sky boxes. Looking up at night and seeing the galaxy is always cool.
  • VmanGmanVmanGman Member, Braver of Worlds, Alpha One
    Realism adds a lot to my immersion with a game.

    Here are some examples:
    - trees falling causing player damage.
    - being able to interact with the world (sitting on things, climbing, breaking etc.)
    - weather affecting abilities (i.e. fireball does less damage in the rain).
    - NPCs reacting to various things (i.e. wood creatures running when hit with fire, monsters fleeing when severely injured, humanoids becoming more alert if they spot that one of theirs is dead etc.)
    - NPCs doing things when idle (chopping a tree and bring the wood over to the camp, wolves attacking deer etc.)

    Really, my point is that the more ways the world and NPCs interact with itself/each other and the player, the better it is.
  • ItsFayneItsFayne Member, Braver of Worlds, Alpha One
    I think things like seamless transitions between biomes (Thank you Bacon), NPCs that dont just stand still and have, even slight movement, day/night cycles in a reasonable time period. Just the progression of time, and keeping immersion breaking aspects a minimal as possible.
  • SkylarckSkylarck Member
    A water cycle would help in the realism for myself. That is to say:
    -Water flowing from mountains, generating currents which wash things away towards a larger body of water .
    -Ocean currents which change boat/swim speed
    -Water level variations according to seasonal/environmental changes.
  • AsraielAsraiel Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    Realism give me the feeling of realy being in an other world. so i can dive in even deaper into the game. For me the last game that covered this feeling was Valheim here some ingame screenshots not made by myself: valheim-pc-gameplay-screenshots_47cr.jpg
    Just to show some examples

    - regrowth of plants in diffrent steps
    - no separation on which trees or rocks can be havested
    - a ground that shapes if explosions occure or during pvp
    - weather (buitiful seen in Anthem)
    - realistic wather behavior so that crossing a river lets the player feel the force of the waterflow
    - npcs not stationary by day at their stores but in morning or evening going to their homes and so most stores close
    - npcs also do farming building materials and farming veggies or crafting
    - nodes ressources buyers behave on market so the more ress of one kind is in store of the merchant the less he pays for it

    reguard asraiel
  • RavudhaRavudha Member
    Wind movement in trees, grass, plants, and water movement are a big one (all with accompanying sounds). Static scenery is why I quit SWTOR; planets just felt dead.

    NPCs doing daily activities and a good number of them in towns like in BDO.

    For me, realism is paramount when it comes to creating atmosphere in nature. Realism is not so important when populating the world - better to put interesting sites closer together to make exploring interesting rather than spacing them miles apart and create large areas of bland terrain.
  • Make NPC quests unique and have plot. Not every quest be gather x of x, or kill x of these.
  • LashingLashing Member
    edited June 11
    I would like to see actually dark caves that either require a specific class or an item to light it up. You could also use the node system to make glowing mushrooms sprout in the cave if the mayor picks the option to cultivate them. To an extent I would also like underwater content to be more involved than just having a 3-5 minute breath gauge. Either with a stat that works better underwater or with items that increase effectiveness while in water. With more expensive items being very strong and cheaper items just being serviceable.

    Preparation is the start of an adventure. The game should give players the opportunity to prepare for both known challenges and the unknown.

    Bonus Ideas for dungeons that would promote community interaction.
    It would be kind of cool if dungeons/locations with humanoids would occasionally spawn a caravan that moved to the location. It would be like their supply line you could intercept. You could have a raid level dungeon that was impossible at first unless enough caravans were intercepted to weaken it. This would allow a more ambitious group to try their luck and go in early to try to get the rewards while the smaller groups could focus on the caravans to claim a lesser reward.

    Another idea would be something like a Frost Dragon raid boss that spawns with a frost shield that makes it impossible to beat. The players in the nearby node would have to work together to weaken the dragon's influence until the dragon is kill-able. It turns a typical raid boss into a community event where everyone gets some kind of reward.
  • I have always wanted and I think a very important aspect to to actually make the game feels more real is different skyboxes, a zone should not always have the same skybox all the months, I´d like to get different syboxes the the same zone and of course depending on the time of the year, would be great to have a day/week were there´s an eclipse or some other stuff happening in the world deppending on the zone and the time of ther year, not just have snow in the are but something more visual where there´s a change in the light becuase of the sun/moon and maybe an special week/month where the skybox at night get an aurora borealis or something different, it could even be a different sunset, not every week/month/season the sky looks the same and it could give it different sperience
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