People say “home is where the heart is,” and while that’s true, it’s so much more than that. Home is where you spend your childhood, where you host and eat dinner with friends and relatives, where you play games, practice your trade or craft, and where you raise your family. Home is your safe haven. It’s where you keep your treasured keepsakes, favorite paintings, and your grandmother’s rocking chair. In short, your home is an extension of you. Unfortunately, most other MMOs forget that fact and either skip player housing altogether, or overlook the many mechanics that can be tied into player housing.
In this week’s design journal, we’re going to talk about player housing and architecture in Chronicles of Elyria and the many game mechanics they tie into. We’ll talk about when and where you can place your buildings, how buildings provide player-benefit, how buildings interact with their environment, and how the very flexible building system allows you to create just the right home (and other buildings) for you.
One of the first questions we get asked when we tell people there’s player housing in Chronicles of Elyria is whether we’ve got instanced or open-world housing. When we first thought about which system to use, we observed so many more advantages to open-world housing that it wasn’t much of a decision, really.
To begin with, in systems with instanced housing it’s common for players to use pre-existing, pre-placed homes. However, there are so many opportunities for customizing the exterior of the houses – the materials used, the landscaping, etc. – that we didn’t want to pass up that opportunity.
Another problem with instanced housing is there generally isn't a way to interact with the outside world while inside your house. We really wanted people to be able to move in and out of homes quickly and easily, without having to go into loading screens. This is true whether you’re coming out onto the balcony to rain arrows down on invaders in the streets below, or if you're an assassin sneaking into a window to assassinate a king.
Also, as Chronicles of Elyria sports a fully destructible environment, we didn’t want the destruction of one building to result in the destruction of many “instanced” homes that all mapped to a single physical building.
Finally, we use the same system of housing to build both homes, as well as shops, smithies, auction houses, and other forms of buildings. With an instanced system, you’d have to remember which instance you wanted when entering a building and use the button on the wall like an elevator. This way, you always know precisely where the blacksmith is on the map.
Now that we’ve established houses and other buildings take up physical space in the world, the next question we get asked is how big can buildings be?
The short answer is, it depends. The maximum size of a building is determined by the availability of resources, the type of terrain you’re building on, and what technology is available for construction. Initially, it may only be possible to build one or two story homes. However, with enough wealth, the right technology, and the right terrain, it’s possible to build massive castles or keeps with multiple floors, large wide open areas, dozens of rooms, courtyards, and other architectural features.
It’s even possible to build bridges between two adjacent homes in order to combine them into larger structures.
The next logical question is “where can I build?” It’s not uncommon for games to limit construction to within specialized housing regions. In Chronicles of Elyria, you can build buildings pretty much anywhere.
The world of Elyria is divided up into sections of land called parcels. These parcels are 64m x 64m and can be further divided up into zones. It’s possible, right from the get-go, to construct a building on any parcel of land or zone that you own or lease (with permission to build). As we’ll talk about in a future design journal, it’s even possible to construct buildings on land you don’t own. If you can defend your new structure for long enough (adverse possession), you may even take ownership of the land!
Aside from those restrictions, you can construct buildings pretty much anywhere in the world where the terrain is suitable. If there are obstructions in your way like trees or rocks, you can remove them via mining or logging.
In those rare instances where the land isn’t immediately suitable for construction, it’s sometimes possible to work around it. For example, if the land is uneven, it can be flattened by laying down a foundation. Building a foundation acts as a sort of terraforming, raising up the land where necessary to create a nice, flat space for construction.
In areas with shallow water such as bogs, beaches, etc. stilts can be used in order to raise the base of the building up out of the water.
It’s even possible to mount large platforms to the side of massive trees in order build light structures on top of the platforms. That’s right – tree houses!
As I mentioned at the beginning of the design journal, far too often MMORPGs take for granted all the great mechanics housing can be used for. So now that we’ve talked a bit about where you can build, let’s talk a bit more about why you’d want to build. Housing in Chronicles of Elyria is designed to address several different design mechanics including:
As discussed in previous design journals, Elyria is a dangerous place and players have a powerful need to survive. While inside of your home the typical survival mechanics such as hunger, thirst, temperature, and personal safety become far less important. It’s assumed as long as you’re in your home and your town has supplies, that you’re not going to die of either hunger or thirst. Furthermore, while resting in your house your energy levels will stabilize, preventing you from getting further fatigued. Finally, assuming your home is built with the correct materials, there’s little risk of hyper or hypothermia while inside the comfort of your house, regardless of the outside temperatures – worst-case scenario, you can always light a fire in your fireplace.
As a survival RPG, Chronicles of Elyria has extremely limited inventory. Basically, if something isn’t in someone’s backpack, and it’s not visible on their person, they aren’t carrying it. Given that, players need a safe place to stow their unused equipment, their treasures, and their trophies. Your house, business, or warehouse is an ideal place for storing such items. But, as we’ll talk about next week, it may still be a good idea to store items in locked chests or even in hidden safes (See figure 3).
Crafting in CoE, like in many other RPGs, is done with the use of crafting stations. Depending on whether you want these stations to be publicly accessible or private, and whether you want your building to be viewed as a residence or a shop, it can be a great place to put your crafting station. Why does that matter?
There are no specific building patterns in CoE for things like “smithy”, “lumber mill”, “warehouse”, “inn”, or “shop” - only patterns for floors, walls, etc. Then there are also patterns for different types of important furniture such as anvils, looms, writing desks, bars, mayoral desks, judicial stands, etc. – all used in various professions.
In the end, rules about what can exist in the same space, or in different spaces, dictates what a room is – bedroom, living room, work-room, etc. and what type of building it is. So if you want to create a bedroom, simply create a room with a bed in it. Want to make a public blacksmith, make a publicly accessible room and throw an anvil and forge in it.
Inside of houses there will be tons of different types of furniture like dressers, beds, changing and crafting stations, bookshelves, kitchen tables, ovens, fire places, furnaces, etc., each of which provide additional benefits to the home as a whole, or to the people residing within it.
In addition to the different types of furniture in the house, there may be smaller, or more cosmetic items such as pictures, rugs, sculptures, coat of arms, and other things to keep on the mantle. In nearly all cases the items can be crafted by artisans of the correct profession, and in some cases those additional novelties can provide additional benefits while you’re in the home, such as inspiration when performing certain crafting skills, etc.
As we’ll talk about more in later design journals, maintaining one’s status as a vassal or nobility is a demanding job that often leads to socializing and entertaining others at your residence. If you want to work your way up in the social class, be prepared to play the Dance of Dynasties.
Finally, and perhaps the most important mechanic thus far, is the role housing plays in the family system. The phrase “noble house” comes not just from the family’s name, but also their physical place of residence. In Chronicles of Elyria, your social status, wealth, and the size of your family is closely connected to your home. For example, as part of the process of having children it’s necessary to have allocated a private space for your new child. In most cases, this means a bedroom in your house. In other words, the number of children you have is capped by the number of rooms in your home. The wealthier and larger your house – the more noble your “house.”
Up until this point we’ve been talking about where you can place houses and other buildings and why’d you’d want to. Now, let’s talk about how.
Chronicles of Elyria uses a hybrid housing system that grants maximum freedom and creativity to those who have an interest in architecture, while simplifying the construction and placement process for those that just want to get their houses built. Similar to the way contracts work, we’ve created a division of responsibility between those who design houses, and those who create them.
To make this possible, Chronicles of Elyria implements a blueprint mechanism in which architects create blueprints, and then builders use the blueprints in order to construct the building.
Housing in Chronicles of Elyria is fully customizable, but it’s the architect that creates the blueprint for a building. As a result, virtually any shape and size of building can be built, within the skill of the architect.
The process of creating a blueprint is done using the Architecture Tool. This tool, much like the map tool allows you to draw content directly onto a blue-print. However, as blueprints are inherently more “3D” than maps, we’ve created a special 3D environment for architects in which you are quite literally transported into the blueprint to help you visualize it.
We’ll actually be providing a stand-alone version of the architecture tool next Spring so people can get their hands on it early and see what it feels like to design buildings in Chronicles of Elyria. As player-created content is paramount to the success of Chronicles of Elyria and isn’t part of our business model, the tool will be made freely available to everyone.
When working within the architecture tool, the skill of the architect will determine several things, such as how many floors can be in a building, how complex the shape (4 walls, 5, 10, more?), and what materials can be used.
In construction the material you use is important, as a material’s weight and strength are used in combination to determine when/where you need support structures and how strong your structure will be. For example, if you’re using wooden flooring on a second floor there will be a maximum area before a first-floor support structure will be necessary. Switching to reinforced materials can change the requirements.
As you’re working in the architecture tool, the UI will make you aware whenever the creation of a structure would be inherently unstable. Of course, the architecture tool can only calculate the physics based on what’s known at design-time. Things in the environment can add further complexity.
Constructing a house is an active process in which crafters of all walks of life work together to create the individual components of the house, and then combine them during the appropriate point in construction, in order to slowly build up the final product.
Because construction is modular, components within the blueprint can generally be replaced with higher or lower quality components. For example, if you’ve got a wall piece, the pattern may call for a wooden frame. In this case, the frame can be made out of virtually any wood. However, the pattern may also call for a wood of a specific hardness or strength. In this case, it’ll be necessary to find a wood of the correct hardness in order to complete the design.
If you do choose to use a different type of wood, the type of material you select may effect things such as how well the house keeps out heat, how well it holds out moisture, and how it responds to strong winds.
In addition to the framing materials called for, many other aspects of the pattern used in construction can be specified at build-time. For example, the floor may just call for any type of “flooring”. In this case, virtually any flooring can be used, be it wood, tile, or even marble.
As there are many different components that go into the construction of a building, there are many different skills that come into play. These can include carpentry, masonry, glass-blowing, metal working, etc. Because there are so many skills involved in the construction of a house, it’s impractical (though still possible) for a house to be built by a single person. When you take into account how large houses or other structures can become, combined with the time it takes to build each component, it becomes clear that such construction is really designed for a group of people to do in parallel.
While we want players to be able to control the look and feel of their houses – to a degree, we also want the housing to make sense in the part of the region the player is building in. As a result, the look and feel of a home in Chronicles of Elyria is largely driven by the types of materials you use. Wooden siding comes with a different look and style than other siding. Plaster, tar, metal, etc. roofing also brings with it a different feeling.
Furthermore, the environment and biome has the biggest impact on the type of resources and the style of architecture most suitable. Some materials will handle heat transfer better, some are better suited for arid environments, or high humidity. Some soils will allow for tall, heavier structures, some will not. Some materials are suitable for fast, strong winds, while others are meant for calmer weather.
If you’re building in an area and use the correct materials, you’ll find there’s little-to-no upkeep involved in maintaining your house. But if you use the wrong material, you may find your home deteriorates over time via rust, mold, cracking, and other negative effects. If this does occur, your best bet is to replace components in your house with more suitable materials.
That’s right, even after construction is complete it’s possible to select some components in your house, destroy them (salvaging some materials), and then replace them with higher quality components. It’s also possible to add onto existing houses after construction is complete.
As we talked about earlier, your family size is tied to the number of rooms in your house. It’s only natural then to build onto the side of your house as your family grows.
In this week’s design journal, we took a first-look at how housing, architecture, and construction works in Chronicles of Elyria. Next week we’re going to dig deeper by taking a look at how zoning, ownership, and transference works, and what you can do to protect the valuables you store in your house. Oh, and we’re going to talk about other structures that can be built, such as subterranean structures and dungeons! We’ll close out next week’s discussion on sieging and building destruction. Don’t miss next week’s design journal!