March 11, 2020

[Design] The Unique Biomes of Somnar

One of the key challenges of designing a procedurally generated game is in avoiding repetition, and maximizing variety. Procedural content has a tendency to grow stale through repeated play sessions, as the player is eventually able to identify the patterns in the generation, and they end up having the same experience each time, even though the map itself is technically shaped differently. I am approaching this problem from two angles in Daughter of Dreams. First, I am designing the algorithms themselves to produce the most varied content I can manage. Secondly, I want to create variety through the environments in which the game takes place.

To this end, I am designing the game world to be split among a small number of very distinct biomes, each of which can be uses as a base for any of the terrain generation. However, I want to go beyond just having varied aesthetics or graphics for each area. To do this, each biome in the game will be designed with its own complete set of mechanics, including enemies, items, crafting recipes, boss fights, traps, and other interactive objects. All of these elements will be designed individually, and I want to focus on making them all interact in interesting ways with the elements around them. (Something like Breath of the Wild's chemistry engine). This is a lot of work, but I believe I can keep the total scope fairly small, and still get more content variety than I would with a bunch of less unique biomes.

My goal is that by creating these distinct biomes, I can change the game experience each play-through in a fundamental way. The skills the player develops in one biome won't work the same in another biome. I want each area of the game to feel and look different, and also play different, requiring new skills and strategies for each new area the player encounters. Then, I may also combine elements of each biome to create entirely new mutations on the base experience.

A selection of different biomes from The Last Librarian.

World-building of Somnar

These distinct biomes are built into the lore of the game world. Somnar is a land of dreams... It is magically unstable to the point where it is destroyed and recreated on a regular basis. The new lands that arrive each cycle do not follow any necessary consistency. Somnar is barely habitable at all, and every place within it is completely extreme, stark and unforgiving. Somnar can be thought of as a completely alien planet. My goal in the world-building is to make a completely distinct universe. The rule is this: nothing on Somnar should even slightly resemble something we might be familiar with on Earth. Everything is made up from scratch.

This gives me incredible freedom with my imagination. This approach to the world-building allows for any possibility, and by incorporating it into the procedural terrain generation and the story, I think it will help solidify the style of the game and make it feel distinct from any other game. For this aspect of the story-telling, I was particularly inspired by the book series The Edge Chronicles, which I read as a kid. I still remember distinctly so much about the unique world of those books, the inconceivably strange creatures, the Gloamglozer, Sky Pirates, Banderbears... I may not even have a chance of rivaling the world-building of those books, but they certainly provide a vision to strive for.

Flayern Forest

So now I'd like to share some of my ideas for the first area which I will fully develop myself for Daughter of Dreams. It is Flayern Forest... the Forest of Hate. It is completely uninhabitable by humans, for it is already inhabited by the Plants. The wilds of Flayern writhe with twisted life, dangerous, poisonous carnivorous plants. The colors are unnatural... the foliage is a dense myriad of vibrant pink, blue, and red. The only green is the river--the toxic waters that give life to the Plants of Flayern.

Concept art for Flayern Forest -- The trees loom over the still, toxic waters.
There are many types of these evil Plants, many forms of which could barely be conceived of to exist. The ferns bare sharp fangs designed to snag their victims. Sentient vines creep among the undergrowth, trapping and entangling any stray wanderer, so they may soon be dissolved with acidic saliva. Some of the demonic Plants are not even rooted to the noxious soil, and prowl the forests... great beasts on the hunt for vulnerable prey.

Concept Art for Flayern Forest -- I went over there and took notes on what I found!
But among the twisted brambles lie the secrets of the forest. The most succulent and delicious fruits grow deep in the forest, on the branches of the sacred Kafka tree. Many of the most aggressive plants are good to eat, once they have been safely gathered. Indeed, the legends say that all life in Somnar originated from the primordial rivers of the Flayern Forest...

Needless to say, I am excited to start implementing some of these elements into the game. None of this is finalized by any means, it's all just crazy ideas. I've had some of the most fun ever coming up with these concepts, and this is only the beginning. Flayern is just one of several unique environments I hope to allow the player to explore. It is a proof of concept. If I can make Flayern fun to explore, then I will continue to develop new areas. Let me know what you think!