Friday, March 5, 2004

SWG: Modular Architecture Crafting

If a MMOG offers an Architect profession, it needs to allow players to actually perform as architects. Just allowing them to crank out copy and copy of the same five or six house styles is not good enough. Players need actual building design capabilities to truly exercise the kinds of skills needed to do architecture.

I recognize that there are technical and other constraints that dictate building system designs. But I believe that a much more satisfying game experience -- for both architects and the users of buildings -- could be had by offering a building construction system that allows variation in the layouts of actual buildings.

I'm not suggesting that we need something as freeform as the building construction system of The Sims (although that would certainly be appreciated!). I think a sufficiently dramatic improvement could be made by allowing modular construction.

That is, buildings should be constructed from numerous different types of room modules according to specific rules. This would allow variation in completed buildings while not excessively altering the necessary 3D geometry information that allows mobile objects to move through these buildings once they're constructed in the active game.

Examples of appropriate rules for the next-generation player building design tool are:

  • every module has a defined cost in resources and components
  • every module has a defined number of items whose storage is supported
  • major modules (big, tall, or special rooms) take up 1 lot
  • minor modules cost 0 lots
  • stairway modules cost 0 lots
  • buildings are limited to 10 modules
  • only one stairway module is permitted per building
  • modules can only be connected to each other by connection points (openings or doorways)
  • modules may not be placed inside other modules (except for stairway modules)
  • modules from different visual styles can't be mixed
  • buildings must have a "building type" chosen (to set the correct structure terminal)
  • a building plan with more than one open connection (to the outside) will not be approved
  • plans for approved buildings may be saved in the datapad for reuse in the design tool
  • the final cost in resources/components of any plan is the sum of the costs for all modules
  • the final number of storable items is the sum of storage counts for all modules
  • the maintenance rate of a building is calculated from its final number of storable items
  • an isometric view of a building as it's being designed is visible to potential customers
There are numerous other rules that would have to be enforced -- these are just a few I thought of to give you the flavor of how the design tool should work. (And frankly, not all of them may be necessary -- if the 3D code allows it, it might be fun to allow player buildings to have more than one exit point.)

Note that this more flexible design system usually already exists: the developers themselves have a general building design tool. It might be cheaper to modify this game development tool to an in-game design tool than to write an in-game modular building design tool from scratch. (Or it might not. The developer's building design tool may simply be a generic 3D modeling program, in which case an in-game building constructor could be a pretty complex thing to create.)

At any rate, this is the more open-ended and interesting kind of building design system I'd like to see in a MMOG. It would be a major boon to aspiring architects (who desperately need a way to differentiate their products and should enjoy the creative challenge), as well as to those who purchase homes and public buildings and want a unique and consistent "look" that doesn't exactly duplicate that of thousands of other players.

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