Summer is ending


…and that’s a good thing, because development will now resume. Not that’s it’s been inactive, but vacations being vacations, it slowed down a tad, obviously. Not to mention I started working on a Pico-8 No Man’s Sky demake, silly me.

And yet, tremendous progress has been made on world building and level design. Konstantinos and I had lengthy discussions about the cultures of the Suùn Archipelago and the Bohr Imperi, the two opposite forces which define the game’s setting and story. As you may know if you’re following the project since a while, Suùnian live in a peaceful, matriarchal society, where equality and harmony are the norm, while the Bohr are highly competitive people, whose hierarchy is literally defined by personal wealth. So both live in very different kind of cities, shaped by their beliefs, their goals and their relation to nature.

In brief, Suùn’s style is organic, with soft and round shapes carefully adapted to the environment, while the Imperi’s architecture is perfectly planned, geometric, and doesn’t care about its surroundings.


An early draft of Suùn.


Above is one of the first drafts made by Konstantinos for the project. It’s not entirely accurate, because of course a few things have evolved since, and it lacks a few important details. Yet it triggered a bunch of great new ideas, and helped a lot in the process of shaping the archipelago. The basics are here: round buildings, interconnected small islands around a central hub, and that organic feel. This allowed me to visualize and place points of interest I had in mind on the map, to delimit the main regions, and to refine the socio-economic climate of the country.


A city concept for Alderhil, the Imperi’s capital.


I like this idea a lot: a city organized in hexagonal patterns, following geometric rules, with a strict, insect-like, maybe even robotic urban planning. Dystopian procedural, isn’t that lovely? Thus I found it a bit too modern for Nékromegà, and truth to be said, this would in fact fit better for another project of mine, of the post-cyberpunk genre. More on this later, one day, maybe…


Another concept for the same city.


We decided to go for this one. This is the perfect oppressive anti-egalitarian design, built for the comfort of the elite and the efficiency of the workers. If you look closely at the legend, you’ll see that workers are compartmentalized with production facilities in the east and west parts of the city. They have no access to the outside except through the two main gates, at the north and south of the central district. In fact, workers and poor people are not only segregated from the wealthy ones, they’re also quite literally jailed inside their own city.


An analogue voxel rendering of an eastern district part.


Yep, that’s real LEGOs, another fine tool in Konstantinos’ bag. I asked him to tell us a bit about this.

“LEGO and other similar sorts of bricks have a long tradition in both architecture and urban design. Though, admittedly, they are rarely used in city planning, I do believe they are a great (and relatively quick) tool for creating mock-ups of imaginary cities, and invaluable when it comes to showcasing urban volumes. Obviously, LEGO bricks are even better for voxel based cities like Alderhil, and lectronice does seem to like them.”

I sure do. LEGO are probably the reason why I ended up being a game developer. That and my dad’s Amiga 500. But I digress… The interesting thing to see here is how housings and factories are designed: workers are piled up in awful canyon-like buildings while factories use most of the available space.


Alderhil’s final map (work in progress).


Here comes the real piece of work in all its glory of details, through slow and painful progress, according to its author. And after that, I’ll have to convert all of this to voxels, which I guess will be an equally slow and painful process. But, as you may know, game developers are natural born masochists, so it should still be an enjoyable experience.


Say hello to the fine folks of House Cxohà.


Cities are more interesting with inhabitants, so let’s finish with a sample of what I’m currently working on: our main character’s relatives. I hope you don’t mind the voxellated toplessness of the lady. She sure doesn’t, since sexism doesn’t exist in Suùn. Yet…

Building round things with square things


One of the topics Nékromegà deals with is colonialism. The story takes place in two very different countries, one being a small insular matriarchal society, the other a huge proto-capitalist empire. It’s all about contrast.

Above are some screenshots of the map I’m currently working on, set in the archipelago of Suùn. While I’m rather satisfied with the overall aesthetics, this will probably change a lot, because the place depicted here doesn’t quite look like it should.

Both countries have indeed to show very different architectural styles. However, since I’m building the whole thing with 16x16x16 voxel blocks, this leaves few possibilities for complex shapes. Which is a good thing, because it means I may be able to finish this project in my lifetime.

But my official imaginary city design adviser told me he imagined that matriarchal architecture with round shapes. This would totally makes sense, not only because femininity is generally associated with curves, or because the idea of matriarchy reminds him of neolithic settlements, where round shapes were pretty common, but also because it would help defining a sharp contrast with the empire’s fascist-industrial architectural style.

However, voxels are cubic, and creating round shapes with cubic elements isn’t exactly easy. So if I want round shapes, I guess I’m up for a challenge, eh?


Wouldn’t round shapes like this look lovely? (Los Millares)


As if it wasn’t challenging enough, RPG In A Box’s latest update adds nifty ambient occlusion shaders. This looks great on my character models, but not so great on my walls and bigger elements. Why? Because the way I’ve set up my map, and especially my walls, is not really the standard way. That would work at a smaller scale, but in my case, it’s kind of complicated, hence odd shadings in some corners, among other similar problems.

So I’ll have to work on two things: enhancing my models in a way that do justice to these ambient occlusion shaders which I definitely want to use, and adding round shapes all over the place. Because occlusion shaders would indeed look very nice on round shapes. The good thing is the shaders settings are on a per-model basis, so this leaves me with a lot of freedom.

The bad thing is my building blocks are starting to become numerous and highly specific, but that’s a necessary evil to satisfy my lego-god ego.