Exclusive Earthrise Dev Diary: Welcome to Exodus Island
Written by Earthrise Lead Writer Momchil Dilov:
The design and creation of Exodus Island proved to be a challenge for several reasons. First of all, the area had a deep and well-developed story and we wanted to reflect this in the design. Second, the area should have been created as a training, protected area, where the players would have the opportunity to get used to the gameplay of Earthrise. These two conditions created many issues that we had to overcome during the development process.
Most of the areas in Earthrise are created according to design principles that make them open to modifications and relatively independent of minor changes in current game design. Exodus Island, on the other hand, was designed to the contrary. For example, the gameplay of Earthrise as a sandbox, hardcore game, is pretty difficult to explain in few short scenes and we faced the challenge of creating relatively easy to understand situations while keeping the storyline on track.
Most of the design time was consumed by working to prevent players from landing in a dead-end situation. A PvP-oriented, hardcore game like Earthrise may attract players that can potentially ruin the first few minutes of gameplay. It’s not pleasant to be ganked and griefed while learning the character, interface and gameplay basics, so the first thing added in the area design was a PvP invulnerability buff that allows players to stray away from any unwanted PvP encounters during training. Earthrise features a full loot system that can result in players dropping all available items at once upon death. To circumvent this possibility, we added free gear that won’t be lost upon death for the first few hours of gameplay because we wanted the players to feel free to experiment and learn the combat basics of the game. Most of the monsters we added are both piece-of-cake and unrewarding creatures designed to prevent grinding the zone to unnecessarily high levels of difficulty while in the learning curve. Our goal was not to deny the players the option to make mistakes but to soften up the consequences during the first hours of gameplay.
One of the area design targets was to highlight the story behind Exodus Island as much as possible. It begins with the Continoma Project and the Librarium – the safe asylum where the last humans fled during the war that wiped out the rest of humanity and changed the planet. During the cataclysms and their aftermath, the humanity inside the Librarium was maintained only as a recorded database of memories, waiting to be re-vesseled into existence again. Custodian, the guard AI of the Librarium, tended to the protection and the maintenance of these memory databanks. As the conditions outside became stable, Custodian re-vesseled the first humans to become Pioneers – the first to explore and colonize the larger Enterra island. Their training took place on Exodus Island, directed by Custodian inside the safety of the Librarium.
After the colonization of Enterra, the Librarium became less important as Continoma temporarily stopped the re-vesselment of the remaining humans inside. The Librarium was kept as a historic monument to the power and revival of humanity until the Division Night, when the Noir rebels stormed the capital of Sal Vitas and destroyed the re-vesselment control center of Continoma. This affected Custodian, who was in stasis until that time. The attack wiped out Custodian’s outer memory banks, removing any information possessed since the days of the Pioneers. This event literally restarted the re-vesselment process as Custodian raised the defenses of the Librarium and began re-vesseling the remaining humans, training them as the first Pioneers were trained.
As the players enter the world, they are granted the option to experience the Pioneer training in the Librarium. Regardless of any backstory their character might have, they will be trained to withstand the dangers of the untamed and hostile Enterra and reclaim it for humanity. Players are given only the information that Custodian possesses, having no idea that Enterra is almost entirely terraformed and under the control of the humans who are far from being a small, united colony of Pioneers, and who are striving to survive and rebuild.
The backstory and the game design idea of Exodus Island were then passed to the level design and art teams. They crafted the awakening sequence for the players after centuries of simulated slumber. Great attention was given to the interior of the Librarium, where the player character enters the world of Earthrise. The whole atmosphere of this sub-area supports the goal of making players feel like they are inside a huge, cold, metal machine where their characters are literally processed into fit shape and sent into training.
While following the storyline, we had to think about basic training. Earthrise possesses several specific underlining mechanics that drove the need for a simple, straightforward tutorial. Players are given the opportunity to learn the basics like interactions, the importance of armor – especially in a gear-based PvP game – and how to control their character. As players reach the end of the interior Librarium, they finish their basic training, during which they are safe from harm according to the lore.
Leaving the interior of the Librarium leads the players to the outside training facility. Even though it is still part of the Librarium, it has a very different feel. Many debates occurred here as the writers, artists and level designers discussed the best way to create this area. We certainly needed a combat training facility, but there were two strong opinions – either stick to the idea that it’s the original training facility that Custodian created or a completely new one, created and maintained by Continoma as part of their plans to make the Librarium a monument.
We chose the second option, as we thought of how Continoma would look upon this site – they don’t tend to pay heed to historical facts as their propaganda pursues its own goals. They would have redone the place so that it looks much more optimistic than it was back in the days of the Pioneers. The art team created the Librarium Gate – the megalomaniac-type of monument structure Continoma would have chosen for this. The level design team created a training area with many bight force fields and light metallic assets, following the Continoma style guide. We ended up with a weapon training area where players have the opportunity to test their intriguing new weapon types, defeating a set of robots that simulate the behavior of mutants on Enterra.
The general feeling we wanted to achieve in the exterior training was something that would be unusual for the situation. It doesn’t feel natural to tell you how low on resources humanity is while you’re destroying potential war gear in the form of robots, walking over hard force fields and using teleports to travel a few dozen meters. As the players reach the end of the training, they can also see another betraying detail – distant artillery explosions from the battle between Continoma and Noir that they will soon experience.
Proceeding through the final teleport in the Librarium leads the players to the so-called battle area of the Exodus Island. In the battle area, small, expeditionary forces of Continoma and Noir soldiers debarked to take hold of the Librarium – a task that proved too hard for both factions. Not only are they struggling to take over the Librarium, they also have to fight each other. It takes months for the two forces to resupply with gear and personnel because the alert state of the Librarium denied any outsider the right to re-vessel on Exodus Island or to use teleports to access the area. This makes players vital to the plans of both commanders, as the newly re-vesseled humans can still use the systems of the Librarium and, as a result, be sent to perform difficult tasks without significant concerns.
This part of the Exodus Island design proved difficult due to the fact that we wanted to create a very confusing combat situation that still remains playable by a user that has only a few hours of gameplay experience. The level design team created a battlefield scoured by long fighting, with the few survivors holding their ground, unable to relocate or identify the positions of either their allies or enemies. The heavy fog of war is only breached by the signal beacons of Continoma and Noir war camps, leading the newly re-vesseled players to them. We left only a few clues leading toward the main sites in this sub-area including undamaged signal markers along the main pathways and the remaining re-vesselment points with free training gear provided by the Librarium for the players.
The creation of the Exodus Island area proved both challenging and rewarding, as we were able to create a comparatively controlled environment where players can experiment with their characters without any of the major consequences that they will encounter on Enterra.