TERA: Locations as Characters
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Previous TERA Developer Diaries: The Monsters of TERA - Exclusive Pictures Developer Diary 1 - "Playing is Believing - A TERA Story" TERA’s Path to Creating Compelling Characters TERA's Emotional Rewards Through Storytelling
Written by Dave Noonan, Lead Writer of TERA:
"With TERA, the notion of “locations as characters” is one we think about a lot. After all, the game’s central adversary—the argons—are trying to terraform the game’s locations out of existence. TERA’s antagonists threaten the landscape just like more ordinary enemies threaten flesh-and-blood characters. It’s only a short step to treating our locations like characters. The bad guys certainly are!
Here are a few of TERA’s locations, with design notes on how we approach them as characters.
Island of Dawn
The Island of Dawn is the first location you visit when you play TERA—it’s an island that suddenly arose in the middle of the ocean, yet it has mysterious ruins and a full-fledged ecosystem. (Not to mention some decidedly sinister occupants.)
Because it’s our start zone, we use that mystery—how and why the island emerged from the sea—as the central character trait for the island. We know players are apt to be curious about everything in TERA when they start playing, so they’re motivated to get to know the Island of Dawn and figure out its mysteries as they’re figuring out the game itself.
Over the course of those first few hours, the character of the island changes. It gets more dangerous as you learn more; it’s like you’re peeling back layers of an onion. Visually, it gets darker as the story takes a darker turn. As you understand the character of the island better, we introduce nuance to the very idea of mystery-solving: are some mysteries better off unsolved?
We treat the Island of Dawn like a character in another way: we don’t get all the way to the center of the onion during your first visit to the island. You get some answers as you explore the island, but you’ll leave with some significant questions unanswered—for now.
Freeholds The Island of Dawn discloses its secrets gradually, but the Freeholds (a mid-level zone) reveals its essential character almost right away. The Freeholds are the location equivalent of the “bad girl” character you see in a lot of films: visually appealing, but with a darkness or wrongness beneath the attractive surface.
When you visit the Freeholds, you see the tension within the character right away. It’s a sunny place, dotted with picture-postcard farms and windmills. But you don’t get far before you see that something hostile has commandeered almost everything in the zone—including inanimate objects like scarecrows and farm machinery.
And like many noir tales involving femme fatales, the story woven through the Freeholds is one of trust and the possibility of redemption. Are the Freeholds going to reject the darker, hostile aspects of its character (symbolized by farm machinery run amok), or will the attractive surface always be misleading?
Fyrmount The Island of Dawn and the Freeholds seem outwardly appealing, and they wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the real world. That’s not the case with Fyrmount. As the pegasus flies, Fyrmount isn’t far from the Freeholds, but it couldn’t look more different. And unlike the Freeholds, appearance matches reality for Fyrmount. It’s an alien landscape—definitely not someplace you’d book for your next vacation. The Fyrmount character is likewise “alien” more than “hostile” (though it is indeed a dangerous place.). The story that unfolds in Fyrmount is one with a lot of misdirection and intentional weirdness. This is a character that you can’t fully get to know, but the details you do learn are both interesting and unsettling.
Fyrmount also plays our location characters against each other—another way we emphasize its alien nature. For example, the players have been fighting tree spirits since they were on the Island of Dawn, but the ones they encounter on Fyrmount look far stranger.
Allemantheia There’s a saying among actors that “acting is reacting.” That’s certainly true with our locations-as-characters in TERA. One of the main cities, the high elf city of Allemantheia, has a conflict at its core. It’s a serene, water-filled oasis of a city in the middle of a desert. The reason Allemantheia has such gorgeous waterfalls is because the high elves are draining the surrounding lands to keep it that way.
The relationship between the city and its NPCs propels the storytelling. The residents of Allemantheia are aware of the tension built into the waterfalls and the surrounding desert. Some think the sacrifice is worth it, some don’t, some are indifferent, and some regard it as inevitable. It’s almost as if the city of Allemantheia is having a conversation with its inhabitants, and that conversation is telling us something about the city and something about its people.
Every zone in TERA is a full-fledged character, to be sure. As we continue to hone the story, we’re drilling down a layer and finding even more location characters. Can an individual village be a character? A dungeon? A prominent landmark? You bet—as long as there are stories to be told, they’ll need characters with dramatic landscapes. In the case of our location characters, literal landscapes."