Exclusive Earthrise Developer Diary #2 – Cascade Mountains

Masthead Studios has sent us the second exclusive developer diary of Earthrise in which they discuss the development process of their upcoming Sci-Fi MMORPG. For full information on Earthrise, check out their official website: http://www.play-earthrise.com/

We present to you the second developer diary that discusses the Cascade Mountains area of the game world.

If you have yet to read the first developer diary, check out it out here as they describe the industrial area of the title.

“The Cascade Mountains are a territory filled with various concepts. First, we wanted to create a place where Noir insurgents live their covert lives away from the eyes of Continoma agents. We also wanted the zone to be easy to defend with only a few men and to possess multiple hidden routes. Another idea we wanted to introduce to the zone was that of a rich, dense jungle lined with waterways and waterfalls that converge on the bottom of a large canyon into a shallow, muddy swamp. This idea created the name of the zone as we imagined the Cascade Mountains to consist of rocky terraces with pouring waterfalls.

The background lore of the zone says that it was partially terraformed – one of the few areas where native and human-created foliage intermix to create a sea of green leaves when looked upon from the top of the Cascade Mountains. The plant life in the zone was bio-engineered to support the mutant eradication program of Continoma by introducing poisonous chemicals into the soil, air and water, but these efforts failed as the mutant life-forms native to the Cascade Mountains managed to survive and even to thrive in the biomass-rich environment. During the first days of human activity in the zone, the Pioneers found a natural, vast underground cave where they built their local base of operations – The Core.

As the assault on Sal Vitas during the Division Night failed, the Noir forces had to find refuge away from the center of the Continoma power. We decided that The Core would be an ideal shelter, as it adds to the guerrilla flavor of the Noir. When we designed The Core we wanted it to look more like a military base and a warehouse than a working city. With that concept in mind we began thinking what kind of supplies and services the Noir would like to install in The Core. As our setting concentrates on energy-consuming technology we went with the idea of a large nuclear reactor standing right in the center of the cave. This may seem dangerous, but better having a potentially dangerous nuclear reactor in your base than having your defenses offline with the enemy detachments approaching. Most of the sub-zones of The Core are designed to look like industrial and military quarters that were fitted to civic needs – the housing quarters built into the rocks on the far side of the cave look like storehouses, and the trade quarters resemble modified command centers. We wanted The Core to look like a hideout so we added a waterfall that visually obscures the entrance to the compound from the preying eyes of Continoma scouts.

We wanted to create the Cascade Mountains as a less inhabited area. We developed the concept that most of the Noir would be on the battlefield or would participate in reckon and sabotage missions and the Cascade Mountains would harbor only the few that take a short rest or tend to the economy of the rebels. Most of the Cascade Mountains belong to the local fauna. The concept behind most of the creatures here was to create a mixture of strange and primordial jungle beasts that haunt the shadows of the forest canopy or lurk in the muddy swamps below. For some of these we drew inspiration from extinct species – for example, the Boghorror resembles prehistoric predatory amphibians. It was designed to lurk in shallow waters and dash on its prey from ambush. The Balor is a genus of giant carnivorous turtles, with different sub-species reaching from two to several meters in length. Very territorial by their nature, the Balor will aggressively attack even when not hunting. The Dreadmoth is a species of giant insects that fill in the role of aerial predators in the territory. They can’t land, but prefer to glide on the strong air currents between the cliffs or clamp to the rocks and scan for prey. When they have to breed, they find a suitable host and inject it with paralyzing venom. Then, the Dreadmoth takes the victim away and enwraps it into silky cocoon, clamping it to the rocks. As a final terrifying detail, the creature injects its larva into the body of the victim. For the next several months it will feed on the host from the inside until it grows large enough to kill the host. The horrifying stories of scouts forced to endure weeks-long pain in stupor cause many of the Noir patrols to carry cyanide capsules.

With so many generated ideas we had to bring the content to life with precision and planning. Being a large area of the island, the Cascade Mountains were both an art and level design challenge. With the level design team laying out the zone, difficulties started to reveal themselves. We couldn’t have allowed ourselves to create a “corridor-shooter” style area and so we had to pack lots of free space within content. The art team designed environmental packs of large rock and SpeedTree libraries that helped the level design team quickly build the frame of the jungle environment. This left both the art team and the level designers free to center their attention on the important details – the design of The Core and the points of interest in the zone.

As the work on the zone itself progressed, the game design team found it very difficult for the player to navigate the area. For this reason, the Lookout Towers were introduced as a quick-fix in the lore and the design of the zone. The Lookouts appear to be giant, old towers of metal built on the rocks in several parts of the Cascade Mountains. They were constructed during the early Settler days when the Continoma began planning to expand to the eastern side of the island. Now the Noir use these towers as defensive structures and players can use them as navigation points while wandering around the zone.

We wanted to make the Cascade Mountains a vertically challenging area, with the main pathways hiding behind cliffs and trees. This was made to make the area inhospitable to Continoma players that would like to assault it without preparation. An unwary attacker may end up in groups of monsters or at a dead-end between the rocks. The enemy would find the area difficult to navigate as they will keep bumping into Noir camps all along the way – we’ve designed the Noir outposts in the area in such manner that they cover the infrastructure of the area almost entirely. This reflects the game design idea that a player can easily hide, ambush and lure their enemies into a trap using the terrain and the monsters – a tactic developed by Noir forces.

Filling such a vast area with gameplay content and quests was as hard as the art and level design task. The writing team concentrated on adding up missions that would allow players to scout the Cascade Mountains and point out the important creature spawns and farming areas. The lore idea behind these missions was to show that while Noir forces manage to cause problems to their Continoma opponents in their own territory, the Cascade Mountains remain an inhospitable place and Noir want it to remain this way.

Testing the Cascade Mountains revealed that we barely managed to scratch the surface of the potential of the area and various ideas for progressive development in it emerged. Plans for further development in the area include adding lots of quests that will show the player what it takes to survive in the jungle, while adding new ways to interact with the environment. We’re planning not only to add to the primordial appearance of the zone, but also to add some lore depth and a bit more war-related danger lurking in the shadowed canopy.” – Masthead Studios Development Team