Developer Video Blog: Dual Scale vs Mono Scale Maps

Today’s Video Blog is brought to you by Chris Spears, Tech Director for Shroud of the Avatar.

One of the hot topics that has come up in the chats and forums is the choice of dual-scale vs mono-scale maps. Ultima 1-5, Dragon’s Age, most JRPGs use the dual scale system, where you have an overland scale and then a encounter scale. Ultima 6-UO used a mono-scale map. After looking at the pros and cons of both systems we decided to go with a much improved version of the dual scale map.

We are expanding on this as well so that areas you enter are truly more movie scene like that than just a space to fight in. Don’t think of them as a simple instanced dungeon like you might find in WoW or a dungeon from Skyrim but instead a smaller, focused 3-30 minute experience of some sort which is not necessarily just go in here and kill stuff. Many scenes will involve specific story driven moments and puzzles with no combat at all.

In addition to staying true to Richard’s earlier works, the dual scale system allows the following benefits:

More dynamic world: By breaking the 1-to-1 connection between the overland tiles and the content they are attached to and generating the overland map through data instead of baked art, we are free to change up areas of the world far more easily. Things like changing out a section of the map to be infested by a plague or have a mountain turn into a volcano is as easy as pushing new map tile data and connection information. This also allows us to easily roll out new scenes as we complete them to ensure the game stays fresh and interesting on a weekly basis.

Less painful travel: As much fun as it is to be able to occasionally just wander in the wilderness, in the long run, people generally prefer to be able to get around quickly and not have to spend an hour trying to figure out what the best way to get to the other side of the mountain is going to be. That is fun the first three times and a game exiting moment on the 23rd time. Because we’re not doing our quests as “run to this X on your radar”, there will be far more detective and foot work involved and not making that travel element a huge chore was important to not destroying the game flow.

Quicker content creation: I know the average user doesn’t think about this kind of stuff but it is huge in the reality of game development. Budgets are not infinite so speeding up content creation means we get more stuff done in the same amount of time with fewer bugs and more polish. End result is we can give you guys a bigger, smoother game experience with fewer bugs and quicker fixes when we do find things!
Easier content delivery: Breaking up the world into little chunk simplifies content delivery to the end users and also patching.

Lower machine requirements: Giant seamless worlds are a challenge for even the most powerful computers out there. By splitting up the world into focused scenes we greatly lower the machine requirements.

More scaleable multiplayer experience: Most people are shocked to hear that one of the most expensive systems on large scene MMO servers, is mob/character visibility. Not the actual ray testing to see if they can be seen but the logic of figuring out which entities should be updated of others actions. Chopping the world up into smaller, bite size chunks greatly simplifies those calculations.

Allows us to more easily insert single player experiences into the multiplayer version. Because the multiplayer version of the game shares the majority of the single player quest line, there are times when we need to isolate the player from a party situation for storyline reasons. These situations won’t be too common but there are just some things that an avatar must do alone!