ADD A GIANT CANNON TO IT

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LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5958
Man, towns in RPGs suck. People don't know how to make them. It's a problem I have too, one I mostly avoid by just not making towns. Let's brainstorm better methods.

Here is a very common set of problems I've encountered with trying to make traditional towns:
- There's a set of buildings you absolutely need in every town. An inn, an item shop, 2-3 equipment shops, and possibly other things depending on your game. So you start by plopping these down.
- You probably have one important building the player has to visit for plot reasons, so you add that too. In many cases this one building ends up being the only unique feature of the town, other than the climate.
- You also, in order to make it seem more like a town instead of a minimall, need some other stuff that doesn't really add any gameplay, it's just there to look at. Most people do this just by adding random houses.
- By the time you're done that basic stuff, your town is as big as most RPG towns, and also you're exhausted, so you just toss in some poorly placed bushes and call it a day.

THIS RESULTS IN SOME SERIOUSLY BORING-ASS TOWNS



I have a method I personally use of making towns more interesting. I've been made fun of for this method, mostly by Craze, as he likes to simplify it to "sticking a cannon on it." It ain't inaccurate.

The method revolves around coming up with a setting or landmark that's unique and interesting. A key feature for the town. Some examples include: a monastery, a huge aqueduct, a battalion of catapults aimed at an encroaching orcish war party, a giant portal to another dimension, a dragon roost at the top of a cliff, a submarine port, the crumbling outer wall of a demolished fortress, a haunted circus, etc. Junon in FF7 had a giant cannon sticking out of the side of it for its key feature, and I think that's just fuckin' brilliant, which is where the name comes from. This key feature will be more than just the most interesting thing in your town - it will be its theme. Its presence will pervade the entire town. It is the reason the town matters.

This key feature will usually be part of the plot - it's either the reason the party is visiting the town, or the epicenter of the crisis that occurs after they arrive. But if you need a town for gameplay reasons, and nothing in your plot suggests a key feature for this town, then the next best thing is to pick something decorative that fits your game's atmosphere. Maybe it'll inspire a sidequest or something at least.

After coming up with the big thing, I usually put the most important shops and other building along the path from the town entrance to this key feature. Sometimes I do it the other way around if the landmark is small and easy to miss and I want to make sure the player passes by it repeatedly. And then most of the important events and key NPCs will be very close to the key feature, if not inside it.

I also try to make at least half of my towns non-traditional towns. Sometimes they're just one building, with some NPCs selling stuff. Other times I might make the shops and other things be outdoors, or in caves, or in makeshift shelters, or in the engineering bay of the half-build steamship, or somewhere else other than a traditional building. The key feature of the town hopefully lends your town a certain theme with regards to this sort of thing. Expand the key feature, spreading its tendrils through everything you place.

The existance of something cool in the town, something that actually matters, will help sell the idea that the town is there for more than just the player's shopping convenience. It can seem awkward when a "town" has four houses in it, but it's less awkward when the NPCs are in the town for a reason other than just living there. If they're in the town to make a pilgrimage to a 2500 meter tall crystal spire, or because the entire "town" is just a dock where their sandship is parked, then you wouldn't really expect thousands of residences.

Anyway!

I know other people have very different methodologies for making towns, and some of you guys end up making really, really good towns with those methods. I'm curious how you do it. And if you think my giant cannon method is helpful or stupid.
I mean, I pretty much agree with you. I like when towns serve the plot or personify a theme or idea, or as you say at the very least add to the atmosphere of the world overall if they're not totally plot-relevant.

I love the towns in FF7... I think most of them have more than one thing of interest to the player. Gongaga for example is optional, but still contributes to the gameplay, backstory and environmental/corrupt corporation themes of the story: useful materia nearby, clues relevant to Cloud & Aerith, and the reactor ruins.

Nier also has interesting towns that flesh out the depressing post-apocalyptic world. The severity of the Aerie (a town comprised of little metal huts clinging to the walls of a canyon, where everyone is shut up in their homes in fear and tells you to go away) mirrors the severity and desperation of the party member who lives there.

I started to like the idea of monasteries and lone inns after playing Kingdoms of Amalur & Elder Scrolls: Oblivion... and in general, the small, focussed map of Oblivion interested me, even though I found the capital city extremely tedious to have to navigate through.

Also, I think game worlds can benefit greatly from having towns/townspeople interact with one another. Examples from other games are the option to ask about local rumours in Oblivion, as NPCs will gossip about events affecting the county as well as their town; the tourists in FF7 that visit towns in opposite climates (Costa Del Sol people in Icicle Inn and vice versa... maybe Mideel too, can't remember). I mean if you're trying to establish the kind of world where people gossip.



I think towns that have a 'feature' or a 'theme' are actually a good way to distinguish between them. I like to have small farming villages be the boring type and have towns have some interesting stuff, but even the farm villages have a story and history and reason to exist.


Quite frankly, mapping-wise, I start with street layouts and build the town around those, with inaccessible (not empty, there's a difference) houses to fill out the feel. Also, going off the edge of the map can help it seem like there's more to the town that the player isn't seeing, making it feel bigger.


Thinking about towns in my favourite games, I gotta say the Suikoden series doesa good job on them most of the time (let's not talk about 4). You've got places like Haud (the town of terrible artists), Greenhill (the school as the main draw), the elf village (in a giant tree) and the like, which really helps set them apart.

In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find an RPG that does the 'every town is the same' thing. I can think of maybe two off the top of my head - Witcher 3 (most of the small villages are, well, small villages with no real differences between them bar how they're set out) and Lufia II (which does have some different-like places but tend to look very samey for the most part).
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5958
Funny, I feel like a lot of Suikoden 2 towns are a perfect example of samey, pointless, indistinguishable towns. It has SOME good ones but it also has a lot of towns that exist purely so you can shop there and maybe recruit the local gym instructor.

For example there's a city in Suikoden 2, Lakewest Town. You pass through it simply because it's the only place to dock your boat, nothing happens there, and it looks exactly like every other town. You recruit the guy running the bath house by bringing him a new shampoo, and recruit a gambler sitting on the street by winning at dice three times, and recruit some random granny by talking to her three times, and that's all you do. Every town in Suikoden has three people to recruit, and these are some really boring and pointless characters who never speak again for the rest of the game, so they certainly aren't helping.

Why does it even exist? It feels so stupid. The devs didn't even make it a hot springs town or anything; the bathhouse guy is just chilling in a barn whining that he's out of work. From a mechanical standpoint I understand that the characters need to be in the game somewhere, so they made an extra town for them, but the town is boring beyond measure. I don't know how to fix that other than just deleting it, which maybe is the solution. Suikoden games are like the very definition of cruft that needs to be trimmed. But surely there has to be a way to make the game setting better without making it smaller, right?

Maybe it's just about variety? Lakewest Town would probably be fine if the game had four towns in it and the other three were Muse, Tinto and Headquarters. The game has 21 fucking towns though, and half of them are nearly identical.
I just sort of listened to a tabletop RPG podcast episode about towns and they talked about how "theme park towns" always seemed sort of dumb. Like there's one feature in the town and everyone in the town is all about that one feature. (as an example they mentioned Jaynestown from Firefly, but also some pokemon towns)

Personally I tend to go for the "realistic" approach. Or. What I mean is I create something in a location and then try to come up with why it would happen to be there and it generally doesn't take more than fifteen minutes to come up with a plausible backstory about trade routes or mining operations or refugees hiding in the woods. I've often (the few times I've attempted anything) also just done the... uhm... Mount&Blade approach where towns literally just are the shops. A quick-menu to get from one point of interest to another, while leaving out... all those random alleys and whatnots. Just a clickable town map (a town map which has had some work put into it about where are the town's oldest buildings, inner town walls that used to be outer walls etc. etc.)

Smaller visitable areas basically. Like Mass Effect did with the citadel (and other locations). In the background you saw the rest of the hub and it was gigantic but you only had business in very limited areas.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5958
I'm not sure how your "realistic" approach actually translates into area design.
halibabica
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
16948
I can dig the giant cannon approach. I just think you have to be careful not to go overboard with it. If every town in the game has some major special feature, it may feel too gimmicky. Having a handful of mundane places helps to balance it out. Those mundane places can still be important, unique, and relevant, but they can't ALL have a "giant cannon."
I think the differences between a JRPG, a western RPG, and a tabletop RPG influences optimal town structures.

A tabletop environment allows for a significant amount of depth and NPC interaction. In this sense, each town can be physically identical and remain memorable. What is most important is maintaining the player's immersion.

Western RPGs tend to include complex game mechanics, non-linear paths, and (for lack of a better term) lots of stuff to do. Because of this, towns can be easily full of interactions, and smaller (less interactive) "towns" can be a welcome relief.

JRPGs, meanwhile, tend to have much more streamlined gameplay and focus on providing an excellent and accessible experience to the player. This means that towns are often filled with NPCs saying a few things to round out the experience, and then getting out of your way so that you can move on with the story.

Your chosen gameplay experience influences your town design. "Central hubs" are more useful in western RPGs, for example. "Realistic" towns are favored in table top games. And I think that "cannon" towns are especially valuable to JRPGs.
author=LockeZ
I'm not sure how your "realistic" approach actually translates into area design.

It just takes into account the surrounding area and possibilities of growth and whatnots in its design. The regular examples is the "crossroads town". Built around a hub where people naturally meet. (major roads, but also rivers or ports) Which then inform what it looks like. (built out from a trading post). Then there's the "industrial town", in fantasy settings built around, for example mining. The town itself is mostly a dead end and is essentially there for the labour to sleep. There's the "castle town" built near or around a castle. Mostly about supplying the castle with the stuff it needs. (farmland)

With these origin points in mind the starting layout is there in the mind. And as the town has (or hasn't) progressed new areas are added or have fallen into disrepair. (former industrial towns, towns that managed to survive the collapse of the industry that it was built on will still have traces of that industry in its design. But now focused on other things. etc.)

Like over here there used to be a lot more railway track. But a lot of them are now abandoned but here and there you can still find old railway stations in places where there isn't even any railway. But at one point the railway station was a hub for the town, so there's probably an old commercial district around the old railway station. Commercial buildings that now are probably just regular houses to live in. But the fact that they used to be storefronts means they are of a certain design. While the actual town center has moved to the main roads. And pre-railway a lot of towns were built around lakes where multiple rivers flowed in and out. When those things were the centers of commerce and the design can reflect stuff like the old riverroads, the newer railroads and the modern car roads.

Yeah I guess it is just regular worldbuilding, but that's what towns are in the end.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5958
Worldbuilding always strikes me as another term for masturbating. It's something you do for your own sake, at the player's expense, because you have some idea inside of you that you want to get out. Where as actual game design is the other way around. Its purpose is to depict the gameplay in a meaningful and entertaining way, and to direct the gameplay to the enjoyable parts while preventing people from doing boring lame shit.

My primary goal in towns is to prevent people from doing boring lame shit, which is hard because that's practically synonymous with towns.
author=LockeZ
Funny, I feel like a lot of Suikoden 2 towns are a perfect example of samey, pointless, indistinguishable towns. It has SOME good ones but it also has a lot of towns that exist purely so you can shop there and maybe recruit the local gym instructor.

For example there's a city in Suikoden 2, Lakewest Town. You pass through it simply because it's the only place to dock your boat, nothing happens there, and it looks exactly like every other town. You recruit the guy running the bath house by bringing him a new shampoo, and recruit a gambler sitting on the street by winning at dice three times, and recruit some random granny by talking to her three times, and that's all you do. Every town in Suikoden has three people to recruit, and these are some really boring and pointless characters who never speak again for the rest of the game, so they certainly aren't helping.

Why does it even exist? It feels so stupid. The devs didn't even make it a hot springs town or anything; the bathhouse guy is just chilling in a barn whining that he's out of work. From a mechanical standpoint I understand that the characters need to be in the game somewhere, so they made an extra town for them, but the town is boring beyond measure. I don't know how to fix that other than just deleting it, which maybe is the solution. Suikoden games are like the very definition of cruft that needs to be trimmed. But surely there has to be a way to make the game setting better without making it smaller, right?

Maybe it's just about variety? Lakewest Town would probably be fine if the game had four towns in it and the other three were Muse, Tinto and Headquarters. The game has 21 fucking towns though, and half of them are nearly identical.

Oh, for sure, there are towns that aren't as interesting, but that makes some of the more interesting ones stand out more. Honestly, I'm fine with small farming villages and the like not being big show-off stuff. If something is supposed to be 'small rural area', then it's fine with being just a small, boring town. That's its theme.

Lakewest serves its purpose in being the lake-side farming community that is a pit stop on the way to bigger, more interesting places. It's just a small hamlet where fishermen live and your whole reason for going there is to get from point A to point B. It is literally a place to park your boat (since in Suikoden 2 you can't just park it on any old part of the world map). You also forgot that it has some cutscenes. ;p

It still looks different to the other small towns despite this, though! Granted, it's generic town A material but it's one of the few that share that 'small town, nothing going on' base but still has it's own visual identity (being that it actually has the lake shore beach, which only one other town has).


The rest of the series (bar 1) does a bit better on that score, though - almost every town in 3 and 5 have interesting/different concepts and look visually different to each other.
pianotm
The TM is for Totally Magical.
32367
I didn't think I had anything to add to this discussion, and then I realized that for Winterruption, I had made an entire game centralized on a single town. I don't know how interesting that town was, but it occurred to me that it was at least more interesting than a typical town because it was the focus of the entire game. It occurs to me that not only does this town live in walking distance of a troll, a succubus, a wendigo, and a remarkably courteous dragon, but because of the nature of the game, everyone had their own problems and worries. Now, it also occurs to me that a lot of people might not want to put this much focus on their towns in RPGs, but it's not that hard to have people in town have actual problems that they need to deal with but to have multiple people have different problems.

I do like the notion of "put a cannon on it", but I'm pretty sure there are other ways to make towns. The most interesting thing to me about my town wasn't the fact that it shared living space with four mythical creatures, but the fact that the people in the town interacted in a way that I felt I could believe.
Realism inhibits good game design.

Obviously realism can be good and I think it's very important, but limiting yourself to a strict set of logical rules is a surefire way to limit your creativity. Shinan's post pretty much sums up realism's more fundamental use: providing a strong basis. Everything else is up to your imagination. I've let myself be shackled by realism and logic lots of times in the past, and it's never produced anything but a smug sense of satisfaction knowing that it follows some set of rules I've devised for myself. People are throwing fireballs all over the place, why do I need to follow SimCity rules for a working city?

It's not like you need to ignore realism for cool places to exist, but it sure as shit helps. Every 'normal' or 'realistic' medieval village looks exactly the fucking same: a road, an inn, a blacksmith, a few houses. Further down the road are some farms. There's nothing wrong with having your town look like this but there's also nothing interesting, either. Skyrim has lots of towns like this. But if there was ever a game that needed Giant Cannons in its town, it was Skyrim. If you're going to have a farming village, have the houses be built in the bones of a giant skeleton. If you have a mining village, have the people live in neato houses carved into the rocks. If you have a seaside town, have the people living in a ship that's crashed into the mountainside and get around via pulleys (see: Secret of Evermore).

Ultimately, it comes down to what kind of resources you can summon. Evoker has a lot of generic towns in it because I am stupid and too determined to finish it to go back and change all of them, but at least I recognize the error of my ways. Mostly they're bad because I wanted to seem logical. There's a port town because I needed to get the characters on a ship. Why didn't I bother to think of a more interesting way to do that? Laziness, realism, world building? It doesn't really do anything else. It's not a good town, but at least it's tiny and fast and has a meaningful cutscene in it. I still might move the cutscene and erase the town.

Liberty raises a good point about the generic stuff serving to highlight the good stuff; it's hard to appreciate a Giant Cannon if every town has some variation on it. Still, it's good to give every town something. This small town has a statue to an important, forgotten hero in its weed-covered square that you need to return to later. That town has a large inn with a suspicious reputation and a basement with a locked door. This town is on fire. That town is inhabited exclusively by goats. Hell, I'm going to use some of these ideas, now.

Evoker's towns might be limited by my own skill as an artist, but at least they are built with a specific feel in mind. A town might have a tall wall, or a river cutting through it, or only a few spaced-out houses betwixt farmland. I always marvelled at the fact that although all of FF5 and FF6's towns used (more or less) one set of town graphics in each game every town had a distinct feel to it, especially in FF6. I mean, Jidoor (auction house) and South Figaro (sneaking around) and Nikeah (bustling market square) use the same tiles but feel like completely different towns. Fallout 2 was great at this as well: there were only a few tiles in each town (with a few major exception, the games Giant Cannons of the casinos and the Tanker), but every place felt totally different.

@pianotm:
Is it one town or "one town" that actually houses several smaller sub-towns in a sneaky fashion?

p.s. one game that almost had a literal giant cannon was Fallout 3 with Megaton's semi-defunct nuke. Proof that a cool visual device (or devices, Megaton was a great looking town with it's aircraft aesthetic) isn't enough to save a town.

edit: shit this post was a lot longer than I expected
Towns should probably be as flashy as the degree of relevance they have to the plot. You know CT has loads of random towns with like no relevance to plot and at best is involved in a side quest. Remember Where Choras was? It was somewhere completely away from the plot and you only go there for side quests. How about Sandorino? It's basically an info dump town that you can totally ignore. It's so useless that 400 years later it simply vanishes off the face of the earth. Really, if you got a random town with zero plot relevance then you probably don't want the player hanging out in there too long anyway
I disagree on the unimportance of worldbuilding or "realism". (or, the word I always forget: internal consistency, which is way better than putting realism in quote marks) Especially in RPGs which pretty much by definition are supposed to be the most immersive genre.

The podcast I linked earlier often talks about the importance of internal consistency. Like there was some game where the rules changed around so much that in the end one of the players just said "I sprout wings and fly out of there" because that seemed completely reasonable within the game as it was played.

There is often some kind of dissonance involved too. Like some plot thread is all about some town crisis due to factors that might make sense. But then the next town over is the one that really should have that trouble, due to insane design. (The town in the middle of the forest is having a food shortage while you murder random encounter wolves/sources of meat by the dozens, while the desert town is a thriving community despite no source of food and being surrounded by a perpetual sandstorm. Either drop the food shortage plot thread or make the desert town have a source of sustenance. You can't have both.)

Of course this is all nerdy personal preference. But the fact is I just stop caring once things stop making sense.
Hmm, my post made it sound like I hate all rules. I don't. Consistency is key, and consistency requires rules to follow. What I don't like are rules based strictly on the real world or rules that hamper your design. The rules should be a byproduct of fun game design, not the other way around.

Internal consistency is very very important, I absolutely agree with you there, Shinan. I suppose "realism" as it applies to your own game world is very good, but "realism" as it applies to "real life" is a Bad Thing (usually, obviously there are always exceptions somewhere).

Internal realism is good because it sets a specific tone for your game and lets you manipulate it as you need to. Again going back to Liberty's post: the generic towns help the important ones stand out. Your game's generic doesn't need to be the same as the real world's generic, though.

Like, in your (Shinan's) earlier post about how towns were built everything makes sense from a real world point of view, but we're usually talking fantasy or sci-fi: maybe in your world the fictional mineral manite is the only mineral anyone mines and it can be transmuted into anything, so EVERY town is a mining town. That doesn't mean that every town can't be different; maybe manite appears as massive crystalline structures or trees, or maybe there are different colours, or maybe it alters the environment around it in strange and interesting ways.

There, we've made a new set of rules. So now that town in the desert can be rich in manite and the sandstorm is a result of that chaotic weather manite generates, whereas the manite trees around that forest town have become cursed somehow and the people can no longer harvest them. The internal rules make sense, but you keep your plotlines, which I assume existed for a reason.

Following real-world logic means that you always fight scorpions in deserts and wolves in forests. I don't disavow such things as they give the player a sense of cognitive resonance and they are nostalgic to simpler games of the past, but if you make your own rules you're much more likely to have players remember your game/story/world. Worldbuilding is fine, but the end result should always be a memorable experience for the player, not a six hundred page lore appendix that nobody will ever see.
pianotm
The TM is for Totally Magical.
32367
Kaempfer
@pianotm:
Is it one town or "one town" that actually houses several smaller sub-towns in a sneaky fashion?


Wait, what? You played as a dragon. You couldn't even go into the buildings. How could it be several smaller sub-towns?
The forest dwellers are all vegetarians and the desert dwellers are all high on Spice, obviously.
pianotm
The TM is for Totally Magical.
32367
kentona
The forest dwellers are all vegetarians and the desert dwellers are all high on Spice, obviously.


And ride sandworms.
author=pianotm
Wait, what? You played as a dragon. You couldn't even go into the buildings. How could it be several smaller sub-towns?

I don't know man I didn't play the game in question and your post is the first I'd ever heard of it. What am I, a wizard who knows the details of every game released on RMN? I will refrain from asking questions in the future my guy
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