TOWN DESIGN! WHAT'S YOUR PERSONAL APPROACH TO DESIGNING THEM?

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Punkitt
notorious rpgmaker 2k3 shill
3287
I've been building a couple towns for a new project of mine, and I've been kind of curious what the community here thinks of Town design in RPGs. Do you have any techniques? Any personal philosophies? Any favorite towns in RPGs you could show as an example?
Cap_H
DIGITAL IDENTITY CRISIS
6615
They should be either compact with every house having a purpose or fun to explore. If you have quirky npcs standing in houses and telling micro stories of their households, it's good to have them. Hidden chests and items are great to have, a rat filled cellar and a sewer dungeon, which is also an escape route from the castle. My towns usually have slums at their borders too.

I could probably write more but my philosophy differs project from project and most of my projects avoid proper towns as they're pain to map properly and you usually only need a merchant stall or two, a tavern and someone to progress your story.
I think it's really important to start with some broad out there concept, like a town that lives on a giant dead monster, or a town over a bridge, a town inside of a tree, or maybe a town actually affected by the plot (you crashed your giant ship into the town). Just stuff that makes you wonder "wait, how do people live here?" in a imaginative way. Real life is full of stuff like this

Typically in RPGs they're usually an excuse to send you on some mandatory side quest due to some nearby problem, but it can be a snorefest if there's nothing prompting me to actually care about this town and its inhabitants. What does the town actually think of you? Is there actually a difference between each town? Is it a place full of helpful people or is it a place where people stay inside Bloodborne style because of distrust of strangers? Personality is pretty important, but also the purpose of the town, does it contribute to the world in some way?

During WW2 there was an island called Malta that was the most bombed place on Earth, it was a place of strategic value for the Allied front in North Africa. Regardless of what damage the towns received (and having very little protection) the people of Malta kept running supplies through the Mediterranean regardless of what the Axis powers threw at them. Maybe not every town in your universe should get an award for enduring thousands of carpet bombings, and maybe you don't have any major political theatre going on, but it is important to consider the role a town has in your story, if the town you're making is a place where nothing happens ... why make it? A dry WW2 documentary managed to make me care about Malta, make me care about your place that you pulled from imagination.

The above is just a start, but I think it's worth having a good template where ideas just start flowing more easily. There's a huge artform in NPC placement and jumbling the various things you can do within a town besides shopping, but that's something more meticulous. I wrote a guide on NPCs awhile back actually.
Marrend
Guardian of the Description Thread
20053
Sometimes, I'm a fan of "small towns" that are literally just a list of places to visit, and players have access to shops, rumors, or other services from that list. Myriad Cypher does this...





...because of how the movement in that game was overwritten. Plus, I have no idea how difficult it would be to switch to more traditional movement system and back.

Though, sometimes, exploring towns means finding treasure, sometimes even rare/unique treasure. I'm re-playing Suikoden 5, and I've a currently running LP of Xenogears that provide examples of towns that do this. Of course, this is something the above method eschews in favor of accessibility to services.



I suppose it might be hard to make players care about a place where their interaction with said place is just a list. I suppose it ultimately depends on the game. Like, Myraid Cypher is pretty much it's own love-letter to Wing Commander - Privateer, and it's ilk. Planets serve as little more as places to pick up or deliver missions, or cargo, as well as refueling/repairing bases. That fact does not detract from the fun that can be had with Privateer, though.
My personal aesthetic is busy looking towns with lots of nature and lots of houses. Now, not all the houses need to be enterable, but they need to back up the idea that it's a town, which means four or five houses just ain't gonna cut it!

I've made a video on how I map towns before (it's quite long) and it basically details how I go about the creation of town but to just list what that entails:
- think about the basic type of town you want. On a mountain? A large sprawling city? A small forest village? A snowed in village? etc
- start from the ground up. Make the main roads that people will enter/leave the village from and along which you'll find the major buildings.
- build houses along it, and in other areas that you want there to be houses.
- create paths to the houses that aren't on the main road.
- add backyards, trees, personal touches to make the houses different to each other.
- add houses that aren't enterable.

Other things I like to experiment with when making towns is to make a one-map town that looks like it spreads out to the left, right and top, but have it so you can't go in those directions because the story chavvies you along to the south - the way in and out of town.

I'm a big fan of having a lot of greenery in towns. IDK, it's just a thing I really enjoy adding. I chalk it up to the places I've lived in always having a lot of trees and flowers and shit around.

Also, when dealing with walled towns, I like adding stuff outside the walls so that you can see that there's farms and such 'round the outside'. It makes the town feel more like there's an infrastructure and more people even if you can't visit them. X3

Always having the inn, shop and other places near the entrance or on the main boulevard in and out of town to make it easier on the player. If there's a special shop that makes sense to be in the slum district, then that's fine, but for the main three (inn, items, smithy) then the front and centre of the town is best for optimal restock/healing.

I like adding reasons to explore towns. Treasures and side quests. This can backfire with certain types of players (the flash through type who don't bother exploring) especially when there's something that makes the game a bit easier hidden in the backroom of the inn or something.

NPCs that are interesting and/or have their own little lives outside of the main plot of the world, who talk about each other and their friends in the wide world, but still dispense information for the player to use ("Little Timmy fell down the well the other day and it was a hell of a job to get him back out again, since the ladder down there broke. Poor kid bumped his head pretty hard - he was raving about some weird shadow beast living down there, but none of us saw anything when we rescued him so he probably imagined it."

The insides of houses are just as important as the outside of houses, so I like to make them to fit not only the shape of the house outsides, but also to reflect the characters that live within them a bit, so that you get a more visual reflection of them as characters.

And here's a few of my maps because why the fuck not, eh?













The pink squares represent houses that can be entered.

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.
5478
So I've cooled off on traditional JRPG town design in favor of something more like how cities are handled in games likes Dragon Age: Origins or Legend of Mana. There's a map or list of locations, and you pick one and that sends your characters to the front door of the building. Or to the entrance of the market area. Or to the stairway in front of the palace gates.







Basically, it annoys me a lot how "towns" and "cities" are all, like, 15 buildings big, instead of hundreds or thousands of buildings. JRPG town design works fine for tiny rural villages with 30 people living in them, but not for towns or cities. But the parts of the city where nothing happens should be treated just like the parts of the overworld where nothing happens - the player should fast travel over them.

Once you do this, I think you're free to build the individual sections of the town in a similar way that you would build a traditional JRPG town. But now different important buildings aren't all required to be adjacent to each other. And the player isn't required to suspend their disbelief to an unreasonable degree.

Now, you can make just a single outdoor map that contains every building of interest, and still imply that it's only a tiny section of the much larger town. And if your game has a lot of small towns, that's actually a good thing to do for some of them. But I find this method to work better for larger towns and cities that have multiple points of interest and will be visited multiple times during the game. And it just makes the town feel larger.

author=Liberty
I've made a video on how I map towns before (it's quite long) and it basically details how I go about the creation of town
Can you link to this video?
Sure!

Mapping video for the hell of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRMqb4tEjSU
Enjoy 45+ minutes of me talking about ants and mapping shit. XD
Sooz
They told me I was mad when I said I was going to create a spidertable. Who’s laughing now!!!
5177
Not doing them. :V

Mainly because none of the games I'm working on have that kind of town-dungeon-town setup.

I kind of feel like it's not a really necessary gameplay layout. Like, you definitely need break, heal, supply, and infodump spots, but you don't necessarily need them all at once. More devs should think about what narrative and gameplay purposes towns serve and decide whether there's a different setup that would serve their own game better, IMO.
load up a sample map and then....jk OR AM I (im not)

author=Darken
or maybe a town actually affected by the plot (you crashed your giant ship into the town).


Like whathisplace in FF8 (Fishermen's Haven? Harbour? Horizon? Fishermen's H-something.)

Kowloon Walled City is such a fascinating and effed up place that someone could (and SHOULD) set an entire game there. And honestly I'd rather see it done with something closer to a AAA budget than an RM game.

Darken's post is pretty *chef kiss* on this topic. Personally I am frequently at about where Marrend is at but as I've mentioned I hate mapping. Like, if I don't see a clear downside to just having your shopping options appear when you enter the doorway of a shop on the town map, as opposed to going to the effort of actually mapping the shop interior and all that goes with that, I won't hesitate to just do it the lazy way. And yes, you can easily take the same concept and just have the services in a town pop up when you step on a town on the world map without actually having a town map at all. For some styles of games (like anything heavily focused on open-ended worldmap crawling) I think this approach might actually be superior.

I don't know what my point is here except I'm lazy.
I usually start with a theme, where is the town located? A winter island? A desert? alongside a beach? Also, what could they be doing there instead of just standing around to make it seem more life-like. If they're on a winter island, maybe kids are outside playing, making snowmen, sliding down a hill. If they're alongside a beach, maybe they're fishing, collecting seashells?

I feel like adding things like that definitely helps with the immersion and makes the town and people feel more full of life! Also, mostly every town should have the necessities (a place to recover health/mp, buy items) and maybe add one unique factor to each town. Maybe one town has a mini-game you can't find anywhere else, maybe another has a huge library you can read upon information.
author=LockeZ
So I've cooled off on traditional JRPG town design in favor of something more like how cities are handled in games likes Dragon Age: Origins or Legend of Mana. There's a map or list of locations, and you pick one and that sends your characters to the front door of the building. Or to the entrance of the market area. Or to the stairway in front of the palace gates.

The game Laxius Power 3 actual handled this really well. You start off in the biggest city in the world, which is basically just a world map in itself.

I try to make the cities in my game an easy-to-understand-and-remember "shape". Here's an example of this in action in a small town:



It's essentially just an F shape. This makes it hard to get lost. There are other cities in my game that are bigger, but are still simple "E" shapes and such. I also find that having buildings extend beyond the perimeter of the map makes it feel bigger. It implies that there's more to the town than the area your party is visiting. In my game, I usually try to imply that the party is only exploring the main "market" section of the city.

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