Hello fellow mayors! My name is Kyle Brown and I am a Level Designer responsible for building the recently released map Edgewater Bay, as well as half of the regions that shipped with the game. I’ll be sharing with you a detailed look at how we build regions in the new SimCity.
Edgewater Bay is a special map because it’s our first free region that was released with Update 4.0 last month. When I started it, I was given a simple directive to help influence the design. In this case, the directive was “bayside.” Before I start building anything, I make a couple of really quick mock-ups and show these to the other members of the region team. Often the mock-up overhead map barely resembles the final product.
This mockup was scrapped due to the fact that it had too much real world resemblance to the Bay Area, and we wanted to create something a little more dynamic.
This one more closely resemblance to the final Edgewater Bay map. We went with this one because the Great Work would feature prominently in the center so it would be visible from all the cities. From all the community feedback we’ve received, this was a wise decision. We’ve also noticed you like how all seven cities are connected in Edgewater Bay. This type of feedback helps us determine what to create in future regions.
The mock-ups shown here are very fast and very disposable. The mock-ups will prevent us from wasting time building maps that don’t fit the vision we’re striving to achieve. For Edgewater Bay, the bay was the defining directive, so it was going to feature prominently in the mock-up. Once the team picks a mock-up that they like, the fun of building the region begins.
First, I generate the terrain of the region by painting a height map in Photoshop that looks like this.
Using a height map generation program, I run the image above through a serious of filters that create erosion to make the terrain look more real.
At this point, I edit the map by hand in Photoshop to change the size of features and make the terrain flatter in places where I intend to place the cities plots.
The final product is fairly different from the original concept, but there is still a resemblance. This simple 512x512 black and white image is what creates the geometry for the entire level. In the end, it looks like this.
Now is the time that I place markers that become the city plots that you Mayors get to play in. From here, I make more edits to the Photoshop file to make the areas in the city plots more fun and playable. This is the most important part. The stuff outside of the city box is all just a pretty frame at the edge of the canvas. The shape of the terrain in the city plot will influence the shape of the city created. Influence, but not dictate.
I am a Level Designer by trade who traditionally worked on very linear games in the past. Building a region and the city plots in a region is designing for nonlinear gameplay. Many of the bread-and-butter tactics of level design don’t work for nonlinear gameplay. For example, we have to give players carrots instead of objectives. In a game like SimCity, players are 100% free to ignore some or all of the carrots offered. If we tilt a box in favor of mining by putting ore in it, a player is still free to not plop mines and instead build a gambling city. The region team mantra was that we were building canvases that people would paint their cities on.
If you’ve built in Edgewater Bay, you may have seen this giant rock in the city Mason Hill. Why is it there? Well, quite simply because I put it there to create a challenge. When I go through and make the boxes playable, part of doing that is flattening out boxes to make them easier to play and the other part is adding obstacles to make them more difficult. If every box was the same flat space the game would be boring. Why would you need a level designer to make perfectly flat spaces? I am here to add fun and challenge to the game. Challenge and fun sometimes have an antithetical relationship. However, the payoff is when the challenge is overcome and not always during the process of overcoming it. One of the things that I smile the most about is when I see all of the screenshots of the interesting cities in the more difficult city plots. The obstacle that we presented to those players with was a carrot that forced them to think creatively about how they were going to build their city.
Here’s an example a community member overcoming the obstacle by making a city work around the rock. Nice job! Think you can do better? Head over to our forums to share your best layout for Mason Hill.
I hope this blog gives a little insight on how we build regions.