Terrain Board Reforged
“Level design, or environment design, is a discipline of game development involving creation of video game levels—locales, stages, or missions.” - Wikipedia, article on Level Design.
As you probably don’t know, the Terrain Board (which you probably didn’t know existed) is gathering dust. There is the occasional visitor, spurring up a whirl of dust to place a painting among the fading gallery or to visit some of the ancient bearded hunched-over men sitting by their solitary desks, introspectively flipping through their gallery albums, dreaming of better days. The golden days when there were roughly 20 active terrainers in the terrain board. All too eager to make their meaningless existence gain some meaning by helping some young, impressionable, modder in need of terraining advice. Indeed most have left, and some lie dead by their desks, and those few that remain are now so maddened that they will try to claw their long, terrain-addled, fingernails into your skin and make you stay forever, make you love a dying art. A meaningless, useless, dying art. The art of Scenic Terraining.
Yeah, this is a pretty bleak picture, but it’s a pretty accurate one as well. And I am not going to be coy: I am one of the few that has been an active part of making this happen. Because the Terrain Board has always been the home of scenic terraining, and most of the most active users that frequented this place were always more into scenic terraining than actual useful terraining, the kind of terraining that is professionally known as “Level Design”, and hively known as “Playable Terrains”. And while scenic terraining is very fun to do, and provides a pretty picture to look at, it doesn’t in any way serve our modding community in the bigger picture: To educate our users about the importance of level design and to encourage aspiring level designers to hone their skills in order to serve a modding team properly by providing a beautiful location for the mod to take place. But what is actually the importance of level design? Why should you care?
Well, of course it’s a matter of opinion, but seeing as this is my post, I’m going to try to convince you that my conviction is the right opinion. The level designer's job is both an artistic and a technical one, on the one hand they create the largest visual representation of the game, and on the other hand they have to make a gameplay environment where said gameplay can happen unhindered, or in accordance with the virtual space they have created. So tell me, when you play games like Skyrim, Horizon Zero Dawn or The Last of Us, do you take the world that you move around in for granted? Or do you sometimes just stop playing altogether, just to admire the scenery? If you've ever done that last thing, then know that in a way, that is exactly what the level designer wants you to do. And yes I know that gameplay, story and overall conceptions are important too, and more important to some of you, but the true mark of a great game is a game that scores on all counts. And the same goes for modding, something that can really lift a mod from good to great is the addition of a good level designer to your modding team.
Image above is from Horizon Zero Dawn
This, you could say, is at the very heart of the new vision for the Terrain Board. Seeing as things moved a little faster than I antisipated, a few observant people among you might have noticed a couple sneaky changes that has already happened. For one, I have now officially stepped back into the role of Terrain Moderator and plan on dedicating all my time on the hive to reviving, and to a certain degree, repurposing the Terrain Board. Which in turn has also gotten a new name, "Terrain and Level Design", as well as a new home, it has been moved up from the Artist's Discussion category and is now the closest neighbour to the Map Development sub-forum. No longer will the Terrain Board be under the yoke of artists trying to enforce their artisitc tendencies onto level designers! But what do these changes actually mean?
Good question! Of course we will not kill scenic terraining, neither will we take the art out of the terrain board, I plan on doing scenic terraining myself in the future. So put down your torches and pitch-forks, you three, we won't kill your dreams. However, we will be shifting the focus and purpose of the terrain board to better suit a modding community that needs level designers. To that end, I will be making some changes to the terrain board, so it aligns better with the changes that have already been made. That is why the terrain board was moved, because the new vision for it fits better along-side the map development and world editor sub-forums, rather than next to the Sound and Music Art forum. Additionally, when Reforged rolls around, we'll start hosting a new type of contests in the arena, called "Level Design Contests".
As opposed to our traditional terraining contests, where the unwritten formal agreement was that every fifth contest would be a playable terraining contest, these new contests will focus exclusively on the creation of physical space, to cater better to our level designing vision. And calm down my ghosting terraining old-timers, we will still be hosting scenic terraining contests from time to time. They will just be separate concepts from now on, and scenic terraining contests will probably be a bit rarer. But seeing as they are separate concepts, it’s mostly up to whoever wants to host them how often they get hosted.
There are other, more subtle, changes at work or in the plans that will influence the terrain board in the future, and maybe even some of the other arts and modding forums, but these ideas are in early conception and we’ll talk more about that at a later point. For now I want you all to know that my love for the terrain board, and my will to elevate the terrain board to new and exciting heights is what drives me to commit to these changes and to forge this new path. I do this with the terrain board’s, and the modding community at large, best interests in mind. I do sincerely hope that there are some among you out there willing to support this idea and to help me realize it, but also know that I am open for suggestions, ideas and constructive criticism. In the end: What I do I do for you, so make sure you let me know if I do it right or not.
Image above is from Skyrim SE
Finally, I’d like to add that any and all opinions and suggestions should be kept civil and that I work to cater to the community as a collective group, and not to satisfy individual desires or feelings. I will listen to rational voices and the voice of the community.
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