Titan Quest Designer Diary #2 - Rebuilding the Ancient World

Tom Potter, the lead content designer, tells us how Iron Lore Entertainment is re-creating the ancient world for this fast-paced action role-playing game.

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Titan Quest is one of the games that we've got our eye on in 2006. This action role-playing game may remind you a lot of Blizzard's famous Diablo games, but Titan Quest, which is set in the ancient world, promises to deliver its own unique experience. There will be beautiful 3D graphics and an innovative character class system with which you can create a hero or heroine, and you'll battle all sorts of mythical beasts from Ancient Greece, Egypt, and beyond. In the second of our designer diaries for the game, Iron Lore's Tom Potter tells us how they re-created the ancient world, one mouse click at a time.

There's a lot of research that goes into level design to get the basic details right.
There's a lot of research that goes into level design to get the basic details right.

Rebuilding the Ancient World

Tom Potter
Lead Content Designer, Iron Lore Entertainment

The content design team at Iron Lore Entertainment is responsible for creating all of the levels found in Titan Quest. As everyone here can attest, it takes a lot of work to create a game environment of this size and complexity. Our powerful world-building tool, referred to simply as "the editor," transforms this daunting task into something not only manageable, but also fun. Despite its nondescript name, the editor contains a lot of power in a deceptively simple package. We've designed it that way so aspiring level builders of all skill levels can easily understand the intuitive, easy-to-use tools.

Combining the best of both a height map and tile-based system, along with an extremely sophisticated texture-blending system, our editor allows us to create very diverse environments quickly. The "ease of use" is essential because our level-development process requires much iteration to ensure maximum fun. So how exactly do we go about designing a typical level in Titan Quest?

Walking through the office it is difficult to ignore the volumes of research books lining shelves and piled haphazardly in cubes. To make a historical game like Titan Quest there are many questions to answer. What sorts of trees grew in Egypt? What did the tombs in the Valley of the Kings look like? Did Greeks use paved roads? Before we do anything in the editor, we need to answer these questions by doing some intensive research.

Armed with pages of notes, pictures, and mythological factoids about each region, we are now ready to sketch the basic level layout on paper. The team discusses points of interest to include in each level, how to support the story through level design, historical accuracy, and how to ensure proper gameplay flow. Once we've agreed upon the best layout, we sculpt a simple version of the level in the editor to test out our ideas. It's not unusual to go through several iterations of each level before we're happy with the results. The sculpting tools are pretty straightforward. We have a tool to create vast plateaus, usually for level boundaries and play areas; one to raise and lower the terrain to add detail to the flat height map; a smoothing tool for any rough edges; and a ramp tool to create gradual slopes between different height-map elevations.

If the height-map tools are like sculpting, then the texture system is like painting. Textures are added to the world in layers. We start with a base rock texture; on top of that we add various types of dirt, then grasses and plants, and finally man-made surfaces like cobblestone roads. Each texture is selected and painted down as you would in any paintbrush program. In addition, each texture has an "opacity" setting, which determines how it is painted. The closer the opacity setting is to zero, the more invisible the texture, allowing textures beneath to show through. With this system, the number of ways textures blend is nearly infinite, allowing us to create truly unique, non-repetitive environments.

Titan Quest does look beautiful, and the 3D graphics are eye-catching.
Titan Quest does look beautiful, and the 3D graphics are eye-catching.

The next step is to begin populating the world with the thousands of objects created by the art team. The editor makes this process painless. Dropping objects utilizes a simple point-and-click system: select an object from the list, click in the world, and the object appears. We also have a special type of object called a "tile," which is an object that stitches directly into the terrain. This allows us to incorporate custom pieces of art, like stone bridges and jagged cliff sides, into the world seamlessly.

We believe that people who have never really considered making a level, or those who have been intimidated by other level-design tools in the past, will be able to just jump right into the editor to make a quality game level of their own. And the best part is that everything made available to gamers are the same exact tools used to make the game. A thriving Titan Quest community is something that we consider very important to the success of our game, and we're all eagerly anticipating the day when we can play the first levels that appear online.

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