The Anatomy of a Town

Hey y’all! Been meaning to write this up for awhile now, but I’d figured I’d give you all a look into the development process of She Dreams Elsewhere and what all goes into making a level. For this time around, let’s take a look at one of the towns in the game – Water Lily Village.

Before that, however, I just wanna give a quick shout-out to HelloThisIsAngle she did the new character and cover artwork and did an absolutely fantastic job. Definitely check out her work, she’s RIDICULOUSLY talented.

Now, onto our feature presentation…

Water Lily is found in Serenity, the third (previously second) area in the game. Serenity is a rather unique level since the game briefly goes semi open-world here, taking a LOT of inspiration from various Zelda games (sidenote: if someone can buy me a Switch so I can play Breath of the Wild, that’d be fantastic plz & thank you <3). The player is tasked with finding three lost children within three different areas of the surrounding woods, and is able to do so in any order they choose. While the game as a whole allows for a ton of exploration and secrets, it’s given a chance to really shine here.

However, Serenity wasn’t always setup this way – in earlier versions of the game, the level was a lot more straightforward and linear, and even followed a different plot. However, the town was a still an important part of the level in all of its versions, and because of how the levels are structured, there aren’t many true towns in the game compared to most JRPGs – so I knew this one had to be well-crafted and memorable.

With that, it was time to get started.

This was the initial working layout for the town, created back in August/September of last year (also around the time that I switched over to the B&W art style). I usually don’t sketch out most of my map/level designs – like, I’ll often have the outline of the level and its mechanics mapped out, but as far as the actual layout goes, I usually just fuck around a bit until it comes together in a way that I like. Not the best or most efficient way of game development, but hey – works for me.

Anyway.

We got roads figured out! Whenever I’m making a map, I always think about how the player is gonna traverse it, and how they’ll know where to go, and roads are a pretty convenient way of doing just that (of course, these roads aren’t present in the level proper, and you can always go off the beaten path…)

Now all we need are…

Buildings!

Here, the town only consisted of a weapon shop, a restaurant (called “The Famished Falcon”), the town hall, the Charm shop, and two plot-relevant NPC houses. Not very expansive, is it? That’s because in this version of the game, you found the town fairly early in the level, did whatever short business you had to do, and moved on to the rest of the level.

It was basically just a pit stop – which was fine for this version and fine for other games! Definitely not trying to throw any shade. But over time I became pretty disssatisfied with how the level was coming and decided to scrap a lot of it, which meant that a revision was inevitably due:

A bit more expansive and lively, yeah? This version was from May of this year.

Here, we have all of the buildings from the previous version, plus a few new residential houses and a nice little fountain area. I don’t have a picture of it, but the second half of the map used to be its own, separate area – shortly after making it, I decided to combine it (which led to the loss of a few NPC houses, but whatevs – quality over quantity, after all).

A little later, I fucked around a bit more with both the level’s plot and the town layout and came up with this:

Now we’re gettin’ somewhere! As you can see, I started phasing out the placeholder houses for the more detailed ones, going for a more small-town, rural type feel. It’s around this time that the level’s plot was fully finalized and locked down – in this version, the town is still encountered fairly early, but is a central part of the entire area and is returned to multiple times throughout the level’s duration. There’s also plenty of optional content and secrets to discover as well, which I LOVED sprinkling around every now and then.

More progress! I had to extend the bottom of the map several times before I finally got enough space for all my shenanigans to fit in. I also gave a bit more thought into the placement of the buildings themselves and took inspiration from how an actual town would be laid out (hotel near the entrance, diner right nearby, residential houses close together, etc.)

Getting closer to the final version. Notice the heart-shaped area in the right corner – it’s just a small, fun bonus area for the player to explore.

Even closer! There’s just a couple details added/changed here and there, but the major addition here is the little area at the bottom between the entrance and the south lake – it’s actually the exit of the nearby cave!

At this point, the actual layout of the town is locked down and it’s time to start decorating – one of the most relaxing, fun, therapeutic parts of level design process.

Depending on the map, its size and/or its complexity, sometimes I’ll decorate as I’m finishing up the layout (mainly for indoor areas) or I’ll save it for later, hence why the town was fairly barren in the earlier images.

About 30min-1hr of decorating, rearranging, and bangin’ out to Tyler, the Creator later and we have:

BOOM! Final version! Took a while, but I really like how it turned out. Obviously this isn’t to scale of an actual, real life town (Thalia actually comments on this in-game), but it works perfectly for the game.

I should note that these images are from RPG Maker MV’s default map image saver, so you can’t see events, NPCs or player-interactable objects here (such as chests, doors, etc.) A weird quirk of the engine, but it’s nothing too major.

As seen above, here’s what it looks like in-game, rain effects and all. Ignore the ghost.

And here’s a neat little GIF of the process:

So that’s that! There’s still a tiny bit more work and art clean-up I have to do, but for the most part, Water Lily Village is completed. How do you guys like it? Any thoughts, suggestions or feedback? Let me know! I’m always happy to hear what y’all have to say.

As for other news about the game, I’ve been doing a lot of refinements to the battle system and the game as a whole. One of the bigger changes is that the player is required to equip a select amount of skills to use while in combat, as opposed to using their entire arsenal all at once. If y’all are interested, I can go over more details of the system in a future blog post… or you can just play the game and find out for yourself.

Or both. It’s up to you.

It’s a free country after all. 😉

Oh, and the game also sports a swanky new message system. Thoughts?

Current message system:

Old message system:

Anyway, that’s all for today! Thanks for reading, and again, let me know what you guys think. I’m hoping to have another blog post out within the next 1-2 weeks, so be on the lookout for it! I really wish I could do these more often and in more detail, but I’m the type of the dude that just likes to work in silence and in privacy…

…and I say that with the ever-looming thought of doing Twitch livestreams of the game dev process. I dunno, what do you guys think? Most of the sessions would probably be something like this – me just making a map, testing out battles, stuff like that (in addition to actual streaming and playing other games from time to time).

Who knows, maybe I’ll cave in and decide to do it after all. I’ll let y’all know. 😉

But for now, I’m outtie. Peace y’all.

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