Building Anomalous Ruins, part 1: City in the Clouds

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My first post on Anomalous Ruins introduced the idea of a a city built in the clouds.  The Minecraft adventure map is almost 1 year old now; it currently has 1,154 downloads.  Not bad for some no-name Joe with too much time on his hands.

Download the free Adventure Map for Minecraft Java.

I have big plans in store for the anniversary update!  These include a brand new game story designed for Clo’s son.  But before we look at what I’m preparing now, let’s take a look back to where it all began.  This blog series will be about the winding path I took in designing the game.

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So, I built a city in the sky.  Parts of the city used false clouds made of snow to give the illusion it was built upon them.  These are the buildings that surround the Anomaly.

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The large floating structure in the center is what I call the Anomaly.  It was supposed to be set within some snow clouds, but I found it too cumbersome.

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My goal was to build the the bulk of the game inside the Anomaly. Though, I haven’t achieved that goal in the first game, I am planing for the new story to address this issue.

The first story of Clo moved away from this original concept of setting a game within the Anomaly.

This shift is shown with the change of the name.  It was once called simply, Anomaly.  We know it now as Anomalous Ruins.  Little did I know how much those Ruins would, um… ruin the game’s original plan.

Premise for the alpha game Anomaly: “Spawn the player a distance away from the floating structures in an open world setting.  Use ruined buildings to set up a loose path to follow that will eventually lead to the Anomaly.  Have the main quest begin within the Anomaly.”

Sounds simple enough.  Here is the premise for my current adventure map Anomalous Ruins: “Clo searches through the ruins of a forbidden continent for the Tree of Life so that she might cure her husband’s death.”

What happened?  Well, that open world path grew narrow as I focused on the ruins leading up to the “main quest” in the Anomaly.  I was putting a lot of time on those ruins… what if a player misses out?  So, I built some walls and suddenly I had a focused, linear game.

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This was a wise move for a plucky, new game designer.  Well-designed, open world games are hard to make.  You have to build them knowing that most players will miss out on some things.  A linear game allowed me to spend time on amazing sequences like the exploding bridge and the inverted pyramid puzzle.  It also helped me tell a better story.

In a previous blog post I explained my desire to give an origin for the Zombie apocalypse.   Telling this story lengthened the ruins section of the game.

Another factor was how I wanted the player to first come across the Anomaly?  I would spend tons of hours creating this floating fortress.  I wanted to be sure that the player came upon it in the most dramatic way possible.  A linear path was the best way to accomplish this.

Here was how the player would have approached it with my original game:  The player sees something huge floating off in the distant clouds. 

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He walks up and find a zombie infested city beneath its long shadow. 

 

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The Anomaly appears industrial, and hellish. 

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As the player finds a way inside, he sees that it is in fact a beautiful and heavenly place. 

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This hell-heaven structure wasn’t a bad way to present it all, but I wanted to mess with the player’s idea of the Anomaly a little more.  So, I aimed to lead the player to a mountain where he would see it on the same level and from a distance.

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This would make it appear heavenly.  As the player drew close, he would find it hellish and ugly beneath.

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At last, when entering the Anomaly, he would find his first assessment was correct.  It was heavenly.

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This heaven-hell-heaven sandwich fascinated me.  It has multiple artistic value.  A sort of: “Some things aren’t what they appear to be… oh wait, this one is!”

And so, I went searching for a nearby mountain.

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I build a platform at the top.  My goal was to lead the player to the platform so that they could witness the Anomaly from afar (the first part of my “sandwich” concept”.

The linear path to the top of the mountain grew more extravagant.  I added a point where the player falls into a pit and travels into some caves.  I added a section in the nether, building a false sky and setting up the idea of the sun.  I created cultures from long ago to explain the ruins.

I was having so much fun building the path to the Anomaly that once I had an alpha version of the game, I realized it would take another two years to make the Anomaly itself an interesting gameplay experience.  So, I went with plan B.

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The platform became a bridge which blew up at the beginning of the game.  This was a model for things to come.  Story-wise it set up the unnerving voice of the temple as someone that you shouldn’t trust.  It also destroyed the easiest path to the Anomaly as if to say, “Sorry, you can’t make it there yet.”

The beta version had you finishing the game on the platform on top of the mountain.  It then opened it up to survival mode.  This would allow the player to explore the Anomaly on their own using the normal gameplay experience that Mojang provided.

A friend of mine played through the beta.  He was not impressed.  I had put too many mob encounters.  This made the game too plain.  “Oh, more zombies… wow.”  But he loved my building designs.  He just said, “I was too busy killing zombies to enjoy what you built.”

So, I decided to pull back on many of the zombie encounters.  Bad gameplay does not make a good game.  I focused on making any encounters you had interesting.

But there was another issue.  He wasn’t really getting into the story.  I had to defend it in fact (not a good sign).  I had to tell my friend where the main character came from.  I also went into greater detail about the lore that surrounded the protagonist’s people.   They were distant exiles of the ruins you explore.  My friend replied, “Now that’s something I want to see.”

I groaned.  This game was growing from a battle into a war.  I was ready for the game to be finished.  Adding in the story elements for the player to see meant I would have to build a city of origin and an airship to travel to the ruins.

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These changes made the map what it is today.  It also added two more years to the project.  I remember many times telling myself that it was complete.  But, adding the city and the airship complicated the flow of the game.  It would take time to smooth out these wrinkles.

Tune in to part 2 as I continue my personal quest in creating the Minecraft adventure map Anomalous Ruins.

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