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Part 24: One With Everything

June 28, 2011

I'm working on the internals of the system, preparing things for rendering this truly huge world. I'm also still fussing over the design of the world. Here are some screenshots.

A busy little system

At the end of the last part, I described this version of the game world. There's a small planet (1000 km radius) with an even smaller moon (500 km radius). The planet would have Earth-like landscapes. The moon would be all ocean with giant trees and low gravity.

There's an asteroid belt around the planet. The belt would include the bare asteroids, green asteroids and generation ships shown in Part 22. I haven't gotten to the point of rendering them together in the complete world.

I've also thrown in a "ringworld" around the moon. I had the ring orbiting by itself, but it looked a bit odd. I haven't decided whether to keep it. It does have an interesting shape and has some dramatic skies, but it might be overkill. Let me know what you think. There's a poll at the end of this piece.

This gives players several different environments, with different topology (spheres, rings, cans, and flat terrain), with as many biomes as I can implement. The following screenshots show views from each environment in the system. Although the graphics are all still "programmer art" at this point, the shapes are right, and give some indication of the kinds of skies and the curvature of the various worlds.

View from the planet

There's no landscape yet on these worlds, so this view is from above the atmosphere. From ground level, there would be the usual effects of blue sky and clouds.

View from the moon

The shadow effects were unexpected (to me, at least). On the bright side of the moon, you are always looking at the dark side of the ring. So it cuts a dark arc across the daylight sky, and a bright one across the night.

View from the ringworld

The skies of the ringworld are the most dramatic in the system. In addition to the view of the moon, planet and ring, there's the rotation of the ringworld itself. If we pick a "realistic" speed, to give half a G of centripetal force, an 800km radius ringworld has to rotate once every 40 minutes. Not only does that make for a very short day, it also means the surface is moving at 7200 kph, making a landing from space a bit ... challenging. This may be one of those cases where realism gets dumped!

View from the asteroid belt
(asteroids not included yet)

Finally, there's the asteroid belt. The views here would be similar to the Part 22 Bare Asteroids and Green Asteroids images. Some generation ships would be mixed in for fun.

Second Thoughts

Here's the reasoning that has motivated me so far:

I started with lots of small asteroids. I wanted the landscape to encourage people to form communities and not just sprawl off in all directions building things that no one visits or uses. I thought small, separated worlds would force people to clump up.

When I actually built this, I thought the small worlds were a bit claustrophobic. I also realized that they wouldn't be large enough to support mountains, rivers, or any other dramatic scenery.

When I tried variations on small objects, including the gas giant floating trees and the generation ship, I realized that having a lot of environments could be fun and add variety to the world. That's how I got to where I am.

I have had second thoughts as I laid this out and looked at the views. Although I like the dramatic vistas, there are a couple of problems:

First, there's a truly huge amount of real estate in this system. The planet, at 1000 km radius, has 12.5 million square kilometers of surface! A lot of that will be ocean, but it's still a huge building area. People will sprawl out. The moon has another 3 million square km. and the ringworld has 400,000 square km. I don't know the exact number of asteroids I can fit in the ring, but there's a huge amount of buildable area if you add them all up.

Second, I still have no good solution for the "green asteroids." To give them biomes, I have to give them gravity, which is just a hack. And now that the ring is a real object in the system, I'm back to the problem that you can't see the ring from within the ring. The asteroids will just see other asteroids, all in a rough plane, with no distant view of the ring.

So I'm not completely happy with this version of the world.

Another Variation

Reading over the comments on the last part, another variation occurred to me. I could go back to the original asteroids-only version if I just made a couple of changes:

I could have a much larger variation in size. The small asteroids would be under a kilometer across, and the largest perhaps 100km. At that size, the horizon will be close but not overwhelming. There's still 125,000 square kilometers of surface -- more than enough to support mountains, rivers, etc. So I would get the benefits of an Earth-like world without creating quite as much sprawl.

Next, I could exaggerate gravity. This solves several problems. If I make the 100km worlds have a full 1G gravity, then even the smallest rocks will have a bit of gravity. With gravity, you can walk and fly naturally over the world.

With gravity, I can make the presence of a biosphere dependent on the asteroid size. The smallest ones can hold on to a little air, but no water and no plants. So you get bare asteroids "naturally". The larger asteroids can have stronger gravity and hold onto water, giving them greenery. And the largest asteroids are little worlds with everything.

This gives me the variation I want without the hack of gravity generators. I can even throw in generation ships and ringworlds if I like. The only thing I lose is the overall structure of the system. In the world shown in the screenshots above, each location is obviously different (planet, moon, ringworld, asteroid.) In the asteroids-only version, there are just larger and smaller rocks, going on basically forever. Now that I render that in a demo, I'm not sure I like it:

Big rocks, small rocks

None of this really affects the implementation at this point. I have to handle level-of-detail problems created by this huge scale. I have to handle gravity, and let the orientation of the player follow the topology of the landscape. And I am still working on a data structure for a destructible landscape.

I am curious what people think of these designs. And let me know what you think of the ringworld. Here are two polls:

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