Culture: Continuity and Variety

When we’re depicting cultures in Illyriad, there is a tension between the need to make each seem coherent and consistent with itself, and also the need to allow for a variety of interpretation. That all sounds a bit obscure, so let me explain.

Players in Illyriad can pick any one of several races. In all of these cases, players might be coming to them with a range of expectations. For the Dwarves, Tolkien’s Dwarves are the obvious reference, but they might also be thinking of the Dwarves of Norse myth, or the Mostali of RuneQuest, or the insular Dwarves of Dragon Age. For Elves, they might be thinking of the superior and distant Elves of the Lord of the Rings movies, or they might be thinking of the spindly wood elves in illustrated editions of The Hobbit, or they might think of the dangerous and otherworldly creatures who kidnapped Tamlane in the legend. And so on.

The challenge in each case is to allow players to bring their own preconceptions into the world of Illyriad, while maintaining a sense of continuity and coherence.

This is easiest to do with the written Faction descriptions. So, if we are looking at Orcs, then people always assume mindless violence – but as Illyriad is about building cities and kingdoms, this begs the question of how Orcs might run a society. Simply, we don’t have to answer that question – we can propose different options, one per faction, and the players can gravitate towards, focus on, whichever suits their sense of what is Orc-ish. So, we have the ritualized violence of the Blood Reavers, the desperate attempts of the Pax Orcana to adopt ‘civilized’ habits, the measured confrontations of the Crimson Skulls… all offering a different view, a different treatment, of the same subject.

When we create art for the different races, however, there is a different challenge. The example of our Elves, above, demonstrates this. Here we have to bring together wisdom and compassion, with cruelty; the superiority of the “high” elf, with the roughness of the woodland dweller; the sexual fantasy view, with a more realistic depiction. There are a lot of different views of ‘what Elves are like’ coming together here, and the challenge has been to bring them into a single, visually coherent depiction.

Extreme Perspective: Organized Vector Layering and Modular Graphics

One of the most important aspects of a design, aside from the look and feel of the design itself, is proper organization and labeling of layers.

Having organized layers is paramount to the ease of re-editing a finished product after it has been published.  A good example of this is work I have done recently on image phasing.  Here is the original image:

My layering on this image is very simple:  Each object has its own individual set of layers that I follow nearly every time.  The individual stones have a contour, color, shading, and effects layer.  The background is placed behind the stones with a contour, color, shading, and effects layers of its own.  While working, I like to label what each layer is (this avoids the mess of “Layer 1”, “Layer 2”, “Layer 3”, etc.) so that I may quickly navigate the illustration if changes need to be made.  What all this extra effort going into the illustration provides is an easy-to-modify, modular, and flexible illustration.

When I first made this illustration I had no idea that it would be needed for another project; however, with my methodology I was able to make the following changes without any additional effort.  The project I was tasked with was to “phase” the illustration from full detail all the way down to wire frame.  Here is change one for the  new project:

Very easy change, this was as simple as hiding the effects layer of each of the stones and then saving the image as is.  Change two was a bit more dramatic:

Through simply drawing over each of my stones with white lines, tweaking them a bit, and adding a minor green glow effect I was able to give the stones the look and feel of a wire frame.  After the wire frame was illustrated I simply hid the contour, color, and shading layers and saved the image as is.

Having organized vector layers allowed me to complete this project quickly and effectively without having to resort to a lot of extra legwork.

Interview: Illyriad: The Journey from Concept to HTML5

Andrew J Baker talks to Illyriad CEO James Niesewand about the HTML5 MMORTS Illyriad, from initial concept to release to adoption of HTML5 and continued development. As well as advice for new and old developers of persistent HTML5 games.

You can read the interview on Gamasutra.

Andrew J. Baker was a speaker at the first HTML5 games conference onGameStart, and is the developer of the work-in-progress HTML5 game Fleeting Fantasy and promoter of the browser-based games channel (#bbg) on

Review :

Illyriad has just been reviewed by

“Illyriad is a massively multiplayer browser-based empire-building real time strategy game (and a kitchen sink!). When you think of free-to-play browser games which can be linked to Facebook, you probably imagine being bombarded with advertisements and the feeling that, without ponying up some cash, you aren’t getting the full experience. This, however, is not the case at all with Illyriad. I could tell right away that this game was special.”

You can read the full review here.

Sound: Recording battle sound for Illyriad

In the field location recording of Medieval Battle.

A few weeks ago saw my first foray into recording sound for Illyriad. Much travelling was involved – well, London to Leominster day return by National Rail which I assure you, is more gruelling than one might expect. This took me to a medieval re-enactment of The Battle for Mortimer’s Cross. As far as re-enactments go, this was a smaller one but that’s no bad thing since at others (yes, I’ve been to a few) there are commentator, crowd and even tank (not so medieval) noise to cope with. Unless you have the budget to set up purpose made scenarios for your location recording in the middle of nowhere with no noisy interruptions, this sort of thing is the bane of a sound recordist’s life.

The idea of this little jaunt was to mostly record battle noise along with anything else that seemed appropriate. Medieval music as well as a blacksmith were also captured (whereby I mean recorded as opposed to taken prisoner!).

Readying for battle

The other bane of a sound recordist’s life is that what you record doesn’t necessarily sound like what you recorded. Let me give an example. In film work, much of the audio is re-recorded after a scene was shot. This is done so that extraneous, unwanted sound is removed, and replaced with, cleanly recorded sound from a studio. By doing this, the film sound can be tailored to exactly the way the sound designer wishes it to be. It’s not uncommon for a scene in a film to be left with absolutely no original sound whatsoever, dialogue included.

Anyway, back to the point. For this reason, when replacing sounds, it is quite usual to use something other than what is seen on screen to make the sound for an object. A good example is newspaper. Instead of a broadsheet, a piece of cardboard actually makes a more convincing newspaper sound (imagine gentleman sitting on train, shaking his paper out to better see each sheet). Another classic is horse hooves – these are very difficult to record. I mean how would you get the horse you were recording to run in time with the one on screen?! Even with the horse recording edited to fit, it would have been recorded outside and again, have a lot of extraneous noise. Instead, it’s done in a studio with, you guessed it, coconut shells.

My point being that a recorded medieval battle does not necessarily sound like one. In fact, I’d wager that most people’s first guess would be that I had just gone and rattled around a few pots and pans in the kitchen drawer. And don’t get me wrong, these people are very particular about their authenticity. The cause of unrecognisable sound won’t be through lack of having the right equipment, armour not made from the correct materials or in the correct way or substandard weaponry. I still have a lot of usable sound, it’s just it won’t be quite enough on its own.

This train of thought brings me to another closely related point though. If Hollywood (and yes, I’m sure I generalise here) wanted to make the sound of a medieval battle, they would craft it from other elements. Surely, you should here the ringing of swords as they clash against solid armour? The chings and chinks of the melee should be ear splitting, no? It seems this is an illusion fabricated by film to convince the public all the more of its authenticity. It is however wrong. So, I could go down a similar route (and I’m sure I will to a certain extent) but do we want Illyriad to sound like Hollywood?

The victors stand proud

Instead, this made me realise, that though I don’t want a battle to sonically resemble a kitchen being turned upside down, it should still sound real. Gritty. It won’t always be sunny in Illyriad, and not everyone here is a hero, so perhaps, sometimes, you’ll hear the rain, the mud, the lowly cry of a feeble army cowering before a mighty foe. Sometimes that might be you.

Though I currently have little plan as to how Illyriad will be shaped sonically, this at least gives me an ethos to begin moving forward with. It’s something I had already known instinctively but before now, just hadn’t quite found the words for.

Sound: Illyriad Sound – The Beginning

Let me introduce myself.

My name is James Bell and over the past few months I’ve been speaking with the powers that be about how sound might best fit into the world of Illyriad. There is certainly room for a few helpful notifications (message received, battle won/lost etc.) but the game certainly has scope to go beyond this – construction sounds when building, a smithy hammering away at the new batch of swords currently in production, trees being felled. It’s a pretty busy world after all and sound could really help convey this.

Now of course what you don’t want is stuff that’s just going to get in the way. Some irritating little tune that plays on constant loop will have people reaching straight for the mute switch (and yes, each player will have sound options for their account). A lot of people spend a fair amount of time in front of this and we don’t want to be pushing anyone to the brink of insanity! Instead it should encourage emersion into, and convey a subtle expansion of the world.

Much of the implementation is still to be decided and the techie bods are poring over HTML5 audio to see how to best achieve things. However, I have already started to collect original sound to create the library that will then be used for the game audio. Keeping true to the Illyriad “better than it needs to be” ethos, mass creation of effects from sample CDs will be avoided, and instead, Illyriad’s sonic world will have as much character as the rest of the game along with the people that play it.

This is the beginning of a long journey and I can honestly say that at the moment, I just don’t know when you’ll see (or rather hear) Illyriad’s first sound. Hopefully not too long for some of the simple, smaller parts, though the rest will no doubt prove to be quite a task! Keep an eye on this blog though and you’ll see how things develop 🙂