From the Ground Up

Our last blog piece happened to mention Obsidian Mines. Obsidian Mines are unusual and I’ll get to explaining them in a minute. But first, let’s start with something easy, Silverthorn.

So, lets imagine that after harvesting is in the game, you log on to find a herb patch next to your settlement. (There will be herb patches all over the map. Lets assume you are lucky enough to have one on your doorstep.) You send scouts out to see what it is, and they report that it’s Silverthorn.

You build a Herbalist’s building, and recruit appropriate gatherer units. You send the units to the patch, and if they aren’t interrupted by someone else’s units, after a while they come back with the herbs for you. In terms of game mechanics, that’s pretty simple. It’s like sending out caravans to gather from the map, except you’re sending Herbalists, not Caravans.

But what do you do with your Silverthorn? This is not a herb you will need every day. It isn’t used for weapon making, and you probably only want to use one piece every couple of months, at least in times of peace. There are 80-90 patches of Silverthorn on the map, each potentially yielding two dozen pieces of Silverthorn herb each day. So what do you do?

You could share the patch with all your neighbours, and let anyone harvest when they wish.

Or you could put an army on the patch, reserving your spot and farming more of the herb every day: you might want to sell the herb on the market, or you might become your Alliance’s supplier. 80-90 patches sounds like a lot, but it’s still less than one patch per active Alliance in the game, and every Alliance is likely to want a supply.

And of course, you could destroy it, or an enemy could. It’s a herb patch – a growing thing – so if you just take some, it will grow back, but if you take every last piece of the herb then you have destroyed the patch.

The game mechanics are fairly simple, much like caravans. Where it gets complicated is that we hope to have nearly 30 herbs on the map by the end of the year, around half in the first gathering release.

So lots of people will have access to herbs that others need, and everyone will benefit from herbs that don’t happen to grow on their doorstep. The complexity is not in the mechanics. The complexity is in the questions it raises for the players. What do you do with a rare herb? Share it, sell it, give it away? What do you do if you would get an advantage from having a herb that isn’t available near you? Beg, buy, steal, or go without?

And in addition, where animals are slain patches of Hides, including rare animals parts, will be left behind (as in this image). And there are also minerals. Which brings us back to Obsidian.

Obsidian is a mineral, not a herb, so can’t be eradicated by over-farming. Its deposits are fixed on the map. There are not many deposits, and they are all in a fairly narrow geographical area. Its use is in weapon making: if you build a specialist Armourer or Weaponsmith (new buildings introduced with the harvesting release) and dedicate them solely to making, say, Obsidian Blades (swords) or Obsidian Platemail, then you could consume hudreds of pieces of Obsidian each day, which would require an Obsidian mine to be operated on an industrial scale. All of this makes it much more complicated than Silverthorn.

When gathering goes live, with the gatherer buildings and units, herbs and minerals and animal parts, and specialist weaponsmith and armourer buildings, it may look rather complicated.

But the result will be profound. Players will have different special resources available to them, and lots of choices in what to do with those resources.

The Right Tools For The Job

From time to time we’ve seen the players discussing, and indeed have discussed ourselves amongst the dev team, which troops are ‘best’. Is it Knights for their fearsome attack?

Is it Trueshots as excellent all-rounders? Of course in most cases, the best troop type is the unit best suited to the task at hand: neither Knights nor Trueshots fare well when defending in forests, for example. But pretty soon, this answer will change. It will not just be the unit type best suited to the mission, but also the unit which is best equipped for the mission.

Enabling players to pick a unit’s equipment is an obvious step for Illyriad. We have always said that we want players to be free to do as they please in the world. And as most players enjoy their armies, we wanted to let them develop those soldiers to suit their own objectives and playing styles, with a variety of possible strategies. Thus we are developing the equipment system (what we are calling Crafting v1) to give players this freedom.

Different players may choose to approach this equipment in a number of ways. Which of these many approaches become popular is up to the players, and we wouldn’t presume to guess how they will make use of the available equipment. Some players may invest heavily in giving small Special Forces type units the absolute best equipment. Some players may collect only cheap equipment, or none at all. Some may hoard a single type of gear, so that their huge army becomes honed for one very specific role. Some may collect a range of weapons and armour, so that they can react effectively to any challenge. There is no one best way to use this gear: it’s up to the players to explore the possibilities.

What equipment is ideal will also depend upon the exact mission, as well as a player’s strategy. For example, when sending your Dwarven Halbardiers to defend a neighbouring settlement from an unexpected attack, you may want them to carry lighter than usual equipment so that they can get to their destination as fast as possible, before the attack strikes.

If they are to defend a wooded tournament square, then perhaps you want them to carry only shorter spears and armour adapted for woodland combat, so that they get bonuses based on that terrain.

If you want the same units to defend a nearby Obsidian Mine, then you may want really heavy armour that gives a bonus in defence and Pikes to fend of cavalry raiders, and as the troops won’t move often you won’t much care how much this bulky equipment slows their movement. And so on.

Obsidian Mines? Ah, yes. Not all of the weapons and armours will be made from common iron. And these rarer components will have to come from somewhere. So, the map may soon come to include Obsidian Mines, amongst other things. That, however, could take quite a while to explain, and for now I have descriptions to write for 26 specialist swords.

So the question of mining will have to wait until another day.

Preview: Alliance Prestige Pool

For quite some time, Illyriad players have asked us for a way to share prestige with their friends. The dev team has had some reservations as to how we could go about providing this option in a way that works best for both the game and our players.  The solution that we’ve developed is the introduction of the Alliance Prestige Pool.

The Alliance Prestige Pool will function as a communal bank to which all alliance members can donate and, depending on permissions, spend in game. Alliances will set permissions based on alliance role that define who  has access to spend the prestige and at what amount their daily spending limit is set. Individual players within the alliance with appropriate access can then choose to spend their own prestige on items for their account such as instant builds, production bonuses and other prestige items, or they can spend from the alliance pool.

Another function for the Alliance Prestige Pool is as a way for players to bind together to purchase Alliance Medals for fellow players. The associated prestige cost for these designs will be deducted from the alliance pool, so that players can purchase the awards at a shared cost. As these awards are meant to represent recognition from an entire alliance to an outstanding player, we believe this is the best way to approach the system.

More information will become available with the release of the Alliance Medals and Alliance Prestige Pool in an upcoming game update. Until that time, below you will find common questions and answers about the system.

Alliance Prestige FAQ:

What is Alliance Prestige?
Alliance Prestige is a shared amount of prestige that has been donated by players into their Alliance Prestige Pool.

What can Alliance Prestige be used for?
Alliance Prestige can be spent on individual player bonuses as well as Alliance Medals.

Who can spend Alliance Prestige?
Spending limits and roles associated with permission to spend prestige are set by individual alliances.

How do I donate?
Visit the Alliance Prestige Pool page in game and choose “contribute” to donate from your personal prestige amount into your Alliance Pool.

Can I withdraw prestige from the Alliance Prestige Pool?
No. Players can only donate or spend from the Pool. No one can withdraw prestige into their individual account from the Alliance Pool.

What if I accidentally donated the wrong amount?
Prestige transactions are non-refundable, including donations into the Alliance Prestige Pool. Donation is a one way transaction that cannot be reversed by any means, even by the GMs.

What if I accidentally spent Alliance prestige instead of my own?
The GM staff cannot refund the amount you’ve spent back into the Prestige Pool. The best way to remedy this, if you’ve accidentally spent Alliance prestige, is to donate the amount you spent back into the Pool from your own funds.

What if I leave the Alliance?
Any donations you made cannot be refunded or returned to you. Once Prestige is donated to an Alliance, it is the property of the Alliance and no longer that of an individual player.

If you have any further comments or questions about the system, please feel free to leave them in the comments section on this post or on our forums.

GM Luna

Feature Preview: Alliance Medals

It could be argued that more than anything, Illyriad is a game about Alliances. From tight-knit social groups to well-oiled machines focusing on military excellence, Illy really does have it all. One of the goals of the dev team is to strive to find ways to support and strengthen those bonds. One way that this has been requested from players is to allow individuals to grant their Alliance members titles and awards. This is an excellent idea and one that opens up an opportunity for a whole new level of interaction within Alliances.

The dev team and I are excited to show you a first look at the Illyriad Alliance Medal system. With this new option players will be able to design a medal and award it to a player (or players) within their Alliance. The medal designer allows for hundreds, if not thousands, of unique combinations using several graphical layers for each medal. Designs can range from small and simple to very ornate and detailed. They can then be given a name and a title to be awarded to the player.

The possibilities for how these can be used are really endless. You could give them out to show rank within the Alliance, to commemorate an epic event or battle or as awards for inter-alliance tournaments. I have no doubt our players will come up with some truly unique and clever ways of using the system.

This is also exciting for us on the development side because it represents the first time in-game where players have the opportunity to deeply customize and create a unique visual mark for a character. I know that I, for one, have enjoyed playing around with the tool to see what sorts of crazy concepts I could make. The creative work of our art director GM Cerberus on this project thus far, has really been astounding.

Below are just a few examples of designs possible with our medal designer.

Full details about the Alliance medal system will be coming soon and the designer will be available in a future game update.

GM Luna

The Devil In The Details

Having noticed animal populations moving around the map (wandering, breeding, dividing, sometimes fighting), players might reasonably expect that more NPC movement is in the cards. So, as developers, we should ‘switch on’ all NPC movement now, right? Well, before we are able to do that, there are a lot of things to consider.

As an example, take a look at the fellow on the right. In fact, just look at one detail. Look at the length of his legs.

Realistically, the rider’s legs are too long. So, the legs should be shorter. On the other hand, there is a tradition of showing riders out of proportion to their horses, and for very good reason: the Bayeux Tapestry for example shows riders whose toes seem almost to scrape the ground, but this is no error; showing the horse relatively reduced is a way to show more detail on the rider, and in a game like Illyriad, where the unit images are often very small, we want people to be able to see the rider clearly. So, the proportions are about right. But on the other hand again, our players will not be looking at the images as art historians, they will just see that the legs are too long. But then, perhaps there is a compromise….

That tiny detail took effort to talk through. It was an issue that we had to settle, so it required time. But in the grand scheme of NPC movement, it is a tiny detail – and just one of many tiny details. The whole process of ‘switching on’ broader NPC movements is a mass of tiny decisions, ranging from whether NPC cavalry would roam further from their homes than infantry, to whether Wulpor have preferences for what meat they eat, to whether Faction armies might intervene in sieges, to whether the perpetually-stoned Gnolls of Illyria would show intelligence in their battle tactics… and on, and on.

What sounds like a very simple goal, ‘switch on more NPC movement’, becomes a maze of these tiny decisions, which all need to be made. But we’re working our way through them. The devil is in the details. And so is the fun of developing the world of Illyria.

Surrendering Control

Old style game development (like boxed console games) can be a struggle to keep control. Any unexpected behaviour is a bug. Any part of the game that the developer doesn’t architect, is a source for alarm.

But with Illyriad, our goal is to surrender control. If we understand all the behaviours in the world, that means the world is too simple and predictable. Any part of the world that we don’t control is a potential source of wonder.

In old style game development, the developer wants to plan what will happen. In Illyriad, we want the players to have a part in what happens. The recent changes to animal behaviour are an excellent example of where the game is going.

Illyriad’s players are well aware that in the past, we have trialed a system by which items can be picked up from hunting animals. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that, in the future, animals might be a source of items. Now, a conventional approach would be to say: “We must control the number of items that players can get from these animals! We must calculate the exact numbers of animals in the world, exactly where they will be – nothing will be gathered without us, the developers, decreeing that it shall be so.”

What the new animal behaviors mean is that we have ceded control of where animals go, and how many of them exist. Players can reduce population sizes by over-hunting, they can reduce populations in some areas but allows others to thrive, and in future perhaps players will get the ability to influence where animals move to and perhaps even how fast they breed.

Depending on how far or fast we take it, the locations of animals and the frequency of any item drops from them, will be mostly out of our control as developers.

Animal item drops, if they were to be reintroduced, would be gathered not because we have made it so, but because the players have made it so. It is, after all, their game and they should be able to influence it. This means that, as developers, we have to surrender control.

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.

World Map: Early Thoughts Revisited

In the same vein as the last blog of “Illyriad dev history” regarding factions

Here’re the first drafts of various elements of the World Map, along with a tiny sample of some of the incredibly pedantic arguments (my fault entirely) that went on about region naming; the amount of detail that went into all of this, I hope, shows through…


The Biomes, Fractally generated, and using the WWF biome classification ( as source


The Illyriad Topography (height, fractally generated) that overlaid the biomes

We loved the mountain range that looked like a skull’s head, or a netherworld demon wielding a whip… and, given it was entirely fractally generated, we saw this as some kind of sign – and this is the candidate that was chosen.


Seas, fractally generated and overlaid on the previous two layers

Rivers & Fresh Water

The first pass freshwater layer

These were all then edited (quite substantially in many ways), especially the water.

We then applied over the political regions (manually drawn, largely around topographic boundaries, as a natural barrier to regional development).

Here’s the first draft, with some region names that never made it to the final cut.

The first pass at regions

Up until now, the entire world was randomly generated, just like all the other browser-based games – and we were deeply unhappy with that idea, hence this project.

iirc, due to a small corp forum accident, about 2 players saw this first map before it was released. They were sworn to secrecy – and they kept it. We remember you guys, tyvm!

Should anyone doubt the level of anal-retentiveness that went into all of this, please allow me to reproduce a small sample of a conversation from the inhouse corp forums regarding the naming of a region:

Originally posted by GM ThunderCat
“Qef” as a region – Not sure about this one as it reminds me of [redacted], not sure if that’s my dyslexia or disturbed mind…

Originally posted by GM Stormcrow
Definitely your disturbed mind, TC.

“Qaf” is the 50th Sura of the Qur’an – and it’s very much an Arabic “mystic word” – but by using an “e” (which doesn’t exist in Arabic) instead of the “a” we might escape the inevitable fatwa via transliteration Wink.

Originally posted by GM ThunderCat
How about “Kul Tor” for Qef?

Originally posted by GM Stormcrow
Because mixing base languages (Kul – Sanskrit meaning “family” or “gathering”; Tor – OE, Gaelic twr meaning “Heap” or “Pile” and from where we get the word “Tower”) is bad m’kay?

We could mix Sanskrit and Arabic though, as that’s a fair enough mix.

Kul Qassim – where Qassim means the sand dunes from which the white Saxaul trees grow…?

PPS Edit. There’s actually no reason why we can’t have Kul Tor… Going back to my endlessly tedious “Why do all the names of the rivers on the East Coast of the UK begin with the letter ‘T’ (Thames, Tees, Tyne, Tweed, Tay etc etc)” party-stopper…  It’s because they’re all Sanskrit, from “Tayus”.

So, actually TC, there’s no reason not to have “Kul Tor”. If we can have the river Ketterick (from the sanskrit iekti, where we also get the word “projectile”) and we can have the the river Ale and places Alncromb and Alnwick (from Alaunna – sanskrit plus “combe” & “wick” – OE), then why not Kul Tor?

I sometimes worry for our sanity.