The First Dimension

Posted by on 11 November 2013
Categories: From the Dev Team, Updates.

In the early days of RIFT, each time we, as a dev team, visited the idea of player housing, we had to ask, “Do we have what it takes to make this feature fun?” As much as we wanted to work on housing, and as often as players made the request, the answer was always, “not now.”

The situation started to change on Valentine’s Day 2012, when we released the wedding and marriage systems I’d been working on. The wedding ceremony instances are short, two-person dungeons where instead of fighting monsters, you proceed through a marriage ritual together. They hold up to 200 people, and the reception includes drinks, food, gifts, fireworks, and confetti.

rift_weddings_guardians_v128

Players loved them. We even made a Guinness world record for the most in-game marriages in one day. Most importantly, people didn’t just show up; we saw a genuine spike in subscriptions. It was clear that we’d provided a needed dose of RPG in our MMORPG.

Suddenly, there was a spark in the team and magic started happening: if Rift players liked weddings, what other non-combat activites might they enjoy?

And with that kernel of an idea, Dimensions were born. As an overview: dimensions are “slices of Telara” – player-owned instances that allow freeform object placement. While you can use these spaces as player housing, you’re free to build whatever you want (and boy, does our community do that! We’ve seen mazes, jumping puzzles, and small communes built into dimensions, just to name a few examples). We have about two dozen dimensions and nearly 1500 dimension items available in game, and we add more with every content update.

But I’m getting off track here. This is about the first Dimension and how the notion of Dimensions went from an idea to the creative canvas they are today.

After our extremely successful wedding event, we launched Fishing and Survival systems. They were a total win; players especially loved fishing. While a significant percentage of our players were out catching fish, our then Chief Creative Officer (now CEO) Scott Hartsman asked me if I’d like to be the point designer on our new player housing system. YES!

Our strike team was small but enthusiastic. We chose the name “Dimensions” for our system because we wanted people to know it was more than just housing. For example, we wanted to let players place items anywhere, not just in a grid – the world was theirs to mold as they saw fit, as well as every item we put into their hands. We also wanted to give players actual game-world terrain, not claustrophobic building interiors, and provide them with as much creative space as possible to build unique structures, events, and more.

Early Problems We Solved

…with Maps

It took us a while to figure out how big the base dimension maps should be. Too small, and you were always looking over the edge of the world. Too big, and our tools couldn’t handle them. Even after our engineers improved the tools, large dimension maps remained problematic. It’s a delicate balance, even today, to make sure a dimension has a decent view without making the base map too large.

…with Tools

One of the most fun features of dimension building started out as a bug. While you are manipulating a dimension item, you can move it through other objects, terrain, and your character. When you let go of the mouse button, the object’s collision resets to its new location and orientation. This means that if you place an item at your feet, move it upwards, jump while still holding the mouse button, then let go of the mouse button (fixing the dimension item in place) while you are in the air, you’ll land on top of the item in its new spot. This lets you climb and move anywhere in your dimension with just a single object… and for me, brings back fond memories of using the bricks in Solstice, one of my favorite old NES games. Anyway, we immediately recognized how awesome this was, and refined the tools so that it worked smoothly rather than removing it.
Building_Up

Placing_Block

…with Falling

Dimensions are tall! As soon as we had functional item placement tools, we found ourselves driven to build upwards. Naturally, we kept falling, dying, and having to climb back up to continue building. We hated losing soul vitality just for slipping while our minds were focused on being creative, so we removed falling damage from dimensions. It was still annoying to have to climb back up again, so one of our engineers created an add-on to keep you in the air: the Magic Carpet.

The First Best Dimension Item

On a whim, the main engineer working on dimensions tried something a little insane. He found a way to attach scripted game content to a dimension item. It was janky. It had issues. But it worked. That morning, half the office showed up at his desk to see his example creation: a campfire that shot fireworks whenever anyone walked up to it. Inspired, I had to see what I could do with this new tech. So I dug around in my scripting for the wedding instances, copied out the pieces that controlled the NPC serving drinks, and reorganized it so that it would work correctly in a dimension. Then, I attached the scripting to a dimension item that had previously been an ordinary table. Thus, Nico the Dimensional Bartender was born.

While the dimensions project already had a good amount of enthusiasm behind it, introducing Nico brought the team’s excitement to another level. We’d proved that dimensions could do something.

The First Best Dimension

We limited our first dimension maps to Freemarch and Silverwood. At the time, our goal was to give players a slice of Telara they’d be sure to recognize. Unfortunately, neither of those zones turned out to be ideal for dimension maps. Warden’s Point and Sanguine Shores, the dimensions that came of those requirements, needed enormous maps or else iconic landmarks could not be seen. Conversely, the interior volumes and item counts had to be tiny – they’re only meant to be introductory. While we kept these dimensions in game, they’re just not that great.

We realized we needed a dimension that could act as a showcase – something we could show off at press meetings and conventions. A place that could get anybody as excited about dimensions as we were.

The location that kept standing out to the team was a little valley in the Shimmersand highlands: Faen’s Retreat. It was a good size, had a building with an interior, a nice pond for swimming, high cliffs to hide the lack of a view, and thematic decor.

Faens_Retreat_In_GameThis is what Faens Retreat looks like in the open world of RIFT

Faens_Retreat_DimensionThis is Faens Retreat as a Dimension 

It had a couple of traits that were seen as downsides at the time, but we learned later were almost non-issues. For one, the valley is inaccessible in game unless you are doing the Shimmersand quest that takes you there. Therefore, it didn’t count as a very recognizable slice of Telara. The other issue was an ongoing internal debate about exactly how much decorative art we should retain in the base map. Deadlines forced our hand, and we chose the middle ground: we took out a few objects that were particularly in the way, and left the rest as they appear in Shimmersand.

Press and fans adored Faen’s Retreat. It served its purpose well, and for a long time was the best most affordable dimension in game. Perhaps it still is.

Dimensions Moving Forward

With important lessons learned and processes in place, we’ve been building on the dimension system ever since. We’re adding content and system improvements with every update. If you have suggestions, ideas for new dimension items, or a new dimension you want to show off, please post in our Dimensions forum. Most importantly, have fun showing off your creativity!

Your Multidimensional Designer,

- Faratha (Lisa Boleyn)

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