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So-Called "Overworld Designers"...

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#1 Moosh


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Posted 15 April 2023 - 06:28 AM

...when I tell them to design a "Dungeon"


Okay, catchy title out of the way, overworlds. Overworlds. The worlds what go above the dungeons. How do you make 'em? I know this question gets asked again every couple weeks and has dozens of forum discussions on it already, but I'm looking for some modern perspectives. Anyways, some questions to start off...


Where do you start?
Wondering both in the general sense and literally in terms of screen space. I'd figure a lot of older maps are built from the bottom up generally, because that's how the mountains like to flow, layering higher elevation on top. But there's an appeal in designing weird too. Make your final areas first, stick your mountain range at the bottom and your beach at the top. Heck...don't start every quest with a forest? 


How do you pace things?

I'm thinking landmarks, I'm thinking level flow, I'm thinking towns and dungeons and caves and heart container pieces. I'm always really eager to get into the dungeons, so when I make overworlds I tend to default to small scale and non obstructive. The kind of thing that's quick to get through but not very fun to explore. I don't like winding paths or things that hurt speed. But then that sometimes comes with a visual cost. An interesting and detailed screen can be cluttered to play, a no-nonsense screen can be boring. It's easy to complain when it's done wrong but hard to get it right too. And that's just on a screen by screen basis, then there's the matter of making areas too linear or too open. That's another balance I find difficult to strike.


How do you keep things interesting?
Okay, with dungeons I lean hard on the scripting crutch. There's an expectation that they be video gamey in nature and have little downtime, and with scripts I always have an out to break up that downtime. Overworlds are like...expected to be more of a real place. They're all downtime. And I struggle to make that stick. If I throw in a bunch of scripted mechanics, once again it's going to hurt that flow. But I can't shake the feeling that areas I'm making don't warrant repeat traversal.


What are your detailing rules?

I've never been the best at detailing screens. Already brought up how solidity details can hurt gameplay, but ground details too can present their own challenges. What looks good? What's too noisy? How many detail tiles is best per screen? How the heck's every screen in SotW look like a carefully crafted work of tile art when anything I make feels like an algorithm made it? (The answer is because I look at detailing too much like an algorithm.)


Any town tips?

Towns just suck. Making a varied and interesting world is one thing, but then filling it with varied and interesting people? Having interesting things to do with those people? Ew! Nightmare! Yuck! I think in all my time I've made like one complete town? Kinda? I usually just foist the hard part of this one onto Russ. I suppose this isn't an uncommon problem because I don't know of many quests with fleshed out towns that you'd ever want to return to. But it'd be nice to have some more of them.


Think that's about all I've got tickling the brain at the moment. Would love to hear people's perspectives.

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#2 Architect Abdiel

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Posted 15 April 2023 - 08:55 AM

Where I start depends on what I feel like doing. I have generally created area by area after planning them out on paper. But, for a more recent quest, I planned out a general flow around the overworld. So like, you can’t get out of the first area without the level 1 item, so I blocked off the next area in a way where you need the item. You need a specific item to enter level 1, so I required you to have that item before entering. And I continued doing that with my planning, in a sense of blocking off areas based on what you need. Did the same to block off mini dungeons.

After placing those blocking areas, I was designing the individual screen around that idea and making sure you couldn’t sneak into the areas before getting those items. Landmarks are also nice. THL is a quest I want to do that with. So it has Wizzrobe Towers, a Darknut Arena, a Monster Hideout, etc…. That is going to be a full map, so I want to make it feel alive with lots to do. The way I’m doing it there is having upgrades in different areas and collectibles lying around. That way it helps mitigate that problem I’ve had of stuff to do.

Towns are a pain I have to say. I think they are my least favorite areas to make. Not because I don’t like visually design them, but because I feel like it becomes really random as I give the NPCs essentially nothing to say. I feel that almost every NPC should have a purpose. And it’s okay to have some saying nothing, but when you are breaking up the flow of exploration, you don’t want most of your characters spouting nonsense that amounts to nothing. They should be referring to things you can find in the world or sharing things they are looking for for some type of side quest.

That thing about solid ground details feels like a personal attack on me, and you should be ashamed of yourself……. I noticed that too though. Prometheus’ biggest issue wasn’t the subpar graphics, it was the clutter. I tried making every screen pretty, and they wound out being a pain to navigate AND didn’t even turn out that good. I’ve been working on simplifying my design style now. Like with my Forest, I tried looking at what the Oracles did and attempted to replicate that. Been doing that with each unique area.

Just some thoughts on what I’ve been doing.
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#3 Ether


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Posted 15 April 2023 - 06:45 PM

Hi! I've never made an overworld in my life and I don't know what I'm talking about.
Novelty is valuable to me. I want to see tiles and palettes put together in ways I haven't seen before, or at least in ways that haven't been thoroughly played out. Shane's talked about having different cave aesthetics for different areas, and I love a good weird cave. If there's caves and collectibles that you can see but can't reach until later, that'll make me want to go back. Bonus points if the way to reach them is a surprise--we've all seen burnable bushes a thousand times, I love it when there's ways to interact with the environment that I can't predict in advance. If the game's story-heavy, NPCs and lore are also a reward.
A robust warp system is great because finding new warp points feels like progress, and also lets you get away with some twistier paths. And also because robust warp systems are good quality of life in general.
I think good towns have a point to them, and the best towns grow and change through the game. If the game is story heavy, you can incorporate that story into the town itself, show how the people are being affected by whatever the bad guy's doing (or show, conspicuously, that they aren't currently being affected at all).
(I played Prodigal recently, and I REALLY like how it makes its central town feel alive by letting you walk in on little skits between the NPCs. Also how the named characters relate to the PC in different ways and a lot of them have pretty strong opinions--the sense that if some other rando pressed the A button next to them then they'd say something different. This all probably doesn't work as well in a game where you just visit the town once and move on, though.)
There's other considerations. Why does the town exist? What's its economy centered around? Do the rich live noticeably differently from the poor? Are there any visual motifs or iconography that keep popping up? Are there things people do for fun? Are there any tourists, or other outsiders? What might the NPCs want from you?
When I played Metamode, one thing I really appreciated about it was how every new area had different types of houses. Admittedly part of me liking it is I was treating the whole playthrough as a big sprite rip collect-o-thon and that was the main source of my enjoyment, but still! It was a nice touch!

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#4 Mani Kanina

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Posted 16 April 2023 - 08:18 AM

Where do you start?

On the first screen, generally. I then place a prefab screen on every screen of the map. If it's a segmented map, then it's the size of the area, correct palette and a basic ground combo across the entire screen. If it's a Z1 OW then it's the entire map. From there I work sporadically, working on screens individually while also globally carving out mountain chains.

How do you pace things?

The most important thing is to have good variety, if you ask me. I don't put much stock in people who make all their screens full of detailing everywhere. If you don't have anything plain to contrast too, the high amount of detailing means little. This is true both visually and in flow. I'm a sucker for exploration, but a good world usually has a mix. You can go all out full Breath of the Wild and do a 100% exploration based overworld, but you should know just how decisive that was.

I love it, but a lot of people don't. "Not anything meaningful to find" was a common complaint, exasperated by the weak design of the shrines makes for a very one sided experience. Unless you enjoyed exploration just for the sake of exploration and seeing the sights, then Breath of the Wild's overworld is a colossal failure. There's enough direction there to get you to the dungeons and beat the game, but there is very little there tailored towards a specific experience.

Some people just want to chop down the tree to get across the chasm.

So I'd say, a good mix is the best, have plenty of open areas with optional content one can pursue at ones leisure for optional goodies. Preferably things that feel like they are worth it as a reward at the end of it. Then combine that with a few more staged and linear segments towards the next main quest objective and you get a more well rounded experience.

How do you keep things interesting?

Warranting repeated travel is easy: have multiple paths to get from point A to point B if that's a trip you do often. Introducing more warp points once players have been past it a few times to skip the annoyance of backtracking.

It might be more helpful of thinking of your overworld as a metroidvania space, but one which you don't find any major powerups in.

The good backtracking is the conscious choice of backtracking, not the travel there, and certainly not any mandatory backtracking. Litter your overworld with item checks you get much later, make the world feel like a real thing rather than a game-y space where item checks are only in the areas you go to after you get the item, or in close proximity to it; instead place them where they make sense.

The rewards need to be good to feel worthwhile to make the trip, but not mandatory enough in design that plays should feel compelled to have to do them. Heart Pieces are a good pick for that, each one feels important, but on it's own don't add much power. Optional capacity upgrades feel major and rewarding, despite often times not really amounting to anything.

For Lana DX I created three powerful scripted items, but you needed to collect, I believe, 18/20 of a new collectible in order to get them. The first one after only a few of these collectibles. It feels like an important pickup, and the end rewards being powerful justify the collection, similar to heart pieces.

What are your detailing rules?

I just kind of do what comes naturally, what looks pleasing to my eyes. That's not to say there aren't some rules I follow, but generally I do what feels good. I try to do a mix of highly detailed screens and lower detailed screens, sometimes focusing on important landmarks that stick out.

7th looks good, as did the enhancements to hookshot 2, so I don't think what you make is ugly.

When you make an entire game, the important part is the whole, not individual screens.

Any town tips?

Your ideal town design is clock town from MM, sort of. To me, most official Zelda games have crap town designs too. Castle Town in OoT is four shops and two minigames (No, the chest one does not count), and a side quest. It's just a hub for these things, it's not a *town*. The minigames and shops could have been placed elsewhere in the world just fine.

The reason Castle Town fails is that it's boring. The NPCs are devoid of any worth, talking to them is not engaging in the slightest. I admit, maybe part of this is because I grew up with the game, and my English reading comprehension wasn't what it would later be. But your dialogue should be engaging, even to a younger audience if you're going for a standard Zelda fare, which OoT fails at.

The five towns that exist in OoT makes the world feel lived in, like there are actually people living there, which is a success. But serving as a meaningful place to come back? Generally less so.

Kakariko in OoT is a much better example of what you *can* do with a town, but still not ideal. You have a bunch of skultullas to hunt down at night(collectibles!), eventually a minigame, several sidequests, at least two hidden heart pieces. It also has the graveyard where you can find and important, but optional, major power up: the sun song. If you've also not collected a hylian shield then you can get one there. You also need to return to the town at several points to progress the main quest.

That's the sort of thing you want in a town, at least if it's a hub town. There should be neat things to find and do in town, probably constantly expanding as you progress further into the game and get more tools or the story progresses.

There is also another factor: Making what is there interesting. If the NPCs don't have anything worthwhile to say then they shouldn't waste your time. If it's nothing relevant, keep what they say to a line or two at max.

But also, NPCs is a great opportunity to flesh out the world with details that might be hard to bring up otherwise. They can also offer hints towards secrets that might be obscure otherwise.

Of course, good detailing in towns don't stop at NPCs, there is also the inanimate NPCs. One of the more cool things in overhead RPGs and similar is just inspecting objects in buildings. "What a nice chest!" So being able to inspect objects and learn interesting details is a good thing. It's not worth it to make everything in every building inspect able, select a few object types that are inspect-able everywhere (like a trash can), and make otherwise things that stand out be stuff you can click for more info. It makes it more enjoyable to explore the world, especially if there are few really cool tidbits here and there. Maybe a bookshelf has a punny named book? Etc.
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#5 Taco Chopper

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Posted 16 April 2023 - 10:11 AM

This might have a few spoilers to Three Crests, so if you don't want any spoilers, don't click on any links lol


In saying that, Three Crests had a weird start to development, namely that it began with the overworld and everything else has been built upon that. The only goal I really had when I started working on it was that I wanted an overworld that fit within the confines of a 16x8 map, rather than a sprawling mess.


This is the earliest full version of the Three Crests overworld map, from November 2021. For context, the first demo was released in April 2022. 


For contrast, here's the latest version - April 2023, for anyone in the future.


It started with Glen Village/the town in the bottom left corner, and then I worked outwards from there. I didn't really have much mapped out beyond what was in my head - for instance I wanted a forest due north of the town, and I knew I wanted it to be six to seven screens. I'd be conscious of how areas connected, and how items would restrict/open up accessibility to those areas. I wanted the map to be a strong, free-flowing map that felt like a living world, rather than something that had been thrown together - Three Crests is a Metroidvania in spirit after all - so keeping the northern areas of the map designated as mountain regions while the south/south-eastern sections were predominantly oceans or water-heavy was something I kept in the back of my mind while designing the world. Particularly on the eastern side of the overworld - it took a lot longer to develop because of these decisions I'd be making.


Pacing was something I had to grapple with quite a lot once the overworld was set up. Compare the two versions of the overworld for instance - town redesigns aside, there's a lot of minor differences, which I'll rattle off as a list:

  • The development period for the first demo meant I knew what a rough flow of the quest would be. Player starts in Glen Village, goes to the beach to find the sword in the dungeon there (the Hero's Rest), which then opens up the rest of the world to the player. It was about as much as guiding the player to the Hero's Rest - through FFCs, having bush combos block off areas, etc - as it was allowing the player to find the dungeon via exploration.
  • Scripts! Three Crests is extremely script-heavy by design. The first iteration of the overworld was very stuck in my ZC 2.10 dev days, but the more I started to explore scripts such as the Seed Satchel (fast travel) and ledges (one way paths), the more I realised they could be used to provide shortcuts for the player. Instead of forcing them to walk back and forth in a tight maze, why not let the player jump down a ledge and provide a shortcut back to where they began?
    A good example of this is the Blacksmith on the new map (top right-ish). To reach it, you have to go through a cave, fight off some Darknuts and then use the Hookshot to traverse the gap between the mountains. I could've kept the original design as it was, but I wanted two shortcuts set up for the player's sake: a Gale Seed tree for fast travel from anywhere on the map, and a set of ledges for a quick way down. It can be painful to set up/plan out if you've already designed the overworld, but I believe quality of life things like that only serve to benefit the player instead of punishing them. 
  • There's something like 15 dungeon entrances in the Three Crests overworld; five of which can be reached as soon as you get a sword.
    The main dungeons aside, I've tended to group the mini-dungeons into three groups during the course of development so I have a rough idea of what the difficulty curve is - early game, mid game, and late game.
    Early gets you set up with the basic items - bombs, feather, power bracelet, etc.
    Mid are Levels 1 and 2, or are the mini-dungeons that gate off access to Levels 2 and 3.
    Late game is Level 3, and optional dungeons that contain item upgrades - in the case of the latter, more difficult mini-dungeons that could potentially be big enough to be standalone dungeons themselves.
  • Because the mini-dungeons don't have Heart Containers, overworld chests tend to be populated with a mix of them, rupees or odd seashells (they function pretty much the same as LA's mysterious seashells).
    Placing chests in areas where the items used to access them in early game locations was something I thought was a good way to reward players for exploring immediately after clearing a mini-dungeon, while the presumption with mid-game areas is that the player will return later on for one reason or another and realise they can access previously inaccessible chests.
  • Cave design is something where I've tried to be realistic with the length of each cave, as well as recognising what works as a shortcut across areas. There's a whole heap of "cave networks" littered across the overworld which can provide the player access to areas that they wouldn't be able to reach until much later in the quest. The desert and forest come to mind as two examples that are in both demos 1.0 and 2.0, but there's definitely more...

Enemy placement is also a big thing too. You need to be very aware of what works best for the area you're in. A tight pathway with eight Tektites and a Zora is not fun. It might be "difficult", but that raises a whole other topic of artificially inflating the difficulty by doing things like that consistently. You're better off having one semi-OP enemy (a Lynel??) on a screen over ten blue Octoroks. It's less grindy, less painful and it shows the player that you're considering the quality of an enemy, rather than the quantity. I feel like a lot of ZC quests - mine included - tend to lean towards the "more is better" ideology when it should be closer to keeping it simple, stupid.


That segues well into my thoughts around keeping a quest interesting, which I think is situational with Three Crests. Some screens are just dedicated cutscene screens, others have a whole bunch of secret combo carryover flags set up that trigger after certain events, there's puzzle screens! Cutscenes like this that open up Level 2 and totally flip an area on its head - it's things like that you need to be constantly considering, especially when reshaping a finished overworld to better suit the quest's needs.


I think the consideration around "repeat traversal" is as much about the size and scope of the oveworld, as much as it is what you have in it. For instance, this overworld map from Atrocity Exhibition, a quest I started and never finished around 2010-12. The areas here are either two to three times the size they need to be, and there's no real way that anything connects up a la a "proper" Zelda-esque overworld. It's linear in every single way; in fact, I'd say all of those quests I made between 2007-2012 were that way inclined. The loop was something like "here's a new area, clear the dungeon, move forward". In hindsight, not exactly an exciting gameplay loop in execution or practice. The pacing is dictated by the quest, not the player and it restricts what you can and can't do as a result.


What stands out for me immediately between Three Crests compared to that one Atrocity Exhibiton map is how I've used the space. The Atrocity Exhibiton overworld map used here is one of three overworld maps in the quest - from memory, the quest was finished up to just after Level 4. That's just too much walking around without having a lot going on, for what it's worth.


Detailing is something that I just touch up on here and there as I go. My priority is a screen's function first, then worrying about whether it's got that screen aesthetic you want going on. I'm not making Three Crests to be SotW: The Quest, but I also want it to be visually appealing. That said, I'm not one to go overboard on ground detail - I like to sit somewhere in the middle where it's not too busy, but not lacklustre and borderline unfinished.


Towns... hoo boy. The original versions of Glen Village and Merrel Bay were quite... generic and not well thought out, to say the least. So towards the end of last year, I tore up and rebuilt them from the ground up. I think the main point with a town is to consider its aesthetic, and then work out a general flow of the area. Is it a hub town? Are there shops? What makes it different from just having a hole in a mountain wall?

I drew an unhealthy amount of inspiration from Pokemon for both Glen Village and Merrel Bay - namely, Gold, Silver and their remakes. Glen Village took a lot of aesthetic ideas from Ecruteak City - old-fashioned, mythical, with Ether's Metamode houses being used to give a more traditional Japanese look. I've always loved the aura of mystique around the Johto region and it was something I wanted to encapsulate in Glen Village - particularly with the torii gates leading toward the Great Merrel Tree. I rebuilt the town around the Great Merrel Tree, as well as incorporating the pathways to the Western Woods and the plains on the northern and eastern sides of town. From there, it was about re-populating the town with only the required houses and NPCs (shops, trading sequences, tutorial hub, etc) and making sure the player would need to walk across town - around five screens - to access the plains, rather than just one or two screens, and missing out on anything that could be potentially interesting to them along the way.
Merrel Bay drew a lot from Goldenrod and Olivine - port town, more modern in contrast to Glen Village. I also thought the hierarchy around the city of Novigrad in the Witcher 3 was something to consider when building the town, with the following districts of Merrel Bay being laid out vertically as follows:

  1. The upper class - the library, barracks, Governor's office and Arborist's house.
  2. The middle class - fountain screen, clock shop
  3. Industrial section - market, tavern, docks
  4. The mask shop is west of everything else intentionally, separated to show a divide between the shop and the rest of the township. Not really part of the vertical formula, but still significant enough to note

It was a very intentional contrast to Glen Village, where every house feels kind of equal, Mayor's house aside. It's a weirdly industrial town in GB Zelda, and I think the division of "districts" across the town works enough so that the player isn't going to get lost in there too easily.


The one thing I've learned about NPCs and houses is that you only need to make as many as you need. There's no point needing 20 NPCs that spout nonsense when you need one that gives hints or information about areas or items you haven't found yet. Same goes for houses; between the two towns I'd say I've cut about four or five houses - and interiors - from the quest. With the NPCs, the questions I usually ask are:

  • What's their main purpose? Are they a trading quest NPC, are they blocking your path for some reason, or are they going to give a hint?
  • Will they be "moving" (despawning/spawning on another screen) when you have the required item?
  • What will they say in their new position, if they respawn?

Again, probably helps that Three Crests is using just the 16x8 overworld - which means I can't just have half a map dedicated to a town like I would have done in Atrocity Exhibition, LSVO or Protector of the Damn Universe. 

Finally, the last part of my essay - don't be afraid to revise and revisit areas you've already designed. If you think you can shoehorn in a big quality of life improvement like ledges, then absolutely do it. Attention to detail on mechanics is a lot more important than whether every screen is SotW worthy in my opinion - attention to detail is what can make a good quest become a great quest.

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#6 Mitchfork


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Posted 18 April 2023 - 12:14 AM

Effortpost time
I'm going to back up and put forward "why do an overworld?" This is an interesting question because I don't think you need one - and if you look at the history of official Zelda games, you can see that Nintendo has really asked, answered, and re-answered this question in a lot of different ways.  Having a classical, interconnected overworld (Z1/LttP/LA) is a great way to lean into the fiction of your quest - the hero going on a great journey and venturing forth across dangerous territory.  But it's by no means the only fiction you can tell.  Really consider what you want to prioritize in the game and allow that to inform your overworld design - for example, Skyward Sword really wanted to emphasize its combat and puzzle design.  An overworld space of free-ish exploration, mushy encounter design, and sparse puzzles doesn't advance any of these design goals - so they stripped back to (mostly) linear, disconnected areas that almost function more as pre-dungeons than overworlds.  Of course Skyward Sword had some problems with pacing this, but they followed the design that the game was demanding, rather than shoehorn in something that doesn't fit the brief.
Worth noting in the below that I'm not really doing heavy overworld design on any of my current projects - although Sheik and I are pretty collaborative with how we conceptualize most of the areas for Crucible Crest.  I would say that 95% of my work pre-CC was overworld, though, so I have that sweet sweet scrapped project XP.
Where do you start?
Always where the quest starts, but I'm not convinced this is best overall practice.  Famously, John Romero (Doom, Quake, Daikatana) said one of his unbreakable design rules was to "Make your first level last. By then, you know the game inside and out, and you know what you need to teach the player. Above all, make the player curious by showing them interesting things." From Software designed the Undead Asylum (Dark Souls 1) as their last level. This probably matches up more to dungeons than overworlds in a typical ZC sense but it applies here as well - you can more effectively plan what needs to happen with backtracking, have a better understanding of what enemy balance your quest has, and what elements you need to tutorialize early.
On the other hand... going back to the broad point about "why overworlds?" above, it's also true that writing starts from the beginning. It's pretty hard for me to imagine starting at say, level 7 with a project, you know? So even with the above in mind, I still start at DMap 0.  But we also at least had broad plans about what items would be in which dungeon, what interactions would be possible, and crucially - what areas would connect where.
How do you pace things? + How do you keep things interesting?
Merging these since my answer kind of veers into both.

Your overworld is not a monolith and just like dungeons have gimmicks, overworlds can too.  Say somebody was remaking Zelda 1.  Level 3 is pretty easily accessible from the start of the game, but you don't really want most players to go there first.  So you throw in a lot more tricky enemies, including some that do a full heart.  You make a puzzle around getting the "key" to level 3 that requires you to explore the area really heavily.  Now you have something that feels meaningfully different to interact with than the overworld for level 1, which is a straightforward "walk to the correct screen" type beat.
There are meaningful trade-offs to this.  A tough area is fun once, boring twice, and annoying beyond that.  A good warp system helps a lot here.  I find that the warp system is also a great way to give micro-rewards - like finding bonfires in Dark Souls, this is a meaningful discovery that your players get to make. You can adjust the frequency of these to also create different vibes - a checkpoint at the start of a zone is going to feel pretty different from one in the middle, or near the end.

What are your detailing rules?
I would also describe my style as algorithmic. I decide on a limited selection of tiles, then distribute them randomly. I think this can create really boring areas!
This is an area that I'm very critical of nowadays. On an individual screen level I think I made good choices - but as an area none of these add up to anything. All the grass is detailed the same, all the white space is detailed the same, the tree selection is a perfect combination of "uniform" and "anonymous"... even the landmarks are anonymized through overuse.
I don't have a good answer to this coming from myself.  I still think I tend to do this.  The thing that Sheik does (I can brag on this because I had no hand in it) which I think is super impressive is his ability to let landmarks influence the detailing on screens.  It's almost like a "micro-biome" - a good example of this chunk of Outset Hills in CC...
You can see how on the plateau, he's using some subtly different ground detail tiles that don't appear elsewhere - as well as the broader tile choices.  The road in the east is even more different - using a totally different set and structure for detail.  This helps break up the area into different zones with different feels.
Any town tips?
Fuck if I know. Part of the cool thing about a Dark Souls stan is that you just declare your game post-apocalyptic and then avoid this problem.

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#7 Twilight Knight

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Posted 19 April 2023 - 02:53 AM

Apart from what already has been said here is some tips I didn't see yet and have helped me a lot:


I always do it for every overworld: I make a sketch of the overworld on paper. This really helps with revising and perfecting the ideas of landmarks, biomes and towns. I find that sketching on paper is quick and easy. Don't like it? Just throw it in the bin and start anew. And be sure to start anew and not use the old one as a reference, it will give you too many restraints.

Another thing I do, but it applies for dungeons as well, is that every time I made some "designing" progress, I let it rest. F.e. after making a sketch I'm somewhat happy with, I don't immediately start making screens for the map. Or when I've made the first few screens, I wait and do something else in the meantime. Then after letting it rest for a couple of days/hours/weeks/months (even years have been the case) I look back at it and revise. You might think "well this way I'll never be done with my quest, I can keep revising it forever", but it is not the case for me at least. It prevents me from wasting time rather, and you'll find that at a certain point you are totally happy with the result.


I also like just sitting, thinking, sinking, drinking, wondering what I'd do with that overworld/dungeon/element of the quest without looking at the quest at all. Smoking, hoping some little idea will pass on by (those who get the reference get a round stone to roll). But seriously I give it all a lot of thought whenever I can and want. F.e. when I'm getting to sleep instead of focussing on important daily matters I focus my thoughts on my quest instead. Yes it's pathetic, but I enjoy thinking about it more than thinking about whatever real life crap that is not worth worrying about.

And the most most important thing for me is asking others for feedback. Not necessarily here on the forums, I don't want to spoil entire overworld maps and such, but I ask friends what they think usually. Some of my friends don't give a crap about games though, but they could still have some valuable feedback. Even if it's just a "what the heck is that" while pointing at the map, could make me realise that it needs to be replaced or actually is a great landmark or whatever.


Don't be afraid to share such things with people close to you. They can be most honest with you and only good things come from that eventually. And it's perfectly reasonable to share things you are passionate about with your close ones.

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#8 Feenicks


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Posted 29 April 2023 - 11:51 PM

Answering this like a questionnaire:


Where do you start?

It depends on what I have in mind for the area. For things I have more concrete ideas for, I plonk down the most important screen/screens first, then start building out from there. For areas that can afford to be more loose, I take elements from adjoining screens, bring them into the new one, and start riffing. Both of these have their flaws; the first one can easily end up with me laying down a road or an important building across multiple screens, then losing interest, while the second one requires me to keep that interest sustained to get anywhere.

I have more concrete plans for other, non-ZC things, so I try not to pre-plan too much, as much as it may bite me later on. Figuring out how to bridge two areas that really need more space between them is part of the fun.


How do you pace things?

It's really easy, actually. I see how long it takes for me to walk directly from the entrance of an area to its focal point without any of the in-between screens, or even just eyeball it in the editor. Feels too short? I add some sort of obstacle or diversion [this also helps me fill out the rest of the screens of the area I've allotted]. Too long? That's a bit more of a problem, seeing how copy/pasting screens is a bit of a pain, but it can be done.

In general, I kinda like having a bit of breathing room to just wander on the overworld. Have multiple paths to a given area, have little asides with some enemies/bushes/not much else, and so on. One of my many abandoned quests had an introductory forest which was nothing but a singular winding tight path filled with enemies, more like a dungeon than a proper overworld, and I kinda don't like that sort of design anymore.

I do also try and have a bit of a different pacing between areas. Linear areas can be fine, as can open ones, but the real trick is to vary that sort of thing and have your areas all over in terms of how linear or open they are.


How do you keep things interesting?
Other people have said pretty much the same thing, but having *something* on most screens definitely helps. Even something like the Hidden Duality's hidden 5-rupee/bomb caves can help there, but generally having things to stop the player from holding fastforward through your screens is a bonus.

That's not to say that you should force every screen to have something on it, though. On the contrary, there's something nice about having those in-between areas that aren't pretending to be anything else, and those can help out a lot with making those screens that actually have things on them feel important.

Just mix it up.


What are your detailing rules?

Remember that flat green grass is not your enemy, and you will do well. I feel a lot of screens I see here are overly busy, but that might just be my Firebird bias showing.


Any town tips?

Zelda Classic was designed to emulate a game where the only NPCs you talked to were either in dungeons or in caves, all socially distanced one or more screens apart from each other. Towns are just not in its DNA, as most of the functions a town offers in other games [recovery, information gathering, getting new equipment/items] aren't all too necessary, and others [minigames, sidequests, plot] aren't things you necessarily need or want the confines of a town for. Towns in general are hard to make right, and ZC doesn't do them any favors so I generally don't try.


I guess the biggest thing of all this is that overworlds are holistic in nature. What works great in one instance fails in another, and that's something you can't really tell until you're in a situation to make such a mistake.


#9 DarkFlameWolf


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Posted 30 April 2023 - 07:20 AM

I just winged it every quest. :goof:

#10 Matthew Bluefox

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Posted 09 October 2023 - 01:22 AM

Wulfie is the best overworld designer in my opinion, meow. :)


I completely suck at overworld design, so I took the NES Zelda overworld and just re-textured it with pre-made better textures from ZQuest. The only overworld I've ever done is an 8x9 one in "Lost Levels", because I ran out of ideas what I could have done in the second half, and I'm also not skilled enough to do it.

#11 Avaro



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Posted 26 October 2023 - 07:36 PM

really liked everyones posts.



the part about micro-biomes with sheik's example is a very good point. definetly more interesting than having the entire area be the same, which is a problem some of my maps have.


about town-tips: well i'd personally focus on narrative aspects here.

#12 Architect Abdiel

Architect Abdiel

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Posted 27 October 2023 - 05:36 PM

I was with you until you even dared to suggest not starting a quest with a Forest. That is straight up blasphemous.

Anyways, I already answered this. Just checking to see what else is going on. I tend to design my overworlds depending on what quest I am making. I’ve grown to enjoy giving each area its own map though.

#13 NoeL



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Posted 29 October 2023 - 01:18 AM

Sure, let's hit this!
Where do you start?
Traversal! How is your world connected? Hub and spoke? Shortcuts between adjacent spokes? Linear? Progression gating? Just figure out what you want to be accessible and when, then how to stitch that together in a way that minimises downtime/tedium (e.g., backtracking). For example, if you were doing a hub-and-spoke design, you wouldn't put the 'key' at the end of a spoke and the 'lock' off on some different spoke, forcing the player to traverse back through the hub. You also wouldn't want to put the 'lock' AFTER the 'key' (you could, but it's boring - you lose the 'Aha!' moment). Ideally, the player would pass the 'lock' on their way to the 'key' (fairly close by too), so that once they obtain the 'key' they immediately know what to do with it. If it's in an area they haven't been, the player can easily not know where to go next. If it's too far from the 'key' (or there's too much information thrown at them at once), they can easily forget where the 'lock' is and end up in the same situation.
In short, design around how you expect/intend the player to move through your world.

How do you pace things?
Gut, then iteration, I guess? I wouldn't put points of interest (e.g., shops, caves, puzzles, rewards) more than a few minutes apart from each other. Have branching paths along an intended route all lead to the same landmark to keep the progression moving forwards, and avoid the player reaching dead-ends or unintentionally walking in circles. Use visual clues in screen design to guide the player along.

How do you keep things interesting?
See above regarding a stream of new points of interest and forward progression, but also variety/novelty. Can't just be a breadcrumb trail of blue rupees - how boring. Even just varied and interesting geography is a good start - makes people want to see what else is around the next corner. Change up how the player navigates through the world: swimming, scaling a mountain, cave maze, stealth, fog, combat-oriented, maze-oriented, puzzle-oriented, etc.

What are your detailing rules?
This is more screen-design than OW design. In terms of detailing at an OW level, landmarks are a must: something that sticks in the player's memory and orients them in the world. 

Any town tips?
Gameplay first! What's the point of the town? Don't have superfluous buildings full of NPCs with nothing of value to offer. Think about what the player will need/want at that point, and cater to JUST that.
Visual variety and clear flow/navigation. LttP's Kakariko Village kinda sucks IMO: just streets of similar-looking houses. Very hard to remember which house had which point of interest, and very hard to know, at a glance, which way the exit is. LA's town was better in that regard.
Let's look at my own overworld and see what works, and what could be improved: Linked Seasons map.



Basic design is hub-and-spoke, with typically one way in and out of each spoke (desert, beach, Red Mountain, Blue Mountain), usually marked by a change in elevation. The desert technically has two ways in (either side of the dead bush clump) and one way out, but pathing and environment detail (grass borders) point to the same entrance point: the bottom right "hot sand" screen. A player may attempt to enter through the 'exit' channel, but will find it's blocked by boulders.


The centre of the map is very globular: the player can walk in 3-4 directions on most screens, and can fully circumnavigate the castle without entering any of the spokes. This both aids navigation (just walk in the direction you want to go) and provides multiple paths around the central hub, which may be shorter that traversing back through the central town.


There's a lack of signposting on where to go first, which was intentional. Letting the player explore and get their bearings a bit at first can aid navigation, and enemy difficulty is used to tell the player "come back later". Given the small size of the map, the player SHOULD find their way without too much frustration.


Once the player completes the first dungeon (in the desert), the season changes to Summer. Mechanically, desert sand becomes too hot to walk on, and water edges become walkable due to lower water levels.


Criticism time!

First, the good: the hot sand prevents players from coming back the way they came, which both introduces the mechanic and pushes the player along a fresh path. Well done, me.


Now the bad: the hot sand mechanic could be implemented better. The only other area this comes into play is the next zone, the beach, but the area where it's relevant to navigation (between the creeks) was previously inaccessible due to the water. The player had no opportunity to play with the cool sand there in Spring before having it as an obstacle. Not terrible, but not great.


More bad: the lower water-level mechanic isn't introduced until AFTER the player is already in the next zone (unless they go exploring). There's no signposting that the player is supposed to go to the beach next.


Make it better!

The 'lock' following the first dungeon is all wrong. The dungeon item (the 'key') is the power bracelet, so "naturally" the lock is a heavy rock. Bad, me. Too simple, was I. Not only is the lock in the wrong place (along a side path that the player may not even visit - it should at LEAST be one screen to the right where the channel ends), but it would've been the perfect opportunity to introduce the water mechanic. Functionally it would be identical: beating the dungeon unlocks the way forward, and this would've been a guaranteed way to show the player what the full effects of the season switch were.


To make it even BETTER, had the path to the first dungeon gone THROUGH the screen that gated access to the next spoke, the player would then immediately know where to go next. With the beach and desert at opposite ends of the map, this would've been clunky to implement - so swapping the locations of the beach and Blue Mountain might've been a smart move.


Anything else?

I won't analyse the rest of the overworld, because I think it's generally pretty good. Once you hit Autumn it's all about exploring, which works well for many reasons: by this point the player is more familiar with the map, the pool of "places I haven't been yet" has shrunk, enemies still nudge players where they should go next (black moblins are less intimidating than lynels), and the slightly longer stretch to the next dungeon is appropriate pacing for this point in the game.


One notable (though fairly inconsequential) error is... the fairy fountain. It's tucked away in a dead-end part of the beach (at the bottom of the east-most waterfall), and is only active in Spring and Autumn. In Spring it's completely inaccessible since you don't have the stepladder yet, and in Autumn there's little reason to return to that area - you would only come to that part of the beach to take the raft up to the sea cave, and that route doesn't even pass the fountain! The part of the game you WOULD be in that area (i.e., during Summer), the fairy isn't active! I clearly didn't put a lot of thought into that one. But we can learn! Fairy fountains are best place on or near well-travelled routes. Players aren't likely to go too far out of their way to get a health refill - especially if it's tedious and/or dangerous to do. They're for convenience - make them convenient!

#14 Phosphor



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Posted 03 November 2023 - 03:41 PM

As Moosh initially put it, the pacing of overworlds is generally the exact opposite of dungeons. It should be mostly downtime for the player to either roam around or have just enough content for the player to stay entertained when traveling between points of interest. Usually, I like to have at least half of the screens serve at least one out of several different possible functions: an interactive object like a signpost, an entrance to an interior, a side warp to a new dmap, eye candy, a vantage point to entice the player to explore in a certain direction (like a cliff the player can access that gives them a peek at a future area of the quest), a simple traversal puzzle that requires a dungeon item like the hammer or hookshot, or a junction between roads. A screen can multiple features like these, but too many at once can make the screen feel needlessly cluttered.


I like overworlds open, with plenty to explore early on. The quest should provide a clear and direct route between stuff like towns, but allow the player to find their own routes to these locations of interest. Avoid too many linear layouts of areas unless the intent is for it to eventually dead-end. Keep main paths broad and open and the offshoot smaller paths a bit more narrow and twisty. Towns should avoid a grid layout unless they're intended to feel as planned as possible, such as an urban area. Try designing the cliffs and hills of a village first before dotting it with houses. That can help things feel a bit more organic in layout, as that's what the settlers would have done upon the founding of that village if it were a real place. Try to have meaningful content in at least 2/3 of the houses (anything from a simple chest with money to a sidequest) and have the remaining houses provide either pure flavor text or text that teases another location in the world that the player will eventually explore.

Rewards and incentives
The player doesn't even really need to always receive a reward from early exploration. The player can take mental notes of things like bombable walls they can't immediately access. Whatever the player can access should provide just enough benefit to motivate them to keep exploring. If you have a lot of shops in your towns, you'll want to have larger or more frequent rupee rewards out in the world, hidden away in caves or in armor->item combos. Pacing is important, so make sure the player can't get too many overpowered items off of the hidden rupees of the early sections of the world alone, but also don't try to prevent the player from doing so if they want to put in the work for it. Just make sure that larger rupee rewards are more accessible later so it isn't much of a grind to get these items once their power is appropriate to the point in the story the player is in.

Screen design
Generally, I like to have a rough idea of the layout and scale of the overworld. From there, I can create gradual gradients in the terrain and vegetation that makes the transition from area to area relatively smooth. In my current quest project, the farther south or east the player travels, the more concentrated palm trees are, since they're getting closer and closer to the coast. Grass transitions from lush to short to patchy to bare dirt as they get close to death mountain. Symmetry isn't bad on screens, but generally avoid making it perfect. Give some variation in large tree placement instead of making it purely a grid. You don't want a forest looking man-made unless that's the actual intent. Avoid making cliffs or treelines completely straight for more than a few tiles at a time. At the very least have it wiggle a little bit or trend in a direction every couple of tiles. Again, it shouldn't look too man-made unless that's the intent of the area. Cluster solid details near the edges of the playable space so that the player has plenty of room to move, unless you want to make the screen feel claustrophobic. I like to add bushes in the corners and acute angles formed by the trees at the edges of screens.

All of these notes are pure guidelines. They're meant to be broken if you know how, as are most design guidelines. While following them can generally lead to a coherent product, knowing where to break them can lead to a much better end product.

#15 Yloh


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Posted 20 December 2023 - 04:07 PM

This looks like a fun forum. 


Where do you start?


When designing a new quest, I first think about what items each dungeon should give. For example: level 1 will give the candle, level 2 will give the boomerang, etc... After knowing what items, the players will have, understanding how the items will interact with the overworld will become more clear. 


How do you pace things?


A good ZC overworld has a lot in common with a good metroidvania. Both are large maps, both have backtracking, both have different environments to explore, both unlock shortcuts with progression, and both have secrets to uncover. This may seem unorthodox, but studying the best metroidvanias might help you get a fresh perspective on how to design a good overworld. Try looking deeper into the map design of Blasphemous, Astalon: Tears of the Kingdom, Super Metroid, and Unsighted. Four completely different games that all do exploration right.  


When an item is given to the player, I want to make sure there are at least three areas that item can be used to unlock more areas to explore. Three isn't a dead set number, but it is a good idea to not have an item just be one and done. When players get a new item, it is exciting to have lots of areas where the player can use that item.


Allowing the player to freely explore is important, but having important bounties is also important. What I did for my quest was allowing players to explore levels 3 or 4 in any order they want, but they can't access levels 5 or 6 unless the player had the items from both levels 3 and 4. This isn't difficult to design when you already know what items the player will have when starting to design a new quest. 


How do I keep things interesting?


This is a great question. The games that keep my attention the best are games that consistently introduce something new in bite size pieces. I'm currently playing Neon White right now, and this game has great pacing. Each mission introduces a new weapon card and/or demon. The first few missions have relatively few cards and demons to worry about. As you get used to what you have and what to fight, the game will introduce a new weapon card and/or demon one at a time. Not only does Neon White do this well, but the game also doesn't forget about the earlier weapon cards/demons either. 


How does this transfer to Zelda Classic? Let's say you introduce the candle at level 1 and gibdos (who you adjust to take more damage from fire) who are in that dungeon. Make sure you have the player still use the candle in later levels. Maybe in level 2 you have a candle biased puzzle, level 4 you have ice enemies who are weak to fire, level 7 you have an upgraded candle for puzzle/enemy usage. Don't just save your item usage gauntlet for the final dungeon, make the player use the items frequently.  Level 2 may introduce the boomerang for a puzzle, so have an enemy encounter in level 3 that requires a boomerang. How about adding new boomerang puzzle for level 6. This is more difficult if you have too many items. I'm looking at you "Yuurand: Tales of the Labyrinth" (one of the best quests in the database). 


In short, make good use of the items given to the player for both the overworld and dungeons. 


Another great way to make things interesting is to innovate. I don't know if I will ever make a new quest or not, but if I do, there would be an Egyptian themed level. My innovative idea would be a new way to apply the lens of truth to translate a bunch of hieroglyphics. The hieroglyphics give specific instructions to unlock the dungeons secrets without setting off the traps. My "Pandora's Box" dungeon in "Mike's Fun House" took a common troupe of light and dark but added an interesting dungeon design concept. The whole dungeon was inside a large box. You walked on the walls and the roof of that level, and it all connected alike a giant box. The theme of that level may of been common, but the dungeon layout was innovative. My "Prismatic Maze" dungeon took the troupe of the red and blue blocks being raised and lowered and added a new twist. "The Slipstream" was very innovate with its color-coded weapons and enemies. Common items and enemies, but interesting ways of using them. Finding the super-secret boss in "Link's Quest for the Hookshot 2: Quest" was quite innovative.  


Keeping the story interesting is also a way to keep players interested. To be honest, a lot of video games don't need a good story to be good video games. I fell in love with all the characters in "Yuurand: Tales of the Labyrinth" simply because of the house.  Learning how to be a strong storyteller can be a whole forum on its own. 


The pacing advice listed above will also keep players interested with exploration. 


What are your detailing rules?


This is not my strong suit, but there are some rules work for me. When making enemy sprite, don't just flip the left facing sprite and right facing sprite if the character is asymmetrical. Example, if the enemy has an eye patch on his left eye, have the eye patch cover the left eye when facing left and right. You will need to do more than just flip the sprites when doing this. For secrets, I prefer to have something minorly different about an environment piece that can tell the players to use an item at that spot. 


Looking at the "screen shots of the week" and "map of the month" winners is a great idea to study what works. Look at the environmental details. It may not be specific advice, but this is a good place to start. 


Any town tips?


This a difficult question. Feenicks hit the nail on the head about ZC not being designed to handle NPC characters. My opinion, don't have the town take up too much of the player's time. 


One simple way to really make your world feel alive is to have NPC characters move around as you accomplish parts of your game. Any "FromSoftware" game does this masterfully as well as Hollow Knight and Blasphemous.  I did this in my quest "Mike's Fun House" with several characters. Ashley from Resident Evil moved around the house every time you ran into a new darknut statue maze puzzle. You can even go back to the old puzzle and you won't find her there when she moves to a new location. Harry Potter and the gang are found in my first world but are no longer found after completing the second world. Dr. Robotnick always ran into you in different locations.  


On the topic of NPC characters moving around, having the town change with the game is also good. Maybe the town is peaceful at the beginning of the game, but after level 3, the town is overrun by a group of moblins. This takes more effort, but it would make the town more interesting. "Tears of the Kindom" did great with the player rebuilding "Lurelin Village". Having the players being more involved in the town will automatically make the town more interesting. 


Finding secret items in a town is fun. Also, having GOOD side quests from a town will also make it more interesting. Making GOOD side quests is a whole topic that can be discussed in more detail. 

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