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Planet Design: Building Worlds

When we last left our planets, we saw how terrain artists John Roy, Jeff Dobson, and William Kier (with the help of the exceptional artists Andrew Collins, Chris Douglas, Rob Cuenca, and Devin LaFontaine, who create flora, buildings and structures) gave each planet geographic character. The team's brushstrokes produce planets with soaring mountain peaks, deep oceans, thick forests, and more.

Now, the planets move to the world building team who will sow unique, intriguing, and exciting adventures throughout.

But the world building team hasn't been sitting idle, waiting for the terrain artists to finish with each planet so they can begin work. On the contrary, there's a step even before the terrain is created that requires the knowledge and planning of the world builders.

Bib Fortuna's Lollipops

The world building team is made up of three members. Cinco Barnes leads the team with a wealth of experience in game design. He has a seemingly boundless reserve of energy, and a drive to pull players into the Star Wars universe with the best thought-out and engaging adventures possible.

Jeff Freeman is a quiet but seriously dedicated designer who, when you coax him into talking about design, leaves the listener with no questions about his expertise-Jeff has been designing games for many years.

Todd Bailey is the newest member of the team, and comes from a strong gaming background that began in the trenches of customer service and testing on several Wing Commander titles. Todd worked his way up to writing and running adventures for players on Ultima Online. He was soon working as c0-lead designer alongside SWG's own lead systems designer, Anthony Castoro.

The world building team begins by creating a planet map. Much of a planet's geography is generated through intricate algorithms, but there are areas that are carefully designed from the very beginning. These are sometimes based on Star Wars continuity, while others are created and placed by the team members themselves for future adventure locations.

"The geography," reveals Cinco, "is designed to provide interesting choices for players as they travel through the world. Will you take your speeder through the bog, dodging tree branches and deadly steam vents? Or, will you hike through the jagged quartz forest at risk of being sliced apart or taking a lethal spill?"

There's a large amount of preparation behind this phase of development, which includes a lot of research and movie watching.

Sounds like a hard job, doesn't it? Don't be fooled; it can mean long hours, and it requires attention to the minutest of details. Remaining true to the continuity is a full time job, as Haden Blackman can attest, and is a responsibility every member of the Star Wars Galaxies team shares.

Todd Bailey can attest to that, too. "One of the things I do is take all the information that's available about a planet, from, say, the Expanded Universe, and from the movies, and write up a document that covers everything that needs to be there. For example, I went through the movies, the comic books, and the novels and found all I could about Jabba's palace, Mos Espa, Mos Eisley, the cantina, and all the characters that appear and live on Tatooine--Momaw Nadon, Wuher the bartender, Bib Fortuna, et cetera. Then I wrote up a document on Tatooine."

Such a detailed cataloging ensures that nothing is missed, and so, as Todd says, "we don't do anything really dumb, like have Bib Fortuna standing on the street handing out lollipops."

If there's so much focus on remaining true to what has gone before in Star Wars, is there any room for creativity in the planet map phase?

Definitely. Though there's lots of information on places like Tatooine or Naboo, there are just as many-if not more-places in the galaxy that have very little documentation.

"On some planets we can take more liberties than others," says Todd. "We're not going to make Tatooine a jungle, because it's in the movies. Everyone's seen it. When you come to planets that no one's ever seen, then you have a little more freedom to say, 'Hey, this lake is nice, let's do something with that.' And then you get planets where the only mentions are one-line descriptions in a book somewhere and you get to go, 'Ok, let's go nuts with this.'"

As soon as the planet map has been handed off to the World Art team, quest development begins. No rest for the weary in game development.


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Planet Design: Building Worlds
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