Emergent Houses / Emergent Gameplay

The landscape in Sieghartsweiler is still undergoing some modifications, and will probably continue to do so, but the basics are mostly taken care of. Over the past couple of weeks, the houses have been my first priority. Due to the limited availability of suitable pre-made object meshes in the Asset Store, I realized that I would need to be able to make my own. Thus I needed to learn how to do 3D modeling in Blender. (There are other options, but Blender has the decisive advantage of being free.) After a series of YouTube tutorials, a good deal of experimentation, and transient bouts of frustration, I managed to build and import several meshes that will become the houses.

Here are my house meshes in Blender, before importing to Unity. I built them all in the same file so that the scale would match exactly, but then saved each piece in a separate file in order to simplify the importing and texturing processes.

Here are my house meshes in Blender, before importing to Unity. I built them all in the same file so that the scale would match exactly, but then saved each piece in a separate file in order to simplify the importing and texturing processes.

The house meshes are modular so that I can vary them in Unity by adding different textures and different numbers of storeys. So far, I have only placed a couple in the landscape as an initial test. One extremely helpful thing that I did find in the Asset Store was an “18th century doors and windows” pack. I stuck one of each onto one of my houses, again just as a test – these required a fair amount of scale adjustment in order to be human-sized.

Because of their modularity, it's easy to vary the color of the stucco. The guy in the yellow hard hat is for scale testing purposes, not a stray member of the Village People.

Because of the houses’ modularity, it’s easy to vary the color of the stucco. The guy in the yellow hard hat is for scale testing purposes, not a stray member of the Village People.

I’m a little concerned that my birch trees aren’t rendering in very much detail in the background – have my models got too many polygons already? Are my specular textures too complex? I guess we’ll find out as I continue to build.

As I inch closer to the point at which I will be making more decisions about gameplay mechanics and fewer about appearances, I have been pondering the issue of emergent gameplay, particularly as formulated by the ludologist Jesper Juul:

[…] most computer games are the combination of two different ways of presenting the player with a challenge, one which I will term emergence (simple rules combining, leading to variation) and one of progression (serially introduced challenges).(1)

As I develop quests for this game adaptation, I will have to consider how to balance these forms of interaction. The implementation of these gameplay dynamics will have a significant impact on what the players can potentially learn through the game. It would seem that progressive play gives the game designer much more control over the narrative arc of the game. As theorists have widely noted, emergent gameplay is often distinctly separate from the narrative elements of video games. Narrative is often presented through cut screens or other devices which offer little or no player interactivity and occur “in between” episodes of gameplay, such as at the beginning or end of levels or other markers of progress. On the other hand, one of the most appealing aspects of games is their very interactivity, such that too-severe limits on emergence could compromise the effectiveness of a game. I have been wondering about possibilities for integrating both emergent and progressive elements: Would it be better? In what situations? Is it even possible?

This is something I’ll have to keep thinking about, but for now, it’s time to start building some humanoid meshes!