Occasionally I receive emails from readers requesting me to look at their dimensions. I pop in for a looksee when I can and offer suggestions I may have via email. Occasionally, when I see a dimension that takes my fancy or has something new for my readers, I feature it here. Recently Nathra@Threesprings asked me to look at her dimension, Kongs Theme Park. This dimension caught my eye for two reasons. The first was the reconstruction of Donkey Kong and the second was the unfulfilled potential in the dimension.
There is something very meta about building a representation of a computer game inside a dimension (itself a representation of a game world) inside a computer game. I’ll admit that this recreation of Donkey Kong tickled my fancy so I’m awarding Nathra the Meta Achievement for so much meta-ness.
The other thing that struck me about Kongs Theme Park is how much it felt like my first dimension. What does a first dimension feel like? A bunch of great and not-so-great ideas, sometimes connected and sometimes not. Back at the start of Storm Legion, dimensioneers learned from each other what made good dimensions. Today’s dimensioneers must make their mark in a more knowledgeable environment – a daunting task. Nathra has kindly agreed to be the critique bunny as we look at her dimension for the good and the needs-improving and condense months of learning into a single article.
Kongs Theme Park
When I first visited Nathra’s dimension, the Donkey Kong, the carousel, roller coaster, game board, toy boat game, and rock concert were located along the strip of rock that winds around the lake in Vengeful Sky. In the middle of the lake, Nathra had built a crystal house, decorated for living in, and on top of the house, a group of carnie stalls. Each little scene was far apart and disjointed – I missed the concert on the first visit as I didn’t see clues leading me to it. Some scenes, like the Donkey Kong and the game board impressed, others faded into the background.
Nathra had used most of her item limit (1000 items) but the dimension felt empty. I investigated and found that both the carousel and roller coaster had used hundreds of items while other attractions, like the toy boats, had been starved of items. I nodded to myself, I’d done all these things and more in my first dimension on the Storm Legion beta.
Great dimensions have elements in common. Through natural talent or deep thought, great dimensions competently address the use of space, the theme, item distribution and visitor interaction. Dimensions that miss their mark, fail in one or more of these areas.
Setting The Theme
A dimension is a series of scenes that, together, make up it’s theme, it’s story. A visitor going to a amusement park dimension expects scenes from a carnival, fair or theme park. The scenes may be twisted or altered to represent a fairy carnival or a hellish amusement park but should be recognisable as belonging to the theme.
Kongs Theme Park had the prerequisite rides and carnival game scenes but also had a blue crystal house, furnished to live in. As lovely as the structure was, it didn’t fit, it distracted from the amusement park theme. Keeping each scene on theme builds the atmosphere as scenes reinforce each other and add to the overall story. Every distraction dilutes the building tension and muddies the story.
How space is used in a dimension affects it’s mood. The distance between scenes needs to be adjusted to the theme. Carnival and amusement park scenes need to be clustered together to help generate excitement.
Disneyland in California and Disneyworld in Florida are excellent examples of how space between scenes affects the mood. In Disneyland rides, booths, restaurants and restrooms are all crowded together. Everywhere the eye looks there is something to see. This generates excitement, adventure and a desire to rush everywhere and see it all at once. Built later, Disneyworld had room to spread. It has gardens and lawns, the attractions are a long walk away from each other. Going to Disneyworld is like going to a park and strolling along, there is no incentive to hurry. I’d rather go to Disneyland, that sense of excitement, the need to see everything at once, fits better with my idea of an amusement park.
Nathra’s choice of Vengeful Sky adds a layer of difficulty to the amusement park theme. She has spread her rides, carnie booths and concert around the edge of the dimension which makes for a diluted, unexciting carnival. Building extra room over the lake and clustering scenes together to achieve the busy, exciting feel of a fair may have been a better choice for this dimension.
The real world has a certain density of objects within it that changes depending on it’s purpose. Houses have a greater density of items per square pixel foot than meadows or fields. Within houses, object density varies depending on style. A modernest house has a low object density while a country cottage has a high object density. Get the object density right and the scene looks natural, get it wrong and the scene will look barren or overcrowded.
Some of Kongs Theme Park scenes have great item density, the Donkey Kong is perfect as is the game board. The roller coaster does not look natural; the rail and train work but it looks lonely without the detail and colour that bring life to a roller coaster. A few more decorations around it would embed it more into it’s environment. The roller coaster could be a great opportunity to put more Kongs throwing barrels around and reinforce the Donkey Kong theme.
The most precious resource in a dimension is it’s item count; it’s the biggest limit on bringing the builder’s vision to life. Always be stingy with items, make one item do the work instead of twenty whenever possible. Sometimes it’s worth spending items for a special effect; a dormer window in the roof of a pretty country cottage or a horse for the barn, but first get the object density right then spend items on luxuries.
Much of the item limit in Kongs Theme Park was put into the carousel. The wood floor is made of individual planks and uses over a hundred items. Replacing the wood planks with wood rectangles would give a similar effect and save on item count that could be better used elsewhere. Details like the wooden planks add verisimilitude but often come at the cost of making other areas barren and starved of detail.
There aren’t many ways to make a dimension interactive. Activities are limited to climbing, jumping, sitting or, where water is available, swimming. When designing a dimension, take advantage of any opportunity to encourage these activities. They aren’t a necessity but are the icing on the cake when it comes to appreciating a dimension.
There was the occasional missed interactive opportunity in Kongs Theme Park, like the roller coaster. When I see a roller coaster in a dimension, I can’t help myself. I run along the track just to see what it’s like being a roller coaster train. Sadly, I fall off Nathra’s roller coaster track. Replacing the track with the pirate staircase and decreasing some of the slopes would make the roller coaster more interactive and save item count while keeping a similar look. Sometimes a few simple changes can add a whole new level of content to a dimension.
What’s In A Name?
The dimension name sets up an expectation of what the visitor may find when stepping into a dimension. It’s the first thing a visitor knows about your dimension even before they hit the enter button. My critique of Nathra’s dimension is based on the name. If it were called Kongs BBQ and Swimming Hole, this critique would be very different. Whether the name comes first or is thought of last, make sure the dimension matches the name.
My own first dimension is now buried on the Storm Legion beta, nothing remains to show my first clumsy exploration of dimensions. Nathra doesn’t have that luxury as she’s bravely volunteered to lay her dimension bare to the public eye. I’m looking forward to seeing how Nathra develops as a dimensioneer, the most important elements, imagination and attention to detail, are there, all that is lacking is the experience of us older dimensioneers.
Thank you, Nathra, for putting yourself out there, I know that’s not a comfortable feeling.