The wonderful style and remarkable talent behind The Chronicles of Spellborn is evident. But how do all of the pieces come together to create the massive worlds of the Enclave?

That's what we wanted to know.

To answer these questions, we brought together some of the level designers from The Chronicles of Spellborn - all individuals who are well known for their creativity with the Unreal Engine: Hourences, Angelheart, Noz, and Cursed_Soul.

What specifically did each of you contribute to TCOS?

Hourences: I am responsible for very large parts of three of the five shards we have (Ringfell, Carnyx and Parliament) as well as several other areas like some Ancestral Quests (Ormoburu Quest environment for example) and the Deadspellstorm. I also helped out with several other areas like the lighting and atmosphere in Quarterstone and the creation of The Demon Army Camp and the Labyrint.

Next to all that I also designed tools, did screenshot creation, workflow design and general Unreal engine help/training. And I’m also responsible for all the skies in the game as well as some particle and material creation.

Noz: I’m responsible for the shard Mount of Heroes. Although a mockup and some basic modeling had already been done the map was still in its very early stages when I started working on it. I did everything from the placement of static meshes to lighting the map and adding atmospheric effects such as particles and fogging as well as modeling the terrain base mesh (a very large static mesh which makes up the bulk of the shard).

The buildings, vegetation and other props which you see on the map have mostly been created by others than me although some of these assets are created by me. It’s simply impossible to solely create all the content required for such a huge map.

I also did a lot of work for the city-shard Quarterstone. Quarterstone exists out of six districts: The palace, The arena, The fountain district, The statue district, The pit district and The green district. I created the arena district (excluding arena interior), the pit district (including the graveyard) and the fountain district.

Currently I’m working on a huge cave which has a frozen waterfall for one of the ‘dungeons’ featured in TCOS.

Angelheart: I have mostly been working The Ancestral Quests which are side quests to the main game.

CursedSoul: Since I am an intern over here, I haven’t really contributed much. I have spend a lot of time to master the new tools and I learned how to unwrap stuff nicely. I’ve created the Quarterstone mine system and I have put a tomb together.

I also created some meshes and I have been UVW unwrapping a giant mountainrange for almost two weeks now.

Describe the process of planning an MMO level vs. that of a standard shooter level.

Hourences: For me there isn’t a lot of difference. Both are build around given requirements. Just like you need certain elements in an FPS that are required for the gameplay and the graphics you also need such elements in an MMO. I just take those elements in to account and fit them in a large world. It is kind of like Onslaught mapping. You got a large open space and you know that you need to have certain elements in it like the bases and the powernodes. You simply fit those elements in and the areas in between can do with whatever you want, as long as it looks cool and doesn’t hurt the gameplay.

Noz: This is my first professional level design so it’s totally different. When creating maps for Unreal Tournament 2004 I simply do what I want and the way I want it because it’s my own map. Here I have to take into account a lot of other factors such as game design wishes, technical restrictions, art-style restrictions and so.

On the other hand since it’s a MMORPG I don’t have to worry about the distance between two flags and it doesn’t really matter if the walk to a quest is four or five minutes , unlike in a fast paced FPS like UT2004.

When planning a TCOS environment I focus on what kind of gameplay and quest demands there are and from then on it’s all about creating a atmospheric and good looking world.

Angelheart: Well the levels I have been involved in are much more aimed at exploring, and therefore much more walking takes place than running. This is obviously almost the opposite to a standard shooter. But optimization and scale are still big considerations. So for me I really didn’t find it to be that different. The only other great difference is Scale. Many of the maps are huge compared to standard maps.

CursedSoul: While one person can make a standard shooter level in a relative short time for an MMO like this one it is a different story. Some people work on the concept, others on the textures or the meshes, sounds, gameplay and so on. And you often need a lot of discussion and meetings back and forward to get to the final result.

Mount Of Heroes

Was it more satisfying in any way to create an entire shard or, in hindsight, do you prefer to do smaller, quicker projects where you can switch between themes/styles?

Hourences: Both have positive and negative aspects. Smaller levels can be given a lot more attention by adding really small details to them, something which is impossible with a huge world. Everything has to be placed fast and there are too many different areas to allow you to really focus yourself on one. Both are satisfying in their own way. Its fun to see your really detailed world in action but its also fun to fly over your massive land with thousands of trees. Both can look cool and as long as something looks cool I’m happy.

Noz: To create an entire shard is very satisfying as it’s a huge map in which you've put a lot of time. However, because it takes so long to create I sometimes do get tired of my own creation and the beauty of it... When that happens it’s time to take a break from that level and work on another part of the game. All in all finishing such a huge map certainly is more satisfying but it also takes a lot longer.

Angelheart: My preference is for smaller quicker projects. Larger levels can become a little mind numbing simply because you are in them so long looking at the same things. They also inevitably involve a fair bit of repetition as in a forest for example.

CursedSoul: I have only worked on small environments yet and while I really like those I would love to work on an entire shard some day...

The positive point of smaller environments is that you can easily temporarily switch to another one to freshen your ideas up and look at the map from a different perspective.

How are all of the levels "stitched" together to create the impression of a persistent world? Any unforeseen difficulties in designing a persistent world where hundreds of players would literally "live" within your level?

Hourences: We got several systems in place to handle transitions between parts of an area. Some areas are simply build in one big piece which basically translate to gigantic Unreal Tournament 2004 Onslaught level while others are first build in to pieces and later on merged in to one level trough some custom code. We currently also have a few occasional loading screens.

Problem with a world where hundreds of things taking place is that you need to have a lot more room for all the players. Some corridors and rooms need to be rather big to support the playerload.

Noz: For me the difficulties also lay in the amount of players and the space they require. Although measures were taken to prevent players from clogging up at choke-points we need to create the environments in such a way that they are convincing for the player load. Busy areas shouldn’t be too cramped as they may have to support large groups of players.

Angelheart: To me that biggest problem is consistency in look and feel of the world. But this is kind of taken care of at the concept level, and we have fantastic concept art to work from. This has to feel like a place with history, not just a bunch of unconnected levels. TCOS does this extremely well, and is very convincing as a “real” living world.

CursedSoul: Hourences and Noz. already answered all of it.


How would you describe the style of the world of TCOS and what challenges did you have in working within that pre-determined style? Did you have to prepare in any way for it (visiting locations, research, etc) or did you mainly work off of the concept art?

Hourences: I didn’t had a lot of trouble to adapt to the style as I grew in to from the start off and helped to set the style up. The hardest part of adapting to a style is to transform the style in to something that would work out environment wise, basically how to implement a set of elements and requirements in an environment, how to make those elements look pretty and how to keep them consistent throughout the entire environment and game.

Most things I create with solely my imagination. While you can draw concept art for a lot of things some things you simply need to figure our yourself and I like that, it gives me a degree of creative freedom and speeds things up. While the character style is very cartoony I wouldn’t define the environmental style as completely cartoony like a lot of people do. It is more a mix between a typical Unreal situation that uses a lot of color and some cartoon/”drawn” influences and I’m happy with that. I think we struck a good balance between cartoon/drawn and realism. Environment wise it isn’t completely cartoony yet it still manages to capture the charm and warmth a fantasy world can have.

Noz: The style in TCOS is described as ‘European’ which means it’s based on European comic books. You can see this in the entire game: the shape of the vegetation, decorations and the character clothing/armor. Another very important aspect of TCOS is that every texture is hand painted, this creates a totally different image then if one would use photo-sourced textures.

It’s a nice blend between ‘comic’ graphics like World of Warcraft and realism.

We mostly still do our own things as we got a lot of freedom and use a lot of techniques which we also used in our UT2004 levels although we do have to make sure everything we make fits in the Spellborn world and style. That pretty much means no straight angles, everything needs to be crooked.

For the more key locations concept drawings are being made and we usually use those to base our work off. What we create in 3d isn’t always an exact copy of the concept art. Most of the times our concept artists think the stuff looks great so I guess we’re OK :)

Angelheart: What impresses me most about TCOS is its style although I'm not sure how I would describe it. It is definitely fantasy but its style is so its own that it’s difficult to draw comparisons.

It was quite a challenge for me personally to begin with to get into the style because I had almost always leaned towards realism based maps. But once I got into in to the look and feel, I found it to be a very refreshing change and much more of a challenge in fact than straight realism. As mentioned above, the concept art is very good and with a total fantasy world such as TCOS visiting places in the real world is not really necessary except maybe for inspiration when working on outside areas like forests and gardens.

CursedSoul: I didn’t have any problems with the style since it always felt natural to me, like I've been working with it for years. Most problems I had were related to the new tools and engine modifications, and what effect they had on the way you create maps. No more BSP and barely any vertex lighting for example.

Did you have to pick up any additional skills while working on TCOS?

Hourences: You always learn things when working on projects like this. Working on TCOS gave me a clearer definition of style and made me more aware of its power and its influence on elements. It also motivated me to start painting things in Photoshop and it simply gave me more team and project experience as well a bit of technical Unreal engine information. The way things are processed.

Noz: When I started to work on TCOS I was a beginner when it comes to 3DS Max but right now I feel I can create game art quite effectively with it. Other than 3DS Max I also simply improved on level design in general. I guess that’s normal when you’re spending so much time on doing something. If you don’t progress you’re doing something wrong.

Angelheart: Working on large levels is a whole new experience. It’s like the difference between drawing on a sheet of paper in front of you and painting a mural on the side of a building.

I find I learn all the time from everything I do. UED is like this bottomless box of magic things that you are always finding new tricks to perfom in. And TCOS itself has also added a whole lot more to the engine to make it look and run so much better.

CursedSoul: You want the entire five page list? My modeling skills are way better now. It would now only take me about two weeks to create an environment the size of my UT2004 level Sirea.


Did any of you work "remotely" and, if so, what challenges did that present for you?

Hourences: I’ve been onsite fulltime for almost a year and a half but I'm currently working three days remotely and two onsite. Apart from the fact that you loose a lot of contact with the team it doesn’t really present any challenges for me as I am used to working remotely.

Noz: I’ve solely been working on-site.

Angelheart: Yes I work remotely. The main problems usually arise on the communication side of things, but I have not found that at Spellborn. As long as you keep in regular contact things usually run smoothly. I also get some very nice breaks visiting all the great guys there in Holland :)

CursedSoul: I also work solely on-site

What is the one thing you want people to know about TCOS that they may not already know?

Angelheart: You mean that there are still people out there that don’t realize that one of the greatest MMORPG ever is heading their way :)

One thing? Well they maybe don’t know that it’s being developed by one of the friendliest hard working teams of people I have ever met, who really do care that the players out there get what they want from a MMORPG. And that’s the kind of thing I like to know :)

CursedSoul: From an intern/mapper kind of view I can really tell that the people here love their work and all have the shared goal to make TCOS something different and cool.

Noz: With ‘old’ tech you can still create some very good looking environments. You don’t need normal maps and all the pixel shaders to create something good looking. Sure, they are nice techniques but the way the artist uses those techniques is a lot more important than simply using those techniques for the sole purpose of having them in the game and printing NEXT-GEN!! OMG!! on the box. TCOS will be a very good looking game with a unique art-style despite the lack of certain NEXT-GEN techniques.

Hourences: I completely agree with Noz. Style is more important than nice tech features and will only become more important in the future. There is going to be a time when all games look photo realistic and from that point on the only things that will be able to set a game apart will be the gameplay and the style. As with everything, what you do with something is often more important than what it actually is.

BU - Thanks, guys, for the interview and exclusive screenshots... best of luck!

The Chronicles of Spellborn looks to be taking a unique direction in MMORPG gameplay and it definitely has a style all its own, thanks to the incredible talent they've rounded up. Check the official website for more screenshots, movies, artwork, and storyline details.