Son of Nor Diary #92 – Looking Back At Terraforming

Welcome to another dev diary special edition. We’re taking an in-depth look at how some of the core aspects of Son of Nor evolved over the past 3 years! This week: Terraforming.

  • We’re having a look at how Terraforming changed during the development of Son of Nor and we’re showing lots of in-editor footage. It’s an interesting view at game design, technology, taking risks and changing things to make them better.
  • Terraforming was the second core game mechanic planned for Son of Nor. The game was designed with these 3 powers in mind: Telekinesis, Terraforming, Elemental Magic. And they’re still present in the game.
  • We had Terraforming implemented in our own home-brewed game engine that took advantage of DX11. Sand already flowed around objects and behaved very naturally. The underlying algorithm and tech for this is still the same. Only the implementation changed as we moved from our own engine to Unity 3D. We evaluated a bunch of engines and finally settled for Unity as it fit the requirements and licensing model of our team the best.
  • Off-the-shelf engines all had a problem though. For optimization reasons, game engines rely on a static terrain to pre-calc walkable surfaces for path-finding. Unity, too, actually only supports static terrain for enemies to concentrate on “how” to get there rather than “how’s the terrain looking today, do I need to take an umbrella?”
  • But with our Terraforming feature, terrain looks one way now and completely differently the next moment. All enemies need to constantly be informed about the terrain to make decisions about how to get to the player for an attack. We had to bend Unity in various strong ways, basically implementing our own terrain to make it work.
  • The way was not without further challenges. For performance reasons, we needed to break up terrain to keep calculations only to a small portion of the terrain. Which caused the terrain to sometimes break up and leave holes for short amounts of time. Another incident happened when we optimized the Terraforming to be multi-threaded for more than one CPU.
  • At first, Terraforming was only meant to “create your own stairs” to get to higher places. But we found more and more uses for it: make craters when you shoot rocks with high velocity into sand, craters when fireballs explode, carve out passages when you hit a pile of sand with wind magic, terraform below enemies to make them lose balance and give you time to think about your next move, push very heavy objects you couldn’t lift with normal telekinesis, destroy watchtowers by terraforming below them, hide behind terraformed terrain to avoid a fight or use it as shield in combat to avoid arrows!
  • Son of Nor is now in the Steam Store as Early Access version. Thank you for supporting us:
  • Watch the previous episode on Telekinesis!
  • Get into the discussion and join our forum:

Watch our previous episode.
Watch our next episode.

Leave a Comment