Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's all in the Details: A Revisit to Environmental Ambiance in WildStar (And why it's awesome!)


The Caretaker has taken over WSRP! Come on over and check out the new theme from Patrician and Ender for WildStar-Roleplay, hang out with the community or even try your hand at Caretaker-izing your own WildStar character in our themed art thread here.

Bonus beta weekend starts this Friday, the 25th! Don’t forget to log in for your bonus boxes and get some more last minute testing out there for the Carbine Crew!


You know, it’s pretty crazy to look back and see that the Scowling Cassian has been running for a little over a year now and to see all the changes that have occurred both here and in WildStar. From Devspeaks to roleplay advice, class reveals, beta, and the impending launch, there’s been a lot of variety and excitement this past year.

Today I want to take a look back to one of my first posts: It’s all in the Details: Environmental Ambiance. Back then, I remember watching the same few videos over and over in my excitement for WildStar, scouring them for every last bit of information about this interesting new MMORPG. One of them in particular stood out to me, but not perhaps for the reason some might suspect. Gamespot’s: Now Playing featuring WildStar on February 13th of 2013 showcased the stalker class with a romp through Deradune. (If you don’t remember it, you can check out the video here) At 27.24, something particularly interesting caught my eye.  When the Dawngazer (exciting to now know what the beast is called) hits the ground, you can see a flock of Vulcarrion land and begin to eat it. After a bit of time, the graphic of the corpse changed to show a pile of bones. I was quite excited by this, maybe because I am a bit odd, but also because it was an excellent example of the time and effort put into WildStar as a whole. ( And Jeremy Gaffney commented on that post, so it was even more exciting! )

As I ended the article back last February:

“These sort of details, while entirely unnecessary are almost more exciting in their existence just for that very reason. Here is something that does not further the story, does not further the gameplay itself, but is there for an interesting addition to the world around you to help make it feel more alive. You can see it in World of Warcraft when predatory animals will randomly charge and attack prey critters or where waterfalls will actually pull your avatar over the edge. Not only did these carrion birds in the video react to a "prey" species (in terms of the corpse) they interacted with the fresh kill made by the player AND they also added yet another detail by showing a new image as the flesh was stripped from the bones by the hungry creatures.

Ultimately this proves an exemplary attention to detail on behalf of the development team as well as providing the gamers with a deeper insight to the world around them. Personally I hope to see more of this within Wildstar!”

I was not to be disappointed.

I had the good fortune of being invited into WildStar beta back in Closed Beta Testing Round 2 and while it was very exciting to jump into the rich world of Nexus for the first time, one of the most exciting and rewarding things was being able to watch the growth of WildStar from then all the way up until now, as we near our final days before launch. There have been amusing bugs, interesting discoveries and plenty of crazy adventures along the way, but watching the world grow and flesh itself out into a living, breathing environment was quite fun in it of itself.

For today’s blog I want to call some attention back to the aspects of environmental ambiance in the game that I found particularly fascinating and important to our immersion in the fantastical world of WildStar as well as some other details that I believe really help the game come alive.

To start with, have you checked out those sweet mounts? I know I can barely stand being unmounted when traveling for any length of time, and often times when standing still, I mount up just to stick my Trask’s or Velocirex’s nose in my friends’ cameras and proclaim how adorable they are! ( I blame Hawkens for it anyway )

Hey now…

Trask is cute!                ............right?


Ahem. Right, so anyway, take a close look at those mounts. First of all, the detail work on them is fantastic. Claws, teeth, scales, tire treads, anti-grav cores and so much more all added onto their models in loving detail. But Carbine took it one step further. As I mentioned in my old post, I am a biology nerd and I have an intense love for small details, so this was something I noticed right away. The movements of these mounts are /very/ well done. When you jump, your Velocirex or Woolie will crouch and leap, legs extended only to land back down with enough force to send them into a crouch where their front paws will touch the ground long enough to balance and shove them back upright. I’m not going to lie...I probably squealed and leapt all over Illium for a good fifteen minutes or so. And all the mounts have this kind of intense detail to their movements.

Examples of the detail in the Velocirex's jumping animation

Animal mounts will result in a small kick from your character when moving forwards from an idle stand. Heads will lead creatures before they turn. There are unique walking and running animations as well as forwards and backward animations. Hoverboards will leave rings on the surface of water if you hover or travel above it, and on the back of the Grinder bike, Exile side, there are two brake pads that will snap up at the same time if you brake or if you turn left or right, the corresponding pad will flip up to aid in the turn. How cool is that?

Moving on from mounts, let’s take a closer look at the environmental ambiance on and around Nexus.

The Arkship Destiny and the Arkship Gambler's Ruin respectively

It all begins on the Arkships. Great heights and the sheer number of NPCs in these grand ships really set the scale of the war that you are about to join. Seriously, the next time you create a character, take the time to look UP on the Arkship. The ceiling is waaaay up there, giving you a good idea of the ridiculous size of these celestial behemoths while the tides of “people” that you maneuver your way around give you the sense of just how many individuals these ships can carry. This isn’t some motley crew of a handful of specialized characters coming to explore Nexus, this is a colonizing ship, carrying armies to control Nexus and claim it for their faction and citizens from all walks of life to settle the land. There are other ships on this grandship, far too large to ever land on the surface of the planet itself, tanks, helicopters, livestock, and all the things a people would need to claim a brand new world for themselves. And this is how you start.

It might be a bit easy to miss, or perhaps not quite fully appreciate these details in the excitement to land on Nexus, but I really enjoyed spending time on and exploring the Arkships. Listening to the conversations of the NPCs around me helped lend a tone to the faction I was playing. Desperate calls to help the injured and sick abound on the Gambler’s Ruin while the Exiles seek to sort themselves out and group together for planetfall, and noble Highborn complain to their Lowborn servants and loyal Dominion guards keep a watchful eye out aboard the Destiny.

The best thing about these details is that they simply don’t have to be there. They could have cut down on the number of NPCs wandering the hallways, or kept the rooms on the Arkships small and shuffled you through them quickly to help you get to Nexus faster. But instead each ship gives you some rich insight into the people you are about to join and their unique story through atmosphere and ambient dialogue.

These types of details abound all over Nexus as well. In the Mechari and Cassian starting zone of Levian Bay, thunder strikes leave behind mysterious and eerie arcane eyes that stare you down before blinking out of existence. In the zone of Algoroc, carrion birds swoop down to take their fill of the Roan killed by the local Dagun before flying back into the safety of the low branching trees in the area around them. In Whitevale huge fluffy clouds fade away as night descends upon the land, bathing the endless expanses of snow under the light of the aurora that burns through the sky high above.

Inspecting an Eldan relic site under the beautiful night sky of Whitevale

If you want to see a really amazing amount of environmental ambiance, then look no further than the two capital cities of Thayd and Illium. Early in beta, they were sparse shadows of their current magnificence. Thayd was an empty ghost town and Illium was a flat and boring expanse, now both full of life and rich with the character of their respective factions.

Jumping through Thayd on my Trask, behind me is an entrance into the shopping district

Thayd is haphazard and clumsy, a city built within the towering expanse of an ancient Ossun ruins, repurposed to fit the needs of the Exiles. Sectors of the city are spread all over and give the feeling of an ant hive, full of strange twists and turns that can leave the unobservant quickly lost. There are slums full of litter on the ground and marketplaces stuffed with shoppers. There is also one really interesting section in which the Exile Judges hold public trials to those willing to show up. Since I had seen this section built in stages, I often tended to stop for only a moment to see if anything was new before racing off, but the last time I went through I found a surprise. A choice popped up on my screen, asking me to label the person on trial as guilty or non-guilty. How fascinating! Unfortunately I had missed the rest of the event, but I imagine that there is an entire event for the trial that tells you more about what is going on. When I selected my choice randomly, I noticed a new popup that pronounced the defendant as not-guilty by one of one votes. This means that the event is also based on who shows up which could lead to some fantastic roleplaying and general community opportunities.

Thayd even has a DDR pad. Trask is now trying his hand...err, claws at it.

A view inside the Vigilant Church in Illium
Illium is almost the exact opposite of Thayd and has to be my favorite city of all cities I’ve seen in MMOs so far. This city is majestic, with tall, imposing buildings and neatly organized sectors. Ships line up neatly in its airfield or perch on gilded platforms, while the Vigilant Church claims a grand cathedral that dwarfs the buildings around it. A huge statue honoring the Swordmaiden sits high atop a beautifully sculpted pond while soldiers practice their drills on their very own field and obstacle course. Illium is a proud city, full of personality and presence, from the handsome architecture to the very people that inhabit her walls, that truly breathes life into the capital of the Dominion.

A statue honoring the Swordmaiden

Illium is truly the jewel of Nexus and the figurehead of the grand Empire that will one day call this planet the capital of the Dominion.

It’s probably for the best I cannot log in right now or I’d be going on all day. There is just so much to talk about. Lighting and music set the mood for the zones, bright electronic veins give an alien and eerie vibe in the Eldan exolabs while tiny swarming insects might make you tempted to swat the air around you as you venture near towering hives. Mortar fire signals the presence of warzones, with explosions and thick smoke, long before you arrive, and old bones may warn you of the dangers you approach. None of these things /have/ to be in the game as many of them serve no functional purpose to the gameplay itself. But all of them blend together to set the atmosphere and help gamers to immerse themselves in the rich world of Wildstar. These details really make a game, allowing us the suspension of disbelief so that we can step into this fantastic world and live the adventure and excitement all around us.

Whether it is your first time or your hundredth, take the time to look around you when you log in and really take in the world around you. And don’t wait, start right up on the Arkship, the very introduction to the exciting story you are about to uncover.

And if you look up you just might see your very first breathtaking view of the planet Nexus itself, truly a wonder to behold...


  1. Great post. I love the capital cities. The detail is phenomenal. Thayd is a pain to get around on foot but I've spent more time on my Dominion characters.

    Yours was the first Wildstar blog I stumbled upon and I enjoyed perusing your archive. My wife and I started a blog: It will focus more on gameplay and raiding but we will also cover lore, housing, zones and game aesthetics. Check it out when you have some time.

    1. Thanks much! Thayd can be kind of a pain, but I like some of the areas a lot, like where all the ships are stationed with the museum, but Illium is far and away my favorite city!

      I am glad you've enjoyed my other articles as well, I shall definitely stop by and take a look at your guys blog and toss a link up for it with my other site links!

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