While I work on smaller items and gear up for the UI overhaul, let’s have a discussion about the design of the facility around the nursery.
The original and still-present concept is that the nursery is part of a larger facility, with several other buildings including a Gene Lab, a Natural History Museum and a Rover Garage. Unfortunately, this concept runs afoul of the first design issue:
The default (world size 1) species terrain map is 153.6 meters on a side (one terrain polygon is 30cm and there are 512 of them). On non-water maps the outer 10% on both sides are restricted, so that’s a maximum map size of around 120x120m. This is even further reduced on water maps (for now).
A good sized house-and-yard (in my local area) might be around 600m^2, or a square 24x24m.
Even if designed to be fairly compact, a realistically-scaled facility with room for expansion in the future is likely to dominate the landscape and make the wilds appear smaller in comparison, which isn’t what I was aiming for. Despite the microclimate elements, it was never my intention to aim for a pocket-world visual style. I would like Species to provide at least a moderate sense of scale.
One way to avoid this would be to provide an off-site facility. Then I could make it as large as I want, and provide as much room for expansion as I want, without affecting the wilds. This, however, falls afoul of the next design goal:
One thing I don’t want to do is stop the simulation when the player visits the facility. The wilds and the facility should exist in the same world, so that while the player is waiting for natural evolution in the wilds they can play with the tools in the facility, and vice versa with the artificial selection in the facility.
If the two environments are completely seperate however communicating this to the player is difficult. The way most games work, when you visit one gamestate, nothing happens in any other until you return to them.
Additionally, it reduces the sense that the wilds are, in fact, Wild. With the facility in the center of the map, it makes sense that the area around that is where the player would focus their effort and time. With an offsite facility, it raises the question of why the rovers are driving to this specific location to mess with the wildlife.
One way to solve both of these problems, plus those of scale, would be to locate the facility underground. But, of course, there is always another issue. This time, it’s…
A softer issue than the others, but still very important to me personally, is what tone the design of the facility sets. For Species, I’ve always planned to aim for something between “Jurassic Park” and “NASA”. It’s a game about science, about all the things that make science fun and awe-inspiring. An important element of the game’s theme is that it relentlessly portrays science in a positive light, even (perhaps especially) in cases where it would be contentious or morally ambiguous in reality.
Cloning? Yes. Gene Splicing? Hell yes. The science in the game might be naive or blind, it might cheerfully play god, create genetic abominations and even cause suffering and death on a massive scale, but it’s important the *game* doesn’t treat it as malicious or bad.
A remote underground base doesn’t quite fit that tone. Even the most benign and purely scientific of underground facilities, like CERN, doesn’t exactly evoke the same “science is awesome” tone that a building like the Kennedy Space Center does. There’s a reason (albeit an unfair one) CERN tends to used and abused more often in conspiracy theory fiction.
tl;dr: In fiction, science done in underground bases usually leans towards the Bad end of the Sliding Scale Of Good Science To Bad Science. That’s a trope I’d rather avoid bumping into in Species.
On the other hand, nothing is absolute. With the right lighting and architectural design, including skylights and vegetation, an underground base can be a lot less ominous and imposing. Which leads us to the…
Out of those three issues and options, there are design choices that can offset the impact of each. A compact aboveground facility combined with an increase in the default world size in future versions, could potentially work to reduce the scale issue.
Alternatively, enough animations and the presence of actual creatures in the nursery could reduce the feeling of ‘seperation’ between the wilds and an offsite facility.
The easiest approach to take, however, would probably be artistic. Deliberately design the underground facility with large spaces and good lighting to counter the tone it sets by being an underground facility. It may be a bit whimsical to think that the designers of the facility would build it that way rather than just building something on the surface, but the Species universe has always had a bit of whimsy in it, and I’ll try to provide hints as to why it was built like that.