I promised a more in depth look at building in Landmark in my Landmark alpha preview, and here it is! Well, in a way. Since quite a few people have already asked me for regular updates about Landmark, I decided to keep up a semi-regular article series about it, and my first entry will be about building!
Similarly to my intro series about Eve Online, I will be writing introductory bits later on, for anyone looking to get into Landmark. Right now, however, my obsession is with getting enough marble and obsidian for my mountain temple complex, so it seems like a good time to talk construction!
I’ve admitted previously that I’ve never played MineCraft, so don’t expect to see any comparisons between the two games because I lack the knowledge to do a proper job of it. The most I can say is that from what I’ve seen being said on forums is that Landmark does provide many more tools for building than MineCraft does. It certainly looks a lot better; visuals alone have prevented me from ever trying MineCraft, but I can happily wander around Landmark for hours doing nothing but admiring the scenery.
And that’s the last thing I’ll say about MineCraft. Let’s move back to Landmark!
There are currently 8 tools for building in Landmark:
- The Add Tool is the very basic tool that adds voxels to the game. You can add cubes, spheres and wedges with it, simply by selecting the shape you want and clicking where you want it to go. You must have the type of material you want to add. You begin the game with this add, remove and heal tools, and must craft the rest.
- The Remove Tool deletes voxels from the game. If it was a placed voxel, you regain the material. If you’re removing environmental voxels, they simply vanish.
- The Heal Tool returns the terrain to its original state.
- The Selection Tool is the first crafted tool, made at the stone forge. For builders, I would say this is a bigger priority than upgrading picks, it is absolutely indispensable for large projects. It’s exactly what you’d expect – a tool that allows the selection of a larger space. All of the tools can be used in conjunction with it – simply select the space, then use the tool in question. It’s used to create templates, and you can even copy/paste with it.
- The Smooth Tool is used to make rounded shapes. It’s more of a melt tool in my opinion, the effect reminds me of a melting candle. It is crafted at the marble forge. The columns in my temple screenshots were created using it.
- The Paint Tool is another tool that I make extensive use of – it changes placed voxels from one material into another. This means that even if you want a marble temple like mine, you can begin working on it early when you only have dirt and stone – because all you have to do once you have ready access to the materials that you really want is use the paint tool to replace it. It is crafted at the marble forge.
- The Line Tool is used to create lines. I’ll bet that was a surprise! It works by connecting two surfaces, so if you want to use it to create an angle by itelf, you’ll have to build a support pillar to the spot that you want the angle, use the line tool, then delete the pillar. So far, I’ve only used this to see how it worked, but I can see that it would be indispensable for certain types of building. It’d probably be pretty useful in creating slanted rooves. It’s crafted at the amaranthine forge.
There are a few tricks that can be used to shorten time; C toggles between circle and square shaped cursors, ctrl+c copies, ctrl+v pastes – although you have to be sure to keep what you’re pasting selected. Even if you’ve deleted the original item to move it, you have to keep the original selection space selected until you’re finished pasting. You can rotate and reverse items across the X, Y and Z axes (the buddy I asked to proofread this before hitting publish tried to correct me here, so I’ll say for all and sundry: yes I meant axes, the plural form of axis), although only in increments of 45 degrees.
I’ve found the building tools to be an odd combination of powerful and clunky. Being able to select an entire space to work with is awesome – imagine having to create the wall of a castle block by block – but at the same time it frustrates me that I can’t select in anything but a cube. Unlike in other programs where I can add on to my original selection to work with an oddly shaped object all at once, in Landmark selection is a one step process. You can select everything within a cube, and that’s it. Take my current temple for example – it consists of a inner building surrounded by a ring of large columns. There’s no way that I’ve found to select all of the columns without also selecting the building inside – so if I am trying to edit my column ring, I have to do it one side at a time. The ability to copy and paste makes it relatively easy, but as a gamer it’s my duty to demand more, isn’t it? So here’s to hoping that the functionality of the tools increases over time. This is an alpha, after all. An extrude tool and select all connected same type materials function don’t seem like too much to ask for. :)
But despite my frustrations, the tools are pretty powerful for a building game. Especially when you consider that this isn’t just a building game – it’s a fully fledge MMORPG. I’m not simply creating a server and inviting people in, I’m building in a world that is open to everyone. The only comparisons that I can think of are Second Life and Entropia Universe, each of them on opposite ends of the ‘MMO’ spectrum. Second Life has unparalleled creativity, but it’s not an MMO, in that there is no progression to it. You can create everything, but I don’t think of it as a game. I’m not advancing or even developing a character. Entropia Universe has much less freedom, but there is a real sense of progression. Like Eve Online, you’re working on a ton of skills and stats, and it all takes so long that hitting certain landmarks is a real sense of pride. I won’t touch on this subject beyond this lest I become entirely distracted (but you can likely look for an article in the future dealing entirely with this subject!), but I really do miss that sense of pride in my achievements in games.
Although I will have to admit that building in Landmark will definitely inspire pride, and admiration of the talents of others. When I first began building, I was making blocky, garish monstrosities. I had no real grasp of the capabilities of the tools, no familiarity with the way materials behaved, and definitely no experience/skill in the process of building itself. Here is a sample of my first build attempt;
Rather embarrassing, isn’t it. There is a good display of the selection tool there though. The size measurements is a very nice feature, I use it as often as a measuring stick as I do as an actual selection. I got a little bit further on this blue abomination before a database bug wiped out my claim.
The next building project was just a tad more ambitious. This time I was looking to Angkor Wat as inspiration, and I wound up with a collection of large towers connected in square configurations. It was still very blocky, but it did look better. This is when I learned that planning is a vital step in the creation process; I had to start over several times when I miscounted at the beginning and laid down the foundations incorrectly. One missing voxel and the ratios are thrown off – I missed a row and suddenly I couldn’t fit a line of towers.
But that ended up being deleted, too – this time I did it – because I hit a point where it was holding me back rather than pushing me forward. I was so concerned with what I’d put down that I wasn’t creating at all anymore. It was worse than writer’s block, did I just say that?!, because even when I’m in the throes of writer’s block I can still put words onto the page. But I couldn’t even put voxels down on this one, I was stuck staring at it, frustrated that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
I remember the first time I took an art course from a dedicated artist. He was one of those teachers that students who were just there to get credits hated, but students there to actually learn loved. He was cranky, unconcerned with social niceties, fond of off-color jokes, and had no respect for anyone who wasn’t there to actually learn – but he loved art and he loved teaching people who loved art. One of the things that he used to say was that there were two things in art that were absolutely terrifying: an empty canvas, and a filled canvas. That remains one of my mantras to this day – if I’m being intimidated by an empty canvas then it’s time to smear random paint across it, and if a filled canvas is bullying me then it’s time to erase. So when a project is preventing me from moving forward, there’s only one thing to do – DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!
This time I started with an ancient Greek theme.
I had fun making it, but it’s still uninspired. The only thing it had going for it was its size – this is actually less than a fifth of the entire thing. I took rows of columns and stuck them together in rows, filling them in with a single layer of floor. But you can see I was actually starting to experiment with the tools – I have round columns now! They look something like femurs from this viewpoint, but at least they’re not square blocks! I even eventually managed something resembling fluting, which you can see in the very first screenshot. A tip for those of you interested in playing Landmark – save a template before you start smoothing. The effects are often surprising, and the undo command doesn’t always undo the warping induced. I have hopes that that will be fixed and refined as time goes on, but for the moment at least, saving a template of the unmodified state is a lifesaver when it’s needed.
This is when I’ll point out that you’re looking at hours and hours and hours and hours of game time. Landmark is without question the most addicting game I’ve played to date. If I have anything to do – anything at all – then I can’t allow myself to log in because the hours just vanish. There’s always just one more vein to mine, just one more voxel to place, just one more hill to climb. The scary thing about this is that the game isn’t even complete yet – this is just one and a half weeks into the alpha! There’s no combat, no caverns below ground, no ability to possess more than a single claim.. but I definitely feel that the purchase of the Trailblazer pack was worth it. If the game were to shut down tomorrow I’d feel that I’d gotten my money’s worth out of it, which is actually pretty impressive.
But didn’t I start out talking about pride and accomplishments? I’m actually pretty proud of my current building project. It’s still in the Greek theme, I just love columns, but as I’m learning the tools I think I’m getting better at making more visually interesting buildings. One thing that I think is particularly cool is that 2 trees took root in the roof. I never would have thought to put trees up there on my own, but artistic achievements are made up as as many accidents as intentions, are they not? I will definitely be adding trees there from now on – well, once we can add trees. Right now I’m relying on accident and random spawning to keep them there.
Here’s a shot leading up to the temple, with the trees just visible at the top…
The picture at the top is the current state of my building, and I have to say I’m pretty pleased with it. It’s not nearly finished, I definitely have hours and hours and hours to go, but this is the first time an MMO has really given players the tools to fully express themselves. I’ve seen everything from McDonald’s and Titan Tower to eastern dojos, towers and castles to drawings from old atari video games, grand monuments to hidden cliffside lodges. I can’t wait to see what else is to come!