Behind the Streets: City Living
In March 2019, after many months of work and refinement, we released our latest creative toolbox map - City Living!
With this being our fifth and final Creative Toolbox (at least for the time being), we wanted City Living to be the biggest toolbox ever, fit to bursting with super speedy vehicles, interesting props and more exciting adventures and activities than ever before. And where better to set this humongous amount of excitement than in one huge city?!
Of course, City Living is not the first city that Noxcrew has ever created. In fact, over the years, Noxcrew has built 5 or 6 different cities, some for machinima projects, others for maps now lost to history as the projects were scrapped in favour of other projects.
However, these past builds were not a waste. Each time we built a city, we always learnt something new and, over time, we developed new ways to give our cities realistic layouts as well as a unique sense of atmosphere, as if they were places where people lived and worked, not just an interesting set of structures all bunched together.
While we were developing City Living we took everything we had learnt from these builds, as well as our previous creative endeavours and real-world influences, and brought it all into one place, combining all of our technical skills with our drive for world-building, to create the most realist city we could from the tallest skyscraper to the smallest piece of garbage.
In this behind the scenes glimpse at City Living, I want to use this map as an example and take you through the process of creating a city, from initial planning to building to making it feel alive, in the hopes of teaching you how to approach creating your very own supercity.
As with many big builds, the most important step is planning. Without a clear layout and structure, cities have a tendency to become aesthetically busy and overcrowded, with an abundance of tall skyscrapers but lacking space for facilities that citizens would use regularly, such as homes, shopping areas and green land like parks and gardens.
For the build of City Living, spearheaded by head builder Markus, the planning of the city went through various stages, but started with planning the city’s location and environment.
Environmental planning is the layout of the natural area of the city’s location. Not all metropolitan areas are built on flat barren terrain. Most, if not all cities are built on uneven ground, surrounding an easily accessible water source such as a river or lake which can provide clean water and a potential trading point for supplies for the growing population. On top of that, some cities are expanded and built up against natural structures such as mountains or the ocean to protect the citizens from potential invaders; remember that most cities originally grew from small towns developed during periods of social unrest, not the peacetime that we enjoy nowadays.
In the case of Noxcity where City Living is based, Markus decided to create a coastal environment with a functional harbour, to allow trading traffic into the city, as well as some interesting structures that we could incorporate into the build later down the line. He also planned some gentle hills around the outskirts of the city, much like the hills of LA. This was used to create separation between the urban city sprawl and the suburban lifestyle of the upper class residents of Noxcity as well as add variety to the landscape, inserting a touch of the natural world into the urban environment, something that is important to prevent the area becoming too grey and monotonous.
We then moved on to planning the city’s identity, finding out what sort of place we want our city to be and what sort of buildings we wanted to populate the area with. This stage is more complicated than you might imagine. Each city has a unique identity, vastly different from any other. Consider the differences between London and New York. Now consider the differences between New York and its closest city Philadelphia. Not only is the architecture different, but the area it inhabits, the environment it exists within and the businesses that fuel the city’s growth.
Throughout history, the development of cities has been influenced by a particular trade or method of production that helps to make the city grow, from the agricultural cities like Mesopotamia way back in 7500 BCE, to the industrial cities of the 18th Century such as Manchester and Liverpool, to the high tech trading centres of modern day London, Tokyo or New York. The production methods that fuels a city vastly influences the buildings with in it, as well as the layout and structure of the area as it will be organised to be the most efficient to serve that particular function.
We decided to treat Noxcity as a modern metropolitan city like London or Melbourne, mostly reliant on trade and business to fuel its economy. With its proximity to the ocean, it made sense to highlight that aspect of the trade route, making it a hub for the import and export of goods via the shipping harbour and easy river routes through the city itself. This decision to base the city on modern urban environments with a recognisable American frame work also helped us figure out the general structure of the city with the tall, business based buildings at the very centre, and the rest of the city spreading out from there, becoming less fancy and more residential the further away they get from the centre, until we reached the suburban areas. This is where the area becomes more affluent with richer residents seeking a home away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre and closer to the sea and rolling hills.
This focus on creating a modern city also allowed us to create the Art Deco style skyscrapers which usually house this sort of trading work, inspired by building such as The Rockefeller Building in New York and Canary Wharf in London. It also helped us to consider the different types of architecture and materials that this city would have accumulated over its lifespan. Remember, cities don’t spring up, fully formed, overnight. They grow and develop over decades, with new buildings, echoing the fashion of their time, springing up next to older styles of architecture. You can have a 21st century modern sky rise standing next to a 20th century neoclassical federal building, next to a 14th century cathedral, particularly in European cities such as Paris or Berlin. City aesthetics are as varied and as complex as the people who live in them and should reflect that vibrant diversity of time.
It also allows different builders with different styles to collaborate together and develop different sections of the city, to create the sense of developing styles throughout the history of the area. In the case of City, each member of the build team was tasked with creating and developing different buildings that we had planned to incorporate into the city, leading to a build that was inspired by multiple different buildings in cities throughout the globe, such as Helsinki, Berlin and Amsterdam. We also incorporated builds from scrapped projects, as well as test builds that the team create in their spare time to practice their craft, to not only speed up production, but to continue that sense of variety, that not everything in a city is built at the same time.
However, while the builders were free to create in their own styles, we still took steps to ensure consistency across the whole city, limiting the colours and textures of the blocks used to simulate restrictions that cities often face when finding suitable materials for building structures, usually using the stone and materials close to them to create, as it is often cheaper and easier to transport. We also had Markus acting as build leader, over seeing the whole build, not just individual structures, to make sure that the overall look and tone of the city was consistent, even with the different styles contained within it.
Once you have the broad strokes of your cities layout, what fuels it and what the effects of time have had on it’s development, you need to start considering the specific facilities that need to exist with in a city to function correctly.
If you’ve ever played a City Sim game you’ll know that when you start to create a city there are base facilities that need to be set up to govern the people, something that everywhere and everyone needs. Predominantly, these are the government, the police, the fire department, hospitals and most importantly of all, the garbage men.
Too often these facilities are overlooked when building cities, so we make a point to place them in prime locations which would best serve them and the duty they are supposed to perform. In Noxcity, the government buildings, such as courtrooms and mayoral offices, are in the heart of the city, the touchstone of order and responsibility. The police and the fire department are placed nearby so they can easily access the central business areas, where crimes and fires are statistically more likely to occur, while also being close to the governmental buildings to create solidarity between state and service, something that is important to keep order within a large population area.
In contrast to this display of power and control, we put the hospital near the ocean to provide scenic views for it’s residences. This also placed the hospital close to the suburban homes where patients are likely to come from, providing reassurance and ease of access. Finally the dump was placed far out of town, away from homes and businesses to prevent potential health risks to the public. It was also placed near to the river for easy transport down to the harbour, where the more useful bits of junk, such as broken machinery or plastics, could be shipped off to be recycled elsewhere along the trading route.
By thinking about the layout of these facilities and their relation to other buildings, we were able to give our city a realistic structure and create logical paths between facilities which could be converted into roads and alleyways. From here, we could consider other building that would be useful to citizens, such as food vendors, shopping facilities and homes for the lower classes, who would be unable to live in the outer suburban homes.
Once the citizens of the city had been considered, we then moved onto tourist or cultural attractions, places where visitors to the city could explore and spend money. Structures like theatres, parks or impressive buildings, like the Sydney Opera House or Big Ben, can be added to draw the tourists in but also add a touch of drama to an area, creating interesting shapes within the city, rather than sticking rigidly to square or rectangular shaped structures. In the case of Noxcity, many of structures revolve around the ocean, taking advantage of the area’s natural beauty, with aquariums, seaside hotels, open beaches and seafood restaurants to attract crowds to the area but also add flow to the ocean facing part of the city, weaving forward and back, rather than a solid wall of buildings backed up against the seafront
The final part of our city revolved around world building or making the city feel lived in, rather than just a Minecraft build. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down and writing out the history of your city for people to read (though that could be a nice addition to a city library), but more like the fine details that gives a place its own unique personality.
Look around you! Even if you’re in your room, in the car or walking down the street, there is always something there, details that identifies that space. It could be a poster on the wall, a scrap of garbage being buffeted by the wind, or a weed poking out of the sidewalk. Now think of small places hidden from view, a park surrounded by houses or a tiny bookshop down a long alley way. Small details and secret places, things that you would only see if you looked really closely, gives a city its identity, makes it different from every other place in the world.
In Noxcity, we not only had to consider these world-building details, but also think about activities that the players could engage in, be it creative challenges to build new parts of the city, adventurous activities, such as delivering items to parts of the town, or just interesting things to do and fun places to find. We decided to focus on creating as real a city environment as we could, forgoing any overly fantasy or sci-fi elements, in favour of real life activities that one could find in any normal city.
With these goals in mind, we thought about the features of cities we either had visited or seen in movies or on TV. Areas where local people could spend their free time or added to the cultural heart of an area. Immediately things like ball courts, art murals, city gardens, vending machines and newspaper stands came to mind. Also things like cultural districts such as Chinatown or Italian quarters, areas influenced by the people who live there, either through the architecture or the products they sell and the decorations they use
These ideas helped guide the fine details of the city, leading to the development of small but important features that changed the way a street felt or how players interacted with an area.
We created a punchable football so players could meet in ball courts, or even in the street as we used to do as kids and play matches with each other, enhancing not only the roleplay element of City Living but also a different gameplay mechanic for players to experiment with.
We created a system where players could write a newspaper article at the journalists office and have it available from any stand across the city as well as a series of challenges based on a gardening company helping citizens deal with their plant based problems. We had billboards advertising businesses, murals with cheeky references to future maps, and robbers for players and cops to chase and throw into jail.
We even had a last minute addition that put production down to the wire when we decided to add a dirt track to the city, just so players would have something to do with our bicycles rather than just ride them around town.
By adding these seemingly unimportant attractions, places that are of no interest to anyone but the people who would live in your world, you can give specific sections of your city more importance and more interest to fellow players. Building around these tiny details can have a big impact on how your city acts but more importantly, how it feels.
I hope that you have found this look into our development of City Living interesting and that you’ve learnt something new about creating interesting and vibrant cities. Let us know your favourite secret place in City Living and which map you’d like to see us delve into next!