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If you're interested in reading about Iron Tower Studio's approach to designing RPG dungeons, you should check out the latest developer update for The New World, ITS' upcoming colony ship RPG. The update provides a bit of story background for The Wasteland, one of the game's dungeons, outlines some of its notable features, and shares some concept art. An excerpt:
The desolation known as the Wasteland, a span of decks torn apart by the unfathomably destructive weapons of Old Earth, was called Mission Control in better times. This was the Ship Authority's domain, an impregnable stronghold and the seat of power.
The mutineers’ attack was months in the making, a decisive, disabling strike at the electronic heart of their world. It should have been over in less than an hour, but such things rarely go as planned. The Ship Authority was made of harder stuff than anticipated and the first assault was driven back.
In the following months of attack and counterattack, the mutineers’ failure to quickly secure the complex cost them much in lost lives and spent firepower. When forced to surrender ground, both sides adopted a policy of destroying anything not of immediate use, so as to deny it to the enemy.
Though the mutineers were able to ultimately capture and hold key positions across several decks, the complex had been gutted and irreplaceable resources lost. Too late they would discover that during the protracted struggle over Mission Control, Ship Authority loyalists in the Habitat had firmly entrenched their position, preparing to fight to the last man and woman. And child, should it prove necessary.
Weakened and shocked by the brutality of Mission Control’s demise, the mutineers weren’t eager to unleash the same horrors on the Habitat. A truce was offered under the pretext that the Ship Authority was finished anyway and there was no reason to waste lives trying to speed up the inevitable. Yet the same inferno that purged the old order also forged the new. The Protectors of the Mission were destined to reclaim everything their predecessors had lost. They would take it all in the end, whatever the cost.
With the Wasteland our goal is to create a proper, thematically-fitting 'dungeon' with the following features:
1. The focus is on exploration not combat. Navigating the dungeon, finding a way past the obstacles and into the deeper levels is more important than killing monsters and clearing levels.
2. Non-linear with multiple directions and goals. While the Admin Center is the top prize, there are lesser 'prizes' located in different parts of the complex. None of these locations will be easy to get to, because the lore says that many prospectors tried to find these places for years, so you can’t just waltz in, but unlike AoD’s Abyss which had a single path to the central chamber and required a very specific build, there will be multiple ways supporting different stats and skillsets.
3. You’ll be frequently stopped by some obstacles (such as a retinal scanner, for example, or poisonous gas, or tough enemies, humans or otherwise) and would have to leave and return later when you acquire what you need. In other words, you won’t blast though the entire 'dungeon' in one go.
4. Every dungeon needs some enemies and they will come in two varieties: humans (rival prospectors, thugs looking for easy money, the Regulators if you piss them off) and creatures. While every RPG and every dungeon need some 'monsters' we believe that in this setting less is more, so the entire game will have 5-6 mutated creatures and we won’t throw them at you the way we did in Dungeon Rats but handle it very differently and hopefully more memorably.
5. If you do manage to find a way into the Admin Center, it will affect the endings (extra options, pre-req. for a different ending, etc.)