From the Archives: Early Mystery Lake design notes

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  • Hinterland

Thought some of you might find this interesting.

The scene name for the Mystery Lake region is "lakeregion", hence the document title. These are some of my design notes for the art team building out the region (we had two enviro artists then, Eric and Simon, who are both still on the team! The whole team was maybe 6-7 people at this point).

In the doc, you can see some overpaints, some descriptions, and perhaps most interesting (?), you can see that we were still discussing whether or not to keep the Dam in the region at this point. The thinking here was to have a log sort and have the river have been a method of moving logs "down river" from logging operations further away. But working on it further, I realized I really wanted an opportunity to fit a more industrial feeling location, so that the game world wouldn't be only about forests and small camps, so we ended up keeping the dam there, and "Carter Dam" was born. As you can see from the notes, the Camp Office didn't exist yet.

You get to see a bit of the logic that went into why things are where they are, and how much focus we put on creating natural-feeling flows and landmarks that will draw the player through the world. I feel like 90% of what we do in TLD (episodes included) is try to just give you a good reason to explore, and keep moving from point to point, and a lot of this comes down to the art and science of POIs (points of interest), sightlines, and travel distances between locations. Mostly so that you hopefully motivate yourself to go places we want you to go, vs. feeling like you are pushed towards them (this is super important in the WM episodes).

This doc is from early 2014.

You can also see that I'm not an artist. 😅 Forgive the poor overpaints and typos in the doc. I'm sharing it with you, unvarnished.

(Can't share pdfs here so I will post screenshots of the doc)












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Posted (edited)

Good ol' lakeregion

The nostalgia is real here. I remember the days when it was just Mystery Lake and it would take something like 2 in game days to go from Trapper's to the Dam. The character model/camera was lower to the ground and I think slower moving? This made the region feel a lot bigger than it was (and at the time it had to, or I suppose the player's relative size is what defined the region size) and it made surviving to day 50 a monumental challenge. This is because we had only Mystery Lake there were only enough resources from ML to survive off of. With every new region added we end up with more resources so it becomes easier to survive longer and longer (as long as you can access those regions). 

Very interesting to see some original concepts for this region and what it could've been like. In particular that old barn area. Did not expect to see a structure in that spot

Edited by Fuarian
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Very cool! As someone who started playing just before Thompson's Crossing was added to PV, this is like a peek into the distant past 🙂


I've always wondered something about the development of Mystery Lake, maybe this is the right forum to ask it. The upper area behind the lake(accessed via the rope near the cabins) has an odd quirk: while you can find Fir and Cedar limbs, there are absolutely no sticks. I'm curious if this was a conscious design decision, a minor oversight that was never noticed and/or corrected, or if there is perhaps some other reason. Would love to hear if anyone has any insight on this!

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Love this. Seeing how the region was first envisioned back at the very start of development, and seeing the thoughts for each structure, their expected impact on the player and their use by the player is truly fascinating.

Interestingly enough, though I follow @Raphael van Lierop, this thread does not appear in my notifications. I found it only because someone else that I follow posted a response, which does appear in my notifications. Glad I found it- this is great stuff!

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I vaguely remember my first time playing TLD.  I had spawned in the Camp Office.  After looting it, and gearing up, I set off across the frozen lake.  I remember (falling through the ice?) and wolves.  I don't know how much I played or how many times I attempted the game after perma-dying LOTS but I do vaguely remember saying to myself, "I'm going to shelf this game for a bit" 😁

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Man this is SO interesting! 

I've been playing a lot of other survival games lately (namely Green Hell) and it really makes me appreciate the way TLD subtly guides you along, toward POIs via things like following the 'valleys' in the land or the fallen trees/tree arches. The land tells you where to go when you learn how to listen. 

In GH I'm constantly lost in yet more uniform green jungle & have to constantly refer to the map & compass (which, granted, is another way that a game can create navigation guidance lol)... but it's so nice how TLD does this naturally. 

It's cool to see how much planning & thought goes into these maps!

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