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Jan 08 2010 -
Making of Zao
ince the release of the Christmas update 2009, many brave adventurers have already ventured into Zao to explore its mysteries and face the numerous challenges waiting there. In this featured article, we want to provide you with some background information on the creation of this new continent. The content team members Chayenne, Knightmare, Denson Larika, Lionet and Tibia's graphic artist Jan are the ones who gave birth to the amazing new content the Christmas update brought along.

Such a great new land mass with tons of new monsters and quests is the result of good teamwork. During the planning phase of an update, the content team has to decide who will mainly take care of which map area and which quests. "Everyone gets to do a little of everything, but mostly we try and find arrangements so that everyone can focus on the tasks he or she likes most or is best at," Chayenne tells us. "Jan is our man for all those beautiful graphics, of course, and also coordinates our external artists. Knightmare writes a lot of the great stories as well as larger and challenging questlines like The New Frontier or some crazy ones like Isle of Evil. He also brings most monsters to life. Dens is really great at designing awesome areas with a high detail level and writing fun quests stuffed with complex scripts like everything in and around Beregar or the Treasure Hunt. For me it depends how much time I have besides organising everything. I like to design large and story-filled questlines as well such as Blood Brothers, but also small and fun bits like Eclesius' quest or Unnatural Selection. I also implement most new features such as the content side of the marriage system or Travora and love to chew complicated scripts and riddles over. Lionet likes that too, I think, judging from the riddle in his Children of the Revolution quest, but has also proven to be an excellent map editor and story writer with the Muggy Plains - a great addition to our team!"

We community managers were lucky enough to get a peek of the new content every now and then during the development phase of the Christmas update. What we saw looked amazing and it was fascinating to see the continent and the quests grow and evolve.

In the beginning, the basic idea for the update was to create a place where monsters are civilised and humans dwell in dungeons. The content team decided for an Asian flavour spiced up with a slightly gothic touch that would not turn out to be that typical cookie-cutter Asian area known from other games. So to make it look different, they tried to mix in certain elements such as the corruption theme, for example, and the fact that the area is actually ruled by dragons whereas humans play a minor role. The minotaurs were the first monster choice for the new area since their weaponry already showed Asian influences in the earlier Tibian times. But of course, the content team also wanted something more exotic than just minotaurs and orcs so they added the lizardmen. The dragonkin rounded off the picture since dragons are often associated with Asian themes.

Inspirations usually come from many different sources and sometimes it is hard to tell how an idea came into mind. Concerning Zao, some players sensed influences of H.P. Lovecraft's works. But according to Knightmare there is no true Lovecraftian influence even though the underlying theme of the update might share some similarities with themes Lovecraft tended to use: "The lizardmen are 'just' lizardmen like they exist in several fantasy publications and even in Tibia already. The Dragonblaze Peaks got their snow tops due to the idea of becoming red in the fading sun, giving them their name. Corruption in itself is not such an unique concept at all. You can find that theme in many newer fantasy works, which is probably more connected to modern environmentalism than to H.P. Lovecraft."
Chayenne admits that the Unnatural Selection quest is a little inspired by one of her favourite games ever, Chrono Trigger, in which you also spend some time with a primitive human tribe and get to party with them: "I racked my brain over how I could possibly script something like a tribal hunt or a big party with the possibilities we have and the 'dance dance revolution' bit was what I eventually came up with and which turned out to be pretty fun."

In Zao, characters can also earn the right to wear a new outfit. Both the overall theme of the update and the war system inspired Jan to design the impressive warmaster outfit: "I wanted to take the opportunity to create something that goes along well with that, something to go to war with, that looks cool in an epic battle. I love those huge battle scenes where armies of well equipped warriors with little flags on their backs charge at each other, some smashing into each other wildly, others forming a disciplined phalanx with their naginatas, order amongst all this wild chaos, no fear...glory!" So it seems that the Samurai theme was an easy choice.

Nevertheless, the whole design of Zao took quite some time. The steppe, for example, should have a really vast feel to it and it took several weeks until both the content team and Jan were happy with the colour palette of the area, especially with the buildings. The original colours were much more greyish-brownish mixed with green and purple, but it just looked boring somehow and it was not until red and black contrasts were added that all were finally satisfied with the overall look of the area.

Jan mentions that the request for a steppe- or savannah-like environment came from the content team and was flying around as an idea for a very long time: "We felt that this would give us a very interesting mix to work with in addition to the corruption theme and a shot of visually Asian looking influences and also allow us to create something new and different to the existing areas in Tibia. The pool of environment graphics in Tibia is vast and can already be combined in many different ways to achieve all sorts of atmospheres, but we expanded on that a great deal again with this update with reusable more generic floor textures. Even the rather big landmark stone dragon statue that can be found at the big gate can be put together in different ways."

While Jan is mainly responsible for creating ingame graphics and textures, the content team plans and assembles everything and builds all the beautiful landscapes in Tibia. In the case of Zao, it was already set since the Yalahar update that the new map expansion would take place east of Vengoth.

At first, the general shape of the new continent was created. Just on the floor level, without any mountains and dungeons. Then, everyone in the team got a printed shape of the new area and drew his or her version of the map: where the mountains are located, the cities and how the area should look like in general. Different designs were talked through and after having come to a conclusion, the areas were assigned to different team members. As soon as they had received the graphics they had requested from the graphics department, they started to build the new areas. "First of all, the general floor tiles and shapes were set, followed by houses, ruins, quest areas and unique landmarks. In the end, decoration such as plants, stones or even rubbish were added," Denson Larika explains. "For the Dragonblaze Peaks, for example, I worked from ground level to the top. Level after level. Then I hollowed the peaks and built the caves for the dragons." The monsters were placed after the whole map work was done. What followed was a time of adjustments and fine-tuning, hopping on and off the internal test server to test hunting grounds. With the start of the external test server, the whole content team was then busy with bug fixing and tweaking things further.

The ideas for the quests and missions in Zao came along with the development of the new continent. Certain quest types were necessary to introduce players to the new area, its inhabitants and its lore, and to guide them around. Other quest ideas evolved around the given themes. The Tomes of Knowledge quest, for example, is a nice way to unlock things like nifty furniture and creepy dungeons. At the same time, the content team could use them to make some selected excerpts of the massive background story accessible in smaller bits for those who are interested in it.

The main questline The New Frontier included something new concerning the character's progress: the base camp develops further as your character advances in the main questline so you really see the fruits of your success and your actions actually do change something. In a multiplayer game it is somewhat difficult to change the world since it would affect all players but in such a limited area with the given space and time frame it was a new interesting approach. Some ideas, however, had to be dropped in the planning phase. Originally, the content team wanted to open the area and story behind the Great Gate as well for this update. However, they can only create a certain number of quests and story bits. Had they extended the area even further, it would have been impossible to back it up with a tight story and good quests. Thus, they saved it for later together with some monster races that actually should have made their appearance according to the original concept. Lionet reveals that one of his ideas was to give players the impression of Zalamon recruiting individuals for his resistance: "I wanted to add various NPCs to his underground hideout in the steppe. The player would have been able to talk to them and they would have said a few lines. However, to make this plausible I would have had to create quite a few separate and unique versions of his hideout. However, due to the large amount of content we implemented in this update, there was simply no time to include it."

Certain things are also rather tricky to make and really pose a challenge. Chayenne explains that the Zzaion raid, for example, was quite complicated since she needed to find a way to open those gates during a raid, make sure that they stay open until next server save and then close again without locking characters in: "I eventually did it with ten hidden switches under Zzaion that are triggered by, uhm, rats that also spawn during the raid. Some of them appear just one time for a few seconds and do things like opening the gate or setting the walls on fire, others stay until the raid has ended and trigger a few special effects like fire raining from the sky. I'm still a bit disappointed though that the effects don't look half as spectacular as I hoped them to be and are over within a second each time."

The riddle in the mountain temple was another tricky thing to do since it had to be easy enough to quickly understand it and at the same time just as complex to provide the right amount of challenge. "The concept I had was modelled with a rather complicated set of rules and scripts and at first turned out quite nicely," Lionet points out. "After some testing offside the regular solution, however, several colleagues made it by just randomly switching levers for some time - and that is what many players probably do to complete the quest, oh well."

Of course, a new continent, new quests and monsters also require lots of new names. For Zao, the content team wanted to have certain sounds. Everything lizardish should contain sounds similar to those of serpents or dragons, so they used a lot of "z" and "ch", also "ai"-endings for the slightly Asian feel and basically just made up names from that. The orcish stuff had to sound harder and warlike, and the cavemen names should have a tribal feel to it. Every team member can usually name the NPCs, monsters or dungeons he or she creates, but as for names of larger or important areas the whole team usually brainstorms together. It seems, however, that Chayenne has quite an obsession with names so she was probably the driving force behind the creation of many names.

Zao offers players many new challenges and areas to explore but also has a rich background story which was mainly developed by Knightmare. The corruption, the dark presence materialising in the black oily substance, is of course related to the history of Zao and one of its darkest secrets. What is behind the corruption is a question that Knightmare answers with nothing more than a mysterious smile since this secret is yet to be revealed. It will be a major theme to be encountered behind the Great Gate. Hints can be found and gathered already though. Zao's background story can be learned via various books and NPCs. Finding out what has happened in Zao is somewhat of a meta-quest which you don't have to follow in Zao but which gives those who are interested in history and background some playground. It is like a puzzle: Find the clues, piece things together and decide what to believe and what not. The story will be expanded and some secrets will get revealed with later updates. Some information will be exclusive and new, other bits and pieces might help to support or disprove certain theories. "And we have yet to find out how players interpret things," Knighmare adds. So while the content team was responsible for the making of Zao, it is now up to you, our players, to explore this continent, solve riddles, reveal secrets and develop theories.

We hope you have enjoyed this little journey through the making of Zao. If you are still up for some additional bits and pieces the content team told us, we invite you to check out the feedback thread for this article. You can find further interesting information there that did not fit in the featured article anymore.

Have fun exploring Zao!
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