Some weeks ago a major bug was found that affects large world spaces. (You can read more about the bug over at the Beyond Skyrim forum at Dark Creations.) It turns out that activators will not work properly outside cell +/- 64 (in both X and Y). The funny thing about this bug is that you only notice it if the player is facing away from the center of the map. This is not a new problem for novel world spaces, it is also present in the Tamriel worldspace, but most of Skyrim’s worldspace is not affected since most of it fits inside the +/-64 cell limit.
So what happens if you are outside the +/-64 cells?
For example picking up objects, opening doors, harvesting materials and casting spells will not work if the player is outside of the limit cell and facing the wrong way. If you like to try this bug out for yourself, jump into our worldspace at say cell 65, 65 and cast fireballs on the ground facing in different directions. Where things work as they should, the spell will leave a burn mark on the ground, but facing the other way there will be no mark. This means that if you were fighting an enemy but facing the wrong way your spells would be ineffective in large parts of our world…
Now this is a major issue for the Hoddminir mod that has most of the worldspace in the non working areas. We have been discussing how to continue from here, we could divide the map we have in to chunks and use each as a separate worldspace or make a completely new height map.
The tricky part with dividing the old map up is to make barriers natural to limit the player’s movement. For some areas this would work really well, we could use mountain ranges and cliffs, but for the most part these barriers would feel artificial. The transitions between world spaces would be limited to very specific places and somehow we would have to funnel the players toward these points.
One thing I love about the ElderScrolls games is the open world exploring. In Oblivion I often took sight on a far away landmark, like a mountain peak, and just walked in that direction seeing if I could find a way to the top. One of the major issues I had with dividing the worldspace up is the loss of “You can explore everything you see”.
The other idea that we had was to start over with a new height map that is made with this bug in mind. All things considered this is the easier solution, and the way we decided to go. I set out to make a new height map, and it turned into an island world. With some EarthSculpture and GeoControl magic I managed to turn some parts of the old height map into islands, this way I could keep the landscape of some of my favorite places. I also had the chance to make some new types of terrain that never fitted in the old worldspace.
Each worldspace is max 4x4quad, sometimes smaller, and in each there is a single or multiple islands. When you are standing on the shore of one island you will be looking out on the LODs of other islands that you can only reach by boat from the different settlements. The player would still be limited to specific transition points between world spaces, but on islands it hopefully feels more natural to go down to a harbor to get to another island, than it would in the split-up large worldspace.
We are now slowly getting used to our new height map, and have already started to generate the different landscapes. Even though it feels really sad to leave the large worldspace behind, we think the new islands will be great, they have a lot of potential.