Design and documentation journal for my interactive fiction (text games); also reviews and other miscellaneous stuff.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

House update: Building Materials

The building action and the house itself is coming together nicely.  Indoor rooms have walls and floors, and the walls have materials.  When construction begins, the game will ask for the material to use to build the room in question; right now the choices are wooden boards or bricks.  Logs are much too difficult for a lone person to manipulate, stones aren't something I want to fiddle with right now, and earth houses like adobe or sod just don't seem to be a legitimate possibility in Minneconsigan-type climates.  But boards are relatively straight forward, and trees are already implemented.  Bricks are a bit of an experiment, and they're largely unimplemented at the moment, since they have the potential to be a significant memory sink.

Rooms have a size which can be used to extrapolate the surface area of the walls; that's used to calculate how many boards or bricks are needed to build a room.  Each room is built separately, so the outside walls are a single layer of material, while the interior walls essentially get built twice - once for each room.  I'm essentially okay with this, although padding the outside walls for insulation might not be a bad idea.  Looking at plank houses of the past, many of them were a single layer of boards, but these were often in clement climates (such as Washington).  I would not want to be living in a single-plank thickness house in a serious winter condition. 

Brick number estimates were made using running bonds (laid with each brick lengthwise, so the most surface area is exposed), but plenty of older houses were built with alternate construction, especially in colder climates.  My favorite is the "rat trap construction", with little holes between two layers of bricks to hold rodents.  I sure am sad not to live in the good old days.  In good conscience, I could probably raise the number needed by another 50-70%, but I'll wait to see how balanced it is. 

Then, of course, there's material waste - broken bricks, ruined boards, misplaced structural elements, etc, which would add onto the quantities of stuff needed.  In short, there's plenty of room to yoink the numbers up to increase difficulty. 

I pulled stats for bricks laid per hour for professionals, and halved them.  It may still be on the high side, but at least it's a working figure.  Complete construction of the house in brick would take a little over a year, which seems reasonable, if slower than I'd have guessed.  As it stands, a wooden house would take ~4-5 months of nonstop work, which seems a little low, honestly, but I'm holding off on tweaking until I see how it plays. 

Windows are just coming into existence.  They can open, close, be broken or dirty.  I still have to connect open and broken states with weather, create WASH WINDOW and FIX WINDOW commands, and other miscellaneous stuff, but I have implemented a basic "when you look out a window, you see what's on the other side" thing.  It works suspiciously well.  You can't look through windows into the house, but life is short. 

Fireplaces and all their attendant woes are untouched.  Descriptions remain a problem, as there's not much stable about the description of an indoor room at the moment - you can have a kitchen that's essentially no different than a bedroom, except by name, and you can't really talk about delicious smells or sunlight on the parquet floor when the PC is much more likely to be eating cold turnips in the dirt.


- Roofs still don't exist; they probably should, even just for aesthetics. 

- Foundations have been totally blown off.  I mean, uh "As you begin construction, you uncover the original foundations of the house.  Despite the years, the foundations are in excellent condition, and will no doubt support whatever you build on top of them."

- I haven't figured out the temperature controls' relation to inside, how fast heat and cold move through indoor rooms, and how best to calculate that.

- Windows shouldn't be automatically glass-equipped - either they should be open holes in the walls, or boarded up holes in the walls, or not placed at all until the PC explicitly does the work.  All of these options have drawbacks and associated weirdness.  I probably need a glassless window-type variable-thing.  Other people have used paper and such in place of glass, but I don't really envision the player making paper, so . . . hmm.  I do envision some glass capability at some point, but that point is a long way off, and I was thinking more glass blowing than glass sheeting, or whatever it is one does to get flat panes of glass.  Maybe the player would like to have holes in the wall that she can board or unboard instead.  (I can also offer the player curtains, which are less research than glassblowing.)

- Descriptions of rooms will be easier if some furniture is implemented; that way, its absence can be mentioned, the same way I'd remark on a kitchen these days without a sink, or incorporated into descriptions.  Conversely, if they're present, sunlight can then stream through the gaping hole in the wall to highlight the fine maple counters the PC has recently installed. 

- Still don't know what to do about doors.  I come to a different decision each time.  It seems weird to let the player board up windows/holes, and cave entrances probably should let you build a entrance blocking thing for protection and warmth, and then not have doors in the actual house.  But it's sort of complicated, and there's no real payoff yet.

- Tools would be another obvious direction to go next, along with material gathering.  I'm not ready to tackle bricks, clay, kilns, and fire, but I think I could handle figuring out how many 2x4's can come out of an old growth oak tree.  Come to that, I'm not entirely clear on how one makes planks, anyway, if you don't have a saw.  And I need to figure out the Nail Question.  It's important to me that the player can build shelter more or less from scratch.  Maybe I can describe interlocking notches or something.  Traditional plank houses of the coastal Native Americans were bound with cedar ropes, but ropes are notorious for kicking ass and taking names of IF programmers, and there's no way the player would know that information organically.  Not that most people know any more about mortise jointing, but at least that solution doesn't introduce a rabid wolverine into the game mechanics.

Fun fact:
The scientific name for bison is Bison bison bison.  


  1. Cool stuff. Not to give you more work(!), but other construction techniques appropriate to the climate would include rammed earth and straw-bale:

  2. Oops, that second link was supposed to be:

  3. The issue I have with those is that they require a fair amount of equipment. Baling straw is tricky work, and you really need a (engine driven) baler if possible. Loose straw with clay (cob) is also a possibility, but both those techniques are used in more southern climes. Rammed earth would be great, except I can't figure out how one person might realistically create that kind of pressure. But you're right that some sort of thick earth wall-type thing would be appropriate, and certainly worth investigation. Earth or plaster over the load bearing walls is probably one logical way to go - the PC would still need wood, but less of it, sort of a wattle and daub type thing ( The process isn't quite clear in my head to implement yet, but it's on my "hey, if it's a rainy day and you feel like starting/completing a project" list.

  4. Your settler won't be able to construct a baling machine?! I'm not sure I'm going to like this game ;)

    I believe that rammed earth can be done by one person, using a pole with a flat board on one end to distribute the pressure (this how campesinos in Bolivia described the technique to me, but no one builds this way anymore there). Adobe brick construction is probably more practical for one person, though...

  5. Heh. I'll look into the various earth construction types. It does seem like a logical place to start, and the material is free, even if the labor isn't. (So, so glad I don't live in the good old days.)