Procedural Graffiti

Graffiti has long been used in environmental design as a tool to deepen the lore of the world the player inhabits. It plasters the walls of dilapidated space stations, is smeared across the crumbling ruins of post-apocalyptica, is written in the back-alleys of all manner of settlements.

It’s great.

So I made a bit, loved it, and then made a whole package.

How does it work?

It’s a fairly simple idea. Kenshi can’t handle semi-transparent textures, but full transparency is easy. The textures themselves are flat colours, and it’s the normal maps (see above) that handle non-transparent areas. All I need to do is design the graffiti in an image processor and transfer it to a normal map. The rest is transparent. To make the writings more vivid, random, and believable, I then add a chance for ‘responses’ to be overlaid randomly. The responses use the same base mesh, albeit positioned ever-so-slightly further forward. To a player, the difference is imperceptible, yet this ensures that the response is written on top of the base image. Responses come in a variety of flavours, always appropriate, never drawn in the same colour.

The end result was worth the effort. The image below is all the same piece of graffiti.

In addition to basic responses, I added other types of overlays for variety, such as symbols, and blood…

Lots of blood.

The placeable graffiti items are grouped into categories for ease of use. Some are highly generic, allowing me to place ‘faction graffiti’ as I want. Below is the ‘have faith’ graffiti type for the Shek, one of many faction graffiti types that show up throughout the game world.

There are many examples of ‘specific’ graffiti, as well as the more generic specimens shown above. This, for instance, should be instantly-recognisable to anybody who’s roamed the Great Desert for any spate of time.

Of course, there are some things I had to do. I’ll show you one, and the rest you’ll have to discover on your own. If you know, you know.

Here are more instances of the have faith decal I showed above, for a different faction… Courtesy of the Holy territories of the Lord Phoenix, Praise Be Unto Him.

You get the idea. There’s a boatload of possibilities. Cool.

Yet how is this stuff distributed throughout the game world? First and foremost, I can hand-place any item of graffiti I want to. This is great for quests and dungeons. Warnings, signposting, hints, scenes of gore and mess, that sort of thing.

Imagine.

You’ve spent an hour or two assisting a farming village in times of hardship. Unbeknownst to you, your actions elsewhere have attracted the attention of a powerful villain, brought into existence by the Adversary system for quests – which, at the time of writing, I haven’t talked about. Suffice to say it draws from the system used by faction wars, but more randomly, allowing for procedural villains to be created from procedural quests. Watch this space.

You return with your merry band of adventurers to find a bloody scene of misery, death and gore. Fate has twisted the knife, the farmers are dead. Not by your hand, but rather because of something you’ve done elsewhere in your travels. You search, desperately, for any sign of life, a lone survivor, that one NPC with whom you had built your rapport, and find only one thing smeared all over the walls in blood…

You probably should have made better choices.

That’s quests and dungeons. Yet what of the graffiti I want to be placed procedurally and randomly? How might that work? I certainly pay great attention to detail, but I am not insane enough to hand-place this stuff across a continent that’s around 900 square kilometres in size.

No.

The solution is to attach invisible placeholders to walls and buildings, with a low chance of them being replaced by actual graffiti. That way, I can add the placeholders to the entire game world by adding them to only a handful of building layouts, and let random chance do the rest. This allows all the good stuff to show up, occasionally, which in turn allows for every playthrough to shine with a smidgen of something unique.

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