Back to Basics: Morphing Environments

A sky projector and music box form the very beginnings of this Warden's Point morph.
A sky projector and music box form the very beginnings of this Warden’s Point morph.

Hello again, Dimensionerds!  As promised, I’m continuing the exploration into morphing, and didn’t see any reason to put off ’til tomorrow what I can get done today (unlike with everything else!).  In Tips and Tricks, I’ve covered a lot of landscaping techniques, in some detail, but in skimming over those articles, I’ve never really gotten into the nitty gritty of how to morph an environment.

I did, long ago, make a video series entitled From the Ground Up, which is on the DTC YouTube channel, and there is some discussion in the videos about all aspects of morphing.  I do apologize now for the production values (…there really aren’t any, because I’m still learning as I go), and I do have another From the Ground Up series in the works that’s meant to spotlight more techniques to make certain things.

Please keep in mind when I’m writing out techniques, or talking about them in a video, that this is how I build dimensions, not necessarily how you should build them.  If the way I do things works for you–great!  If not, don’t give up!  Keep trying until you find the way that works best for you.  My tips are never meant to be taken as a be all, end all, but ideas of things you can try.  As I stated in the last article, it’s been a long, long time since I built my first dimension, so there’s a lot about just starting out I’ve forgotten, or just forget to mention because I’m so used to doing certain things.

But enough of the introduction, let’s talk about what goes into environmental morphing and the hardest part, how to actually get started.

Step One is, well, picking a dimension!  Many times now, for environmental morphing, people choose Anywhere, Mathosian Cascades and Tempest Island for their environmental morphing, because these dimensions are blank slates and easy to transform.  There are no trees, no rocks, the landscape is mostly flat.  All of these things combine to save the item limit, which is always an important function, particularly if the intent is only to upgrade the dimension through tier 4.  For someone just starting out, the tier 5 upgrade is painful, to say the least.  For someone who has been building a while, the tier 5 upgrade is painful.

An empty Castle Fortune dimension.
An empty Castle Fortune dimension.

What if, however, you’ve already used Anywhere, Mathosian Cascades or Tempest Island, or something about those base dimensions just doesn’t kick your inspiration in?  What if the clear blue sky of Castle Fortune is what is making the creative juices start to flow?

The tier 5 item limit of 2520 for Castle Fortune makes it very attractive from a morphing point of view, regardless of what kind of morphing it is.  That it can be purchased with event currency during Carnival of the Ascended also makes it attractive.  However, Castle Fortune has challenges involved that Anywhere, Mathosian Cascades and Tempest Island just don’t have–namely, being 30 degrees off axis, which means the views of the dimension don’t match the direction that building blocks are placed.  There’s also the fact of a lot of existing architecture and…stuff.

The beauty of any sort of transformation is that however much off axis a base dimension might be, no one will ever know if your dimension is crooked or not because all of it will be covered up.

NOTE:  There are many types of environmental morphing, including enclosing everything, so that visitors see only an interior point of view.  This article will not touch on the enclosed building, but only on a full environmental transformation of an outside area.

Castle Fortune transformed, but keeping that beautiful sky.
Castle Fortune transformed, but keeping that beautiful sky.

Before picking a base dimension, there are a few things I would strongly recommend:

1.  Have a theme in mind.  Granted, themes are fluid and subject to change…frequently.  Having an idea of what kind of backdrop you want, however, may save you quite a bit of money–plat and credits–in the long term of the build.

2.  Be mindful of the item limit right from the get-go.  Very rarely will any dimension solely be a natural build.  Those types of builds are out there, but the vast majority of the time, there is some sort of structure included, whether it’s a house, a temple, a ruin, whatever.  You don’t have to set a hard budget, but giving yourself a limit for the actual environment helps.

3.  Give yourself a realistic idea of how much actual space your idea will occupy, so you can more easily manage the space available vs. the item limit.  This is where touring dimensions will come in handy.  Not the completed builds that already have a bunch of cool stuff to see, but the empty versions.  You can usually find these by running a specific search of a dimension, and on some shards, there are test dimensions left open that remain empty–they’re in place so people can check them out before they buy!

Vengeful Sky is one of the easiest dimensions to transform--so long as you don't mind thunder!
Vengeful Sky is one of the easiest dimensions to transform–so long as you don’t mind thunder!

A few things to keep in mind when you’ve made up your mind which dimension you want to use, and you now need to acquire the key:

1.  Minions bring back dimension keys by the truckload, so check the AH.  Chances are extremely likely you’ll find the key you want on the AH much more cheaply than it is sold on the store.  In the case of crafted keys, if you’re not a Dreamweaver, strike a deal with someone who is, so you may pick up a key for the cost of the mats.  In the case of specialty keys like world event keys, loyalty keys and the Black Garden, there may be some special steps you have to take.  The Black Garden, for instance, is only available from the store for credits as part of a PvP item starter kit, but you can sometimes find it on the AH for plat.

2.  What is the tier 5 (or 4, depending on your budget), item limit for the key you’ve selected, and how does it gel with your theme?  Remember that 2000 items seems like a lot when you’re first starting, but toward the end, it feels really small!  Can you turn Moonshade Pools (just as an example) into a snow-capped ski resort, complete with lodge, lift, ice-skating ponds, glacier hiking trails and a cave full of hibernating bears, within that hard limit?  Perhaps, but more likely, something might have to be sacrificed.

Use the thunder as part of your transformation of VS to give it context.
Use the thunder as part of your transformation of VS to give it context.

So, you’ve selected your dimension and you’re ready to start…possibly.  I recommend running around the dimension to get an idea of the boundaries–including the ceiling.  You may or may not want to upgrade as much as you think you’ll need to–I usually do mine right at the beginning, so I don’t have to worry about it later on, but that’s a personal preference.

There are two things that will do more to change your base dimension than any rock, any building block, or any other item.  Those are a sky projector and a music box.  So far as sky projectors go, perhaps the sky is the thing you love most about the dimension, and that’s fine, but if it doesn’t match your theme and you don’t mind changing it, there are 33 (!) sky projectors to choose from.

So far as music boxes go, changing the sound will directly impact those visitors who play with their game sounds on, because they may be used to hearing a certain type of music in a dimension, and it helps to reinforce the transformation.  Not only that, but your choice of music is something that can augment your theme to you as a builder.  Keep in mind that music boxes have a limited range, so in the largest dimensions, you’ll need more than one to cover the entire area.

Here’s a secret:  When I first begin any kind of build–transformation or otherwise, I take an alt with every sky projector and all my favorite music boxes into the dimension I want to use, and I start cycling through both until I come up with a combination that I feel most closely matches the atmosphere I want to impart.  These initial settings usually change, depending on light, shadows, materials, and what the theme ultimately becomes.

A transformation in 400 items?  Totally doable!
A transformation in 400 items, such as with Tower Meadow? Totally doable!

This is where I’ll make a mention of the Dimension Entry Point.  For working transformations and saving the item limit, it’s an item that’s very hard to beat.  It’s two biggest downfalls are it’s price (675 credits with Patron discount), and occasional glitches that can be mitigated.  However, for what you’ll save in item limit, the entry point might save you the money that would otherwise be spent on items to mask whatever is at the entry point of the base dimension.

Whew!  So, you’ve got a theme, you’ve got a color and music combination you love, and you have an otherwise empty dimension staring back at you.  Now, what?

Here is where running the boundaries comes in handy.  It always depends on personal style, and I prefer smaller areas with a lot of detail over big, empty spaces.  The very first thing I do, before doing any kind of ground layering, is to set my outer limits.  For this, I usually like big rocks, that are friendly with the draw distance.  Some examples of those:  Ember Isle Angular Boulder, Etched Scarwood Boulder, Large Pointed Scarwood Boulder, Grey Mountains, and a mix of all the Ashoran Mountainsides.  Mossy Outcroppings and other rocks can also be used for texture contrast.  Of course, for different themes, different rocks work better, and I won’t try to tell someone what to use, I’ll just say what I always do:  experiment, until you find out what you like best.

For snowy themes, a lot of people recommend the Enormous Tarken Glaciers, and I will admit these are HUGE rocks.  However, from personal experimentation, the draw distance on these is about half what you get with other rocks, so I would use it only in very limited, and very small builds as a boundary.  As a ground layer foundation, however, the size makes it hard to beat!

Tower Meadow makes for great snapshots of ideas.
Tower Meadow makes for great snapshots of ideas.

Speaking of the ground floor…  Now that the boundary is made setting your spatial limits, it’s time to make the actual floor, or foundation layer, of the dimension.  If you’re not planning on adding water features that need to be sunk in, creating this foundation is as easy as throwing down some rocks and finagling them until they’re flat if that’s what you desire.  If you’re adding water features and want to hide the bony edges of your terrace ponds or the rims of other pools, I would still recommend laying the entire foundation, then place your ponds, then pull the rocks that would obstruct the pond.  After that, you can place smaller rocks or your plant growth.  Using this method will actually save items, even though it might take a bit longer, than if you ring your pond with a bunch of rocks and try to shift them to a specific shape.

Mossy Outcroppings comprise the entire ground layer of this Infinity Gate.  I laid the entire floor of outcroppings, then placed the ponds, removed the Outcroppings that would block the water, then lined the edge of the pond with Mossy Boulders to try to attain a more natural effect.
Mossy Outcroppings comprise the entire ground layer of this Infinity Gate. I laid the entire foundation of outcroppings, then placed the ponds, removed the Outcroppings that would block the water, then lined the edges of the pond with Mossy Boulders to try to attain a more natural effect.

Now that you’ve got a boundary and a foundation layer, it’s an easy matter to continue your environmental morph with waterfalls, pathways and trails, and whatever plant growth strikes your fancy.

As always, experimentation and familiarity with items and the UI will be of a greater help than any guide.  But, just in case, here are some more helpful guides about pathing, landscaping, and water features.

Happy Building!

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