In the real world - in Northern Britain particularly, but I think this holds for many other places - there are three essential layouts of rural communities:
- Non-nucleated settlements, where dwellings are scattered at least tens of metres apart over quite a wide area; highland crofting settlements are typically of this form.
- Nucleated settlements, where dwellings are grouped closely around a central feature such as a village green or a pond; villages of this form are typically older villages, especially in areas of Anglian settlement. Rhonehouse is a good example locally.
- Linear settlements, which are a special case of nucleated settlements, where dwellings line the sides of an (often broad) street. These settlements typically are medieval in origin and reflect the runrig agricultural pattern - each house had inbye land stretching back from the street. Moffat, Lochmaben and Thornhill are local examples.
|Stamfordham, Northumberland: a typical nucleated settlement centred around a village green. Field boundaries to the north give clear evidence of runrig agriculture, while the south side shows the growth of closes and alleys.|
In creating a mechanism for settling a convincing, naturalistic virtual world, these patterns need to be born in mind. This is complicated by a number of issues which are driven by technology (and perhaps by my lack of skill and imagination); I want to avoid as far as possible technological issues introducing visible artefacts into the virtual world.
Currently I'm working on a grid of 100 metre square cells. This isn't ideal at all, but it's simple and at the stage I'm at in developing algorithms that simplicity helps. But naturally, things people build are not always square and certainly not always aligned to a north/south grid.
|Dunvegan, Skye, a non-nucleated settlement. Dwellings are set on their individual crofts, scattered across the landscape.|
One of these cells becomes the inn yard, where the inn and its outbuildings are sited. One adjoining the inn yard becomes 'urban open space', which can't be built on - it's rendered as a village green until the village reaches a certain size, then paved square. If possible the 'urban open space' cell will be placed to border both the inn yard cell and a cell designated as 'road'. Other cells from the farm are designated as 'urban'.
Similarly, when an aristocrat settles, he will reserve one cell for his castle, one for a 'market place', and four more as urban; a market place will subclass an urban open space and so will prefer to be located adjacent to an existing road. The castle will normally be on a hilltop, except where there is a river crossing, which would be a preferred site.
There's probably some algorithm I could find which would lay out wee twisty streets and arterial roads in a naturalistic fashion... If cells which are designated 'road' adjoining 'urban' cells get redesignated as 'arterial', that's probably a good first step. Arterial cells have dwelling plots lined either side of a broad street, and one lane off either side. An arterial cell alongside an 'urban open space' may have no dwellings on the side towards the 'urban open space', giving in effect of a larger urban open space. Land use types 'urban open space', 'arterial' and possibly others will subclass 'urban', or share a common interface.
|Kirkinner, Wigtownshire: a linear settlement.|
As a tweak, it's possible that urban cells adjacent to water cells could become dock cells.
A number of pre-planned (that is, designed) ground plans will be created for 'urban' cells, such that they will tessellate together to give an impression of irregularity. Urban cells have up to twelve dwellings per cell. Dwellings in urban (and arterial and 'city wall' cells, see below) are erected in preplanned locations within the ground plan - generally, facing the most significant street which abuts the plot.
Although urban cells have plots for twelve dwellings, they won't automatically be occupied. Rather, a new craftsman setting up shop will occupy a free plot in an existing urban cell, and will only create a new urban cell if there are no free plots available. In selecting a plot, the available plot with most occupied neighbours will be chosen.
Where more than a critical number - say 15 - urban cells are clustered together, the outermost will become 'town wall' cells. An outermost arterial cell will become a 'town gate' cell. Again, preplanned ground plans for 'city wall' cells will be created, with wall models. These will be designed to fit together in ways which are not obviously square and grid-aligned.
There is a slight problem with this which is that to get to town wall status would take at least 180 households, which is quite a lot for my game economy; this implies walled towns will be relatively uncommon, which is fair enough. However if, as a slight fudge, journeymen and soldiers each have their own dwelling instead of living in their employers' dwelling, the number of households will grow faster.
Buildings in urban cells will just be genetic buildings like anywhere else, except that the fact of being in an urban cell should give an emphasis to building upward. Arterial cells will promote taller buildings even more strongly than other urban cells.