Developer Insight: Liyue Chapter
Greetings, Travelers! Do any of you who are stuck at home due to COVID-19 miss the distant scenery outside?
We received a great deal of feedback following the release of our first Developer Insight essay, with many Travelers hoping that we could release some content that introduces the beautiful scenery of Liyue.
In response to these calls, we have been able to invite a member of our art department to explain the thought process behind Liyue's design in detail, using Dihua Marsh as the main reference.
Hello, everyone. I'm Ziyuan from miHoYo's art department. At the request of my colleagues from the marketing department, I've come to explain some of our design principles for the Liyue Region of Teyvat.
Two things lie at the heart of our department's thought process: how to fashion a style during the design process, and how to communicate that aesthetic effectively. Since we are designing Teyvat from the ground up as if it were a living, breathing world, each of the seven nations should have its own style. We want to convey the landscapes and customs of each region. Much like regions and cities in our own world, each of these must be unique yet interlinked, enriched by people living there, and connected by those who come to and fro.
Liyue is precisely such a city, brimming with life and culture. Here, the colors and customs of the East build upon one another to paint an exquisite tapestry, and what we want to do here is to display the finer details of this tapestry to everyone.
Design from Difference
Liyue lies to the south of Mondstadt. Departing from the main gate of Mondstadt, we scale the Windwail Highland, trek through Springvale, pass the Dawn Winery by, and come upon some fascinating terrain. Twin peaks intersect in mid-air, forming what almost appears to be an archway. In-game, those who pass through this area call it the Stone Gate.
When players set off for Liyue from Mondstadt along the mercantile land route, they essentially must all pass through the Stone Gate. It can be seen as a landmark, and it also marks the boundary between the two regions. Thus, the experience of the Stone Gate directly influences the first impression that players will have of Liyue as a region.
Before designing this locale, we first set a direction for that design. We hoped that the Stone Gate could impart upon players the feeling expressed in Tao Yuanming's poem, Peach Blossom Spring: "After a great many steps, a breathtaking scene appears before one's very eyes." Starting from the Stone Gate, the terrain starts to shift, and the architecture along the path gradually becomes more like that of Liyue. As players pass through the Stone Gate, the scenery opens up, and countless beautiful scenes from right out of a Chinese landscape painting — wholly different from those seen in Mondstadt — begin to reveal themselves.
Several of my colleagues and I hail from Southwest China, and not a few times were we reminded of our hometown as we designed the Stone Gate. The world-famous mountains and rivers of our home proved to be the ideal reference material, and after much discussion, it was agreed that the Karst Landforms emblematic of the southwestern regions would be the basis for Liyue's theme.
We brought this style into the game, and began the process of intricately designing mountains and peaks, taking care to remove any trace of human artifice by making each monolith look as natural as possible. This way, we would be able to create the effect of nature set apart, and enhance the naturalness and openness of the gaming experience.
In the initial stages of design, we did consider a canyon-like entrance inspired by the Yixiantian Gap Road (a hiking trail in Southwest China). However, such a narrow strip of road would cause the game experience in this area to be linear and monotonous, so after referencing all sorts of ancient cliff-hewn roads, we finally decided on this design.
Design from Life Experience
The first stop after passing through Liyue's Stone Gate is Dihua Marsh.
The task of designing Dihua Marsh was treated almost as solemnly as the Stone Gate. We imagined the player following a winding path beneath the great monoliths at nighttime, gazing up at the sea of stars shining down. This creates quite a magical mood for their journey, which culminates in their arrival at Dihua Marsh just as dawn is breaking. So Dihua Marsh had to be this first stunning sight that the player sees in the light of day.
This train of thought led us to feel that Dihua must be like the beautiful face that emerges when the veil falls away, capturing the aesthetic of Liyue in its full glory. Thus, the design of this locale became the focus of our research.
The most difficult part of this process was unifying an entire art style. How does one do that? Each person has disparate experiences, interpretations and artistic inclinations, and in working together as a team, a great number of disparate creative directions were also born. One person suggested that we could add in the pines and bamboos of Suzhou, and another felt that a Huizhou-style canal town would be best. Someone else proposed the otherworldly natural beauty of Huanglong in Sichuan, and still another spoke of an unforgettable trip they had once taken, suggesting that the area be lined with roaring rivers and misty lakes... It would be accurate to say that this area became the medium for each person's ideals of "Chinese-style beauty," "the beauty of one's hometown," and "the beauty of the land."
Coming from every corner of the world, having led disparate lives and possessing equally different souls, each of us therefore also had our very own imagined "Dihua Marsh," unlike any other. So even though it eventually took on the form you see today, in our hearts, it has a hundred forms and a thousand faces. It is holy ground, from which infinite imagination springs forth in abundance.
After many stylistic clashes, we finally set on a theme: a fantasy that leans close to real scenery. What the art department wanted to do was to keep the style of Dihua Marsh within the realms of Eastern fantasy art.
After deciding on this general theme, we began to discuss such things as "What sort of beauty is unique to Eastern fantasy?" and "What elements of art can only be found in the East?" We hoped that this land would really make an impression on people. It had to not only be pretty, but also unique, capturing both the artistry and dramatic flair of the East.
After going through huge amounts of relevant material, one piece of imagery jumped out at us: reeds. They often feature in period films, and are usually associated with scenes of austerity and bleakness.
But, could they be something else, we asked? What were reeds to us? What were they to me?
As a person born and bred in Guangxi, my schooldays were spent in Guilin City, and my school itself was but a stone's throw away from Yangshuo County. I would go there to hang out when I was free. Yangshuo is situated to the south of the Guilin city area, and between its rolling hills and towering cliffs, it became a wondrous tourism hotspot. I was at home in Yangshuo, delighting in its peaks and stone forests. Against the backdrop of the Karst landforms, these sights were transformed by water bodies, vegetation, and the interplay of light and shadow in such a way that one almost felt the land itself was a living thing, expressing its emotions through these changes in some inscrutable way.
Juxtaposed against this stone scenery were the reeds that lined the banks of the Nanxu River. At sunset, the warm light would waft across from the far bank, turning the entire world into something right out of a painting. It was a beauty that had to be seen to be believed.
Bai Juyi once wrote in The Song of the Pipa Player: "Bidding goodnight to guests at Xunyang River's edge, while the autumn maple and amur shimmer in the wind." (Though reeds and amur silvergrass are not the same thing, the spaces they occupy in artistic expression are connected.)
For me, that which in isolation creates a sense of austere solitude, yet has elegant magnificence at scale, and encompasses both dramatic and natural beauty — that is the beating heart of Eastern fantasy.
According to this visualization, this area should have an ocean of flowers that springs to life beside water. I was also able to move the wonderful memories of my schooldays onto the terrain simulations we did. Thus were laid the foundations of Dihua Marsh, the core area of northern Liyue.
Eastern beauty is about striking a delicate balance — neither overdoing it, nor underdoing it. Aiming to achieve the same balance of content and empty space characteristic of Chinese landscape paintings, we constructed an array of peaks and stone forests in the distance behind that floral sea. The essence of Dihua Marsh we define as follows: vivid, expressive, and free.
Constantly Iterating on Landmarks
After reaching Dihua Marsh, one of the first things players exploring the area will find is the central structure in this area: Wangshu Inn. Sitting atop a towering pillar of rock, it is Liyue's first landmark piece of architecture.
From early on in the very first IP Design Document, the name "Wangshu Inn" was already a foregone conclusion. The head of the development team hoped that this inn would "soothe those who gaze out at the scenery," which is basically the literal meaning of 'wangshu' in Chinese. Incidentally, Wangshu is also one of the aliases of the moon in traditional Chinese — specifically it alludes to the beauty of the moon goddess. In that sense, the view from Wangshu Inn should capture the enchanting beauty of Liyue as a whole, since the 'yue' of Liyue is the more common Chinese term for the moon.
The reference for its conception was "Dragon Inn," a martial arts film well-loved by everyone in the department. Thus, Wangshu Inn inherited the unique feature of the Dragon Inn: while peaceful and pedestrian on the outside, it is in fact the stage for a fierce clash between "crouching tigers and hidden dragons."*
*The "tigers" and "dragons" here refer to people with hidden or unnoticed special talents. Thus, this idiom refers to people to whom there is more than meets the eye.
Wangshu Inn has an excellent vantage point, to the extent that it could pull double duty as a watchtower. On the one hand, this inn is a place where one can expand one's horizons. At the same time, local legend has it that Wangshu Inn is one of the places where the adepti of Liyue gather, a secret base of operations from which they conduct the extermination of monsters in the surrounding area.
And that's not all. The plateau on which Wangshu Inn is built has its own fair share of history as well. According to the IP documents, in a combination of ancient Chinese myths about the dragon Bixi, the Dihua Marsh of antiquity used to experience seasonal floods. In order to avoid disaster, people would build their homes on large rocks, using them to their advantage against the rising waters, and thus escaping damage from flooding.
At the same time, we also considered that the finished structure should look striking when viewed from afar. After referencing ancient stilted buildings and the Xuankong Temple, the facade of Wangshu Inn also began to take shape.
Wangshu Inn was designed to be a home to many characters who are full of surprises. But on a normal day, it is simply a bustling inn. Inns have always been a hub for people on the move, as well as a place where local culture leaves its indelible marks. So it is with Wangshu Inn, the nexus of human activity from Dihua Marsh to the Guili Plains. From porters delivering goods, to traveling merchants, to adventurers... All sorts of people come here, and their experiences become part of the Inn's history.
During the design process, we at the art department often ask ourselves questions such as: What do the people here do every day? How do they get around? After some discussion with the IP department, we were able to derive behavioral norms and ways of living for characters and NPCs based on the larger story world, which we then used to help us design the details. In the current floorplan of the inn, the platform at its base is a resting spot for porters, bedecked with simple tables and chairs, with some tea on the side for guests. As for the water wheel-powered elevator, it is used to ferry guests and goods up and down the floors.
We took the same approach to the interior design. Namely, we first pictured the NPCs' needs, wants and their state of mind before then using these results to create amenities for them.
The other core functions of an inn are the provision of meals and a place to stay. As such, the inn must have also have a kitchen, in which the cooks prepare food and drinks for the guests.
With spaces to eat and stay comes the need for storage space, and so the inn's interior underwent a renovation along the lines of Xuankong Temple. Once the rock's summit had been hewn out, the living space increased drastically. The kitchen was situated on the bottom floor of the inn, allowing guests at the reception area to gaze down at the busy kitchen, while heading from reception to the second floor would allow one to take in all the sights of Dihua Marsh at a single glance.
So that's a small part of our design concept for the Dihua Marsh area. At present, Liyue is home to many more interesting locales, many of which we are furiously working on as we speak.
We will continue to dig deep and improve on the twin aspects of flair and finesse, and strive toward creating more interesting and top-quality content, in order to bring you a better and more complete experience.
Many thanks to everyone who read up to this point. I'm Ziyuan. Let's meet again sometime!
"Travels Afar" Scenic Spot Collaboration Documentary
One of the most important elements while designing an aesthetic for an open-world game is the topography, which serves as a foundation for all other content.
Inspired by the majestic topography of Zhangjiajie's karst landscapes, we created areas such as Liyue's Jueyun Karst and the entrance to Mt. Tianheng. In this chapter of the documentary, we invite our artists to discuss the creative philosophy behind those locations with you.
The Creative Inspiration for Liyue
Haidi, Environment Art Team Lead: Genshin Impact is an open-world game — we have always viewed Teyvat as a real world we were designing. With seven distinct nations, the natural features of each region and the cultures and customs they represent are the things we wanted to convey. In the initial stages of game design, we decided that one of the regions will be a re-imagining of Chinese motifs through the lens of a fantasy world, and the end result of that is the Liyue that you see now. At present, open-world games with China-inspired features are few and far between. In creating Liyue, we wanted to share our vision of the "Chinese aesthetic" with players around the world. Genshin Impact combines an anime-influenced, cartoonish style that emphasizes a fresh and lively aesthetic with natural features and key elements of culture that evoke China to showcase Liyue's core artistic vision. Then, based on those real-life references points, we infused that artistic vision with fantastical elements to match Genshin Impact's aesthetic and tone.
How Scenery Designers Create the "Chinese-Style Aesthetic"
Haidi, Environment Art Team Lead: One of the most important elements while designing an aesthetic for an open-world game is the topography, which serves as a foundation for all other content. What natural features should have prominence in Liyue to represent the Chinese characteristics in front of the global player base and how to guarantee that those elements would be well-received — those were the central issues that we constantly considered in the early stages. This is why we collected a great deal of visual resources and conducted field research. Through the process of repeated screening and comparison, we finally selected Zhangjiajie as one of our main sources of inspiration.
Qiang Ge, Scenery Concept Artist: What drew us to that area the most, is the inherently fantastical nature of its topography. It looks a bit otherworldly, which is something that can be felt by the local and foreign tourists visiting there as a kind of cognitive consensus. Sandstone is the signature feature of the territory of the Geo Archon, one of Teyvat's Seven Archons, which is very fitting. The vistas of towering sandstone karst forests leave more room for imagination due to being shrouded in swirling clouds. Using a freehand style resembling traditional Chinese "shan shui landscape paintings, we went through a round of concept art and atmosphere sketch creation to make sure that we have achieved exactly the right feeling .
Shang Wei, Zhangjiajie Museum Director: If Zhangjiajie's topography could be described in one sentence, it would be barren mountains become terraces, which become karst walls, then karst forests, and then forest remnants. We can trace the area's development back to this pattern because that pattern is so comprehensive. The representative of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre came here multiple times and after repeated rounds of field research, they called it "Zhangjiajie topography."
Lin Zi, Level Artist: The in-game area of Jueyun Karst is home to Liyue's adepti and Zhangiajie's atmosphere of a thousand towering mountains and swirling clouds is very much in line with the overarching artistic vision we adapted while designing Jueyun Karst. We also made sure to include some key man-made elements like trestle and suspension bridges to embellish the spaces between Liyue's many mountains. While exploring Liyue, players can feel like they are going on a real, unique adventure.
Yan Jiang, Level Artist: The sole path to Liyue Harbor is the entrance of Mt. Tianheng, which was inspired by Tianmen Mountain. Therefore, there is a certain sense of ceremony while you make your way up there. After entering Mt. Tianheng, you unexpectedly find yourself in the trade capital that is Liyue Harbor; such a strong visual and spatial contrast allows Liyue's rich natural and man-made elements to stand out even more.
It has been said that "Guilin has the best scenery in the world". In our eyes, this beauty lies not just in the sprawling mountains and winding rivers, but also in the fishing boats, the brick houses, smoking chimneys, and fishermen's songs. Guilin's landscapes and cultural elements played a huge role in inspiring the creation of one of Liyue's iconic areas, Dihua Marsh.
It is our greatest wish to create an open world that players will want to spend time exploring and immersing themselves in, and we will always keep striving towards that goal.
Cultural Elements in Open-World Game Design
Haidi, Environment Art Team Lead: In Genshin Impact, natural scenery is the basis of the open world but the other side of the player's experience ss the cultural elements, which create a sense of immersion. Creating a compelling cultural atmosphere is important to helping the player to embrace the game world. The architecture, the cultural landscape, and the human civilization that inhabits it must create the right atmosphere for the characters and their stories. These are all things we need to consider when designing environments. These cultural details add depth and vibrance to the world, bringing it to life. The player will join the dots in their mind as they explore the world and this minimizes any sense of loneliness. How to apply cultural elements so that they blend in with nature may look simple, but making everything fit seamlessly is very difficult. The more natural something is, the harder it is to make it look natural and achieving the right degree of fantastical in a fantasy world is also very challenging. Preventing things from looking out of place while still staying true to our artistic vision took a lot of trade-offs and fine-tuning during the creative process.
What was the creative process for Liyue's cultural atmosphere?
Qiangge, Environment Concept Artist: Many in China say that Guilin has the best scenery in the world. For me, Guilin's beauty lies not just in the sprawling mountains and winding rivers but also in the fishing boats, the brick houses, smoking chimneys, and fishermen's songs and the reeds swaying against the stone scenery on both sides of the river. Reeds often feature in period films; they possess dramatic significance and natural beauty. As you gaze at them, you begin to feel that the ground itself is alive and is trying to communicate its mood to you.
Tang Chunsong, Guilin Museum - Director: Guilin was settled by humans a very long time ago. It dates back 30,000 years, to prehistoric times. Guilin is a place where the Zhongyuan culture and the Lingnan culture met and blended. The culture here is largely influences by the Anhui region. Even today, you can see "Diaojiaolou" in Longsheng which are a kind of stilt house. This kind of building is well-adapted to the local culture and to the local climate. It exists in harmony with the geographical conditions and to the natural scenery.
Luo Jianzhang, Guilin Culture, Broadcasting, TV and Tourism Bureau - Researcher: Guilin's culture and scenery are inseparable; the mountain faces are covered in inscriptions. So hiking in the mountains is like reading a history book. I thought that a game set in the heart of Guilin would turn out looking beautiful. Vistas featuring the geography and landforms of Guilin would showcase China's best scenery to the world.
Qiangge: After a thorough review of many resources, we infused Guilin's unique scenery and culture into the design of an iconic part of Liyue, namely, Dihua Marsh.
Jason, Level Artist: Dihua Marsh is the first environment that the player sees when they leave Mondstadt and pass through the Stone Gate. It is their first impression of Liyue. It reconstructs the prominent features of Guilin's landscape, namely the water and the mountains. The presence of flat-bottomed boats and fishing huts paints a picture of local life before our eyes. The signature building in Dihua Marsh is Wangshu Inn. It adopts features of Guilin architecture and also the sense of "there's more to this place than meets the eye" as captured in the film "Dragon Inn."
Lu Yang, Level Artist: As designers, we constantly asked ourselves: What do people here do during the day? What are their lives like? As the game now shows, the area downstairs is or porters and merchants to rest mid-journey. There are some tables and chairs and tea for the guests. Next to this is a waterwheel-powered elevator to transport people and goods.
Yanjiang, Level Artist: In some places, we went into great detail; in others, we left room for the player's imagination. For example, there is a sunken statue on the mountain behind Liyue Harbor. As the player walks past these small bridges, they may wonder what happened here in the past.
What gave us the greatest sense of achievement during the creative process?
Yanjiang, Level Artist: For our own ideas and work, to break the boundaries of fantasy and reality — that is something worth getting excited about. For example, being able to touch a statue of the Geo God in real life would make one reminisce about the first time they did so in Liyue. Seeing the animated discussion between players, witnessing their surprise as they come across a beautiful scene; the thoughts they have, the things they remember as they explore buildings and ruins — it is very satisfying to watch. To create an open world that players wish to spend time exploring and immersing themselves in is our greatest wish and the goal we will always keep striving towards.
As the only perfectly-preserved plateau wetland in China, Huanglong's complex and diverse ecosystem has provided excellent reference material for us. Its mysterious and magnificent multicolored pools also served as the inspiration for Luhua Pool.
How to Make an Open World "Real"
Haidi, Environment Art Team Lead: Making an open world game feel realistic starts with making sure that it consistently follows laws in its very own complete, closed ecosystem creating a little world that functions by itself. You are a traveler visiting this little world. Whether a game's ecosystem is successful or not isn't necessarily something players will notice at first but it certainly impacts their game experience over a long period of time. So, when we created the environment of Genshin Impact, we adhered to a comprehensive system of laws to design the climate, vegetation, and creatures of each region as well as the cultures and civilizations within these environments. This makes everything come together as one whole — connected by a complete framework.
Bu Yiding, Environment Concept Artist: When gathering materials for creative inspiration, the scenery of Huanglong really left a deep impression on us. The iconic travertine waterfalls became the model for Liyue's Luhua Pool. This kind of dreamlike essence makes the style of the region quite distinct. We also found that Huanglong's high altitude and ecological diversity provided an excellent reference for our game.
Sun Haiqin, Chinese National Geography Expert: I'm very familiar with Huanglong because I used to go there to conduct field work almost every year. Although Huanglong is located at a very high altitude, its biological diversity has been protected very well. Some rare, protected plant species grow there such as orchids, katsura trees, and snow lotus. There are also some rare animals. You can find pandas and snow leopards in high-altitude regions.
Liu Yan, Environment Concept Artist: The Huanglong Nature Reserve is a kind of rich haven for precious wild flora species. We used Huanglong as one of the blueprints for the overall planning of Liyue's ecosystem. Liyue's climate has characteristics similar to that of China's southwest with four distinct seasons, including warm springs and cool autumns. The design of Liyue is influenced by the Geo element with scenery based on warm colors. For Liyue's vegetation, we used poplars as creative reference. At higher elevations in Liyue are pagoda trees while bamboo, plum trees, and ginkgo trees grow on the plains and riverbanks. There are wild creatures often found among the rocky cliffs, like cranes and lizards as well as various crabs and fish in rivers. This combination of more realistically-designed species and more imaginative flora and fauna forms the unique ecosystem of Liyue.
Haidi, Environment Art Team Lead: My personal favorite thing to do is sit down by the waterfalls underneath a sky at sunset as red as autumn leaves, listening to the flowing water and chirping birds. It makes one forget about everything else and just get lost in that moment. The entire creative team, from early white-box testing to concept art design, then to resources production and map editing by level artists and also the final overall building of the environment — we spent one year on all of this. Looking at the final product, we basically met our inital expectations but there are still many aspects that can be improved. Designing Liyue and Mondstadt has brought our entire team many lessons and much experience. I'm sure we will be able to bring everyone even better creations in the future.
Bai Xinggui, Huanglong Nature Reserve - Deputy Director, Marketing Office: There are 3,000 pools at Huanglong nestled in a random yet graceful pattern amongst the snowy peaks. I hope this cooperative project with Genshin Impact conveys to players all over the world our shared commitment to environmental protection and shows the natural beauty preserved by such commitment. After going to visit so many incredible scenic landscapes, I still have a hope. I hope that the vivid ecological environments in Genshin Impact not only add to the open world experience for players but also inspire everyone to go visit nature themselves, as well as protect nature.