The Design of SkunkWks

SkunkWks is a P-30 sized world (600 x 600 meters of buildable area). I one day wish to have three stacked zones. The main zone, at about 0 meters altitude, will be the woods, streams, ponds, caverns, and buildings that most visitors will come to see. Below that, will be the secret laboratory, deep underground at about -300 meters altitude (the Mole Man level). The third level will be at about +300 meters altitude, and will showcase my objects (the Oz level).


It was some time in 2002 when several things came together to inspire me to abandon the secret laboratory under the desert theme of the original SkunkWks, and try to create a pretty world for people to visit. Two of the strongest influences were: The movie Shrek . I loved the landscapes, particularly the forests . And a five-minute short produced by ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) called Work In Progress . Which is a CG movie clip about three odd characters in an even stranger virtual world, who create fantastic creatures. At one time ILM had removed Work In Progress from their website, but it is back up now. Also note, this little movie is over 47 MB in size, but well worth it if you have the bandwidth.

Around April of 2003, I started writing what was later to become Bot Story. The world drives development of the story, and the story drives development of the world. There is a lot I must learn and do, to create a world that resembles the story. Also, with my schedule and all the projects I’m involved in—including writing the story—development of the world is slow.


Geographic feature size in SkunkWks is based on a 2.5-meter grid. Some day I’d like to implement the terrain as a blend of the built-in terrain (10 meter grid) for the gently sloped areas, and a few optimized terrain “;tiles”; (RWX objects) for the edges of the waterways, cliffs, and paths.

Elevation key

I used Leveller to create the heightfield data used to generate the terrain objects, and to output the map. To the left is a small elevation key showing the color-coding for relative altitudes (highest is 21.35 meters, lowest is -11.5 meters). The colors of the main map are muted because they are overlaid with a transparent texture showing the features: the locations for the world’s borders, water, and pathways.

The green square is the buildable limit of SkunkWks, the P-30 border. The black square is the limit of the terrain objects; they overhang by 50 meters. I’m not quite done designing the pathways. Pathways are sculpted into the terrain, and carry a different texture than the surrounding land.

Place names and building locations have been painted onto this map, detailed descriptions below.

A heightfield map of SkunkWks, with added notation

The following section—indeed all of this page—is about what I’d like to see in SkunkWks someday. Some of this will be very difficult to achieve, for example a bot that can determine how a human visitor feels, nervous, relaxed, etc., and modify its behavior to the situation. For example, rob them at sword point or invite them back to camp for a pint. VR is about fantasy, so relax and imagine.

The size of the typical tree in SkunkWks is massive, very large old growth wood. In reality, I have explored woods with very large trees. There is a wood near The University of Santa Cruz, in California, of mixed redwood and Douglas fir, with tan oak around the edges. The trees are so big and so tall, they block out an amazing amount of sunlight. On several occasions I’ve wandered into these woods around noon and within 30 minutes I’m nervously looking at my watch, thinking that sunset is near—it was a long hike back to the car. In one place, a large Douglas fir had fallen across a ravine. The trunk was as wide as a single-lane driveway, and was so long, the center was 90 feet above the bottom of the ravine. A wood with trees this large has a feeling of peace, security, and permanence. In short, an old growth forest of very large, ancient trees is a grand thing!

Central Clearing (1)

 This is the point where visitors entering SkunkWks touch down. A network of well-trodden paths leads off in all directions. Greeters will be Milliscent, who is first bot, and often times one or two of the ferret bots can be found doing greeter duty as well.

Choblyn Wood

 This wood of oak, ash and thorn, which lies along the north edge of the world, is enchanted and inhabited by the Fae (magical creatures). The feel and function of this wood was inspired by the poem The Woods Of Westermain by English playwright George Meredith.

These woods will be a bit dark and tangled in spots. The Fae bots will serve to give SkunkWks a bit of an edge. Shy around groups of visitors they may converse with the lone traveler, but the Fae have a playful streak and sometimes teleport visitors to random locations in the wood, or play other tricks on them. The Fae avoid confrontation with strangers along the southwest edge of their wood, however they will grow bolder as the visitor ventures deeper into their realm.

There is a formal garden in Choblyn Wood, with a central fountain and pool (13) made of white marble. The garden is tended by the smaller Fae, who consider it important to their social life. It is a popular spot for visitors, despite the risk of a confrontation with the Fae.

The Fae consists of several species: faeries, piskies, and fauns. The faeries and piskies do not get along with the ferrets, having been mistaken for birds and mice in the past. The result is that these smaller Fae harass any ferret foolish enough to enter their wood.

Canyon Ariannu

 There is a mix of very large sycamore and cottonwood trees in the bottom of this canyon. The sides are stair-stepped limestone cliffs, and a predominant path runs streamside—this path is the quickest way to get to The Center For Advanced Stuff from the central clearing. This canyon is cool with partial shade and some underbrush growing up the sides. There is also the partly hidden entrance (14) to a natural limestone cavern here.

River Ariannu

 This is the main river in SkunkWks. Its headwaters are a pair of spring fed ponds: Ariannu’s Well (2) and the ferrets’ pond (4).

White Wood

 This wood is a safe place to visit, unless you happen to be a rodent or a bird, see chapters 2, 5, 6, and 8 of Bot Story. Three major structures lie in this wood: The Center For Advanced Stuff (2), the ferrets’ hole (3), and The Creation Workshop (4). The predominant species of tree in this wood is the sycamore; a large tree with cream-colored bark overlaid with large gray and tan patches. The sycamore has hand-sized, light green leaves which let through a fair amount of sunlight. This wood is a pleasant place to visit, with an open, park-like feel. Hence, the name “;White Wood”; is based on the general appearance of sycamore bark, and the open lightness of the area. This wood and the lake to the south, is the social center of SkunkWks.

The ferret bots are the main inhabitants of this area, along with Milliscent (first bot), who generally roams everywhere. The ferrets are party animals, one of them being a brew master, and they love music and dancing. However the ferrets are pirates and thieves and may try to shake down anyone who acts like prey. Although only three to four feet tall while standing on their hind legs, they are bold, tenacious, and fearless. A relaxed air of confidence on the part of the visitor will result in ready acceptance by the ferrets, and may result in an invitation to their camp and all the dark ale you care to drink. As Milliscent says, “;Never forget, you are neither rodent nor bird.”;

The Lake

 (unlabelled on the map) can be considered a part of White Wood. It is one of the focal points of social life in SkunkWks. Swimming, boating, fishing, and just plain messing about are all common activities. This lake needs a name.

There is a vortex (5) at the western end of the lake, where the water drains underground. One may ride the vortex down and eventually end up in a cavern with a smaller lake. From there, the water drains through a metal grating and flows to parts unknown. A short tunnel leads from this underground lake to an elevator directly below The Creation Workshop (4). Also, a maze of twisty passages leads from the subterranean lake and eventually comes out at the cavern entrance (12) located in the NW Canyon.

There are several swimming beaches at the lake, the one where the egret bot (formerly named Don Key in Book 1) hangs out to sell ice cream novelties from his cart, is near the east end (6). Another swimming beach is on the north shore, a bit east of the island. Fishing is excellent along the southern shore and off the east and south sides of the island.

The Firs

 A narrow strip of woodland along the southern edge of SkunkWks. Many of the trees were lost when the swamp formed, which happened when the ground sank and water bubbled up, drowning the trees there. The main purpose of this wood (at least the eastern end of it) is to serve as a buffer for Sundor Forest. The tiger bots are not fond of getting sap in their fur, so they mostly avoid this area, allowing semi-safe passage for visitors to go to the rock quarry (8). This wood is dark and quiet. For centuries, forest litter has been accumulating beneath the trees, it is thick, soft, and aswarm with insects and other small arthropods.

The name of this wood leaves a bit to be desired, if anyone has a suggestion for a better name, I’m all ears. Think old, many of these trees first pushed shoot skyward over a millennium ago.

The Swamp

 Naming a swamp after a New Zealand mystery writer is too silly, therefore I need a real name for this place. Read the description and see if anything comes to mind.

Long ago, the land here sank and water bubbled up, drowning the trees. Small islands (some unstable) dot the area, and a few islands have weeping willow trees (which are far more water-tolerant than firs). The area between the islands is a swamp of algae choked waterways overlying deep muck. Bubbles of some foul gas, generated by unknown processes deep within the muck, will occasionally break the surface with loud “;plop”;. Despite this, the swamp explodes with life: fishes, reptiles, amphibians, insects, leaches, birds, and plants are everywhere. On many days a mist hangs close to the ground. This is not a particularly inviting place to visit, and it smells a little too interesting for most people’s noses. Plus, if one does not know exactly where to step, one could end up trapped in deep muck, or worse.

There is a trail leading into the swamp at its western edge. This trail leads to the largest stable island where a very large hollow tree is home (7) to the swamp bot Bluto. He is a bipedal amphibian, a sort of slimy green version of Barney The Dinosaur. Unlike Barney, Bluto is cranky and does not like visitors, and will chase people out of his swamp. A second bot lives in the swamp with Bluto, a tall anthropomorphic white egret (who needs a name). While it is Bluto’s purpose in life to eject people from the swamp, it is the egret’s job to hang out at the lake and sell visitors ice cream novelties from his cart (6). Interestingly, the egret seems to have an understanding with the ferrets, whom do not view him as potential prey. Perhaps he looks too silly for them to consider him as a real bird.

Stone Quarry (8)

 The quarry is just a big hole in the ground, carved into the limestone to supply stone for the castle. There are a few rotting shacks where the (human) slaves lived along the western side of the pit, and the bottom is littered with rusting tools and trash. Rainwater collects in the deep area, near the southern end. This area is creepy at night and may be haunted by the spirits of murdered slaves.

Sundor Forest

 This is a ruined wood. The men who used to live here have cut almost all the old growth trees. The largest trees are along the western edge, and there are plenty of smaller trees in the bottom of the valley (shown on the map). A few specimen trees and the remnants of an orchard lie in the eastern part of this wood. The rest of the land is covered in open fields with scattered scrub. The tigers have been planting and tending a few seedlings in the eastern part of this area.

A pair of tiger bots lives in this area, off the abundant deer and other wildlife in SkunkWks, and the occasional lone visitor. The purpose of these bots is to give a dangerous undertone to SkunkWks. They can be reasoned with, but if they are hungry, and you are alone, your fate will be a grim one. The tigers and the ferrets get along quite well, both being strict carnivores they understand each other. Since they do not have any overlap in prey species, there is no competition between them.

Sundor Valley

 This has a nice waterfall described in chapter 11 of the story, and the streamside area is choked with smaller trees and brush. The headwater is the well (spring) in the mens’ walled village (10), at the heart of Sundor Forest. There is a stone bridge across the narrow (north) end of the valley, which ties the village (10) and the castle (9) together.

Canyon NE

 The character of this canyon is similar to the other canyon (stair-stepped limestone cliffs, large trees growing by the water’s edge, and a trail). The headwater of this canyon is the fountain (spring) in Choblyn Wood. This is potentially a dangerous place because the tigers don’t exactly get along peacefully with some of the Fae (the fauns) living in Choblyn Wood. However, with luck one may travel the entire length of this canyon without encountering either species. What to name this canyon? It needs a proper name as well.

Not only the canyon, but the creek in the bottom of this canyon needs a name. It could share its name with the canyon.

The Future

At some point I will expand SkunkWks to a P-50, which will add a ring of land four times as wide as the space between the green and black squares on the map. Most of the current zones will simply grow larger: Choblyn Wood, White Wood, The Swamp, and Sundor Forest.

The zone to the south and west of the lake will probably become something different. I’m considered a hilly area with scattered trees and plenty of grazing area. There will possibly be a creek that flows through this area (from a spring) and into the southwest corner of the lake. Who will live here? Possibly anthropomorphic coyotes who live tribally in rough huts and hut whatever grazes on the hills. They should be reasonably friendly, I think.

The zone to the south and east of the stone quarry will feature a few mesas, much like the one directly west of the quarry. The Firs will probably extend into this area. What sort of creatures will live here? I’m not really sure, but it will probably be at least a semi-safe area to visit, unlike Sundor Forest.

Sparkle’s words echo in my ears, “;If we had dragons in SkunkWks we could go a thieving their hoard too. That would be a proper adventure!”; But where do I put a dragon in SkunkWks? And how to protect it and the ferrets from each other? I may create a mountain with a proper nest for a flying dragon, out a kilometer or more from the edge of SkunkWks. The dragon bot could come swooping over SkunkWks now and then (perhaps to snag a cow or deer) and get the ferrets and the visitors all worked up. Anyone attempting to find the dragon’s lair would need to hike across a flat, treeless plain, and thereby be horridly exposed to the predations of the dragon.

Task List

A Better Way to do Terrain

 Leveller to DEM2RWX to either the built-in terrain or terrain tiles is either too limited or too “;laggy”;. I’ve been hand editing the RWX terrain tiles, but I estimate it would take about a thousand hours of actual work to complete. I really need a custom piece of software.

New Tree Objects

 Nothing I’ve seen so far is what I have envisioned. I’ve finally started on this project (mid April, 2004).

New Avatars with Sequences

 I need a personal avatar, I need avatars for the bots, I need the cowboy and cowgirl avatars (I plan on opening SkunkWks to tourists when it is ready to show), and I want ILM inspired avatars for general use (Mr. Industrial, Mr. Light, and Miss Magic). For other general use avatars some of the Mega Path avatars look pretty good. And of course I need to do other humanimals avatars.

Bot Programming

 I’ve fiddled around with bots now and then. I need to get serious and try to create something worthwhile.

Other Objects

 I need to complete the following objects: The castle set, Hobbit hole set, docks & bridges set, and hex-house set (to be used for The Center For Advanced Stuff). I also need to make the Creation Workshop model (as seen in Work In Progress). Plus whatever else comes up for which I cannot find a suitable existing model.


Projects for SkunkWks with pages of resources I’ve gathered for these projects. Some of these pages will require a login (copyrighted material).