World Building

A brief comparison:

  • Level Designers look at a picture and immediately appreciate the form and proceed towards generating a gameplay structure to support for it.
  • A world designer looks at the picture, identifies the locals and starts thinking bigger towards the context of the snapshot, the location, the historical context of it.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
  • This would serve as a cool PVP map for CS:GO
  • This would make an excellent HL2 map
  • Sure! It looks cool but let’s dig further
  • This is from Rothenburg ob der Tauber — a town in Germany

Form follows function

  • The function that the player attributes to the space — Player centrism
  • The function that the inhabitants of the space subject the space too — World Centrism.
  • The design of an object might dictate a function but the users might use it for other things as well, thus opening the avenue for larger possibility spaces, player expression, systemic interactions, emergent gameplay.
  • The player avatar is a product of this environment
  • The world can exist outside of the player presence
  • The function attributed to the world feature relates more to how it’s inhabitants as a whole population group (including the player) choose to settle, develop and exist within this world.
  • The player is a participant but not a mover and shaker.
  • There will be player stories and memorable moments however they will sprout more from the systemic nature of the universe and the context of the world rather then them being custom tailored specifically for the player.


  • What the world is?
  • How does it look?
  • What happens there?

What this is not:

What this is:

Write this down!

  • Ask Questions!
  • Ask many many questions!
  • Be annoying with your questions!
  • Make your map, locations, block-outs the result of asking many many many questions about where, when, how the thing your are building should be.
  • Build a tapestry of answers and identify where your map fits into it.

World Building

You have to do it!

Macro to Micro

  • Big Data Chunks first
  • Break those chunk into smaller bits
  • Break those chunk into smaller bits.

Chunk 1

Geography, Weather, Biomes, Map

Tone and Theme

  • Geographical features
  • Weather patterns
  • Climate
  • Types of biomes that might exist in the context of such a climate
  • If you are building a Water World you don’t want to add things that stray too far from that context.

Chunk 2

World population:

  • What sort of Flora Exists in such an environment?
  • What kind of fauna can we encounter here?
  • Are there any interesting relationships between geography, weather, climate and what kind of things leave there?
  • What about the people? How do they adapt to these conditions
The Yakut People
Lost tribes in Patagonia

Chunk 3

Culture, Religion, Social Structure, Politics

  • What are their habits?
  • What about their religion?
  • What is their social structure?

Chunk 4

Social Fabric

  • What resources do they have available?
  • What kind organization and politics are they driving?
  • Are there other factions involved? Aim for Drama?
  • How are these factions relating to each other?
  • How is this relationships dictated by their culture?
  • Culture shock? How did the Germanic People see and react to the Roman attempts to conquer them?

Chunk 5

Society/Civilization/Tech Scales

  • Are we talking about Paleolithic Hunter Gatherers, Druids, Roaming Hordes, Feudal Lords, Wealthy Industrialists, Lower Class Dock Workers?
  • Try to define for how long this culture has existed, how did they cope? How did they survive? Do they have allies and enemies?
  • Etc.
Types of Societies and Types of Civilizations

World Bible

Video Game Development

The Map

  • Build your map and define all critical bits.
  • Think about the size of world.
  • Manpower — How many people do you have in your team?
  • Technology — Can your engine support your ambitions?

Location, Location, Location

Landmarks, Points of Interest

Side Shows and Detours

The Player

World as a Theme Park

  • Explore and Discover
  • Observe and Plan
  • Interact and Execute Plan

The Master Plan

Mafia 3 Berlin Blockout
Division 2 — Washington DC.

Build the Game

Closing notes!



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Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Senior Open World Designer. #Leveldesign #Open World #Design @notimetoulose.