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A brief comparison:

One of the things that I see going around lately is the focus that junior and amateur level designers put into building block-outs and showcasing them around without any concern context context and/reference references to what the layout in question is grounded in.

  • 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.
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Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
  • This would make an excellent HL2 map
  • This is from Rothenburg ob der Tauber — a town in Germany
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Form follows function

To quote Alice Rawsthorn from here New Yorker: The Demise of ‘Form Follows Function’ York Times article in 2009:

  • 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.
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  • 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.

Context

Context is very important. Perhaps it is more important then anything else. A map might play great and look absolutely fantastic but if it doesn’t fit the context of the game your are building then you might find it on the short list of cut features.

  • How does it look?
  • What happens there?
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What this is not:

In this post I am not going to tell how to understand what the vision of the game you are working on is. That’s something you will have to do by yourself with your vision holders, since it’s a lot more about how much effort you put into understanding it rather then being told what it is.

What this is:

What I am going to do however is try to illustrate what the world building process could be, and how you can tap into it when you are looking for a solution to your level design problem.

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Write this down!

Before we start please take a moment to note this down. I know! I know! I have said it many times before, but it’s worth repeating:

  • 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.
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World Building

Definition:

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You have to do it!
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Macro to Micro

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  • Break those chunk into smaller bits
  • Break those chunk into smaller bits.

Chunk 1

Geography, Weather, Biomes, Map

This chunk determines what your world looks like, what the particularities of the weather are, what sort of biomes it might contain and it most definitely comes with an early draft of the map (very high level, since details at this point are less important).

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Tone and Theme

It’s important to establish a tone and theme to your world pretty early on however since this might serve as a target for where your world is suppose to go.

  • Weather patterns
  • Climate
  • Types of biomes that might exist in the context of such a climate
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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
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The Yakut People
Lost tribes in Patagonia
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Chunk 3

Culture, Religion, Social Structure, Politics

So it’s very important to think about how various patterns and shift in temperature, altimetry, climate, vegetation, so far and fort can influence the development of the people living in your setting.

  • What about their religion?
  • What is their social structure?
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Chunk 4

Social Fabric

Obvious it helps if you can figure out how their social fabric is structured:

  • 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?
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Chunk 5

Society/Civilization/Tech Scales

Obviously it’s very important to try to define the level of technology a certain culture might have:

  • 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.
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Types of Societies and Types of Civilizations

World Bible

Try to condense all this information in a world bible or a one pager. Something easy to reference that encompasses all the relevant information's that you need to understand your world.

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Video Game Development

The Map

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  • Think about the size of world.
  • Technology — Can your engine support your ambitions?

Location, Location, Location

Think about the Locals where that you might visit in the context of your world.

Landmarks, Points of Interest

Articulate these places into Landmarks and Points of interest. The players will move between these places based on how attractive they will seem.

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Side Shows and Detours

Thing about sideshows, detours and encounters in order to break up the pace.

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The Player

The player is a trickster. His job is to explore it and mess around with its systems in order to master it.

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World as a Theme Park

Look at the world a Theme Park that would allow the player to:

  • Observe and Plan
  • Interact and Execute Plan
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The Master Plan

Make sure your Master Plan is well defined and organized to track all the various types of information defined by the above investigation.

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Mafia 3 Berlin Blockout
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Division 2 — Washington DC.

Build the Game

With this you build your game.

Closing notes!

This might seem like a simplistic approach, and it probably is. The realities of game development are in most cases a lot more complex then this, but I hope this can give you a glimpse into what world design is and who you handle it in as part of Video Game Development.

Written by

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Lead LD @MachineGames. #Leveldesign. All my opinions are my own. @notimetoulose.

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