Designing a World – Lessons Learned

3 February 2015

If there’s one thing we all know about adventure games, it’s that they depend heavily on characters, story, and an interesting location. Ideally, they’re not just games, they’re new worlds to explore. So, how do you design one effectively?

This is a lesson I’ve had to learn a lot about lately. In my previous games, the setting was always in the real world. I didn’t have to do a whole lot of work because the places were real: they had history I could draw upon and add my own elements to, but most of the hard bit was already done for me. With Shardlight, I’ve had to design a world from the ground up, which has proven to be more challenging than I could ever have expected.

It’s easy enough to say “okay, this is a city and this is happening and there’s these types of people living here,” but sometimes that might not be enough to be convincing. For example: I designed a puzzle that requires the character to travel to an abandoned factory, but aside from seeing that it was abandoned and having an item necessary to the puzzle in it, there was really nothing else to make it feel like a real place. It could just as easily have been an empty field with said item in it, that’s how boring it was. At Dave’s suggestion, I went back and wrote a very basic story for it, and just doing that has made the place way more interesting and tie into the world much better. It now feels like a place with a purpose that can be explored, rather than a perfunctory room in an adventure game.

This is why it’s not just enough to write the story of your game, it’s extremely important to write the story of your world and what happened before the events of your game. My main concern is overdoing it. You don’t want to have a world with such a rich lore and history that it takes hours to just establish why your main character’s house has a leak in the roof. One thing I’ve learned is that not everything needs a complex backstory. Life is mundane, and parts of your environment can be too. Of course, don’t make it TOO mundane, or else you might as well be walking around exploring your own world rather than escaping to one in a game.

So long story short: figure out where your story takes place and write a little history for it. It’s fun to create a world from scratch because you can do whatever you like! Remember that the majority of what you write won’t actually wind up in your game, but having it in your mind is of the utmost importance to create a convincing world.


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1 Response

  1. Brandon on 23/05/15 @ 10:50 am

    I ran into the same issue. I’m designing a world and realized that I need a pretty rich history of the environment, including the people’s way of like. For instance how they acquire food, basic social structures, etc. It’s really fun though and makes it that much easier to create the art and story. Some parts are mundane as you say, so I’m not sure if I really need to add a bathroom anywhere! haha