Building a World

in Tutorials

By: Lunarea

The world in which your game takes place is very important. It is a frame for your plot, characters and visuals. It can provide you with a wealth of details you can use in NPC conversations. And, more importantly, it makes your game feel more “real”.

This information isn't very useful. The player can tell it's cold from all the snow on the ground.

This information isn’t very useful. The player can tell it’s cold from all the snow on the ground.

Now this is more interesting information! This NPC is not happy with the new King, and he's not afraid to say it. This gives us insight into politics, society and history.

Now this is more interesting information! This NPC is not happy with the new King, and he’s not afraid to say it. This gives us insight into politics, society and history.

But how do you tackle planning out an ENTIRE world? There’s history, geography, politics, sociology, economy and more to worry about. Do you start at the beginning with how the world was created? How much information should you include and how do you incorporate it into the game?

Planning an entire world in one sitting is a daunting task. There are far too many details to cover, and it becomes counter-productive to develop everything at once. Instead, use a building block approach..

Start with what you know – in this case, your basic story/plot:

BuildWorld3Using the example plot, I can come up with the following questions:

  • Who were the ancient gods and why were they imprisoned?
  • How and why did the 3 ruined kingdoms fall?
  • Who are the leaders of the 4 thriving kingdoms, and why do they have the crystals? Why would they give the crystals away?
  • Who wrote the prophecy and how did they come about that knowledge?
  • Who crafted the magical artifacts and who used them to imprison the ancient gods?

The answers to these few questions become the building blocks of the game’s world development. I can choose to leave them: The kings and queens have the crystals because they’re too powerful together. They give them away to the hero because he convinced them of his trustworthiness through completing quests.

Or I can build up on them: the ancient gods were terrible beings that used humans as playthings. They were imprisoned because humans grew to be intelligent and brave. The current religious system puts faith into the Great Consciousness – the place where all ideas and feelings of humanity are born from.

Once you’ve started jotting down the concepts and bits of information, it’s time to organize them.

First thing you might notice is that a lot of your information will fit more than one category. For example, that ancient gods were cruel rulers who oppressed humanity is the kind of information that fits religion, history and politics. Good information tends to flow well together and overlap in many areas.

How do you keep track of it all? One thing that might really help is to create a mind map. There are several free online tools available, but you can also use a notebook or a whiteboard. I, personally, put information on cue cards and tape them to a big poster sheet (or the wall, for the more elaborate worlds). As the world starts to come together, I can move the cards around or replace information that doesn’t fit anymore.

The last step is to figure out ways to implement this information in your game. A lot of the details are useful for enhancing NPC dialogue, or simply including in books on shelves the player can interact with. But you can also take it a step further and incorporate it into visual elements (architecture of buildings, paintings/statues, etc) or gameplay elements (history quiz puzzle, hints for a maze puzzle hero travels through).

Do you use any tools and techniques to keep your world building organized? Tell us in comments!

7 comments… add one

Leave a Comment