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How to Design an Interesting Game World: A Step-by-Step Guide
Game worlds are one of the most fascinating and immersive aspects of video games. They are the places where we explore, discover, interact, and create our own stories. But how do you design a game world that is engaging, believable, and fun? In this article, we will cover some of the basics of game world design, from the types and purposes of game worlds to the benefits and challenges they pose. We will also look at some examples of great game worlds in video games and what makes them memorable. Whether you are a beginner or an expert in game design, this article will help you learn more about the art and science of creating game worlds.
Types of Game Worlds
Before we dive into the details of designing a game world, let's first define what a game world is. According to game studies theorist Jesper Juul, a game world is "an artificial universe, an imaginary place in which the events of the game occur" . Not all games have a game world; some games are abstract or based on real locations. However, many games create their own fictional settings that have their own rules, logic, and aesthetics.
Juul also identifies five main types of game worlds based on how they relate to the rules and fiction of the game . These are:
Abstract games: games that do not represent something else, either in their pieces or in their entirety. These games are focused on the rules and mechanics, with little or no narrative or aesthetic elements. Examples: Tetris, Chess, Sudoku.
Iconic games: games with individual components that have iconic meaning, but have no fiction as a whole. These games use symbols or images to represent something else, but do not create a coherent story or setting. Examples: Cards, Checkers, Minesweeper.
Incoherent world games: games that express a fiction, but are impossible to explain without referring to the rules. These games have a story or a setting, but they also have elements that break the immersion or logic of the world. Examples: Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Pac-Man.
Coherent world games: games in which the rules are integrated within the fiction, and most (if not all) of the game can be explained without referring to the rules. These games create a consistent and believable world that supports the gameplay and narrative. Examples: The Legend of Zelda, Half-Life, The Elder Scrolls.
Staged games: games in which abstract or representational games are played in a more elaborate fictive world; a "game within a game". These games use a metafictional device to frame the gameplay within a larger story or setting. Examples: WarioWare Inc., Portal, The Stanley Parable.
These types are not mutually exclusive; some games can combine or switch between different types of game worlds depending on the context or genre. For example, Final Fantasy VII has both coherent and staged elements; it has a detailed and consistent world that follows its own logic and history, but it also has mini-games that are played within that world as part of the story or as optional activities.
Benefits of Game Worlds
Creating a game world is not just a matter of aesthetics or preference; it can also have significant impacts on the gameplay, story, immersion, and emotion of the game. Some of the benefits of game worlds are:
Challenges of Game Worlds
While game worlds can offer many benefits, they also come with some challenges that game designers need to overcome. Some of the common challenges are:
Balancing realism and fantasy: How realistic or fantastical should your game world be? This depends on the genre, tone, and audience of your game, as well as the gameplay and narrative goals. A realistic game world can create a sense of immersion and credibility, but it can also limit the creative possibilities and require more research and accuracy. A fantastical game world can allow more freedom and expression, but it can also risk losing the suspension of disbelief and alienating the players. Finding the right balance between realism and fantasy is a key challenge for game designers.
Maintaining consistency and coherence: How consistent and coherent should your game world be? This refers to the internal logic and rules of your game world, and how they relate to the gameplay and story. A consistent and coherent game world can create a sense of immersion and engagement, but it can also require more planning and testing to avoid contradictions and errors. An inconsistent and incoherent game world can allow more flexibility and experimentation, but it can also risk breaking the immersion and confusing the players. Ensuring that your game world is consistent and coherent is another important challenge for game designers.
Creating originality and diversity: How original and diverse should your game world be? This refers to the uniqueness and variety of your game world, and how they relate to the genre and audience of your game. An original and diverse game world can create a sense of curiosity and discovery, but it can also require more creativity and innovation to avoid clichés and stereotypes. A derivative and homogeneous game world can allow more familiarity and accessibility, but it can also risk losing the interest and appeal of the players. Making your game world original and diverse is a third major challenge for game designers.
Managing complexity and scope: How complex and large should your game world be? This refers to the depth and breadth of your game world, and how they relate to the gameplay and narrative of your game. A complex and large game world can create a sense of richness and exploration, but it can also require more resources and time to develop and maintain. A simple and small game world can allow more focus and clarity, but it can also risk losing the depth and variety of the players. Controlling the complexity and scope of your game world is a fourth crucial challenge for game designers.
Examples of Game Worlds
To illustrate some of the benefits and challenges of game worlds, let's look at some examples of well-known game worlds in video games. These are not necessarily the best or most popular game worlds, but they are representative of different types, genres, styles, and approaches to game world design.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
A vast open-world that invites exploration, discovery, interaction, and experimentation. The game world is full of secrets, puzzles, enemies, quests, landmarks, wildlife, weather, physics, chemistry, etc. The game world supports both gameplay (e.g., using environmental elements to solve problems or fight enemies) and story (e.g., learning about the history and lore of Hyrule).
A dark underwater city that reveals a twisted vision of utopia gone wrong. The game world is full of atmosphere, detail, horror, mystery, philosophy, politics, etc. The game world supports both gameplay (e.g., using plasmids to manipulate genes or objects) and story (e.g., uncovering the secrets and motives of Rapture).
A procedurally generated world that offers endless possibilities for creation, survival, adventure, etc. The game world is full of blocks, biomes, mobs, items, structures, etc. The game world supports both gameplay (e.g., mining resources to craft tools or build structures) and story (e.g., creating your own narratives or goals).
Puzzle-PlatformerSci-FiA minimalist test chamber that conceals a sinister plot. The game world is full of puzzles, portals, humor, sarcasm, etc. The game world supports both gameplay (e.g., using portals to navigate the environment or manipulate objects) and story (e.g., discovering the true nature and purpose of the facility).
Life SimulationRealisticA simulated world that mimics the aspects of real life, such as relationships, careers, hobbies, etc. The game world is full of sims, objects, interactions, events, etc. The game world supports both gameplay (e.g., fulfilling the needs and wants of your sims or controlling their actions) and story (e.g., creating your own scenarios or stories for your sims).
Game worlds are an essential part of many video games, as they provide the context, setting, and atmosphere for the gameplay and story. Designing a game world is a creative and challenging process that involves many decisions and trade-offs. In this article, we have discussed some of the types, benefits, and challenges of game worlds, as well as some examples of game worlds in video games. We hope that this article has given you some insights and inspiration for creating your own game world.
Here are some common questions and answers about game worlds:
Q: How do I start designing a game world?
A: There is no one right way to design a game world, but a good starting point is to define the genre, tone, and theme of your game, as well as the gameplay and narrative goals. Then, you can brainstorm ideas for the elements of your game world, such as the geography, history, culture, characters, etc. You can also use references from other media or real life to inspire you.
Q: How do I make my game world interesting and engaging?
A: There are many ways to make your game world interesting and engaging, but some general tips are to make it consistent and coherent with the rules and fiction of your game; to make it original and diverse with unique and varied features; to make it rich and complex with depth and detail; and to make it interactive and dynamic with feedback and consequences.
Q: How do I test and evaluate my game world?
A: Testing and evaluating your game world is an important part of the design process, as it can help you identify and fix any problems or issues with your game world. Some methods for testing and evaluating your game world are to playtest it yourself or with others; to get feedback from other designers or players; to use metrics or analytics to measure the performance or behavior of your game world; and to use tools or techniques such as maps, diagrams, or documentation to visualize or analyze your game world.
Q: How do I learn more about game world design?A: There are many resources available for learning more about game world design, such as books, articles, podcasts, videos, courses, etc. Some examples of recommended resources are: - [Game World Design: Creating Worlds To Drive Your Game](https://www.udemy.com/course/game-world-design-creating-worlds-to-drive-your-game/) by Udemy - [Level Design for Games: Creating Compelling Game Experiences](https://www.amazon.com/Level-Design-Games-Creating-Experiences/dp/0321375971) by Phil Co - [The Art of Game Worlds](https://www.amazon.com/Art-Game-Worlds-Dave-Morris/dp/0060724315) by Dave Morris - [Worldbuilding Magazine](https://www.worldbuildingmagazine.com/) by Worldbuilding Magazine - [Game Maker's Toolkit](https://www.youtube.com/c/MarkBrownGMTK) by Mark Brown
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