Monday, August 9, 2010

Let's Make a Game! - Part 4: Growing a World

Welcome back guys! I'm sorry I've taken so long between this post and the last, but as you can see we've been a little bit busy. Now we're starting to get things back under control and we can get back to making our game.

It's been so long that I'll forgive you if you've forgotten what's been happening. Previous episodes of Let's Make a Game! can be found here (part 1), here (part 2) and here (part 3).

Part 3 left off with a really brief discussion of game genres. I've spent a lot of time discussing genres in the distant past, so I won't repeat myself here. The fact of the matter is that although it's very difficult to pigeonhole games into one or another particular genre, it's very important to have a working understanding of each genre to know where your particular game draws its inspirations.

Or how that idea has evolved

Today's episode, Growing a World, is going to deal with all the tiny details that bring a world to life. As a starting point I highly recommend the excellent video by Extra Credit, that we have linked to on our blog. It's tough, but a good game requires an excellent atmosphere and great storytelling. And as the video suggests, games need more than just words alone to tell a story. You can use the gameplay, the mechanics of how the player plays the game, to tell a story just as well (or perhaps better) than words alone could.

Let's fall back to our game examples. We are creating two levels that represent exciting events in the book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Our first level finds Lucy struggling to make her way back to the lamp post and out of Narnia. When designing the level, we spent a lot of time writing notes about how the world might feel, what the player might see. We also drew pictures of how we might make the trees appear threatening, and certainly we've got an idea of how the lamp post might look like to a lost and frightened little girl.

Like a glowing beacon of hope!

Absolutely the first step would be to create the snow-covered Narnia in a scene in Kahootz. But is that all you should do? Always remember that your player is very good at spotting duplicates. If you don't go to the extra effort, if you merely place one tree in your world and clone it a hundred times to make a forest, your player will notice that all your trees are eerily similar. When you are building your world, little details count. Try a good range of trees and don't forget to make some smaller and some taller so that they stand out. Another good trick is to rotate each new tree slightly. Even if you have two identical trees side by side, having one slightly rotated will be enough that the player never sees the same two branches at any one time.

What's with all the trees looking the same? Fake!

Be as creative as you like here! Use every scrap of paper, and every little note you've written. Try to think outside the square when it comes to things like swatching the world.

But making a realistic world isn't enough. This is a forest, it needs living creatures in it to seem real. And best of all we can add creatures in specific ways to remind the player that this is not just any forest, this is a scary forest that we don't want to hang around in for too long.

We will need to add in a range of animals with simple keypoints to make it look like they are scurrying around on the forest floor. We might also need some animal noises - owls hooting and strange growling noises. Lastly what's more scary than darkness? If you add just a little bit of fog, perhaps dark like shadows or even white like a snow storm, you can raise your player's sense of excitement and fear. If you can't see what's up ahead you're going to be a little bit more cautious about exploring.

Looks safe to me.

So we've painted a realistic world, we've brought this world to life with simple keypoints, sounds and fog that all reinforce how scary and intimidating this world is. It's important to remember that we've done all this without any words on the screen!

There's just one final thing to keep in mind: How does Lucy move around the world? Let's think back to what Lucy is feeling, and ask ourselves how we can encourage the player to feel the same way. She's scared, she's alone, she's lost. She doesn't want to spend a lot of time here in this unfamiliar place.

How about limiting Lucy's speed? What if she moved at a slow walking pace through this scary forest? This gives the player more time to absorb the atmosphere and more time to worry that there's something hidden that could jump out and grab them. Simply because she doesn't want to stay there is a great reason to make her stay there longer.

How else could you use gameplay mechanics such as object keypoints or object swatches to make the player empathise with Lucy?

I think we'll wrap it up here for now. There's definitely a lot more to be said about making a world feel believable even if they things the player is doing is absolutely unbelievable. Next time we'll be looking at Player Feedback, the little hints that your game drops from time to time to keep up the tension and build the story. But until next time, thanks for stopping by! It's good to be back.

Stay tuned!


1 comment:

  1. I think these tips are going to come in handy for my new project.