Last week at Edge, I wrote a piece called “You Build Worlds.” It starts like this:
So I was trying to suss out the one thing that makes me love games – the quality that keeps me playing a title for fifty hours, instead of ditching it after five minutes. Was it the visual style? The story? The reload mechanic? Could I pin it down to something as simple as fun? I thought it over, and I figured it out: the thing I want most from a game is a really good world.
We know from our experiences with Tolkien, Star Wars and the rest that a good world can pull us in and keep us hooked. And while games can tell a great story, building a world is even more important and more natural: the world is the platform for all the stories that come out of the game, and the themes of that world guide us and help us decide what works in the game and what doesn’t.
Here’s the stake I’m sticking in the ground: in a modern videogame, building a believable world is just as important as delivering fun, challenging gameplay.
Now, a “believable world” can mean a lot of things. Lore-heavy RPG franchises build worlds, but so do tiny indie titles. Canabalt has a world, even though we just see a sliver of it. But either way, worldbuilding is important—and not many people are talking about it. How do you pull one off? What are the best practices and tricks of the trade? Should worlds obey a strict, error-free canon, or can they be mythical and malleable? How do we get our heads around this gigantic and nebulous and yet totally important undertaking?
So here’s my idea: I’m going to run a series of daily posts over the next couple of weeks, that dig into some of my favorite fictional worlds and dissect what works and doesn’t work about them. You, the reader, will use the comments box here to throw in ideas, argue with me, and shape how this turns out. (See Michael Abbott’s Fun Factor for a brilliant example.)
I’ll be looking at videogames, but I’ll also use comics, history, music, and real-life spaces—anything that gives us a useful example. The first post, going up tomorrow, will cover Crackdown 2. And all of them will be listed on the blog by the category Just Another World.
Other “brainysphere” bloggers are tackling this idea, and as I see them, I’ll link them. For now, check out J. P. Grant’s post at Infinite Lag, which explores Batman: Arkham Asylum and other examples; and give a listen to Scott Juster and Jorge Albor on the Experience Points podcast.