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:: RPG Source :: View Article :: Thoughts on Worlds

Thoughts on Worlds
By Shinan [12/8/2003]
Shinan's Thoughts on Worlds

(This is actually quite an old text I wrote... Fortunately I still agree with most of it but I guess that some addition wouldn't be too bad. Perhaps later. 8^)

Every game has a world. It may range from great universes with countless planets to the local neighbourhood with its school and local minimarket. Creating a well thought out setting or world for your game can help a great deal in, not only design, but also in the storyline itself and sidequests especially. For example, if you begin your game with a basic premise "Cool hero saves the world from a demon army". If you were to start this game right away it would probably become something quite basic with places that would seem out of place at times. But if you began by creating a world where this coold hero and the demon army would fit in everything would seem so much more at place when you're finished.

To continue the example I'll create a world for the premise. I wold like the world to be quite dark with deamons being a more or less standard presence. The magic in the world would be conducted completely by complex rituals where demons would be captured and then used to "fuel" different constructions or items. This leads to whole cities being dependent on mages holding captured demons for powering machines etc. This would also mean that the design would be grotesque with every building holding more or less unholy symbols to keep the demons in or out. In this world some mighty demon have been summoned and the summoner have been unable to hold him, this means hell would break loose... And to this mayors and kings squabbling over politics and an extensive underworld and the setting seems more exciting than the basic premis. Actually this little introductory setting inspired me to continue it all, but I'll see about that, there are many unexplored worlds like that one out there...

How did this little "thinking about the setting" help the gamemaking then? Well the design became more clear, I can almost see the evil symbols all over the cities, perhaps with great demonic towers and a basic gothic style to evertyhing, much like Chaos in Warhammer 40k (My inspirations to the world I so quickly created actually came from China Miéville's novel Perdido Street Station that I just read, I recommend it very much. Some inspiration came too from WH40k's Cahos...). Apart from that it also helped the main storyline in that we can now see how the threat can be unleashed and how the fundaments of this world can be shattered by a demon "army" on the loose. Some side-quests where also hinted at, something about the underworld and its doings can probably help, but in world building the side-quests always come whent greater details are added like wars between "houses", trade blockades and personalitites among different noblemen and other rulers.

How do you create a world then? There are different approaches, many of them are detailed in articles across the community. it is often a good idea to start with something basic as I did and expand it a bit. Sometimes it is also useful to create a world map and by using it as aguide create political tensions and trade routes at a greater scale. When I am stuck in my creating of a setting I usually draw a map and place what I've created on it, watching the empty spaces and filling it with what seems most logical. Another way is to think in questions, "what about culture? Philosophy? History? How do magic work affect the normal person in his daily life?" (The question about magic often seems to be forgotten in games, for example how can there be a water shortage when half of the people in a town know the "aqua" spell? And how can a door be an obstacle when the "break" spell? Not to talk about how easy it is to persuade the guard to give you the key when you have a "charm" spell ready. Often games only focus on the battle aspect of magic, not the practical everyday aspect of things, but this could probably be saved for another article 8^)

The method(s) I most foten use is by starting with a detail and expand on it, start with a spaceship, its interior, its passengers. Then start thining about where they come from, what the story is behind that particualr item and suddenly you have a living exciting world, and when you have created the details in interstellar politics and created rumours about the "lost empire" you can go back to the grassroots and recreate a ship similar to the one you started with. I often start out by only making a setting and no storyline, mostly because I susualyy create the worlds as settings for PnP-rpgs (having recently bought GURPS have increased my world-building fanaticism). It is often east to then create a major storyline where you have every major conflict outlined, just drop a bomb and watch the events unfold, let the "lost empire" blow up a base and you have it all ready for you.

What I want to to say with all this is basically that I want you to try to make an exciting living world on your own, not just villages remotely connected only by the increasing levels of the weapons that you buy in the shops. If nothing else, I myself like the worldbuilding more than making the game or storyline itself. If you want elves in your games make a history for them, create a reason for them to be there other than "Because they were in the Two Towers movie", the same with enemies and everything else..
Not to forget that the setting is important if the aim of the game is to save the world. You don't want to save a world that you don't like do you?

(All grammatical and language errors are blamed on the fact that I don't know English, if you like to comment on things send me a mail or just post on the forums, I'm there lurking at the very least)
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