Over the past year I’ve work on two very different games, Cyber Run, a table top science fiction RPG set in the future, and Skilamalink, an online murder mystery set in Victorian England. As I just finished writing some back-story for Cyber Run, I thought this is a good time to share my process for creating settings for games.
Settings in the Past
Players who enjoy games set in the past generally like that time period and want to be immersed in it. It’s important not only to get the feel of the period correct, but the details as well. Some misplaced artifact from the future can dispel the illusion, so try to do as much research as possible.
For Skilamalink research started with fiction, Downton Abbey and Charles Dickens stories were both very good for setting the mood and thinking of Victorian England. Nonfiction was what filled in the broad picture with details. Victorian newspaper articles, advertisements, plays and letters, thanks to the Bath Postal Museum online collection, were all great resources to bring the setting to life.
Skilamalink is a murder mystery, so the characters take on a lot of the responsibility for creating the setting. Their back-stories and motivations had to be relevant to the period. The industry in the cities and towns the characters grew up determined their available life choices and their future motivations.
Creating the Story
Skilamalink is a computer game so most of the setting is conveyed through art and dialogue. Having a surplus of back-story helped to create depth in the setting. This allowed us to hint at some of the events in letters, dialogue and background art. Game art assets were double checked to insure that the style, colors and technology were in accordance with the period. It’s easy for us who never lived during those times to get the technology, fashion or art confused with other time periods.
Settings in the Future
Players that enjoy games set in the Future want to discover a new world. What becomes important is having a future that is not only believable, but also captivating. Since Cyber Run is a table top RPG the setting is the back-story and the player adventures are the story. Players should be inspired by the setting and eager to make characters to explore it.
For fiction, Neromancer was on the top of the reading list along with some movies that had relevant technology for Cyber Run. Taking notes during a movie is crucial, most ideas that we get while watching a movie will be forgotten by the next scene. The most valuable books for creating a future setting were nonfiction. Books covering world history were good for discovering the cycles of civilization and how life changes within a hundred years. Books on future geopolitical and environmental issues helped the setting by adding new perspectives for power struggles.
Creating the Setting
Most stories set in the future are actually our time period, with its problems and technology, exaggerated. Only in stories like the Time Machine where he goes thousands of years into the future can we expect something totally alien. For near future settings it’s useful to consider what problems societies will be facing, and then think based on each society’s history and culture how they would solve those problems, then create an unexpected result.
Read more about both games
Follow the development of Cyber Run