Hello my name is Brandon Kidwell and we are going to talk about world building for Project Polish’s game "Hollow" being developed for the Masters program called FIEA at UCF!
This post can also be found on the Project Polish blog over at https://projectpolish.wordpress.com/
The process of creating worlds is not an easy task and in most cases it is very daunting. Worlds require a lot of planning and structure that help to drive the creation and future development of the world and everything it touches. There is a big difference between a world developed in a day and the epic that Tolkein left us with. Building the world of the game helps to establish future content and brings it together with a water tight seal that can drive the quality of the game, especially its story. There is no one right way to build a world but there is a lot of solid advice out there. With this in mind I wanted to lay out six rules that I follow when I’m creating a world before I dive into what we have done for our game, Hollow.
- Scope of world. How much will you explore? The important fact is that you need to get something on paper. Starting too large will lead to analysis paralysis – the over-analyzing of a situation so much so that no decision or action is ever taken. The world will expand organically so don’t worry about not having everything explained or expanded. Sometimes it is best to let players and others create their own head cannon.
- Analysis of other media. Always consume other media like movies, books, anime, etc. More than the consumption, study and analyze the media to see what stands out, what does not. We learn a lot by seeing how other creatives approach the problem.
- Associations. Find and use various reference material. Go to a Barnes and Noble and hit up the New Age section or History and start reading! There are a lot of associative material we can use in our world and stories that we recognize through the OSV Cycle (Observe, Speculate, Validate). We love finding the deeper meaning and the references to our world that seem to parallel this fantasy world!
- Creation Hierarchy. How did this world come to be? Something created it right? Well even if we don’t know “what” created it we should know that it was created. Establishing this base ideal, however you want to spin it, is crucial. It is a factor that will lead to the development of the entire world. It holds a lot of power and will ultimately be a key component in allowing your world to organically grow. This should also cover how the inhabitants, flora & fauna, landscape was formed.
- World History. This should consist of major events in the world. Like with scope choose your battles wisely. Focus on what you are telling in the story or the world and hammer out those major events. If you have structured the world well enough using the above steps then this should write itself as time goes on. Just don’t get stuck with “the possibilities” and get something on paper.
- Map. In most cases a map is very helpful but not always required. A map will benefit us by establishing distances, spatial awareness, and associations. It will first lead us to know the regions, then within those regions the settlements and landmarks, etc.
With this we have a better idea of how to build the world from the base up. For Hollow we began to work on the story and general idea of the world prior to beginning the development of the game. Our original inspiration for the story was a song from the anime Erased and an old Italian tale. We initially started with the story we wanted to tell our character and who that character was. This helped establish some moments in the world history that we used later on. Actual development of the world did not start until our first sprint and the core was developed and fleshed out over the two weeks of that sprint… not ideal. With such a small amount of time I instantly scoped out the world establishing that the inhabitants have not been able to explore far from their settlements. This sets up some mystery and allows the rest of the world to be unknown with plenty of room to expand. Due to our story, this world has two realms that parallel each other and since our protagonist moves one from realm to another, the game itself will take place in the latter.
A world will consist of multiple layers, parts, and components that all interact and affect the others. Fleshing these out allows us to continue to build upon them and allow for us to make future content within the world. I began to look into various cultural beliefs and religions including Celtic druids, Buddhism, and Shinto. I drafted up the first version of the lore for the team and began to iterate with them.
After the first document was created we went into a phase of iteration. The lovely part of working with a team is that we can use each other’s’ experiences and philosophies to question and strengthen the core idea of the world. At this point I would write a document, hand it off to others, gather feedback, and then update the document. Each iteration created more clarity and soon we had a world with inhabitants, society, and history. After two weeks we had a good base, not a full world, but enough to really flesh out the rest of our story and inspire our mechanics/art. The way it was setup allowed us to continue expanding upon it organically, developing concepts as they come to us. The core drives the inspiration and every day a new idea of how to explain something in the world or how component A affects component B came to mind. It is exciting and an awesome feeling to have. In the end the overall experience was rough having little time between all of our projects and homework from the program at FIEA. But I’m proud of where we are and excited to see it go farther!
Last but not least my number 1 tip is… watch anime, especially fantasy and sci-fi series, as most of these have some amazing world history and lore.