Video games and world building: Taking players somewhere they’ve never been before

2018 has been crazy good for RPG’s. The worlds that have been massive and immersive, and deep in content.

What is curious is how the developers of these games let players in on the facts of the worlds they’ve built. Information is given to players in interesting ways that differ from game-to-game. From letting players in on weak points in enemy armour, to facts about a place or time, it’s interesting as to how designers go about letting players know about the world they’re in.

It’s difficult to go into a game with the full knowledge of the universe you’re stepping into, unless you’re a super fan who has consumed every scrap of lore prior to entry. But even then, how does a developer cater for a that person when they’re trying to make games for as broader an audience as possible? What’s the best way to let players in on the facts of the world? Do developers expect players to go into games with no knowledge of the content, or expect them to read pages upon pages of lore?

One interesting way of going about this is one fans of Bethesda games are quite accustomed to by now — the old drop the player in the deep end and see if they can swim.

In Prey (2017), the game opens with a voiceless protagonist in a testing facility.

In the game’s story, your character has suffered some form of brain damage. This is explained to you by an AI, and is said to be permanent. Immediately, this gives reason to be curious within the game world. The character you play is now as dumbfounded about the world as you, the player, are. They see the world a little differently, as do you.

The Bethesda-made Fallout games open with your character being a wide-eyed goofball who has, reasonably, no idea about the wasteland they’ve entered. They’ve spent years in a vault and have no idea about the new world they’re entering. So when a Deathclaw shows up, it makes sense that they have no reasonable response to a threat of that magnitude. Although, a mini-gun and some power armour seemed appropriate in the opening of Fallout 4.

So when players of these games are presented with new information on the game world, it makes sense with how their controlled avatars knowledge is skewed. It makes the experience quite user friendly.

In 2014’s The Witcher 3, you would take on the role of Geralt – a seasoned Witcher far from the notion of being wide-eyed about the world they’re in. Geralt has been around the block a few times — picked up a few tomes, read a few bestiary’s, speaks to all the folk throughout the land.

Geralt speaks to himself quite a lot. When investigating monsters, he’ll hypothesise what they could be by thinking out loud. This is a big part of how the player taps into the mind of the White Wolf. In this way, it presents as if the player doesn’t know this stuff, but it’s besides the point if they do or not, because regardless, the games plot points and mechanics will enable the player to go about things the right way. The UI in The Witcher will often highlight better ways of going about situations to the players credit.

The games also offers up pages upon pages of facts about creatures and places and people, for the players discretion to read or not.

Similarly, this years Assassins Creed Odyssey offers a similar approach to interactive narrative design; although, as per the games name Odyssey, it’s moreso about the adventure of your character throughout ancient Greece, so it’s an interesting blend between the wide-eyed approach to game design offered by Bethesda-published games and what CD Projekt RED have done.

That being said, your character will also talk to themselves quite often when tracking a target, entering a city, or looting something. As you’d do.

I may be in the minority writing this stuff, but the approach Assassins Creed Odyssey and The Witcher 3 use in letting their players know about the world sure seems better on the player.

It doesn’t as much apply to Fallout 76, but when entering Fallout 4, it felt like I couldn’t riff with the character I was playing – this always surprised big lad who was absolutely dumbfounded that nukes went off in thew first place, curiously awaiting Preston to send him off on a settlement mission where he can go and act wide-eyed somewhere else. It was the 5th game in the series, it didn’t make sense at all.

Maybe it’s a pet peeve of mine, but I’m not sure how greater an impact I can have on a game world when I’m playing some overly-curious dork running through the motions.