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18 Jun 2014

The Art of World Building

World Building: it is exactly as it sounds. The process of creating a world, a history, a universe, nations, geography – essentially reality from scratch – it’s become a bit of a popular pastime for creative individuals as of late. One quick look over at the Worldbuildingsubreddit over at Reddit is proof alone, as you will quickly see posts of people’s created maps, national flags, ancient tomes, and more.

For indie developers, it needs to be more than a pastime. Instead, it needs to be a regular practice. Even if you primarily develop basic indie games that seem to have no story whatsoever, realize that this isn’t the case. Every game ever released that is worthy of a player’s time has had some type of story – something to make the player continue playing. Even a game like Pac-Man, Galaga, or other arcade hits that are strictly about the gameplay have some sort of story (some would call this a ‘hook’) that gives players an incentive to continue playing. In Pac-Man, players must collect all of their dots before the ghosts can kill them. In Galaga? Players have to eliminate aliens in order to survive.

Why are the ghosts after Packie? Why are aliens bent on destroying your ship in Galaga? I have no idea, but to an extent, there’s a story there in that the scenario you’re thrown into makes you care about what’s happening on-screen. Someone had to use their worldbuilding skills to create these games, and as simple as they may seem, they did it.

If anything, World Building will allow you to think critically about how to create fantastical worlds, histories of nations and races, unique geography, and other aspects that even the best creative minds have trouble with. It’s a great exercise in creativity, and it’ll certainly help you when developing your indie games.

How do you begin World Building?  Here are a few ways to get started (and improve your ability to create compelling worlds).


Don’t get overwhelmed

If you can think of it, it can go into your world. World Building involves the creation of everything – from governments to technology to inventions to scientific achievements (or the lack thereof) and beyond. It’s a lot to process – especially since you are essentially creating a universe from nothing. To keep from being overwhelmed, simply sit down with a sheet of paper and begin writing down your ideas as they come to you.

One thing you are going to find is that your sheet of paper will become a huge mess. It will become hard to keep track of it all, so create a personal, private wiki for keeping track of everything. Tiddlyspot is an easy way to create a wiki that will allow you to organize and keep track of every aspect of the world you’ve built. Try it out, as it will take the pain out of organizing your world.


Create artifacts from your world

Have you created a few nations already? Draw a rough sketch of their flag. Do you have an idea as to how each nation was founded? Write a short story about the founding of each world. Have an idea as to the history of a race of people? Document the race from their inception to the present.

You will find that slowly yet surely, your world is coming to life and is feeling like a living, breathing world. From here, new ideas will spawn, such as each race’s own tale of how the world was created, surrounding planets around your world (each of which could be brimming with life – again, it’s entirely up to you!), and beyond.

Don’t be afraid to document everything all over again by writing down thoughts on paper, brainstorming, and more. Eventually, you are going to find that by repeating the first two steps in this post, you will have a world that is full of history, unique geography, races of species (alien or human – again, it’s up to you), and more. The best part about all of this?


You will begin to think critically about creating worlds

And items, backstories, characters – everything! World Building isn’t merely about building a world from nothing so you can feel like you created something cool. It’s about honing your skills in creating characters, environments, and more that feel alive, and that players ultimately care about. It’s a crucial skill to have as an indie developer – even if you are merely creating an endless runner. People need to care about what is happening in the game, and a great way to ensure people truly do care? Again – World Building.

Have any questions or comments about World Building? Let us know in the comments below!

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