World Building and How to Best Go About It

One thing that has been on my mind a lot lately as I go back and play though the Fable series as well as Borderlands 1 and Borderlands 2 is just how important it is to craft a thoroughly believable world that you play in. There are different ways that developers go about creating these worlds, I think that the base elements are pretty much the same regardless of the game.

One thing I want to touch quickly on – I think I would be remiss to mention the role that game manuals play in world building. Of course, with manuals all but extinct at this point, developers have to adjust a little bit. In the old days, a developer would put the backstory for the setting, characters, enemies and lore all in the manual – at this point, all that information has to be added in the actual game, at least it does to ensure a rich world to explore.

Borderlands

Which brings me to a couple examples I have, from a few different genres too. First, I want to look at the Borderlands series. I think it’s a good place to look at how a developer can take a slow burn approach to building the world. Looking at the first game, most of the extra information that helps create a fully fleshed out world lives in the quest cards that you get for all of the quests, there is very little in the way of cutscenes or dialogue. That changes a little bit in the second game – the bulk of the extra info still comes in the quest cards, but they definitely added more cutscenes and dialogue to help flesh out the main storyline. As it extends to world building, the lack of dialogue in the first game can be somewhat written off as Pandora being an incredibly hostile planet, while most of the dialogue in the sequel takes place in Sanctuary, which is a (relatively) safe location. If you dig a little deeper into the quest cards, you can find a much more detailed world than first glance might show. I don’t know if it’s the most effective manner to build a world, but it does work – I think the Pandora is one of the more unique settings in gaming, with a really unique universe to tell a bunch of stories in.

Oblivion

Next, I want to look at the Elder Scrolls series, specifically Oblivion and Skyrim. Since the franchise has been going on for a number of years, the backstory for these two games is incredibly in depth, going back years through a number of games. Looking at them as stand alone games, the strength of the writing and dialogue helps make the towns feel much more alive, and each character has a life that is easily observed. That in and of itself helps make the world of Cyrodil or Skyrim an incredibly in depth place to explore. But going beyond that, Bethesda has always put tons of extra information in the games – each book is fully written, with a bunch of variation in tone, length and topic; each unique item has a backstory, the alchemy ingredients that exist in the world have multiple properties, and a lifespan out in the world where they regrow after being picked. That detail is something that I’m glad that Bethesda has extended to the Fallout world too.

Halo 3

Finally, I want to look at the Halo series. I want to look here because shooters in general tend to have the “weakest” worlds to explore – just based around the confines of the game mechanics. But with that said, Halo has always had a very in-depth universe to explore, with tons of little details, from each shell casing from the shotgun having a brand name printed on it; to the details on the Warthog’s dashboard. Going beyond that – the early games came with really well thought out manuals – each going into surprising depth on each weapon, enemy, vehicle and piece of technology in the universe. The later games build on that with extra incentives through special editions, or the terminals in-game.

I think ultimately, there really isn’t a perfect way to go about creating the worlds that players get to explore. The most important thing is that the players can immerse themselves into the universe.

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Hopping on the Borderlands Pre-Sequel Hype Train

First off, sorry bout the delay between posts – I took last week off to get out and enjoy the nice weather we’ve finally been getting up here. I think it’s good to balance the gaming with a little bit of actual activity outside. That said – we’re back to the games this week.

PAX East is usually the first big stop for some of the major news releases for the year, and this year was no different. Titanfall announced their first DLC package, as well as a few details about the next update for the game – Titan burn cards and 2V2 Last Titan Standing. The DLC looks like it should be pretty nice with three new maps set on the outskirts of the frontier, which should mean a little bit more variation in the looks of the  maps. But for me, the biggest part of PAX East was the Borderlands Pre-Sequel getting a bit more information released.

Borderlands PreSequel

I’ve been a big fan of the Borderlands series since I first played the original game a few years ago – I’m actually in the course of re-playing it now with some friends. I think the formula is a perfect example of blending two genres beautifully, taking the RPG and Shooter elements and making them work together perfectly. Borderlands 2 took the first game and just refined it, while also making it bigger and better. That was almost two years ago though – which is a long time for a game to be supported these days. With the Pre-Sequel on the way, I think it’s time to examine it a little bit.

From a real-world perspective, I think the Pre-Sequel caught a few people off guard, who were expecting Borderlands 3 to be the next game in the series. But ultimately I think 2K is going the right route with this – instead of forcing a game out on the Xbox One/PS4 with a shorter development time, they are instead sticking with their already large install base on the 360/PS3. It’s similar to what Bungie did with Halo: Reach – instead of having their last game be a one-off game and not part of a trilogy, they went back in the mythos and told a new story that was relevant. This is a similar idea – it’s a different development studio: 2K Australia; and while I’m sure that Borderlands 3 is probably in some stage of development, it’s not nearly ready to be the focus. This gives 2K a chance to keep the franchise fresh, telling a new story that is relevant to the overall universe, with characters that are both new and preexisting in the actual game world; and at the same time, they can try out new ideas and gameplay mechanics that could appear in the next true sequel.

Talking of the actual in-game information, there’s still a lot that we don’t know. But the information that we do know is compelling – four “new” characters, a new setting and a story that hasn’t been told yet, but we know the outcome of. I say that the characters are “new” because they really aren’t – all of them either appeared in Borderlands or Borderlands 2. Athena, The Gladiator was in Borderlands’ DLC The Secret Armory of General Knoxx where she helped the vault hunters stop Knoxx. Wilhelm, The Enforcer is Handsome Jack’s bodyguard in Borderlands 2, acting as a boss at one point in the game. Nisha, The Lawbringer is the Sheriff of Lynchwood in Borderlands 2, also acting as a boss at one point. And Claptrap, The Fragtrap is the lovable mascot for the Borderlands series, appearing in both games and playing a major role in the last DLC for the first game. I think the choice of the characters is actually really important – instead of picking four random characters, 2K chose characters that players are already familiar with and this will give us the chance to see their backstories play out more in depth.

Claptrap

The setting is also unique within the series – it’s the first game to not be set on Pandora, instead being set on Elpis, Pandora’s moon. The setting actually reinforces my thought that, although this is a prequel to Borderlands 2, it’s actually probably better to have played through Borderlands 2 before playing this game. A lot of the choices they seem to be going with in terms of characters and setting make a lot of sense knowing how Borderlands 2 unfolds, again, much like Halo: Reach made more sense knowing the full story after Halo 3. As for some of the little details like the new Cyro element, a lot of that will have to be seen in action to really get a feel for it; but from a story-telling perspective they have a built in out to explain it – it only exists on Pandora’s moon, that’s why it wasn’t in Borderlands 2.

I think that with some of the early year leaks/rumors that this year’s E3 should be a pretty damn busy and important one. I would not be surprised to see a pretty high number of Triple A titles have release dates announced that are for this fall, along with some of next years big titles teased as well. But that’s a post for another day.

Why I Just Bought A Super Nintendo

One of the really nice things about my local mall is that it doesn’t have a Gamestop – instead we have a locally owned gaming store – Game Exchange. While they do offer some of the newest games out there, the biggest selling point is that it’s the only place around to find older games – all the way back to even the Atari 2600. Now, I could go online to Amazon or eBay to find them too – but I’ve found that the prices are pretty insane. I was able to buy a first party SNES, with AV and A/C cables and a controller, for the price of a new Xbox game. Plus I have the convenience of not having to wait and order it online.

SNES Mario World

Of course, it’s kind of strange to be pumped to get a console that came out in 1991, but I think it’s pretty damn awesome. First of all, I never had a SNES back while I was growing up – I instead had (and still have) a Sega Genesis. Secondly, I really do think that classic gaming still has a really important place in modern gaming. I think it’s important to have a good grasp of where gaming came from in order to get to the place it’s at today. The best way to do that is to play through all the old games. Plus, for those of us that grew up playing those games, they still have a really special place for us. For me, I’m really excited to play the SNES games I may have played since, like Mega Man X, on the original system and cartridge.

Ultimately, I think that as gaming continues to grow into a proper place in pop culture, these older games and systems will become more and more scarce, but more and more important. I really do want to be able to one day sit down my children and show them the games I grew up playing, on the actual consoles I played them on. Classic gaming still has a very strong place in the gaming world, and I think it’s an understated part of gaming in general. Get out there and find some awesome old games to play.