Sunday, 22 April 2012

Elements of game design, part four: environment

Environment Design is something I have a great interest in, I find the ability to create and explore new worlds very challenging. In video games the environment can be the key selling point because it’s the very thing players will interact with at all times. Environment and level design has to be made with large reference and a strong thought process of how the player will interact; however the environment can also convey the story, setting and timeline with props or assets. 

Games such as L.A. Noire have to be detailed with substantial props and references that communicate the time period. Its open world Grand Theft Auto style game play gives little space for error. Though most players will not have a dedicated eye to identify with every single asset, getting everything right will immerse the player into the game very quickly adding to the developer’s credibility. Other games such as Uncharted 2 (only one I’ve played myself) have nailed the ability to create exciting and highly interactive level design. As the game is built with powerful chemistry that bonds characters, narrative and environments you genuinely feel like you are a part of an interactive movie. Its Indiana-Jones style treasure chasing story lets you embark on many different environments across the planet, from ancient temples in deep unexplored jungles to snowy ice caves that contain ancient ruins and artefacts. The main character (Drake) is able to climb, crawl and jump over almost any obstacle with his acrobatic skills, although this isn’t very realistic it’s the line video games can successfully cross to present an idea that is realistic but of course, still a video game. Although if you do slip or fall by not pressing a button quickly enough you will fall to your death, so it’s not all bad. 

Stylisation in designing environments is important because if you go for a 100% realism look, you can lose the sense of a fun or interesting setting without tons of detail or highly referenced of something that’s from the real world. For example, Mario 64 was one of the first platform games I had ever played, the difficulty with this was to turn the 2D scrolling Mario we were all familiar with into an actual 3D space and I think they achieved it very successfully. Infact, Nintendo have the tendency to develop solid games that thrive in environments you could only compare to what you would assume a child’s dream looks like. With stylisation comes individuality so it’s never a bad idea to develop games off themes that don’t necessarily fit into a believable world but this is where it gets slightly strange. If you claim to have ‘realistic environments’ such as Call of Duty or Crysis but then fail to communicate that back to your audience then it’s different from telling the audience straight away, this environment is not real or realistic but in fact it’s stylised. This should never be the basis of any game in my opinion, if you build a whole game around a ‘style’, you have to make sure it offers interactive and captivating game play as well as interesting characters and narratives.

For me, the environment has to be aesthetically pleasing no matter what genre or setting it is. If it is boring or repetitive I will find myself losing interest very quickly which will lead to disengagement of other factors like story and interaction. Games like Batman Arkham Asylum and the Assassins Creed series have clearly done great research into what they were developing so the outcomes are very unique and interesting levels and due to the attention to aesthetic appeal I find I can easily escape into the game and embrace what it offers.    

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