Sunday, 15 April 2012

Task 11: Elements of game design, part four: environment

The environment is just as important as the characters within a game, without it we'd have nothing to do, no where to go or explore and there wouldn't be a game. When an environment is done well it is often overlooked, given the amount of time and effort that is put into it it is unfortunate, but it does mean the environment has been done well.
An interesting looking environment

While playing a game players don't often stop to admire or study parts of the environment unless something has stood out to them, this means it has either been so beautifully it is attention grabbing, or, more likely, it has been poorly and detracts from the believability of the game. In general if the environment is believable it won't stand out and will go undetected, comfortably making the world believable and interesting.

The environment is therefore key to if we really believe the games world or if it stands out to us as wrong. Games have in the past gone both ways on the scale. An example of good environment design is the Bioshock series. The  first game is based in the underwater city of Rapture set in the 1960s, the city is left in disarray following a social collapse and a war taking place. You enter the environment through a dramatic decent to the city via a bathysphere. When you get to Rapture the environment is instantly eye catching and stunning. The environment designers on the game did an amazing job of bringing in elements and styles of the 1960s into futuristic ideas and setting. You believe the environment is possible for the time and everything found within is also believable and in keeping.

Rapture's setting

The feel of Bioshock is fantastic with the environment and characters really lending to the games enjoyability, there is nothing within Bioshock that stands out as wrong or out of place. Every aspect of the game has been developed and planned to lend itself to Bioshock's story and the events that have taken place. We never get to actually see what happened to Rapture before we got there so the story is told and understood through what we see in the environment, and it works!

A scene inside Bioshock, easily readable.

A game that's environment didn't work so well was Stalker. Despite knowing what happened in the game and why the environment had gotten to its current state it just wasn't as believable or enjoyable. The game often felt too large and empty given the way it is played and was later modded to improve that. I found the characters and environment dull, atmospheric and uninteresting. I found myself having to apply alot of user made mods to the game in order to make it playable, which shouldn't be necessary.

Stalker looking abit bland and boring.

From what I have read and experienced some general guidelines for environment design would be;
  1. the environment should guide the player, creating meaningful play
  2. the environment should communicate the purpose of an area
  3. the environment should  set a believable scene
  4. the environment should tell the story of the game so the player can understand and assume what has happened without needing to be shown or told
  5. the environment needs to be interesting and believable and hint to a larger world outside of what the player sees
  6. the environment should be immerse and avoid things that would disconnect the player from the game


Task 10: Elements of game design, part three: character

Character design isn't something I really think about, this is mainly because the games I tend to play don't rely on good character design to be fun.These are games such as real time strategies and action adventure games. I think the game type I play most however is the first person shooter genre.

While characters are an important part of games they are often over looked in the genres I play, especially first person shooters, meaning there aren't very many characters that have stood out to me as memorable over recent years.

I can't see me.
 I think this is mainly due to the fact that you never see the character you play in first person shooters, they don't often talk or interact with the environment so they don't need to be designed or interesting. They are just a shell for the player and we're what gives them character. First person shooter games are often based around 'running and gunning' gameplay which doesn't give much chance or need for interaction with the environment so we never get to see how or feel how our character is relating or fitting into the world. I often find other characters within first person shooters to be some what dull and uninteresting if not unbelievable, they don't normally have a real sense of depth, this may be due to the fact you don't tend to spend any real length of time around other characters during gameplay and they aren't really necessary within the game.

Despite the fact first person shooters tend not to have awesome character design, I still find them enjoyable and fun to play, because the characters don't really make or break the game and you never need a real sense of attachment to any of them in order to enjoy the game.

Other game genres however, such as role playing games, need to have more believable characters that have good design because the way they look, act and interact with us makes more of a difference. Within these games the character we play also has much more design gone into them as the way we connect to them becomes an important part of how much we enjoy the game. Games that are played within the 3rd person perspective also tend to have alot more effort put into the way our characters look, feel and move as we can see every move they make and if it doesn't look realistic we wont believe it and ultimately dislike it.


Character design then is an important part of making a game believable and fun. The challenge is to make characters that are realistic and believable within their given environment and setting of the game. Character design relates to everything about a character, their history, accent, movement, facial expressions and the way they dress. Everything must work together believably in order for the character to make sense and fit within the world so that they don't stand out as wrong.

While some games require characters to be deeply developed to fit, others work well due to strong art design. One of my favourite game characters of all time is 'War' from the game 'Darksiders'. This isn't because his character has a deep back history, emotional connection or sense of humour, its because he looks bad ass.

He looks awesome!

I'm instantly drawn to the Darksiders game and the characters within it because the artistic style of the game is awesome. The way the world and characters are designed isn't realistic but it is all believable in relation to each other which creates a fun game experience. The Darksider's style makes everything within the game bulky, bold and huge, if they had stuck a weedy main character into it like Link, the game would be rubbish. It works because no matter how big the world is or how nasty and huge the enemies are, War looks and feels like he can take it all on, despite being smaller, and that's down to his design. War isn't very deeply designed and he doesn't have a real emotional background but that is also part of his design, we don't really relate to him as a character but he is believable within the Darksiders world and that's why he works.

And he fits!

I think an important part of character design is relating them to the genre and world they are from. There is no point in creating an emotionally deep soldier for an FPS unless it is the point of the game because it would be unnecessary, overlooked and it just wouldn't fit. But it would be equally as bad to find a poorly designed shell of a character in an RPG that we just cant connect to. Characters are an important part of games that help to fill the world within a game and make it believable, but how they are designed needs to work with the game itself.