The most memorable game worlds are the ones that immerse players and feel like actual locations that could have or someday will exist, even if they are fantasy or sci-fi. The critical element of game design is creating environments and game worlds that feel natural lived in, and actually enhance the experience of the players that explore and interact with it.
The Components of Environmental Design
These worlds are often realized thanks to a good 3D environment artist that knows how to create designs and assets that not only fit within a world but contribute to the player’s immersion within it. With good environment design, players feel like they are actually a part of the world they are exploring and are encouraged to play more as a result. The environments available to players often go hand in hand with the gameplay itself to form a more memorable experience. Not only can these environments be a setting for the story, but they can also actually tell stories of their own.
For example, in an open-world game, you could come across a village off the beaten path with ruined houses and no civilians. A few meters down you could encounter a bandit camp with chests full of loot and items that look like they belong in a home. You can now extrapolate that bandits attacked the town and left it in ruins, all without a single line of dialogue spoken.
Environmental storytelling can convey stories and messages that enhance a player’s experience by being a legitimate part of the areas they are playing around in and can add new meaning to what they perceive about the game during their time with it, and long after they put the controller down.
How the Environment can Create the World
One game that has been praised for using environments and world design to great advantage is The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. This game created a massive 3D open world that fleshes itself out even more thanks to each object, landscape, town, and character being rendered in great detail and placed in a location that makes sense in the context of the world and encourages players to interact with and discover every nook and cranny. When game developers begin the design and concept phase of their worlds, they often take special care in the world design, since it forms the foundation of everything that comes after it.
For example, in Skyrim, the world is a cold and icy one, so the NPCs will have had to be created with warm clothes, the creatures you come across will have to look like they survive in a cold environment, and the objects you find have to look like they match the surrounding landscapes. The art of the environment ensures that these elements all remain consistent and don’t break the established rules of the series.
Games are only growing to become more detailed and immersive, making their world designs far more immersive. This means that developers need to be up to the task of creating worlds and environments that players will want to spend countless hours in.