Level Design of Video Games – Star Control II, the World of the Game

The world of a game is often its most compelling feature, unique and exciting the game world is a way for the player to escape and immerse themselves in the game. On the consideration of immersion a game world has to be two things, it has to be unique and it has to be believable. Without the first the player is entering the game only to be presented with a simulation of the real world. Without the second the player finds the game world too ridiculous to feel involved in.

The world, or rather universe, we are diving into is the world of Star Control II. What is notable about the way this world was built is that it is so vast, it is one of those older games brimming with content, focusing on player involvement and investment for 40+ hours, rather than a unique mechanic that you can play with for eight hours before the game runs out of content. Sticking with the idea that it is an older game it is also brutally unforgiving, it doesn’t treat you like a baby, it doesn’t even treat you nicely. If you don’t figure out what you are doing and save often you are going to die in the first five minutes. Without divulging my own failures at the game I will say that this element of the game made it difficult to write about.

One might argue that not telling the player what is happening or what to do that this would diminish the quality of the game or the game world. On the contrary what this achieves is a narrative world which is more enticing as it doesn’t consider itself a “game” in the sense that it doesn’t worry about how it teaches the player to play, or making sure it is simple enough to understand for new players, for Star Control II it is an adventure. What this game relies on in the wake of this lack of tutorial for the player is something that is also extremely beneficial to the game world; exposition. Everything the player could possibly want to know about the universe of Star Control is there in the dialogue. From a design perspective if done well this element makes a game, particularly a narrative game, much more believable, teaching the player through diegetic elements is something that is often coupled with good game design.

When I mentioned universe previously I meant it in every sense of the world because Star Control is a universe spanning across multiple installments as a series. As media goes in general, establishing a series built on a shared universe is a strong way to design a world which is enthralling and familiar to fans/players/viewers etc.

Lastly on the point of familiarity, Star Control establishes the setting of the game starting with Earth, something the player can familiarise themselves with. While the rest of the game is pure science fiction by basing the beginning of the game around Earth helps the player understand where the game is coming from. Forming some kind of connection to the familiar is crucial to design on all fronts, many great concept designers follow this philosophies and it helps the viewer to visualise this design in the real world.

– battz

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