Ask a Dork: Video Game Worlds
What is more important in world building in video games, the locations or the characters?
This is a challenging question. By definition, dynamic and interesting locations are required in order to build a world worth exploring. However, no world in any video game – regardless of how pretty or expansive it may be – is worth spending time in if the characters that inhabit it are uninteresting and vapid. So instead of proposing that one is better that the other, why don’t we explore why they are individually important and how they come together
To start, the best locations are not necessarily the most detailed, largest, or colourful. They’re the ones you see in-game and think, “If only I could visit this place myself.” These locations are memorable because of their themes, landmarks, and hidden areas. Perfect examples of this are Mass Effect’s Citadel, the Bluemoon Tower in Dragon’s Dogma, Call of Duty: Black Ops’ Nuketown, and Post-Apocalyptic Washington DC in Fallout 3. These locals excite our curious side because they take settings we have become accustomed to in our daily lives and apply a different tone. They also limit our exposure. The Citadel, for instance, is a massive space station brimming with life, but we only get to see a few areas – raising questions as to what else is out there.
A world’s characters are also important, but I think too many people fixate on main characters rather than the NPCs and supporting characters that actually comprise the world you’re in. Sure, a set of main characters can determine the tone of a game, but the setting should feature a host of townies, shopkeepers, minor antagonists, and animals to bring the locals to life. These people will dictate the culture of each location and even play a part in your hero’s direction. If Final Fantasy XIII taught us anything, it’s that pretty vistas lose their impact when there are no characters inhabiting them – especially when your mains are as one dimensional as cardboard.
Ultimately, you can’t have a strong video game world without beautifully designed locations full of interesting and dynamic citizens. Neither is more important, as they’re both necessary.