In our previous blog post, we talked about how we decided to take a story-driven approach for Spellstrike. However, we took it a step further and attempted to define not just a story, but an entire world where we can play around with various plot lines. In our attempts to create this vast setting, we came up with several processes that helped us define how we envisioned the world of Ethir.
To start, we can at least say that there is no magic formula for creating a world. However, whenever we felt stuck and didn’t know where to start, a structured approach allowed us to define the world, the locations, cities, culture, civilizations, and the interwoven stories behind them.
Here are some tips on how we structured our approach to setting and lore.
Start with a Map
Sounds simple? The real difficulty to map creation is not knowing where to start, but knowledge of climates and weather in your game makes it easier to pinpoint certain locations. Usually cold places are at the northern parts of the world while hot places are somewhere near the middle. Since we had a rough idea of several environments that we wanted for our game, we had a general location on each of them, knowing where they can be placed relative to a world’s climate. This helped us determine how much space we had in between and around the significant locations in our world. We then plotted these key locations on a grid, including the general areas that surrounded them, and then simply labeled them with different climates and ecosystems, also defining where we would like to put bodies of water, mountains, and forests.
After several revisions on the idea, we went to look for a map tool that can show us some random land mass structures. Here is a link to the one that we used.
Next, we wanted to define important landmarks in our fantasy world. Landmarks that were not limited to man-made structures, but also memorable natural points of interest. We wanted this to help people remember certain characteristics of our world and make it easier for players to visualize and remember their journey as they play. As a starting point of the process, we scoured the net for references. This was the longest and most tedious part, but was also the most important. Reference images helped us communicate the world to other members of the team, such as artists and upper management. At this stage, we didn’t have concept art yet, so references were the source of inspiration that gave birth to our game’s concept art.
Cities and Civilizations
Once we had our natural landmarks, it became a lot easier to decide where to put towns and cities. As we were going through this process, we were creating the culture, histories, and story points side-by-side with topographical layouts of cities and man-made structures. With the cities in place, discussion of governments and social structures came naturally. At times, it went the other way around, wherein we came up with ideas of races, their physical definition and relevance to their geographic location, and then mapping them out into cities. Both cases worked for us, and help us expand on story ideas with economic and social relevance of each race and city.
Designing cities with the onset that they need to be memorable was a top priority. One of the landmarks in our world was a huge rocky cliff that allowed us to build a city around it.
While we were developing our concepts for the cities, it became a lot easier for us to define what the people that lived there looked like, what they wore, and what their social and cultural ideologies were. We decided that each city needed a different architectural style depending on its geographical location and the cultural norms of the people who lived there. As an example, in one of the major cities called Titansail, we decided to use Middle Eastern inspired shapes that helped us conceptualize what the common archways and buildings would look like throughout the city.
The Most Difficult Part
I don’t know if you will agree with me, but I find that naming your creation is always the most difficult part. Imagine having to name each landmark, country, and city, giving a unique sound for them while maintaining originality. We also wanted the landmark names to help players associate these places to what they actually look like, or at least make the name memorable enough via associating with a unique landmark. For example, if you say Stormwind in World of Warcraft, you could associate it with a castle with huge statues.
The first step was deciding on naming conventions for the people who lived in a particular location. We formed language rules and sound structures for each race (and we spent a whole afternoon talking gibberish to each other), and once we decided on a general sound, the guidelines for each country became clearer and more consistent.
But just between you and me, whenever we found ourselves stuck, we relied on fantasy name generators:
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