Building a Coherent Game Universe

What exactly is a coherent universe? If we look at the word’s definition we get the following: logical and consistent and united as or forming a whole. In that case, a game universe is coherent when its elements are working together, presented as a whole and in a logical manner.

Now that we’ve defined the term, your next question might be ‘‘Why does my game universe need to be coherent?’’

Coherence is the Catalyst to Immersion

Last week, we explained the importance of colors in games such as Light Fall to convey the right emotions. Without a doubt, art is very important. But it is merely one of the many factors in play when we talk about immersion.

Let’s put it this way: to generate an immersive experience, a developer has to abide to a certain logic throughout the game’s development. In doing so, your art, gameplay and story will work as a sum instead of seperate parameters. Let’s analyze each of these three game elements and see how they are related to each other.

Witcher 3’s coherent game universe makes it an outstanding immersive experience.

The Story is Your Game’s Blueprint

Building your game is somewhat similar to building a house: in both cases you need a solid blueprint. In your game’s case, this plan is none other than the story.

Now, I realize that some games might seem devoid of stories. The term here is used rather loosely. A good story doesn’t need walls of text or an extremely complicated setup to work, but it needs to act as a guideline for the rest of your elements.

Let’s take a look at League of Legends for example. LoL is probably the biggest e-Sports out there, known for its competitive gameplay and characters’ diversity. At first glance, it might look like there is no story at all… but think again.

Every time Riot introduces a new character, they release a video explaining his background, his motivations and his personality. It’s been like this since the beginning. The story, while not so present in the game, remains very rich. This is an example of a good story, despite the fact that LoL is clearly not a story-driven game. The story is the foundation of the entire game, every new champion released is based on this existing guideline.

Despite being mostly known as an e-Sport, League of Legends’ story is rich and act as a guideline for every new element introduced.

The Gameplay is Your Game’s Frame

If we look back at the house analogy, what is the next logical step once the plans are all done? Building the house. You need walls, a roof, a basement, etc. Your house needs a solid frame to make it all work and brave the test of time.

Now, what is the core element of video games in general? Gameplay, obviously. Your gameplay is your game’s frame. Your game can be the prettiest in the world, but if the gameplay is lackluster, the people will drop it. On the other hand, amazing gameplay has carried bad art or a bad story in the past.

The trick here is to not have one element stand out and carry the rest, but to have it all work together. Your gameplay has to fit with your story’s logic. To illustrate my point, I will use an example from Light Fall.

The main character of Light Fall is reckless and clumsy. His personality has been written this way. This can be seen the first time the character is introduced: when he appears, the platforms around him are destroyed under his weight and he falls down. As such, we have created game mechanics that go hand in hand with the character’s nature.

The character’s clumsiness is also present in the gameplay of Light Fall.

An example of incoherent gameplay would be to have our main character stop the time as an ability. A cool power sure… but a power which makes no sense within our game universe.

The Art is Your Game’s Furniture

Now that you’ve built your walls, divided your rooms, built a roof… you’ve got yourself a house. An empty house. You need furniture, you need decoration, you need to fill out these empty rooms! In your game’s case, the art is what makes it alive and fleshed out.

The art also has to respect the same logic as your story and gameplay. The unity between the colors used for a particular region or sticking to a particular theme are examples of coherent art.

Let’s take Light Fall once again as an example of this. The second region of the game presents a foul and toxic marshland. As such, we push forward this toxic vibe with green elements in every facets of the levels.

Notice a similar pattern here? The green color in the three elements strengthen the toxic theme.

It wouldn’t make much sense to have a monsters of different colors to represent one common theme… It was important to showcase a certain unity between the elements to reinforce our marshland theme.

Unity Above All Else

Obviously, a game is much more than art, gameplay and story. The soundtrack, the UI, the community, and many other factors play a part in a game’s universe.

As long as the player can feel a unity between all these factors, you can consider your game universe a success. King Robert Baratheon from Game of Thrones said it best:

Robert Baratheon: Which is the bigger number, five or one? 
Cersei Lannister: Five. 
Robert Baratheon: [holds up his left fingers] Five… 
Robert Baratheon: [clutches his right fist] … one.

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