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How to Use Storytelling to Improve Your Level Design

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

First of all, what is Storytelling?

Storytelling is the activity of conveying events in the form of words, images, and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment.

Don't confuse Storytelling with the story of the game, it is important to understand this difference and understand that Storytelling, the Story of your game and Level Design will be connected to expose what in Game Design is called Composition.


Our 3 baselines will need to provide us with information that will serve as a foundation and much more for the elaboration of the Composition.


Level Design

Level design is the definition of how your environment, map locations, NPCs position will be, among many information that exists in a game, it is in the level design that this is pre-established, in addition to being built based on the game's history.


Level Design is built to present your story, it will have everything it requires.


History

When we talk about story in the gaming world, I always see people telling what is called the story background.

A post-apocalyptic world, ravaged by nuclear war, where survivors banded together to establish sustenance capacity and face the creatures that emerged from radiation.

What you've just read is a backstory of a story, or what I like to call the "Game Universe".


After that, we have the "game story" being better explained as the main character's story, introducing other characters, villain, different environments, character evolution, the so-called Hero's Journey. It's no secret that this story needs to be very well crafted, because if this game is linear, story focused and single player, this story is all it has, so it needs to honor its prominent position.


See the image below. Try to imagine the past and future of this moment fragment described in the image, and what its details can tell you. After reaching the end of reading this post, go back to this image and reevaluate the scene, now knowing what each part of the image tells, identifying: story (Game Universe, Game Story and World Stories) and Level Design.

Fonte: Perfil ArtStation (Créditos: Alis A.)


And finally "Stories of the World", these stories as the name suggests, are events that are not linked to the character's history, and derived or not by the "game universe", they are stories found by the game world.


Imagine the following scene;

On a concrete bridge, a police car is forgotten on the sidewalk , Sheltered from the dark night, heavy clouds, everything abandoned, where the bushes takes care of everything it can reach. The posts that were once joined by large clusters of copper and rubber are now solitary, plastered until one day they reach the ground. The patrol vehicle, dropped with the doors open makes available the opportunity to gain the defense, with a 12 gauge shotgun between the front seats. The open trunk, almost empty and without interest, overshadows the true item of value that once belonged to the former owner of the police vehicle. A little less than 3 steps away, on the parapet of concrete bases and iron railings, a rope is tightly tied, stretched, until it reaches the bottom of the bridge, but without touching the ground, keeping a lifeless body, waiting for time to give it. The end.

The green marking in the text is the level design under the influence of the character's history, the blue it's information from the game's universe, the rest is part of the world's history


Realize that this information from the history of the world, would not need to exist for this scene to deliver a weapon for the player to be able to defend themselves, however, it causes an impact, this in the construction of "Environment Art" is the composition, delivering emotion, generating interest, creating breaks, raise curiosity and so on.



Storytelling


The term Storytelling is used in several areas, mainly in marketing, similarly applied here. As we saw at the beginning of the text, Storytelling is the way a story is told, such as the hero's journey. This concept was used in the scene description above, making the story more flashy and impactful.


As a comparison, remember a Coca-Cola marketing ad where they show a happy, happy family sharing Christmas dinner together. Coca-Cola's goal is just to sell their product, but they do this by creating emotions and memories by linking a date marking with their product.


To be able to enjoy the fruits that a Storytelling can deliver, you will need the three types of stories mentioned above, but mainly the Stories of the World, which will be your reference to develop the surroundings of the scenes.


Once you've established a few World Stories, I recommend 3 or 4, you'll have Storytelling tools at hand to compose your scene.


In short, an environment artist can and should explore their mental scripts in an attempt to expand them, to help them achieve better results in their work.

My most recent work prior to publishing this post. (Credits: Alis A.)


Now that you've finished reading, go back to the first image of this post in order to practice what's described here.


I hope this post contributes to your professional development! Until a next post!

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