Dev Blog Ep. 10: The Art of Environmental Storytelling

By Emmanuel Alzaga, 3D Art Lead

Let’s talk about environmental storytelling!

In video games, environmental storytelling is a method of immersing a player in the narrative of the game and the world itself without explicitly telling them what’s happening. The game’s story is told through the individual elements of the environment including the scenery, visual hints, props used, placement of the objects, or set dressing. Good environmental storytelling takes a player through an imaginative experience that immerses our senses in a digital world.

This is such a huge topic that it involves the entire team to do it right. I will try my best to give you examples. To help illustrate, I’ll be breaking down the environmental storytelling of our gameplay reveal demo. If you haven’t seen it yet, take 2.5 minutes and watch it here!

Let’s start with the arrival of the Assassin Guardian. For most of us, the first thing we do whenever we’re brought to a new place is look around. So that’s what the Assassin does upon landing in the story. It’s very natural for people to take notice of the landscapes, characteristics, and colors that are unique to that location. That’s why in the image below, we used straight lines for all of the structures. The pathway on the ground is only part of the image with curvy shapes. This is an indirect message to bring the player’s awareness to the object and tell them “this is the way”. It encourages the player to take the intended flow of the game.

Then, we used the giant cat statue as a Point of Interest (“POI”). The POIs are neither exposed, nor teased. It is designed to increase the player’s interest in the location as well as create the desire to know more about it. For us as designers, it’s also a way to tell the player where to go next.

Next, we used lights and color to lead the viewer’s eyes to specific places and objects within the environment. Thanks to Niles, our Lead Level Designer, for creating the exceptional lighting in our gameplay trailer! (By the way, we are hiring additional Lighting Artists and more! Apply here.)

For example, we strategically added lights on the staircase, the weapon pickup location, and the alley to guide the player towards a direction.

We also used foreshadowing to help give the environment a feel and energy. As the Assassin is walking through the environment, a flying bus gets hit by a missile and explodes shortly after. This is a warning sign that there’s an impending danger in the area you are approaching, so be prepared!

In spite of the danger, we still want the player to continue their journey. That’s why we created the broken bridge. This gives the player an opportunity to use their teleportation ability. Just imagine that instead of a broken bridge, we created two balconies–one on each building. You will not naturally feel the need to jump to the other balcony. Instead, you would just head straight down to the main road. However, we wanted to invite the player to explore the environments on the other side of the broken bridge. More specifically, we wanted to guide the player towards our melee practice alley.

And with a melee comes the need to create the cutting target for the Assassin’s laser katana!

We really wanted players to get immersed in the game while also showcasing our vision of Nekovia, a Japanese-inspired, decadent metropolis. Even details like our cutting target assets had to be designed to fit the environment of our cyberpunk world.

Traditionally, the cutting target for katanas is a rolled Tatami mat or bamboo. However, Nekovia takes place in a dystopian time where the available resources differ from what we have today. We wanted to show some of the common resources that are during that time. While bamboo isn’t abundant in Nekovia, metals and wires are, which is what our cutting target assets are made of. We started with a traditional Tatami mat cutting target as a reference, especially for the initial silhouette.

This is how we’ve come up with this cutting target design.

All that I’ve mentioned above and so much more can be used as a way to express the game’s story through environmental storytelling. You can be certain that for our battle royale map, there will be other techniques that will be used to guide you towards specific areas and POIs. So watch for some of these clues and let us know if you catch on to some of the ways we try to influence your movements in the game!

See you all again soon!

Cheers,

Emman

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