This blog post is a brief discussion about the principles of world-building. I am going to be taking a look at 1992’s Star Control II in relation to these principles and how they have been used to inform the creation game worlds.
A well designed world or universe has the ability to create captivating experiences. There are two primary kinds of world building, Inside-Out, where a world is built around a story or Outside-In where the stories are built around a world. A game like The Witcher was a world designed around a story, whereas the games found in The Elder Scrolls series are stories told within a world. When designing a world or a universe, and depending on the scale, things like solar systems, planets, atmospheric composition, how these affect landmasses, weather patterns, water bodies, mountain ranges and settlements all need to be taken into consideration. There are also the cultural aspects such as species, histories, lore, countries, cities, culture, social rules, law, government, religion, class and communication which need to be considered when populating this world. Things that affect the world and the story further are aspects like magic, technology and accessibility of resources.
Star Control II makes use of all of these features and despite its age still manages to create a captivating narrative that players can invest in. The story is set in in a science-fiction universe where humans have been subjugated by the Ur-Quan and their hierarchy of battle thralls. You play as the captain of a ship who had previously escaped this conflict, only to find ancient but advanced alien technology on another planet. You return to Earth to find the other humans confined to Earth and the races, who previously allied with you against the Ur-Quan, have met similar fates. The player now has the responsibility of finding new alien allies and gathering resources to build a fleet which can once again oppose the Ur-Quan.
While dated, this world of Star Control manages to invoke emotional investment from the player. Well designed worlds like this give players a system of rules in a huge world which they can explore. Each solar system has unique planets, with unique atmospheres and different alien life, each with their own strange culture and social system. Exploring these and finding new ways to gather allies and resources is why players want to dedicate multitudes of hours to games of this nature. By having such an expansive world, this encourages players to explore. We can also see why story-lines and worlds like this are the inspiration and spiritual ancestors of games like Mass Effect and No Man’s Sky.
The world serves as a precursor and provides the narrative context which informs the gameplay. The benefits of building such an extensive world like the one we find in Star Control is that it leaves the core story open to expansion. By strongly designing the systems and lore of a world, game designers can open themselves up to much more development of their universe and their story.