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  • Take It All In: Imbuing Games With A Potent Atmosphere

    [07.05.18]
    - Michel Sabbagh

  • 4 - Provide a balance of wide open and enclosed areas to optimize scope and detail

    Having a paramount motif for crafting the perfect vibe for their game may go a long way toward refining the virtual environment's character, but the developers' efforts can still be undermined if they fail to consider another significant aspect of ambient design: breadth and depth of universal detail. Because long-term exposure to a single quantity of audiovisual stimuli can prove stale in the human mind and cause the player to tune out and yearn for something different, the designer mustn't rule out the possibility of expanding or narrowing the horizons throughout one's playthrough. By offering the participant a palate-cleansing variety of compact/broad spaces that prioritize subtleties/grandeur, the developers can keep the experience feeling fresh and the gamer continuously engaged as they bask in the ever-shifting nature of the setting.

    The historically inclined Kingdom Come: Deliverance impressively incorporates that careful balance of atmospheric breadth and depth into its framework. Throughout this 2018 role-playing epic, Warhorse Studios make no qualms about their Bohemian pedigree, something the avatar will briskly pick up upon as they're trekking through the meadows and settlements adorning the medieval countryside. The grassy hills and thick woodlands that stretch for miles on end ingrain in one's mind a sense of scale that sells them into the idea that they're inhabiting a full-fledged kingdom, while the furnished and moodily lit interiors inside cities, towns and villages beget a lived-in impression that reflects the livelihoods of their occupants. Having both the inside and outside worlds contrast with one another with convincing results on both ends can make for welcome changes of pace that ensure the player never feels deprived of anything best appreciated from afar or up-close, resulting in the immersion factor being solidly maintained.

    With a landmass whose complexity and size can vary from one spot to the other comes opportunities for scenery changes that can accentuate certain visual aspects such as coziness and splendor. While the ratio of interior and exterior spaces (and how big/small each of them are) is up to the developer to decide, the aforementioned issue of long-term exposure to a homogeneous form of stimuli means that the likelihood of ambient shifts should remain in one way or another. The designer can fulfill that promise through an understanding of how they can tweak the spatial parameters (in accordance with the title's pacing) and where the participant may go, all without violating the guiding theme or technical restraints. Doing this can translate to a world that not only feels balanced, but also has a little something for everyone in terms of atmospheric preferences.

    5 - Tweak activity levels in the space to showcase contrasts between isolation and company

    While the environment in and of itself does act as the foremost conduit for the developer's choice of vibe, a lax attitude toward what inhabits it and how it is allocated over the course of the experience can undo much of its intended effect. This is where the designer has to be especially careful while designing and tweaking the aura because the amount of action in a particular level or region of the world can achieve one of two results: supplementing the artistic considerations of the surroundings the gamer is in OR overpowering the spatial motifs to the point where the player is more distracted than focused. Combined with the issue of scale and audiovisual fidelity, nailing the appropriate level and type of activity can have a transformative impact on the final product, with the positive outcome engendering a unique ambiance that takes full advantage of the medium.

    Abzû  serves as a peerless example of placing the participant in an environment that can prove tranquil and lively in similar quantities. Being set entirely within a vast body of water with few opportunities for land-based exploration, Giant Squid leverages its underwater romp's setting to spice things up and downplay them as well with regards to the fauna and flora one will come across. With seemingly boundless vistas filled with all varieties of fish that surround the player, and sunken structures that encircle the main character with silence and darkness, the title hardly overwhelms the avatar or deprives them of the audiovisual appeal that can arouse the senses in Mother Nature's aquatic abode. True to its thematic premise of soothing but never overbearing solitude, Abzû rewards people for taking their time admiring the scenery and letting its atmosphere enfold them as they witness and cherish what marine life has to offer.

    Because of the aforementioned human need for ocular and auditory stimuli that should alternate between sparse and dense, how active a locale can be must become a consideration on the developer's part that can greatly affect one's impression of the experience. This means that when it comes to building the space that'll accommodate the entities present in it, the designer must provide a certain amount of room for any number of dynamic props or NPCs whose actions will convey the appropriate aura for whichever spot the gamer is in. Failure to do so may result in areas that either feel too lifeless or overwhelming for their own good, with success begetting a sense of place that is befitting of the title's overall tone and communication of it throughout the player's journey.

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