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  • How To Build Worlds And Tell Stories In VR

    [12.11.18]
    - Michela Rimensberger
  • A few months ago, I was asked by the SGDA (Swiss Game Developers Association) to give a talk at the Forward Festival in Zurich, together with Stéphane Intissar, CEO of OZWE Games. The topic: Storytelling in VR. Timeframe: 10min max, each.

    I was challenged to pack over 9 years of ongoing development into a 10 minute talk. I had to take a deep breath, as so much information raced through my head that it seemed an almost impossible to condense all those details into such a short timeframe. So, I decided to present a cross-section of our worldbuilding, using our Stonebeards as a template.

    Giving that talk was a very interesting experience, so I decided to write this blog entry to share some of the things I spoke about. So, here's a wrap-up of the lessons we've learned and the worldbuilding approach we've developed over the past 9 years. I hope you enjoy it!

    In the beginning was the story...

    Before even thinking about making an actual game, we started with the creation of our universe. To get to those 600+ families, clans and tribes mentioned in the slide above, we had to brainstorm, sit together, argue together and discuss A LOT. We spent almost every night during our time at university creating the Lore of Arafinn. Beginning with names and a world map, with time we created a huge compendium to describe each and every aspect of the Lands of Arafinn. We had a clear vision in mind: creating a self-contained fantasy universe. To us that means every fact, event, happening etc. must make sense and our universe must follow a logical structure based on rules that we define. In order to achieve this goal, we knew that we could not just start developing a game or write a book from scratch but first had to let our universe grow.


    By the time we began with the development for Return to Nangrim, 7 years had already passed. One thing that evolved throughout those 7 years was the culture of the Stonebeards, the most powerful dwarven family of Arafinn. The rest of this blog entry will focus on the development of this specific culture but can be seen as a template to be adapted to fit any aspect around which you'd like to build a self-contained world.

    What you need before you begin:

    • You will need TIME, and by this, I mean a lot if not most of your free time.
    • A big bunch of idealism with a small tinge of megalomania
    • And not to forget, probably the most important skill: endurance.

    Together this forms TIME, which really is the key - take your time! Rome wasn't built in a day, and nor will your universe be.

    The principles of the 4WH

    When we create a family, house or clan, we ask ourselves the 4WH's:

    What, Who, Where, When and How?

    As you can see in the slide above, the questions are not necessarily consecutive, and may be fed back for multiple iterations. This makes sense, as often, for example, you may need to ask yourselves whatquestions during working on the where part. For example, asking yourself: "Where do the Stonebeards live?" automatically implies questions like: "What is the weather like where they live?" etc. (but more on that later).

    Going through those questions in detail and doing multiple iterations gives your story structure, context and depth.

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