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

    - Michel Sabbagh

  • 6 - Structure the environment in a congruent fashion to solidify the mood

    As exciting as the atmospheric permutations the designer is capable of realizing can be, the risk of them not making sense in the grand scheme of things from a topographical viewpoint can still haunt the development process in spite of their tonal consistency. While more easily achievable within a relatively seamless field than a series of separate levels broken up by load times or choke points, having the space arranged in a manner that suggests verisimilitude can enable the avatar to remain focused on appreciating the flow and potency of the ambiance without ever paying attention to whatever seams the developers may have left in the game. By visualizing the virtual world and brainstorming ways to smartly connect its components, the designer can simultaneously solidify the game's aura and keep one well-grounded in their environs and the impression they get out of them.

    What Remains of Edith Finch embodies the principle of building a setting that achieves its effect via its congruousness. With most of the title taking place inside an eclectic family home, Giant Sparrow saw to it that the player would become acquainted with and captivated by the idiosyncratic layout of the house. From the moment the titular character sets foot inside the mucky kitchen and right till the end when she gains access to the final bedrooms, the participant will gradually map out a picture of the sundry areas they'll be visiting, with their respective vibes and levels of coziness being their defining features. By juxtaposing the moody quarters with one another and having them connected in several ways (e.g. crawlspaces), What Remains of Edith Finch paints the idea of an atypical estate that derives its atmosphere from its quirky harmony, made all the more tangible by the building's tightness that emphasizes the attention-to-detail.

    Similar to the idea of a predominant motif governing the title's aesthetics, having an idea of the interconnectedness between different stages/regions can provide the designer with a chance to reinforce the feeling of cohesion that can make or break immersion. The potential for atmospheric synergy means that the developer must ensure that every major facet of the audiovisual presentation and geographical makeup mesh well with people's expectations of the space and their locomotional abilities, which can yield some experimental risks that may or may not pay off. When structural congruence is achieved, however, the environment can manifest itself as one that respects the player's suspension of disbelief and even presents a kind of plausibility within the in-game context that adds a lot to the ambiance, no matter how surreal the journey may be.

    As a medium whose level of interactivity enables the participant to be let loose and uncover the designer's universe at their own pace and leisure, video gaming acts as an immaculate substrate for all kinds of feelings that can be efficiently meted out via the virtual world and its contents. By perceiving said world as a character of sorts with its own idiosyncrasies and identifying the means through which its tone can be imparted in an unobtrusive and organic manner, the developer can craft an experience that transcends its physical features and delivers an aura that mantles the player at every turn. The principles I provided throughout this post will ensure that whichever mood the designer envisions and seeks to realize, they'll be able to wield and leverage the tools and resources necessary to augment the immersion factor and impel gamers in an adventure whose ethereal qualities make them wish it could go on in perpetuity.

    Let me know what you think of my article in the comments section, and feel free to ask me questions! I'll do my best to get back to you as promptly as possible.

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