How fractured the world - Wolf's Building Imaginary Worlds

Early in Mark Wolf's awesome new book about subcreation, he makes note of Eco's discussion of cult products. Wolf highlights the fact that a good cult film is not necessarily completely coherent. Rather, it has chunks and pieces that allow the audience to participate in creation. A good world is not a clean story from end to end, its a lattice with hooks for people to hang other things. As we all know from building toys, anything you hang on a hook should itself be a hook.

A few weeks ago, we discussed what makes good computer game worlds different from the current over-designed worlds we are getting. It's not necessarily free-form play or anything, but rather the presence or absence of features that provide hooks for our own immersion. A huge sandy desert is a great sandbox but, pace ATITD, is not a great world. A game filled with narratives and achievement ladders is also not a great world. A game with a million loose ends is not a great world. A game that has ends that are not loose but rather awaiting further development or discovery  is the ticket. If there are mountains at the edge of the place space, we should not be told that over the mountains is "a place nobody goes." We should be told that "Across the mountains lie the sands of Khalibar; people who go there never come back. We do not know what happens to them." That's why it is so disheartening to open a new game and pop up the map, and see the entire world including a clearly defined boundary, beyond which is nothing. Once I see my progress on that map, I can't help extrapolate and sense how long it takes to explore the whole thing. It's kind of like, for an achievement player to kill the first mob and, from that experience, get a good guess as to how the final boss fight will go. Deflates the mystery. So: Get rid of the boundaries!

Anyways, you shoujld pick up and read Building Imaginary Worlds. You'd be surprised how many cool worlds there have been prior to Ultima.


Comments on How fractured the world - Wolf's Building Imaginary Worlds:

Darryl Bordelon says:

This is one of the things that made the original Asheron's Call so compelling for me and a game that, no matter how dated, still brings me back now and then. There was a massive amount of terrain that just had some oddities to it that were never explained originally. Every now and then an event would happen that would shed some light on one or two of them.

It gave us just enough framework to sort out the basics, some stories here, a fragmented note there, a vague utterance from some NPC. It never really did try to give us the comprehensive story beyond the current arc. What was given to use was detailed enough to make us feel that everything did have a purpose, from the odd virindi inhabited power plants in the middle of no where, to the odd ruins.

This allowed us to create our own stories with the world. It opened things to discussion and debate. It really did feel like exploring a world instead of being spoon fed a story with a side of grind.

It also didn't hurt that Turbine was willing to permanently change parts of their world on a regular basis. This helped with the impression that everything may have a purpose.

This is important, I think.

A world with a lot of ends awaiting development only keeps its value if regular development happens.

Posted Jan 8, 2013 4:21:46 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Hmm, that's a rather expensive hardback edition of the book they have there.

Posted Jan 9, 2013 2:47:07 AM | link

Burcu Bakioglu says:

Hi Ted, totally unrelated. But... Is there any way you guys could add a Search box on the site so readers can search for specific content? The archives don't do much if you don't know the year/month etc... Doing so would help the rest of us greatly.

Many thanks!

Posted Jan 9, 2013 10:36:56 PM | link

Scrabble Online Against Computer says:

I'm eager to check out that book. A friend recommended it and I sort of forgot, but this serves as a good reminder to get off my butt and go get it!

Posted Jan 20, 2013 9:21:52 AM | link