Come build worlds with me!

PLUS: Worldbuilding-led Game Design - a retrospective

I have some exciting news: I’m running an intensive four-week long workshop with DMG Toronto on critical worldbuilding! Are you building a world and interested in honing your craft? Interested in meeting other worldbuilders and trading secrets? I’d love for you to join me!

I have tons of stuff planned: structured discussions and show-and-tell sessions, fun creative exercises, and a Discord server for chats and idea dumps! Best of all, if you’re a DMG member it’s free to sign up! If not it costs $75 for four sessions, but you can always become a member and see what else they have to offer - they are a super rad organization.

Learn more and join up here!

Worldbuilding-led Game Design: A Retrospective

I mentioned last month that I participated in the Toronto Comic Arts Festival Comics X Games Jam this year, and jammed a game over the course of a month with artist Erica Lee. The result was The Faceless City, a small arcade-style game about a deity that steals faces. We began the jam by playing One Hour Worldbuilders, and came up with our game’s story, mechanics and aesthetic based on the world we made.

This got me thinking: what if I made this into a more robust method for game design? What does it mean to design games based on worlds, and what unique opportunities does this method create?

My thoughts on this are still very much in the early stages, but off the top of my head, worldbuilding-led game design has a few benefits. It might make for more cohesive games, since the narrative, aesthetics and mechanics of a game will all be developed with the goal of revealing aspects of the world. Along the same lines, it might encourage people to create different kinds of stories or mechanics. And if your team builds their world collaboratively, it might help team members feel more invested in their game and in their role in making it - after all, small details are crucial to good worldbuilding.

The way I see it, this is what worldbuilding-led game design entails:

  1. As much as possible, come up with mechanics, art style and narrative only after starting the worldbuilding process. For larger game projects this is less feasible - we tend to start game projects with a game engine and some programming constraints in mind already, for example. But leaving more up to the world will result in a more unique game, I think.

  2. Build collaboratively so that everyone has a say in the creation of the world. The more invested everyone is in the world they create, the more interesting the world will be - and hopefully this sense of agency on the part of the team will improve morale as well!

  3. Use a tool or game that structures the way people participate in the worldbuilding process, to avoid alpha gamers and help newcomers feel comfortable contributing.

  4. Take time away from the project between the initial worldbuilding session and the design-focused discussions. Try to keep design considerations out of the worldbuilding process, so that you can let the mechanics and core gameplay emerge from it.

  5. When in doubt about design elements, take inspiration from the worldbuilding if possible.

  6. Keep returning to the world and adding to it, to keep yourself interested in it and to fuel new inspiration.

I’m still thinking about how to turn this basic concept into a more concrete design methodology. I’m starting a new, long-term project right now (more on that later) and looking forward to taking this approach! I’d love to hear feedback on this idea - have you taken an approach like this with past game projects? How did they turn out? What would you add or remove?