Feature – GameCityNights – Season 5 Episode 2

Posted: May 4, 2014 in Feature, GameCity
Tags: ,


Once again, apologies for the massive delay. When you’re busy napping and painting models from Super Dungeon Explore like characters from the Tales games, your time flies by. I’m feeling very confident that the most recent GameCityNights will be published before the next one. Promise. This episode hass Tammy Nicholls, Graphic Design Lead at Games Workshop, who will be telling us all about “Building fantastic worlds: The history, techniques, and applications of worldbuilding”, apparently using the fictional THESIS Industries as an example…


What is the fictional THESIS Industries which is the example being used here I hear you ask, well fear not. The GameCityNights website offers a simple explanation:

THESIS Industries is a fictional corporation. Now defunct, it existed in a Ballard-ian hinterland of late 20th century pseudo-science and dubious research. Its aims were unclear, but it seems to have been involved in worldbuilding. In this respect it marketed itself to individuals and institutions with varied interests, including the paranormal, folklore, comparative religion, fringe science and Psychonautics. It is presumed that professionals in these fields have found worldbuilding a useful tool for their research. The corporation provided what it called ‘complete terragenesis’ solutions in both ‘utopian’ and ‘dystopian’ modes.

Well that’s cleared that one up. Now get prepared for some babbling…


Tonight is all about worldbuilding, and how it is used in games, movies, books and all other things to create a world for you to enjoy. Not just simply creating a massive world and saying “have at it”, legends, people and all various other methods of interaction which creates a sense of immersion which keeps you coming back for more. Instead of the usual indie games showcase we had some more familiar titles keeping in with the theme of the night: Bastion, Gone Home, The Banner Saga, Dark Souls II and even game-not-a-game-as-such-hard-to-explain-what-it-actually-is Cr0n made a return. With these games on show you can tell tonight will be an interesting evening. Seeing Bastion again reminded me that I should go back to it and finish it off.

After showing off the powers of the Strawpedo (a method of drinking which I’m happy to demonstrate in the future) to pass the time to a group of students who decided to join me at my table, at 7.10 the crowd starts to get restless.

Several tables were given a box of ‘crazy stuff’, which included: coloured paper/card, plasticine, pipe cleaners, LEGO and other bits and bobs, the plan was to get some cards with random elements on them and ‘create’ a world using the crazy stuff we had to work with. The table I sat at had something to do with UFO’s, nuclear war and something else I can’t remember because I was busy making inappropriate objects out of children’s modelling products. Either way we set to work making what could only be described as ‘a mess’ and passing it off as some sort of ruined city. I made an angry sun similar to one seen in Super Mario Bros. 3 with a ‘stache which I called “Hombré Du Solei”, as well as a nice looking alien and the triple breasts from Total Recall, which didn’t make it into the final design. It all came to naught though as they weren’t really inspected to the rest of the group and it was revealed that it was more of a journey within yourself, seeing what method everyone used (although we didn’t see what everyone else did unless we got out of our chairs and wandered over) and that there are different techniques besides maps, making everyone’s efforts feel wasted.

PlatosCaveTammy defined worldbuilding as “the topic of creating imaginary worlds, which is sometimes called sub-creation” as to avoid offending those who may get uncomfortable discussing actual creation outside those defined in religious texts. Plato’s Cave was used as an example, creating an imaginary world using shadows to connect philosophy as a metaphor for real life happenings. It’s quite an interesting concept and you can read more about it here.

Next came one of the many illustrations which was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, which was based on the words in the Bible but Dante went further, building and describing Hell, to create the denizens and creatures of Hell. Which as we saw one example of, inspired many artists to create their own interpretation based on Dante’s words in paint form. Next: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which managed to create an amazing world which has also inspired several different interpretations by others based on the same works. Apart from the quirky world the book made in your mind, the story rather bored me.

Star Wars, picked by Tammy over Star Trek was because Star Wars has more of a global popularity than Star Trek and it was “the thing which kickstarted cross media storytelling” where the continuation of the story is explained in other media forms. There are several books and comics explaining the stories of the characters long before and after the two trilogies. The detailed backstory of how deep Palpatine’s influenced reached made me watch the movies from a whole new perspective. Click here and see what you’ll think afterwards.

It will actually be interesting to see how close the third trilogy in the series will actually stick to the currently existing stories which have been accepted as canon. Not to mention the merchandising that can result from a successful worldbuilding.

313Next came a little game to test our knowledge, we were shown bits from story rich fictional universes and asked to shout out where they’re from. From a zoomed in portion of Darth Vader’s mouth piece to the Master Sword from The Legend of Zelda series. Only a couple managed to stump the majority of the crowd. One was a sand worm tooth turned into a knife from Dune. After a few sci-fi guesses from myself I managed to get the newspaper from Blade Runner (Go me.), along with the Ministry of Information from Brazil, which someone else got right. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that after however long we had encountered these elements, the worldbuilding was that powerful that we have managed to retain it in our minds to recognise it.

“Why does it matter?” Nicholls asks, it offers context for narrative, support multiple narratives, offers justification for merchandising and spin offs. As well as giving the player a greater element of interaction. Using their unique differences to give the player a unique sense of experience based on their interpretation of the narrative, using Silent Hill as an example, the town is shrouded in mist, makes you use the map to navigate and actually brings in an element of suspense as you can hear the monsters before you can see them further adding a sense of urgency.

A further point was that it creates the need for exploration, although it can be too easy to create a game with something around each corner, there can be games where the lure of the unknown makes you want to explore the environment around you, especially if they’re good looking. Enter Myst, a game which created several angry moments in my youth but I still kept going back for more. Final point is that a good bit of worldbuilding is that it can convince the player that the world exists and expands beyond the initial comprehension. The feeling of inhabiting an actual living, breathing world is really attractive.

Worldbuilding allows for multiple narratives, in stories the Fighting Fantasy books had this covered with branches reaching all over the place. Subsequently it can lead to multiple playthroughs of games. A more modern example is Bioshock and the way you treat the Little Sisters has an impact on the end narrative, giving you incentive to play the game again but differently to experience the branching storyline.

Last thing to explore, is that the idea of worldbuilding can help interaction. It brings people together who share a common love for the universe in question. Fans of Star Wars have The Old Republic, or any collaborative game which is based on an existing world. These extra media outlets probably wouldn’t have been as successful if they didn’t have such a rich world already built for them and a large fanbase of those already immersed in the universe and want to explore further aspects of it. A relevant example of this for Tammy working for Games Workshop is the Lord of The Rings and Hobbit tabletop games which have been made to tie-in with the movies.

GameCityNights is an event that happens on the last Thursday of every month at Antenna in Nottingham. For more information check out http://nights.gamecity.org/

For more Tammy Nicholls action, go to:

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