To Build a World - The Importance of Story - Part 1 / by Andreas Kopriva

INTRODUCTION - The importance of story

It took me years to realize that the single most important thing in a piece of content is the story it has to say. I always found myself gravitating towards the artistic aspects of it all, whether it was the cinematography of a film, the flow of sentences in a book or the graphical prowess of a game engine, while almost completely ignoring what was actually being shared. 

Of course there is beauty in all the above and one can easily say that, often, visual opulence may be enough; that art serves no purpose than to simply be. But how long does that stay with you if it doesn't say a story? How will a piece of artistic content affect you in any sort of meaningful way, unless it facilitates a connection with you, thus allowing a deeper exchange between viewer and artist? 

To start off my game building journey I began by considering the aspect of storyline. From my perspective, this serves two functions. Firstly, it allows me to build atop a predetermined and considered base, so that all design elements are constructed contextually and purposefully, thus streamlining the workflow somewhat. Secondly, a good story is an item which could be marketed and released in different forms as well should the game design process fail. For example, I could release a short story collection further down the line focusing on different characters within the created world, or, if enough artwork is generated, a comic book or animation series. 

With that said, in the following sections I will be sharing my thought processes regarding the storyline of this world I am building and a few of the things I am considering from narrative, design and logistical perspectives. 


PART1 - Fleshing out the world - What is where with whom and why.

The origin of this project can be traced back to a series of doodles done during particularly lengthy, and dreary, lectures at university. In an effort to remain conscious (and as a side note, the lecture aspect ingrained in educational exercises needs to be reconsidered; NOONE can remain conscious as a passive observer for that many hours) I would draw small architectural elements which stemmed out from various parts of human anatomy. For example, a profile view of a nose with a large, rustic wooden door towards it's end and brickwork forming it's foundations with blades of grass peaking through. I would also incorporate small rolling hills and windmills everywhere for some strange reason. 

I ended up drawing a small collection of such thumbnails, all of them quick sketches of almost haphazardly thrown together anatomical and architectural elements which I ended up labelling as Humanchitecture. This was around 4 years ago and life kinda got in the way, with work responsibilities creeping up, alongside the aforementioned procrastination, pushing the idea well out of the spotlight. It was still in the back of my mind though, as the general concept appealed to me. 

I rediscovered those initial sketches around a year ago and decided that I would begin working on the overall idea again, this time trying to piece it all together into something more solid and coherent. At that point, I didn't yet know what form this would inevitably take (to be honest, I'm still not fully certain of the details, suffice to say that it will be interactive). There began the lengthy process of creating an overarching mythology which would piece it all together. 

Fast forward to the beginning of this year, and I finally began locking in place the foundations of the world I was creating. 

First I needed to satisfy my need for an explanation behind the fusion of human anatomy and architecture. As such I began considering the following : 

  1. Where does this take place? 
  2. Who is responsible for this? 
  3. Why human parts? 


1. Where does this take place

I considered a  scenario where, post mortem, our corporeal forms are broken down, absorbed, and resynthesized in an alternate world as practically complete components to be used as a resource for other sentient life-forms. Essentially, an exaggerated form of the circle of life with a dash of morbid fantasy.

By considering the element of re-synthesis, I am allowing myself certain creative liberties, primarily by introducing the potential of failures in the process. By assuming that this re-sythesis is an organic procedure I can begin introducing plausible anatomical mishaps such as a hand fused with a foot, or a cluster of heads fused together. 

The next step was to think about the mechanics behind such an arrangement. This lead to the development of the Corpseflower Delivery System (TM) and the creatively labelled Death Gardens (which at this point is a placeholder name) where the aforementioned flowers grow. This allowed me to think about how these 'flowers' could be seasonal or present in low quantity, with certain risks inherent in cultivating their cadaverous fruits.

This could function as a justification of conflict between the inhabitants of this world due to resource scarcity. Additionally, by implementing the likelihood of aforementioned defects, I can present an intact cadaver as the most prized resource made available in this world. Sequentially, it becomes a key characteristic defining the most powerful and opulent of kingdoms inhabiting the world. 

Upon accepting that the above scenario is true in that world, I was able to begin developing the idea by simply thinking about what sort of buildings the inhabitants would be constructing. What would a bakery look like? A cathedral? 


2, Who is responsible for this? 

The concept of responsibility and the origin story of this world is something that I'm still trying to structure in a way which will not be too unoriginal or derivative. There are some beautiful origin stories out there, such as the one described in Tolkien's Silmarillion (which, origin story aside, is probably one of the most tedious books I have ever read), from which to draw inspiration from.

Simultaneously, the allure of mimicking reality in terms of the theories circulating around our own origin is quite tempting. At this point in time I haven't yet fully considered the origin mythology of the world, though I find myself gravitating towards a purposefully vague story with heavy Lovecraftian undertones. A further development of this process will be shared in a future post. 


3.Why human parts? 

The initial reason behind the selection of human components was pretty straightforward actually. I simply wanted to get better at drawing anatomy. However, simply copying anatomical structures got a bit boring after the first few attempts so I started incorporating other elements in there in an effort to make things more interesting for myself. 

As the sketches progressed, I began seeing the beauty of the human form and it's structure which served to further cement the decision to fuse the two together. Then I began thinking about how parts of the human anatomy could be used to house different utility structures and began drawing those out. 


Quick Sketch of an environment design


The above brief description hopefully provided you, dear reader, with a glimpse of the thoughts going through my head during this early stage of the project.

By simply being more critically aware and inquisitive about what I was doing, I was able to begin considering the connections and justifications behind each drawn line and observe the idea organically grow. 

In the next part I will be discussing how I began considering the characters and the questions I asked so as to make them a bit more plausible. 

Feel free to share your ideas and your inputs in the comments below. Writing about the above is new to me, so I would greatly appreciate any feedback/constructive criticism just as long as it is kept civil and structured.