Story telling with assets

It’s all in the details, and you can make the story more readable by getting them right.

By Flip Kasper

Today’s topic is about the stories you can tell simply by creating assets for the game world that you are trying to build.

The story lies in the details. It can start with trees and rocks and can go as far as furniture and shapes of windows. A small high window in combination with a gray wall, tells a way different story than a big glass wall surrounded with a thin blue border. A big chest with fancy gold marks all over makes the player all excited about a reward or a new item, while a small box does not even seem to be worth the time that it would take to smash the thing in the first place. All objects in the game world tell stories. Therefore, when designing assets you should never forget the „overall theme“ of the world, or – even better – make use of the assets and tell the story of this place the way you like it just by the way you make it look.

A quick example, this first chest is a normal old-school traveling chest. It looks old and there might be some clothes in there or maybe some gold… but not a great amount. If I think of people that could use this, I think of Sherlock Homes or some other person from old England. And that is also where I could see this chest: in a rainy alley with a bunch of other useless stuff.

Chest 1

The second chest is way different. It looks mysterious and even a bit frightening. The opening looks a bit like the mouth of a beast and the little cracks above it shape a pair of eyes. It might be a monster that will try to eat us for breakfast, if we are not careful. I can imagine it hidden in an old castle. And in it, one can find treasure and a new weapon. It might have been put there by an evil count or lord as a trap for adventurers like yourself…

Chest 2

It’s all in the details, and you can make the story more readable by getting them right.
An easy way to come up with these details is asking yourself some questions about the world you are designingin.
Is it old or is it new, is it populated or has this place not been seen by human eyes for decades? If there are people (or other things) living here, how did that or they change the world? Did anything happen here like a fire or rain.
The answers to these simple questions can lead to some pretty exciting stories. And they are only told through the looks of the world and the assets in it.

There are also objects that tell whole stories all in themselves. A broken doll for example, old and dirty with a missing eye. If you find the doll lying around in an abandoned house or a cellar, your head mind already creates a pretty strong story – just from that one image. An axe, stuck in a wall maybe covered in blood. Or a cigarette still smoking in the tray. Or simply a bright spot on the wall where a picture used to hang. All these assets can tell stories without words and can get the player invested immersed even more.

doll uglydoll nice

Of course, not everything has to fit, if you don´t want it to. If you want the player to shift one’s focus on an interesting item, the way towards a goal, or a button to open the next door, you can use assets or colors that don´t fit the rest of the world. The recently released game The Witness does a very good job in using the power of its assets to influence the players’ attention.

Screenshot 2016-03-09 11.38.33
There is a really good presentation from the art director of “The Witness” online.

When using the power of your assets properly in a whole area, you even influence the player’s feelings. Do the assets look out of place? Is there something missing?
When the „Why“ in the player’s head gets so big that no possible scenario could explain it, you can create a kind of psycho horror feeling. Like the wheelchair in Silent Hill 2 that is lying on its side while one of the wheels is forever slowly spinning .
On the other hand, if the assets fit nicely and the colors harmonize, you can make the player feel safe and at home.


So ask yourself some questions about the world. Keep in mind that shapes, colors and placement are key, while building your world. In the end, itsit’s important to know that assets tell stories, no matter if you want them to or not.