Juan Uys

Coursera - World Design for Video Games, week 3


I’ve started CalArts’ World Design for Video Games and here are my course notes for week 3.

Week 3: The way you move

This week brought to my attention this blog post about reading maps, and this one about creating maps - really cool stuff if you’re every going to make a map for a game, or even a novel or comic.

Visualising the game world

We’ll talk about visualising the game world.

(I feel like we’re stating the obvious a bit here, but…) You can use a flat map (even if the world isn’t flat), highlighting important places, showing topographies, and places/spaces you might want to visit as a player. It goes all the way back to tabletop games, and you have a god-like top-down view of the entirety of the world. This is something your character might not be able to see. Or you can visualise the world as some sort of volume (as opposed to a flat map).

Level design

He starts by giving as the dictionary definitions of “level” and “design”, and then goes on to say “level design is about designing spaces, and what goes into those spaces.” Is your world a tiny corner of the galaxy, or a galaxy itself?

You expand from the map (visualisation) from before, and think about the boundaries (walls, unclimbable mountains), obstacles, traps, natural dangers, spaces to explore (mazes, towns). He also hints at micro and macro design.

(Again, you can find much better information from dedicated sources, and this 2 minute video feels like a filler, a teaser, and doesn’t convey much information. We’re on week 3 of 4, and we’re being given a very light introduction to level design in a world design course.)

Bordering the world

Again, “think about the boundaries of your world”. A one minute video, and not much information. I’m starting to get the feeling that the overarching message in this course is “considering everything” and “question everything”, i.e. everything in the game should serve a purpose, just like Chekov’s gun.

Think about the entire world, even if not all of it is playable. It adds to the context and gives your world a sense of depth. (Here we see the video fading out, but his mouth keeps on moving, so I’m wondering what got cut and why.)

The Bigger Picture

(A reading section) Summary:

Some devices that allude to a world outside the world of the game (a “bigger picture”) are:

  • An artifact that describes another part of the world (traces of an old myth)
  • An NPC describing a part of the world (different costume or accent)
  • A map of the world in the game
  • A map or artifact IRL (i.e. a wiki, a book of “law,” i.e. Game of Thrones)

These devices can:

  • Expand the player’s sense of the world without making it playable (especially a sense of progression)
  • Add to the believability of the world that you’re in (making the story richer)
  • Make the world and its rules consistent
  • A marketing ploy: a larger world expands the possibilities for sequel

There’s a subsequent video which talks about gardens as analogies for worlds, but I’m not summarising that, because it made no sense at all.

How do you navigate through time and space? On foot? In a vehicle? How long will it take? Hoes does it impact the game mechanics? Moving through the world will trigger events that will affect the gameplay.

A follow-up reading section mentions two types of travel: real-time and instant. It also asks if your game will include specific moves, like wall-run, grappling hooks, scuba-diving, or holding someone’s hand (like in Ico).

Another follow-up section mentions that you can conceptualise your level design with a flow chart to illustrate the progression. We’ve kinda already covered this in the narrative design course, but I suppose here it applies more to the spaces your character can inhabit. Also think of the architecture (putting aesthetics aside for a second).

Move sets

The next 2 minute video talks about movement in your game. Since your character can’t have all the possible ranges of motion, you have to define a basic move set: e.g. walking, jumping, running (or even wall running), and things like taking a gun from a holster, reloading the gun, etc. These will all be animated and these animations will be used over and over again. (This is the current limitation, but I can imagine work being done where a animation skeleton can do a whole range of moves with the help of AI “watching” videos of dancers, acrobats, etc.)

Also, will your character know all the moves from the beginning, or do you unlock some moves as you gain dexterity?

From point A to B

How do you create the journey, and how does it relate to the story? (The instructor actually mentions Journey and how the character has to go up the mountain.) When you go from A to B, will you just walk there and do nothing else? Or will you walk there and encounter other characters? Will they give you side quests? Will you be distracted? Will you have to be distracted? Perhaps you can’t go up the mountain yet, because you have to help the NPC who’s going to guide you up the mountain later. In a game like Dark Souls, you can leave messages for other players (e.g. where’s the trap) and literally mark the world.

The next 2 minute video talks about another consideration of your game: Linear vs. Non-Linear gameplay. Most games are non-linear, i.e. you can choose which door to open next. But then games like Limbo are linear, as you only ever go from left to right and there are no door choices.

The next 1 minute video is entitled “grey box” and the idea is to strip your game down to the bare minimum and just keep the core game mechanic and seeing if it’s still fun. I’ve encountered this idea before on the web, and in Fundamentals so it’s obviously a valuable exercise.


I made a note of this week’s assignment in a separate post.


This week is a recap of things I already know. I guess I’ve been spoilt by the Ernest Adams books!

Copyright © 2002-2024 Juan Uys, (source code for this website). Updates via RSS, Mastodon or newsletter 💌.