“I like to read, but maybe not as much as the bookkeeper does, for example,” Drraagh offers as he waves to a stack of books in the corner of the roof, a coffee cup sitting on top. “I try and find a lot of different things as I am interested in a lot of topics, stuff that just seems quite interesting and unique. And usually, I find this stuff on my own because i’m interested in a topic, something grabs my focus and I start reading up on it. The whole idea of discovering it for yourself. It’s something we lack a lot in the world these days. We know so much about the land, even to the point where we have GPS systems directing us around to get us to our point the most efficient route.” He sighs and shakes his head, “why isn’t there a GPS that gives you the most interesting route or the most culturally fulfilling path to take?”
“Non-Fiction is a bit harder to make interesting, because then you’re doing research, but when it comes to fiction, it can be like getting lost in its own world, and that is fascinating. It becomes a path of discovering the story and the world as the author laid it out to you. The same when it comes to worlds in movies and television shows. You are brought along on these very imaginative world tours, seeing those stories the people want to show and then being led back home. So, this is why I like the idea of exploring in games, because it is how you choose to do it.” Drraagh looks around the room and then glances to the desk, brushing a few files into a pile and grabbing a piece of paper and sketching out a circle.
“Imagine this circle is the play area. Most games will fill it in with all the areas that you can have, or they’ll give you a map with markers identifying where the stuff you want to see is. However, a great way that has been picking up some steam is to only give the players the bare minimum of information. Where the big key hubs are, and then let them fill in the rest of the area as they go. The joy is in the journey and the discovery. Instead of giving someone a glowing trail to follow to a quest, give them some general directions. Imagine if your quest was to find someone and all the directions they gave were ‘Come to Chinatown, ask for Caine, he will help you’. You wouldn’t be able to solve this by following a glowing marker, you’ld need to go to the location and then ask around. This allows the designer to introduce you to some of the different NPCs and sights in the area by having you ask them about how to locate this Caine. Thus, you take their information, which may be vague or specific, causing you to explore further on your own and discover new things.”
Drraagh looks down at the paper and then smiles softly. “Of course, one thing people tend to forget when designing a space is the fact that a world is not a flat map, but a three dimensional world that people live in. There are things above and below, there are spaces in the mountains that could be caves you can climb to, there could be small coastal shelves you could find something in or a sunken ship in the midst of the seas,” he offers and chuckles, “Or going even further, lairs of creatures under the ground that were sealed away and you discover by breaking through into them. These are the interactions with the environment that we have with games, where we feel like we have done something that other people couldn’t do because we were more creative, more skilled, more willing to take risks than they were, because the game doesn’t spell it out for us.”
A soft tapping of his foot as Drraagh then stands and starts to walk to one of the filing cabinets in the room holding paper copies of important things. “This is only talking about the places, we still need to consider the people that live there,” he adds, setting a folder on the table and opening it to show pictures of people going about their daily lives shopping, eating, walking or driving to work, any number of everyday activities. “People are all different, so the experiences we have with these people are always going to be different as well. Some will have stories to tell us of the way things were, while other people will have stories about the way they want things to be. So, there is a lot of discovery that can happen there too.”
He sighs a little more and then considers the photos. “The people and the places, those stories and the exploration of finding them are one of the biggest discovery challenges anything can have. It’s a sense of accomplishment when completing a challenge, so it feels quite wonderful doing it because it has some deeper meaning, some impact that you never expected when you first set out on this endeavor. So, when you think of a world, be it in books or games or even real life, remember that no matter what happens, the biggest misters are the people we share the travels with. Even something as simple as a wandering hobo or as complex as a CEO of a multi-million dollar company, they will have stories to tell, challenges that they have overcome to become the stronger people.”
“Anyway, I just want to end on one note, that when you develop a place to explore, don’t focus on how many places you have for people to discover, focus on the quality of the places that you do set them able to find. By this, I mean, the original Legend of Zelda game by Nintendo had only 128 screens. So, we have your start location which has the first sword, then we have the eight dungeon entrances, add in the shops and then other secrets and such and you see that likely half the screens have something on them to find when exploring. The big ones become secrets like burning a bush to find that there is someone there with a secret or blowing up a wall to find a money making game or whatever, but these make you feel like you are actually discovering things and they are usually not small and insignificant feeling because they give you some sort of bonus. Now add to games like Skyrim where you have key points marked and discover others as you go around. How good does it feel to stumble upon some area that has a quest around it but you only found by walking somewhere rather than zooming through. Books like From Here to There are RPG examples of this, as it presents nine all-new adventures focused on traveling from point A to point B.”