World Building: Organization and How to Get Started?


#1


Header Image Shamelessly Taken from D&D since I’m Too Lazy to Make my Own

Okay, so what I wanted to do with this topic, instead of asking about solely about a specific game, but more about a general problem I’m having. I also hope to maybe get a conversation going about World Building and Writing in general, and perhaps build a resource for people looking to do this sort of thing themselves.

When it comes to game design, I feel like the story and lore can be less of a primary concern to some people. After all, it’s not exactly necessary, even to make fun or popular games. You’re not going to find a ten page backstory on the tetris block, and anyone familiar with Nintendo knows they tend to keep the story simple, but engaging.

Personally though, I love thinking about the intricacies and logistics of things. I’m one of those boring nerds that want to know what the deal was with the lizard dude standing up there with Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back and watches lore videos on Dark Souls. To me, things like flavor text, dialogue, secrets, and the mise en scène in games can make the worlds they’re set in feel more interesting and engaging, even if you aren’t digging through every hidden detail or coming up with wild theories.

Problem is though, I don’t really even know how to start when it comes to writing my own crap like this. I come up with random ideas and storylines, then lose them over time. I maybe only write down 20% of the ideas I have while the other 80% rattle around in my head, hoping they’ll be used one day before they’re forgotten entirely.

So my question is, has anyone either already have built, or are planning on building a more elaborate backstory/world for their game(s), and if so how do you organize and file all of that stuff? Do you have tons of documents, each one focusing on a smaller aspect of that setting like people and places, or one big compendium that just lists it all on one file? Should I even bother writing stuff down, or just kinda wing it, hoping the things I improvise might work better?


#2

Personally, I start with the broad strokes and just make up the minutia as I go. Granted, I currently only write literature and not plots for games, so that might just be a niche of mine.
Regardless, considering where we are on the internet I think it might be appropriate to address the fetish-content side of the matter. To that, all I can say is justify it however you feel best suits the world you built.
One example: the current pet project of mine, and a Patreon project at that, involves a goddess of bounty that outright encourages and enables female hedonism, a race of pseudo-royal insects that revel in inhuman levels of obesity (trendsetting), and putting the whole thing in “medieval” times where there does not exist a stigma on fatness.


#3

World building is something of a hobby of mine, and my general approach to it is to start out with a couple of simple axioms to establish the rules of the world, and then explore the concept as much as I can. I do this through asking myself a lot of “what if” questions and attempting to take common tropes and ideas from other canons and viewing it through the lens of my world. This doesn’t always end up with an original or interesting idea but it can inspire me to think of other ways the idea can be applied.

For instance, in this lore that I’ve been working on, everything is extended from the rule that life is composed of VIM (life energy, so to speak), KEN (memories), and the GOLEM (the body), and that when something dies, the VIM and KEN can be left behind, turning into further creatures and life. I then take this axiom and try to explain natural phenomena (such as fires being the vim being released and exploding from wood) and then start asking questions like what if you make a person entirely out of the ken of other people, could you effectively resurrect a dead person like that? Since I work forward with this axiom as a base, I feel like the world I create is more likely to be consistent and follow its own rules. There are some things I work backwards with, like how could I fit in a werewolf-like thing into this world? How does it fit in with the rules I’ve set up? As long as I follow the axiom, the consistency should remain.

Once I have the base axioms that define how the world works, and some core concepts, I begin to flesh out the history surrounding the core concept. Using the people made of memories, you can do all sorts of stuff like who was the first person to figure out that you could do this? What was the process of creating a person out of memories? How do these people fit in with the greater society? Are there any notable memory-based people? Has the process for creating them changed over time? Once you have that history line fleshed out, then you can begin connecting with other history lines you’ve established to weave a more believable world. In real history, major events and people have connections with other events and people, so you definitely want to weave your own threads together to make your own history more interesting and rich. This can be the most difficult part of the entire process, as it relies on trying to keep in mind the timeline of a history that never happened, but establishing key events as milestones can make it a lot easier.

As far as organizing all of this, I have a two step process. The first step is “sketching” where I jot down the idea in a google document so I have access to it from anywhere I have internet access. These are usually very short sentences just so I have the idea saved somewhere. I have some examples from the document below:

Once I have these, I usually ruminate on them during downtime at work, when I’m in the shower, etc. Rolling them around in my head, trying to fit them into the larger puzzle of the world. Once I’m satisfied I have enough to work with, I commit them to a wiki I’ve been building. The wiki isn’t for anyone else to read but myself, as wiki software does a great job of organizing and, more importantly, linking ideas through the hyperlinking to other wiki pages. I can establish that X is connected with Y by linking to X on Y’s page, thus allowing me to defined my core concepts and weave their history together as I mentioned above. Wiki software also allows me to tag pages so that I can easily pull up, for instance, a list of races, items, locations, etc. in my world by searching for a given tag. Furthermore, most wiki software has version control for articles, allowing me to go back if I’ve decided I didn’t like where I took an idea or if I want to recycle some part of an older concept. As someone who does it as a hobby, its been a major help in organizing my thoughts on the lore.

So yeah, taken all together, these are my suggestions: define the ruleset of your world first, and then define the core concepts that extend from that ruleset by taking your rules to their logic extremes and even taking idea from other stories/worlds and see how the fit in your world. Once you have these core concepts, define their history in terms of major events, impacts, characters, items, etc. Once you have this history thread, weave it into the rest of your historical threads, using major world events to organize when each event, etc. happens in relation to one another. To organize it all, have a sketchpad that’s easily accessible for writing notes on quick ideas so you don’t forget, and then have something like a wiki for your “official” account of the lore so you can easily organize all of your lore.

Obviously, that’s the approach that works best for me, so no idea how it would mesh with you . Best of luck with your endeavors!


#4

I guess I’d say that worldbuilding is a hobby of mine, too.

… It’s less that I build worlds, though, as much as I build pieces that I want to put into worlds, attempt to mash a bunch together so that I don’t have to discard any, and then give up.

Otherwise, I get frustrated by my inability to design things without marrying my fetishes to them.


#5

I’ll admit that most of my knowledge on this subject comes from YouTube channels like Extra Credits and Overly Sarcastic Productions. That said, from what I’ve gathered, world building is all about making a setting or location feel like something that could believably exist and function (within the rules of your fictional universe, of course). What is the history of this place? What is the culture of its inhabitants? How have the history and culture affected each other? What do people do for a living? What roles need to be filled for society to function? Even if the answers to these questions are never explicitly given to the audience, there should be enough details to imply what makes a world tangible and believable.

Let’s consider the world of Pokémon. Although I’ve never played the games (outside of Pokémon Snap), I’ve watched a good amount of the anime and heard plenty of discussion that I feel comfortable bringing it up. This is a world in which it’s common and acceptable for young children to leave home on a continent-spanning quest to capture, tame, and train wild animals to compete in pit fights formal martial arts battles.

As much as the early games are clearly meant to invoke a childlike fantasy, they still leave a lot of gaping holes in how the world actually functions. Why are Pokémon battles so important to people that they build much of their society around them? How does one make a living as a trainer? What happens to all the trainers who don’t become Pokémon Masters? What happens to the ones that do? What are the limits on the legality of Pokémon battles? Who or what is funding all of these gyms, stadiums, and Pokémon Centers? When the player starts thinking about these questions, the suspension of disbelief starts buckling under their weight.

If we look at some of the later Pokémon games, the anime, and even the upcoming Detective Pikachu movie, we see a lot more detail about how society functions around Pokémon. Public tournaments clearly get their funding from selling tickets to spectators. Pokémon are integral to all sorts of jobs and lifestyles, not just battles. In the Sun and Moon run of the anime, many young trainers continue to attend school even as they continue to train.


#6

I find it helpful to extrapolate the details from a couple of big questions that pretty much any society has to deal with, namely:

  • Where does the food come from?
  • Where does the waste go? (both sewage and regular trash)
  • Where do materials for buildings/tools come from?
  • What transportation is used? (this includes both what’s doing the carrying and routes)

Most of the time answering these sorts of questions, when combined with the other parts of your vision for a world, can help fill in the gaps in a lot of places. Alternatively, a similar exercise can be done just by taking any one person/object that you already know you want and asking where they got their resources, and then asking where that source got their resources, and so and so forth. The chain of details can work either way, as long as you’re careful not to break other stuff when you change things.


#7

How concerned should one be about “derivative” elements and concepts in their worldbuilding? Should it be taken for granted that “there is nothing new under the sun,” as they say?

I’ve discarded a couple of concepts and settings because I realized that they’d smell too much like other properties. I had the foundations of a system where the principles of wandlore were integrated into smithing (so long as the item in question could have a wooden component), ultimately producing magical firearms. I was going to put this in a fantasy-Western/“cattlepunk” setting… Until I remembered that Wild Arms existed.

I probably gave up too easily. I still kinda want to pick the setting back up, but… How different from Wild Arms would the setting have to be to not constantly remind everyone of Wild Arms? Conversely, how much should I lean on magic to differentiate it from literally any other old-Western media?


#8

I don’t think you should be too afraid of making worlds that are similar to others, as long as all of the characters also don’t end up being the same as well.

It’s okay to loan ideas from other IP’s, it’s how you learn to differentiate and find your own narrative and grow from it as a writer.