Sneaky Storytelling with a Chair

We had a new adventure release today!

I am a lead artist at Wildworks where we make a game called Animal Jam. I am responsible for a great deal of the content for the Adventures. Hence why I am excited for the Adventures release.

I don’t create the characters. I’ve been working with everything else but them in the adventures. Homes, trees, hidden treasure. Environment work. The sneaky storytelling.

llama and post office

You say, Rose, are you sure you aren’t a llama?

Yes, I am sure. I am actually an owl

llama and post office2

(I have a particular fondness for this adventure if you can’t tell.)

I love the Adventures because it has story. There isn’t much written story in the adventures. There are cue cards: NPC’s who tell the players what to do. (Like the wise owl above.)

But a lot of our audience doesn’t read, or doesn’t want to. The players just hurriedly click through. So where’s the story? How do we lead the players? How on earth are they supposed to know what to do? How to feel? If there’s no text,

Where’s the story?

It’s the door. Or the other “stuff” in the game. The environment. In the Adventures, the environment is one of the only things we have control over. The hero of the story is the player, and they get to do whatever they want. Their job is to explore. Our job is to lead them.

bunny burrough

Come right this way. Come to this adorable, friendly door.

That prop becomes pretty important.

The environment should say everything without saying anything at all.

In games, the environment should give most every bit of information. What’s happening. Where to go. Is this dangerous? Playful? Important? The heart of your game is set in those environments. The shape. The color. The light.

Here’s a great example from AnthonyE using the light of the environment to create different moods.

col_study01

Environments can be undervalued. Big mistake.

The environment is the perfect way to parallel and bring out the themes, the atmosphere, and tell us about the characters and plot.

There are so much symbolism and subtlety to use. Get those descriptive items in there to help the mood. Meeting the boss? Describe his desk. The type of chair. In the animated film The Incredibles this is brilliantly done when you meet Mr Par’s boss.

boss

Perfectly aligned pencils on his desk.The four clocks on the wall with the same time. The boss’ chair is way too big for him and the slant of the back is an extension of his angry eyebrows. Confining. Precise. Bob is way bigger than his chair. Uncomfortable. Cramped.

boss2

By the end of this scene, you can feel Bob nearly bursting from the seams with this job that is just far too small for him. 
When he does finally burst, smashing through several walls, you understand why. And it feels really good.

Choose your environment wisely. The old but charming truck for an old but charming farmer. Two characters are divided by class and have dinner with a long table between them. Underplay a scary villain with large, playful shapes to get a laugh. Loose, flowing curtains with white natural light in an ethereal scene.

Your visuals are going to frame your characters.

Either because they fit well or because of contrast.

To finish, Tony Zhou uses this specific item to explains this concept in a beautiful way. This is a fantastic short.

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