When designing a level, we need to consider what the overall experience for the player should be and it usually boils down to a single question: “Is it fun?” And for the sake of making any given area as entertaining as possible, we focus most of our attention on gameplay. There is, however, a part of Level Design that, if neglected and not kept consistent all the way through development, will make the end result look like a random assembly of interconnected rooms devoid of any personality. I am talking about storytelling.
Bulletstorm actually has a story and a compelling one as well. One way it’s conveyed is via cut-scenes and dialogs, but we do not want to interrupt the game every time we want to show something nor can we have a non-stop chatter taking place.
A much more subtle, yet equally effective way of telling a story is to embed it into the environment and let the player absorb and interpret it in his own way, hence the term: embedded storytelling. While this technique is probably most prominent within the horror-survival genre (e.g. blood marks on the floor leading through a doorway will immediately suggest the player that that somebody got killed here and the corpse was dragged through the door), it does not mean that other games could not benefit from it.
Embedded storytelling is a tool game developers use to enrich the world the game is set in by adding all sorts of subtle details to the story in a non-intrusive way. A large, dimly lit luggage room at an airport, filled with piles of bags and suitcases collecting dust would give away an idea that the flights that were supposed to take the abandon stacks of luggage and its owners aboard never happened. This simple setup would immediately engage player’s imagination and have him guessing about what happened here. You can still have any kind of gameplay you want in the area; those piles of luggage could be used for cover, maybe for throwing them at your enemies or just as a background; what matters is that a story is subtly created for this particular setting killing the randomness and giving this place a personality.
A particular element that tells players a small story every time encountered – are the Dropkits. In Bulletstorm, these kits are used to resupply the player with ammo and provide opportunities for upgrading. Instead of just sticking them in the world for the players to use, they are blended into the environment and help add to the bigger story. Dropkits too will be treated in more detail in a future post.
Embedded storytelling is one of the ways to create intended atmosphere in game. It usually deals with specific, high detail, small scope setups. This small element ties into something grand which is the overall immersion of the game environment, but this is too big of a subject and warrants for a separate post as well.
Have a look at pictures bellow and maybe you can come up with ideas of what those places are about. Of course, it will be for me to know and for you to find out whether you are right or not – when the game is released on the 22nd of February.