How Level Design Can Tell a Story

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Can a video game level tell a story? In this video I look at a bunch of examples and best practices for embedding narrative elements into the very spaces and places we visit in games. We’ll tackle environmental storytelling, evocative architecture, and contextualising player identity.

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Environmental Storytelling: Creating Immersive 3D Worlds Using Lessons Learned from the Theme Park Industry | Gamasutra

What Happened Here? Environmental Storytelling | GDC Vault (Free Access)

Hitman 2's Jakob Mikkelsen and Eskil Mohl | GMTK on YouTube

Ask a Developer: Emilia Schatz Talks Level Design | YouTube

The Art of Environment Storytelling for Video Games | YouTube

Emotional Journey: BioWare's Methods to Bring Narrative into Levels | GDC Vault (Free Access)

Level Design Workshop: 'Hitman' Levels as Social Spaces: The Social Anthropology of Level Design | GDC Vault (Paid Access)

Find out more

Designing Journey | GDC Vault (Free Access)

Environmental Narrative: Telling Stories in Spaces Without Saying Anything Aloud | GDC Vault (Paid Access)

Environmental Storytelling in Prey | YouTube

Level Design Workshop: An Approach to Holistic Level Design | GDC Vault (Free Access)

AAA Level Design in a Day Bootcamp: Techniques for In-Level Storytelling | GDC Vault (Free Access)

Games shown in this episode (in order of appearance)

BioShock (Irrational Games, 2007)
Prey (Arkane Studios, 2017)
Journey (thatgamecompany, 2012)
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (Naughty Dog, 2016)
Dead Space (Visceral Games, 2008)
Fallout 4 (Bethesda Game Studios, 2015)
Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios, 2008)
Dishonored 2 (Arkane Studios, 2016)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011)
Dark Souls III (From Software, 2016)
Metroid Prime (Retro Studios, 2002)
Gone Home (Fulbright, 2013)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal, 2011)
Portal (Valve Corporation, 2007)
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (Eidos Montreal, 2016)
Half-Life 2 (Valve Corporation, 2004)
Portal 2 (Valve Corporation, 2011)
Alien: Isolation (The Creative Assembly, 2014)
Thief: The Dark Project (Looking Glass Studios, 1998)
Hitman 2 (IO Interactive, 2018)
Life is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment, 2015)
God of War (Santa Monica Studio, 2018)
Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics, 2013)
Mass Effect 3 (BioWare, 2012)
(Kojima Productions, 2014)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games, 2010)
Aragami (Lince Works, 2016)
Metro Exodus (4A Games, 2019)
Celeste (Matt Makes Games, 2018)
DOOM (id Software, 2016)
Yakuza 0 (Sega, 2017)
Death Stranding (Kojima Productions, 2019)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Kojima Productions, 2014)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt, 2015)
Control (Remedy Entertainment, 2019)
BioShock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013)
Hollow Knight (Team Cherry, 2017)

Music used in this episode

BioShock soundtrack - Garry Schyman
Dirt Rally soundtrack - Stuart Ross

Thanks to GMTK Patron Satellite for help with audio on this episode
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