Worldbuilding Curriculum

This class curriculum on worldbuilding has been developed, iterated, and refined by Jessie Contour

This course combines practical instruction in 3D modeling and game development with theoretical inquiry into the world of interactive environmental storytelling. How do we represent thematic, 3D space? How to we distinguish between the product and process of narrative development? How can we build both temporal and spatial boundaries into our stories? How do we develop storytelling experiences that have specificity? How can we provide meaningful choices for our users that are in line with our overall narrative? This class focuses on process, workflow, and problem-solving skills that are valuable for any development environment in any interactive digital context.

Assessable tasks and projects

  • Theater of the Mind. This project is based purely in imagination. Students go through an extensive worldbuilding worksheet that covers questions on everything from big picture politics, environment, climate, economy, plot points, and small picture main character(s), family dynamics, jobs, relationships, and culture. Alongside this writing assignment, students learn 3D modeling and texturing skills in order to create and visualize one of the assets from the world that they have created.
  • Moment of Choice. This project begins with an important pivotal moment from a popular piece of media. Students create a branching narrative that illustrates what would happen if the main character makes the opposite choice from what happened in the moment they chose. The project build is focused on user interaction and clear communication of choice and consequence.
  • A World About Something. This project combines the worldbuilding skills from project one with the interaction and user feedback skills from project two. Students begin with an important social/political/cultural issue and design a speculative world centered around this issue. The issue they choose informs the creation of the world that users will interact with. Students choose to reverse, transgress, augment, challenge, or problematize their issue and center their world around it. They develop a message with a point of view and work to communicate this message via an interactive narrative.
  • Narrative Game Research Presentation. This research presentation is intended to expand the students experience with the methods that published games and media use to communicate narrative within an interactive context. Students choose an existing game and reflect on how the story is structured, character agency, exposition, and environmental changes over time.

Technology used in class includes Autodesk Maya, Unity3D, and Substance Painter. Lessons cover 3d modeling, texturing, asset pipeline from Maya to Unity, scene management, scripting and custom interation, post processing, custom look & feel, events, and animation.

Conceptual topics addressed in class include narrative structures and the illusion of choice, environmental storytelling, creating ambiance, replayability, diversity and inclusion, speculative storytelling, and clear storytelling through user interaction and feedback.