Crowfall is a game that doesn’t use the sort of traditional storytelling that’s common to role-playing games, i.e. usually executed via missions or cinematic moments. Instead, Crowfall uses “visual storytelling”, telling a story without the use of language or text.
Visual Storytelling: Bringin Worlds To Life
When you enter the worlds of Crowfall, you will quickly become aware of your role as an Eternal Champion in a dying world, fighting for the gods. However, how your personal story in the game unfolds is unique to you. This is similar to looking at a narrative painting or work of art and find that there is enough information visually to give you a sense of a story without needing words or an explanation behind it. Then, as a viewer, you put yourself into the image and create your own interpretation from the things you see.
Often when viewing art we piece together a story in our minds that creates the context for what we are viewing based on our frame of reference, experiences and aspirations. In that way, we create a story in our mind that we “see” as part of that piece of art and because it is “our” story it is more personal and more meaningful.
Visual storytelling in games is how we personalize the story to the player and give context to the greater narrative threads in the world that evolve as you play. Storytelling in Crowfall is different from other games in that we don’t have a single narrative that every player follows as they play. Crowfall features a dynamic world where many of the elements are responsive to player choices, actions and motivations. In this way, the game offers players the ability to be at the center of a series of unfolding events in a story that is given context by the players themselves.
Up to this point in the development cycle, we’ve been focused on the essential systems that make up our core gameplay experience and proving out our procedural world generation technology. These systems are the foundation of our gameplay and create the playscape for our storytelling. Crowfall has deep and rich lore that connects the player to the creation of the universe and the events leading up to the current state of the dying worlds. We also have a pantheon of gods that assert their own influence over the Crows (players) and these worlds.
Although many of the facets of the story may not be visible now, as we continue to evolve our world generation we will begin layering in more visual storytelling. This process will reveal our overarching storyline and introduce the influences that are impacting the Crowfall Universe. The goal is to create a living world that sets the stage for players to create their own stories and build their legacies.
Ancient History: Connectin Players To The Gods
The Crowfall universe was once completely uninhabited by anyone other than the Stoneborn, the children of Gaia and Kane. These firstborn sons erected monumental temples and structures in honor of the gods and created the first examples of architecture in these worlds.
Temple Environment Concept
Stoneborn temples and structures were built in reverence to the gods when no other beings yet existed. They are reflective of Crowfall’s ancient history and are a visual thread connecting players to the gods. These structures have withstood the test of time, but we see them now as ruins in the dying worlds as a result of the impact of the corruptive influence of the Hunger, the mysterious contagion that is spreading across the worlds.
Concept of Ancient Stoneborn Ruins found in the World
Recent History: What Existed Before The Worlds Became Corrupted
In more recent history, other races and creatures have begun to inhabit these worlds and are leaving their marks on it. As you arrive as a Crow, the worlds are deteriorating, dying. With time running out, there are tribes and forces roaming the worlds in search of valuable relics and resources, valuable artifacts, left behind by the people who once inhabited these places.
Recently, we saw the rise of the war tribes in the world, but aside from these tribes, there’s very little evidence of the people who originally populated and settled this world, peacefully or otherwise.
Currently, through the efforts of both design work and art production we are building the gameplay and visual narrative to give context to those who were once here and to tell the story of these worlds. We have a lot of art that hasn’t been implemented yet into the game.
We have a couple of ways of bringing this to fruition. Some world environment pieces, or “parcels”, utilize what we call data layers. These are layers of the world set design that are turned on and off to create a feeling of totally new gameplay areas. This is where art is able to do the most custom-crafted storytelling experience. Although we are limited by the boundaries of the parcel itself, within that parcel we can lay in props any way we choose. We’ve already begun using these data layers to set up the war tribe and military camps found in our most recent campaign worlds.
If you’ve played in any of our recent factional wars or campaigns, you are familiar with the forts and keeps in the siege zones. Players find and use resources to build up these strongholds to a fully-constructed state to hold and contest over. Outside of the siege zones, it would make sense to see the ruins of, and to tell the story of, additional battles from years gone by.
In this concept, you see some remains of an old stone wall that may have been the gate to a great city from the past. A caravan of some sort looks like it was traveling through the gate, maybe in an attempt to escape when war broke out. In any case, nature has started to reclaim the relics left behind, and we know that this must have happened a long time ago. We get the sense of a story of a world left in turmoil and ruin from an image like this one.
The combinatory possibilities utilizing data layers within natural terrain parcels gives us many opportunities to create areas within the world that look and feel different and reinforce the narrative of a dying world. In one area, the parcel may be crafted with this type of set dressing in place, or it could be entirely natural and wild without any architectural remains.
Some of these parcels may be built to contain multiple data layers that can be turned on or off for additional storytelling impact. We might have a village alongside a road that would become our base data layer set. Then we could turn on a layer that contains vines and moss covering the dilapidated houses to tell the story of a village that has long been abandoned. Or we might turn on the smoldering and charred layer with ransacked looking crates and wagons in the street to tell the story of a war tribe having passed through recently and left destruction in their wake. We can create this level of depth throughout the game worlds to build greater visual diversity and interest in the world, exposing a robust history unique to each world.
In addition to the visual storytelling we are planning, we are also building variant designs for the layout of the forts and keeps. If you’ve been testing along with us you know that the current fort and keep layout is the same across all the worlds. We plan to start diversifying these areas to give a texture that connects the player to the world and the events that led to the current state. To complement these new layouts, we are also planning on adding in a variety of textures for the walls to add even more flavor and character.
We’ve been procedurally generating new maps for campaigns for months now. The worlds are evolving into unique and diverse areas that are interesting to explore.
As a team, we’ve always wanted to push the look and feel of the world much further to add more depth that gives rise to the fact that there are mysteries that lie waiting to be uncovered. Now that some of the essentials for procedurally generating a world are in place, it’s time to add more visual storytelling into the mix in order to create a more immersive world that will connect the player to the history of the Crowfall universe and the lore and allows for a richer fabric on which players can create the war stories of Crowfall.