As covered in my previous post I undertook a research project into Environmental Storytelling. As part of that project, I created a small level based on the lore of “The Last of Us” as it has some amazing environmental storytelling moments. My aim when creating this level was to hit the flowing purposes of using environmental storytelling:
- The history of what happened in a place
- Who inhabits the world and their living conditions
- What might happen next
- The overall mood or theme
- Where the player should head next
When deciding on the setting for the environment I decided to choose an abandoned factory or warehouse type building. This fits in with the mood and overall theme of the story of The Last of Us as much of the world has fallen into ruin and abandonment.
The colour pallet used for this scene is a very cold one to create a sterile environment mostly devoid of hope. The only exception is the vivid green of the foliage. The way that nature is able to reclaim the abandoned urban landscapes is a symbol of hope in The Last of Us and is used here to inspire a slightly feeling of hope through the colour pallet. Like the use of colour, the lighting is used to portray the mood of a hostile and uncomfortable environment and is done so through the use of areas of high contrast with dark shadows juxtaposed against areas of intense brightness.
When it came to the staging and positioning of props I thought about the purpose of the pace and who had previously been using it. The only perceived save zones in the world of the Last of Us are the police controlled quarantine zone, but they are quickly losing control of these, either to clickers or other fractions who are fed up of being controlled. I decided that I would create an environment that had been occupied relatively recently by the police but they had been forced to evacuate the space fairly quickly leaving behind a lot of their possession, mainly weapon resources and fuel.
Psychology of Colour
In The Last of Us colour is used in a really effective and subtle way to explain and guide the player through the world without the need for a map. I have tried to recreate this effective use of colour in my own environment.
Like in The Last of Us I have used the colour yellow to sign post which direction the play needs to travel in in order to progress. The edge of the steps are painted with yellow caution paint indicating to the player that they must travel up the steps. The door they should use to exit the area through is being pointed to by yellow pipes on both side. In comparison to the yellow used on the right sign of the scene I make use of the colour red on the left side as a warning that infected have been spotted in this area and that hanging about in one place for too long would not be a good idea. This flash of red on the left of scene is used as a way to direct the player forward, but it doesn’t stop the player from being able to
explore the space if that is what they want to do.
The green and white sign above the door indicates to the player that this is the door that will allow them to progress onto the then next area. This is because in western culture the colour green is used for exit signs and the symbol for go at traffic lights and for many people they associate the colour green with being able to progress forwards. This idea of green meaning to move forwards is also represented in the vivid foliage which is a symbol of hope as nature is able to adapt and thrive in the once urban landscapes.
In the Last of Us light is often used to guide the player through the world especially in areas of darkness. I have tried to stage my lighting for the scene in a way that directs play without being to intrusive or distracting from the narrative vignettes within the scene.
Throughout the space I have tried to use light as a way to highlight areas of interest to the player, but while doing so in a not invasive way. The lighting is there a suggest to players that they might want to explore the area highlighted but it still allows for the player to choice whether or not they engage in the storytelling moment.
If the player chose to explore the space before moving on they would find an area set up by the police to use as a makeshift living and sleeping area. The lighting here helps to convey how the mood of the space and the living conditions of the police who used it. The area is darkly lit and because of this it feels damp and uncomfortable. The police based in this area wouldn’t have had amazing living conditions and this suggest a possible reason for why they were so quick to abandoned the space without putting up much of a fight.
If they player forgets, or loses track as to where it is they are meant to beheading as a result of exploring the light acts as a beacon, indicating to the player where they should possibly head to next. The player can choose to ignore this at anytime but the light framing the door serves as a friendly reminder of where to head in a game without maps and waypoints.
Use of the Familiar and Cause and Effect
In the Last of Us is a game strongly rooted in reality, the only supernatural or fantasy element to the game are the clickers, other than that the game makes use of real world physics and rules. The game also closely combines together the players own knowledge, use of the familiar, with cause and effect to lead the player through not just the environment but the narrative.
For this area I have combined together the use of familiar objects with the cause and effect technique to create an environmental storytelling moment. From the writing on the wall and the boarded up door the player is able to clearly understand that the lower level of the build
should not be accessed as there are infected inside. The abandoned nature of the once police occupied area suggest that it was the presence of infected and not other factions of society that led them to abandon the area.
The use of the green fire exit sign above the door in the back, allows the player is able to clearly identify that this route should lead then through the building and out to the other side. The player knows this because of they are able to apply their own experiences to the environment.
The Montage Effect
The montage effect allows for the audience to create meaning between objects that maybe entirely unrelated, in the game environments it is used to craft stories that are left for the audience to piece together.
The montage effect is a technique that leaves the narrative open to interpretation and is completely dependant upon the personal experiences of each player. This openness to interpretation means that not only is each players experience of the space and narrative different and unique the process of formulating the narrative leads the player to become invest in the both the narrative and the game play.
For this area I created an area that houses different types of weapons and fuel containers. No where in the scene is the player told why all these items have been collected together so it is up to the player to interpret meaning by creating relationships between the different objects
themselves. The staging of the props in this area encourages the player to generate their own narratives as to the purpose of not only the space but the items in the space. It also contributes to the overall mood and tone of the piece; one of abandonment and coldness but with a glimmer of hope.
The Last of Us uses blood stain and the dead remains of clickers and other survivors to inform the player that the area they are entering is either immediately dangerous or has the potential to become so very suddenly. As in the game I have used telegraphing in this environment to suggest what might happen next.
From the bloody handprint on the wall the player is informed that at least one of the police who previously occupied the space was bitten by a clicker. There is no clues as to whether that person is locked behind the door or not, as that would remove to much of the tension, so the player is put on edge by the possibility that there may be infected in the area that they haven’t come across yet.
The writing on the wall by the door clearly tells player the dangers behind it. Though the player is unable to reach the lower level through this access point it plants the idea of the risk of encountering infected throughout the rest of the building. This not only indicates what may happen next but also serves to convey the overall theme of the world that nowhere is safe.
The barricades of sandbags against the wall and throughout the area are relatively new in comparison to the overgrown areas of the floor and walls. This implies to the player that they have been built recently and may indicate the presence of police in the area soon. This increase the tension of the overall mood as not only does the player have to worry about the threat of infected but also the risk of being caught by the police who are now a corrupt organisation. It also suggest to the player that as the area has been recently inhabited the player may be able to find useful resource within the immediate area.
This scene was built with Maya, Substance Painter, Unreal Engine 4, and the Quixel Suite and I used Megascans to set dress the scene.
The music is “Gleypa Okkur” by Ólafur Arnalds