A little bit of sugar helps the ridiculously complex narrative go down.
World building is tough. Adding something on to the tasks video games must complete (controls, gameplay, graphics, sound, art design, etc) seems cruel when many games can’t even get the basics right. Even so, if a game wants to draw the player into the world of the game, that world needs support. The player must appreciate its intricacies and be intrigued by its mysteries which requires considerable support throughout the entire game. The variety of gameplay types compounds the difficulty of world building. One size does not fit all. Depending on the type of game, the developer must approach world building in a different way.
RPGs and open world games
In many ways, RPGs and open world games have it easiest. These styles of game, regardless of genre, tend to have a slower pace, more time to explore locations, and a greater emphasis on story telling. This allows developers to give the player time to actually walk around the world and interact with its inhabitants. Through conversations, exploration, ambient noise, and questing, developers can overtly and subtly interweave information about their world into every facet of the game. Even with all of the available opportunities, some prefer to shove exposition dumps down the player’s throats. This should be resisted. With the many ways to draw the player into the world, developers should limit lectures on history, culture, or any other aspect of the game world to sideshows for interested players or only when the situation absolutely necessitates it. Exposition dumps only appeal to the devoted while even casually interested players tire of reading when they should be playing. Where possible, the developer should work world building in a way that works with gameplay rather than conflicts with it.
The pace of a first person shooter often dictates the way it builds its world. For the fast paced shooters, the developer can’t let the player stop and investigate their surroundings. The narrative of the environment must be told primarily through the visual elements because the player won’t have the time to stop and absorb text or conversation. Even the visual cues lose subtlety for every second of gameplay devoted to speed. FPS players may only appreciate the world in the corners of their vision or through stand out moments that temporarily pause the action. Players can’t appreciate small details if the game moves too quickly for them to absorb putting a premium on blunt delivery mechanisms such as cutscenes or large visual elements. Alternatively, some FPS’ take a slower pace allowing for more nuanced world building. Audio logs detailing story can provide rich context for visual and aural cues, provided the player has time to listen to them. Even a slow FPS tends to focus on visual cues due to the first person view, but it can augment those cues with the RPGs rich armory of tools.
The real time strategy game suffers from a decidedly different problem than the FPS. Yes, RTS games are fast paced making nuanced approaches to world building difficult, but their real problem is that they, by necessity, must take place on a battlefield. Whereas other games have gameplay justified reasons to explore peaceful areas, RTS games are defined by their combat. If a player isn’t directing armies, then they aren’t playing the game. World building in an RTS must rely on the same visual cues of the FPS, but also with a heavy dose of cutscenes. Since the peacetime version of the game world is always off screen, the RTS must use the story breaks to fill in the non-fighting bits that it can’t communicate otherwise.
Action platformers are also severely limited by their style of gameplay. In games about movement and action, there really isn’t much time to focus on the areas where those things are not. Unlike RTS’, an action platformer developer can turn more peaceful aspects of the game into a world for the player to explore. Hub worlds allow the player to absorb lore and engage with characters taking the load off of the environment. A player can explore a ruined castle and then hear about the terrible battles that occurred there from a small town where they restock on items. Developers never get the same level of depth that an RPG or open world game might, but they still have time to add in elements that engage the player with the world.