How 3D Environment Art Can Tell Your Game’s Story

3D Environment Art Can Tell Your Game’s Story

The impressive and hand-crafted environments we traipse through in gaming are rarely just a pretty backdrop for us to look at. Our artists, when crafting 3D environments and 3D environmental art, are always looking to fill the world as if it was a living and breathing character. Stories are not just the words we hear or the exposition shown to us, the world itself, the details on characters, props, and environments all tell us a story.

Let’s look at how environmental design, lighting, texturing, and more can be utilized to help tell a story while also guiding players in the right direction.


Lighting in 3D Environments

Speaking to one of our lead 3D environment artists, he says that lighting as a guide is the bare minimum in what it offers a game and its narrative. While yes, lights draw the eye and help guide a player, they’re so much more useful that just a diegetic device.

Lighting helps to set the mood and the tone. Flickering and uncertain light can give the player pause, run down streets filled with broken lights aren’t just good storytelling. They help us feel the destruction and the danger that lurks around every corner.

A tip regarding lighting our lead artist had was about perfect lighting and how much you use. “Less is more, in terms of guiding players.” Having your entire environment perfectly lit will make it look quite flat and bland. Of course, this is just a rule of thumb to follow – there can be occasions in 3D environmental art where a fully and well-lit scene might be necessary!


3D Environment Art and the Weather

A common trope used in media of all forms is pathetic fallacy, where the world and natural occurrences around us personify the current mood or feeling. While something to not be overdone, as it can easily stray into cliché and annoying, a touch of pathetic fallacy can really help sell an atmosphere or mood.

Heavy fog obscuring our vision in an area wreathed in mystery can help the area feel all the more puzzling and stranger. But it is a tool to be used alongside proper design and narrative flow, so use with caution!


What to Consider when Building 3D Art Set Dressing

Set dressing is the process of making a scene feel lived in. It’s all about adding the elements that show the environment was a real place, where people or creatures inhabited and lived. It also refers to 3D art objects and extra details that help in environmental storytelling. These pieces are integral in the passive storytelling 

Overturned furniture, a door hanging off its hinges, clothes scattered out beside a half-filled suitcase, blood pooling at the bottom of a stairs or in the middle of an alleyway. These all are indicators of what might have happened when players enter an area. They help make the world and game environment feel like it existed before the player came along, rather than created specifically for their playtime. Our 3D environment artists, 3D prop artists, and game designers understand the care and precision that goes into creating and placing these objects.

Our lead environment artist said it was always important to think from a player’s perspective. When you’re placing that pool of blood, ask yourself, “why am I putting this here? What am I trying to convey?” Placing a prop is something that should generate questions or help sell an existing mystery. If you offer up these mysteries to a player and allow them to ask their own questions, form their own opinions and theories, a story will be told without a word spoken! As 3D environment art goes, that’s invaluable.


Points of Interest and Making your World Feel Alive

One important element is generating and maintaining player interest. One of the most recent examples is in FromSoftware’s latest entry in their Soulsborne series, Elden Ring. One prominent piece of feedback received was upon exiting the tutorial area, players saw the world literally open up before them. A castle dominated the horizon on the left, the vast Erdtree in all its glory stood in the centre, far in the distance. Before them, towers and crumbling ruins of the once great civilisation. It was a masterpiece of environmental storytelling and showcased their ability to create points of interest. 

Everything in that 3D environment could be visited, that was what drove so many players forward. Players saw the world ahead, a hundred questions bubbling up, a hundred places to go. The area feels real and alive and it spurs you onto the next where this process will continue.

Points of interest are incredible for generating this excitement and for helping with your own game’s storytelling. Consider the potential and strength of points of interest in your game and how they might help sell your story and get players excited to move forward.


Texturing in 3D Game Environments

Texture is such an important element in game design and 3D game art. Of course, there’s simply things like considering your setting and location. A post-apocalyptic world is not going to have a lot of clean textures. The world, its people, and the items in it will be run down, dirty, ramshackle. Those things that are clean or pristine or well-maintained should be an indicator of a significantly different way of life or people.

When asked about texturing, our lead environment artist had an interesting tip. “Age and wear can tell a story of course, but it’s important to consider the location of every environment. If you’ve got a small settlement within a jungle – use the wood texture from the trees as construction for some of the buildings. It helps to show the inhabitants as using their local resources, makes the settlement feel actually built here rather than a group of 3D models placed down!”

We hope you enjoyed this look into 3D environments in games. If you’re interested in leveraging our 3D game art expertize, get in touch with us today. As part of the Magic Media team, we have an international presence and scalability to handle any of your 3D art production needs as well as any other game development requirements! Our one-stop studio is at your service.