6 Essential Ingredients for an Open-World Indie Game

T-minus a week and a half! There’s a ticking clock facing Game Design students as they sprint towards Pitch & Play, their industry showcase night. One of the five games on display this round will be The Last Phoenix, an open-world aerial melee/dogfighting game, and the first open-world game developed by students in the program. To celebrate the impending launch, the Last Phoenix team has assembled their top six tips for creating an open-world game.

Make the Movement Fun

Since the player is both moving through a large world and doesn’t always know the optimal path, we needed to make sure that the actual experience of moving – in our case, flying – was fun and had a layer of depth. After all, players are going to be doing a lot of it. We decided early on we wanted to add dives, rolls, and loops to the Phoenix’s movement. This served to both avoid enemy attacks and allow the player to weave through the many pillars and arches scattered through the game world.

Environmental Art Needs to Tile

We knew we wanted to craft every single art asset going into The Last Phoenix ourselves. This meant we were going to have a catalog of 143 environmental assets and, to make it worth the effort for an island of our size, we needed to make sure the pieces would tile. This saved us all sorts of effort long-term because it meant we could make a set of various buildings, scatter them around the environment, populate a large area quickly.

Create a World That Breathes

It’s important to lay down the framework of your game world from the get-go. This can be anything from backstory and plot to the sort of influences you’ll be taking in for visual targets. We were lucky to have a fantastic concept artist, and we also decided to pull from Aztec, Greek, and Mesopotamian influences when building our structures. The earlier you can decide what you’re going to draw from, the more influenced and real your world will feel.

Entice the Player to Explore

There’s no reason to make an open-world game if you don’t leverage it for all it’s worth. There’s a big difference between making a linear game in an open-world environment and making an actual open-world game. Give the player side-objectives and alternatives to the core path. For a student game, this was incredibly handy when it came to deciding our stretch goals. If we had time, we had a dozen ideas about how we could use the space to enrich the player experience.

Make Sound That Fits the Tone

Early on, sit down as a team and talk about the sort of emotional impact each area is supposed to have and give all that data to your sound designers. For open-world games, sound changes will be important since it’s one of the main methods to immediately communicate a change. There usually isn’t the same opportunity with in-game cut scenes or level changes.

Always Be Optimizing

For us, we were treading into unfamiliar waters when we decided on an open-world concept with UDK. It’s important to set a frame-rate limit of what you’re going to allow. For us that was 30 frames per second. Every two weeks, we set aside a big chunk of time to make sure we were optimized and running at an acceptable rate.

Thanks, team! Want to get to know The Last Phoenix and its developers much better? Check out their website and Facebook page. And feast your eyes on this beta gameplay footage, too: