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Science Fiction World Building

Article posted on 10/1/2020

Here at Stardock, we love Science Fiction of all kinds: books, movies, comics, shows, you name it. Admittedly, I'm a bit more of a high fantasy girl myself, but I definitely love my Star Wars and Star Trek, and let's not exclude the glory that is Galaxy Quest. In another blog recently, I discussed genres and how they applied to gaming, specifically strategy - but it certainly applies here, as well. After all, Science Fiction isn't Science Fiction without certain elements, and there have been many classic "tropes" that fans love and have grown to define the genre over the years.

While hitting up my usual game and tech websites this week, I stumbled across an article on CNET about James Cameron's Avatar series. Wait, series? Unless we're talking about The Last Airbender, I wasn't aware there was a series for that particular movie - and, as it turns out, I was half correct.

There isn't a series yet. 

Apparently I've been living under a rock, because two sequels are very much underway in their development and are supposed to release even sooner than I realized. Unsurprisingly, it looks absolutely beautiful.

Now, it's been a pretty long time since I've seen Avatar (I remember seeing it in 3D not long after it released), but I do remember the collective gasp my group and I shared when we saw the first shots of Pandora. It was stunning, both from a VFX standpoint and an imaginative standpoint as well.

This brings me to something I think about a lot as a fiction writer: world building. It is simultaneously one of the most exciting and most exhausting aspects of creating a book, game, etc. You have to think of the big - the races, the species, the culture, the climate, the terrain - which tends to be a lot easier to keep at the forefront of your mind than the smaller details like population, agriculture, and so on. 

We do this all the time at Stardock, though often we're building multiple worlds, not just one. There are so many types of planets that you can discover in Galactic Civilizations III, for example, and while they're not all rendered with the kind of intricate detail that Avatar utilizes, there is still a story behind each of them in their terrain, their climate, and their suitability for being colonized. 

Perhaps one of the coolest parts of a sandbox game like GalCiv is how easily it is to project your own stories into the game itself. Each planet you colonize faces its own challenges through various events, world terrain, climate, and much more. It's fun to think about how your colonists are handling the wild overgrowth of a forested planet or enduring the harsh nights of a frozen tundra. 

"World Building," is also a broad term that can refer to more than just creating a literal world. It can mean a lore that connects and unifies multiple worlds or areas in a story. Each place needs all of these extra details in order to feel real and help the reader or game player invest in it. Star Control: Origins is an entire galaxy full of worlds, but the lore and the connection comes mostly from the main characters from various races and home worlds that you meet.

Building an interesting lore is key to creating something that people will connect with and get excited about. I can think of several films or books that do this well - Avatar definitely being among them! - and they tend to hold my interest during the time I'm reading/watching and also for a long time afterward.

Think about some of your favorite Science Fiction worlds and lore. Which ones do you love? I want to hear your thoughts!