Diegetically Outstanding Features

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Parts of game worlds that by their shape, color, or texture convey to players specific information or interaction possibilities.

Many games make use of distinguishing features to let players more easily themselves in the game environments. When this is done not through simply the positioning of game elements but through their presentation differing from those around them, they are Diegetically Outstanding Features. These can provide the basis for affordances in games[1] that are easily to establish, and help players with their exploratory actions[2] in game worlds, that is, those they perform to understand how the game system function.


The rivers in the Civilization series indicate that cities that are located near them will have better production rates.

In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion the White Gold Tower of the Imperial City of Cyrodiil is a unique feature that can be seen from many parts of the game world. On a much more mundane level, bird droppings convey to players of Assassin's Creed 2 where one can fall from buildings and safely land in piles of leafs or carts filled with hay. The Assassin's Creed series however also let players use the supernatural eagle vision ability to have certain aspects of the game world be highlighted.

Using the pattern

Diegetically Outstanding Features can be achieved in many forms, from those barely noticeable to those blatantly breaking a game's Diegetic Consistency. When not using Diegetically Outstanding Features that are from a function or narrative part self-obvious, there exists two main design choices. First, whether the features should lure or dissuade, and second if the feature should be understandable before any consequences of them or nearby game elements are noticeable. Regarding the options, the former may make Surprises more difficult, while the latter allows for Strategic Knowledge if the same Diegetically Outstanding Features are used again in the game. Even before they are actually experienced, Diegetically Outstanding Features can influence gameplay if they have been told about through Gossip.

A typical use of Diegetically Outstanding Features is to provide information where Location-Fixed Abilities are located within Game Worlds, e.g. Alarms, Chargers, Environmental Effects, Installations, Safe Havens, Pick-Ups, Resource Locations, Resource Generators, and Warp Zones. They can also be used on game elements with some form of agency, e.g. Avatars, Enemies, Non-Player Characters, and Units, and this use may be more common. Some Enemies (especially Boss Monsters), Installations, and Vehicles may rather be Diegetically Outstanding Features due to size rather than be elements that are given features to stand out but may be modulated by the pattern anyway to make them even more noticeable. When entities in Game Worlds have Achilles' Heels a way to give players Clues about this is to indicate the vulnerable places through Diegetically Outstanding Features. Diegetically Outstanding Features can also be used to reflect effects of game events, e.g. to show when game entities have suffered Damage.

Less common is to lure players towards places where there are no such elements, e.g. to create Red Herrings, but this may be motivated by making players move into the proximity of Traps or to provide Environmental Storytelling. Some Diegetically Outstanding Features can only be seen by those with Privileged Abilities; For example, in the Assassin's Creed series players can activate the Vison Mode eagle vision to see glyphs, memory-encoded messages, as well as more clearly see important features of the environment.

Diegetically Outstanding Features may also be used to modify game elements more related to Narration Structures, e.g. MacGuffins, but by simply positioning them in certain ways they can in addition create Clues and Traces. Non-Player Characters can be created solely through Diegetically Outstanding Features if they are not to actually be part of gameplay. Big Dumb Objects should be mentioned in this context, since they are diegetic elements that inherently stand out diegetically. Naturally, the ones related to narrative aspects may be used to create Environmental Storytelling or modulate games with a Detective Structure, but this can also be the sole purpose of a specific Diegetically Outstanding Feature.

Strategic Locations that do not depend on physical game elements are usually also marked by Diegetically Outstanding Features in the immediate environment, e.g. Check Points in Races. In a similar fashion, Diegetically Outstanding Features can be used to let players know or guess the presence of Traps but might then limit the chances of Surprises working.

The actual design of Diegetically Outstanding Features can range from simple variations in the appearance of the Game Boards, Game Worlds, or Levels to Obstacles that give players' Movement Limitations due to their placement. An easy way to create Diegetically Outstanding Features is to introduce local Symmetry in an otherwise unsymmetrical environment or vice versa. Any type of feature intended to draw attention to it can do so more by having a dynamic appearance.

In most games Diegetically Outstanding Features need to be designed ahead of actual game instances, i.e. has Predetermined Story Structures, but those using Game Masters can have them improvised as they are needed.

The use of Point of Interest Indicators is an option to using Diegetically Outstanding Features or can be used to even stronger draw players' attention to Diegetically Outstanding Features. Vision Modes can make Diegetically Outstanding Features conditional to specific modes of viewing Game Worlds.

Feelies are physical Props that automatically become Diegetically Outstanding Features in that they are provided in another medium than that which the gameplay is provided through.

Diegetic Aspects

Diegetically Outstanding Features is a diegetic pattern but those that stick out too much break Diegetic Consistency. If this is not a problem, the use of Non-Diegetic Features can be an option which can more clearly convey information.

Interface Aspects

The main use of Diegetically Outstanding Features is to make it easier to players to identify interesting parts of Game Worlds, and this is related to interfaces as the use of the pattern gives players information. When applied on game elements or Game Items that can be activated in some way, it supports Clickability. However, this can have the adverse effect if it is overused since they may then instead begin to suffer from information overload.


By definition, Diegetically Outstanding Features can cause Disruption of Focused Attention but unless they follow a game's theme they break the Diegetic Consistency of it. In addition to this, they give players Landmarks to support Game World Navigation in Game Boards, Game Worlds, or Levels, thereby making Game World Exploration (and possibly Traverse) goals easier to complete. Since the Diegetically Outstanding Features can provide the imperative for players to plan how to get to them or avoid them, they can encourage Stimulated Planning.

When marking Chargers, Pick-Ups, Resource Generators, and Traps, Diegetically Outstanding Features work as Clues and noticing them is usually Illusionary Rewards, since they may not necessarily aid the players.

In Multiplayer Games, Diegetically Outstanding Features can support Coordination and more generally Social Interaction simply about their presences. In both these and Single-Player Games, the presence of Diegetically Outstanding Features may be interesting enough to merit Social Interaction outside the games.


Can Instantiate

Clickability, Clues, Disruption of Focused Attention, Environmental Storytelling, Illusionary Rewards, Landmarks, Non-Player Characters, Red Herrings, Stimulated Planning, Strategic Knowledge, Traces

Multiplayer Games

Coordination, Social Interaction

Can Modulate

Achilles' Heels, Alarms, Avatars, Boss Monsters, Chargers, Check Points, Damage, Detective Structures, Enemies, Environmental Effects, Game Boards, Game World Exploration, Game World Navigation, Game Worlds, Installations, Levels, Location-Fixed Abilities, MacGuffins, Narration Structures, Non-Player Characters, Pick-Ups, Predetermined Story Structures, Resource Generators, Resource Locations, Safe Havens, Strategic Locations, Traps, Traverse, Units, Vehicles, Warp Zones

Can Be Instantiated By

Big Dumb Objects, Boss Monsters, Enemies, Feelies, Game Masters, Installations, Obstacles, Vehicles, Vision Modes

Can Be Modulated By

Gossip, Point of Interest Indicators, Privileged Abilities

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Diegetic Consistency, Surprises


An updated version of the pattern Outstanding Features that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[3].


  1. Rambusch, J. & Susi, T. (2008). The Challenge of Managing Affordances in Computer Game Play, HumanIT, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 83-109.
  2. Linderoth, J. (2010). Why gamers donʼt learn more - An ecological approach to games as learning environment, in Nordic DiGRA 2010.
  3. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.