Environmental Effects

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Changes to how actions or events function due to being in a specific part of the game world.

For game worlds to have interesting features, the different parts of need to vary. Besides their relation to each other and the game components they contain, this can be done by having Environmental Effects. This may be adding, removing, or modifying the actions possible for those within them, doing the same with actions directed towards those within them, or by having specific events take place within them due to their nature.


Fallout series has water in various areas which slows movement and causes damage when one is submerged for too long without any breathing support, and have other areas tainted with radioactivity that damages those present depending on how resistant they are. Minecraft, and The Elder Scrolls series have water areas as well and in addition have other areas with filled with lava that quickly kills those in it. The Lemmings series of games make both water and lava deadly to the lemmings, while the Super Mario series varies the effects of lava between games.

The production of villages and town in Settlers of Catan depend on what hexes they border to.

The terrain one's car is on affects acceleration, deceleration and grip in Racing Games such as Need for Speed series and Gran Turismo series. More unrealistic racing games such as Super Monkey Ball series and the Wipeout series have stretches which adds boost to whatever vehicles is on it. RoboRally have pits, conveyor belts, hydraulic presses, amongst other Environmental Effects that players need to take into consideration while navigating their robots.

Hey! That's My Fish!, Forbidden Island, and Greed Corp all have game worlds which gradually disappears, and the disappeared parts can be said to be under an Environmental Effect.

Using the pattern

Environmental Effects are ways of changing details of Levels, Game Boards, and Game Worlds, although the most important part of any part of a Game World is how it connects to the rest of it. For each Environmental Effects created, one has to consider which combination of Avatars, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, and Units it affects. Generally, positive Environmental Effects can be created through Improved or New Abilities while negative Environmental Effects can be created through Ability Losses or Decreased Abilities. A basic design choice for Environmental Effects are if they should be permanent or temporary - if the latter this is quite often regulated by the use of Controllers or Switches and allows Environmental Effects to function as Conditional Passageways. While Environmental Effects can diegetically be presented by dedicated game elements, they can also be represented through Tiles.

A simple example of an Environmental Effect is to make a part of the Game World into an Inaccessible Area. Privileged Abilities or Privileged Movement, can then be given, temporarily or permanently, to some game elements possible to provide Orthogonal Differentiation or Varied Gameplay respectively. While Inaccessible Areas block Movement completely, Environmental Effects can also provide Privileged Movement through making it quicker or easier, or provide Movement Limitations through making it slower or more difficult. These changes may be difference in game time it takes to move a given distance unit or the cost for movement when Budgeted Action Points are used. Warp Zones are another example of Environmental Effects and interesting enough share many of the design options with Inaccessible Areas even if they connect specific parts of Game Worlds to other parts of the same Game Worlds. The Environmental Effects that make players' actions easier in some way are functionally Installations since they work similar to Tools that provide Buffs. Vulnerabilities can be an indirect way of creating Environmental Effects that only affect some entities in Game Worlds; this basically consists of defining an environmental characteristic as a Vulnerability and then tagging certain parts of a Game World has having these. An example of this is found in the Damage vampires suffer from sunlight in the Elder Scrolls series.

Resources can quite often be diegetically tied to specific parts of Game Worlds. This provides a natural basis for having Resource Generators as Environmental Effects, but an alternative is to let the environmental modify the effect of generic Resource Generators - Settlers of Catan uses this alternative by making the products of settlements depend on which hexes they border. The places where Power-Ups appears can be seen as Environmental Effects depending on areas being Resource Generators. Chargers do likewise but either refill Renewable Resources or provide Improved Abilities.

Other possible Environmental Effects include granting Privileged Abilities, blocking or modifying Line of Sight rules, and modify how Combat and Damage works. Some environments make sense, e.g. underwater areas, to design so they can only be entered for a certain period of time before one takes Damage, this is in effect linking Time Limits to the the environments. Others, like lava, may start giving Damage at once. Providing some Avatars or Units with Invulnerabilities to Damage caused by Environmental Effects make the areas with the effects become Safe Havens for them - or open up Conditional Passageways to areas on the other sides of the Environmental Effects.

The inverse of Environmental Effects is actions and events that affect the environment, and it makes sense to consider both when using one. An example of this can be found in Hey! That's My Fish!, Forbidden Island, and Greed Corp, which all have Shrinking Game Worlds through the removal of tiles and the disappearance of these tiles causes death, require instantaneous movement, or makes places into Inaccessible Areas. Forbidden Island modifies this by allowing the 'diver' to move through the disappeared areas as a form of Privileged Movement. Portal 2 and Super Mario Sunshine are example of games where players can affect the game environment by respectively covering it with colored gel or removing "goop" from it.

Diegetic Aspects

To make players aware of the presence or properties of Environmental Effects, these are typically linked to Diegetically Outstanding Features but unless these maintain Diegetic Consistency the effects are likely to become Alien Space Bats. The existence of Alien Space Bats can however also be used to explain radical changes in Environmental Effects during gameplay.

Although the diegetic explanations can be many for Environmental Effects and depend on the restrictions created in maintaining a Thematic Consistency, some are more common than others. Liquids can provide Movement Limitations and Damage if entered or after Time Limits have expired. Ice can provide another type of Movement Limitations by not slowing speed but making changes in direction difficult. Vegetation such as forests, jungle, and swamp can explain Movement Limitations, protection against Damage, and blocked Line of Sight. Height differences can do the same.

Interface Aspects

Important Environmental Effects may be appropriate to display on Mini-maps so that players can know their locations even if they are not close to them.

Narration Aspects

Since Environmental Effects can be explained as having been caused by earlier event (e.g. the radioactive areas in the Fallout series), they can be used for Environmental Storytelling.


Game Worlds, Game Boards, and Levels are modulated by Environmental Effects, e.g. by providing Resource Generators or Location-Fixed Abilities. Since they localize places where specific rules apply, they give Varying Rule Sets. Depending on how they are diegetically presented, they can both provide Environmental Storytelling and be examples or effects of Alien Space Bats. Depending on how they modify possible actions, they can provide Movement Limitations, Privileged Ability, or Privileged Movement, and this in turn can give Varied Gameplay. The presence of beneficial effects can motivate the strive for owning the Territories containing them if Territories are used. While Shrinking Game Worlds do not create Environmental Effects on the places removed, it can be said to be a general Environmental Effect in a Game World.

Environmental Effects that claim Lives or give Ability Losses, Damage, Decreased Abilities, or otherwise give negative effects can be Traps to those enter them. By doing this they provide PvE gameplay. They can also be Obstacles if they merely slow progress through them and help create Choke Points if they encourage movement through narrow passages rather than through themselves. Regardless, they can force players to consider the Risk/Reward relation of entering them since doing so is not automatically a bad option. Environmental Effects that are too dangerous to Traverse normally but that can be removed or be negated by those with Privileged Abilities are examples of Conditional Passageways.

By either requiring players to not be disadvantaged by the Environmental Effects or by using them to their own advantage, Environmental Effects can affect Movement and Maneuvering. When the effects are at least partly related to players abilities to perceive, they can also affect Reconnaissance goals. This can promote Tactical Planning, especially in Multiplayer Games or those with Enemies. When the Environmental Effects are known in advance it also can promote Strategic Planning through being Strategic Locations.

As ways of introducing dangers in environments, Environmental Effects can help maintain a Thematic Consistency since many types of environments are dangerous to humans or whatever the players control.


Can Instantiate

Alien Space Bats, Buffs, Choke Points, Environmental Storytelling, Installations, Location-Fixed Abilities, Movement Limitations, Obstacles, Privileged Abilities, Privileged Movement, PvE, Resource Generators, Risk/Reward, Strategic Locations, Strategic Planning, Tactical Planning, Thematic Consistency, Varied Gameplay, Varying Rule Sets

with Ability Losses, Damage, or Decreased Abilities


with Buffs


with Invulnerabilities

Conditional Passageways, Safe Havens

with Privileged Abilities or Switches

Conditional Passageways

Can Modulate

Avatars, Budgeted Action Points, Combat, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Game Boards, Game Worlds, Levels, Line of Sight, Lives, Maneuvering, Movement, Power-Ups, Reconnaissance, Resource Generators, Territories, Units

Can Be Instantiated By

Ability Losses, Chargers, Damage, Decreased Abilities, Improved Abilities, Inaccessible Areas, New Abilities, Shrinking Game Worlds, Tiles, Vulnerabilities, Warp Zones

Can Be Modulated By

Alien Space Bats, Controllers, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Mini-maps, Privileged Abilities, Privileged Movement, Switches, Thematic Consistency, Time Limits

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



New pattern created in this wiki.