Home > Inspiration for writing > Examples of great world building in films

Examples of great world building in films

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

If you’re creating a new brand new world for the setting of your roleplaying game it helps to look at some examples first, demonstrated on the big screen. Below are some worlds from films which might give you a good starting point when creating your own world. You might also want to look my other article about world ideas to use for the setting of your game.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean

In this world of Pirates and swashbuckling, the films follow the same characters but there’s actually a lot more going on in the world. There’s a crew of undead pirates, a crew of seamonsters, and toffee-nosed gentry from the East India Trading Company, as well as some voodoo magic for more of a supernatural element to the world.

It would be easy to take this world and use it for a roleplaying game. Your characters could be the crew of a Pirate ship, and you raid any ship that comes near whilst avoiding any ships that are hired to catch you. Or if you want to be more legitimate, you could be a simple trading ship which moves from port to port transporting cargo, and avoiding being raided by Pirates. Or you could take on jobs from port Sheriffs to track down and destroy all Pirate ships that are causing problems for other ships. As the world has supernatural elements like voodoo magic and curses, this could give your characters plenty of interesting and ludicrous things to do.

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation

In the Terminator films we see snapshots of the grim future where robots have taken over, and in Terminator Salvation we see more of that world. The robots have huge flying ships, as well as human-like robots and many other weird contraptions.

Humans are farmed, and collected and kept in colonies. The Humans that have escaped work as freedom fighters, fighting against the robots.

Your characters could be the Human resistance, fighting against the robots. This world also has a lot of scope for time travel, as time travel is used by both the robots and the Humans to alter the course of the future. This means possible missions could be to travel back in time to before the robots took over (to our present, or further in the past), and try to stop the robots, or to prevent the robots from travelling back to the future and attempting to kill John Connor, or even your characters own parents.

Avatar

Avatar

This blockbuster was set on a far away planet called “Pandora” which is an unspoiled paradise, with  huge forests, and very interesting wildlife. We’re shown many different interesting creatures, including large jungle beasts, six-legged horses, and flying dragon-like creatures. Then there’s the planet’s natural inhabitants, the Na’vi. These are blue cat-like humanoids who live in tribes in the forest. There are many interesting locations on the planet of Pandora, including the Tree of Souls, where the living consciousness of all dead Na’vi are stored in the tree roots, and an area on the coast where rocks seemingly levitate above the ground.

Mankind is brought to the planet Pandora to mine the planet’s natural resource “Unobtanium”. We see a lot of technology that the Humans have brought with them, including large mech suits, spacecraft, flying warships, and genetically engineered Na’vi Human hybrid bodies that the Humans control to interact with the Na’vi.

There’s a lot in this world, as there’s good worldbuilding for the Humans as well as for the world of Pandora. If you were to use this idea for you game you could easily extend the world of the Humans and create a story of something similar happening on another planet, or have your characters live as Na’vi and further explore the world of Pandora, where there’s plenty of room to mention many very different tribes, invent more unusual creatures, and create some different locations.

A vampire from Daybreakers

Daybreakers

In this vampire film it shows what the world would be like if vampires have become the majority of the worlds Humans. People look the same, and keep their same jobs but are vampires, and require Human blood to stay alive. They have made changes to the way they live their lives including, the working day now being at night, allowing the vampire population to sleep during the day. Travelling around during the day is possible, but sunlight is deadly, so cars have been fitted with blacked-out windows and video cameras, allowing the vampire driver to watch the road ahead on a TV screen. Enclosed walkways have been constructed through the city, allowing the vampires to walk around without fear of being exposed to natural light.

In the film, the small amount of Humans are dying out, this means no blood for the vampires, who start to starve. In this world, when a vampire doesn’t get enough blood, they start to turn into a monstrous demon-like creature, the first signs of this are elongated earlobes.

If you use this world idea your game, your characters could either be a small group of Humans trying to take back the world from the vampires, or they could be vampires, constantly hunting new Humans to feed the population.

planet of the apes

Planet of the Apes

In the future, mankind started to use apes as slaves until they rebelled and overthrew their Human oppressors. The world became ruled by apes, who created their own towns and cities, and drove the Humans into the wilderness, who gradually became mute and lived like animals in the jungle. The apes live in trees or in towns of mud huts. The apes are usually split into three factions. The chimp-like apes are the workers, the orang-utan-like apes are the scholars and the leaders, and the gorilla-type apes are the warriors.

You could easily take this rich world and make it the setting of your game.  There are many films, one TV series and one cartoon showing this world, so there is a lot of source material. There’s also a newer remake which shows a different world, it’s likely this is a parallel universe and doesn’t fit within the timeline of the original films.

tron

Tron

The film Tron shows the world inside a computer. The original film is a bit outdated now, but the idea could be as strong as ever, as technology has advanced. Imagine a world where the ruler is the central processor, every person represents a program, locations are different parts of a computer, memory, hard-drive, graphics card, etc, and you use those light-ships to move from place to place. Also enemies might challenge you to a game where you throw a discus, or a race in a speeder bike. The game could get interesting when a virus tries to take over the system.

You could use this world exactly, or you could use it as a starting point for your own world. Instead of imagining a computer system, imagine you’re inside the entire internet, and each location is a different website. This means that a shopping centre would be Amazon.com, and a busy marketplace would be ebay.com. Enemies could be viruses, malware programmes, and a DDOS attack could be represented by a giant tsunami of data!

Children of men

Children of Men

The world in this film is a miserable place. It’s a dystopian near-future, set in 2027. For unknown reasons there are no children being born, meaning the Human race is moving closer to extinction every day. The film is set in England, but the problem is global. People are divided into factions, making the lawless world a very dangerous place, and your characters would have to be very paranoid.

In the film we see a refugee camp called “Bexhill”, where immigrants are being held and deported. There’s nothing to enforce Human rights, so people are begin treated incredibly badly here, which gives you a great location for your story. Perhaps you need to rescue people from a similar refugee camp, or escape from one.

Nightmare before christmas

Nightmare before Christmas

This film showed Halloween represented as a town, where the inhabitants were all kinds of spooky monsters and ghouls. Christmas was represented as another town. Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown stumbles into Christmastown where everything is nice and happy and always festive.

It’s possible that every national holiday could be represented in a physical way as a town, or as a kingdom. This would give you a very distinctive theme that your other members should be able to identify with really easily.

A raider in mad max

Mad Max

A post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland where civilisation has fallen, and technology is in the hands of barbarians. Mankind is split into many different tribes of people trying to stay alive. Oil is a valuable commodity in this world, and people are willing to kill for it. This makes the world a dangerous and violent place, where technology is rare due to the lack of power.

Your game could follow a group of people as they move from place to place, or set your game in a base that your characters have to defend from barbarians who want to steal everything they have.

Star wars characters

Star Wars

One of the most flexible sci-fi fantasy worlds is Star Wars, which combines a science fiction  universe of planets, spaceships, robots and aliens with sword fighting and magic (the force). There’s a lot of source material to take inspiration, from the original trilogy, modern trilogy, the Clone Wars cartoon, computer games and many books. These show the Star Wars universe from all angles, and have populated the world to become a very rich place. There are plenty of locations for your characters to explore, as well as the freedom to invent many more planets or locations on existing planets. There are well documented species of aliens, as well as the freedom to create your own. The technology is well documented, and your members will all instantly know what technology they are able to use as long as they’re a fan.

Your game could be set on a spaceship, a planet, or a spacestation. And you can choose who to work for.

There are also several time periods described in Star Wars, there’s the:

  • Rebellion era: Set at the time of the original trilogy (IV-VI)
  • Rise of the empire era: Set at the time of the modern trilogy (I-III)
  • Knights of the old Republic era: Set in the distant past where the Jedi and Sith warred for the fate of the galaxy, as shown in some computer games and comics.

Star Wars is a very rich world, and it will allow you to be creative with creating your game, and your storytelling.

Starship troopers base

Starship Troopers

In the future, the world is at war with a race of aliens called Arachnids. These spider-like creatures are dangerous killing machines, and can overwhelm us in their sheer numbers. Humans in this world have spaceships and the ability to travel to other worlds, but there’s always the constant threat of the Arachnids invading.

In the world of Starship Troopers, high school kids are encouraged to do military service to become a “Citizen”, this means more benefits in society. The training for military infantry is incredibly tough and we’re shown that it can lead to serious injury or death. They train with lasers or live ammo, whilst the pilots are trained to fly large spaceships.

Also in this world, certain people are recognised as being psychic. Near the end of the film this is seen as important to make vague communication with the Arachnids.

There’s a lot of propaganda in this world, making the Military look glamorous in TV adverts. This hints at a government that might be oppressive, and uses censorship to mislead the population.

If you were to set a roleplaying game in this world you could be a squadron of infantry, or pilots, each battling the Arachnids in a different way.

Christian Bale in Equilibrium

Equilibrium

In this futuristic world, a strict 1884-style regime has banned all emotions. Items which might provoke emotion like books, art and music are strictly forbidden, and feeling anything is a crime punishable by death. All inhabitants of the world are prescribed a drug called “Prozium” which inhibits all emotion.

The totalitarian government is lead by “the father”, whose image is projected throughout the city. The opponents to the world are an underground resistance who are called “offenders”, in the film it’s the job of Christian Bale’s character to hunt down and kill these offenders.

You might want to use this world as a setting for your game, or you might want to use it as a location that you visit. Your characters could be working to oppress the people and force them to take their doses of emotion-inhibiting drugs, or you might be one of the resistance who wants to topple the government and free the people.

More examples of worldbuilding

Other great places to look at for examples of worldbuilding are children’s films. These are often very imaginative and have had a lot of time given to the world that the characters live in. Films like Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Shrek are all great examples of films where the worlds are very unique. I’ve created an article with some examples of great worldbuilding in childrens films.

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