Foreshadowing is a technique that can be used to visually hint at an upcoming area of the map to the player. Previewing a future location ahead can create an element of anticipation and tension, whilst giving a sense of orientation within the world. The technique can also be reversed, to frame elements of the map the player has already visited, and as such invoking them with a sense of progression. For this post, I am going to be specifically looking at how it can be tied directly into the player’s current objectives; foreshadowing short-term and long term goals within the game.
Though there are many techniques that are used in directing the player such as line of sight, leading architectural elements and lighting, I want to focus exclusively on how foreshadowing can be used in a narrative context in level design, and look at a few examples of it in use.
Visually hinting at the player’s long term goals in the game gives narrative context to the overall space. It can give the player a more holistic representation of their progress within the overall story arc of the game, presenting them with an idea of how close they are to their ‘ultimate goal’. If a game regularly reminds the player of their long term objective, it can keep them in anticipation whilst also developing consistency within the game world and story, heightening the immersion in an environment that provides constant visual feedback to their progress.
Large structures such as the lighthouse in Alan Wake work well as they are visible from afar and give the player orientation within the game world, keeping them on direction towards the objective.
These structures usually have to be visually easy to read with a strong silhouette and features that distinguish them from the surrounding environment. The citadel in Half-life 2 is great example of this.
Presenting the player with glimpses of an upcoming area they will be exploring keeps the player motivated and engaged in their current ‘objective’. It can be effectively used to frame upcoming objectives and previous ones, giving the player orientation by providing instant feedback and verification on the player’s progress in the current space. Hinting at these short-goals can also enhance the believability and connectivity in the relationship of individual spaces, raising tension and anticipation as the foreshadowed area is usually very close by to the player.
Using another Half-life example, foreshadowing can be used to hint at upcoming events as well as specific locations, such as this screenshot from Half-life 2: Episode 2 where the ‘Hunter’ observes the player from the roof a building, hinting at the reveal and initial confrontation of the enemy coming up.