Telling stories through spaces

Dinuka Jay
4 min readMar 9, 2021

How you can tell the story behind the world you’ve created by using your game environment, 3D assets, audio assets, and collectibles

A once loved cafe, now abandoned by its owners and loyal customers.

We wanted to tell the story of a once-loved cafe situated in the middle of a busy city and how its loyal customers and high-spirited owners ran away from it during an apocalyptic event.

The long weekend was ahead of us and as our workday grew to an end, my colleague, Eglu, and I decided to take on a tiny little project to challenge ourselves. We wanted to tell the story of a once-loved cafe situated in the middle of a busy city and how its loyal customers and high-spirited owners ran away from it during an apocalyptic event.

This blog post will explore some key concepts we had to wrap our heads around and some of the learnings from this project.


When designing a ‘space’, starting off by defining the scale and mood of the environment helps define what the outcome of the space should look like and the emotion it should create within the player. We started off by looking at abandoned cafes and buildings that were consumed and reclaimed by nature once forgotten by humans. I was baffled at how quickly nature can reclaim our proud architecture when it’s left to wither without maintenance.

Ivy starts growing on walls, moss starts spreading through wooden floors, Cracks and destroyed ground tiles expose tiny plants to grow into the building interior, any openings in the roof create puddles of water, which accelerates the fungi growth and the degradation of wood, window glass starts to discolor and the discolored glass then creates a specific color ambiance on the interior.

a beautiful yet depressing scene..

When designing a space, these need to be taken into account, and if realism is the primary goal, simulating this natural phenomenon will add to the experience of the player.

Eglu Jovaisaite — 3D Artist and superwoman

Eglu modeled the cafe based on her childhood memories at a local coffee shop in Lithuania known as “Sereikiškių sena ledaine”, while also filling the gaps with how coffee shops arrange their furniture and the traditional equipment and layouts of their spaces.

Dinuka Jay — Game Designer & Programmer

The biggest challenge was to create a haunting landscape that encapsulated the cafe. Ambient audio from the exterior of the cafe that you can hear as muffled noises, creaking unstable wood of the cafe’s roof, and the overall atmosphere.


After she was done with the model, she imported them to Unity 3D and created ambient lighting to create an atmosphere and light setting of a 6 PM sun. I jumped on added in the environment surrounding this beautiful yet depressing scene, along with the props and the foliage.

Rushed out. Forgotten coffee and unread newspapers.

Foliage played a huge role in this little project. As mentioned earlier, Branches creep into the cafe through broken windows, ivy growing on the walls, plants protruding from cracks in the ground, and moss on surfaces helped tell miniature stories within this space.

Harnessing the power of the Universal Render Pipeline of Unity 3D, we wrapped up the camera in a post-processing layer with ambient occlusion, vignette, chromatic aberration, and color correction as the final touch to the scene.

The Surrounding

When looking out the broken and discolored windows, we needed the player to see the chaos that may have unfolded on the outside. Overgrown grass and weeds that surround abandoned vehicles of customers, tall and empty buildings as the backdrop, unmaintained trees, and bushes are some of the key elements we used to create the desired atmosphere.

The environment was designed within Unity 3D by utilizing some of the assets made by Eglu as well as post-apocalypse asset packs from the Unity 3D asset store.

Environment surrounding the cafe


  • Design an environment around a story and not the other way around. Assume that the narrator of a story is the environment itself and your player listens and understands the back story by absorbing the art and the mood it creates.
  • Tell miniature stories surrounding the space. For example, coffee spilled on a newspaper conveys that the people rushed out in a hurry and no one bothered cleaning up afterward. Smashed windows and broken cashiers indicate looting that took place.