I follow three main approaches to Universe building
Organic World Construction
During my game design studies, I came up with a world-building canvas for fictional story worlds.
The same is depicted below. This canvas was used in a game design project during my master's studies.
To build a fantasy fiction World that is consistent and self-sustaining in order to accommodate a suitable Action Adventure RPG.
World Building Canvas
The following canvas marks out the major elements of a fictional world that need to be filled up in order to have a consistent system of life/civilization sustenance.
Character Centric Approach
This is where I get to know the protagonist/antagonist or an important character from the story first and then build around that character's world. These are some of the basic questions that, when placed around the character, help us in building the world around him/her.
This is a story world that's built around a central idea of a conflict that the world/character is facing.
A world struck by a zombie apocalypse is a typical example. Here we identify each element of the world with respect to the central conflict of interest. The same is reflected in the following Design Project.
To portray a hypothetical construct of the insides of a mentally ill protagonist. Each level is a memory space linked with the past.
World building process
Here I have outlined the process of World building using contextual conflict approach. In the right column, I have described the stages in the development of the above design project of the game 'Specimen 14'
(On a planet? On the clouds? Inside a Car?)
Inside the protagonist's mind. The game world is an abstract representation of the memories when the protagonist, 14, goes into a Coma.
What problem threatens the world/protagonist?
14 is stuck in his mind that is made up of 26 distinct rooms. 14 wants to get back to real life but does not know how. The unnamed narrator isn't helping either.
How has the world changed since?
Each of the rooms houses a strong memory from 14's life. The memories present choices to help 14 navigate through the rooms in search of an exit.
Who's responsible? Who sustains the conflict?
The unnamed narrator who is guiding/toying with 14. Also the incidents in 14's life that caused depression and ultimately a metal breakdown.
In what ways can the conflict be resolved?
14 has to explore the memories and search for clues. Then figure out that he/she can snap out of this world by visiting each of the 26 rooms at least once.