I agree with the sentiment that exploration has been underrated by some developers. It is the shit in Fallout 3 to just say, "Screw duty, I'm going to walk towards the sunset for a few days and see where I end up." Other "sandbox" games force you to constantly attend to duties back home, roping you in.
I disagree with the idea that GPS is bad. Even when I explore, I like to have an idea of where to go. That's why I liked the tickmarks in Fallout 3 and Oblivion, giving me some sense of important areas within a few hundred metres.
I absolutely love exploration in games. First thing I do in anything where I get control (even in movie DVDs) is fiddle around, and see what exactly I can and can't do, and Shadow of the Colossus is pretty much the pinnacle of that for me, with all the ancient ruins (like that small, abandoned village, which made me wonder "What happened here, and will I ever really know?"), lush wilderness, and open sky.
That, and the boss fights are pretty damn epic (contrary to the views of certain throttling-candidates).
I think Hitman blends stealth & exploration quite well. It's not a sprawling countryside, but many of the quieter or more creative assassinations require quite a bit of searching & investigation to reveal and carry out the key method of ending your target's life.
I'd also argue that at least for me, exploration was a fairly central part of Oblivion and Oblivion 2: With Guns! (Fallout 3). While you rarely had to explore, I sort of thought it was the point of the game, and Bethesda went to a lot of work creating content for you to discover. Exploration was also graphically gorgeous, frequently profitable, and loads more interesting than the main storyline.
I hate when people don't know what the article is about. *Looks at top post* read in one minute. Holy shit. Any who. I loved to explore in Borderlands for guns, I was soooo thrilled when I got a dark orange weapon from a chest.
Games that feature expolation prominantly are amoungst my favorites of all time. Arguable the first (and one of the best) exploration games in 3d space came with "Elite" who's whole mechanic was basically exploration, i still think it's beautyful in it's own way becuase of that pure distilled sense of sapce exploration that modern games like Mass Effect sadly crush into a fine fine dust.
More recently the landscape of outer Pripyat, Limask, Rostok and of course Chernobyl have been my haunts for exploration. The lose structure of the STALKER games makes expolring very desireable and very effecting to the soul. The bleak beauty and sense of isolation punctuated by moments of pure adrenaline and wonderous discovery are what exploration should be about.
I agree with you on this! I always said that the great thing about Thief is that it seems like the map is designed independently from what you actually have to do, and the game simply drops you into this and tells you to complete some objects by whatever means necessary.
However, linear games can be good, if done well. A lot of linear games seem to suffer the problem of giving either a frustratingly thin path to follow, or in games like Splinter Cell, what you have to do isn't entirely obvious until you've already attempted everything else that the game simply won't let you do. I think linear can be good when you follow the path seamlessly, without really thinking about, the game naturally guides you the way that you need to go.
Half-Life 2 and Portal do this well, and they incorporate all sorts of things like... lighting, sound, characters, dialogue and any sort of narrative to guide you along a certain path. It's interesting hearing how they did this in the developer commentary. A good example is in Portal when they wanted a clear distinction between the tiles you can shoot portals onto and the tiles you can't, so they intentionally gave them a dull surface so that the player would automatically look for the familiar tile to shoot the portal onto. It'd be nice to see Yahtzee do an article on how linear elements are good if done properly.
Right off the bat, I agree with you. About throttling xSmootx, that is. As a fan of Kingdom of Loathing, I remember when he was a particularly notorious troll in that game's forums. It was truly rare for the Powers that Be to ban someone just for being annoying, but he was the exception.
There's something to be said for games that don't give you a giant waypoint all that time saying "go here, taking this exact path, in this fashion." These are all great examples of games that avoid such blatant hand-holding, though unfortunately now I think I may have to go replay Metroid Prime again...
Another GREAT exploration game is the under hyped always awesome minecraft. Not only do you have an entire infinite map to explore that generates terrain above and below ground but Notch (The sole developer and living god behind minecraft) managed to make that terain in all it's 8-bit blocky format, look as stunningly amazing as anything in Avatar. That plus rewarding your exploration with the resources your looking for makes this one of my favorite games to play.
If you've never heard of or played minecraft check it out at minecraft.net
if you need proof of it's awesomeness check out this video
I didn't like or dislike the exploration in Shadow of the Colossus. The vast bleak openness did set the mood on the way to each colossi but I never felt the need to go out of my way to "explore" since you will find each different kind of landmass (be it desert, mountain, woodland, lake etc) anyway on the way to each, thus once you've seen one you've seen them all.
The only instance I explored in the game was looking for what some people called "the colossal tree", which I did find and it was a very random addition. Not so much an easter egg, just something that sticks out. Perhaps if they had more minor editions like that it may have made the game world more appealing to trek WITHOUT being distracting to the original mood in the first place.
Now Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the few games where I actually wanted to search out and collect the various hidden items since you got unique dialogue and back story as opposed to just "a slight damage/armor/agility boost" or an achievement. Exploration worked very well in Fallout 3 due to the many unscripted missions such as the Dunwich Building, Toy Factory and the satiate silos. But of course that is a game built around exploration, so it's not really comparable to those in the discussion at hand.
Thief is one of my favorite series and finding that extra bit of gold tucked away in a secret compartment was always fun, I'm glad that Deadly Shadows didnt kill the series and I'm looking forward to the 4th installment.
I wouldn't call them fuckwits to be honest. People have different degrees of tolerance to exploration and too much of it can disconnect them from the game, like what happened to you when you were playing Morrowind (or at least it seemed in that ZP where you mentioned it that you didn't progress too far because of that).
Exploration is fine if you have 3 or 4 consecutive free days to completely immerse yourself in a game and wake up at 9 in the morning, wear your shorts, make yourself a gigantic cup of coffee and are prepared to take it all in. However, if you only have an hour or two to play and other shit on your mind, exploration can actually take you out of a game.
Exploration can be more engaging if two things happen:
1) The world you are exploring is so rich and detailed that you constantly discover cool new things.
2) The graphics are just so damn cool that you don't mind just bathing in them for hours at a time.
I wouldn't say SotC has any of those. The graphics were ok for 5 years ago, but now they seem really mediocre, and save for the occasional cool in-cave waterfall and tucked away forest that seems...weidly out of place, its world is largely empty and uninteresting, full of gray mountains and putrid vegetation. I personally had no interest in fucking around in there any longer than needed to find the next colossus. The travelling itself did have an impact on the game's feel and pacing, but I don't think it was as central to the gameplay as you claim it was.
In a SotC ZP I expected to hear more about minimalistic storytelling and character design and how some developers can just engage players emotionally with nothing other than atmosphere and a lingering feeling of crushing loneliness. The only two games that I have played that managed to do this with pretty much zero exposition are SotC and Demon's Souls and I think they both deserve special mention and analysis.
I like exploration, but it gets so tedious quickly if it's not optional. I can wonder and explore in games for hours but if it's imperative to advance the game it becomes a chore like 'kill X amount of Y'. I've never really extensively played these games though, but almost all of them at least a little bit and only Thief really compelled me to keep playing.
Also, I think there might be something wrong with the Escapist servers because the part about FSGTG is missing again.