When Open World Goes Wrong

Yahtzee Croshaw

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When Open World Goes Wrong

Yahtzee explores the horror that is open world gone wrong, and how to do it right, unlike basically every AAA game made recently.

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Roxas1359

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Aug 8, 2009
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That's actually something I'm hoping doesn't happen really. I mean I love sandbox games a lot, but I don't want every single game to start trying to show-horn in a sandbox style map because they are the "in" thing at the time. Really in this day and age I don't really purchase many news games because you can see how the industry now, instead of making unique and interesting games or gameplay, will just use the cookie-cutter formula of gray-brown corridors and make their games "realistic" (although I take the claim of "realistic" with about 500 grams of salt).
Now that I see how certain trends are I fear that the sandbox genre will become the next "realistic military shooter" type of cookie-cutter for the industry to milk which makes me sad. Although there are a few exceptions to the sandbox genre that I personally don't mind, the Fallout and Elder Scrolls games come to mind.
 

craddoke

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Two things:

1. A glut of "sandbox" games is inevitable; marketing departments love the term and programmers like the challenge of doing something in video games that such games are not naturally very good at doing
2. Video game sandboxes are not real sandboxes (hence the quotes above); they are collections of programmatically generated mini-encounters in which the possible interactions are tightly scripted/controlled. A real sandbox would require something close to hard AI (or, as is the case in table-top RPGs, a human referee on the other side of the screen).
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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Jun 5, 2013
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I honestly don't understand the...CULT of Half Life. I played them; all of them. And at what point were the open world? Yes, when you have the jalopy car you CAN drive in wide circles and occasionally fine a piece of debris that's slightly different from the next, but that was it. Maybe its just me, but a labyrinth(Which I will remind you is different than a maze in that a labyrinth has a central room that all paths branch out of) game with a dozen corridors leading to the same room doesn't feel free. It almost feels cruel. It says the developers took the time to build X number of extra rooms, but did so for its own sake. I don't remember many side-quests in Half Life...or hell, interacting with people at all. I remember being a silent protagonist going from one trooper/alien infested room to the next, shooting everything then waiting for an NPC to tell me to go to the next. Say what you will about bland games like Fable, but you could at least interact with the 20 interchangeable NPCs. Half Life was just...a bland FPS before we called things 'bland FPS'
I hate to be pessimistic about 'open world' games but there's a distinct trade-off. You can either have Mass Effect type games, which are strictly linear combat missions and heavy with character interactions, OR Saints Row games where you can do almost anything you want but the only character interaction is just how many bullets you put in a corpse before you make another one. I've never seen a game with as indepth characters as Mass Effect while keeping the massive freedom of a sandbox. A processor can't handle that type of game!
 

Roofstone

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While I certainly do love sandbox. I can't even wait for GTA V and Watch Dogs, simply because of how awesome the sandboxes look.

Everything in moderation. There is nothing wrong with linearity.

Really, middleground is the way to go, there is no fun in a railroaded campaign, just as there is no fun in a box of quicksand. Unless perhaps there is ice cream and porn at the bottom.

A linear sandbox one might call it. Like Half Life 2.

...Boy, that was an oxymoron if I ever saw one.
 

Simple Bluff

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Dec 30, 2009
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...massive, lurching disconnect between sandbox gameplay and story missions.
I see this point come up a lot and I think it's moot. It's like if I played (say) Hitman on the easiest difficulty, and just proceeded guns blazing, mowing people down left and right, yet the game still lets on as if Agent 47 is halfway competent. Or if you take Half Life 2, and spend the entirety of the game chucking grenades at friendlies for funsies, yet further on down they'll still treat you like Jesus. You're defeating the purpose of the plot through the gameplay, but that's only relevant to the person playing - it was a conscious decision to not care about the story. And it was enabled by the developers. Maybe people would disagree, but I like it like that.

I think giving the options to do races (or whatever) between missions is just another flavour of that. If you're invested in the story and choose to be immersed, then you can skip the races or wait until it comes to a point in the story where side-questing is more sensible. If some other bloke just wants to blow off the epic final battle in favour of collecting butterflies (because who cares about authenticity, amirite?) then the experience for him hasn't lost any impact. That's how he chose to play.

EDIT: I forgot to bring up an important point - that sometimes open world games FORCE you to side quest (like Saints Row 2), or they put you in a position where it's somewhat unavoidable, or at least obstructive (like Skyrim). But I don't personally consider that a fault with OWGs in general - it's sloppy design - like the finite lives system of old platformers. It's widespread but not inherent and I hope it's something that developers acknowledge and work to avoid in the future.
 

shrekfan246

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May 26, 2011
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Silentpony said:
I honestly don't understand the...CULT of Half Life. I played them; all of them. And at what point were the open world?
He wasn't calling it open-world.

In fact, he was using it as a direct example of linear progression done correctly in video games.

I like organic movement along a linear path. And for what I consider the best example of that, look no further than my own love interest, Half-Life. It is presented linearly, but each individual area has several routes and interconnecting hallways, and it frequently loops around and revisits areas to provide opportunities for environmental storytelling.
OT:
And there are inherent problems in open-world gameplay, most importantly the fact that it's absolutely disastrous for pacing.
This is the biggest problem I tend to have with open-world games that take themselves seriously. The only way the pacing is ever anything resembling reasonable is when I impose it on myself to ignore all of the side-stuff they're shoving in my face, and it always feels like the story is being dragged down as a result of that.
 

Deathlyphil

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@Silentpony - It mainly comes down to when you played them. At the time (1998 for Half-Life 1, 2004 for HL2), both games were astounding. They offered huge sprawling levels that naturally led from one to another. They created huge set-pieces that didn't feel like you had to watch them. They never took you out of Dr Freeman's perspective.

Since then, everyone copied all the bits that worked, and a few that didn't. Its like watching an 80s film for the first time now. By today's standards, it will look terrible. But back then, it would have been ground breaking.
 

Zombie_Moogle

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Silentpony said:
I honestly don't understand the...CULT of Half Life. I played them; all of them. And at what point were the open world?
I think Yahtzee's point was that Half Life was not open world & was better served for it

There was open movement through linear environments, which let them keep the story nice & tight, while still allowing for variations in play style
 

rembrandtqeinstein

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Sep 4, 2009
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I don't know if they exactly qualify as "open world" because areas are gated behind objectives and gear tests but the Holy Trinity did "freedom" gameplay right.

STALKER:SoC, Deus Ex, and System Shock 2 (other than that linear tutorial).

Deus Ex had a mission structure but within the missions you had total freedom to explore the environment including (gasp) running away from "boss" fights.

STALKER had just about the most immersive environment since all of the buildings could be explored. Sadly CoP failed to create this same immersion by making the maps amusement parks with points of interest clearly marked and nothing in between.

System Shock 2 was closer to the metroidvania gameplay where you went back and forth between levels with new levels opening up based on objective completion. But again freedom to explore how you wanted to.

The lack of "open world" was very clearly noticeable in Last of Us even though the developers were subtle about it. Instead of a door looking behind you they made you drop off a ledge that you couldn't get back up to in order to transition between set pieces.
 

MrBaskerville

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I don't really think i've ever tried a game where the open world added anything aside from hours of boring transportation time. Realms of Arkania 2: Star Trail might be one of the few where it actually made sense, because it was all about the journey, you had to prepare and anything could happen when you started travelling. Normally you are just running from one point to another, chasing a floating mission marker, which is probably placed in the other end of the town/world because that makes the game longer^^.
 

Agayek

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Oct 23, 2008
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Silentpony said:
I honestly don't understand the...CULT of Half Life. I played them; all of them. And at what point were the open world? Yes, when you have the jalopy car you CAN drive in wide circles and occasionally fine a piece of debris that's slightly different from the next, but that was it. Maybe its just me, but a labyrinth(Which I will remind you is different than a maze in that a labyrinth has a central room that all paths branch out of) game with a dozen corridors leading to the same room doesn't feel free. It almost feels cruel. It says the developers took the time to build X number of extra rooms, but did so for its own sake. I don't remember many side-quests in Half Life...or hell, interacting with people at all. I remember being a silent protagonist going from one trooper/alien infested room to the next, shooting everything then waiting for an NPC to tell me to go to the next. Say what you will about bland games like Fable, but you could at least interact with the 20 interchangeable NPCs. Half Life was just...a bland FPS before we called things 'bland FPS'
I hate to be pessimistic about 'open world' games but there's a distinct trade-off. You can either have Mass Effect type games, which are strictly linear combat missions and heavy with character interactions, OR Saints Row games where you can do almost anything you want but the only character interaction is just how many bullets you put in a corpse before you make another one. I've never seen a game with as indepth characters as Mass Effect while keeping the massive freedom of a sandbox. A processor can't handle that type of game!
Yahtzee's entire point was that Half-Life wasn't open world. And that that linearity was one of the reasons it was such a good example of storytelling in games.

And while you're correct in the broad strokes, remember that many of the reasons we call things bland nowadays was exactly because of games like Half-Life that popularized those aspects and made it into an industry standard. Which made subsequent games copy those aspects and make it bland.
 

hermes

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Yahtzee, your rant seems to be almost a decade old.

There was already a time where everything went open world, and many people (me included) hated it. It was the time GTA 3 was the next big thing, and everyone was trying to get a piece of the cake. Everybody claimed to have the ultimate open world experience, when in reality it just meant having maps that were as wide as long. It was the time we got jewels like True Crime, Mercenaries, Just Cause 1, Total Overdose, Spiderman 2 and The Godfather. Ride to Hell is not even the first one to disguise linear missions under an open world pretense; games like Mafia 2 and L.A. Noire already had that fake open worldness smell to them.

Personally, I hope we grow up from it (like we eventually grew out of "all games had to be polygonal"), and that those attempts on established franchises to get into open world (looking at you, MGS5) end up failing, so that people will understand that open world is not an objective, but a design choice.
 

JamesBr

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This is why I prefer set-pieces to true sandbox. Or Deus Ex/Dishonored style open "zones" with quests scattered throughout them. You cut out the faffing around from location to location that plagues series like GTA, while still allowing the user to dick around and approach the plot in the way that they choose.
 

TiberiusEsuriens

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Jun 24, 2010
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Ubisoft seems to be listening to you, Yahtzee! (maybe)

From the talks and demos of AC4 they seem to be pushing this, "everything is always available" approach. They didn't show us any core story missions, so we don't know if they'll put on the retard blinders there, but for the optional bits they opened up to allow many different approaches. From the Watch_Dogs footage it looked like the same case, but until critics can get hands-on with them this all could be a grand play of smoke and mirrors.
 

TiberiusEsuriens

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JamesBr said:
This is why I prefer set-pieces to true sandbox. Or Deus Ex/Dishonored style open "zones" with quests scattered throughout them. You cut out the faffing around from location to location that plagues series like GTA, while still allowing the user to dick around and approach the plot in the way that they choose.
I love the implementation of zones. When devs stop trying to be buzz-wordy and just make a solid product that is cohesive in itself, even if limited, they are almost always better for it.

I've never heard a single bad review for Arkham City, and the developers explicitly stated that they were not trying to make a sandbox. They called it sandbox-like in some cases, but made it abundantly clear that the larger world was there more to give the game atmosphere and a 'feel' than to be "Oh look our game is a sandbox." By limiting themselves and stating their intentions they actually boosted the public's perception of the game.