When Open World Goes Wrong

Norix596

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Nov 2, 2010
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I think the original Deus Ex is a good model to follow. There are separate "levels and maps" that you progress through, but each one is an expansive multifaceted area with lots of secret subsections and features to explore. You also return to certain areas multiple times throughout the story (such as New York) where there differences such as the gradual evacuation of civilians. So there are separate areas with finite space but lots of unique stuff such as characters sidequests and environmental stories in them, as opposed to huge squarefootage with nothing but copy-pasted assets.

The worst kind of design is when there's tons of space with not much to do in it. Far Cry 2 was big offender in having massive maps of very shallow content. You could go the Skyrim model of having a huge open world just packed to the gills with content, but that's a very time and money intensive process.
 

Lightknight

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Nov 26, 2008
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Interesting article, though I wonder about the last paragraph stating that if sandboxes are the norm then we'll get a lot more ride to hells/rides to hell.

I think that with more regularity comes better automation. If sandboxes truly become the norm then we'll see better development tools or engines become available that will make it significantly easier to have sandbox elements. This doesn't help them in the short term though.
 

MrHide-Patten

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Jun 10, 2009
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How I know the feels, I exceptionally hate and loathe how the community uses 'linear' like a racial slur.
 

Zhukov

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Dec 29, 2009
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Yeah, not too excited about a slew of open world games. Basically for the same reasons. Commuting and terrible pacing.

On the other hand, I actually like the idea of an open world Mirror's Edge. Since it's a game about movement, a bit of commuting could be fun. They could still fuck it up of course, but the potential is there.
 

Darth_Payn

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I liked how the first 3 Metal Gear Solids implemented it, with linear corridors and rooms you can revisit at anytime to go back for more weapons and Items, and with more of the game "world" opening up as you advance. I thought Arkham Asylum did a good balance between linear/sandbox gameplay as well.
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 think Human Revolution did that as well.
 

CyberMachinist

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rembrandtqeinstein said:
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.
You just gave me an idea! How bout we combine those three game types together into some metroidvania/Semi-sandbox videogame set in a Desert sci-fi setting with spaceships. Of course how they would work together would require alot of thorough thinking.

OT: I can see what he means by "organic" interaction but trying to do that with an open world is.... difficult to say the least, as well as expensive. I'm pretty sure the Dev team can't think of everything for this kind of gameplay, especially when someone else finds their own solution to use that wasn't supposed to be a part of the game or was considered to be.

On the other hand it would be nice to see more metroidvania games, I'm not sure what Dark souls counts as but whatever it was I'd like to see world access in more games like it did.
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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Jun 5, 2013
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Zombie_Moogle said:
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
Maybe I misread, and that's entirely possible. But he does say there was an organic exploration to the levels, that you could approach problems from multiple angles and I guess my point is I didn't feel that. Maybe I'm bad at exploring levels, again entirely possible, but I never noticed any of the raised platforms or air ducts to ambush enemies from until AFTER I had killed everything.
 

Silentpony_v1legacy

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CrossLOPER said:
Silentpony said:
I thought the games were OK. Personally, I thought Doom 3 was more fun than Half-Life 2 and both came out around the same time. I suppose having strong preferences is fine, but don't see the series as a benchmark. I think its the same with Mario fanatics. There is no convincing them.
I honestly really like Doom 3. It was legit scary(which may be from the fact I was still a teen when it came out) and I loved the sense of exploration in that I never knew where I was supposed to go. I would be given a mission: shoot the daemon in the reactor room, and I had to explore the entire base to find said room and daemon. It fell off the rails when I went to hell and it was just a punch of stone bridges over lava pits.
And no one get me wrong, Half Life was a fun game, but its old now. It had its time in the sun, now its time to move on.
 

Robyrt

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Aug 1, 2008
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The classic example of how the "open world" mantra ruined a game is the Prince of Persia 2008 reboot. There is a perfectly decent, fully voiced linear storyline in there, and a set of platforming gauntlets which can be traversed forward or backward. The open-world structure locks the storyline away into endless repetitions of exactly one bland cut scene with different dialogue lines, instead of playing it in sequence while you go through story missions like a proper linear game would do. Meanwhile, the progression system introduces you to upwards of 80% of the game's levels within the first two hours, then makes you bounce back and forth between them collecting upgrade points for the rest of the game. As a semi-linear adventure like the previous Prince of Persia games, it would have been totally fine; as an open-world platformer with no secrets to find, it becomes a dreary slog through an extremely easy set of jumping puzzles to reach each precious morsel of new content.
 

BehattedWanderer

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Jun 24, 2009
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It's not like we haven't had a few bad sandbox games already. Mafia 2 comes readily to mind. A linear game with nothing to do outside of the plot (good enough plot, mind) set in a sandbox world for no real reason other than to show off the nice city they built from old maps and old-timey photographs.

You know what would be a better idea than just token open world games? Larger linear games that feature more variety than grey-brown corridors with strategic cover. How about lush forests that don't have chest high walls, but skyscraper sized trees to hide behind, as if they were taken straight of the planet Pandora (Avatar, not Borderlands)? I'd take that compromise, where you change up the cover system. Maybe dig your own in a frozen tundra, or have to try and be strategic in a desert? That would be interesting.
 

purf

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I also want to live in a world where all is good and every once in a while, the skies open up and candy pours down ;)
I like love! the sandbox thing and I hope developers will not tire out of it for a long time and eagerly continue to explore its possibilities.
Yes, it "goes wrong" fairly often, but I cannot blame the folks who make it so. Take GTA - I don't see how there cannot be missions. Now, imagine a truly Open World approach to those missions and imagine the crazy stuff developers have to think about and then some in order to not make the completion of those missions either impossible or like cheating - and everything in between. Take care of every effing single approach a player might take and balance this? A bit of a pointless complaint at this point of our beloved art's technical Status Quo. But I am with you in the land of Wishful Thinking.

According to my memory (which is probably wearing nostalgia goggles), Vice City or GTA3 tried nicely here and there making you use your brain to utilise some of the stuff the Open World had to offer. I have to eliminate that crown witness? I have to start a ruckus, a fire fight with the feds protecting him to make him leave the building? He has a very fast car and is a fantastic driver? Hello Mr. Garbage Truck, now burning, parked in front of his garage :)
 

Olas

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Dec 24, 2011
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Silentpony said:
Zombie_Moogle said:
Maybe I misread, and that's entirely possible. But he does say there was an organic exploration to the levels, that you could approach problems from multiple angles and I guess my point is I didn't feel that. Maybe I'm bad at exploring levels, again entirely possible, but I never noticed any of the raised platforms or air ducts to ambush enemies from until AFTER I had killed everything.
You know, for every member of the Half-Life "cult" it seems like there are at least 3 people actively bemoaning those games every chance they get. If you really think they're nothing special then just ignore them instead of tempting us Valve fanboys to rush to their defense, as I'm about to do.

The Half Life games generally give you numerous methods to solve any particular problem, often rewarding you for thinking creatively. They do it by relying on open unstructured environments and game-play mechanics. The gravity gun, for example, is designed to open up all sorts of avenues for how you can approach enemies and obstacles. You can catch a thrown enemy grenades and toss them back, push a trashed car into position to use as a chest high wall, drag health and ammo towards you without moving out of cover. I could (and happily would) go on for paragraphs about all the awesome things the Half Life games do, but the point Yahtzee is making is simply that this kind of sandbox gameplay is vastly more freeing and empowering to the player than creating a large open map littered with specific things for you to do.
 

Disasterpiece Press

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Jan 2, 2012
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Far Cry 3 is another great example of this. I could not manage a proper flow with the story missions and the side missions on the first island that I just decided to go ahead and complete all of the side missions first on the second island. As I guessed about halfway through this process, it was going to take away a lot of the challenge for the story missions as I maxed out everything. It almost would have served to have one island that was just outposts and random crazy shit to do and one island solely for the story. Beat the story and then earn a carnival island of open world fun? I don't know if that would work but the developers need to approach it differently for sure.
 

FallenMessiah88

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Jan 8, 2010
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I have never been a big fan of open world games. I liked Infamous and Prototype and Assassins Creed, but that was only because moving around was fun. I also liked Arkham Asylum's approach. It too was open world, where it was smaller environments connected by a larger hub. I didn't really like it when Arkham City wen't completely open world.

I just like the more methodical and deliberate approach that linear games offer. It just makes the whole experience feel more tight and consistent.
 

head desk tricycle

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For some reason it's hard to sell a game on its uniqueness, as opposed to its grotesque abundance of overexposed and overextended elements bunched together for the sake of sheer excess. I don't see how that would be though; there's nothing automatically great about open world, sometimes it's just a bunch of pointless and rote dead weight. Maybe it's a trend, but it's also possible that the current crop of linear games is flawed somehow.
 

TheOrb

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Jun 24, 2012
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I don't like open worlds, the stark contrast between story content and side missions leaves the side missions/"exploration" a bore. AC and Far Cry 3 did this to me, but I had fun with AC 2.
 

Evonisia

Your sinner, in secret
Jun 24, 2013
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Interesting read.

I'm not looking forward to lots of open world games, I would say the only one actually worth having a look at would be Mirror's Edge 2, because even if it's as bad as the first one it'll be fun to get around the city (which was the reason you liked Spiderman 2, obviously it was used differently in Spiderman but there you go). Of course we could look at some positives, some games may be actually improved by open world.

Of course, I hope we get more games like Half-Life, FarCry 1, BioShock or the earlier Halo games (CE-ODST) the world can always benefit from linearity.
 

tardcore

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Jan 15, 2011
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It seems the heart of the matter is that half-assed designed games bring the gamer a poor experience regardless of what kind of world the game is set in. Having an open world sandbox is pointless if there is fuck all fun to do in it. And as stated in the article, downright retarded when combined with a linear story driven main quest line.

I think a major reason for so many hackneyed and cliched and just downright shitty AAA games is that the developers are trying to push the technological envelope to make their games sight and sound spectaculars, without first properly inspecting the foundation the game is built around. I don't care how many swarovski crystals you glue to it, a turd is still a turd. I wish game companies would hire some people to do quality control over the basic game ideas before they wasted millions of their own or the customers hard earned cash, not to mention the time of everyone involved in these train wrecks. Sadly though they don't and instead look to accountants, public relation specialists, and financial annalists for their inspiration. Which is why we are stuck with games that seem like either someone just pulled random game elements out of a hat, or hired a team of hyperactive primary school children to write the plot and dialogue.

I find it a bit sad that while gaming technology has made huge leaps and bounds in the past decade, most of the basic game elements are little better, or worse, than games twenty years old. They still fall under the basic premise of "shoot that blip, eat that dot, run around in a panic like a headless chicken." Only now we also have to suffer from a pretentious B movie quality story trying to badly hold the whole thing together. All while praying our aging technology can play the over produced fucking graphics of these techno turds at a better frame rate than a slide show.

I guess that's why the only two games I've found worth my time this year have been Path of Exile and Rogues Legacy. Both retro element games that were created with the idea of being entertaining games rather than a bunch of over blown, over produced, and over hyped nonsense, akin to cinematic turds such as The Lone Ranger, Prometheus, or Man of Steel.

Until game producers get back to their roots and actually attempt to make fun challenging games, instead of trying their best to be the next Michael Bay, the video game industry will continue to be mostly "sound and fury signifying nothing."
 

SiskoBlue

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Aug 11, 2010
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It's funny, I didn't see any mention of Red Dead Redemption? I loved the GTA games of old because they're sandbox was new and unexpected. There were hidden mini-challenges back then, often without much explanation. Mayhem missions, hidden races. It was worth exploring. Nowadays a lot of those are trophy/achievement checklists. Plus the world is so "real", commuting in them isn't much fun. The random joy of annoying the cops and spawning spontaneous car chases got old quickly. The incongruity between story missions and open world missions was jarring.

But Red Dead took some ground back for me. First, the world wasn't your generic cityscape or germanic fantasy Tolkein forest. It was westerns, admittedly treading the generic locales of movie westerns but fairly new to gaming. There was a joy to just rambling around the map. Hunting was a side-quest but it was more organic than most side missions, plus a new type of gameplay, and challenging when hunting legendary beasts. The story missions still suffered from compressing you back to linearity. Plus the standard GTA model of work-for-this-guy-for-awhile-now-kill-this-guy was in full effect. Not perfect but better.

Half-life 2 is still one of my all-time favourite games, and one of the only games I've played through multiple times. Hard to say why I think it's so good? Two things come to mind

1. It's linear but LOGICALLY linear, by which I mean you intuitively move in the direction the developers want you to. Nothing jars more than seeing what looks like an optional path or doorway, only to hit some barrier. In HL2 I found myself reacting to things and then releasing later than was the smart thing to do, and the only way to get through. The Early CoD games had the same forethought about player behaviour.

2. The organic variation in gameplay. You start off unarmed. Then you're running for your life. Then you've got a pistol and practically golden eye your way until the fan-boat. The fan-boat! Ravenswood scared the crap out of me. Tunnels, the coastal road and the car, the ant-lions thingies, Nova Prospekt, back to the city, town hall, then the spire fight. All this with balanced pacing between exposition, varying gunplay from battles to stealth, and sensible puzzles thrown in. And none of it requiring set-pieces or taking control away from me.

Of course it has some ridiculous logic in it. If you're a fan of Half-Life 2 then you MUST read "CONCERNED: THe half-life and death of Gordon Frohman" the best web-comic I've ever seen http://www.screencuisine.net/hlcomic/index.php?date=2005-05-01