Posted by granderojo (1789 posts) -

On the most recent bombcast there was a discussion about open world games, and it as usual the crew summated the problem with some of the games of this genre quite well. I thought I would expand their conversation here about a specific subsection of open world games that I've been playing recently that I have a problem with. So I've been playing Darksiders II, about 5 hours in and I can confirm that yes it indeed does adhere unflinchingly from the structure first popularized by the The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This approach to open world game design reminds me of a scene from one of my favourite films, Ninotchka. In this approach to open world, the world is split into what I like to call them archipelagos. In that the core content and are infact just linear experience split between a barren of the world which does nothing but waste the players time, which resembles archipelagos.

Game designers and even some critics will argue that these areas of uninspired content exist to provide adequate pacing but I want to offer a counter thesis. The archipelago effect in some open worlds exists to offer the player a negative experience on purpose. Game designers think the absence itself in these barren areas between the involved content offers a clear counterexample and will uplift the content they actually put more work into as a result. This genius is on display in many games, there's no other way to describe it other than irritating and we all have Nintendo to thank for this trend.

The most egregious modern example of this stupidity would have to be Rage, which took this concept to it's illogical extreme and produced the endlessly disappointing and fleeting experience which all fans of ID Software lament to this day. I would argue not only does it exist to split the compelling content from the drear but to trick the player into thinking he's exploring in a meaningful way when infact he isn't. The exploration of the open world is not meaningful exploration but in fact just a stringed network linear experiences where the game obstructs the player from the worthwhile content to extend the length of the play experience.

The "open world" or barren wastes as I like to call them in these games are full of enemies which pose no threat, and usually result in the player moving through them as efficiently as possible to get to the more interesting content. There's no sauntering in this world like there is in an exploration game like Proteus to absorb the the world, but instead a brutal efficiency where the player tries moving through the area as quickly as possible. This hiking as I will call it instead of sauntering manifests itself in the 'open world' in the form of the cooldown of carrots on the horse for the 3d Zeldas or Darksiders 2 or in the boosts in Rage. When presented the archipelagos of content the player will rush from one island of compelling content to the next, and the designer gave no reason for why it should exist in an open world context.

This structure has existed so long at this point and that there are even varying stages of evolution of it's stupidity. A sterling example of this would be the Fable series. The network of linear experiences broken up by uninspired content is most egregious when you realize that the ingame maps never quite line up with the in game world itself. They are in fact useless because there is infact little to no incentive for the player to actually explore. Fable approach to open world is the equivalent of the player saying to the Molyneux "Can you make a game with a compelling world that is without the parts that bore me to death?" and the Molyneux respond, "I'm sorry player I can't make boring games, can the game be without direction?" This is not only Molyneaux's fault, even acclaimed games like Journey were developed on the premise that players need the absence itself of compelling content manifested in the game to convey a targeted experience to the player.

This approach to game design says more about players themselves than the designers, and more to the point that inane design has proliferated as long as it has due to these games being commercially successful but there is hope. A game that I enjoyed quite a bit but felt was horribly held back by the archipelago approach was The Witcher 2 and on the cusp of Skyrim selling around fifteen million copies, it seems some developers have finally a commercial reason to give players a reason to explore their worlds. The Witcher 2 will feature an actual open world, and no longer will it follow similar conventions of Fable of a lack of direction within the world. After playing through Dead Space 2, I'm convinced that the archipelago could have existed in that game and it would have been worse for it. Going forward, developers need to make up their mind. If they're going to have an open world make it like Skyrim or Proteus where there are actual reasons to absorb the world or offer a directed experience like in Dead Space 2 or Half Life.

What do you think? @Granderojo

#1 Edited by ArtisanBreads (3862 posts) -

I definitely understand what you are getting at here, especially with regards to Fable (never played RAGE) but I don't agree with the Witcher 2 statements you make.

Witcher 2, to me, just follows a "hub" format. It's not trying to be open world at all, it just has these hubs you can explore at your desire. It's similar to what has been done in say KOTOR or Deus Ex. This is distinctly different.

So I guess my point of contention would be that I think you have to consider the aims of these games a bit. Your response is totally valid, but I don't think, for example, Fable is trying to be Elder Scrolls like. The environments are constricted for a reason. KOTOR and Deus Ex weren't trying to be totally open either. They wanted to tell stories and the structure of the world lent itself to that.

When you say "there is a hope" I would completely disagree with that statement. I love open worlds, but not every game wants to be an open world or should want to be an open world. There is a part of me that is quite worried about Witcher 3 because they have done so well with linear experiences and their storytelling lends itself to that. This isn't an evolution, it is a design choice. It has its strengths and weaknesses.

#2 Posted by Nilazz (613 posts) -

Oh RAGE, I still hate you for that stupid ending. And the ' open world ' element of that game did nothing for it, sure the skybox looked amazing but it was nothing more than a waste of time driving from place to place, man they could have so much more with that game!


#3 Posted by Kaiserreich (705 posts) -

I am so sick of open worlds.

#4 Edited by granderojo (1789 posts) -

When you say "there is a hope" I would completely disagree with that statement. I love open worlds, but not every game wants to be an open world or should want to be an open world. There is a part of me that is quite worried about Witcher 3 because they have done so well with linear experiences and their storytelling lends itself to that. This isn't an evolution, it is a design choice. It has its strengths and weaknesses.

This is why I then followed that statement by saying either they should go for the actual open world experience or a linear experience. This archipelago as I describe it is developers trying to have both and it doesn't work anymore.

#5 Posted by Hailinel (24977 posts) -

There's something to be said for linear game structure. As much as @brad champions the world in Skyrim, and as much fun as the world contains, you have to seek that fun out, and it's not always present or evident as you're exploring. I'd much rather play a game like Ni No Kuni or hell, even the comically linear Final Fantasy XIII than wander around Skyrim aimlessly, wondering when I'm going to stumble across anything fun or entertaining. And when I did have a destination in mind, I was always fearful that I'd have to put up with yet another dragon battle once I got there.

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#6 Posted by ArtisanBreads (3862 posts) -

@artisanbreads said:

When you say "there is a hope" I would completely disagree with that statement. I love open worlds, but not every game wants to be an open world or should want to be an open world. There is a part of me that is quite worried about Witcher 3 because they have done so well with linear experiences and their storytelling lends itself to that. This isn't an evolution, it is a design choice. It has its strengths and weaknesses.

This is why I then followed that statement by saying either they should go for the actual open world experience or a linear experience. This archipelago as I describe it is developers trying to have both and it doesn't work anymore.

Well I guess I would disagree with that then. I think this formula is still perfectly viable. Every type (linear, hub, open world) has strengths and weaknesses.

#7 Posted by granderojo (1789 posts) -

@hailinel said:

There's something to be said for linear game structure. As much as @brad champions the world in Skyrim, and as much fun as the world contains, you have to seek that fun out, and it's not always present or evident as you're exploring. I'd much rather play a game like Ni No Kuni or hell, even the comically linear Final Fantasy XIII than wander around Skyrim aimlessly, wondering when I'm going to stumble across anything fun or entertaining. And when I did have a destination in mind, I was always fearful that I'd have to put up with yet another dragon battle once I got there.

For me personally I prefer when games give me the feeling of destination, and that I went somewhere. It's a feeling I rarely get and not exclusive to true open world games but more prevalent in them. Some linear games have done this, albeit fewer than open world, but when they're successful they're more successful at it.

#8 Edited by UlquioKani (1068 posts) -

I wrote a little something about my problems with open world games a while back.

I agree with your sentiment but not the part about the Witcher 2. There was no fat in that game in terms of world size. It was pretty small and there wasn't long stretches of just travel. I'm really worried they're going to fuck it up with the third game. Skyrim is too big for me and I would have preferred a game with better content as opposed to more.

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#9 Posted by believer258 (11949 posts) -

I disagree, but I just want to point out a little something:

Don't you have a different phrase other than "in fact"?

Anyway, I strongly disagree. I really like the idea of having a game that's between an open world and an uber-linear experience. I feel like that gives the absolute best compromise between guiding the player to where the dev wants them to go and giving them something to do. It's hardly barren or empty when done right; Darksiders 2 did it terribly wrong.

#10 Posted by granderojo (1789 posts) -

@ulquiokani: Yeah I think there's a middle ground.

@believer258: Well now I'm self conscious, I'll make sure to stop using in fact. That said I can see your point. I just think there are so many games that did it like Darksiders 2 and it is always boring to me. It's all because Zelda popularized it.

#11 Posted by m3ds334 (39 posts) -

For the most part I agree with this. LA Noire would be my poster child for this. I mean it's wonderful that they reconstructed miles of 1950's LA, but that was the most boring driving around I've ever experienced. When traversing your open world takes more time than the actual mission you have a problem. Having that open world didn't even reinforce the time period or culture of that game, and really that's where an archipelago world should shine, and this is where I feel I veer off a bit from your opinion.

I understand where you're coming from and how such hubs can be boring, but I feel like they can communicate ideas to the player that you may not be able to do through such a linear experience. I see them as providing more of a "show don't tell" take on communicating the culture and wolrd the player is in. The best example I can think of is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That's a game that, through it's hub cities, tells the player a lot about how people live and that world functions and to try and tell that stuff through cutscenes wouldn't have worked, or at least worked in a natural way. I guess I see it like reading an old book. Knowing the culture and idioms of the time it was set in can really increase your enjoyment of the actual novel.

That said, great blog, really good read.

#12 Edited by Fredchuckdave (5554 posts) -

You're quite wrong in terms of the Witcher 2 (i.e. it's not trying to be open world and the first two hubs are some of the best ever made), but in general open world games do not have well thought out linear sections, they might have brief linear sections that are mediocre but if you look at something like Borderlands pretty much the whole experience is identical; solid shooting loot and guys that run at you, the very last dungeon is somewhat competent and has a different color palette but that's about it. Now if you pick say, Arkham City, well that's a game that has extremely, ridiculously good sections of content and the open world is just there so you can get from place to place in a timely fashion; in fact for the most part the grapnel boost actually makes it faster to get around the world of Arkham City than walking from place to place through metroid doors in Arkham Asylum; even though Arkham City is 5 or so times as large.

If you pick a game like Dark Souls or Metroid Prime it's a bunch of levels strung together in an interesting fashion that makes exploring them exciting; but if it was just a hub world with portals to each area then it wouldn't be nearly as immersive or interesting.

Ocarina of Time does have your prescribed problem to some extent, but it's also one of the most overrated games ever made; and while it might make a top 50 list or so has no business being in the "best game of all time" conversation.