So I got back into Red Dead Redemption this weekend, and it got me thinking about this again:
Coming back to Red Dead Redemption after many months confirms something I’ve known for some time now. The problem I have, and have had with open world Rockstar games for a while is the repetitive and uninspired mission design.
Now I don’t mean to single out Rockstar, but myself and many others think of them as the pioneers of the open world game (see Grand Theft Auto), and I feel it’s time for them to step up and repave down the groundwork once again, if only to revive this dated and ageing genre.
Rockstar’s L.A. Noire sort of fixed this problem by breaking the missions down into cases. This helped ease the pain of such monotonous mission design. Personally, I hate constantly doing the same things, for the same people, over and over again.
I realise in Red Dead Redemption’s case, John Marston has to work for the information he wants on Williamson, but it would be nice if nine times out of ten, missions didn’t begin by following an acquaintance on horseback and finish in a gunfight.
Whatever happened to a bit of mission variety? And no, that Texas Hold ‘Em mission (Lucky in Love) that turned into a duel doesn’t count. In fact, stapling two in-game side activities together is rather flat game design if you ask me.
Rockstar really need to address this in GTA V. I’ve heard the recently released Sleeping Dogs evolves on the sandbox blueprint Rockstar laid down so long ago with GTA. Let’s hope they’re taking note.
After writing that quick piece, I did some hunting online and found this fantastic article by Andrew Kauz (Destructoid) discussing the same thing. You can have a read of it here. Here are few extracts from the article:
The main problem of open-world games is that they do not play to the strengths of an open world. While not in a mission, you get to experience all of the joys of an open world: exploration, non-linearity, and multiple approaches to any given situation. You get to play the game your way, which is, essentially, what an open-world game should allow you to do. But as soon as you accept a mission, you're too often put on a path. Go here, do this. All in a very specific way.
James Hague, the design director for the massively enjoyable Red Faction: Guerrilla, seems to be the only other person talking about this problem. He wrote a fascinating article on Gamasutra quite recently that should be required reading for game designers and players alike.
One statement of his in particular strikes me: "An open world is more than just a lobby for starting linear missions."
How have we as an industry not solved this problem yet? The article above was written over two years ago.
I hear Sleeping Dogs has some pretty interesting mission design in it. Anyone care to shed a light on what they do different without spoiling? Since I do plan to pick it up at some point.