Some Stuff About Open World Games

By Jim Rossignol on July 15th, 2009 at 6:32 pm.


The notion of open game worlds has always appealed to me, ever since Elite. When there’s even the faintest whiff on a free roaming environment, or virtuality that I can go off an explore, I’m interested. It’s an impulse that leads me to spend endless hours in Stalker, or to expend an entire day driving around Fuel. But whatever game I play, I end up feeling somewhat dissatisfied. It’s kind of dissatisfaction that does not seem to be so common with linear or arena games. I think it’s to do with a specific tension that open world games create: between what the game is about, and what the environment – and its openness – implies.


The most obvious example of this tension that I can think of exists in Far Cry 2. The game’s environment is a brilliant Africa-in-miniature, and everything from the flies buzzing in the air to the gleam of the swampy jungle has been conjured spectacularly. The combat too is entertaining: fire propagation, over-wrought grenade physics, ludicrous close-combat battle-horror at the end of a semi-automatic shotgun. But the two systems do not mesh comfortably.

Far Cry 2 tries to push your experience as close to that of a traditional shooter as it can manage in this open environment. Once you’re outside of the key “safe” towns, anything and everything is an enemy, or a target. It is, like any traditional shooter, a rolling battle. This surprised and exasperated many gamers, because while they were happy to suspend disbelief for a game like, say, Crysis, which could be seen as a very wide corridor, they could not make the same leap for a game that did not really funnel you continuously in a single direction. The verisimilitude of Far Cry’s world – with its network of roads, villages, rivers and army encampments – seemed at odds with our experience of it. Where everyone was an enemy, and everything would chase, shoot, and attack you, the world seemed at odds with itself.

The very notion of it being an open world seemed to suggest that the game would support more life: civilians, passive enemies, the illusion of a wider world. I think about this, and I think about Outcast, the voxel sci-fi adventure. Right there, back in 1999, was a game brave enough to say: “here’s a world, it’s full of life, politics, danger, go deal with it and save your own world in the process.” You traipsed out into its pixellated valleys and did precisely that. Thanks to the freedom of movement and general neutrality of much of the world of Outcast, when combat occurred it was an moment of high drama. Combat in Far Cry 2, meanwhile, is often reduced to a kind of road-clearance. The Outcast player’s experience of being in a particular, although virtual, place was therefore (despite its incredibly lack of visual fidelity by modern standards) incredibly potent.

The illusionism required for an open world game is different to that of a linear game. For Half-Life 2 the illusion is all about momentum. As Gillen regularly points out, such games are all about forward motion, and they break down the moment we don’t see where to go, or who to shoot. Open world games go for quite a different illusion. They might simple be a big arena for stuff to happen in, or they might try to be a little more indulgent of our imagination, and to try to create the illusion that there’s really something going on, that there’s life.

Perhaps the best illusion of a living environment is the one generated by GTA4. The city of Rockstar’s most recent game is a masterwork on its own, without any of the game elements considered. I find myself lost in it, staring out of the window of a taxi with a similar reverie to that of visiting a real foreign city. Except here I can be much braver, and explore more fearlessly into dangerous terrain. It’s the potency of GTA4′s illusion of cityness that really gets me: the chatter on the sidewalks, the slow chug of the traffic around town, the general ambient goings on that pay little attention to you unless you specifically interfere with them. The failure of Far Cry 2 (and also in a related sense Fallout 3 and Assassin’s Creed) was that the design never really made a bid for that kind of suspension of disbelief. You were the centre of what was going on in those worlds, and you always knew it.

The illusion of life outside of your own in-game activities is, perhaps, one thing open worlds need pursue and exploit, beyond even the essential mechanics of their game. Stalker, for example, was fundamentally a shooter, just like Far Cry 2, but the existence of neutral or indifferent entities, the very-slightly wider range of interactions (an inventory, non-combat items) seemed to expand the illusion into something we wanted to poke, prod, and understand the limits of. This spooky Ukrainian countryside-dungeon really could be The Zone, and I could be the rogue, hooded individual charged with exploring it. While not precisely open-world in the same way GTA4 is, the game provided a sense of life and non-linearity that allowed you to get lost in it, and invest in it, because you were always given reasons to value the idea of exploring it.

Exploring. That seems to be to be the other aspect of open worlds that developers need to make the most of if they want to have their world mean something to players. Aside from the randomly distributed nonsense-money of Far Cry 2′s diamonds, it had little reason for you to poke about in particular points on the map. You could not expect to find many secrets – perhaps a hang-glider here and there. Instead, you followed the missions and did the violence where it was directed, and therefore most fruitful. I’d argue that where the open world model prospers is often when it gives you reason to explore and investigate its limits: finding the very highest jumps or the most obscure billboards in Burnout Paradise, for an example that is neither a shooter, nor trying to create the illusion of a living world.

I often feel as though open world games create fantastic places, but then fail to create a game that is appropriate to the environment we find ourselves in. Fallout 3′s mechanics, voices, and character design left me struggling to enjoy what is, clearly, an astonishing feat of world creation. I know that many people felt similarly aggrieved with Oblivion, although I actually got on with that a whole lot better. Similarly, when I played Assassin’s Creed my continuing reaction (aside from my indignation at the cutscenes) was a disbelief that the design team had done so little to exploit their astonishing medieval city. It felt, at times, that the assassination game was going on in spite of their bustling city around me – as if the team had created this beautiful world and then didn’t really know what to do with it, because they had this assassin game to be getting on with too…

So to come full circle with the sense of dissatisfaction with open world games: I think the way we experience them, by comparison with linear games, says something about how our gaming imagination functions. We seem to understand that when linear games point us in a certain direction, that’s the way to go. When an open world game appears, its very structure suggests something about how we should behave, or want to behave, and predisposes us to judge on the basis of how it entices us to go somewhere that the game itself hasn’t suggested, and on how it then deals with that action.

Further, there seems to be a need for us to feel more embedded, as if our actions matter more where we can come back to the scene of our actions. In Far Cry 2 I didn’t expect the enemies I’d killed at a checkpoint to reappear: the open world had led me to expect some level of persistence. In Fallout 3 I didn’t expect to be constrained by the ropes of the story, or the level structure, because that moment stepping outside the vault said: the horizon is the limit to this. Perhaps my own suspension of disbelief simply becomes less easy to manage, because the illusion of “worldiness” isn’t strong enough, or the game is really a linear experience in a very wide corridor, with no real reason for us to stray off the path.

One day I should like to see a game perform the incredible genre-splicing process required to marry up the elements that make various successful open worlds so strong. I should like that game to give me a direction, a purpose, without telling me exactly what I need to be doing. I should like it to ignore me, but nevertheless carry my mark when I choose make it. This imaginary game will, I hope, dump me on the midst of a strange place, perhaps with with a pyre of smoke on the horizon, and instruct me: “survive”.

I’d like that.

(Also, it would have an absolutely incredible map, but that’s another blog post.)

__________________

« | »

, , , , , .

189 Comments »

  1. Simon says:

    Is the open world in the game a character for the player to interact with? (which is what seems to be favourite in the post)

    A toybox to play with? (sim-city, civilisation, etc.)

    Or a playground to play in? (the new red faction, console spiderman 2)

    When a game doesn’t quite know, or isn’t willing to properly choose what it’s role or purpose of the open world over a linear game structure actually is (assasins’ creed: character or playground?) then it seems most likely to fail and the design choice then feels for the player, at least it does for me, like either an easy way out, a popular option or possibly there so it can be a bullet point on the box.

  2. Dinger says:

    Okay, now that everyone’s gone, let me just say that Jim is wrong.

    He’s right that there’s some games that work, and there’s some games that don’t, and he’s right that being player-centric has something to do with it. And he’s right that the good games give the thrill of exploration.

    He’s wrong simply because he can’t put his finger on what it is, the “reason for exploration,” the magical meaning that gives “me a direction, a purpose, without telling me exactly what I need to be doing.” He doesn’t suggest what it means for a game “to ignore me, but nevertheless carry my mark when I choose make it.”

    What he seems to be begging for is none other than a simulated environment where the player’s experience is scaled to the player’s ability to interact with it.

    By simulated, the entities therein follow rules based on the simulated world, not the player’s position in it. This would mean no grinding or levelling: if there were tough areas, you would learn quickly not to go there until you were strong enough. In Burnout: Paradise, when a race starts, the other cars would go at speeds according to the constraints of the race (maybe easy, medium and hard ones) and not according to how fast the player’s car is going. In GTA, the cars would not just be passing by, they’d be going from somewhere to somewhere. The illusion has to be that, when you’re on the other side of the map, the world continues turning.

    By scaled experience, if all a player can do is kill things, don’t make the player the head of an international crime syndicate, or the boss of the Mage’s Guild. ‘Cos those are positions where I at least am going to want some control over what kinds of drugs we’re selling on the streets, or the power to make the Corpus Hermeticum required second-year reading for the Thaumaturge degree. And if all I can do is kill stuff and collect my pension, what the hell am I doing here?

    Yet it’s a lot easier to build, balance and debug a game around the player’s position in the world. And it’s easier to write a game with amusement-park-style ‘rides’ than with completely open gameplay. And all a game needs is for the player to have a single adrenaline-pumping act of gamespace interaction. Killing is a good one. Crashing is another. BoneTown still hasn’t gotten sex to work.

    Come to think of it, Jim’s right after all.

  3. AndrewC says:

    So to what extent are these ideas in the original design briefs of every open world game and, if the answer is ‘a lot’, what are the forces that inexorably remove them?

  4. The Sombrero Kid says:

    it surprises me how wrong you’ve got it, it’s all about suspension of disbelief, far cry 2 didn’t work because it made it unlikely that anyone in the game would even know you and then made them instantly hate you, in crysis all the people who are supposed to hate you hate you and all the people who are supposed to like you like you, it’s simply a case of the more freedom the game allows the player the harder it is to present a world which doesn’t break their suspension of disbelief.

  5. pignoli says:

    @Jim: Fair enough, I’m illicitly posting at work so couldn’t look it up, it’s just the impression I had had of it.

    My point is that many ‘open worlds’ are only open to things the player directly puts into motion which works completely against the whole idea of ‘openness’. I find it very hard to suspend my disbelief when everyone in the world is just waiting for me to come along. I don’t want the Truman Show. I want the NPCs to be their own people with their own goals which they persue in preference to waiting around for me. On this note, I think a real economy which functions with or without player interference a la X3 would always be a crucial element in my ‘ideal’ open world.

  6. some guy says:

    Great article. Found it here: http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/91js2/some_stuff_about_open_world_games/

    I’d like to have more procedurally generated content. It can’t be *that* hard to make the computer actually build and furnish houses/rooms and whole cities, and once a nice sandbox environment exists, one could explore that very game forever. Or – why not invent came content on the fly? This way, a whole universe with galaxies, star systems, planets, cities, houses, rooms and people could be created. The machine just needs to memorize everything that the player has met yet (and maybe coarsle simulate it in the background).

    Another thing: It can also not be *that* hard to create a sandbox game in which the actual objects (like guns, tools, plants, lab equipment (that you can actually use)) are procedurally generated. They could have properties like “can be attached to” or “is container” or “grows when water poured on it” or whatever, simply said.

    If game design were about making the player happy, then we could expect many good things. Sadly, it’s mostly about “get it out yesterday”, “follow a time-tested concept (shooter etc.)” and “the graphics must be better than the actual substance of the game”.

  7. schwerpunk says:

    IMO: open-world games are all (or should be) about player-driven narrative. That is, like an RPG, you choose your role and — ideally — the world of the game reacts satisfactorily to that role. For example, while playing Fallout 3′s The Pitt, I sneakily killed a guard and donned his costume, then went about the ‘city’ much like a guard would. I was very disappointed when other guards referred to me as a ‘scab’ (or slave). Didn’t they see my uniform? Clearly, I wasn’t dressed as a slave, and if I was a slave, how did I get this armour? Shouldn’t they wonder? In short: I agree with the article.

  8. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @some guy

    my next project is going to be something very similar to what your sugesting but drastically simpler where the game is that you make the objects and the computer has AI’s that play with them

  9. Dinger says:

    Andrew: exactly. Why do they get removed? Because they’re expensive and hard to do right. It means running more world than you need to, getting more bugs than you need to. Just look at some of ArmA II’s bugs for the problems. Better to just spawn that helo stage right than fly it in from the base.

    some guy: the problem with procedurally generated content at higher orders is that it’s gaming prozac. No highs, no lows, just a sameness to it. The Grind is a friend of Procedural Generation. Make a procedurally-generated world, and once you learn the rules used in the generation, there will be no surprises in the whole world.

  10. The Sombrero Kid says:

    the world we live in is procedurally generated and that’s pretty exciting now and again, i reckon the ultimate goal of games is to progress towards simulations of things, even alien things, we use shortcuts by necessity not by preference.

  11. AndrewC says:

    The most exciting thing that happened to me in the real world recently is playing a computer game.

  12. Mike says:

    Red Faction 2 is the most recent open world style game that I’ve lost myself in. Oddly, it has more to do with what I put into the game than what the game gives me to work with.

  13. Greg says:

    I’m thinking of Nomad Soul here, and also of Rings of Power. Is this a console idea? Is this is a Sega idea?

  14. bill says:

    i explored morrowind for years, without ever really wanting to follow the story or quests.

    I think my problem is that when given a remotely open playing field I try to think of unconventional ways to achieve the objective. But often the game can’t cope with this.

    In farcry i’d spend ages lining up enemies to shoot out a branch and crush them with falling logs… but often they wouldn’t be crushed. In RPGs I try to say “yes” and then double cross them… but the game holds me to my word.

    It’s my main problem with RTS games too… I have a level and an objective… i want to be able to achieve it any way i want… but usually only the standard way works.
    Objective: Destroy building A. So instead of building up a huge base and army I sneak in a cloaked team and take it out. At which point a massive counter-attack is triggered and my tiny base is annihilated.

    Open worlds need AI-Gamesmasters… ones that react to the gamer’s actions in logical ways, aimed at making the experience challenging and fun.

  15. pirate0r says:

    @mike

    It’s Red Faction 3 (or Red Faction: Guerrilla) , Red Faction 2 was set on earth and was similar in play style to Red Faction 1.

  16. armlesscorps says:

    I agree with Jim’s idea of what a open world game should be, but would such a game actually sell?
    I can imagine some players being lost if they werent directed by a core single player narrative and its hard to see such a game having the appeal of say,gta4, or fallout. Very few games haver actually tried to do this, and the biggest open world game so far (gta4) tried it probably the least.
    For us hardcore gamers it seems the perfect idea to have a open world game where your just plonked in a world and set about your way, but i dont think its what most people want. Probably more casual gamers who play less and are therefore more easily led into suspension of disbelief probably felt while playing assasins creed that they were doing exactly what they wanted,even while following the linear narrative.

  17. JuJuCam says:

    One day the level of fidelity and realism expressed by a videogame will exceed that experienced by many in real life, and the uncanny valley will be felt in the world around us as we walk down the street.

  18. Juror #9 says:

    As a casual gamer I haven’t touched on the current titles that use open world concepts, due to lack of time to play them. Years ago i was literally lost inside the Torment: Planescape world. I loved it, like we all do, we loose track of time. Granted the scrolling of the world did have it’s ends and didn’t have the truely open world geography but at the time i thought it was something and thought about what devs are going to do next. These past 10 years since Torment: the more recent open world games like Eve, GTA4 and Fuel have exceeded expectations, wether the gameplay is what you want, the worlds are becoming stunning.

    BTW – remember BurnCycle…then there was Zork too..those were interesting. Anyway, carry on.

  19. Skyvik says:

    Interesting piece, but I’m comfortable with different types of games being set in an open space – some of these types are linear, some not so much. Open World isn’t a genre any more than side-scrolling is a genre.

    “It is, like any traditional shooter, a rolling battle.” – this is what makes FC 2 so extraordinary – it is a traditional shooter, but it gives you tremendous freedom and big spaces to plan, improvise, mess up, try again with another approach – crash through the guard post, stop and snipe the guards, simply set fire to everything, creep past at night, go offroad, take a boat and if if you really can’t be bothered, take the bus.

    And this is before you get to the often stunningly realised mission locations – I’ve played 3 missions in the mountain-hugging Dogon village, each one panned out in strikingly different ways. It shares many of the strengths of Deus Ex.

    That’s not to say FC2 is perfect – I agree that it fell short of its potential in so many ways (although the areas I think it falls short are not always thoe areas mentioned in the article and comments here), but it achieves so much, and I had so much fun playing it.

    How sad it would be if open world games were all to converge on some idealised simulation or rpg vision of open worlds. Would driving up to a checkpoint and showing your papers really be more fun? Isn’t this a bit like wishing Half Life carried on as it began and the game and was a simulation of Gordon Freeman’s day at work?

  20. dan says:

    For those looking for a game that basically says “Survive.” here it is.

    http://stranded.unrealsoftware.de/s2_infos.php

    You are stranded on a desert island. Survive. Escape if you can.

    I guess the graphics will not be great now but it was fun.

    The whole open world scenario sort of applies in that you can do whatever you want but until you’ve build a treehouse and have weapons and such you’ll mostly be focused on surviving and getting away from the lions.

  21. Ninja Dodo says:

    @some guy:

    Procedural content is overrated. It’s inherently generic.

    Gothic was a lot more interesting to explore than Morrowind because every corner was handcrafted and recognizably unique. You could find your way without a map, inside or outside. Try doing that in Elder Scrolls.

    Which is not to say that it doesn’t have its uses, just that (in my opinion) it is at its best when paired with deliberate directed content, adapting it to create variation…

  22. odeed says:

    “the problem with farcry2 was that the missions were all the same (kill a camp, kill a person or destroy a car, rinse and repeat)with a long drive between objectives and mission givers made even more annoying by the infuriating, respawning “guard posts”.”

    I think this is why people didn’t like Far Cry 2, they didn’t ‘get’ it. Now, this isn’t meant in a cendescending way, I hated the game at first, but the experience that I had, has been mirrored in countless reviews. People seem to want Far Cry 2, to be some RPG, first person blend, it is not, it never has been, the original was the same. The idea behind Far Cry 2, is that of experimentation, you are given repetitive missions, because they are a framework as to how you complete them. The way you choose to finish them is up to you, you’re given a vast arsenal, and a cool physics engine, and the rest is your choice.
    For instance, you’re given a missions to destroy convoys, there are so many ways to do this. The obvious way is to park your car across the road, as the cars come barreling over a hill, they’ll smash into your ambush, throw a grenade in, and BOOM, burnt out shells fly 60 feet into the air. You can also just plant some ieds on the ground, and take out the convoy as it drives over them.
    Ieds are a good example of these ‘sandbox’ weapons, an awesome way to use them, is to strap them onto your car, drive into an enemy camp, leap out of the car, and watch the fireworks.
    In other words, Far Cry isn’t a created experience, in the way that Fallout, or GTA are, it is the basis to create your own fun.

  23. Ayekay says:

    “The idea behind Far Cry 2, is that of experimentation, you are given repetitive missions, because they are a framework as to how you complete them”

    I get this (and I liked FC2, flawed though it was) but it’d be a better game if the lessons were less repetitive. There may be a half dozen ways to destroy convoys but if there were also a half dozen kinds of convoy, the gameplay would have that much more variety and the experimentation would be more sophisticated, interesting and challenging. ‘Play is fun with surprises.’

  24. Keith says:

    To Dan’s last comment:

    It’s like real life, but…. with save states. Yeah, that’d be sweet.

  25. Geoff says:

    I’m surprised to find such a one-sided hate-fest on Far Cry 2. I’m half way through it now, and really enjoying it. Everyone seems to be upset that it’s not whatever game they had in their heads, and thus are unable to enjoy it for what it actually is. It’s NOT Grand Theft Auto 5, or Fallout 4, it’s FAR CRY 2. You know, Far Cry? Not a dialog heavy RPG where you build lasting relationships with store owners. It’s a first person shooter, and you’re meant to be surrounded with bad guys to shoot.

    The fact that the “checkpoints respawn”, that everyone attacks you… that’s the point! It’s even explained clearly by the plot and the tapes, repeatedly. This is Africa. And the themes involved are rather interesting, and match with portrayals of Africa in movies (kept making me think of Blood Diamond) or even news…

    There’s two factions, but this isn’t about the idealistic struggle of the socialist faction against the capitalist one, or the democratic against the authoritarian. They’re basically big strongmen, each of which wants more power, men, guns… Virtually indistinguishable, and locked in a permanent struggle. Then there’s all the foreign agents (and you can pick a specific one as your character, while the others appear in the game as well). The “buddy” mechanic is quite interesting, because it further highlights the notion that you’re all outsiders, that everyone is against you, and having a friend isn’t the result of building up your “Faction A” points, but rather building a rare relationship with one of the other outcasts. And the “having a buddy means being rescued” is a vastly superior safety net to “level up, +5 HP” or respawn chambers and whatnot.

    You don’t become a high-ranking member of UFLL or APR as part of the plot of the game. That’s not the point. You’re an outsider. They hire you to do their dirty work, then explicitly tell you that their guys won’t know you, and will attack you just like any other heavily armed outsider who came swooping in to their guard post. You are a tolerated mercenary, not a treasured apprentice, gradually working your way up through the ranks.

    The lack of XP, the deteriorated weapons, the limited inventory, no “money” dropped from bad guys, all contribute to the notion that you’re not supposed to be “grinding” enemies. Avoid a fight if you can, unless you badly need to restock something, or you’ve been specifically paid to fight somewhere.

    And the fighting never ends. And in the game. That’s the point. You thought if you killed a couple guys in a guard post, APR would just decide not to have a guard post there anymore? Never send replacement guards? You thought they’d be shocked, and ask the police to start a murder investigation? No, it’s a common occurrence, just send some more guys…

    Of course it’s not a perfect game, and there’s plenty of things that bother me about it, but most of the stuff people are complaining about is stuff that makes sense, by design. I’m just surprised to see so much hating, and so few people jumping in explaining all the things it does right – which is much more than just the beautiful environment…

  26. Geoff says:

    That comment was clearly long enough already, so I’ve separated my Fallout 3 / Oblivion thoughts into a different one.

    My problem in these games (not in Far Cry 2!) is that much like Jim, I’m drawn in at first with great enthusiasm, and really enjoy the process, but somehow left feeling disappointed and dull at the end. As many others mentioned, I steer off away from the “main plot” as soon as possible, and try to hit EVERY side quest possible. When I’ve finally finished with that, I’m an unstoppable badass (Archmage? Head of Thieves and Fighters and Assassin’s Guild?) absolutely weighed down with epically game-unbalancingly powerful loot, and I start trying the main plot again. But it seems so uninteresting and unimportant now.

    FC2 does a slightly better job of weaving the “main plot” together with the side missions (second half of the game requires main plot, buddy side missions are either alternate versions of main missions or only spawn after main missions completed) but still has that clear Main Plot vs Side Quest distinction, which ruins the open word feel.

    This idealized Open World we’re all seeking needs to either do away with the Main Plot altogether, or do a much better job of weaving the two together and blurring that line…

  27. Gutter says:

    30 years ago, Boulder Dash had it right. If you play that game (not the iPhone version, I’m sorry about that one) you’ll see that the world lives before you come in it, and continue to live after you do. The maps are randomly generated (procedural content 30 years ago? yep, thats right) so they weren’t designed *for* the player. Boulder Dash’s maps are just Conway game of life like simulators, but interactive.

    This is what open world game need to be : A life simulator, with NPC actually being part of the world and not the scenery. If you can gather and resell loot, make it into a “real” economy, with merchant that need that loot to make armors (not to make YOU an armors. Just to make armors). If you can freely kill people, give it real consequences. I mean, whats the fun being a criminal in a city where criminals apparently make the rules?

    In order to make the player part of a world, designer and developers will need to think of ways to make the NPCs integral part of the world as well, and not just moving billboards. Nothing makes me more sad than seeing my 30 days old loot still in the hand of the merchant that I sold it to in Oblivion. How cool would it be to see some NPC walking in the magic robe that I sold to some merchant the day before? How cool would it be to see that merchant prosper because of all the crap I bring him. How cool would it be to actually see NPCs grind for loot or pick herbs?

    How cool would it be if the cars in GTA4 didn’t just vanish when I turned by back to them? ;)

  28. Requiem says:

    @JKjoker The trouble with Prototype is you are trapped on a island under military law, all exits are blocked and there’s a virus outbreak going on. Yet outside of the red infected zones no one gives a toss. If it was real people would either be bunkered in their homes, out rioting and looting or trying to flee the island enmass. Sure there’s some of that going on but most of the City couldn’t care less.

    @odeed/Ayekay the real problem with the convoys in Far Cry 2 is they never go anywhere, they just go around and around in a circle until you destroy them. It would of been more interesting for them to be able to reach their destination and you either fail the mission or then have to destroy the delivery in a heavily guarded camp.

    I think Far Cry 2, like it’s collectables, is a rough diamond. It needs cutting and polishing to show it’s true worth but even as it is, it’s still a diamond and has value. I thought that it handled the openworld vs mission factor really well. The missions are integrated into the world, sure there could of been more variety but having to visit the towns or the bars to get a mission beats having missions flagged by great big neon beacons reaching up into the sky. Or press button to enter misson/event, likewise the side missons were appropriate for the setting and plot. They weren’t out of character like supercops taking time out from cleaning up the city to take part in dangerous road races that often caused multiple road accidents and civilian deaths. The collectables were also appropriate and integrated not just some meta object there just to improve your stats. But most of all I think Far Cry 2 managed to balance it’s open world nature and the main plot just right. Okay I didn’t like the ending but up to then the simple game objective of kill the Jackal was perfect for not getting in your way of exploring. In fact it promoted exploring (at least on the first play through) as how were you going to find you target without going out and looking for him? Too many games with an open world or at least the illusion of an open world have an urgent main plot that doesn’t gel with it’s open nature. Too many of these types of game have you either saving the world or saving someone important to you when you just want to go and see what’s over that hill or around the next bend.

    One thing I hope comes from Far Cry 2 is that I want every current RPG developer to play it and see that conversations don’t have to be static. That characters can be animated while talking to you, they can sit down, get up, move around and pick up objects and still keep talking. And that you can move away and look around, that you don’t have to be locked in position to have a conversation. I was more immersed by the mission briefings in Far Cry 2 that by any RPG conversation I’ve played recently.

  29. Harvey Smith says:

    Ayekay, yeah, that wine stuff in DX1 was interesting because of the internal wrestling over ‘in game mechanics’ vs more experientially-focused ‘text fantasy’ bits. In the end, the combination of both is what makes the game feel layered. Sheldon Pacotti and Steve Powers provided the specifics of that conversation, but the point is that different elements on the team felt strongly about ‘all mechanics’ vs ‘text fantasy’ (ie, stuff that was in the player’s imagination), and we compromised as long as it didn’t violate consistency.

  30. Cid says:

    Sounds like you need to give Pathologic a whirl, Jim. Quite an amazing game, despite its many bugs.

  31. Demiath says:

    I used to dislike sandbox games because, as Jim points out in this blog post, designers didn’t seem to know what to do with the open worlds they had just created. Lately things have been improving somewhat, and although we still have to suffer the occasional clueless Bethesda title there are now vastly more satisfying open world games available such as inFamous, Burnout: Paradise, Crackdown, Red Faction: Guerilla and (to a significantly lesser extent) GTA4 and Assassin’s Creed 2 (the latter worked so well as a tourist simulation that I didn’t mind the less-than-stellar gameplay). All of these games manage, in their own way, to make one big interactive playground of the sprawling landscapes they provide, thus making the open world design feel legitimate and meaningful. It’s still far from perfect, but at least it’s starting to grow on me…

  32. Demiath says:

    [Freudian slip: I obviously meant Assassin's Creed 1. I realize this website was created in 1873, but an Edit Comment function wouldn't be out of place as a first step towards modernization. Having to fact-check our own statements before posting requires an attention span far beyond what the Age of Twitter allows for...]

  33. Susan says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Susan

    http://onlinegamesforgirls.net

  34. WordandPictures says:

    I have explored the idea of separating a gameworld like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. from the mechanics of gunning, running and health packs. We are so attached to the notion of ‘game’ that we cannot understand the purpose of ‘experience’ in sandbox computer-generated environments.

    The word ‘game’ presupposes Objectives and Rules, and then there is the idea that it should be pleasurable. Anyone who has played SOC knows that it is compelling, even when it is uncomfortable, mildly disturbing, and even a little bit scary-hairy.

    I would love to see more 3D worlds with all the physical realism of games like Clear Sky and ArmA 2, but with the emphasis on generating a type of experience rather than A –> B = WIN. To this extent, SOC and Clear Sky do create a need to survive, but they are, after all, shooter games, and very good ones at that.

  35. Schwerpunk says:

    [b]Geoff[/b] says, “This idealized Open World we’re all seeking needs to either do away with the Main Plot altogether, or do a much better job of weaving the two together and blurring that line…”

    I agree with Geoff. I would love for an Oblivion/FO3-type game to just do away with the main plot (I’ve never completed either game’s – didn’t see the point), and instead focus on what makes these two titles great and fun in the first place: their amazing, open, rich worlds.

    The main quests should be whatever you decide it to be. Whatever motivates the character you’ve created.

    That said, I realize the technical nightmare it would be to actually produce this – let alone while feeding the graphics whores we’ve all become (at least, judging by game sales).

  36. Cephlin says:

    The last line in the article refers to being dumped in a place and told to survive.
    Well I do believe that this has already been done on the DS with the game series called Lost in Blue.
    Don’t know if you’ve heard of or play this game or if anyone else has for that matter since I never played it for more than 10 minutes before giving up on finding food.

  37. SoupDuJour says:

    Great post, Jim. It’s as if I’m reading my own thoughts.

  38. 28843253 says:

    3 years on, how about Skyrim?

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>