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  1. #1
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    Open World - Growing Genre or Failed Experiment

    Disclaimers:

    -The term "open world" here should not be mistaken for "Sandbox." I hope to foster discussion about open world games like Skyrim, the Far Cry series, etc which while very open still rely on narrative to drive the game.

    -Just want to start a discussion, get the opinions of others on the matter. Don't mean to troll.


    That said:

    I emerged from a sewer beneath a gleaming white city to shining sun, green grass and still blue water. My Emperor was dead. He claimed he'd seen me in a dream, that I was destined to save the Empire. Demanded my release from the Imperial Prison. His Blades were reluctant, at first, but they did as their Emperor decreed. Like that I was free.

    And doubly so. A new world opened before me. Seemingly boundless, and full of opportunity. I could go anywhere, do anything. Become anyone I wanted.

    The year was 2009 and I had only just discovered PC gaming, and with it, Oblivion and the modding scene. I had never experienced open world games prior to this. Ditto with mods. Together the two captured my attention, and I lost some 500+ hours to Oblivion, Fallout 3 and FONV. Not. Counting. Modding hours. I was awed by the scope of these games, the number of activities available to me.

    Fast forward to 2012. Bored to tears with Skyrim. Granted that's after 150 total hours. But the last 50 of that were a slog to finish a Main Quest that was as hollow as it was forgettable, in the end. Made myself do it, hoping it would get better. It did not.

    For the last 3 years I have roamed numerous open worlds. The Fallouts; TES; Far Cry 2 and now 3. Even EVE Online (the best and worst of the bunch, depending.) And in the end the conclusion I more and more begin to reach is this:

    Open world games are a failed experiment.

    Simply put, there isn't anything compelling about an open world game. Maybe I just lack imagination, or the right sort of it. Maybe I demand too much of my games. But where once I could not wait to turn over that next stone, find that next treasure chest or hidden idol or fetch that better weapon or armor set, now...now, I am bored. I am tired. I have come to realize that whether its a post-apocalyptic wasteland or a tropical island or a fantastical Scandinavia, it doesn't matter. Fetching...fetching never changes.

    And in the end, after half a decade or more of open world games, this is what we have to look forward to, judging by the last 5 years or so: Endless skinning of animals for ever larger containers, better leather armors and healing potion. Errand running like some Fed-Ex delivery man with a weapon, crisscrossing the same terrain a thousand times to run Macguffins to and fro like some hapless, lost little kid desperate to supplement his allowance so he can purchase a game with more compelling content.

    Maybe I just lack the proper perspective. Perhaps its me. But I do find the vast majority of open world games utterly soulless. Dull and predictable marathons of errand running that are more a metaphor for working at UPS than for power and "coming of age" tales so popular in fantasy literature.

    So tell me, RPS community, how do you feel about open world games. Their future. Their past. Do you have any hope they will find some way to offer more compelling content, more emotionally evocative moments or meaningful tasks? Or like me, do you look back on the last few years, and realize that that hopeful feeling you had upon emerging from the dark linearity of walled-in tunnels is lost forever, blotted out by the realization of the tedium that is open world gaming?

  2. #2
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gundato's Avatar
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    Congratulations, you are growing up.

    With few exceptions, people tend to love the first of anything, be interested in the next few, and question the purpose of the dozen after that.


    Your first "open world" game was Oblivion and you loved it, good on you. For me it was World of Xeen. By the time Morrowind came out, I was starting to not see the point in exploration. I never even DID half the factions in Oblivion. And I mostly played Skyrim for the quest line and the TG (and I have yet to finish either).

    Does that make it a "failed experiment"? If so, it has been "failing" for over two decades. Nope, it just means that you've been exposed. The "wonder" is gone, and now you are reliant on the underlying narrative. And those narratives are pretty standard fare as far as RPGs go. You either love them or hate them.

    Next you are going to be saying "First person shooters aren't made like they used to be" or "I had to walk ten miles, up hill, both ways. And we didn't have no stinking attack-move or grouping. And we LIKED it. You stupid whipper snappers with your dumbed down RTSes" :p
    Last edited by gundato; 31-12-2012 at 09:56 PM.
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  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus coldvvvave's Avatar
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    Shooter 2.0 was a failure, sure. Remember how STALKER, Far Cry and Xenus( aka Boiling Point: Road to Hell) were supposed to revolutionize PC gaming or at least a genre? Yeah, that never happened. Not liking Skyrim is fine, I for once liked it enough to spend 70 hours in it.
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  4. #4
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gundato's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by coldvvvave View Post
    Shooter 2.0 was a failure, sure. Remember how STALKER, Far Cry and Xenus( aka Boiling Point: Road to Hell) were supposed to revolutionize PC gaming or at least a genre? Yeah, that never happened. Not liking Skyrim is fine, I for once liked it enough to spend 70 hours in it.
    Uhm...

    Far Cry 2 and 3?

    And don't forget, those largely came out because of Deus Ex and the like

    Oh, Deus Ex: Human Revolution :p

    Arguably Dishonored, but that was largely a product of Thief. But, to be fair, Deus Ex was a product of Thief as well.
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    It's not the structure, it's the content. As has been said, much of the appeal is in the joy of discovery, but these days everything we discover has been done. A weapons cache. A underground dungeon. A character upgrade. A side-quest that plays identically to ones we've done before...

    Human Revolution got around this slightly by having the rewards be insights into the world and characters rather than mechanical elements, but that got weary after a while. There's no point having an open world if we've seen all the stuff in it a million times before.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by deano2099 View Post
    It's not the structure, it's the content. As has been said, much of the appeal is in the joy of discovery, but these days everything we discover has been done. A weapons cache. A underground dungeon. A character upgrade. A side-quest that plays identically to ones we've done before...

    Human Revolution got around this slightly by having the rewards be insights into the world and characters rather than mechanical elements, but that got weary after a while. There's no point having an open world if we've seen all the stuff in it a million times before.
    This. Exactly. DXHR made the rewards - the content - different. And it lasted just long enough for me not to become completely bored with the little revelations it would spring on you in side missions. It changed the formula, or at least one variable in it, and that made all the difference.

    But you are correct, at least where I am concerned. I keep wanting to find an open world game that can bring back the joy of discovery, the sheer wonder, I felt when I first emerged from the sewers in Oblivion. I keep trying - and failing (Read: Wasting my money.) My latest attempt was Far Cry 3 and...don't get me started. GOTY my ass, it isn't even very good.

    But seriously, thanks for putting it like you did. Its not the structure, its the content, that matters. Completely agree.

  7. #7
    Lesser Hivemind Node Shooop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by deano2099 View Post
    It's not the structure, it's the content. As has been said, much of the appeal is in the joy of discovery, but these days everything we discover has been done. A weapons cache. A underground dungeon. A character upgrade. A side-quest that plays identically to ones we've done before...

    Human Revolution got around this slightly by having the rewards be insights into the world and characters rather than mechanical elements, but that got weary after a while. There's no point having an open world if we've seen all the stuff in it a million times before.
    Yes. YES.

    The open world system is fine, it's the content and things we're allowed to do in it that get boring. Now that the novelty of being able to powerwalk up mountains has worn off, you're seeing the biggest flaw in any game world - how little your actions matter in the grand scheme of things.

    Skyrim made it somewhat interesting because you basically were a god - you could literally speak ice beams into existence and send people flying off mountains. It gave us new toys to use in its sandbox instead of the same ones we've already had.

    Dues Ex did have the right idea by giving you more information if you did things for people, but it wasn't really an open world at all. It was still a series of (yellow) corridors you had to navigate by either shooting, messing with computers, or crawling through vents. It was extremely restricted.

    I thought Dishonored handled open world the best this year for the same reason Skyrim did before - it gave us new things to play around with, new ways to do everything except the main story. But like Skryim, it won't last forever. Far Cry 3 on the other hand failed miserably for me because I'd already done everything in it many times before. Other than shooting endangered species, there wasn't anything even remotely new in there.
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    I think the "growing up" thing is a big part of it. Being 33 means I don't have time to tromp around identical forests looking for nearly-identical items for nearly identical NPC's to give me nearly identical rewards hundreds of times. Per game. And its not just that I lack time. I also, truly, lack desire as well. So yeah...maybe "growing up" is a big part of it.

    I think another part of it might be education and a sudden, unpleasant realization resulting therefrom. I recently completed an Associate degree in psych. Now I tend to look at MMO and open world, fetch-based games a little...differently. I see - actually, really see - the walls on the skinner box. I see myself like the rat in the tunnel maze, watching as the cheese grows ever closer. Unlike the rat, however, I know what waits once this maze is completed.

    Another maze. Nearly identical to the with which I am very nearly finished.

    It took hundreds of hours for this to happen. I tired of Oblivion's world before it did. Then I managed FO3, barely. FONV I loved because it was a an RPG, with choices and options, and not the linear slog FO3 became later on, and I played it through twice, making different decisions.

    But Skyrim returned us to the Skinner Box and slammed the door behind us, an actual, huge step backward in terms of role playing from FONV. And unfortunately, the claim of "Skyrim with Guns" that I thought was only a metaphor, is more a literal truth with FC3. It really is JUST "Skyrim with Guns." Problem is, the gushing games media forgot the "just."

    I want to be shocked. Dishonored shocked me. With the darkness and the grit of their world. With their (merciful and insightful) lack of boss fights. With their fearless pursuit of something at least sort of different. DXHR shocked me with its Cyberpunk setting and a narrative that resonates with us, here in our world. Bastion, with its clever use of the Narrator. Even Din's Curse and Drox shocked me, actually letting me fail and consequently, really succeed, in a game.

    I want to be awed by the spectacle of a game. To revel in its difference from other games I have played. And then to walk away knowing I experienced something novel. As I did with Bastion, Dishonored, DXHR and Mark of the Ninja.

    Far Cry 3, while amazing in the smoothness of game play, the way the character interacts with the world and general handling, isn't anything new. Its Fallout: Modern World, with some updated graphical and tech details. And absolutely nothing more. Sure its a good game, for those looking for that sort of thing. Just...don't pay too much attention to any one individual slice of cheese when you reach the end of a maze, you'll be fine.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    Even Din's Curse and Drox shocked me, actually letting me fail and consequently, really succeed, in a game.
    I've always thought that while minecraft's world generator and some of the mods are very impressive, they ultimately don't have any direction at all to them. Something like dins curse in a minecraft world would be incredible. I don't know if that's possible with minecraft though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    I think the "growing up" thing is a big part of it. Being 33 means I don't have time to tromp around identical forests looking for nearly-identical items for nearly identical NPC's to give me nearly identical rewards hundreds of times. Per game. And its not just that I lack time. I also, truly, lack desire as well. So yeah...maybe "growing up" is a big part of it.
    Everyone's day has same number of hours in it, boyo. It's not my fault you decided to waste most of them on silly things like "spouse" or "children" or "healthy activities outside" as opposed to important things(that is VIDEOGAMES).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mohorovicic View Post
    Everyone's day has same number of hours in it, boyo. It's not my fault you decided to waste most of them on silly things like "spouse" or "children" or "healthy activities outside" as opposed to important things(that is VIDEOGAMES).
    You are kidding but I would make this post seriously.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MoLAoS View Post
    You are kidding but I would make this post seriously.
    So would I.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus jnx's Avatar
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    Well open world is either a sandbox, a theme park or plain boring.
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    My impressions from not being a huge Skyrim fan are that I have two main problems with the genre now. The first is that I'm playing the same role every time. I would like these big open world games to have some major different paths for you to go down that mean major different mechanics. I've been the adventuring hero a lot now, and I like it, but it gets a bit stale after the 600th hour. I'd like some new roles to play. Mostly my mod choices and house rules are aimed at trying to create new roles to play, but it's always a bit of a hack given that the whole game is there expecting you to be the big adventuring hero. I'd even go to the extreme of saying that the games should allow you to set things up so that it's implausible that you'll be able to finish many major quests.

    The second problem I have is that I just don't really give a shit about lore any more. When I was 16 I gobbled up the lore books and stuff in these games, now I struggle to deal with the non-optional lore that gets thrown at me. For a genre that trades quite a lot on the "omg, this is that thing I read about 50 hours ago, wow!" factor, this is a big problem.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  15. #15
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    Another handy little insight regarding open world games, that suddenly hit me after reading Nathan's post regarding roles in a game:

    Carl Jung had a bit to say about age and the way it affects one's outlook on the world. He talked about the power fantasy briefly, though unlike some other psychologists it was never his focal point. Still the power fantasy is there. But its mainly a "young man's game." This drive for power, this desire to play the role of Hero, to realize that Archetype. That's a young person's thing, really.

    Problem is, many gamers aren't really "young" anymore.

    The average age of gamers is something like mid thirties, now. Yet developers are still writing stories for people in their teens and early twenties. We are men and women trying to get by in a universe designed specifically to appeal to, at best, young adults. Teens, in other words. We are logic, reason, insight, wisdom, curiosity and a drive to teach others and leave a mature, realistic mark on the world, trying to reside in worlds built to appeal to raging hormones, a lust for power, basic greed and subconscious desire for violence and violent action.

    We don't belong here. The role no longer fits us. The games have not moved on, we have. I think that is a big part of why the "hero/power fantasy" games no longer appeal. And face it, open world, non-sandbox games all focus, as Nathan said, on the one singular role: The Hero.

    Been there, done that. The t-short doesn't even fit anymore.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    Problem is, many gamers aren't really "young" anymore.

    The average age of gamers is something like mid thirties, now. Yet developers are still writing stories for people in their teens and early twenties. We are men and women trying to get by in a universe designed specifically to appeal to, at best, young adults. Teens, in other words. We are logic, reason, insight, wisdom, curiosity and a drive to teach others and leave a mature, realistic mark on the world, trying to reside in worlds built to appeal to raging hormones, a lust for power, basic greed and subconscious desire for violence and violent action.

    We don't belong here. The role no longer fits us. The games have not moved on, we have. I think that is a big part of why the "hero/power fantasy" games no longer appeal.
    I think your doing the young a disservice here (I'm 46).
    I've met people of all ages full of "logic, reason, insight, wisdom, curiosity".
    However, when it comes to real world "lust for power, basic greed and subconscious desire for violence and violent action" we need look no further than the (largely) middle aged men who run governments, corporations and the military across the world. The grey of hair and wrinkly of skin have the advantage of maturity and worldly experience in their thirst for power and wealth. They are not shy of using it.

    I think your first post was nearer the mark. Schlepping around an 'open world' can become tedious. Preventing that is the job of games developers. That is all.

  17. #17
    Lesser Hivemind Node Shooop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chorltonwheelie View Post
    I think your doing the young a disservice here (I'm 46).
    I've met people of all ages full of "logic, reason, insight, wisdom, curiosity".
    However, when it comes to real world "lust for power, basic greed and subconscious desire for violence and violent action" we need look no further than the (largely) middle aged men who run governments, corporations and the military across the world. The grey of hair and wrinkly of skin have the advantage of maturity and worldly experience in their thirst for power and wealth. They are not shy of using it.
    How else do those middle aged men start off but as young with those base desires?

    Bah, this is now turning into a thread about philosophy.
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  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Shooop View Post
    How else do those middle aged men start off but as young with those base desires?

    Bah, this is now turning into a thread about philosophy.
    Possibly young, idealistic, full of imagination and hope?

    Give them a few years making their way through a world handed to them by their elders and they just might become scheming, violent Machiavellian bastards?

    Still, probably not fair top blame them for boring games.

  19. #19
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    I really appreciate your thoughts in this thread, Blackcompany. As a whole (thus far) they pretty much form one of the best "articles" I've read in a good while. Thanks for taking the time to pull your thoughts together on this and then to intelligently engage each person as they responded to you.

  20. #20
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    Lego. That is all I have to say. Lego. Lego lets you make the narrative. Other forms of "play" give you the narrative. Thus, "open world" is just a buzz word for "creative play" or "you get to make something". Now, how good the "making" and the resulting "narrative/art" is, depends a lot on how good the tools are. Some of it is down to how good an artist or how enjoying the experience is, but mainly if the tools are useless and clunky, it distracts from their creative ability.

    The open world games that stand out, are the ones that your actions have an impact. Games like DX:HR amazed me how the little choices actually produced different reactions from the in game characters. Or Dwarf Fortress where it's seems to truly be "open".

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