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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 10:56 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.
    Quote Originally Posted by Drake Sigar View Post
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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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  5. #5
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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.

  6. #6
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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.

  7. #7
    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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  8. #8
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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.

  9. #9
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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.

  10. #10
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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.

  11. #11
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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.

  12. #12
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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".

  13. #13
    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.

  14. #14
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    Celt, thanks for chiming in. I appreciate the compliments. I also appreciate this community. Sometimes I struggle to articulate thoughts on games, and at others frustration gets the better of me. It happened with Skyrim for a while there. Now I try and take time to compose analyze why I feel the way I do about a particular game before I speak or write on it. It helps to clarify the message.

    TechnicalBen: Funny you mention Legos. This was - bar none - my favorite toy growing up. Odd enough, though, while I appreciate what Minecraft does, I do not particularly enjoy the game overmuch. Sure its good at being Minecraft. Good at what it does. My issues are not with quality, but again the lack of any compelling reason to be in that world, to try and survive there in the first place. The same problem I have with so many open world games. It is not a lack of quality I dislike in open world games - Far Cry 3 is very technically solid - its the sameness, the repetitive nature.

    I sometimes wonder whether, if devs took more time to make an open world game, the individual experiences in that open world could be better individuated. More compelling. Perhaps release an open world game in episodic fashion, or through DLC/Expansions. Sort of like Shiving Isles for Obblivion. Create your world, some activities and tools. A quest or two. And let that world be the basis for dozens of games over a period of two - four years. Instead of making a game from scratch every year or two, you constantly expand the world you have with more content. Like an MMO, only, with better, more inspired, single player content.

    This approach would allow the base game to begin making money and paying for upcoming content. It would also mean no need to create a whole new world, with lore and even perhaps learn a new engine for each game you make. Save time, make more money. Keep content flowing into open world games, in careful, hand crafted fashion - as opposed to using a "time saver" like Radiant Story, perhaps the apex of methodology for boring, repetitive fetching in open world games.

  15. #15
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    The problem with dissecting a game genre is that it always brings up something nasty, for all genres. You could probably say many more negative things about other genres. FPS games? On rails corridor shooters. RPG games? Pointless fetch quests. RTS games? Brainless spamfest. All genres have their pros and cons.

    Personally, I hope to see more open world games because I find them more appealing than the restricted gameplay you usually find in most games. And I've played a lot of open world games. And I know how they work. But just like in movies, suspension of disbelief does wonders.

    Gundato pretty much hit the nail on its head. Assuming you now aren't bored with games in general, I think you simply began to see the limitations of "open world games". Open world games are supposed to let you do everything. In other words, they are a jack of all trades, and that is their problem. They do everything, they are good at nothing. Some games are better at hiding this than others, but they all have this problem.

    However, I think it's simply about "preferences". Some people simply do enjoy the jack of all trades experience, even if they experience it for the 100th time. You know, like let's say football. You basically watch the same game each time, but each time it's different, and while you don't really care why, you enjoy watching it - Preferences.

    At the end, I think you are better off asking the question why there isn't something in the world that all people enjoy forever and always. It seems we all like different things and our preferences change over time. I'd say, blame your body for not enjoying the open world experience for a longer time.

    The funny thing is that you might look back at this a month, 6 months, a year, or multiple years from now, and then you might wonder how it was possible for you not to enjoy the open world games genre.

  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus soldant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    My issues are not with quality, but again the lack of any compelling reason to be in that world, to try and survive there in the first place.
    This is exactly my problem with Minecraft. When I first started playing survival felt like a core mechanic, like there was something actually threatening me out there. I needed to collect materials to survive and to go deeper to even greater threats. The problem is that "survival" means building a wall and putting down some torches, both of which take a few minutes at most. There's no incentive to go any deeper. Terraria did a fantastic job at setting goals and encouraging you to go deeper into the world. Minecraft works great as a virtual world to play around with creating things, but the gameplay element itself is remarkably shallow. Once I'm behind my wall, nothing can touch me. And part of that came about from the creative builders versus the survival players. "No, don't let monsters wreck our creations, we just want to build!" Well, go play Creative Mode, that's why it's there. Instead we got hunger, which is more of an annoyance than an actual issue, and a boss fight which isn't even remotely enjoyable. Mods do solve some of the problems but most of them just add more stuff, few manage to address the core issue with Survival.


    On the subject of other open world games, like others I don't have the time or patience for them anymore. I don't want to spend 30 minutes walking from point to point, that's not fun, especially when the "hidden" stuff is basically a cache of crappy weapons. I agree with your thoughts in part. The problem for me is that games are getting bigger without an increase in quality of content. I'd rather have a smaller game world with a lot of unique content than a massive game world with cookie-cutter quests. Autogenerated "AI life" events go some way to helping out but that's still a lot of work to simulate, and usually amounts to changing around a few things that don't really matter too much. Variety is good, but it needs to be of quality, not just simply "more stuff."

    But the timesaver stuff is done for a reason - creating content takes a lot of time, and since people seem to expect that the next game is bigger than the last and is complete on release (nobody likes DLC) it's pushing devs towards procedural generation. Unfortunately that procedural generation, like you've said, just leads to fairly shallow results. And procedural generation can work, but not when they're too cookie-cutter and apparently without context. Like Freelancer's "Here's a random space station in the middle of absolutely nowhere with no apparent reason, go destroy it entirely on your own" missions. Thing is I can't see a feasible way around that, and while hand-crafted content may be superior with the extra thought behind it, it's still a lot to create and it'll always be the same no matter how many times you play it. But until procedural generation gets a bit more complex, or games are dynamic enough to accommodate players making their own roles, we're pretty much stuck with what we've got.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    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.
    I think you're just looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place. Open world games as produced by Bethesda et al have never had a strong narrative, nor have they ever intended to. They're more interested in creating a sense of place than a strong (or in many cases, coherent) storyline. In fact I'd say the nature of the games preclude it - it's presently impossible to do so without imposing restrictions on the player, at which point you have to compromise on the degree of openness you can have in the world (the result inevitably being a pseudo-open world hybrid like Rage for example).

  18. #18
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    Well, I think open world means more freedom, not strictly to sandbox in most of RPG , or mmo games. I do not like this genre.

  19. #19
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    Thanks for an interesting discussion.

    I completely agree that the open world genre is not growing up with us (even, as you said, moving backwards. Which is what I felt when playing Skyrim after New Vegas) and I think it suffers from the same symptoms as other genres - Developers are afraid to take risk, so they stick to same formula and the result is, playing the same game, in a different setting, over and over again untill we are tired and skipping to the next titles.

    However, in other genres we see development (and experiment) coming from indie titles. And since open world are expensive to build and also requires large development teams, it's hard to expect an indie team to develop such worlds (at least in the standards of a AAA tilte) or a bigger developer to take risks and move the genre forward.

    So yes - I think the open world genre is doomed.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post

    TechnicalBen: Funny you mention Legos. This was - bar none - my favorite toy growing up. Odd enough, though, while I appreciate what Minecraft does, I do not particularly enjoy the game overmuch. Sure its good at being Minecraft. Good at what it does. My issues are not with quality, but again the lack of any compelling reason to be in that world, to try and survive there in the first place. The same problem I have with so many open world games. It is not a lack of quality I dislike in open world games - Far Cry 3 is very technically solid - its the sameness, the repetitive nature.
    .
    I agree. Minecraft does not fail to be a good toy, it fails to be a good "game (narrative or goal of)". As to openworld games, they sometimes try to be too much of a toy, and loose the "game" part. I guess that balance is difficult. I think games like Fallout 3 had a good mix of narrative and "toy (exploration, openness in approach) to it. Where as games like Just Cause 2, has loads of play, but gets boring real fast in the game part. The progression in JC2 seems pointless and boring, and while flying upside down, grapple hooking onto a boeing 747 us fun, it gets tedious with no other experiences to add to it. Where as Fallout 3 keeps adding to the story, adding new(ish) elements. At lest for much longer, it did still get a bit tedious once you'd maxed out everything.

    Games need the play and creativity to allow them to keep growing and changing, but the story and gameplay to keep them focused. You have a roller coaster, a car. One with limited direction, the other with choices. Some games try to put you in a roller coaster (no steering wheel) then open up the choices (no track) and in trying to get the best of both worlds, seem to chose the worse!

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