Friday, September 21, 2012

Ain't nothing wrong with open world games

It occurred to me recently that 85-90% of games I've played in the past few years have been open world or some derivation of it; yet oddly I never seem to get bored with that aspect of said games. It's a fairly simple equation, 30-60 bucks for 5-10 hours of linear, paced gameplay or 20+ hours of non-linear only somewhat scripted gameplay. There are of course amazing exceptions like Uncharted 2 or the longer linear style of the original Demon's Souls and Bayonetta. Aside from ridiculously derivative FPS's I think the largest stamp on games from the present generation of consoles is open worldiness.

So why then is the simple quest hub > quests > advance plot > new quest hub repeat gameplay so ubiquitous and yet still continually satisfying. Well it's ubiquitous because it's super easy to design those sorts of quests. Borderlands has some of the most lazy atrocious quest design I have ever seen, literally every quest is either Kill, kill-collect, or fetch with very little dialogue or plot, but damn if it isn't extremely fun, addictive, and even somewhat immersive despite that. There's a lot to be said for atmospheric design in addition to fun gameplay with RPG-esque rewards to keep you continuously interested. The loot can be random and thus by design add replay value to the game, or it can be fixed and the first time around will likely be your most satisifying. A game doesn't really need replay value if its 20 hours or more long, unless its a deliberately paced game like a traditional JRPG.

Open World games are often more about the world and establishing it than they are about the inhabitants of said world; most often you're not going to find game developers as astonishing storytelling masterminds but they do have elementary level ideas that can be used to create enthralling landscapes. I don't know how many people have had this particular experience but I remember having all sorts of interesting ideas as a child that never fully developed into anything beyond simple ideas, maybe I didn't craft a masterpiece out of them but they all had promise. Your typical open-world game is generally a fruition of one of those simple ideas.

Even though it seems like this one aspect repeating itself in almost every genre and game type would get tiresome I don't really foresee that in the near future. Much like RPG elements you can slap an open world design on almost any game and it will work out. Dark Souls is a vast improvement over its predecessor thanks in large part to its new Metroidvania style of design which was considered quite a risk early on. Every game can be turned into a free to play MMO and fail, or it could be turned into a single player pseudo-MMO and succeed admirably.

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