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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperDesignWhat makes a gamer play an open world game?
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szczm_
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« on: February 19, 2019, 09:16:27 AM »

Hi~! It's my (almost) first post here. I have this thought running through my head for a few days now, and I decided it would be good to start an open conversation around it. What, in your opinion, makes a player spend time on an open world game? I thought about it deep and that's what makes it interesting for me. Following is my train of thought:

First, in most of the games there are the story missions. If you play just the story missions, you might as well just throw out the open world altogether. Not to say these are unnecessary, they just — in my opinion — don't constitute the appeal of open world games. We can skip those.

Second, many of these games fill the world with optional activities for the player to find. A minimap leads to a minigame, and then with each miniactivity you get ever more minisatisfied Tongue Sometimes these activities are not marked, such as random encounters or sometimes, hidden activities or microactivities (like the QUB3D/Tetris game in GTA IV). What if you take these out?

Then you are left with the world and its mechanics. The world should probably be as compelling as possible, and the mechanics resistant to becoming boring. I've talked to people about their favourite open world games, and what made them (or me) play these games for longer, and here's what I got:
  • Saints Row series: silliness, breadth of possibilities, character creation, vehicle modification and reckless driving,
  • GTA IV: discovering new things, driving around, checking out new places,
  • Mirror's Edge Catalyst: movement (although worse than in the original ME), trying to get into places the developer clearly doesn't want you to get, mostly Grin and the atmosphere, which is sometimes better than in the original ME.
  • Just Cause series: destruction, movement, scale,
  • No Man's Sky: mostly exploration ("which very quickly got boring"),

I'm not mentioning constant risk open world games such as survival games, which force you to do things. I'm considering what makes a player play a game, without forcing them to play.

It seems like sandbox games are also a good example for this question. What I assume based on the described examples is, people like having control, and they like a constant curiosity drive.

But, that's just my opinion. What, in your opinion, makes games like these good and enjoyable? Do you think a good open world game can be made with little to no mechanics, and still be enjoyable? If so, do you have an example or an existing game that shows this? Do you think a game needs a definite storyline and a finish to be good, and if not, what defines such a game?
« Last Edit: February 19, 2019, 09:22:02 AM by szczm_ » Logged

NovaSilisko
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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2019, 04:45:33 PM »

  • No Man's Sky: mostly exploration ("which very quickly got boring")
This is kind of tangential what you were asking about, but I feel an urge to opine, here, being someone making an exploration-focused space game  Tongue

In simplest terms, I think No Man's Sky made exploration boring because, first and foremost, the things that were there to explore simply weren't interesting enough. And, perhaps realizing this, the developers piled on lots and lots of "interesting" things (like random annoyances of needing XYZ resources to continue, random attacks by pirates/sentinels, etc) to attempt to compensate for that fact. And through overexposure, what would ordinarily just be "uninteresting" turns into a boring, repetitive chore to get through.

I guess I can tie this back into your original topic. A big part of an open world, for me, is being able to find what there is to find, and to feel like you've accomplished something by doing so. There's kind of a sweet spot for the ideal amount of effort it should take to feel fulfilling. Not neccessarily just side-quests, items, etc, but little details and cool things to see - be they developer-made in a typical game, or algorithmically produced in a procedural world.

And, I guess more straightforwardly, being able to approach different gameplay challenges in different ways with a larger "work area" than you might have in a typical FPS environment, for example.

I feel like I have more to say but I am groggy and experiencing eye-strain so I'll shut myself up here before I say something silly.[/list]
« Last Edit: February 20, 2019, 04:59:28 PM by NovaSilisko » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2019, 12:42:07 AM »

If the world has strong characters and so an interesting story, I'm in. (The Witcher 3, GTA V, Assassins Creed Odissey).
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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2019, 11:12:43 AM »

I don't play a great many open-world games, so perhaps take my thoughts with a grain of salt--I'm perhaps not the target audience in this case. That said, my thoughts here are about why I don't usually feel drawn to open-world games, and the few exceptions to that fact, so perhaps they'll be useful.

For the most part, open-world games don't interest me. They seem so... empty, to me, and the things to do in them repetitive, mechanical, and/or sparse.

For example, look at Morrowind. Leaving aside the core mechanics, that game felt really great at first: I stepped out of a small town into the wilds, and almost immediately found a little cave with a few enemies and some loot. That was a really good starter cave, I think! And there was more to be found in an underwater cave nearby.

But over time, it became clear that there were only a few types of thing to be found. I might stumble on an abandoned fortress--but it was pretty much the same as the other abandoned fortresses that I'd seen. One cave-dungeon looked similar to another. And so on. I found little of interest to be seen, traipsing around the world.

Don't mistake me: there was plenty of interest along the main quest-line, and the various biomes were neat. If the game had been just those (and had some of its mechanics reworked) I might have very much enjoyed it.

Having seen footage of other open-world games--Horizon: Zero Dawn; the new Spider-man; and so on--I feel similarly, perhaps more so. The side-quests look like much the same thing, over and over again. There seems to be little of real interest to discover just exploring around. And so on.

But there are open-world games that I've really enjoyed.

Two that come to mind are Ultima IX (yes, IX) and Ultima VII. In both cases, I think, the world was relatively small, and relatively packed with neat things to find. Some of it was just stuff to stumble upon--no quest, just... there. A large chessboard-like thing out in the open, or a little pirate's island with treasure.

I played Ultima IX more recently than VII, so I recall it more clearly. And one thing that I very clearly recall (perhaps in part because I tweeted about it) was that I just kept finding interesting things to see and do. I kept seeing something and being pulled towards it to find out what it was.

A lone tower in the middle of nowhere, with a "mad mage" who had developed a spell-scroll that you could loot. A set of faces carved into a rocky prominence, with no apparent interactivity, nor explanation for their presence. A lone hermit in the middle of nowhere who could teach you a weapon technique. A little cave hiding an invisible unique weapon. An isolated grave. And so on and on.

There was so much cool stuff to find, packed tightly into the world!

To close with a meatier example, let me tell a little story:

As part of the main quest, I sought out the ruins of Empath Abbey, located in the mountains. Just nearby, at the mouth of the little valley in which it was set, I found an area with ice floes--not something often encountered, as far as I recall. Exploring these, careful of the water (deep water results in swift drowning in this game), I encountered a few Ice Hounds--nothing too difficult, but neat. There was also an abundance of sapphires, lodged in the ice.

Making my way further out, I found a taller chunk of ice--and hovering above that, a great blue dragon. I fought it, defeated it--and was rewarded with treasure--plus a rather useful icy sword.

This encounter has no (apparent) story attached to it. It's not a side-quest. Nothing points you explicitly towards it. It's just something that you might stumble upon, out in the wilderness. And if you do, and if you explore it, and if you defeat the dragon, you get loot, plus an item that's not overly common.

(Of course, the rewards needn't be loot; a neat piece of lore can serve too, I think.)

That, I think, illustrates what I like in an open world: lots of things to discover at nearly every turn, things not always obvious, variety in the experiences offered, and ideally some neat rewards given for finding and interacting with them.
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szczm_
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« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2019, 09:22:57 AM »

Thank you for these long and amazing answers Smiley

In simplest terms, I think No Man's Sky made exploration boring because, first and foremost, the things that were there to explore simply weren't interesting enough. And, perhaps realizing this, the developers piled on lots and lots of "interesting" things (like random annoyances of needing XYZ resources to continue, random attacks by pirates/sentinels, etc) to attempt to compensate for that fact. And through overexposure, what would ordinarily just be "uninteresting" turns into a boring, repetitive chore to get through.

I guess you're right about that. I think the main problem with No Man's Sky is the problem of how the developers vs the audiences sees the game. While the game was basically a hyped-up heightmap generator with extra steps, it was promoted as an open world space exploration game, and when people (or I) hear "open world space exploration" and see beautiful planets with lush environments, they (okay, I) think COLONIZATION! SPACE BATTLES! EVERYTHING IS ALIEN AND UNIQUE! IT'S REAL SPACE™! and all those other sci-fi fairytales we've read, watched and drooled over. When the game came out, we got few tree/animal/rock models with variations, palette swaps and, as you mentioned, resource grinding. I've also heard (and seen) that NMS got a whole lot better since it's release, partially fulfilling all those fantasies I've mentioned — but we all know it for how it was (falsely) advertised at the beginning.

And, I guess more straightforwardly, being able to approach different gameplay challenges in different ways with a larger "work area" than you might have in a typical FPS environment, for example.
So to extend what I said in my original post, besides the curiosity, it's giving players control and freedom, would you agree?

That, I think, illustrates what I like in an open world: lots of things to discover at nearly every turn, things not always obvious, variety in the experiences offered, and ideally some neat rewards given for finding and interacting with them.

It seems like we're on the same page — discovery and feeling in control. This is also fascinating, because the things you mentioned you discovered in Ultima were your own discoveries, but (besides the tutorial and basic introduction on how to play the game) you were not, in any way, pushed by the games towards those discoveries? Of course, I'm skipping the facts that you (probably) had to have means to get there, as in a bridge/road/pathways, and also as in equipment to eventually defend yourself on your way there.
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« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2019, 09:47:09 AM »

Thank you for these long and amazing answers Smiley

It's my pleasure for my part. ^_^

It seems like we're on the same page — discovery and feeling in control.

I think so, indeed. Combined, we might speak of feeling "free to discover"--there are no markers saying "interesting thing here!"; there are just interesting things scattered around, sometimes with hints (e.g. vague treasure maps), sometimes without.

This is also fascinating, because the things you mentioned you discovered in Ultima were your own discoveries, but (besides the tutorial and basic introduction on how to play the game) you were not, in any way, pushed by the games towards those discoveries? Of course, I'm skipping the facts that you (probably) had to have means to get there, as in a bridge/road/pathways, and also as in equipment to eventually defend yourself on your way there.
Pretty much as you say, yes, I believe! Some things might be spotted on the way to main-quest regions--you might be walking the road to a dungeon, and spot an isolated grave at the edge of a cliff, for example. Others you might find only because you decided to explore, or found some hint. I recall that I discovered those faces carved into stone because I decided to see what was near a set of lakes that were otherwise off of my path. (I also discovered an enemy guarding a magical weapon in a little cave, while I was at it!)

Means was involved. Some places were only accessible via boat; near the start of the game exploration is limited by a conveniently-blocked cave; other places had tough enemies. But it opened up over time, and was nicely exploratory throughout--even in the tutorial region for that matter, I feel!
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« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2019, 06:35:52 AM »

I don't really like open world games, but i think what i like about a few of them is systemic gameplay.
What i'm talking about is, that there are a bunch of elements that interact with each other and you, as a player can use the combination of elements in the world in creative ways.
For example, in breath of the wild, you can take advantage of the weather. If it's raining, puddles can form on the ground, which you can shoot with electic arrow and electrolute enemies.
There is actually a good game-design video about this:

.
I also like GTA, because it's just fun to traverse to world in different ways, finding fun stuff etc.
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« Reply #7 on: March 10, 2019, 05:01:31 PM »

I don't play open world games myself, so I might be totallly wrong in my assumptions. But I think at the core, the appeal for open world games as a player is the idea of "becoming someone important in the world". This can mean, that you are the witcher, saving people from monsters. In sandbox games like Minecraft it could also be understood as "the world changes to my will" and from that you get the feeling of importance.
I also want to emphasize the word "becoming", because I believe for these games a sort of underdog role in the beginning is necessary to motivate the player ("fighting against the odds" and such). In the Witcher not everyone likes or cares about your existence and in Minecraft early on monsters, hunger etc. can kill you pretty easily. I think it's most rewarding for the player to see how his/her decision to change something (even something small) affects the world in a big way.

This is different from a linear story game, as the changes to the world can and (should in some cases) have unexpected side effects. Like a random NPC talking about what you did in another town. Or the player finding an old mine while digging a hole and getting ambushed by monsters.
Also the player doesn't just want to play the story. The player wants to rewrite the story.
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« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2019, 09:38:12 AM »

I don't really like open world games, but i think what i like about a few of them is systemic gameplay.

Are you familiar with the "immersive sim" genre? If not, it might be of interest to you, as it seems like the sort of thing that you're describing. ^_^
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« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2019, 02:11:37 PM »

Quote
Are you familiar with the "immersive sim" genre?

I wasn't. thx Smiley
It's not exactly my cup of tea though. I feel like these games try to be realistic and have deep stories, but i'm more about fun sandboxes where you can toy around. Like zelda, hitman etc.
I liked some games i've found while searching for this term, like bioshock, but i liked these games for other reasons, then their different ways to approach stuff.
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« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2019, 09:39:16 AM »

I wasn't. thx Smiley
It's not exactly my cup of tea though. I feel like these games try to be realistic and have deep stories, but i'm more about fun sandboxes where you can toy around. Like zelda, hitman etc.
I liked some games i've found while searching for this term, like bioshock, but i liked these games for other reasons, then their different ways to approach stuff.

Fair enough! I think that I better understand what sort of thing you're looking for now. And I'm glad to at least raise awareness of the "immersive sim" genre a little--I feel that it's not a well-known genre. ^_^
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« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2019, 02:48:31 AM »

Also my first post in the forums lul

No Man's Sky is a failure of Game Design because its large scale exploration was made for the sake of exploration and nothing else. In that note, the things to explore were far too static and unexciting.
There are millions of planets to explore but each of them yield almost the same things outside of a few materials. It feels like it betrays the core of the game.

A game is the sum of all its parts, every mechanic and part of the game must have something that connects it to its entirety. I'd say a proper open world game must flow properly. This is also true of non open world games.
A proper open world game must fit the intent and mechanics of your game. If it's a wacky game, make a wacky world. If it's a unforgiving game, make an unforgiving world. Atmosphere and a sense of things fitting perfectly helps quite a lot.
The desire to explore only comes if your game has something interesting to explore. If the parts of the game's world complement the mechanics of the game well, I'd say that's a great first step.

Terraria does this greatly, if you'd consider that an open world game.
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« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2019, 02:27:29 PM »

@LunaTeo
What would you find exciting and non static things when we explore ?
New bosses, new ennemies to discover ?
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« Reply #13 on: March 26, 2019, 07:37:19 AM »

@LunaTeo
What would you find exciting and non static things when we explore ?
New bosses, new ennemies to discover ?

The "world" itself, I'd say. I'm being pseudo-philosophical here, but as much as we're part of the world itself everything inside the game world is part of its "world".
New enemies, bosses, and locations are part of it. The challenge is making these things interesting enough for the player to interact with them, and how to make them interesting depends on the intent of your game and how you'll design it.
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