Broad­en­ing hori­zons


The term ‘open world’ has come to be as­so­ci­ated with a very spe­cific type of game. Grand Theft Auto, Watch Dogs and In­fa­mous: Sec­ond Son all con­form to that nar­row def­i­ni­tion, of­fer­ing you a city full of mis­sions and sid­e­quests that’s also pop­u­lated by a smat­ter­ing of re­silient, if not very in­tel­li­gent, civil­ians. But choice in these games is of­ten il­lu­sory. You might be able to go any­where, but is there any­thing to do when you get there?

This month show­cases a shift in think­ing as de­vel­op­ers be­gin to ap­proach open worlds in rad­i­cal new ways. The Chi­nese Room’s de­but, Dear Es­ther, was per­haps the an­tithe­sis of a freeform game, but the small team is tack­ling the prob­lem of player vo­li­tion and nar­ra­tive arcs in non­lin­ear games head on with Ev­ery­body’s Gone To The Rap­ture (p38). Its story is made up of many pieces scat­tered across a large area that can be ex­pe­ri­enced in any order and in­ves­ti­gated in the depth of your choos­ing. Play­ground Games’

Forza Hori­zon 2 (p44), mean­while, con­tin­ues the trend of racing games that don’t con­strain driv­ers to a cir­cuit and ac­tively en­cour­age short­cut im­pro­vi­sa­tion. And, of course, the cel­e­brated No Man’s Sky (p62) wants to give you an en­tire uni­verse to play in, with no par­tic­u­lar stip­u­la­tions as to what you do in it.

Per­haps the real change here, along­side ad­vances in pro­ce­dural tech­nol­ogy, is a grow­ing trust in play­ers’ abil­ity to make their own fun, rather than in­sist on the tasks and chal­lenges we must un­der­take, and the order in which they can be at­tempted. In that sense, Mario Maker (p56) can be grouped into the same spir­i­tual cat­e­gory, a sur­pris­ing ex­am­ple of Nin­tendo hand­ing play­ers ex­ten­sive au­tho­rial con­trol over the plat­form­ing gauntlets that pop­u­larised its beloved mas­cot.

There will al­ways be a place for tightly con­trolled, lin­ear ex­pe­ri­ences, but as de­vel­op­ers learn to build worlds and tools geared to­wards play­ers’ in­nate cu­rios­ity, games can only be­come richer as a re­sult.

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