Sunday Thoughts: An Open Future?

With the hype and the build for most games now it can often become hard to try and remember just how a game was built after its release. Many of them blur together for me now, trailers and PR stunts mashing together into a mass of game information that could refer to just about anything. However, I have very distinct memories of the build up to the original Assassin’s Creed, the information that slowly trickled out of Ubisoft between announcement and release sticks in my mind.

It wasn’t the story or the hints at the existence of the Animus that intrigued me, it wasn’t even the setting or the fight mechanics. No, it was the scale and the scope of the world they were building, the freedom they were giving you and, very particularly, the way they were building their crowds.

[drop]For me there’s no game that does crowds as well as the Assassin’s Creed series, no-one who manages to populate the world so diversely and make it feel like there’s some actual life in this city apart from you. Sure, games like Grand Theft Auto have had civilians populating a city for far, far longer but they never really feel like they’re doing much; they just exist in the world to fill it up.

I’ve never got this feeling from Assassin’s Creed, there’s a hustle and a bustle to the world that somehow makes it feel like those who inhabit it with you have a purpose, have a destination in mind. That’s not to say they actually vanish at the appropriate times or ever really reach the end of their journey, as far as I know you can follow any character within the game indefinitely.

This new technology that was first on show in the first Assassin’s Creed title was something that just stuck with me during the game’s development, and has been one of the driving reasons that I’ve enjoyed the series since then. It was also one of the games that, to me at least, showcased the raw horse power of this generation, with Ubisoft actually saying that the crowd dynamics which help define the series just weren’t possible until the current console hardware came into being.

There are of course many games that have capitalised on that same processor grunt since, with open world titles seeming to be becoming one of the distinctive flavours of this generation. They’ve always been around really, but the number and spectrum of games employing the mechanic does seem to be on the rise now. That does leave me wondering whether or not they’ll become increasingly common as consoles and PCs continue to improve the hardware that’s on offer.

I’m not sure how I’d feel about that really, it’d certainly be interesting. Would an open world shooter work? Whilst the heavy hitters in the Call of Duty series have become increasingly driven and linear, there have been hints of openness in the Halo series amongst others.

Initially it seemed to me that an open world shooter probably wouldn’t work all that well, but there was Far Cry 2. The open plains of Africa were the setting, and it seemed to be not just a fresh take on shooter but on open worlds themselves to some extent. Perhaps there is hope for completely open shooters, although with the number of games taking cues from Call of Duty at this point it may be a while before we see them.

[drop2]There are those who may well argue against an open world title due to the lack of a driven narrative, but I feel they’re as story focused as you want them to be. If you want to do all the side missions or, to take an example of something I’d certainly never do, spend two hours randomly stabbing guards then obviously the story isn’t going to feel as fast paced but it’s still there. Yes, earlier open world titles may have had weaknesses in the story but that simply isn’t the case now, they really can compete with anything that a very linear, contained approach to gameplay and story telling can offer.

I’m not convinced that we’ll ever get close to openness in every game of course, it would be horribly dull for a start, but I do think that the flexibility that comes with added power will make them feature a lot more heavily in the future of gaming than they have in its past. Personally I welcome this open future, although I recognise not every one will. Hopefully the design of open world games will evolve to remove the issues commonly brought up by detractors, typically the story element outlined above or repetition, to improve the gaming landscape for the good.



  1. The likes of Borderlands, Rage and even Fallout indicate open world shooters are already here to me.
    I reckon Skyrim did the best open world, although I still prefer my games more linear and driven.

    What was interesting to me this year was LA Noire- fully open world, yet with a very linear and driven story. And it worked, although the open world felt almost like window dressing. I’d love to see what the PS4 or Terry could do to that game. It just needed more to do outside of the (excellent) main story.

    I thought the real turning point for open world games this gen could be Burnout Paradise. Which fan of the PS2 series saw that shift coming? And that it would work to the extent it did?

    • One more thought:
      Is a game one open world, or one larger than usual level?
      Wouldn’t an open world mean you can pick one direction, travel in that direction only, and return to the original position you started at?

      • I thought Open World mean Sandbox? Such as Prototype, LA Noire, Fallout, Skyrim, AC

    • Burnout Paradise was awesome. Love Burnout.

      For some reason in my mind I had this generation laid out as every game being open world and generally awesome, now look where we are. Sure, there is definitely amazing open world experiences to be had – the best ever, possibly – but this generation has certainly been all about the rise of linearity and DLC

      Btw, you talking about Terry Tibbs? ;)

    • I disagree entirely, with your LA Noire point anyway, to me, it didn’t work at all, there was very little to do in the open world, and it was boring to explore. I think it should have been linear, would have worked much better for me. I also didn’t like Paradise, I much preferred Burnout 3. Fallout and Skyrim however, I think are fantastic, Red Dead was fantastic too. Although I don’t think I’d class fallout as a shooter, it doesn’t really handle the shooty bits that well for me, VATS is definitely the best, and usually the only way of dispatching people for me.

  2. Personally I like a mix of oen-world and linear story based.

    Too much of one becomes boring.

    I like big sprawling games ala Skyrim but sometimes you just want to kick back and go with the flow ala Uncharted/Call of Duty and enjoy the story/explosions respectively.

    Also the fact is open worlds by there very definition aren’t quite as polished, again look at Fallout/Skyrim and to lesser extents Rockstars games and the weird bugs.

    • This is where I am as well. I like a good open world to explore and play in, but I also appreciate a tightly paced linear story. To jump off Colmshan’s mention of Burnout Paradise, I felt the open world detracted from the game. Too much driving to missions took the fun out of it for me. Some things just don’t need an open world. When done well though, as in Assassins Creed, it can be very compelling.

      • Oh yeah, I preferred the older style of the PS2 games (and Legends on PSP, which is the best in the series).
        Although I have to say the too much driving bit wasn’t the issue, as the moving in and out of menus was cut out, and loading times reduced. For me, there were too many routes. Racing became less skill, and more Paradise City knowledge. And if you fell off a bridge or took a wrong turn it was race over, even if you didnt crash, which was unfair..

  3. i think the current range of games is at a good point of balance, you have on one hand Minecraft with its massive (literal) sandbox and on the other you have the tightly scripted action of CoD and various other stuff-goes-boom games, shove in between those extremes games like Fallout, Skyrim and Uncharted and youve got what we have today: something for everyone ;)

  4. one day i’d like to see a game where the whole world is procedurally genarated, much as in minecraft, but it’s also populated with NPCs, building, cities, villages, and with quests/missions also generated procedurally generated to suit the game.

    imagine if something like skyrim with it’s radiant quest system was tied to an infinite terrain generator, with rules for placing NPCs, building and dungeons.

    not only could the game world be a lot vaster, but the cost of creating the game would be reduced, you wouldn’t have to painstakingly create an entire game world, no need to place every stone manually, don’t put down every bit of gress yourself, don’t wonder if that’s a good place for every tree.
    just let all that be generated on the fly.

    one good and bad thing about that is that, potentially, every player would have a totally unique world.

    and a game the size of skyrim could become a relatively small download,
    you wouldn’t need the whole world with the download, just the rules for creating one.
    it would only get bigger on the player’s machine as the world is generated around the player.

    it could be an antidote to spiraling development costs as well.
    though it wouldn’t be suited to all games.

    • I think that might be a good approach to budget games.
      BUT, that system doesn’t sound good for storylines.
      I can’t imagine Skyrim would be any good without the main quest, the main questlines such as the various Guilds, etc.
      Misc quests just don’t stack up to the others.
      Although, if it were just a cheap downloadable game, could be worth a look.

      • Well in that case wouldn’t it just mean having a better, more comprehensive engine for generating quests?
        It could be done, it would just require a lot of work and ‘bulletproof’ cause and event programming with some triggers/flags thrown in to avoid repetition.
        In short, right now it would take more effort than it’s worth, but it’s possible.

    • I’m with you to a large degree on this Hazel, I’ve thought for a long time that dev’s could cut development costs by using fractals and procedural generation a lot more. If they don’t use something along those lines for Dust 514 we’re gonna end up with a universe of planets bought from Ikea.

  5. I love open world games, but I like linear games as well. I just don’t want to see games like Uncharted or Mass Effect disappear, I’ll always have time for both types of games and I just think that the very nature of an open world games doesn’t suit several genres.
    However, I really really enjoyed Skyrim and Fallout 3 so, yeah…

  6. I ideally prefer a mix of the two type of games, open world and strictly linear games. Linear games tend to have more action and a direct story. Where the open world games let you create your own pace to the action and story. When these two are mixed together you get a great result, Demons Souls for example, it’s linear in level design but also has an open world feel to it.

  7. I really like the type of open where its spilit into like different Areas… ironically I’ve only known to have played two.. I believe its a feat for Playstation with Soul Reaver really loved that game and then you have Dark Souls which was quite similar. Different directions really you could go I guess. Theres just something special to discover things in many worlds.

    Traveling to the Dark Forest or to the Lair of Mechiach in the Necropolis (Soul Reaver) is so special to me.

  8. I love open world games, especially Skyrim. The only thing I’d prefer is a better way of drip-feeding missions, I do find I get bogged down with side quests and the main story gets left behind.

    • Agreed, it’s almost like they need their own version of L4D’s director to analyse the players progress and adjust accordingly.

  9. I don’t really mind if a game is entirely linear or sandbox/open world in nature, so long as it is good. Plenty of room for either in my book and I enjoy both. As devices both allow for very different experiences, neither more valuable than the other.

  10. Great article. I loved Far Cry 2 at the time, sure it had plenty of problems, but the sheer scope was marvelous – I’m hotly anticipating FC3. Could you imagine Mass Effect with a buzzing AC like capital city? I could, and a sandbox Mass Effect title would really be quite awesome. The choice and mucking about with things that don’t really matter are do it for me.

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