Are Open World Games Made for our Need for Freedom?

What’s the difference between Tetris and Assassin’s Creed? It doesn’t take a gamer to see that they are worlds apart in genre, complexity, mechanics and look. One relies on pure logic and dexterity while the other is an exploration adventure game with elements of action. And it’s precisely this kind of exploration adventure game that is all the hype nowadays, providing the open world experience players crave.


The quality of a modern exploration adventure game is judged by two elements – plot and immersiveness. Plot refers to the story and backbone of the game – your character’s motivation and journey. Immersiveness refers to the reproduction of a reality that players can explore at their whim, whether fictional or historical. And this type of simulation isn’t unique to video games – it’s been around since the beginning of fiction in all other forms of media. It’s the reason why you can identify strongly with the protagonist of a book or movie.

HOW REALISTIC DO GAMES HAVE TO BE?


Are game worlds then considered more immersive if they are extremely realistic? Interestingly, what consumers consider an immersive world little to do with how realistically objects and settings in the world are portrayed. Instead, it’s the rules that govern interactions in the world and the limitations (or lack thereof) of the environment that makes all the difference. So how much freedom do we need to create a satisfying virtual reality?



The golden rule, as well said by Art Director Benoit Martinez, is to make sure a player feels like the master of their choices. The moment they stop feeling in control of their fate in the world, ‘the world becomes a decoration, and the illusion shatters.” When players encounter a perceptible ‘border’ or some form of limit in their virtual world, they are snapped back into reality. People love open worlds because of the assurance of existing in a universe so vast that they believe they will almost never encounter its limits. The most ideal of open worlds don’t even follow a chronology of events – players are encouraged to wander and experience a non-linear timeline.


People love open worlds because of the assurance of existing in a universe so vast that they believe they will almost never encounter its limits.

There’s also a limit to what gamemakers can simulate, and even the most well-loved open worlds have pretty ridiculous elements that are a far cry from real life. For instance, one doesn’t just pick up ammo as they would pick lilies and eating apples will not heal battle wounds in real life. It’s on the player to respect arbitrary game logic to fully enjoy the experience. But within these rules, the player can explore vast expanses of land as if it were reality and be continually delighted by beautiful sights and events.



According to Aristotle, the purpose of tragedy was to deliver human experiences one did not necessarily have access to in real life. Similarly, video games allow the player to rub shoulders with death, violence and all sorts of perils we’re fortunately sheltered from in real life. This freedom to indulge can be pushed a step further an open world game, where environments are designed such that players can figure out what happened from a glance (based on the placement of objects, details and architecture) and decide on their own how to deal with the perils ahead. The more diverse the events a player experiences, the more they feel that the world is truly open.


HOW ARE OPEN WORLDS MADE?


When Ubisoft developed Ghost Recon Wildlands, the team spent a fortnight in Bolivia, filming, taking photos and meeting the locals, resulting in a largely realistic game world. The world contained 11 different biomes made from the environmental data collected on the trip. The realistic landscape needed to have human activity, and the human activity must be culturally consistent with the landscape. The humans, space, environment and weather all affect the type of gameplay. A lot of buildings, accessories and details must be generated to make the environment coherent, many of which players will not pay attention to, but will notice if they were not there. Needless to say, a massive amount of highly detailed work is required to build an open world.


An open world is complete when a player stops for a while to watch a sunset or look down a cliff or mountain. When they can rediscover little pleasures in the world on a daily basis, the world is sufficiently complex.

At which point then, do we stop? When is an open world considered satisfactory? Martinez has an interesting answer – he considers an open world complete when a player stops for a while to watch a sunset or look down a cliff or mountain. When they can rediscover little pleasures in the world on a daily basis, the world is sufficiently complex.


THE FUTURE OF OPEN WORLDS


And yet, we’re still far from reaching the pinnacle of open world games. In the past, a huge part of development is still done tediously by hand. Today, there are an increasing number of mathematical models that can do simple design work. Algorithms are now able to define roads, design terrain meaningfully and interestingly, and free up some of developers’ time for new ideas or larger worlds. Machine learning is also helping games become a more personalized experience for players by constantly collecting feedback. Even making the tools of creation accessible to all is possible now, but would players want to mix a creative experience with a gaming experience? Platform games like these do exist, but a significant group of players prefer to have fun within what professionals have imagined for them. Would they think differently with respect to an open world? And if the point of an open world is to surprise players, will giving them exactly what they want remove the element of fascination? The ideal formula remains to be found.


The craze over open worlds is a milestone in video game history and a resounding response to a player’s need for freedom. At the same time, players continue to expect a strong narrative despite the non-linearity of open worlds, meaning that the conversation between storytelling and open worlds has just begun. The future of video games has never been more open, and we can’t wait to see what’s to come.


This article is adapted and translated from Ubisoft Stories. Please find the original source here.

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