Taking Over the Open World

openworldHi, I’m Mike. I make games. This is my new blog: somewhere to put up the random thoughts I have that are too big for twitter. You can follow me by heading here.

So, my first post. I think I’d like to talk about the open world genre. There’s been a bit of a spate of them recently, hasn’t there? I’ve just completed inFamous, and have started digging into Red Faction (something I’ll be continuing with straight after this). The thing that hits me with both these games is, well, how much better they are than what’s gone before.

It kind of feels like we’ve hit the third generation of the 3D open world game. GTA3 started something, with an enormous, engaging and streaming world that everyone wanted to explore and overcome. The gangster setting and humor were great, and of course impressed everyone. But that wasn’t the point. After years of being shuffled down endless (if beautiful) corridors, players felt freed. The word ‘Holodeck’ was used, and we all felt like a virtual world where we could do anything suddenly took a big step closer. As a teenager receiving the game as a ‘well done on your GCSEs’ gift (lets skip over my parents’ flagrant disregard for age restrictions for the moment) it blew my mind.

GTA3 also sold. Really bloody well. So everyone started making these crazy big worlds. But the games which followed had lost something in duplication. It would seem that lightning couldn’t be trapped twice. Towards the end of this trend we saw games which took an open world setting, but layered on something new with varied success. Spiderman 2 was surprisingly good on the consoles, possibly because it didn’t try to copy carjacking and gun play. Those that did (including GTA3’s two second gen sequels) piled on complications and surplus mechanics, until the player became bogged down, or worse, overwhelmed.

GTA4, for me at least, was a welcome return to the simple pleasure of exploration and violent crime in GTA3. I had a lot of fun with it, and spent quite a few evenings playing the cops and robbers mode with friends. A year on, and I think inFamous and Red Faction: Guerrilla just trumped it. Here’s some thoughts on how…

  • Real, measurable, ownership of the world: Both games (more so with RF) really push the idea of taking over the game space. Taking part in activities in the world pushes out bad guys, and leads to permanent(ish) displacement. Far Cry 2 had respawning enemies, and even though that was the norm in the FPS genre, open world fans really rebelled. It looks like the guys at Volition and Sucker Punch were reading the blogs. By slowly handing over the space to the player’s control, the designers have ensured a constant feeling of progression, and a near Pokemon like ‘gotta catch em all’ mentality in the player. Smart
  • Unashamed game status: Both these games have a lot of HUD. both feature heavy, and obvious, mathematical feedback. The player is constantly scoring pickups for kills, collectibles, and morale/morality. There is a trend of removing HUD and scores for a more *shudder* cinematic experience (something for another post). This has crept into open world games. The Getaway is an obvious example, but GTA4 is also guilty of it. There’s also a thematic shift in GTA4, a darker, realer world. I say screw it. I want to have fun. Both these games allow me to play with their mechanics and worlds.
  • Considered and consistent game logic: All activities in both games flow from a simple, core, design idea. inFamous lets me use electricity, and Red Faction lets me blow everything up. The designers have expanded and developed those core ideas, without piling on distractions. inFamous in particular is a great example. All gameplay, story and art flows from that core game design idea. The player’s goals are always related to the protagonist’s story, or to collecting energy. It’s all about me. Little things betray how core the design of this game was. In stealth missions, it could have been really frustrating working out where that 4 pixel high enemy was looking, but in this game, you only ever stealth follow the enemy type with a large flashlight on their head (read Metal Gear Solid style vision cone). Fall in water, you short out. It all ties together beautifully. Can’t explore an area, it is of course tied to your power: there’s no energy supply there. Nothing in inFamous feels haphazard or ill thought through (which is more than can be said for this paragraph).

I could gush some more, but I love both these games. There’s a lot of really impressive design at work, and a lot of great inspiration for those looking. Can we do better though? What happens next in the open world genre? go on… comment.. I dare ya 😀

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5 Responses to “Taking Over the Open World”


  1. 1 Dr. Mike Reddy July 3, 2009 at 7:21 am

    … Played the latter yet?

  2. 3 Dr. Mike Reddy July 3, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Sorry. Sent from my iPhone and it got scrammed. What it should say is:

    Not comparing inFamous with Prototype? A daring first post, Sir! Many are split between inFamous and Prototype. Have you played the latter?”

    please delete first broken comment if you need to.


  1. 1 Indian Handicrafts » Taking Over the Open World Trackback on July 2, 2009 at 9:36 pm

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