Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
When Open World Goes Wrong

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 30 Jul 2013 12:00
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So my spurious unresearched speculation about Ride To Hell proved to be entirely correct, as my correspondents - by which I mean Wikipedia - revealed that it was, indeed, originally intended to be an open world game. Obvious, in retrospect: it has all the features of one, except for, you know, an open world. Hybrid driving and armed/unarmed combat gameplay (well, more lying side by side than hybridized, but whatevs), upgrade shops that look like they're supposed to be mobile, an anomalous proportion of sex workers among the female population, and the plot structure involves going from colorful character to colorful character and doing odd jobs for them until they pass you onto the next character in the network.

Would being open world have saved Ride To Hell at all? Nopedy nope. There's still the janky physics, awful graphics, humiliatingly bad voice acting and horrible design before you even get as far as the plot. But the thing is, that question, that one at the start of this paragraph, is a completely useless one. Ride To Hell is bad BECAUSE it was trying to be open-world. It failed because in trying to make it open world - which, for those of you outside the inner circle of game development, is quite hard - the creators overreached themselves and everything collapsed around them.

One thing that stuck out at me about this year's E3 was the number of games being shown off for next-gen consoles that are going the open world route. New IP like Sunset Overdrive and Watch Dogs, old IP like MGS5 and Mirror's Edge 2, as well as the already open-world staples like Assassin's Creed and Infamous. I suppose there can be few better ways to show off the sheer testicle-terrifying power of the PS4/Xbone than by rendering entire cities at once. But does this represent a positive development?

Partly this is the ongoing problem I have with AAA - games being obliged to serve the interests of the console, one of my current favorite argue points, and feeling they have to push graphics and spectacle to the limit regardless of whether it serves the gameplay or the plot or the general tone of the game they want to make. It's also that I don't want everything to become open world any more than I wanted all triple-A gameplay to merge into the grey linear action-adventure cover shooting blob it currently exists in. I am a special multicolored snowflake of a man who passes through various different moods and I want games of all kinds that serve all those moods.

And there are inherent problems in open-world gameplay, most importantly the fact that it's absolutely disastrous for pacing. So after the penultimate mission the villain stands atop the Statue of Liberty dangling the hero's love interest off one arm and the hero's dog off the other and calls the hero out to come join him for the epic final encounter, whereupon the hero decides it's such a lovely day he might as well do a couple of a race and exploration challenges and maybe take one of the other love interests out on an optional bagel-purchasing mission. And on the flip side of the coin is the other thing open world games do too often - fail to understand that the most basic principle is to make the open world fun to get around, rather than just a dull commute between story missions.

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