On Exploration

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On Exploration

Yahtzee explains why Shadow of the Colossus was more than just "lame boss fights," and how other games compare.

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Agreed on Wind Waker. Yeah, you had to sail a long way, but it gave the world a nice feel, it wasnt like you had to save the big world of Gagagawoodoo (about 5 minutes to walk across the whole of it).

Yet another interesting article. The more recent EP articles are pretty good!

I agree with the sentiment that exploration has been underrated by some developers. It is the shit in Fallout 3 to just say, "Screw duty, I'm going to walk towards the sunset for a few days and see where I end up." Other "sandbox" games force you to constantly attend to duties back home, roping you in.

I disagree with the idea that GPS is bad. Even when I explore, I like to have an idea of where to go. That's why I liked the tickmarks in Fallout 3 and Oblivion, giving me some sense of important areas within a few hundred metres.

Metroid Prime absolutely nailed the first person exploration, its a shame the next two games got progressively more linear and story driven.

Yay to exploration. Freedom to explore in games is wonderful, hell, I even try to explore in linear games.

I absolutely love exploration in games. First thing I do in anything where I get control (even in movie DVDs) is fiddle around, and see what exactly I can and can't do, and Shadow of the Colossus is pretty much the pinnacle of that for me, with all the ancient ruins (like that small, abandoned village, which made me wonder "What happened here, and will I ever really know?"), lush wilderness, and open sky.

That, and the boss fights are pretty damn epic (contrary to the views of certain throttling-candidates).

Bioshock is one of my favorite games to explore because there's always something interesting to find in it.

I think Hitman blends stealth & exploration quite well. It's not a sprawling countryside, but many of the quieter or more creative assassinations require quite a bit of searching & investigation to reveal and carry out the key method of ending your target's life.

I'd also argue that at least for me, exploration was a fairly central part of Oblivion and Oblivion 2: With Guns! (Fallout 3). While you rarely had to explore, I sort of thought it was the point of the game, and Bethesda went to a lot of work creating content for you to discover. Exploration was also graphically gorgeous, frequently profitable, and loads more interesting than the main storyline.

I hate when people don't know what the article is about. *Looks at top post* read in one minute. Holy shit. Any who. I loved to explore in Borderlands for guns, I was soooo thrilled when I got a dark orange weapon from a chest.

Games that feature expolation prominantly are amoungst my favorites of all time. Arguable the first (and one of the best) exploration games in 3d space came with "Elite" who's whole mechanic was basically exploration, i still think it's beautyful in it's own way becuase of that pure distilled sense of sapce exploration that modern games like Mass Effect sadly crush into a fine fine dust.

More recently the landscape of outer Pripyat, Limask, Rostok and of course Chernobyl have been my haunts for exploration. The lose structure of the STALKER games makes expolring very desireable and very effecting to the soul. The bleak beauty and sense of isolation punctuated by moments of pure adrenaline and wonderous discovery are what exploration should be about.

I agree with you on this! I always said that the great thing about Thief is that it seems like the map is designed independently from what you actually have to do, and the game simply drops you into this and tells you to complete some objects by whatever means necessary.

However, linear games can be good, if done well. A lot of linear games seem to suffer the problem of giving either a frustratingly thin path to follow, or in games like Splinter Cell, what you have to do isn't entirely obvious until you've already attempted everything else that the game simply won't let you do. I think linear can be good when you follow the path seamlessly, without really thinking about, the game naturally guides you the way that you need to go.

Half-Life 2 and Portal do this well, and they incorporate all sorts of things like... lighting, sound, characters, dialogue and any sort of narrative to guide you along a certain path. It's interesting hearing how they did this in the developer commentary. A good example is in Portal when they wanted a clear distinction between the tiles you can shoot portals onto and the tiles you can't, so they intentionally gave them a dull surface so that the player would automatically look for the familiar tile to shoot the portal onto. It'd be nice to see Yahtzee do an article on how linear elements are good if done properly.

Right off the bat, I agree with you. About throttling xSmootx, that is. As a fan of Kingdom of Loathing, I remember when he was a particularly notorious troll in that game's forums. It was truly rare for the Powers that Be to ban someone just for being annoying, but he was the exception.

There's something to be said for games that don't give you a giant waypoint all that time saying "go here, taking this exact path, in this fashion." These are all great examples of games that avoid such blatant hand-holding, though unfortunately now I think I may have to go replay Metroid Prime again...

Nice EP. Always love it when a game lets me get my inner explorer on.

Another GREAT exploration game is the under hyped always awesome minecraft. Not only do you have an entire infinite map to explore that generates terrain above and below ground but Notch (The sole developer and living god behind minecraft) managed to make that terain in all it's 8-bit blocky format, look as stunningly amazing as anything in Avatar. That plus rewarding your exploration with the resources your looking for makes this one of my favorite games to play.

If you've never heard of or played minecraft check it out at minecraft.net

if you need proof of it's awesomeness check out this video

I didn't like or dislike the exploration in Shadow of the Colossus. The vast bleak openness did set the mood on the way to each colossi but I never felt the need to go out of my way to "explore" since you will find each different kind of landmass (be it desert, mountain, woodland, lake etc) anyway on the way to each, thus once you've seen one you've seen them all.

The only instance I explored in the game was looking for what some people called "the colossal tree", which I did find and it was a very random addition. Not so much an easter egg, just something that sticks out. Perhaps if they had more minor editions like that it may have made the game world more appealing to trek WITHOUT being distracting to the original mood in the first place.

Now Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the few games where I actually wanted to search out and collect the various hidden items since you got unique dialogue and back story as opposed to just "a slight damage/armor/agility boost" or an achievement. Exploration worked very well in Fallout 3 due to the many unscripted missions such as the Dunwich Building, Toy Factory and the satiate silos. But of course that is a game built around exploration, so it's not really comparable to those in the discussion at hand.

Thief is one of my favorite series and finding that extra bit of gold tucked away in a secret compartment was always fun, I'm glad that Deadly Shadows didnt kill the series and I'm looking forward to the 4th installment.

I wouldn't call them fuckwits to be honest. People have different degrees of tolerance to exploration and too much of it can disconnect them from the game, like what happened to you when you were playing Morrowind (or at least it seemed in that ZP where you mentioned it that you didn't progress too far because of that).

Exploration is fine if you have 3 or 4 consecutive free days to completely immerse yourself in a game and wake up at 9 in the morning, wear your shorts, make yourself a gigantic cup of coffee and are prepared to take it all in. However, if you only have an hour or two to play and other shit on your mind, exploration can actually take you out of a game.

Exploration can be more engaging if two things happen:

1) The world you are exploring is so rich and detailed that you constantly discover cool new things.
2) The graphics are just so damn cool that you don't mind just bathing in them for hours at a time.

I wouldn't say SotC has any of those. The graphics were ok for 5 years ago, but now they seem really mediocre, and save for the occasional cool in-cave waterfall and tucked away forest that seems...weidly out of place, its world is largely empty and uninteresting, full of gray mountains and putrid vegetation. I personally had no interest in fucking around in there any longer than needed to find the next colossus. The travelling itself did have an impact on the game's feel and pacing, but I don't think it was as central to the gameplay as you claim it was.

In a SotC ZP I expected to hear more about minimalistic storytelling and character design and how some developers can just engage players emotionally with nothing other than atmosphere and a lingering feeling of crushing loneliness. The only two games that I have played that managed to do this with pretty much zero exposition are SotC and Demon's Souls and I think they both deserve special mention and analysis.

I like exploration, but it gets so tedious quickly if it's not optional. I can wonder and explore in games for hours but if it's imperative to advance the game it becomes a chore like 'kill X amount of Y'. I've never really extensively played these games though, but almost all of them at least a little bit and only Thief really compelled me to keep playing.

Also, I think there might be something wrong with the Escapist servers because the part about FSGTG is missing again.

Bioshock is one of my favorite games to explore because there's always something interesting to find in it.

Agreed, next to BioShock being my favourite game of all time thanks to its flawless merging of a superbly well-written plot and a beautiful, fully explorable, hostile environment where detail leaks seamlessly out of the very dingy walls of the utopia, I think Metroid Prime and Fallout 3 believe in effective exploration as a fundamental mechanic. The massive expanses of Fallout 3 really do emphasise the role of the player and places them in a believable, decrepit world, where every acre explored offers interesting insights for the player themselves. Metroid Prime I love because it was one of the first games I played to introduce me to the concept of being completely and utterly isolated in an explorable environment, and the joy of finding unlockable nooks and crannies after obligatory new-item-boss-encounters gives a true feeling of size to the world. Finally, I'm probably alone on this, but Final Fantasy XII I feel dealt with exploration incredibly well, though it came with an undeniable grind that the player has to endure.

Here is a brief list of games. Metroid Prime...

Oh god, you're going to get shit for that one. Not from me, I love those games... on the Wii!

Also, SotC was one of the best games I've ever played, but I would argue that the 'traveling' is the weakest part of that game. They have nothing special about landscape except that it was inspired by sepia. Yes, I'm going to bitch at a game for bad graphics when all it wants us to do is explore what I would call a weak excuse for a world. Myst did better than they did!

It's arguable that it isn't even exploring! They point you in a direction and you go that way. Metroid gave you a map, said, "Have fun!" and they dropped you a hint where you needed to go if it took you half an hour. And you could disable that!

I give props to SotC's boss battles and plot. Plot because I don't know of any story like it.

PS The ending to that game is soooo memorable, but it's a spoiler so I'm not going to say it. However, I still think I could of held on longer...


I think Hitman blends stealth & exploration quite well. It's not a sprawling countryside, but many of the quieter or more creative assassinations require quite a bit of searching & investigation to reveal and carry out the key method of ending your target's life.

Bah, ninja'd! I immediately thought of Hitman too, which was brilliant in that the areas didn't conflate hugeness with interest. They were at times cramped and intense, but with an awful lot of options with which to get shit done.

I somehow feel that that's a different type of exploration to, for example, SotC. With Hitman the exploration is all about replayability, so you do the mission once and then go back and replay it in a different way, exploring various options. By contrast, despite my huge affection for Shadow of the Colossus I've never felt the need to replay it because I feel that the type of exploration I did there opened it up to me and I know it in a way that can't be built upon. Not sure if that makes any sense!


I don't know.

There are games that do exploration well, but the rest of the time it seems to exists only to excuse a lack of content. Oblivion/with-guns smacked quite strongly of this. The quantity of content in morrowind was excused by the limitations of the format at the time. But subsequent games were expected to have more of everything and exponentially more content per square yard. Instead we got bigger worlds with less content and some dodgey voice acting. Oblivion-with-guns, for example, becoming more the search for more dialogue from the only decent talent in the cast than anything else. While all the side-content is just that. Random crap with no relevance to the story or purpose in establishing the world as real.

Another example of over-priced fluff standing directly in the way of making a bigger game with more to explore and do is mass effect and it's sequel. Instead of paying some guy to read off a couple thousand pages of flavor text, how about some more variety in missions, planets, and environments with more plot missions and missions that directly establish whats written/spoken in the codex?

We have the tools to make living, breathing worlds. In these worlds, hundreds of pages of text can be compressed into a single observable event. The bachelor party in me2, for example, gives more information and context on the asari than EVERYTHING written/spoken in the codex.

I think the exploration in Oblivion was very well done. Locations are unlocked once you find them and you can instantly beam to places you've already visited. Yes, it's not exactly realistic but really made me to explore. And normally I hate the concept of an open world.

I thought Yathzee was negative towards the use of plot/setting information being strewn around the game for the player to pick up along the way. Or maybe as long as the main story has been properly shown and explained the details about certain things related to the game world can provide with interesting insight in a positive way?

I've only played Shadow of the Colossus once, briefly. Everytime people mention it I become more interested in getting it. The few hours I was able to try out at a friend's place certainly made me interested. The Last Guardian in development for the PS3 is apparently a sequel. I have no idea how the project is fairing though, as information about it has stopped being announced.

Exploration has always been a major plus for me. The illusion of freedom can do wonders to one's immersion with the experience.

How exactly is Arkham Asylum based around exploration? The game is linear, and the most you can hope for in terms of exploration is backtracking ala Bioshock.

[quote="Yahtzee"]Also, SotC was one of the best games I've ever played, but I would argue that the 'traveling' is the weakest part of that game. They have nothing special about landscape except that it was inspired by sepia. Yes, I'm going to bitch at a game for bad graphics when all it wants us to do is explore what I would call a weak excuse for a world. Myst did better than they did!

Myst? Really, Myst? You can't be serious.

The daily prize for "Person I Most Want to Throttle," sounds extremely homo-erotic Yahtzee, or did you meant it to be that way? :D

And is it me, or is it cool as of late for people on the Escapist to disagree with every single article/video Yahtzee makes?

My absolute favourite Thief levels were the roof-top and tailing missions. I tried a lil roof-work in T:DS, but gave up in disgust when I finally wriggled my way up to a vantage point, looked down and realised that the world had all the depth of a Hollywood film set. *sigh*

ETA: Also, rope arrows. Need more rope arrows! :o

I do love how Extra Punctuation reveals that Yahtzee isn't just some casual sod who talks really fast and tells formulaic jokes, and this article definitely reinforces it.

A lot of my gamer friends don't understand my love of games like Silent Hill, Metroid Prime, and Windwaker. They claim all of those games are boring and repetitive, yet I pose the idea that they never even put forth 20 minutes of effort if they believe that. What's boring about a game where you are walking down the street, and suddenly enter a chase with a skinless dog that ends with you at the edge of a cliff at the town square? What's boring about a game where you can scan damn near every rock on the planet for a little tid-bit of knowledge about the game's universe? What's boring about a game that has you actually fucking sailing through storms over miles of in-game ocean with dozens of mysterious islands to explore? All of those games have made my favorites list with exploration being one of the biggest key factors. Unfortunately, I never had a PS2, so I've never had the chance to play SotC. I would absolutely love to, though, given the opportunity.

I enjoy exploration in games, but I wouldn't consider SotC as a great example of it. It is truth that you had a huge world to travel trought, but I didn't found it specially mandatory or rewarding to explore it, mostly because it was almost empty.

I preffer games like Fallout 3 or Zelda, were some tought and detail were given to every location, than something like SotC, Assasins Creed or Pure, which seems to be some small pieces or content surrounded by randomly generated landscape.

How exactly is Arkham Asylum based around exploration? The game is linear, and the most you can hope for in terms of exploration is backtracking ala Bioshock.

I wouldn't say that it's based around exploration so much as that it expects and rewards exploration. Exploration in this sense is closer to "searching for secrets" than "mapping the country".

I'd like to throw up a game to the mix that actually didn't get a lot of praise when it was out but I loved it for the exploration - Fuel, a 2007 release by Codemasters about post-apocalyptic racing dirt buggies and the like through an enormous open sandbox world.

The races were frustrating and the AI cheaty, and the game was a bit buggy at times but there was nothing more peaceful for me than picking my fave car, and just hurtling off into the wasteland with the GPS off to find a beauty spot, and to smash some fuel cans over. Given that you get fuel (money) for either doing races or smashing through cans laid out on the ground in the open world, it's possible to collect tonnes of cars by just exploring.

I know Yahtzee's not a fan of driving games, but if he or anyone else is understandably struck impoverished and can't afford more games when the November releases come around, I say go fool about in Fuel for a bit. You might like it.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Extra Punctuation: On Exploration

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer

This always makes me laugh, as it seems to strongly suggest that relocation is not only possible, but greatly desired.

But if you left the land of over-priced games, delayed releases and prohibited titles, surely your rage would decrease equally. We'd be left with only 'Mildly vexed Yahtzee'. I am concerned.

Also, exploration is my first love. It is why I loved Oblivion and was surprised that you didn't.

Although, I confess: more variety in models, buildings and voices split by regions would have been nice. Discovering another random bunch of sheep to murder and people to turn into sheep and THEN murder... I would have preferred the odd 'nekkid dancing cultists' discovery.

Who you could then turn into sheep and murder.

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