On Exploration

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I got bored with Fallout 3 and Borderlands. Too often I wasn't well rewarded for my exploration.

I agree with the Escapist article "Gordon Freeman, Private Eye" by Craig Owens from January. Valve's Half-Life and Portal games encourage exploration in an amazing way--especially considering the narrative is always so linear.


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.

My problem with exploration in Hitman, especially the more recent games in the series, is that it leads to a trial and error approach to the game. In Hitman 2 for example, disguises rarely held up under any sort of scrutiny and thus I was left with two approaches to the game. Either, I'd simply get frustrated and start shooting my way to the target (which no Hitman game after the first actually penalized you for in any significant way), or I could painstakingly memorize guard routines in order to find a decent route through a level in order to conduct my murdering with utmost discretion.

The last game in the series, Blood Money, actually balanced things quite nicely by making disguises more durable and allowing the player access to means to remove a handful of obstacles without resorting to a shooting spree. The game still had an "ideal" way to conduct each mission, but the changes allowed me freedom to conduct a hit in a way that seemed more professional than psychotic.

I can agree on the bit about Oblivion however. Beyond exploration to find new things to do, there was always the chance that the next NPC would carry some piece of armor that would complete a set or a magic ring that offered some fantastic benefit. I even appreciated the fast travel system that allowed me to move to a known location if I chose to do so. Sometimes I don't want to actually walk for 20 minutes to reach the dungeon of vampire accouterments or what have you. Other times, I did just want to walk from place to place to see what I might stumble upon. The trouble I had with the game is that the wonderful variation of the overworld is negated when you spend most of your time in either an Ayelid ruin or an Imperial ruin, which suffer from the "This looks exactly like the other 20 ruins I've been in" in much the same way that Fallout 3 forces the player to spend quite a bit of time in copy pasted Subway terminals.

Thank you dude, you once again prove that you're more than a 'funny snarky reviewer' of games. You GET IT.

I grew up in a rural area, huge expanse of hills and trees and forest behind my house, me and my nephew would explore regularly (my nephew only being three years younger than me, more like a little brother), and the only game that really captured that feeling of scanning your surroundings and getting a bead on the best way to traverse it has been Shadow. It wasn't about finding stuff, unless by stuff you mean just cool vistas. Just knowing your general direction, and figuring out how to get there. Some people just can't appreciate that. Then again I regularly get myself lost in NYC just to explore, so I might be in the minority.

Looking at that list, it's impressive how many of those games I love; The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Metroid Prime being the highest on my list. Those games pull off atmosphere and exploration soooooo well.

Metroid Prime's first person perspective did horrible things to the platforming element...

I would actually say that Metroid Prime is one of the few first-person games where the platforming wasn't crap. Ah well. BAH. OPINIONS.

I've noticed this phenomena a long time ago: exploration is being widely overrated. I'm not saying we should know the maps from gametrailers or learn the city from published maps, but you can't just think leveldesign or map are enough to make a great game, look at MMOs, they are specifically crafted for exploration of meaningless stupid worlds(you're not convincing me otherwise) and so is all the world, and that's whyI stopped playing borderlands and won't return untll there's a gaming void large enough for me to download 'n' run through Viva la Robolution.

Spot on, sir, once again. I absolutely *adore* exploration in games. I enjoy few things more than seeing what's around the next corner or over the next hill.

One of the things that drove me bonkers while playing the original Fable was all the beautiful, expansive vistas that I wanted to explore but which were forever denied me thanks to the impenetrable barrier that is a two-foot-high split-rail fence.

I have to say, the incredible detail and unsurpassed hugeness of SotC's world set it apart from every other conventionally "big," over-world. While looking for somewhere around the 9th or 10th colossus, I stumbled upon a small lake with beautiful scenery. I later found the shortest path to the next colossus and realized that through the entire game, had I not gone off course and instead taken the shortest possible route I never would have seen that place.

"You know. Fuckwits."
I love it, Yahtzee!

Would Saint's Row 2 fall into the category of "exploration" or does it being in a sandbox make it more of a "dicking around" sort of game, due to every area being built more just to contain the activies and diversions than for aesthetic appeal?
Either way we slice it, though, good fun.

Looking forward to your next video and article, keep up the great work!

Exploration is a good thing, but only if the world is worth exploring. Wind Waker and SotC are the perfect examples of a world not worth exploring imho. Empty, bland with next to nothing in rewards.

On the other side of the scale we have games like the Metroid Prime Trilogy and the recent 2D Castlevanias. Games with worlds full of secrets and wonders at every turn.

Metroid Prime's first person perspective did horrible things to the platforming element, but it really brought out the bleak, exotic environment design.

I had zero problems with the platforming in Metroid Prime, but then again I didn't have problems with Turok on the N64, I must be some sort of first person platforming god.

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.

KOL is a brilliant game isnt it, dont play it much anymore though. anyway i like it when theres loads to explore, fallout 3 oblivion ect 100 hours each found about 50% in oblivion and about 40 in fallout

I think the biggest thing undersold about SOTC was the emotional attachment you forge with the 'characters', that is you, your horse, the mysterious dead girl and the colossi...considering none have any tangible or actual dialogue between one another, you grow incredibly mentally drawn to the colossi, the hulking beasts that I actually felt sorry for.

After years of playing computer games and torturing guards in Metal Gear Solid 2 (you know, shoot out the guys radio, leg and arm and watch him scamper off as you take pot shots at him, just seconds after he begged you not to kill him), I had thought I'd have grown desensitized to game murder...after all, its just polygons. Boy was I wrong after I killed the flying beast here...or scared the little one with fire off a cliff....jesus I never knew I could care so much.

that and when your beloved horse...well I wont spoil it...

its amazing how in most games I couldn't care less about anyone, yet in SOTC, with practically no dialogue and development, I found attachment

I love exploring in games, personally, but half the people I work with can't play them for some reason. If I mention Fallout 3 they say that they hated that game because they never knew where to go. They needed a linear path or direction, they couldn't do the whole "open world, go wherever you want" thing...

I find it fun to explore - which is why I like open world game design, like Fallout 3 or Just Cause 2. I can follow the main story line, or just go haring off into the desert and check stuff out. I actually spent more time running around in Oblivion that I did in following the main quest line - which I never did finish. Guess that is one drawback of the open world concept. You can actually get bored with the game world before you actually finish the game.

Man this makes me feel better about my idea for a Sandbox game that is totally exploration based. The only problem is that I figured for that to be pulled off, I'd need to have really beautiful scenery to look at, which means really good graphics, which I can't afford to make on my own.

This is why I love Hitman Especially Blood money. Each of the levels require exploration. Like once you realize you can rig the lighting, or notice that the hot tub has a glass bottom above a several story drop.

I do agree with him on exploration in Shadow of the Colossus and Legend of Zelda Wind Waker. I spent most of my time in my recent play through of Shadow of the Colossus exploring the land, finding all of the save points and seeing the beauty that was put into each area. And I actually went to every island in Wind Waker just to fill out the map and see what the islands had on them. Those were some of the things that kept me playing them so much.

The Metroid Prime Trilogy is the entire reason I even bothered to buy a Gamecube/Wii, right from the first moment that the original game was announced back around the turn of the century. I would like to see Yahtzee feature it in one of his Retrospective videos, similar to what he did for the Prince of Persia trilogy.

I do think Bioshock was a good game for exploration. Rapture was a fairly expansive and interesting location with bits and bobs hidden in plain sight, like there's a tonic under the stairs but there's no way under the stairs but you stumble on a sliding hatch in the wall 2 feet away that's easily missed and such things. But it's good even for the fuckwits because if you really want an arrow pointing at your next objective, go to the options screen and turn it on!

Plus there's enough to shoot in the face to keep it from getting mundane, with some bits which make my wussier friends shit their pants, ala walk up to corpse, loot, turn around, hello splicer sniffing my hair... which quickly received a shotgun shell to the face since it was me playing...

Funny how I missed out on a good portion of the games, (I will not title them for the soul reason I don't get mobbed for not playing it) but interesting enough, I do agree to the general idea, and do need a sense of exploration in the majority of my games. Too bad a few of them actually give you points for trying to find them, like in the case that one game would only give you a secret ending if you just found every little treasure box in every little nook and cranny. (or, in all hilarity, play the game just on hard to get it, and I ended up having to play on hard).

But, to end my reply here, kudos again to you, Yahtzee, for bringing in a point.

This article brings me back to my NES days. Games like the first 2 Zelda titles and Castlevania 2, or even early RPGs. At best you had a map that showed you the vague details of the environment so you had that little taste of seeing where a distant village was but beyond that it was a mystery until you finally got there.

I also think back to the bridge mechanic in Dragon Warrior 1. There weren't many places in Dragon Warrior that you couldn't get to but you knew that every time you crossed a bridge you were going to be entering an area with even tougher enemies than the ones you'd be leaving behind. You always wanted to push on and explore further but with each bridge crossed you knew you might be getting further in over your head.

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).

The one thing I loved about the exploration in SoTC was seeing out-of-reach ledges or plateaus and trying to reach them. Like, finding out you can scale the outside of the castle walls in order to reach that colossal bridge and the secret garden.

That took a lot of stamina upgrades, I'll tell ya.

Long ago, before The Last Guardian was announced, it was rumored that Team Ico's new game was titled The Last Canyon. It was to be about a young boy with a hangglider who had to explore this gigantic Grand Canyon-like landscape. Apparently the emphasis would lie on exploration. But this was just a rumor.
Then again, maybe this concept will be in The Last Guardian nonetheless. After all, we still don't know what the game is really about other than that you play a young boy accompanied by a some sort of gryphon.

I loved the whole exploring around in the plans of SotC...it felty rather cathartic, and, it gave a peace you dont generally get in a game. A chance, to jsut explore a lush, huge world!

Saira, by Nicklas Nygren who also did Knytt, is pretty tops in exploration. It's not free, but I'd definitely recommend anyone who's a fan of that "what's around the next corner?" feeling certain games give check it out.

I was actually a little disappointed with Windwaker as far as exploration went. For me, the tiny (frequently VERY tiny) islands weren't quite enough to break up the long periods of time where nothing happened. It's still probably the most fun I've had in a Zelda game. Except for the giant squid. The irrational phobia that lives in my brain was unprepared for that one.

But I'm actually really glad I read this article. I've never played Shadow of the Colossus before, and I wasn't entirely sure what it was about other than big boss battles. I've seen gameplay footage, though, and in my more introspective (read: cheesy) moments, the visuals and the landscape are the sort of thing that give me that little pang in my chest. If I ever pick up a PS2, I'll be sure to play it.

What about Morrowind? I think that counts as an exploration based game

Not sure i agree that Knytt is anything like SOTC. It's more like a Metroid game, and has as much of an emphasis on platforming as it does on the exploration.

Untitled Story is another game similar to Knytt, explory platformer ^_^

i disagree with your hatred of thief DS. DS has many of it's exploration rewards, it's just sometimes it involves climbing or platforming. one time i was crawling through an air vent in old quarter when i dropped into a guardroom and read a journal about a guard who blackmails the bar for a bottle of fine wine each night, which i can steal and sell for 100 gold. while i haven't played the first thiefs (i want to, though), DS still has big non-linear worlds, and even lets you freely explore the City between them. there are many ways to beat the levels, and while they may be less than dark project and metal age, deadly shadows is still good
(wow that was longer than i intended)

This article finally made me get off my lazy ass and install Knytt.

You should all go do it too! Like, now.

Quite frankly, SotC's exploration is not really exploration; it's just a lifeless world with nothing in it, making it just a glorified way to pad things out from one boss fight to the next. That's not even in the same league as Metroid Prime or the Zelda series where there are THINGS TO DO AND FIND.

You should check out Yume Nikki. It's a Japanese horror adventure game that looks like Earthbound on a bad trip. It was created using RPG Maker but it's really just about exploring the quite disturbing dreams of a hikikomori.
You might have to look some stuff up to find the good bits and get to the ending. Just try to avoid spoilers.

I've never had the pleasure of playing Shadow of the Colossus. I once bought a copy of it but then gave it away as a Christmas Present to one of my friends, and I've never seen another copy since (I guess I should check Amazon or something).

But I agree that some of the best games are the ones where you can explore. It always annoys me when I pop in a fun looking game with pretty level design and awe inspiring graphics and the first thing I find out is that I can't go off the path. Or when a game puts a nice big arrow/flag/blinking light telling me to go this way, and I decide I want to go look over that way... and suddenly "that" way has an invisible wall or something else blocking my way.

The major downfall of most games in my eyes is a lack of exploration mechanics. Exploration is a base part of the human experience, discovering new places, new things, and just having fun finding ways to get from point A to point "nowhere in particular". More games need to take advantage of this.

I'm suprised Yahtzee didn't mention Fallout 3 or Oblivion. One of my favourite things about those games was the way you could just set off in a random direction, find important locations, kill the monsters and loot the place and then make a profit. It also worked well with the little 'slice of life' stuff that Bethesda likes to chuck in; NPCs that aren't part of a quest but could be interacted with in a meaningful way. For example, the wastelanders who you occasionally find in Fallout 3 who you can trade with and have them repair your stuff. Of course, these being Bethesda games they will sometimes have some mistake of AI stupidity in front of you thqat will break immersion, but when it works it works really well.

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.

Couldn't agree with you more! Although I've never actually played Elite, the vast majority of post-Elite games seem to think that the best way to recreate it's explorative freedom is to force all their ships to rely utterly on jump gates - or fixed locations where the conditions are 'just right' - for interstellar travel! Egosoft's X series are the most infuriating examples, especially in X3, where space is so beautifully rendered that it begs to be thoroughly explored but all you can ever do is dawdle about inside a small square radius of jump gates in a planets orbit, while all you can do with planets is crawl towards them and bounce off the atmosphere as soon as you get the re-entry warning! Even otherwise good space games like Freelancer have this problem, although Freelancer at least has the decency to let you explore an entire solar system - and actually land on planets, albeit with docking rings - between the gates. You can look at a distant nebula and think "I'm gonna have a look", hit your cruise drive and within 1-10 minutes, you finally meet the pirates who consider your curiosity an offense punishable by death! Freelancers' travel times give the impression of a huge game world, destpite actually being smaller than most.

In Eve Online, the warp drive can get you to a neighbouring planet so fast that I kept worrying I'd overshoot and punch a me-shaped hole through it (which I often did, considering Eve is the no-clip universe) but I'm still forced to use jump gates in strictly pre-determinded paths to get to the next system! NO! Delete the jump gates and make the warp drive interstellar, like it should've been in the 1st place!

I started replaying Mass Effect recently and when I heard the statement "Without the Mass Relays, interstellar travel would be impossible" I thought "Fuck off!!! If that's the case, you don't deserve to be out in space, at least not beyond your home system anyway!"

Check out Infinity: The Quest for Earth because that, so far, looks to be the 1st true freeform space game since...Elite.

That's what I miss about console RPGs nowadays. They don't have a world map to explore, they're just dull linear paths that the story will eventually set you down.

Final Fantasy XIII: The Day Exploration Died.

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