Open world

Open world

An open world is a type of video game level design where a player can roam freely through a virtual world and is given considerable freedom in choosing how to approach objectives.[1] Video games that include such level design often are referred to as "free roam" games.

The term is sometimes used interchangeably with "sandbox" and "free-roaming";[2][3] however, the terms open world and free-roaming describe the game environment itself and allude more to the absence of artificial barriers,[4] in contrast to the invisible walls and loading screens that are common in linear level designs. The term sandbox refers more to the mechanics of a game and how, as in a physical sandbox, the user is entertained by his ability to play creatively and with there being "no right way"[5] of playing the game.

Despite their name, many open world games still enforce restrictions at some points in the game environment, either due to absolute game design limitations or temporary in-game limitations (such as locked areas) imposed by a game's linearity.


Gameplay and design

Story-telling in games in most cases is little different to the stories of those Harold Lloyd films of the 1920s. The player is stuck on pre-defined railway lines, forced to follow their character's pre-determined adventures, much as in a book or a film. In story-telling terms at least, games have not yet broken free of their non-interactive roots. The Holy Grail we are looking for in fifth generation gaming is the ability to have freedom, and to have truly open-ended stories.

—David Braben, writing for BBC News[6]

An open world is a level or game designed as a nonlinear, vast open area with many ways to reach an objective.[7] Some games are designed with both traditional and open world levels.[8] An open world facilitates greater exploration than a series of smaller levels,[4] or a level with more linear challenges.[9] Reviewers have judged the quality of an open world based on whether there are interesting ways for the player to interact with the broader level when they ignore their main objective.[9] Some games actually use real settings to model an open world, such as New York City.[10]

A major design challenge is to balance the freedom of an open world with the structure of a dramatic storyline.[11] Since players may perform actions that the game designer did not expect,[12] the game's writers must find creative ways to impose a storyline on the player without interfering with their freedom.[13] As such, games with open worlds will sometimes break the game's story into a series of missions, or have a much simpler storyline altogether.[14] Other games instead offer side-missions to the player that do not disrupt the main storyline.[15] Most open world games make the character a blank slate that players can project their own thoughts onto, although several games such as Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole offer more character development and dialog.[4]

Games with open worlds typically give players infinite lives or continues, although games like Blaster Master force the player to start from the beginning should they die too many times.[4] There is also a risk that players may get lost as they explore an open world; thus designers sometimes try to break the open world into manageable sections.[16]

Procedural generation and emergence

Procedural generation refers to content generated algorithmically rather than manually, and is often used to generate game levels and other content. While procedural generation does not guarantee that a game or sequence of levels are nonlinear, it is an important factor in reducing game development time, and opens up avenues making it possible to generate larger and more or less unique seamless game worlds on the fly and using fewer resources. This kind of procedural generation is also called "worldbuilding", in which general rules are used to construct a believable world.

Most 4X and roguelike games make use of procedural generation to some extent to generate game levels. SpeedTree is an example of a developer-oriented tool used in the development of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and aimed at speeding up the level design process. Procedural generation also made it possible for the developers of Elite, David Braben and Ian Bell, to fit the entire game—including thousands of planets, dozens of trade commodities, multiple ship types and a plausible economic system—into less than 22 kilobytes of memory.[17]

You need great simulational technology. (...) [Simulated worlds] have more power than scripted worlds because they allow people to play around in that world. (...) [Good world simulations] allow people to discover things ... to push the boundaries of worlds.

—Peter Molyneux, interview with GameSpy[18]

Emergence refers to complex situations in a video game that emerge (either expectedly or unexpectedly) from the interaction of relatively simple game mechanics.[19] According to Peter Molyneux, emergent gameplay appears wherever a game has a good simulation system that allows players to play in the world and have it respond realistically to their actions. It is what made SimCity and The Sims compelling to players. Similarly, being able to freely interact with the city’s inhabitants in Grand Theft Auto added an extra dimension to the series.[18]

In recent years game designers have attempted to encourage emergent play by providing players with tools to expand games through their own actions. Examples include in-game web browsers in EVE Online and The Matrix Online; XML integration tools and programming languages in Second Life; shifting exchange rates in Entropia Universe; and the complex object-and-grammar system used to solve puzzles in Scribblenauts. Other examples of emergence include interactions between physics and artificial intelligence. One challenge that remains to be solved, however, is how to tell a compelling story using only emergent technology.[18]

In an op-ed piece for BBC News, David Braben, co-creator of Elite, called truly open-ended game design "The Holy Grail" of modern video gaming, citing games like Elite and the Grand Theft Auto series as early steps in that direction.[6] Peter Molyneux has also stated that he believes emergence (or emergent gameplay) is where video game development is headed in the future. He has attempted to implement open-world gameplay to a great extent in some of his games, particularly Black & White and Fable.[18]


Turbo Esprit (1986)
I think [The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is] one of those games that people can 'project' themselves on. It does so many things and allows [for] so many play styles that people can easily imagine what type of person they'd like to be in game.

Todd Howard[20]

The space sim Elite is often credited with pioneering the open world game concept in 1984,[5][1][21][22] though other early 2D games such as Bosconian (1981),[23] Time Pilot (1982),[24][25] Dragon Slayer (1984),[4] Ginga Hyoryu Vifam (1984),[26] Brain Breaker (1985),[27] Star Luster (1985),[28] Metroid (1986), Dragon Quest (1986)[4] and The Legend of Zelda (1986)[29] also featured free-roaming nonlinear open worlds.[4] Furthermore, there were several early games that offered players the ability to explore an open world while driving a variety of ground vehicles. Turbo Esprit provided a 3D free-roaming city environment in 1986 and has been cited as a major influence on Grand Theft Auto.[30] TX-1 (1983),[31] The Battle-Road (1984)[32] and Out Run (1986)[33] were non-linear driving games that allowed the player to drive through multiple different paths that lead to different possible routes and final destinations.[31][32][33] Hunter (1991) has been described as the first sandbox game to feature full 3D, third-person graphics.[34]

Shenmue (1999)

Nintendo's Super Mario 64 (1996) was considered revolutionary for its 3D open-ended free-roaming worlds, which had rarely been seen in 3D games before, along with its analog stick controls and camera control.[35] Other early 3D examples include the Legend of Zelda games Ocarina of Time (1998) and Majora's Mask (2000),[4] the DMA Design (Rockstar North) game Body Harvest (1998), the Angel Studios (Rockstar San Diego) games Midtown Madness (1999) and Midnight Club: Street Racing (2000), and the Reflections Interactive (Ubisoft Reflections) game Driver (1999).[36] Sega's ambitious adventure game Shenmue (1999) was a major step forward for 3D open-world gameplay, and considered the originator of the "open city" subgenre,[37] touted as a "FREE" ("Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment") game offering an unparalleled level of player freedom, giving them full reign to explore an expansive sandbox city with its own day-night cycles, changing weather, and fully voiced non-player characters going about their daily routines. The game's large interactive environments, wealth of options, level of detail and the scope of its urban sandbox exploration has been compared to later sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto III and its sequels, Sega's own Yakuza series, Fallout 3, and Deadly Premonition.[38][39][40][41]

However, the series that had the greatest cultural impact was the Grand Theft Auto series.[3] With over 14 million sales,[42] some critics treat the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001 as a revolutionary event in the history of video games, much like the release of Doom nearly a decade earlier.[43] Other critics, however, likened Grand Theft Auto III to The Legend of Zelda and Metroid,[4] as well as Shenmue,[38][39][40][41] and noted how GTA III had combined elements from previous games and fused them together into a new immersive experience. For instance, radio stations had been implemented earlier in games such as Sega's Out Run (1986)[33] and Maxis' SimCopter (1996), open-ended missions based on operating a taxi cab in a sandbox environment were the basis for Sega's Crazy Taxi (1999),[44] the ability to beat or kill non-player characters dates back to several titles such as Portopia (1983),[45] Hydlide II (1985)[46] and Final Fantasy Adventure (1991),[47] and the way in which players run over pedestrians and get chased by police has been compared to Pac-Man (1980).[48] After the release of Grand Theft Auto III, many games which employed a 3D open world were labeled, often disparagingly, as Grand Theft Auto clones, much as how many early first-person shooters were called "Doom clones".[49]

As a game mode

Sometimes, open world gaming is included as a game mode in a game that is not mainly open world (a prominent example being the Forge mode in Halo 3 and Halo: Reach). These modes usually grant you access to a set of existing components such as walls and doors, as well as gameplay objects like vehicles and weapons.

See also


  1. ^ a b Sefton, Jamie (July 11, 2007). "The roots of open-world games". GamesRadar. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  2. ^ Logan Booker (2008-07-14). "Pandemic Working On New 'Open World / Sandbox' IP". Kotaku. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  3. ^ a b "The complete history of open-world games (part 2)". Computer and Video Games. May 25, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Harris, John (September 26, 2007). "Game Design Essentials: 20 Open World Games". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  5. ^ a b Barton, Matt; Bill Loguidice (April 7, 2009). "The History of Elite: Space, the Endless Frontier". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  6. ^ a b Braben, David (31 December 2005). "Towards games with the wow factor". BBC News. Retrieved 1977-12-27. 
  7. ^ Chris Kohler (2008-01-04). "Assassin's Creed And The Future Of Sandbox Games". Wired. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  8. ^ Harris, John (September 26, 2007). "Game Design Essentials: 20 Open World Games - Air Fortress". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  9. ^ a b Chris Kohler (2007-11-23). "Review: Why Assassin's Creed Fails". Wired. 
  10. ^ James Ransom-Wiley (2007-08-10). "Sierra unveils Prototype, not the first sandbox adventure". Joystiq. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  11. ^ Steven Poole (2000). Trigger Happy. Arcade Publishing. p. 101. 
  12. ^ Bishop, Stuart (March 5, 2003). "Interview: Freelancer" (HTML). Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  13. ^ Chris Remo and Brandon Sheffield. "Redefining Game Narrative: Ubisoft's Patrick Redding On Far Cry 2". GamaSutra. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  14. ^ Chris Plante (2008-05-12). "Opinion: 'All The World's A Sandbox'". GamaSutra. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  15. ^ "Freelancer (PC)" (HTML). CNET (GameSpot). March 4, 2003. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  16. ^ Patrick O'Luanaigh (2006). Game Design Complete. Paraglyph Press. p. 203, 218. 
  17. ^ Shoemaker, Richie (August 14, 2002). "Games that changed the world: Elite". Computer and Video Games. Retrieved 2008-06-20. 
  18. ^ a b c d Kosak, Dave (2004-03-07). "The Future of Games from a Design Perspective". 
  19. ^ "Le Gameplay emergent (in French)". 1928-01-19. 
  20. ^ Crigger, Lara (2008). "Chasing D&D: A History of RPGs". Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  21. ^ Whitehead, Dan (February 4, 2008). "Born Free: the History of the Openworld Game". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  22. ^ "The complete history of open-world games (part 1)". Computer and Video Games. May 24, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  23. ^ Bosconian at Allgame
  24. ^ "Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits - NDS - Review". GameZone. April 9, 2007. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  25. ^ "Konami Arcade Classics: Well, at least it's classic". IGN. January 7, 2000. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  26. ^ Gingahyōryū Vifam at MobyGames
  27. ^ John Szczepaniak. "Retro Japanese Computers: Gaming's Final Frontier". Hardcore Gaming 101. p. 4. Retrieved 2011-03-16.  Reprinted from "Retro Japanese Computers: Gaming's Final Frontier", Retro Gamer (67), 2009 .
  28. ^ "Star Luster". Virtual Console. Nintendo. Retrieved 2011-05-08.  (Translation)
  29. ^ "15 Most Influential Games of All Time: The Legend of Zelda". GameSpot. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  30. ^ Retrorevival: Turbo Esprit, Retro Gamer issue 20, page 48. Imagine Publishing, 2006.
  31. ^ a b TX-1 at the Killer List of Videogames
  32. ^ a b Battle-Road, The at the Killer List of Videogames
  33. ^ a b c Brian Gazza. "Outrun". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved 2011-03-17. 
  34. ^ Fahs, Travis (2008-03-24). The Leif Ericson Awards, IGN, Retrieved on 2009-07-16
  35. ^ Super Mario 64 VC Review, IGN
  36. ^ Guzman, Hector (2006-20-03). "GameSpy: Driver: Parallel Lines - Page 1". GameSpy. Retrieved 2009-12-29. 
  37. ^ Scott Sharkey. "Top 5 Underappreciated Innovators: Five genre-defining games that didn't get their due". Retrieved 2011-04-01. 
  38. ^ a b Brendan Main, Lost in Yokosuka, The Escapist
  39. ^ a b Shenmue: Creator Yu Suzuki Speaks Out, GamesTM
  40. ^ a b Yu Suzuki, IGN
  41. ^ a b The Disappearance of Yu Suzuki: Part 1, 1UP
  42. ^ "Recommendation of the Board of Directors to Reject Electronic Arts Inc.'s Tender Offer" (PDF). Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.. 2008-03-26. pp. 12. Archived from the original on 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  43. ^ Game Informer Issue 138 p.73
  44. ^ "Top 25 Racing Games... Ever! Part 1". Retro Gamer. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 2011-03-17. 
  45. ^ John Szczepaniak (February 2011). "Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken". Retro Gamer.  (Reprinted at John Szczepaniak. "Retro Gamer 85". Hardcore Gaming 101. )
  46. ^ Kurt Kalata & Robert Greene, Hydlide, Hardcore Gaming 101
  47. ^ Andrew Vestal (1998-11-02). "Other Game Boy RPGs". GameSpot. Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  48. ^ Brian Ashcraft (July 16, 2009). "Grand Theft Auto And Pac-Man? “The Same”". Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  49. ^ Doom, Encyclopædia Britannica, Accessed Feb 25, 2009

External links

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