Since the success of GTA III it seems more and more games are adopting an open world approach to their design. Have we reached a point where there is now a formula for open world gaming? Let's take a look.
In a post titled "Open World Games: What Works and Why" on his personal blog, Tom Francis of PC Gamer UK looks at several of the better open world games of recent times - Assassin's Creed II, Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2 amongst others - and examines the ways in which they fill their "sprawling open spaces with stuff to entertain you."
He concludes by identifying seven methods that he feels work best:
* Informal missions – opportunities you spot rather than jobs you’re ordered to do * Collectibles that improve you, in places it’s fun to visit * Categorised missions, so you can choose what kind of job you want to take on next * Scraps of story scattered about to make your adventure feel meaningful * Unique things you can find, take and use * The ability to change or add to some part of the world * Variety – at every stage you should have more than two meaningfully different options for fun things to do next
It's a good list and covers almost everything I'd consider essential to a good open world game. One thing I'd add - although it's less of a feature and more of a structural approach - is the idea of enabling the player to control the pace of the game. For me, it's what makes open world games inherently interesting as an interactive experience.
In a linear game the pace tends to be dictated to the player. The hand of the designer is clearly visible in the rhythm of its scripted sequences. You run when they want you to run; you sneak when you're told to; you man that turret when they bark the orders.
In a non-linear game the pace tends to be dictated by the player. As more of a collaboration between the player and the designer, the rhythm changes at the player's behest. You tackle that assassination contract when you want to; you depart from the main quest to explore the wasteland when you desire; you shoot some pool with your cousin Roman whenever you feel like.
Have a read of Tom's full post over at his blog and join in the discussion there. Then come back here and tell me what you think open world games do best.
Open World Games: What Works and Why [Pentadact]