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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Open World Perils

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - You may have liked what you saw last week, but it only makes us more worried.

For yet another Nintendo video presentation, KoopaTV's staff ended up pretty miffed by it. Please don't take away our Nintendo fan badges! It just happened that way.

So we have something against Xenoblade Chronicles X. It's not our kind of game. I mean, I think it's public knowledge now that we're not thrilled about the direction The Legend of Zelda Wii U is taking, either. I guess the thing about publishing our live reactions to seeing things is that you get our unfiltered, genuine views on game announcements. Yeah, so we're not into this whole open-world, character-creating Skyrim-like experience.

And we just want to warn people about the dangers of that sort of thing. 

We don't really like character creation because we want to have character-driven franchises.


Having ugly preset avatars isn't a solution. From Xenoblade Chronicles X.

With character-driven franchises, we can get attached to characters in the game they are in but also attached to them across multiple games. It was the whole basis for the GameFAQs Character Battle contest that KoopaTV gave a lot of filler articles shelf space to promoting. You cannot celebrate characters if you make them. Characters are defined by their reactions to experiences (as opposed to being defined by their experiences, which is supposedly bad writing), which also makes the ability to choose branching dialogue trees detrimental to character celebration. Because then the character is defined by you, which really means the designers are writing a possibility space for you to play in, not writing real characterisation transferable from game-to-game.


Again, ugliness is also detrimental to character celebration.

Of course, people are going to play Xenoblade Chronicles X not for character creation, but for the "open-world" aspect.

We really like world exploration (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is an excellent example of this), but open-world ruins everything likable about it. World exploration that we like is going through a designer's carefully-created environment and getting everything we can out of it. All the treasure, all the split paths, all the possible dialogue and lore... It's a giant playground that drives obsessive-compulsive people nuts, but we enjoy that nuttery. (And you're probably nuts too if you're on KoopaTV.)

...Open-world takes a "quantity over quality" approach. So everything we just described is turned upside down. Things aren't really crafted anymore, or at least not with care. Hence why there are so many empty open fields in these games. You just gotta have as big a world as possible, or if you're really ambitious, you're No Man's Sky and procedurally generate it. Then the RNG designs things for you!

The Elder Scrolls Skyrim open world field empty space screenshot
Empty field in Skyrim. Screenshot from MapleRacing's YouTube video.

So take player-designed characters and computer-designed level design and you're left with a game that needs a lot of engineers and not many designers. Of course, we're biased towards praising designers because they're just the people we know. (Do we know the name of the engineer who made Melee's physics engine, or do we know Masahiro Sakurai who is the game designer?) But we also think designers have the... creative, artistic talent we really like.

So we really relish the opportunity to basically be able to interact with game designers when we play their game. On one level, playing games is a conversation between the player and its designer. The designer left rules and worlds and stuff behind for the player to sift through and explore. It's like we're archaeologists. 

And open-world gameplay just doesn't feel the same way, even though you would expect it to because the whole point of the appeal is exploration! But the exploration feels hollow. 

I talked about characters reacting to story events as helping define their character... but one important facet of open-world is that stories are either simple or nonexistent to take into account the lack of boundaries. That's why you see open-world and character-customisation go together so often: They both promote player experience choice, and they both are good excuses not to work on story.

Hey, that sounds familiar... No characters, no story... Shigeru Miyamoto should be working on an open-world game! It'd probably be better than his current crap!

That's why I'm so worried about The Legend of Zelda on Wii U. If it's delayed so its "open world" concept is just a larger scale carefully-crafted wonderful place, that's awesome. But if they really do want to make it like Skyrim, then we gotta brace ourselves for a character-customisable Link. And that could even mean Pink Gold Link in our future.


Disagree with Ludwig? You probably might. Well, feel free to trash his opinions on KoopaTV's comments section and get rewarded for doing so with free games! Also recommended: Follow him on Miiverse at NNID PrinceOfKoopas.


Now that No Man's Sky is released, people don't like open world in its most pure forme.

31 comments :

  1. Remember when that one Gamespot reviewer docked points from Radiant Dawn because he couldn't play as his Miis?

    Well...I'd take Miis any day over these mutants!

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    1. As you know, IGN did the same.

      http://koopatv.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-meta-review-of-igns-rating-system.html

      Probably how Robin came about. That said, Robin actually did get into Smash 4. People could use that as an argument for how custom characters can appear in more than one game, can't they?

      ...Especially a game that is, in itself, a celebration of important Nintendo characters? (I guess my comeback is that since Pac-Man is in the game, too, there aren't any standards so even a customisable character can be in.
      ...Oh, and obviously Miis themselves are in.)

      Delete
  2. I don't mind custom characters in story-driven games as long as the supporting cast and plot are strong enough (ex. Mass Effect, Dragon Age) or if it's a game where the focus isn't really on story anyway (ex. Fantasy Life).

    And you know how I feel about open world games. *scowls at Xenoblade X and Zelda Wii U*

    The writers promised Xenoblade X would have a deeper story than the first Xenoblade, though, so... *fingers crossed* Famitsu reviews were complaining about lengthy cutscenes, too. XD

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    1. "I don't mind custom characters in story-driven games ... if it's a game where the focus isn't really on story anyway"
      Well wotever.
      Traditionally, the protagonist is supposed to be the most representative character of a game's identity. That's why you see Phoenix Wright in Marvel vs. Capcom and not Franziska von Karma to represent Ace Attorney.

      The Treehouse people kept skipping cutscene after cutscene for fear of spoilers, though I guess they were fearing people just sitting there being bored from Japanese cutscenes.

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    2. Oops.

      But then you have other classic examples like Pokemon, where the protagonist is just a generic Pokemon trainer and the Pokemon themselves represent its identity.

      Besides, I've played and enjoyed story-driven games with custom protagonists, because like I said, the supporting cast and plot can be strong enough.

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    3. At least people liked the Pokémon Trainer. (It helped that Red and Blue got into Gold/Silver/Crystal and you can see how they developed. Sorta.)

      I'm not sayin' you can't enjoy those kind of games, just that they're not as... engaging in an artistic sense.

      Delete
    4. People like Shepard and the Warden, too. Especially Shepard. xD

      Although my examples might not be the best for this article, since while those games have custom protagonists, they aren't open world.

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    5. People can't even decide if Shepard is a dude or a dudette. You can't celebrate a character from that!

      Seriously, how do you go and, say, cosplay your favourite character if it's custom-made?

      "Oh, I'm cosplaying my custom character!"

      Delete
    6. I've seen Shepard cosplays. XD I think they usually go with the default appearances used for marketing and stuff.

      And you CAN celebrate a character like that, because there are four basic types of Shepard: male Paragon Shepard, male Renegade Shepard, female Paragon Shepard, and female Renegade Shepard. And if you're just talking personality, you'll find fans of Paragon Shepard and Renegade Shepard.

      Really, Shepard may not be a defined person, but fans celebrate him/her: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HiRDJLcYua0

      Delete
    7. Wot's this mobile YouTube stuff?

      Well look at the comments in there: People arguing about how Shepard was represented.

      And you see dumbasses like this comment:

      "Look I really don't want to a white guy to be a Shepard, nothing agaist white Shepard, but the thing I love more about the Shepard is that they can be anyone, male/female, black/white, gay/hetero"

      Delete
    8. I was on my iPad when I sent you the link. That's why it was a mobile link.

      XDD Well, yeah, people will argue over characters like this. But people still like Shepard, or at least THEIR Shepard.

      And regardless, didn't this start out about storytelling? I love Mass Effect's story. And Dragon Age's. And Knight of the Old Republic's. (Now, there's an interesting example: even though the KotOR games have custom protagonists, one version is canon.... well, canon to the Star Wars Extended Universe, which itself isn't canon anymore. boo... But still, there is an official version of those characters that other materials acknowledge.)

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    9. Yeah, it's better if there is an established canon official storyline that franchises can refer to when they want to make a sequel or license the franchise.

      ...And it needs to be clear exactly what that established canon official storyline IS.

      Delete
    10. The sequels all manage to do it by having your game reflect the choices you made in the previous game. The KotOR games did it in a simple way, by having a character talk about the previous game and you could correct them. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and others let you import your game so all of your decisions are taken into account.

      Sure, that means more work for the developers to take all options into account... but I'm not here to make things easy for developers, I'm here to enjoy a good story. And moral choices. Gotta love those tricky moral choices. :D

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    11. Again, moral choices are delicious for players, but it means there's no one "true" character to work with! (The popular consensus?)

      So wot happens if you buy the sequel without playing the original? Wot's the established canon theeere?

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    12. Hmm. So what would you say about Telltale's games? Lee, Clementine, and Bigby are set faces or icons for their respective games, but their personalities are different depending on the player.

      Either the game just has a default option it uses, or you get to pick one. For example, when I started Dragon Age 2, it gave me three pre-set options I could pick if I didn't want to import data from the previous game.

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    13. Edit: should have included the Witcher series along with Telltale's games as an example of one where there's a defined character, but the player makes the moral decisions.

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    14. I'd say that Telltale implemented the moral choice decisions well, since the entire game was built around players making those dilemma choices. In other words, that was the centrepiece of the game, and not some secondary thought.

      That said, I wouldn't call Lee or Clementine to be "custom characters". Their backstories are predetermined.

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    15. Are you saying the choices are a secondary thought for Bioware's games?

      But you determine a great deal of their personalities through your actions. (And for that matter, my Bioware examples--Shepard and the Warden--also have predetermined backstories, just more than one that you get to pick from before you start playing.)

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    16. I... didn't name-drop BioWare, did I? :o (I'm sure some people might think that way with Mass Effect 3, though!)

      I guess when I'm thinking of custom characters, I'm thinking of, yeah, Shepard and Xenoblade Chronicles X where you can total freedom with design choices. The whole criticism here is that comes at the expense of having a centralised experience that all your players enjoy and can refer to when talking to one another. In other words, a shared base of... memories, I guess, and a shared reference pool that you do in good ol' linear RPGs.

      You simply can't have that in, say, Skyrim or whatever. You get other things in place of that, but not that.

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    17. Sorry, since my previous examples were Bioware games, I thought your praise of Telltale was in contrast to Bioware.

      What do you mean by a centralized experience? Everyone still has the same basic story and overarching plot. Everyone still meets the same characters and encounters the same choices. The decisions, the protagonist's personality, and the protagonist's backstory may differ from game to game--are those things what you mean by a centralized experience, or am I missing something?

      And when you say "linear RPG," do you mean in terms of character and choices, or in terms of the world? I mean, you can have an open world game with a fixed protagonist, or a linear game with a customized protagonist.

      I have no idea how it works in Skyrim, though. I've never played an Elder Scrolls game, there's a good chance I never will, and I know next to nothing about its plot. Don't people say you shouldn't play those games for their stories anyway, though? xD

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    18. My praise of Telltale was just to praise Telltale. :p

      I think that the player's interaction with their protagonist is very important and can affect their whole playing experience.

      For example, as you've read, I'm addicted to Pokémon Rumble World. The way the Rumble series works, is that your playable Pokémon don't level up, so they have a static strength. You are always collecting new Pokémon, and the more Pokémon you collect, the higher your Rank. With a higher Rank, the game scales the strength of the enemies higher. So in time, the Pokémon you've been playing with for a while will be too weak to be useful and you'll use someone else.

      This results in a constantly revolving "cast", but it also means that the game discourages you to be attached to any given Pokémon for too long (well, I guess when you're at end-game and cap out your rank it's different).

      So the game forces every player to have very different experiences at every point of the game based on their decisions of who to use and for how long and... y'know, the RNG.

      (I should just write a review of the game shouldn't I?)

      So the areas players go through are all the same (though the frequency they are played is player-dependent) and the "story" progression is the same, but my experience with Pokémon Rumble World would be wildly different than yours if you played it. The "infrastructure" is the same for everyone, but the experience is decentralised (player-controlled, not developer-controlled).

      And if it's player-controlled and players are different, then the way to share experiences about the game are different. In other words, the way that a Tales of Symphonia board would discuss Tales of Symphonia would be different than how a Skyrim board would discuss Skyrim.

      On that note, since I mentioned RNG here: Going back to wotever garbage I wrote in the article, if the game is designed by RNG, you're not having a player-to-developer dialogue, you're really talking to a Skinner Box.

      Hm, I guess by linear RPG I guess you could say linearity is a spectrum that takes into account all kinds of player choices. So on one end we have, like, Ace Attorney as totally linear, and the other we have... No Man's Sky or some shit. I get the feeling I should explore, say, where Pokémon Mystery Dungeon falls on that spectrum, since all the environments are randomly generated and your character choice is pseudo-RNG too, yet people all have similar experiences with PMD in discussions. Probably because people don't talk about PMD for its gameplay.

      Yeah I wouldn't play Skyrim for its story.

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    19. Hmm, I see what you mean... but I'm not sure the experiences for games like this are as different as you make it seem. Although discussions of games like ME and DA definitely have a focus on, "So what did you choose when...."

      When it comes to linearity, I strongly prefer games that are "semi-linear" in terms of world exploration. When it comes to choices and whatnot, I'm good with either.

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    20. Semi-linear being, "Oh hey I can do the main story now if I want, or I can explore a bit/do a side-quest instead"?

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    21. Pretty much, although I tend to think of it more in terms of the map: "I can visit Point A, B, or C now, but other areas are still locked."

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    22. Yeah, that's fine and is like every JRPG with an overworld map anyway.

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    23. Yes. :D Those JRPG overworld maps are the best!

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    24. Yeah.
      Golden Sun immediately comes to mind for whatever reason.

      Delete
  3. I love games like this so you (white) idiots can go fuck yourselves

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  4. Replies
    1. 'Anonymous' is a slab of horse manure from the devil's own satanic herd.

      (Or Skyrim's.)

      Delete

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