%HTMLlat1; %HTMLsymbol; %HTMLspecial; ]> Sandbox games
Roland van Ipen­burg
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Sand­box games

Satur­day 6 Fe­bru­ary 2010 15:46

I played the demo of Un­chart­ed 2 and didn't like it. While there is a lot in the game that is very good, the one thing that bugs me is the lack of a sand­box ap­proach.

I'm not say­ing I only like sand­box games, it's more com­pli­cat­ed than that. In the old days lev­el de­sign was more dri­ven by the lim­i­ta­tions of the tech­nol­o­gy. Which means that in­stead of a big open space out­side where a lot is hap­pen­ing the play­er usu­al­ly was in­side in cor­ri­dors with cor­ners so what­ev­er was in­vis­i­ble around the cor­ner didn't need to be ren­dered, and to keep the num­ber of poly­gons down the en­vi­ron­ment had to be clean, so when there was a ven­ti­la­tion duct some­where you could be pret­ty sure that was the only way out. The best set­ting for games with these lim­i­ta­tions is in­side some fu­tur­is­tic space­ship where the lay­out of the cor­ri­dors doesn't even have to make sense for any­thing else than the game­play. In such an un­re­al­is­tic en­vi­ron­ment those lim­i­ta­tions aren't per­ceived as flaws.

But when tech­nol­o­gy moves on and games can move be­yond those tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions and de­pict a re­al­is­tic and rec­og­niz­able en­vi­ron­ment the re­al­ism of­ten col­lides with the log­ic that is need­ed for the game­play. In the fu­tur­is­tic space­ship en­vi­ron­ment it is to­tal­ly be­liev­able that even when the play­er has a grenade or a rock­et launch­er, the play­er can't just blow open locked doors with it. In this fu­tur­is­tic space­ship the fact that all the doors are ro­bust enough to re­sist any at­tempt to open them us­ing ex­plo­sives isn't a flaw. But when the en­vi­ron­ment is just some very re­al­is­tic look­ing ran­dom vil­lage and the very re­al­is­tic look­ing nor­mal doors be­have the same as the in­de­struc­tible fu­tur­is­tic space­ship doors, that is more like a flaw.

One way to solve this is to make every­thing in the lev­el in­deed as de­struc­tible as ex­pect­ed, which se­vere­ly changes the game­play. The oth­er way to solve this is to try to keep the play­er from try­ing to do things he isn't sup­posed to do in the first place. That means the lev­el de­sign has to be clear about what the play­er is sup­posed to do, but with games like Un­chart­ed 2 I can come up with about ten so­lu­tions that should work be­fore I find the one that ac­tu­al­ly works be­cause the lev­el de­sign­er thought that was the ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion. Games like this don't work when the play­er is more cre­ative than the peo­ple who made the game and the in­creased re­al­ism doesn't show the dif­fer­ence be­tween dec­o­ra­tive and func­tion­al ob­jects in a lev­el any­more. Creative play­ers are then con­stant­ly try­ing to use dec­o­ra­tive ob­jects to only find out they are not func­tion­al. You can see there is a ven­ti­la­tion duct, but in­stead of be­ing the only way out it's only a to­tal­ly use­less dec­o­ra­tive ob­ject that just dis­tracts from find­ing the only way out the lev­el de­sign­er had in mind.

I don't mind the re­stric­tions of a more lin­ear world, but not in an en­vi­ron­ment that doesn't fit those re­stric­tions. If the lev­el is look­ing like a re­al­is­tic vil­lage I don't ex­pect every al­ley to be mag­i­cal­ly blocked so the vil­lage is re­duced to just one street which ap­pears to have a sew­er sys­tem be­neath it, but turns out to be there just for dec­o­ra­tive rea­sons.


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