17 March 2011

Free form adventuring in games, or the lack thereof - by Kamruz Mos

      Posted 03/15/11 07:23:00 am   An issue of modern games that has dwelled on my mind lately is the existence of so few games featuring what I like to call, pure exploration, or better said, adventuring.

But how to define what I mean by adventuring, that is a complicated issue, because people could argue that all you do in games is explore or adventure, but I happen to disagree. You are moving forward in many games, and perhaps even do so in large unconstrained areas that leave ample room for you to deviate from the indented path and search out potential secret crannies. However in most such cases I do not associate the emotion of playing said game with the sensation of adventuring.

To me the difference between adventuring and all other forms of traveling at the core is a question of your motivations. A spacious area that you traverse towards a set destination required by the plot is most often just commute. You are going from one point of interest to the other to progress the game and you often aim to do this as fast as possible because commute is inherently boring.

Commutes are a boring affair no matter how you approach them because there it is not the trek itself that interests you so much as it is merely an obstacle standing between you and your intended end destination. In real life I wouldn’t ever chose to subject myself to any sort of commute, wither it is my daily trek to work or any other set destinations of interest around town if I could instead chose to warp myself there by some contrivance.

The best of games try to disguise the tedium of commute by having their core content take place on the road of traversal where you overcome obstacles using the provided game mechanics. Wither the game is fun or not is then a question of how well the obstacles are implemented. In shooters the obstacles are AI opponents that try to hinder your mostly linear commute from one set piece to the next. In classic JRPG’s you had random encounters forcing you to take an aside to a turn based battle for every few step of your commute.

But then there is adventuring at its purest, which is exploration motivated by nothing but curiosity. Many linear games feature levels structured to feature a bit of breadth so as to allow for a minimal amount exploration, if one is thus inclined, to search out hidden goodies. Veteran gamers who have conquered many titles have grown in them an intuitive understanding for how level designers think and can often sniff out a secret aside whenever they feel one approaching. In short this often works out to whenever the game obviously points you to go toward a destination, wither it be by a marker or subtle shift of camera perspective then always run the other way to see if there is anything hidden there out of view.

These are micro spats of adventuring found in many modern games, but they are shallow, short lived and unsatisfactory if what one desires is the sensation of true adventuring because that is a lengthy endeavour that beside the potential award at the end is also rewarding in and of itself.

To explore is a natural impulse of humans, but in adulthood it is a most rare indulgence, so it is strange to me how so few games exist today that feature this as a main focus. It is especially shocking to see how the simple mechanic of adventuring has vanished from a genre that excelled at it in the 8-16bit days, namely the JRPG genre.

Exploration in the days of yore:

Thinking back at the 2D JRPG iterations, especially the flagship Final Fantasy series it is hard to miss how much exploration was encouraged in those titles. Wither by clever design or not at one time early in these titles you were required to leave your town and take to the vast expansive fields of the surrounding world.

No comments:

Post a Comment