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    Sandboxes and their Stagnation

    I remember the good old days when a new sandbox game was an exciting announcement; It was such a marvelous, fresh advancement in technology that just the mention of it would get people intrigued, with pioneers in the genre like GTA dominating the market with their expansive games. But when you look at the reaction of gamers nowadays when a new open world game is announced you almost wonder if this is an entirely different genre; nothing but groans and eye rolls or exasperated sighs... why is that?

    I think it's pretty clear why people in the 2000's were so excited by the prospect of open world; games were so heavily bound by the level based system that a sense of true, open ended exploration was never achieved, until the rise of this specific genre. It was similar to the virtual reality boom that happened a few years ago.. suddenly people were buying outrageously expensive headsets left and right because it represented another step closer to being in a game and further deepened the connection between a player and the medium.

    When looking back at open world games of the 2000's, you usually remember how fascinated you were by how realistic the graphics looked; GTA San Andreas had people completely amazed by the expressiveness of the motion capture and the wonderfully portrayed characters. When playing GTA San Andreas nowadays however, you will probably be a little surprised;  "This is what I was impressed by?" Gaming advances so rapidly that a 5 year old game can look like an archaic relic, so imagine what a game pushing 17 years and counting would look like to a modern player. When I replayed it I also noticed something.. even though the graphics aged like milk, I was having as much fun as I did when I was younger even though what the game was most applauded for, its graphics, had been completely blown out the water and would be ridiculed if it came out even half a decade later. I kept noticing how goofy the game is; from animations to missions to dialogue to characters (I'LL HAVE TWO NUMBER NINES.... A NUMBER NINE LARGE.. you get the picture) it always felt like the game was being coy which embraced the naturally goofy physics and AI, wearing it like a badge of honor rather than shying away from it. Fast forward to 2013 and GTA V came out, again being praised for it's beautiful graphics and expressive motion capture yet something was missing... the classic GTA goofiness was there but it was downplayed, suppressed. I have heard from many people how they were disappointed by the game for not maximizing the use of the physics engine and realizing the potential for fun which is what games are for in essence: fun. Of course GTA isn't the only open world game out there but it is definitely a pseudo mascot for the genre so any change in GTA will be felt by the entirety of the landscape due to it's overwhelming domination so I see it as the best example for this article.

    The thing is though, Rockstar is the exemplary developer when it comes to open world games because they do put the effort in,just not nearly enough in the areas that make their games so uniquely significant and special, while many other studios known for their "expertise" in the genre don't really have that artistic itch. They won't shy away from copying game mechanics and recycling ideas from their own products or from others' over generations that will eventually and inevitably stagnate. If the only thing you're building upon is graphics then you're just creating a game that will be incredibly dated in about 3 years or so, and have effectively doomed your franchise to an unending cycle of mediocrity if you continue this trend. Although most people involved within the gaming community will be aware of this nasty reputation of the genre, the way companies create games that are the exact same as their predecessors but just with a fresh coat of paint is by maximizing advertising to the casual player base who have most likely never played a game of the kind and thus will see this recycled software as a completely new experience. It's the kind of clever marketing that substitutes ingenuity by taking advantage of people not in the know. This is why a game like Breath of The Wild rocked the world when it came out; Nintendo doesn't shy away from unethical practices and game reskins (looking at you Pokemon) but you can trust that when they get serious, they go full blast and the results of their creativity and earnest work is one of the best games from the last decade which some consider one of the best of all time. It took the open world formula and actually expounded upon its potential, by micro-designing small portions of the map into tight well designed areas that merge into the sprawling expanse of Hyrule, which was an incredibly tiresome and meticulous process but well worth the effort. Add that to the fact that Zelda is one of the most well respected series in gaming and you have a recipe for a masterpiece. When Open world games give you something to do, it fulfills its purpose; heck it's usually described as a "sandbox" because of its unique ability  to give the reigns to the player and allow them to experiment with the games engine. BOTW can really be considered the saviour of this genre, not from discontinuation, but from mediocrity; now that people see what this genre is capable off I'm hoping more studios will actually put in the effort like Nintendo on this one so we can continue to see high quality open worlds in the future.

    24 january 2020 13:04 1625

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