Open world

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In video games, an open world is a virtual world in which the player can explore and approach objectives freely, as opposed to a world with more linear gameplay. [1] [2] While games have used open-world designs since the 1980s, the implementation in Grand Theft Auto III (2001) set a standard that has been used since. [3]

A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment which may be populated by many users who can create a personal avatar, and simultaneously and independently explore the virtual world, participate in its activities and communicate with others. These avatars can be textual, two or three-dimensional graphical representations, or live video avatars with auditory and touch sensations. In general, virtual worlds allow for multiple users but single player computer games, such as Skyrim, can also be considered a type of virtual world.

Gamer person who plays video games

A gamer is a person who plays interactive games, especially video games, tabletop role-playing games, and skill-based card games, and who plays for usually long periods of time. In some countries, such as the UK and Australia, the term "gaming" can also refer to legalized gambling, which can take both traditional tabletop and digital forms. There are many different gamer communities around the world. Since the advent of the Internet, many communities take the form of Internet forums or YouTube or Twitch virtual communities, as well as in-person social clubs.

<i>Grand Theft Auto III</i> open world action-adventure video game

Grand Theft Auto III is an action-adventure video game developed by DMA Design and published by Rockstar Games. It was released in October 2001 for the PlayStation 2, in May 2002 for Microsoft Windows, and in October 2003 for the Xbox. An enhanced version of the game was released on mobile platforms in 2011, for the game's tenth anniversary. It is the fifth title in the Grand Theft Auto series, and the first main entry since 1999's Grand Theft Auto 2.


Games with open or free-roaming worlds typically lack the invisible walls and loading screens common in linear level designs. Generally, open-world games still enforce many restrictions in the game environment, either because of absolute technical limitations or in-game limitations imposed by a game's linearity. [4] Examples of high level of autonomy in computer games can be found in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) or in single-player games adhering to the open world concept such as the Fallout series. The main appeal of open-world gameplay is that they provide a simulated reality and allow players to develop their character and its behavior in the direction of their choosing. In these cases, there is often no concrete goal or end to the game.

An invisible wall is a boundary in a video game that limits where a player character can go in a certain area, but does not appear as a physical obstacle. The term can also refer to an obstacle that in reality could easily be bypassed, such as a mid-sized rock or short fence, which does not allow the character to jump over it within the context of the game. In 2D games, the edge of the screen itself can form an invisible wall, since a player character may be prevented from traveling off the edge of the screen.

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are a combination of role-playing video games and massively multiplayer online games in which a very large number of players interact with one another within a virtual world.

<i>Fallout</i> (series) Series of post-apocalyptic role-playing video games

Fallout is a series of post-apocalyptic role-playing video games created by Interplay Entertainment. The series is set during the 22nd and 23rd centuries, and its atompunk retrofuturistic setting and artwork are influenced by the post-war culture of 1950s America, with its combination of hope for the promises of technology and the lurking fear of nuclear annihilation. A forerunner for Fallout is Wasteland, a 1988 game developed by Interplay Productions to which the series is regarded as a spiritual successor.

Gameplay and design

An open world is a level or game designed as nonlinear, open areas with many ways to reach an objective. [5] Some games are designed with both traditional and open-world levels. [6] An open world facilitates greater exploration than a series of smaller levels, [4] or a level with more linear challenges. [7] Reviewers have judged the quality of an open world based on whether there are interesting ways for the player to interact with the broader level when they ignore their main objective. [7] Some games actually use real settings to model an open world, such as New York City. [8]

Level design, environment design, or game mapping is a discipline of game development involving creation of video game levels—locales, stages, or missions. This is commonly done using a level editor, a game development software designed for building levels; however, some games feature built-in level editing tools. Level design is both an artistic and technical process.

A video game with nonlinear gameplay presents players with challenges that can be completed in a number of different sequences. Each player may take on only some of the challenges possible, and the same challenges may be played in a different order. Conversely, a video game with linear gameplay will confront a player with a fixed sequence of challenges: every player faces every challenge and has to overcome them in the same order.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually known as New York City (NYC), or New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of approximately 302.6 square miles (784 km2), it is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the U.S. state of New York, the city is the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous cities, with a estimated population of 19.9 million people in its metropolitan statistical area and 22.7 million in its combined statistical area. New York City ranks among the cultural and media world capitals, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, and fashion.

A major design challenge is to balance the freedom of an open world with the structure of a dramatic storyline. [9] Since players may perform actions that the game designer did not expect, [10] the game's writers must find creative ways to impose a storyline on the player without interfering with their freedom. [11] As such, games with open worlds will sometimes break the game's story into a series of missions, or have a much simpler storyline altogether. [12] Other games instead offer side-missions to the player that do not disrupt the main storyline. Most open-world games make the character a blank slate that players can project their own thoughts onto, although several games such as Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole offer more character development and dialogue. [4] Writing in 2005, David Braben described the narrative structure of current videogames as "little different to the stories of those Harold Lloyd films of the 1920s", and considered genuinely open-ended stories to be the "Holy Grail we are looking for in fifth generation gaming". [13] Gameplay designer Manveer Heir, who worked on Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect Andromeda for Electronic Arts, said that there are difficulties in the design of an open-world game since it is difficult to predict how players will approach solving gameplay challenges offered by a design, in contrast to a linear progression, and needs to be a factor in the game's development from its onset. Heir opined that some of the critical failings of Andromeda were due to the open world being added late in development. [14]

Emergent gameplay refers to complex situations in video games, board games, or table top role-playing games that emerge from the interaction of relatively simple game mechanics.

David Braben British computer programmer

David John Braben is a British game developer, game designer, founder and CEO of Frontier Developments plc, co-creator of the Elite series, space trading computer games, first published in 1984. He is also a co-founder of and works as a trustee for the Raspberry Pi Foundation which in 2012 launched a low-cost computer for education.

Harold Lloyd American film actor and producer

Harold Clayton Lloyd Sr. was an American actor, comedian, and stunt performer who appeared in many silent comedy films.

Some open-world games, to guide the player towards major story events, do not provide the world's entire map at the start of the game, but require the player to complete a task to obtain part of that map, often identifying missions and points of interest when they view the map. This has been derogatorily referred to as "Ubisoft towers", as this mechanic was promoted in Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series (the player climbing a large tower as to observe the landscape around it and identify waypoints nearby) and reused in other Ubisoft games, including Far Cry , Might & Magic X: Legacy and Watch Dogs . Other games that use this approach include Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild . [15] [16] [17] [18]

Ubisoft French multinational video game developer and publisher

Ubisoft Entertainment SA is a French video game company headquartered in Montreuil with several development studios across the world. It is known for publishing games for several acclaimed video game franchises, including Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Just Dance, Prince of Persia, Rayman, Raving Rabbids, and Tom Clancy's. As of March 2018, Ubisoft is the fourth largest publicly traded game company in the Americas and Europe after Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Take-Two Interactive in terms of revenue and market capitalisation.

<i>Assassins Creed</i> Video game series

Assassin's Creed is an action-adventure stealth video game franchise created by Patrice Désilets, Jade Raymond and Corey May, developed and published by Ubisoft using the game engine Anvil and its more advanced derivatives. It depicts a centuries-old struggle, now and then, between the Assassins, who fight for peace with free will, and the Templars, who desire peace through control. The series features historical fiction, science fiction and characters, intertwined with real-world historical events and figures. For the majority of time players would control an Assassin in the past history, while they also play as Desmond Miles or an Assassin Initiate in the present day, who hunt down their Templar targets.

<i>Might & Magic X: Legacy</i> 2014 video game

Might & Magic X: Legacy is the latest installment of the Might and Magic role-playing video game series, announced on March 21, 2013, developed by Limbic Entertainment and published by Ubisoft. Instead of being a sequel to Might and Magic IX the game follows the events of Might & Magic Heroes VI and is set in the world of Ashan. It was released on January 23, 2014 as a downloadable title for Microsoft Windows. An OS X version was released on April 16, 2014.

Games with open worlds typically give players infinite lives or continues, although games like Blaster Master force the player to start from the beginning should they die too many times. [4] There is also a risk that players may get lost as they explore an open world; thus designers sometimes try to break the open world into manageable sections. [19]

<i>Blaster Master</i> 1988 NES game

Blaster Master is a platform and run and gun video game released by Sunsoft for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is a localized version of a Japanese Famicom game titled Chô Wakusei Senki Metafight(超惑星戦記メタファイト, lit. "Super Planetary War Records: Metafight", also simply called Metafight), which was released on June 17, 1988. The game was released in North America in November 1988 and in Europe on April 25, 1991. The game is the first in the Blaster Master series, and it spawned two spin-off titles as well as two sequels.

Procedural generation and emergence

Procedural generation refers to content generated algorithmically rather than manually, and is often used to generate game levels and other content. While procedural generation does not guarantee that a game or sequence of levels are nonlinear, it is an important factor in reducing game development time, and opens up avenues making it possible to generate larger and more or less unique seamless game worlds on the fly and using fewer resources. This kind of procedural generation is known as worldbuilding, in which general rules are used to construct a believable world.

Most 4X and roguelike games make use of procedural generation to some extent to generate game levels. SpeedTree is an example of a developer-oriented tool used in the development of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and aimed at speeding up the level design process. Procedural generation also made it possible for the developers of Elite , David Braben and Ian Bell, to fit the entire game—including thousands of planets, dozens of trade commodities, multiple ship types and a plausible economic system—into less than 22 kilobytes of memory. [20]

Emergence refers to complex situations in a video game that emerge (either expectedly or unexpectedly) from the interaction of relatively simple game mechanics. [21] According to Peter Molyneux, emergent gameplay appears wherever a game has a good simulation system that allows players to play in the world and have it respond realistically to their actions. It is what made SimCity and The Sims compelling to players. Similarly, being able to freely interact with the city's inhabitants in Grand Theft Auto added an extra dimension to the series. [22]

In recent years game designers have attempted to encourage emergent play by providing players with tools to expand games through their own actions. Examples include in-game web browsers in EVE Online and The Matrix Online ; XML integration tools and programming languages in Second Life ; shifting exchange rates in Entropia Universe ; and the complex object-and-grammar system used to solve puzzles in Scribblenauts . Other examples of emergence include interactions between physics and artificial intelligence. One challenge that remains to be solved, however, is how to tell a compelling story using only emergent technology. [22]

In an op-ed piece for BBC News, David Braben, co-creator of Elite, called truly open-ended game design "The Holy Grail" of modern video gaming, citing games like Elite and the Grand Theft Auto series as early steps in that direction. [13] Peter Molyneux has also stated that he believes emergence (or emergent gameplay) is where video game development is headed in the future. He has attempted to implement open-world gameplay to a great extent in some of his games, particularly Black & White and Fable . [22]


20th century

There is no consensus on what the earliest open world game is, due to differing definitions of how large or open a world needs to be. [23] Ars Technica traces the concept back to the free-roaming exploration of 1976 text adventure game Colossal Cave Adventure , [24] which inspired the free-roaming exploration of Adventure (1980), [25] [26] but notes that it wasn't until 1984 that what "we now know as open-world gaming" took on a "definite shape" with 1984 space simulator Elite , [27] considered a pioneer of the open world; [28] [29] [30] [31] Gamasutra argues that its open-ended sandbox style is rooted in flight simulators, such as SubLOGIC's Flight Simulator (1979/1980), noting most flight sims "offer a 'free flight' mode that allows players to simply pilot the aircraft and explore the virtual world". [29] Others trace the concept back to 1981 CRPG Ultima , [32] [33] [34] which had a free-roaming overworld map inspired by tabletop RPG Dungeons & Dragons . [27] The overworld maps of the first five Ultima games, released up to 1988, lacked a single, unified scale, with towns and other places represented as icons; [27] this style was adopted by the first three Dragon Quest games, released from 1986 to 1988 in Japan. [35] [4]

Early examples of open-world gameplay in adventure games include The Portopia Serial Murder Case (1983) [36] [37] and The Lords of Midnight (1984), [38] with open-world elements also found in The Hobbit (1982) [39] and Valhalla (1983). [40] The strategy video game, The Seven Cities of Gold (1984), is also cited as an early open-world game, [41] [42] [43] influencing Sid Meier's Pirates! (1987). [41] Eurogamer also cites British computer games such as Ant Attack (1983) and Sabre Wulf (1984) as early examples. [30]

According to Game Informer 's Kyle Hilliard, Hydlide (1984) and The Legend of Zelda (1986) were among the first open-world games, along with Ultima. [44] IGN traces the roots of open-world game design to The Legend of Zelda, which it argues is "the first really good game based on exploration", while noting that it was anticipated by Hydlide, which it argues is "the first RPG that rewarded exploration". [45] According to GameSpot, never "had a game so open-ended, nonlinear, and liberating been released for the mainstream market" with The Legend of Zelda. [46] According to The Escapist , The Legend of Zelda was an early example of open-world, nonlinear gameplay, with an expansive and cohesive world, inspiring many games to adopt a similar open-world design. [47]

Mercenary (1985) has been cited as the first open world 3D action-adventure game. [48] [49] There were also other open-world games in the 1980s, such as Back to Skool (1985), [50] Turbo Esprit (1986) [51] [52] and Alternate Reality: The City (1985). [53] Wasteland , released in 1988, is also considered an open-world game. [54] The early 1990s saw open-world games such as The Terminator (1990), [55] The Adventures of Robin Hood (1991), [27] and Hunter (1991), which IGN describes as the first sandbox game to feature full 3D, third-person graphics, [56] and Ars Technica argues "has one of the strongest claims to the title of GTA forebear". [27] Sierra On-Line's 1992 adventure game King's Quest VI has an open world; almost half of the quests are optional, many have multiple solutions, and players can solve most in any order. [57] Quarantine (1994) is an example of an open-world driving game from this period, [58] while Iron Soldier (1994) is an open-world mech game. [59]

"I think [ The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is] one of those games that people can 'project' themselves on. It does so many things and allows [for] so many play styles that people can easily imagine what type of person they'd like to be in game."

Todd Howard [60]

IGN considers Nintendo's Super Mario 64 (1996) revolutionary for its 3D open-ended free-roaming worlds, which had rarely been seen in 3D games before, along with its analog stick controls and camera control. [61] Other 3D examples include Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (1997), [62] [63] Ocarina of Time (1998), [4] the DMA Design (Rockstar North) game Body Harvest (1998), the Angel Studios (Rockstar San Diego) games Midtown Madness (1999) and Midnight Club: Street Racing (2000), the Reflections Interactive (Ubisoft Reflections) game Driver (1999), [64] and the Rareware games Banjo-Kazooie (1998), Donkey Kong 64 (1999), and Banjo-Tooie (2000).[ citation needed ]

1UP considers Sega's adventure Shenmue (1999) the originator of the "open city" subgenre, [65] touted as a "FREE" ("Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment") game giving players the freedom to explore an expansive sandbox city with its own day-night cycles, changing weather, and fully voiced non-player characters going about their daily routines. The game's large interactive environments, wealth of options, level of detail and the scope of its urban sandbox exploration has been compared to later sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto III and its sequels, Sega's own Yakuza series, Fallout 3 , and Deadly Premonition . [66] [67] [68] [69]

21st century

Galactic trade route map of the space trading and combat simulator, Oolite. Oolite galactic map.png
Galactic trade route map of the space trading and combat simulator, Oolite .

Grand Theft Auto has had over 200 million sales. [70] Creative director Gary Penn, who previously worked on Frontier: Elite II , cited Elite as a key influence, calling it "basically Elite in a city", and mentioned other team members being influenced by Syndicate and Mercenary. [71] Grand Theft Auto III combined elements from previous games, and fused them together into a new immersive 3D experience that helped define open-world games for a new generation. Executive producer Sam Houser described it as " Zelda meets Goodfellas ", [72] while producer Dan Houser also cited The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario 64 as influences. [73] Radio stations had been implemented earlier in games such as Maxis' SimCopter (1996), the ability to beat or kill non-player characters date back to titles such Portopia (1983), [74] and Valhalla (1983) [40] and the way in which players run over pedestrians and get chased by police has been compared to Pac-Man (1980). [75] After the release of Grand Theft Auto III, many games which employed a 3D open world, such as Ubisoft's Watch Dogs and Deep Silver's Saints Row series, were labeled, often disparagingly, as Grand Theft Auto clones, much as how many early first-person shooters were called "Doom clones". [76]

Other examples include World of Warcraft , The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series of games, which feature a large and diverse world, offering tasks and possibilities to play.

The Assassin's Creed series, which began in 2007, players explore historic open-world settings. These include the Holy Land during the Crusades, Renaissance Rome, New England during the American Revolution, the Caribbean during The Golden Age of Piracy, Paris during the French Revolution, London at the height of the Industrial Revolution, Ancient Egypt and Greece during the Peloponnesian War. The series intertwines factual history with a fictional storyline. In the fictional storyline, the Templars and the Assassins have been mortal enemies for all of known history. Their conflict stems from the Templars' desire to have peace through control, which directly contrasts the Assassins' wish for peace with free will. Their fighting influences much of history, as the sides often back real historical forces. For example, during the American Revolution depicted in Assassin's Creed 3 , the Templars support the British, while the Assassins side with the American colonists.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl was developed by GSC Game World in 2007, followed by two other games, a prequel and a sequel. The free world style of the zone was divided into huge maps, like sectors, and the player can go from one sector to another, depending on required quests or just by choice.

In 2011, Dan Ryckert of Game Informer wrote that open-world crime games were "a major force" in the gaming industry for the preceding decade. [77]

Another popular open-world sandbox game is Minecraft , which has sold over 122 million copies worldwide on multiple platforms by February 2017. [78] Minecraft's procedurally generated overworlds cover a virtual 100 billion square kilometers. [79]

The Outerra Engine is a world rendering engine in development since 2008 that is capable of seamlessly rendering whole planets from space down to ground level. Anteworld is a world-building game and free tech-demo of the Outerra Engine that builds up on real world data to render planet Earth realistically on a true-to-life scale. [80]

No Man's Sky , released in 2016, is an open-world game set in a virtually infinite universe. According to the developers, through procedural generation, the game is able to produce more than 18 quintillion (18*10^15 or 18,000,000,000,000,000) planets to explore. [81] Several critics found that the nature of the game can become repetitive and monotonous, with the survival gameplay elements being lackluster and tedious. Jake Swearingen in New York said, "You can procedurally generate 18.6 quintillion unique planets, but you can’t procedurally generate 18.6 quintillion unique things to do." [82] Subsequent updates made post-release have since aimed to address these criticisms.

In 2017, the open-world design of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been described by critics as being revolutionary, [83] [84] [85] and by developers as a paradigm shift for open-world design. [86] In contrast to the more structured approach of most open-world games, Breath of the Wild features a large and fully interactive world that is generally unstructured and rewards the exploration and manipulation of its world. [87] Inspired by the original 1986 Legend of Zelda, the open world of Breath of the Wild integrates multiplicative gameplay, where "objects react to the player's actions and the objects themselves also influence each other." [88] Along with a physics engine, the game's open world also integrates a chemistry engine, "which governs the physical properties of certain objects and how they relate to each other," rewarding experimentation. [89] Nintendo has described the game's approach to open-world design as "open air". [90]

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<i>Zelda II: The Adventure of Link</i> video game

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Further reading