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Old 01-13-2012, 06:30 AM   #1
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Default Game-design: Open or narrow START of a game?

I think we all like our adventure-games to be "open" (meaning for example a whole city to explore, 3 simultanious paths/trials etc) rather than narrow (only ever one objective at the time, usually constraint to a small area), but what about the BEGINNING of a game?

Do you prefer it when you start out with a narrow objective/area first and only after solving that are you allowed to step into the open part of the world?

Examples.
Curse of Monkey Island:
Starts out locked on a ship, you first have to solve puzzles to get out of here before you arrive on the island (where things get really open).

Secret of Monkey Island: You are quickly presented with your THREE trials, and now you have the entire island to explore (apart from a few tiny obsticles).

Personally I've always advocated starting extremely narrow, so that the player feels like he's achieved something before throwing him into a big area where he could potentially be walking around for 30 minutes speaking to ppl without feeling like he's achieving anything, also starting really narrow makes the open part feel even more open, kind of like how most church-interiors feels really large because you first have to pass through a narrow entrance to get into it.
But lately I'm starting to change my mind, at least in theory I'm feeling like I just want to jump into the immersive open aspect and just walk around and talk to a few people to feel the atmosphere before I get cracking on solving anything.
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Old 01-13-2012, 06:50 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mad Manny View Post
Personally I've always advocated starting extremely narrow, so that the player feels like he's achieved something before throwing him into a big area where he could potentially be walking around for 30 minutes speaking to ppl without feeling like he's achieving anything, also starting really narrow makes the open part feel even more open, kind of like how most church-interiors feels really large because you first have to pass through a narrow entrance to get into it.
^ This.

I always suggest starting very narrow, so that new players can get used to the gameplay mechanics (not really necessary if you're going with traditional point-and-click, but still) AND to give all players time to adjust to the game world and setting, i.e. as a sort of tutorial or prologue.

After that, feel free to gradually open it up. Once the story starts picking up pace, then you can throw it all wide open, imo...
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Old 01-13-2012, 07:46 AM   #3
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I think I may be in the minority of Adventure Gamers who doesn't really enjoy a completely open world.

I really like it when I have very definite goals to drive me forward in AG's. I look at them like stories...the idea of an open ended 'story' is almost like getting a book, that you can start on ANY page. And then go backwards. And then forwards. The story would have to be quite 'grey' for it to really make sense.
I think that certain sacrifices are made by designers who are making their games have a more 'open' experience. Things that you do will naturally effect the world a lot less with an open world, because, honestly, they are very easy to break.
Stealing from someone cant have a large effect on the story, because you may need to get something from that person in the future. So how does that effect a certain quest for the guys who DIDNT steal from that person? Now there are obviously ways to write around those situations, but that's the thing...after a while you begin to make up game situations to fit every scenario, and to be safe you have to make the situations as 'generic' as possible. Its like you stop pushing your ship forward, and end up running around with glue trying to plug up holes and stop it from sinking.

Just my thoughts tho. Im pretty sure there are a few people here who can counter each of them!
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Old 01-13-2012, 08:14 AM   #4
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I think OP was talking about "open worlds" as in: plenty of different locations to explore.
Your post seems to be mostly about "open" narratives that are not straightforward at all.
I think this thread is more about having a linear narrative while still being in an open world...

Maybe Mad Manny can elaborate?
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Old 01-13-2012, 08:24 AM   #5
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It depends on the game/story. But usually I like a mix of linearity and semi-linearity, and I think most games work best if the first 30 min. or so is linear.

And I agree with pyke, open-world games tend to sacrifice good storytelling. At least, if we're talking about "authored" storytelling. But open-world games are not that common in the adventure game genre, at least the worlds are usually fairly small compared to games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto IV, so I'm also thinking in general terms here - there's usually less to "break", and fewer generic bits, in an "open-world" adventure game compared to those games.

But I still tend not to like a lot of freedom in adventure games. I remember becoming a bit annoyed when playing Day of the Tentacle in the second half of the game, because the game was adding new puzzles much faster than the existing puzzles got completed, and it became a bit tedious to wander around to see if a newly acquired item/piece of information would complete one of the many unsolved puzzles (or complete one of the steps in a puzzle). It's a good game, don't get me wrong, but I think it provided the player with a bit to much freedom in the second half. Some freedom is nice, though, whether it's physical freedom or in how you solve the problems and tasks the game presents.

EDIT: Clarified the last paragraph a bit.

Last edited by Jannik; 01-13-2012 at 05:26 PM.
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Old 01-13-2012, 09:18 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TimovieMan View Post
I think OP was talking about "open worlds" as in: plenty of different locations to explore.
Your post seems to be mostly about "open" narratives that are not straightforward at all.
I think this thread is more about having a linear narrative while still being in an open world...

Maybe Mad Manny can elaborate?
I know what you mean, but I'm saying that having a linear narrative in an open world does neither well. The designer either has to compromise the 'deeper' story for the open world, or must limit the openness of the world for the 'deepness' of the story.
Rd on the previous one. There can be more of a feeling that your actions have direct consequences.

The thing that I think Adventure Games have over other genres is that the players are more than willing to be swept along with the story...They would sacrifice freedom for a more engrossing narrative.
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Old 01-13-2012, 09:50 AM   #7
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I really love the way this is done in Gabriel Knight, which is kind of a hybrid of the two.

You wake up in the shop and there are some (but not too many) locations which you can go and explore. However, Grace gives you several leads to follow up on at about 3 other locations (from memory) and you can choose where to go and what to do first. Therefore you are not totally at a loss in a big unfamiliar world, but are not stuck with dealing with completely linear puzzles in one location straight away.

One of the things I love about the game is that each day (for the most part) you get these objectives to deal with straight off from Grace or the newspaper etc. and it feels like there is so much to do as more locations become available.

Not too linear, not too open.
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Old 01-13-2012, 09:55 AM   #8
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I think it shouldn't be that important in which manner the game starts, as long as it rounds-up as a high quality game. Your Monkey Island games are perfect examples.

However, change of pace is often welcomed for a more dynamic gameplay, so the combination of "open world and puzzles" and "one puzzle/location at a time" is what is often found in best AGs.


And linearity/non-linearity issue is really an interesting topic to discuss. Older AGs more usually featured "non-linearity" in a sense that you can for example visit more locations at once, which in turn increases the difficulty. For example, speaking strictly of islands in MI2 and Tales of MI, there's a clear difference with game design:



In MI2 you can freely travel between the islands which increases the "non-linearity", possibly the immersion in the game world, too.



In Tales, you need to finish the job at one island, and then the story moves to the next island.


These two different concepts can be found in majority of games, like moving from screen to screen or having at disposal 5 different locations at once. I'm not saying "non-linear" is better because there probably isn't a "formula" which could tell what is the best, as many things play part in bringing the game experience - how well the puzzles are integrated into the story, creativity of the puzzles and their connection to the gameworld, the story itself, what is it trying to achieve, interaction with the characters, characters development... And honestly, "non-linearity" can be achieved in so many ways. Is the game "non-linear" if it's strictly linear until the last chapter where you have two different endings? Is it non-linear if you can solve the same puzzles in two different ways? Is it non-linear if there're two game paths to reach the same conclusion?

So it's probably back again to how well the game succeeds as a whole. But i'm eager to see how these aspects will further develop. I'm not saying we should conservatively 100% imitate classics, but too many simplifications in a linear and puzzle sense is also most definitely not quite the way to go.
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Old 01-13-2012, 12:29 PM   #9
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I agree, both Monkey Island 1 & 2 are great examples of how non-linearity can be put into good use and how to introduce people to an adventure. The worlds are very well ballanced, so that players don't feel lost, while designers have more freedom. As much as I love Gabriel Knight games, I must say that this concept (finish several tasks to see the end of the chapter) may be very faulty in wrong hands, as it was many times already. You need really good designing skills not to turn the game into "follow from point A to point B" kind of game.

As long as there's a choice, I'm all for an open world approach. But as for introduction, I think one scene may be enough, like the bridge scene in MI2. The way CoMI started was kind of... misleading for me. When I finally arrived to the island, I felt like "oh, finally, it is safe to settle down and explore an island after all". That introduction part felt really unnecessary. It might be a good idea in a game with some tricky controls though.
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Old 01-13-2012, 03:25 PM   #10
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Proper game design is taught that to get the most out of your audience and to provide a good/easy learning curve, you must give the player room to explore the gameplay, learning the ropes, and not overwhelm one self with exploring a world. Tutorial/Acceptance first, then the Journey/Adventure.

That was the problem with older games (especially ones that offer a VERY complex game mechanic). Then again, you were expected to read the manual. My have we come a long way.

Sadly a lot of gamers troll the idea of thinking the narrow is a good thing. 'Its stupid that gamers nowadays want the game to hold their hand'.......sorry not everyone plays STALKER and claim the PC is the master race.


Anyways, its best to apply the narrow even in Episodic games. Why? Because we don't know if our audience is an expert gamer or just a casual adventurer.

Not to mention psychologically you want to make the player feel safe before throwing them off a cliff and having them fend for themselves.

In the end it could also just depend on the game genre. :/


Edit: This was the same discussion I was having with myself while working on level design at work. lol So it was a nice surprise to see it as a discussion here.
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Old 01-13-2012, 04:48 PM   #11
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Very interesting topic.

I prefer the narrow start. I like a game that gradually builds, expands and introduces new game elements. Especially in JRPG's this is a welcoming game design since the complexity of these games can be a little overwhelming would you be able to access all gameplay elements right in the beginning.

But another argument would be that it keeps the game fresh. The player could consider the new gameplay/unlocked area as as rewards.
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Old 01-13-2012, 05:39 PM   #12
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In my personal opinion it's best to start a traditional adventure(so that's excluding games like Dreamfall or Overclocked) narrow. Two or three screens at most. However the problem with this can be that you devise a tutorial that is unrelated to the rest of the game. This to my mind is very bad, I feel every puzzle in the game should be integral to the main storyline.

A good example of a narrow start that works is the opening segment of The Book of Unwritten Tales which I played recently. It has a very narrow start with a puzzle that is not overly complicated but still challenging enough. Not only does it serve very well as a tutorial it also puts the whole storyline in motion. I think it's one of the finest opening segments I came across lately and definitely a great way to open a game.
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Old 01-13-2012, 06:18 PM   #13
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I think narrow at the start and open later on is the most fun.

What is a bit annoying is when you have 3 screens in location one, then you move on to location 2 with 5 screens, then location 3 etc. It tends to feel like those "escape the room" puzzles instead of an adventure. Also, when you have only one objective, if you get stuck you cant do anything more. It's nice to have a few objectives that you can work on at a time.
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Old 01-13-2012, 08:28 PM   #14
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It doesn't matter how many screens it should have. Its the designer's job to make it flow correctly. Whether its 1 screen or 20 screens. As long as it makes the player feel comfortable as the game goes on.

I agree with the 'areas opening up' feel like rewards. Thats why in some games like GTA or Zelda where you encounter a new area of the world and it feels different and exciting.

Adventure games....it really depends on the subject and game.

The best example of any game that drops you in the middle of the world without really much help was 'Just Cause'....grrr I hated that game. Installed, confused, uninstalled.
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Old 01-14-2012, 01:53 AM   #15
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Oh dear, as always I get way more than I bargained for.

Weirdly enough I agree with Pyke in theory, that AG's only achieves this "openness" by making each puzzle into a generic obstacle that doesn't tell you anything about the story (for example Full Throttle's 3 bike parts you need to find to fix your bike), YET by far my favorite AG memory is from walking around the Rubacava streets of Grim Fandango and such a large city would never have worked with only a single trail of puzzles,
A dilemma which I can't quite think of an answer to.

Arial Type's reaction from CoMI is interesting, as it's kind of that which I'm starting to feel lately (despite endoursing narrow beginnings for my entire life), however so far the general impression from most posts seems to be that "Most people like to start narrow, and even for those who don't like it it's still a necessary & acceptable evil to ease beginners into the game".

Quote:
Originally Posted by TimovieMan View Post
I think OP was talking about "open worlds" as in: plenty of different locations to explore.
Maybe Mad Manny can elaborate?
Hehe to be honest I kept it intentionally vague as I don't know myself what I'm talking about.
I guess I mean open as in "whatever makes me feel like it's open", whether that be in many locations, 3-trials or just a clever illusion of openness.

Last edited by Mad Manny; 01-14-2012 at 05:02 AM.
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Old 01-14-2012, 02:39 AM   #16
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Quote:
YET by far my favorite AG memory is from walking around the Rubacava streets of Grim Fandango and such a large city would never have worked with only a single trail of puzzles,
A dilemma which I can't quite think of an answer to.
But Grim Fandango did start out narrow. Imho the game had the perfect pacing. You start out with a 6 screen puzzle(with little access to anything, very straight forward) and as the game progresses the areas get bigger more complex.

By the time you reached Rubacava it was like the game said: "Hey, by now you should be really familiar with the game and how things work so here is a big area to spice things up."

Every game should increase in difficulty(preferably with a difficulty curve that makes sense) as you progress. That's why it's pretty natural to start adventure games 'simple' and then get more complex with more areas to visit(bigger puzzles) later on.
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Old 01-14-2012, 10:40 AM   #17
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I always found opening the game on a quick, narrow puzzle is usually the best way to familiarize the player with the game-play, location, characters and story.

Opening on an open-world (i.e. Simon the Sorcerer) can be a little overwhelming to newer gamers. SOMI handled this slightly well by putting the SCUMM bar right there in front of you as you start the game, while offering you the choice to just carry on without talking to the pirate elders.

Personally, I prefer COMI's method because those scenes with Wally and the cannon are instant classics. A good, narrow opening has the potential to make a better first impression on the gamer. And a good open-world network of puzzles is like going up to the next level.
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Old 01-15-2012, 11:46 AM   #18
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I also prefer a narrow guiding point at the beginning. I actually prefer having a slightly narrow way of playing a game, because it feels safe to me. I'm thinking of "The Longest Journey", where you start of small, and then the world explodes, but you're always guided.
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Old 01-15-2012, 07:18 PM   #19
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Is the openness defined by your environment or what you are told to do? Obviously if you know you are locked in a small room then it is a "narrow" start, but what if it is pitch black and you have no idea if you are in a large underground sewer network or a locked wardrobe,

The Path seems to be both open and closed - you're given a direct objective (follow to path to Grandma's house) but whether the world is open or closed is up to you. A lot of people hated that.
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Old 01-15-2012, 09:32 PM   #20
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I agree with the general opinion here, it's better to start narrow.
Even if the game hasn't got any special control you have to learn, then i like to start soft, to get into the right mood and get a feel of the game, before things start to get more complicated.

The real discussion here as i see it, is however how open the game should then become?

Personally I like if I have at least 3 different independent "quest" I can work on at the same time, and I hate if I have to do every thing in the order the developers have decided.

Ironicallly I also hate if things get too open, especially if the scenes get too large, and you have to spend a lot of time wandering about finding all the different places of interest. And of course if there are too many things you can do in parralel, then there is a risk that you simply get lost or confused, and don't know what you have to do next.

So as it is often the case, the best way is really a compromise. And the best compromise is probably to open the "world" up gradually, but be carefull never to make it too linear or too open.
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