Most people who consider themselves “Real” gamers and are over the age of 20 have probably played Super Mario Bros. more times than they can count and can most likely play through the first level blindfolded and know where every Goomba and Koopa Troopa is. But those Goombas and those Koopas are going to be there every time and noting is going to change, in this game or any other. Or is it?
In fact, the rules of gaming changed and a random element was introduced. While there were still some static NPCs and scripted events that were required for the progress of a game’s story, an open world based on behavioral patterns and the sandbox was born.
One of the greatest early sandbox games was Grand Theft Auto which put players in a city that reacted to their actions. But when it made the shift to a 3D environment the world and the interactions changed along with it. But it still didn’t feel like the world was truly alive.
For the most part, passersby would go without noticing the player or each other with the exception of pathing themselves out of the way of each other or reacting to the actions of the player. There was no fully random aspect to their interactions with each other or the world itself. But then things changed again.
Two of the greatest examples of living worlds today are Minecraft and Far Cry 3 but for entirely different reasons.
In Minecraft, not only are the creatures of the world randomly generated, but so are the worlds. Where there is a mountain in my game, there may be a desert in my friend’s. Where there may be a bottomless pit in mine, a lava deposit may exist in my friend’s. One night there may be hordes of Creepers coming out to play while other nights may be filled with skeletons and zombies.
There is no telling what will happen each time going through the game and that is one of its greatest strengths. Unfortunately for Minecraft, there is a distinct lack of interaction with other characters for the player or seeing characters interact with each other. These are the times that immersion breaks. Why would a Creeper stalk out a player but choose to ignore blowing up an innocent sheep or cow… or even a zombie? It takes the player out of the world when they feel like a game is targeting them instead of giving them a world to just live in.
On the other hand, Far Cry 3 has a laid out world where pretty much everything is up to kill someone or something else. While there is a pretty sparse population within the neutral town areas for players to interact with, in the wild it is game on. Instead of just being worried about the pirates and mercenaries spotting them, the player needs to be aware of the fauna in Far Cry 3, including but not limited to tigers, komodo dragons and rabid dogs which will attack them at random.
But the wildlife in Far Cry 3 doesn’t limit itself to just the player. There have been times in a middle of a firefight, things got too close and a bear has laid waste of part of a mercenary camp. Even more amazing was one time traversing through the jungles, a deer dashed out ahead of me with a cheetah in hot pursuit. This totally random instance made the world feel alive like things would keep on happening whether or not I was even there.
The gist of it all is that making a world feel alive can help suck a player in like they wouldn’t expect. Many were hesitant to even give Far Cry 3 a chance after the mixed feelings people had from previous titles but after feeling a part of this world, many had no choice but to love the world they found themselves in. Like the day to day adventures of the world of Skyrim where everyone has to worry about the safety of their knees, the player may be the star of the show but things would keep turning without them.
It is these worlds that gaming needs more than ever to make them feel alive, approachable and addicting. If not for the massive stack of games leftover from the holidays still to get to, I’d still be hooked into exploring more of Far Cry 3’s world and that’s something all too many games are still missing. That hook of a living world to keep them coming back for more.