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Role Playing (Games)

MMOGs and Sandbox-Style Play 113

Posted by Zonk
from the d-k-p-minus-fifty-for-creativity dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Why do so few games truly embrace the sandbox metaphor? The folks at GamersWithJobs have their own opinions, and think that MMOGs may be replacing The Sims as the center of the 'emergent gameplay' movement. From the article: 'I don't know if it's a function of age, or experience or perhaps just changing tastes, but my favorite games are increasingly the ones where I can find my own methods of play. I loved that Dead Rising simply gave me a maul, a chainsaw and an army of zombies. Perhaps my love of MMOs is as much related to the opportunity to explore and adventure on my own as any actual construction of gameplay.'"
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MMOGs and Sandbox-Style Play

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  • So, typo or not? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ReverendLoki (663861) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:20PM (#17941120)

    I loved that Dead Rising simply gave me a maul , a chainsaw and an army of zombies.

    I can't decide if this is a typo or not. I know it takes place in a MALL, as in a shopping center, but I haven't played the game, so I'm a little short on details. I know it's known for giving you a wide variety of weapons, but is a MAUL, as in a large two-handed warhammer, one of them? Or does any large impromptu bludgeoning device count? Is this a typo, a clever play on words, or an unintended pun?

  • Star Wars: Galaxies (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cmize (573277) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:21PM (#17941128)
    When Star Wars: Galaxies first came out it was more of a sandbox game and I absolutely loved it. I would love to see another game try it because I think SOE handled the whole game badly and I'd like to see that type of game done really well.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      To this day I still maintain that with the exception of the combat system, Galaxies is the best MMO released so far. And truth be told, the combat was still fun in the first couple weeks, back when everyone had crap gear and no advanced professions.
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:55PM (#17941698)
      > I think SOE handled the whole game badly

      In other news, poster also describes the Grand Canyon is a "ditch", and the the act of drawing the Virgo Supercluster through a trillion light-year section of buckytube as "suck".

      I, for one, welcome our understated overlords.

    • SWG is actually going back to the sandbox-style play, although not officially - www.swgemu.com
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Null537 (772236)
      When Star Wars: Galaxies first came out it was more of a sandbox game

      Well, you were on Tatooine.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by andy9701 (112808)

      When Star Wars: Galaxies first came out it was more of a sandbox game and I absolutely loved it.


      I totally agree. I still miss the crafting system that was in place in the original game - I haven't heard of anything that has come close to that, yet.
    • Have you tried EVE Online (http://www.eve-online.com/ [eve-online.com]) yet?

      It is the most sandbox-y MMO I have played yet, with multiple of ways to play it. From trader in high security areas to pirate in the interstellar outback, everything is possible (note that the latter is quite dangerous thanks to open PvP).

      Disclaimer: I have never played Star Wars: Galaxies, so I cannot offer a direct comparison.
      • >Have you tried EVE Online (http://www.eve-online.com/ [eve-online.com]) yet? ...and it's best feature - the devs have hands-on experience with the game! You might even say they are invested in it.
  • by AuMatar (183847) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:32PM (#17941286)
    Thats why most games don't embrace it- because most gamers (not all, but most) don't want it. When faced with a sandbox game, I pick it up, go to play it, and then go "Now what?" There's no storyline to follow, no objective to complete. No way to progress in the game. Its fun for maybe 15 minutes, then its boring as hell. Its a niche market, there's room for a few games like that, but most games will avoid that style of gameplay.
    • by EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:41PM (#17941438)
      Ever heard of Grand Theft Auto? Morrowind? Oblivion?
      Clearly, there are many gamers who are still interested in this style of play.

      Of course, the author of the article is an idiot for comparing The Sims to Dead Rising.

      • by MBraynard (653724)
        Those aren't really sandboxes as much as playgrounds. There are lots of rides on them and you can choose when you want to go on them, but they, for the most part, only work in the way they are designed.

        A truer example of a sandbox might be Sim City.

        • Those aren't really sandboxes as much as playgrounds. There are lots of rides on them and you can choose when you want to go on them, but they, for the most part, only work in the way they are designed.
          A truer example of a sandbox might be Sim City.

          I don't want to get into a deep discussion of the differences between "sandbox" and "playground" games, but I did want to point out that in the gaming culture and industry, Grand Theft Auto is often referred to the poster-child of sandbox gaming [wikipedia.org]. You may not agre

          • by QuantumG (50515) *
            Wow. Someone who actually knows how to respond to a semantics argument. Good to hear.
          • by Cheeko (165493)
            Indeed. Oblivion as well was always described as a pure sandbox game. and to the original ggp post, Oblivion has a VERY clear and deliniated path through the game. Same as with GTA. Its just that it was your choice as to whether or not you followed it.

            In both of those games you could do anything you wanted for the entire game, or you could progress the story. I personally love this. Sure I end up progressing the story the vast majority of the time, but if I'm bored I can hop into Oblivion, run around a
      • by x-caiver (458687)
        Is 'Oblivion' really a sandbox? It has a very specific set of tasks that must be completed to 'win' the game. You can go further by doing side quests, collecting things, talking to everyone, and even after you 'win' you can still keep playing. But, for people that need direction their is a story arc that takes you from 'start' to 'finish'.

        When I think of a 'sandbox', I think more of something like Second Life. There really is no 'finish' or 'goals'/'quests'/etc in that game. It just dumps you in and expec
        • by Endo13 (1000782)
          Trust me, in the end WoW is anything but open-ended. You either get gear or you eventually stop playing. In fact, WoW has about the most static game-world I've ever seen. Nothing you do has an impact for any real length of time. Yeah sure, you can go exploring but truth be told there's really not that much to explore in WoW. You can cover pretty much every nook and cranny in a few months' time.

          For those who are interested in a sandbox MMORPG, the one I'm waiting for is called Darkfall. http://www.darkfal [darkfallonline.com]

          • Darkfall is definately very interesting.

            My brother recently responded to a post on their forums which claimed that solo-play would be impossible because hardcore gamers would form guilds and control everything, ruthlessly hunting down people on their lands who did not bow to their whims.

            Apparently Darkfall takes place in a space about the size of Germany. Even if Darkfall had 8 million players and half of those 4 million were dedicated policemen for The Noble Guild of 1337 h4x0|2z, you still wouldn't be abl
        • by mqduck (232646)

          Is 'Oblivion' really a sandbox? It has a very specific set of tasks that must be completed to 'win' the game. You can go further by doing side quests, collecting things, talking to everyone, and even after you 'win' you can still keep playing. But, for people that need direction their is a story arc that takes you from 'start' to 'finish'.

          The "main quest" is really more just the biggest quest. You can do a million different quests; that ones just the biggest and best. Personally, I've yet to pay any attenti

          • by x-caiver (458687)
            If you have yet to pay any attention to the main quest, then you are really missing out. Completing the main quest was not my goal, but it was fun. It added some depth to the story that the side quests did not add, simply because most of the side quests were not part of a larger story that you could watch unfold.

            I've 'beaten' the game (as in completed the main quest, all the faction quests, the deadric quests, plundered all the dungeons, and as far as I know I've found all the side quests - I'll need to
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by StikyPad (445176)
      I rarely get mod points anymore (because I started modding people up with unpopular but valid opinions, and mod down people who are demonstrably wrong, both of which get undone in meta by people who either don't care, or don't know any better, which in turn lowers my moderation "accuracy score") otherwise I'd mod you up.

      There's a reason actual sandboxes are only enjoyed by small children. The freedom to do whatever you want can be liberating and exhilarating, but only if you've been confined, and only unti
    • by jchenx (267053) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @07:16PM (#17942052) Journal

      Thats why most games don't embrace it- because most gamers (not all, but most) don't want it. When faced with a sandbox game, I pick it up, go to play it, and then go "Now what?" There's no storyline to follow, no objective to complete. No way to progress in the game. Its fun for maybe 15 minutes, then its boring as hell. Its a niche market, there's room for a few games like that, but most games will avoid that style of gameplay.
      I agree that there are some sandbox games that are too non-linear. Morrowind was definately that way for me. After the initial section of the game, I had no idea what to do next. I found myself uninterested in the game after that. The sequel, Oblivion, did a much better job of setting some objectives, though, which helped tremendously.

      One reason why GTA is so popular as a sandbox game is because you DO have a storyline to go through. You can choose to finish the next objective/mission ... or you can take a break and blow up a lot of cars just for fun. Having the choice is important.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I find your experience with Morrowind and Oblivion really funny actually - I found that I adored Morrowind and became bored with Oblivion after the first bit. I played through the first bit of Morrowind, and then it cut me loose - and I didn't know what I should do - so I wandered the streets of a town and talked to some locals - and I realized that I wasn't on a quest - I was just supposed to go out and live my life in Morrowind, it was incredible to me - and I did - and innexorably, no matter what you do
    • The fun of sandboxes come from all of the "mini-games" you intentionally or unintentionally create as you play. I remember creating stunt runs in GTA for myself, or seeing how many cops I could kill using only a sword, etc. Whether this is sustainable fun is up to the game itself. Clearly GTA did it right and created the right amount of fun from that. Other games, like say...ATiTD...didn't really make sandbox style play fun. And that was about as literal as you get for the term sandbox. I'm sorry but
    • by Chris Burke (6130)
      I don't know, I really like GTA, but I hate the fucking story. It's insipid. The missions are occasionaly fun because they let you do something you normally don't (like shoot from the back of a motorcycle while someone else drives), but in general the only reason I ever do the missions is to unlock new areas. If you could access the whole map at the start of the game, I never would have done a single story mission in GTA:SA.

      Now what do I do as far as goals? Well, I have basically two favorites that have
    • by Cheapy (809643)
      Which is exactly why games like Grand Theft Auto, Oblivion, and Mercenaries never sold a single copy.
    • by merreborn (853723)

      Sandboxes aren't fun


      How, then, would you explain the raging success of "The Sims"?

      I think the important point is that sandboxes *alone* are not fun. You need the right tools/content available. "The Sims" had them. There probably hasn't been an MMO yet that was comparably equipped.
    • by ChaosDiscord (4913) * on Friday February 09, 2007 @12:55AM (#17944944) Homepage Journal

      Thats why most games don't embrace it- because most gamers (not all, but most) don't want it.

      Which is, of course, why The Sims, the ultimate sandbox game, has been a catastrophic financial failure. I have no idea why they keep releasing more expansions into that money pit.

      I pity the companies that invested in games with strong sandbox components like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivian, and Simcity. Those poor fools are just throwing good money after bad.

  • by RichPowers (998637) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:35PM (#17941328)
    The author only mentions MMOs in the last paragraph. He doesn't even list what MMOs he likes, let alone the qualities of a successful sandbox MMO. In fact the article is best summed up as "Why I think The Sims is better than Grand Theft Auto."

    It's interesting that he should mention The Sims, MMOs, and sandbox gameplay in the same article. The Sims Online - a game EA has practically shoved under the rug - was a miserable failure, despite a preexisting Sims fanbase and mainstream coverage from the likes of TIME. Don't get me wrong: I like sandbox games as much as the author. But The Sims Online was an uninspired grindfest that required you to perform insultingly repetitive tasks to "level up" your Sim. EA might've finally changed this since I quit, though I doubt it.

    I find the popular MMOs (WoW, Guild Wars) to be incredibly restrictive and linear. Ya, I can wonder around a gameworld, but I can barely impact how it functions or really do what I want.
    • by spun (1352)
      I would love to see an MMO with elements of Civilization, Sim City, The Sims, and RPGs. It would use a first person interface, have plenty of Sim like NPCs to interact with, and if you achieved positions of power and influence, you could influence city and nation building. Hehe, you could even have a "Politician" class. Wouldn't that be fun, playing a level 40 Politician or Civil Engineer?

      Ook. Maybe I need to rethink this...
      • go outside (Score:3, Informative)

        by User 956 (568564)
        I would love to see an MMO with elements of Civilization, Sim City, The Sims, and RPGs. It would use a first person interface, have plenty of Sim like NPCs to interact with, and if you achieved positions of power and influence, you could influence city and nation building.

        They have that. It's called real life.
        • Yeah, but the PHAT LOOT sucks ;-)
          • > Yeah, but the PHAT LOOT sucks ;-)

            Owning corporations, multi-million dollar penthouse apartments in New York and Paris, and hillside mansions in California, with gorgeous uberbabes lying around your built-in pool sucks?

            I think you mean the PHAT LOOT is much harder to come by because real life isn't set on "don't hurt me daddy" difficulty level.
        • by Alsee (515537)
          They have that. It's called real life.

          Yeah, but I heard that the monthly service fees are like way over a hundred bucks.

          -
        • by edschurr (999028)
          The difference is that in real life you can't go assassinate the mayor, butcher John Doe, or misappropriate millions of dollars to fund a small army, and then reroll once the Americans invade and hang you. I'll take the sandbox, thanks.
          • 1. That's only because some people playing the "politician" class have made it impossible for other politicians to legally kill off their political enemies.

            2. How do you know you can't reroll?
            • by edschurr (999028)
              Re: 2

              Well, even if you can reroll you have to play through the first 18 years again before you can do anything cool.
      • by cliffski (65094)
        Don't rethink it, it's fine, but in practice you need to dump the first person idea. games done in 3D in FP mode cost a fortune if you want to have large variety of environment, unless you let the community build it (like second life) which can end up incoherent and messy.
        The solution is to drop all pretence at being a realistic fully rendered 3D world. To do the game you are describing, you need to switch to 2D, or even a text based game, but it can be done. I found it very easy to add new careers, gamepla
      • by edschurr (999028)
        Spore will have a progression similar to that, although it's the same kind of game--not RPG-like.
    • The grind is what kills the sandbox. The grind is what players play for even if they don't admit it. Its the carrot at the end of the stick that keeps them going. With a sandbox, its more like the carrot is figuring out what cool new things you can do. One is a linear path, the other is random. The two play styles appeal to two very different types of mindset.

    • Indeed - I want to be able to change the world. I want to be able to wander off into the wilderness, find a harbour near some ore deposits, clear out the monsters, build a wharf, and in a while have a mining boom town, and still later a mercantile city. Or build a university of magic, or build my own kingdom, or lead an army of barbarians to sack the cities the game started with. (I'm thinking of single player Oblivion-like games rather than MMOs here. Well, it would be great in MMOs too, but it would be ha
      • by Nasarius (593729)
        You're describing what the earlier days of Ultima Online were like (almost, with a little roleplaying and some GM intervention), and what Horizons [wikipedia.org] could have been. Unfortunately, I don't know of any MMOGs in development that are even a shadow of the potential that UO hinted at. The original designer of Horizons, who once had grand ideas and was forced out of the company, is now working on what seems to be a cookie-cutter MMORPG [alganon.com]. Seriously, read some of the information about Horizons from the pre-blackout er
        • Some highlights from my memory:

          - You could play a dragon in addition to the regular classes and races. A dragon would take over 2 years to get to full strength, but when they did, they'd be an even match for any other 3 maxed out characters. A dragon would build a lair and assemble a horde of loot, and this would attract adventurers (these other chars) to try to come take it from you.

          - Like City of Heroes, it was to have full, true 3D movement. Many races could fly, and by fly, I don't mean just hover a
        • by Tarkadot (800596)

          Seriously, read some of the information about Horizons from the pre-blackout era if you can find it. You'll salivate, and wonder what the fuck happened, and why nobody is doing it today.

          Actually, If you followed Vanguard throught it's development you'd have at least part of the answer to your question. So much of what was being pitched sounded so much like early Horizons. Right down to each races putting down their diferences to fight an encroaching army of undead, and regrouping in a rebuilt capital of

  • Dead Rising...? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wilson_6500 (896824) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:36PM (#17941358)
    From what I heard (I don't own any MS consoles), Dead Rising also gave you a pretty strict time limit if you wanted to, you know, actually complete the objectives of the game, too.

    It seems to me that a good Sandbox type of game--let's take Morrowind or GTA for popular examples--would give you more or less as much time as you like to complete the "story" or "objective" missions, and then have a whole bunch of stuff to just play around with/in. Even if it makes perfect, logical sense to have a strict time limit, that doesn't necessarily mean that it must be done. In fact, I'd think that works strongly against the Sandbox motif--if I want to just dick around in the game for a while--go gain a couple levels or snoop around for useful loot--I shouldn't have to sacrifice the rest of my current play-through.
    • by User 956 (568564)
      From what I heard (I don't own any MS consoles), Dead Rising also gave you a pretty strict time limit if you wanted to, you know, actually complete the objectives of the game, too.

      Well, you can play through the 72-hour timed game (which takes about 6 real-life hours), with no objective requirements, unless you want to see the "story". There is an option to unlock an untimed mode where you play as long as you want.
    • by Babbster (107076)
      As MBraynard pointed out above, Oblivion, GTA, etc. aren't really sandbox games in any case. A sandbox game should be one in which you're provided a set of tools and a blank slate to play around with - The Sims, SimCity, perhaps even Civilization would fit in this category. Oblivion and the others provide you with a setting and are fairly limited in the sense that the setting is what it is no matter what you do within the game (mods don't count). For example, in GTA you can't run around destroying whole
      • Hmph. That doesn't sound like a game so much as Second Life.

        While I don't disagree that Sim-type games are fundamentally different, I don't see how mods for something like Morrowind don't count via your parameters. Is that because they're not actually part of the "game" itself and are instead included in an outside package? Or is it because the modding tools aren't the point of the game? If that's the case, then I point to NWN, which was billed as something of a DM's Playset. That latter one doesn't even
        • by Babbster (107076)
          Yes, NWN would count as a "sandbox" game. Creating and running scenarios from virtually nothing is part and parcel to the game (particularly for the first iteration, it was the most important thing).

          It really isn't that hard to understand. With Oblivion, GTA, etc. you're given a setting in which you have to function. You don't get to design your own city or castle, you don't get to create NPCs and stick them in the game, etc., unless you go outside what comes with the game and install third-party modifi
  • Sandbox vs Storyline (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hollywoodb (809541) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:43PM (#17941480)
    I can't dispute the popularity of the Sims or Second Life, but I'm really not a big fan of the "sandbox" style of play. I would much rather have an engaging storyline and objectives, both short and long term as far as the shelf-life of the game is concerned.

    I've played A Tale in the Desert [atitd.com] and its a decent game. No combat, and arguably a bit of a sandbox-style game. You can basically do whatever you want within the limits of the game, but there are objectives and goals as well. The most rewarding aspect is working with fellow players in a guild to advance in the game. In the end, though, I don't feel the game offers anything beyond a little enjoyment. It isn't engaging enough for me to justify paying the subscription price.

    I've also played quite a bit of EVE Online. Now there's a bit of a storyline to EVE, but the general goal of playing as far as I can tell is either to get really rich, really powerful, or both. As you progress in skills and equipment there can be some great fun fighting battles with your teammates to protect territory you have claimed as your own. But in the end for me it suffers the same fate as ATITD, it doesn't offer anything beyond a little enjoyment. It isn't engaging enough for me to justify paying the subscription price.

    What I'd like to see rather than "sandbox" style games where you can be anything you want to be are games where what players do have a direct impact on the game world. Picture, if you will, a game that actually evolves beyond adding features. I'm not much of a visionary, but I'll try to put this forward to illustrate what I'm trying to explain:

    Think of a real-time Risk-type game with at least a few thousand players. Your alliance manages to take over a territory after a long enduring battle against the territory's previous rule. Anyone "living" (not everyone needs to be involved militarily) now falls under your jurisdiction and is subject to laws your alliance has explicitly written. However in a seperate area of your empire there are players who prefer a different form of government than yours. They manage to stage an uprising while your alliance has neglected to keep military presence in that area...
    Now that's a game I would play, something where what I and what others around me do actually affect the game world in a significant way. Imagine a WWII style game where if your armies run around gold-mining instead of fighting towards a common goal the Third Reich actually does take over Europe and now you're behind the eight ball. Imagine in that game a real chain of command based on a democratic system where those at the top actually lay out strategies and plans for invasion, defense, disruption of enemy supply lines, etc. Imagine your enemy suddenly doesn't get that shipment of ammunition before you stage an offensive. Imagine being that enemy and suddenly being up shit creek and trying to scramble reinforcements. Imagine decision makers having to decide which engagement is more valuable and which victory can be sacrificed.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by colganc (581174)
      The game you describe is very much how EVE Online works out in 0.0 space. You build space stations and they can be taken away. When they are taken away you no longer have access to that space. In order to keep those space stations and defend them there is a lot of logistics involved that needs defending (aka supply lines). Stick with EVE Online on out into 0.0 claimable space and you have the game you want.
      • I've played quite a bit of EVE in 0.0 space, even been in some pretty decent battles. Admittedly, I haven't played since they implemented stations and such. When I played we all hung out at gates to defend space since there wasn't much else to do besides shoot rats and mine.
  • real or no real (Score:4, Interesting)

    by User 956 (568564) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:44PM (#17941516) Homepage
    I don't know if it's a function of age, or experience or perhaps just changing tastes, but my favorite games are increasingly the ones where I can find my own methods of play.

    It could be a function of age... as you get older, you realize that life itself is a kind of 'sandbox game' where you make your own path, and set your own goals within a larger pre-existing system. So having a game where you can approach it with your same day-to-day mindset, but also run down zombies with a jeep, makes sense in its appeal.
  • Important premise (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) * <lajollahomeless@hotmail.com> on Thursday February 08, 2007 @06:49PM (#17941602) Homepage Journal
    > my favorite games are increasingly the ones where I can find my own methods of play

    A system will continue to run when the rules are broken. A game ends when the rules are broken. Many games don't end suddenly when the rules are no longer followed but, rather, they begin to repeat themselves and become quite predictable and, thus, boring.

    Good games are few and far between: one of the reasons why chess is timeless. It has rules, they cannot be broken, yet people still play it.

    Football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, etc. are arguably not games as the rules have been slowly evolving. They are systems. Systems tend to persist longer than games.

    The conceptual difference between the two is very important. Society is a system, constantly evolving, and it is both conscious and subconscious, both behavioral and psychological, both learned and inherited.

    On rare occasion one will find a "game" which can be turned into a system. My favorite was "Pirates!" on my Amiga 500. I played it through once or twice by the script and then continued to play it for months with the only goal in mind to maintain a "notorious" reputation with all four nations while still sailing, docking, trading, and plundering wherever I pleased.

    Exodus: Ultima III was another good system (excellent music on the C=64, as well). Most f4ntasy adventure games could be made into systems.

    Expansion packs are very important parts of games because they allow the original game engine to be expanded, making it closer to a system. I've found that games which have confined maps tend to wear out more quickly--another reason for expansion packs.

    Some guys play with their nuts. Other guys play with their car alarms.
    • by mqduck (232646)

      Good games are few and far between: one of the reasons why chess is timeless. It has rules, they cannot be broken, yet people still play it.

      Football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, etc. are arguably not games as the rules have been slowly evolving. They are systems. Systems tend to persist longer than games.

      What exactly are you talking about? Re: Chess, see: Go. As for chess or those sports games, the rules don't /during/ the games, and the changing of rules between games is not /part/ of the game in any w

    • Chess changes quite a bit between games.

      See Pole Chess, Huffdraw, Resignation, Castling, En Passant, etc.

      There are many variations on the rules, but as the prior poster said, once the game begins the rules are set (except in chaos chess, where a rule can be invoked during the game and becomes part of the game from there on as long as it doesn't conflict with a prior rule).
  • by Vector7 (2410) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @07:04PM (#17941868) Journal
    The basic problem with MMORPGs games is that so few of them contain any real action or physics component. In something like WoW, you can run around in real time, but your interaction with the world is basically limited to whatever commands (attack, spells, etc) the developers program in. In something like GTA you get so-called "emergent gameplay" simply because you have some terrain and a physics engine, and it's a lot of fun just to race around trying to abuse it. Pedestrians, other vehicles, police, etc add an extra dimension of entertainment, but a mostly decorative one - fundamentally, GTA is fun because driving around insanely is fun, and everything else is just there to stimulate your imagination and placate that part of your mind that expects some context it can relate to. In most MMO games, the basic mechanics of the world don't enable much more than walking around and admiring the scenery. Gameplay in these environments is more contrived in the sense that it requires a greater mental investment in roleplaying and fabricating some motivating work-reward structure (which might be OCD trying to max your character out, social activity within a guild, or whatever).

    Given an MMO with greater interactivity than the typical "run, click, watch animation" style, there are a lot of fun things you could do. A fine example of emergent gameplay within a very simple system, from my childhood playing the NES, was the game River City Ransom, which had just enough physics that two players could invent mini sports to play using the objects lying around, like baseball using a pipe and a rock, or a crude form of soccer by kicking a trash can around the map. There's an elemental simplicity to this that transcends the games of stat manipulation (decorated with pretty scenery and storylines) that RPGs typically offer.

    If it sounds like I'm ragging on WoW, it's only because I'd rather be playing an MMO version of a game like Zelda.
    • Completely agree with you -- the world interaction (or lack of it), stinks in WoW.

      I highly recommend playing Ultima 7, or UO if you want to interact with the world.

      • by Vector7 (2410)
        Sadly I missed out on UO, but I agree - even after a decade and a half, U7 is still one of the most detailed virtual worlds created on a computer. I thought the age of virtual worlds at that level of detail was long gone due to the cost of developing modern games (in 3D, with fancy models instead of tiny sprites), but Oblivion proved me wrong. It's really the only thing I've played since U7 to approximate that virtual world feeling, and it only wears thin because after wandering the countryside for a few ho
        • by Nasarius (593729)

          Sadly I missed out on UO

          That's too bad. There really hasn't been anything like it in the seven years or so since it started being crap. How many MMORPGs have even a half-assed form of player housing, one of the most popular features of UO? There are various ways to prevent the urban sprawl that happened in UO.

          Still, Oblivion deserves a lot of credit for creating such a huge world at AAA production values.

          See, that's my problem with Oblivion. It's chock-full of *stuff*, some of it very good (the Dark Br

          • by Vector7 (2410)

            Building up your character isn't much fun, since there are so few skills to choose from.

            Doubly so given the scaling on monster difficulties, particularly if (as I did) you made poor choices in designing your character such that as you advance the monsters get more difficult. I stopped playing the game for ages just due to this demotivating me.

            Isn't that a little crazy? There's less dialogue, but that's okay, because they wanted everything to be voice-acted. The NPCs do stupid things and engage each other in the same conversations over and over again, which breaks the suspension of disbelief, but it's cool because it's "Radiant AI".

            And don't forget how they will switch between two or possibly three accents/voices in one conversation. :)

            I'll admit I am to some extent suckered in by the gorgeous outdoor graphics, and at this point maybe I just have lowered expectations for thes

          • > Oblivion .. it's all built on a pretty bland game system that can't do much more than Daggerfall. Quantity over quality.

            Completely agreed!

            Nasarius what you're alluding to is what game designers call "map density."

            People commonly think a larger world is better, but that is counter intuitive! It's much easier to make a smaller world more interesting, because you've reduced the player's "transit" time before they are engaged. In a big world, you have to populate the world with MORE "interesting things"
    • by QuantumG (50515) *
      This is so true. My most enjoyable moment in Second Life was when I happened upon a floating pontoon on a river. There didn't seem to be much point to it, but I found the movement on the water interesting, so I entered the pontoon and sat down. Shortly after, I thought I heard a sound. I looked around, but apart from some trees gently swaying backwards and forwards on the bank, I didn't see anyone. The movement of the pontoon was very gentle and calming, then I heard the noise again. I had stereo head
      • by Vector7 (2410)
        That is very cool. I didn't realize Second Life was that sophisticated - now I understand why they are said to require vastly more processing power on the server side compared to many games.
  • When it comes to MMOG's most peope say they want freedom to do what they want and be what they want but ofcourse that also means that that other guy can do what he wants too which in most cases is kill you, take your stuff and kill your horse. And then the only thing you can do is go on the forums and whine to restrict that guys freedom which in turn restricts your freedom and then you end up with the another everquest clone.
    • by Endo13 (1000782)
      Not true. When players are completely unrestricted (within the context of the game) they generally find a way to solve those PvP problem themselves. It's when the restrictions are unfair that players start to whine. The biggest such example is a direct result of the common leveling (and class) systems coupled with open PvP zones, as in WoW. A level 40 player happens upon a level 20 player questing in a PvP zone, and simply because the one player happened to start playing the game a month or two before the o
  • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @07:11PM (#17941940)
    "Game design is about giving the player _interesting_ choices."

    If the player is bored, or is there is dead time (I'm looking at you WoW Designers and your stupid flight path times), your game play is BROKEN. People are not playing games to be bored -- they are playing to be entertained. All good games take fact of the "natural game play" cycle. In Halo it was shoot, rest, shoot rest. MMO's same pattern: Attack, Camp, Attack, Camp. Even turn-based games, computer or board games (Chess, MtG), have this cycle, of where you "interact with the world", and then you wait to see the outcome.

    This is what makes DnD so great -- no dead time. The DM controls the pacing. (It stinks in other areas, but it got this fundamental, down pat.)

    --
    Games complaining about how a game is unrealistic is missing the point -- it's about whether the game is
    a) believable, b) consistent, and c) logical

    • Yes, cause DM's never go to the bathroom, or start looking up rules for five minutes or anything that is boring...
      • I never ran into either of those issues -- but then I've had great DMs.

        If the DM needs a bio break, chances are, everyone else can take one too. :-)

        And if you really have to go, it's not that big of deal to have one of your buddies control your character for a min or two. (If you don't trust them, why are you playing with them? :-)
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @07:38PM (#17942384) Homepage
      Dude, flight paths are the game's built-in bathroom breaks. Hop on the flight path, relieve your bladder, make yourself a sandwich, and pour another beer. I figure these are just Blizzard's way of helping to make sure their players don't die in their chairs. This was improved a hundred-fold when they made it so you could chain flight paths together automatically.

      The thing I hate are the zepplins/ships/trams. Those are freaking irritating. You have to be there both when they come to pick you up, and when you arrive at the destination, and they are just long enough in coming that it is really annoying to miss them. I want to be able to just stand on the platform, have it pick me up when the zep arrives, and drop me off when it reaches my destination. Forcing me to sit there and do nothing is what is really obnoxious. When nothing happens, but it happens automatically, that's fine by me.
      • Agreed on both counts -- bio break, and chaining is a god send.

        A co-worker of mine plays SWG and he can't believe that us WoW players put up with such unbelievable 'transit' times.

        In SWG, he mentioned that people had to wait 10+ minutes (think it was for 'elevators'), and enough people 'bitched' so they were shorted down to 5 minutes. People complained again about the 'long waiting', and now it is down to 30 secs to a minute. The funny thing, people are still complaining about the "long delay"

        I *really* wi
      • by edschurr (999028)
        If flight paths resolved instantly you could leave your character standing idle and go make a sandwich. You accomplish the same thing but you aren't stuck waiting for the end of the flight. The only difference is that players who take fewer breaks are more competitive, but I have a hard time believing eg twenty minutes per day is going to put you behind.
        • by Chris Burke (6130)
          The only difference is that players who take fewer breaks are more competitive, but I have a hard time believing eg twenty minutes per day is going to put you behind.

          You're looking at it backwards. Competitive people are less likely to take breaks, regardless of what actual advantage this gives them. WoW addicts in general are likely to ignore the needs of their biological bodies, so this is Bliz's method of forcing downtime on players such that they have little to do or think about other than their soon-
    • by dbIII (701233)

      or is there is dead time (I'm looking at you WoW Designers and your stupid flight path times),

      You have to eat sometime.

  • by Phrogman (80473) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @07:17PM (#17942074) Homepage

    Or so it seems to me. There are very few sandbox style games out there these days in MMORPG land. I think this stems from most players lacking the imagination to take on an open world and find their own entertainment, probably because their prefered gameplay styles have evolved on other games and that shapes their preferences - although generalizations of that sort are naturally quite dangerous and notoriously unreliable. I am sure most people dislike sandbox games to whatever degree for a variety of reasons. I see less in the way of open ended game designs these days though, and most seem to feature some pretty heavy handed guidance for players to ensure they travel down the right (limited number of ) rails on their pass through the game.

    Of course, the population of gamers who prefer to really Roleplay in game seems to also be dwindling. This may be a factor in the decline of the Sandbox game as well. Its only natural for those who prefer to engage in roleplaying to want to pop into a Sandbox environment, rub their hands together and say "Ok, now what shall we do first?". More traditional gamers who don't associate as directly with their characters are much more likely to approach the game from a Gamer perspective, and thus view it as a series of obstacles to be overcome, or perhaps a series of goals to be achieved, and set about resolving those as efficiently as possible. This probably ties into Bartle's MUD personality survey, which suggests there are 4 types of MUD gameplayers: Explorers, Achievers, Socializers and Killers. Roleplayers of course fall heavily on the Explorer and Socializer side of things. I think most standard gamers, coming from other types of gameplay will tend to fall into the Acheiver and Killer sides of things since those are emphacized more heavily in most computer and console games.

    Star Wars Galaxies used to be the one of the best examples of a true Sandbox game in its original iteration. It has undergone 2 major revisions to its game mechanics, and each one in turn has reduced the "sandboxy" elements of the gameplay considerably. The current iteration - the so-called New Game Enhancement - is the least sandbox like game design I have ever seen, and the only vestiges of sandbox gameplay are those elements of the game that have not yet been revamped. The game is also all but dead as a result of these changes. Ultima Online is of course the granddaddy of MMORPGs effectively, and it, along with Asheron's Call and Everquest, were all more or less Sandboxy in design. All have also more or less fallen by the wayside these days.

    New MMORPG offerings tend to be more linear, more structured, more quest-based and often link leveling of characters to elements of the game in a manner they need not have chosen to do. For instance in Warcraft a person interested primarily in crafting, is also forced to level up their character in combat, since crafting level is linked to character level for some reason. This is the antithesis of sandbox design. Dungeons & Dragons Online is almost entirely quest based, as are City of Heroes/City of Villains (where we can replace the word quest with mission), and most other games currently on the market.

    Many of course offer a bit of both. The now venerable Dark Age of Camelot offers accelerated advancement in levels by either hunting or doing quests or instanced missions - mostly this is an attempt to let people get to the end game faster and thus retain subscribers I am sure. This game is also sadly dying, although the next offering from Mythic (Warhammer Online) will no doubt build on the successes of DAOC.

    Vanguard Saga of Heroes is a modern Sandbox game, although it does offer questing as well. You can take up Crafting or Diplomacy and progress in those areas independant of your character's combat level. Its a very promising game, although it has high end equipment requirements

    The flexbility of sandbox gaming is perhaps not structured enough for most individuals.

    • It's great that you pointed out that Vanguard is trying to do something a bit differently, having the individual levelling spheres for adventuring (dungeon-romping), crafting, and diplomacy, but it should also be noted that while they are all unique and do not directly depend on one another for advancement, they still indirectly do. For example, to get the high level trees to cut down to advance in lumberjacking, the high level firebloom plants for tailoring, the nodes of tin for blacksmithing, etc, you ha
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Play Wurm Online. It's a 3D fantasy MMOG written by a couple guys out of Sweden, entirely in Java. It's a big come-down for people accustomed to Oblivion-level graphics, but it has the outrageous (by MMOG standards) feature of allowing the players to dig up the terrain, rearranging it to suit themselves. You can also tunnel through rock. It's a skill-based game, rather than level based. You can choose to concentrate on any mix of upwards of 70 different skills that pleases you, doing what you want.

    Some
  • Open gameplay (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shadukar (102027) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @08:12PM (#17942692)
    Slightly unrelated (hey, its Slashdot) but for a while now I have been noticing that the games I come back to play over, and over again are games which give me the freedom to play how I want to. Games where you chose how you solve problems, where you can charge in guns blazing or creep around the edges where you can out-gear/out-manoeuvre your opponents rather than out-twitch them.

    Lets look at some examples that best explain what I mean:

    Games which did it best:

    Deus Ex
    - Awesome game for many, many reasons, but relevant is the fact that you could approach each problem from many directions - two guards ahead - you can sneak past them using the vents (classic) you can go in guns blazing, you can set up some sort of proximity mine (gas/explosive) you can take control of nearby robots/turrets) you can tranquilise them, you can knock them out, you can find another way to go. Likewise, the way you create your character, you can dump all skillpoints into pistols, or rifles or you can put all your points into engineering/hacking and you can still finish the game. All styles of play are valid - you kill all the terrorists in the first level for example and your peacenik brother tells you off for killing too many people but the cops are cheering you on. Kill no one in that level and your brother praises you but the cops tell you off for being a peacenik.

    Morrowind
    - Huge game with incredible aesthetic value of art, flavour and atmosphere, lots to do and a ton of add on quests to expand it further. However, numerous ways to create and play your character open up the possibilities of actual, real re-playing. You can play a stealthy rogue or a rapid direct damage spell caster, or a demon-summoner or an armoured knight or any weird combination of these! You can catch on-rails transport or you can make ring of jumping or ring of flying or cast these spells yourself. The list goes on and on. If you play this game once and just charge everything with the biggest sword, you're missing out - there are many ways to play and finish this game! There is a kinda famous example of some guy that kept making intelligence potions to boost his int till he became so intelligent he could make potions to make himself invincible - yeah, borderline-bug exploit, but goes to show that even a lowly alchemist can make it in this world.

    FarCry
    - Yes, it is a pretty simple 1st person shooter. You can't bribe your way past the guards, effectively roleplay a "git off my lawn" druid or an evil knife wielding hacker. However, what this game did quite well was having huge open areas with plenty of cover for the player to approach most areas in any way they want. For example, there is a camp full of mercenaries up a head. It has some sniper towers, some guys in tents/buildings, alarm, radio that can call in for helicopter and two fixed position miniguns. You might need a vehicle from that camp, or a keycard, etc. Now this is where the fun starts: you can ride in your car blasting everyone. Or you can use a silenced gun and slowly creep through the camp taking people out 1 or 2 at a time from behind before they can fire a shot. Or you can sneak up into one of the sniper towers and take people out from there. Or you can get up on a nearby hill and sniper or rocket from there. Or you can fire some shots from one direction, run into the forest, run around the camp, then do the same thing from opposite direction, taking a few people out every time. Or you can drag all the mercs into the forest, taking them out as they are chasing you through the trees. Or you can run into the camp and take one of the miniguns and start mowing down everyone. Or find a boat and do bombardment from the nearby river! Or a combination of any of these! Then the helicopter with reinforcements arrives and you have many choices again, from shooting it down yourself to taking up one of the fixed miniguns, etc

    Almost made it:

    GTA-SA
    - A lot of missions were basically "use this car, with this gun, to go on these streets, do not deviate"
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by edschurr (999028)
      Yes, having the option of multiple approaches to the main goal is the best. However, those multiple approaches have to be interesting (cue Sid Meier).

      In Far Cry I'd redo the same encounters just to see what result I'd get compared to the others. Can I use cover and manage with only a handgun? Can I take the boat and assault the beach from afar? Grand Theft Auto didn't have so much of this for me. Taking a different road generally doesn't matter, and handi-capping with worse cars is still via the same app
    • (nods)

      FarCry is one of my favorite FPS for single-player. Devilishly tricky in places, but it gave you lots of ways to approach situations. You could even shake off your pursuers if there was enough cover around that you could hide in. Not to mention the ever-present supply of rocks that you could throw to distract the AI.

      One fun way to clear out the dock area at the end of an early mission where you're trying to meet up with the doctor: Take out the rocket-shooting bugger on the hilltop tower. The
  • Just my thoughts (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 6-tew (1037428)

    Sandbox games run the risk of lacking too much in structure to be considered games at all. Some will say that's the point-to lack structure-overlooking that others want (maybe need) structure. They want to be told, more or less, what they need to do in order to "win." Winning may be reaching the top level or getting a certain amount of in-game property, or whatever. Point is, if I can do anything I may decide that there nothing to do and leave. Like have 500 channels and saying "There's nothing on."

    A game

  • Perhaps my love of MMOs is as much related to the opportunity to explore and adventure on my own as any actual construction of gameplay.'"
    Wait, there's MMORPGs where you can solo? The whole game? Funny how he doesn't name the MMO he's talking about, because it likely doesn't exist. Eventually, you're forced to group. :[
    • by KillerBob (217953)
      Haven't played GuildWars, have you? It's entirely possible to solo your way through the PvE campaign, unless you count the heroes and henchmen you can hire in every outpost as "not soloing"....
    • WoW is solo-able (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jchenx (267053)

      Wait, there's MMORPGs where you can solo? The whole game? Funny how he doesn't name the MMO he's talking about, because it likely doesn't exist. Eventually, you're forced to group. :[

      I suppose it depends on what you mean by "the whole game", but you can certainly solo from level 1 to 70 in World of Warcraft. I'm not talking about just grinding endlessly on mobs either. There are plenty of quests that can be done solo, across all the different classes. Granted, some classes may have it easier than others, bu

    • You can solo the whole way in either of these games (which are related of course). Sure, not every class can do so very effectively but a lot can.
    • by mqduck (232646)
      I don't think (s)he meant "on my own" to mean "solo". I think (s)he meant independently - solo or as a group.

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