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The Universal Reset
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Exploration Games: There aren't enough of them

You know what there isn't enough of? Exploring games. Not just games where you can move your character about, wherever you want him or her to go, within the 3D environment (á la Super Mario 64), but a game that is actually based upon exploring. We're in the Eighth Generation now -- microcomputer technology has advanced to the point where developers can create 3D environments that are exponentially larger than their Mode 7 progenitors.
A good example of exploring for its own sake can be found in the Harry Potter series. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the PS2, you could explore nearly the entire Hogwarts grounds. In Philosopher's Stone for GCN, you could land your broomstick anywhere there was a flat surface and explore the surroundings there. Oftentimes, there would be rewards for exploring: Bertie Bott's Beans (the game's currency), collectible Wizard Cards, Healing Potion cauldrons, and all sorts of nifty stuff like that. Of course, exploration could take place indoors as well as out. In Chamber of Secrets, you could enter any classroom and search the desks for Bertie Bott's Beans, Luminous Balloons, and Stink Pellets -- plus, as you learnt new spells, you would be able to unlock certain heretofore unopenable treasure chests to obtain Wizard Cards.

Now, perhaps I'm just playing the wrong games, but the only other game that has even come close to that level of exploration was The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Even though every island on the Great Sea served a purpose in the long run, you could get to them before you needed to. The island with the Private Cabana, for instance -- you could go there en route to Greatfish Island or the Triangle Islands, long before you could give Mrs. Marie enough Joy Pendants to secure the Cabana Deed (and, by extension, the Triforce Chart hidden in the catacombs beneath the fireplace) for your own.

Super Mario 64 proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that players like to explore their surroundings. GoldenEye 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time only supported that conclusion. But, why is it that Nintendo is the only company that gets it? Quite honestly, exploration took a step backward when the Bond rights were transferred to EA and a further step backward when Activision got them. Even though I talk about the Bond games a lot, and even though I play them about as much, the level of exploring you could do in The World is not Enough versus GoldenEye 64 was reduced drastically. The levels became more linear, the objectives required less running about, the exploration aspect was gone.

What we need in videogaming today is a revolution in exploration games. We've gotten first-person and third-person shooters to about as realistic as society will allow, we've got life-simulators that let you customise everything in sight, we've even got cooking games! Now that we are in the Eighth Generation (thank Nintendo for that, by the way), developers have the ability to create more expansive 3D worlds than anyone ever thought possible without needing to push processor limits. Most people don't realise this, but the Xbox 360 can display the equivalent of a ten-mile view, complete with 3D objects and first-person camera programming with very little frame-rate lag. The PS3 can do the same thing, but at a limit of eight miles. Wii's limit is about five to seven miles, depending on texture quality.
The point is that you have a 20-square-mile radius for an exploration game on the best graphics processor the Seventh Generation has to offer (a 10- or 14-square-mile radius on the lowest end -- if that sounds bad in comparison, have you ever walked 14 miles? Most people barely walk three miles in a year).

"Okay, so we can walk about a huge 3D playing-field. What do we do with it?"
Anything you want -- anything at all. Perhaps an espionage game, which requires you to travel around a city and go into buildings to find clues. Perhaps a treasure-hunting game where you find maps and clues that lead to a treasure of some great value. Perhaps even a space-travel game. I mentioned Star Trek some time ago and how the next successful Trek game could incorporate parts of The Wind Waker into some plot involving the Cardassians or the Borg or the Dominion or someone. Perhaps even another nautical exploration game, similar to The Wind Waker, but not as part of the Zelda series.

The point is, shooters, simulators, action games, and sport games are fine in their own right, but don't forget what made 3D great: exploration.

There. Tune in next time for, probably, something about Nintendo or The Sims or James Bond.


Posted by theniftyperson at 10:53 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, 30 July 2011 10:52 AM CDT

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