Game Environment Sizes

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evilkinggumby
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Wed Jan 22, 2014 10:20 am

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We have only had small hints at some of the "spaces" that the game takes place in, so it is hard to know truly what the feel of the finished game would be. But I figured it might be good to discuss, and ask questions, about what kind of spaces the players would like or hate for the game.

Specifically the difference between a "mouse hole" type space (fairly small, confined and compact) vs wide open sprawling spaces.

As an example, looking at the first alpha video's for GoaT, we saw the hero mouse on the beach, and you could see for quite a distance in almost every direction, which makes the game look and feel "massive" and is why a lot of people compared it to the vast open world of Skyrim. Now we know the game is not going to be as big or epic as Skyrim, it has been explained many times. We have also seen some design images in Seith's blog for dungeon type levels, which are naturally more confined, limited spaces. But How large or complex should an area really be?

I know there was a lot of pushback and disappointment when the current Gen releases of Final Fantasy hit because the areas you traversed felt too linear and "walking from point a to b" with none of the vast wide open spaces of previous games.

At the same time when a game tries to be too "open" it can result in players getting lost, losing their sense of purpose and plot if not done right. Even in games like The Last of US , some of the areas you traverse can be large and it gets confusing where you should go and what you should do (luckily they did add a "helper" that points you if you linger for too long). I actually found some of the larger areas of Ico difficult because of the limitations of leaving your companion unattended for too long (which hindered you exploring and experimenting).

I'm also going to post a link to one of the recent "Sessler's Something" talks, where he discusses game size and the good and bad of them. It kind of inspired this thread, but is a good look at some of the gamer's attitudes nowadays.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nGYFSRz1kg

So what do you think? Should the game have fairly small, tight but interesting and hard to navigate areas, larger complex areas with multiple routes and the possibility to get lost, or much bigger, open environments where the player has to just guess what to do to get from point a to b? If possible, cite games you really enjoyed for the level/environment design. I am also thinking both conceptually ( how you think of and enjoy the act of navigating the area) as well as perceptually (how you see the area and whether it SEEMS larger and complex, or fairly narrow and straightforward). Even in a fairly small room, you can perceptually "get lost" if the room is full of tall bookshelves and you have to navigate it quickly to find something.

Keep in mind this is just discussion amongst us, I am sure Seith already has a style and design in mind. I'm just curious what folk prefer in their games.

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evilkinggumby
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Wed Jan 22, 2014 10:33 am

For myself, I felt the Fable games often got it right with a clever mix of large areas but still channeling the player towards a goal (and using the environment to guide the player gently along a path without forcing a route.

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It meant the game world was fairly finite (as this image shows) but it felt vastly larger than this when you played. I personally love that notion. It's like a magic trick, or slight of hand.

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david
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Wed Jan 29, 2014 5:59 am

@Evil King... I totally agree, this is a really important post. In the photo from the GOAT level that we have seen - set in the tunnels - looks wonderful, but it is certainly very enclosed.

Overall though, I believe Seith will carefully steer a middle path between linearity and a huge, but empty, open world. Exactly as you say, he'll aim to be smart about how it all fits together. Also, Seith has said that exploration will be one of the GOAT pillars, so I believe that he will REALLY mix it up between tight and open levels.

Also, it is game industry standard to use MASSIVE contrast, to emphasize the scale of the gameworld. So you go from a very tight area, to a huge space. For example:
  • - opening the vault door in Fallout 3 for the first time to see the wasteland world (IGN top 5 spectacular moments in gaming)
    - scrambling through the linear beach and the tight, confusing forest of the first level, then looking over the magnificent bay in Crysis 1 (one of my favorite game moments)
In addition, I really like the concept that the island has 'depth'; in that you can go inside and underneath it; as well as running about on top. I believe Seith has also mentioned that there is a network of large caverns underground; where the frogs dwell to avoid the rats and mice: how spectacular would that be... genius! ;)

In my opinion, he will also play upon verticality (sorry for the game industry buzzword) in the design of certain levels.
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evilkinggumby
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Wed Jan 29, 2014 10:21 am

david wrote:I believe Seith has also mentioned that there is a network of large caverns underground; where the frogs dwell to avoid the rats and mice: how spectacular would that be... genius! ;)

In my opinion, he will also play upon verticality (sorry for the game industry buzzword) in the design of certain levels.
I missed the mention of tunnels and frogs using them. Where was that? I love the idea and it means a way to possibly fast travel between "zones" once the tunnels have been cleared out, or in the least a whole maze of interesting stuff to navigate at times.

The flourish of moving from tight confined spaces to wide open vistas is kool, though really you can only pull that off once in a game and have it be a 'key moment'. When you have massive spectacle over and over it really loses it's impact. Look at a lot of modern FPS's like MW4 or COD: GHosts where every few minutes there is a spectacular event. The first few will make the player drop their jaw, by the third or fourth they'll just be " yeah yeah get on with it, I got stuff to shoot".

Mind you I don't see Seith doing tons of those all through the game.

I do like that he wants the feeling of exploring to be key. What I worry about is how he will employ that idea realistically since he is such a small development team. And I say that with all possible respect.

Exploration requires having ground to cover. Granted it doesn't mean square miles or anything, but it means significant amounts of tunnels/rooms/caverns/forest/beach to look around and dig in to find stuff and progress. I guess I don't know yet how he'll pull off making so many areas, and keep the areas somewhat interesting, realistically.

One thing I've seen some games do is get into procedural asset/level generation so you can randomise the details (to varying degree's) every time you play. Whereas I don't think he'll go that route for the environments, he COULD do that with item drops and locations. So the first time you play you may find the Scroll of Sloth under a jagged boulder on the south beach, the next time it may be behind a tree in the woods. Key story/game advancing items may remain in their locations, but varying secondary items could make for right fun. And if he DOES go with collectibles.. those are perfect to have random spawn.

this gives me an idea for a new thread.. lol
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david
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Thu Jan 30, 2014 7:48 pm

evilkinggumby wrote:I missed the mention of tunnels and frogs using them.
"The Island of Periclave is located in the middle of the great Lake Vaelias and the frogs have lived there for a very long time, despising the wars of the Hairy Ones with all their disgusting ears and tails. When the rats built their citadel the frogs were driven back to their underwater caves and temple. But now… now something has happened on the island." (IGG Update 29 April, Character Sneak Peek: Frog, edited slightly)

It seems that the frogs were the main inhabitants of Periclave, but the were pushed underground to the caverns when the rats came.
evilkinggumby wrote:The flourish of moving from tight confined spaces to wide open vistas is kool, though really you can only pull that off once in a game and have it be a 'key moment'. When you have massive spectacle over and over it really loses it's impact. Look at a lot of modern FPS's like MW4 or COD: GHosts where every few minutes there is a spectacular event. The first few will make the player drop their jaw, by the third or fourth they'll just be " yeah yeah get on with it, I got stuff to shoot".
I 100% agree, I'm hoping Seith will be able to keep all the spectacular and explanatory stuff in-game, so we won't be popping out of gameplay to cut-scenes... leaving the player in control of the mouse all the time. It won't be easy, so fingers crossed.
evilkinggumby wrote:I do like that he wants the feeling of exploring to be key. What I worry about is how he will employ that idea realistically since he is such a small development team. And I say that with all possible respect.
Again, you are totally right. From what I've seen, Seith is bringing the visuals to AAA standard... but crafting a beautiful, explorable world, detailed enough to be consistently interesting, is the challenge I believe he is facing right now and over the next 8 months.
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KwisatzHaderach
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Sat Feb 01, 2014 3:15 am

You both make very good points and there is not much that I can add except maybe the notion that imo world size is ultimately linked to freedom of movement. Let me explain this with a few examples: The Mass Effect as well as The Witcher series both have stunning vistas and very big open spaces. Yet, the one thing that always irritated me was that it felt like you had a linear path carved out most of the times. You could either move back or forward.
Even levels like the beautiful forest at the start of the second Witcher, that let you explore the whole area, felt like a network of paths. So, while some of these areas were actually rather big and complex, the inability to jump really killed some of the atmosphere for me. I never got over not being able to get over tiny fences or little crates scattered abaout the levels borders. So, because movement was severely limited, I had the impression I was moving through a very cramped world, no matter the epicness of the vistas.
Which brings me to another point which bugged me in those games: most of these vistas were just scenery you could never reach. I do realize these games weren't build around free-roaming and exploration, still, it always made me sad that I would never know what's behind that hill or on that island in the distance.
It is a delicate balance a game has to strike to meet my tastes in that regard though. Skyrim, for example, was a horribly boring game if you ask me. Although it is called the hiking simulator by many, I never caught fire. Places just didn't feel special enough to be worth exploring.

Games that got it right were for example the Saboteur, Psychonauts and, above all, Risen 1. That game had a comparibly small gaming world, but lots of nooks and crannies, caves and mountains that you could climb (LEVOLUTION!). The only thing it lacked was the ability to swim.
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evilkinggumby
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Mon Feb 03, 2014 5:13 pm

I can understand a lot of what you are saying, Kwisatz. We actually touched a bit on one idea you mention, seeing areas you cannot get to or explore, back in an old thread when I proposed the idea of a telescope as an item to scout terrain and possibly look at distance stuff (as a method to make the game feel larger than it was). It makes me sad to think when you see stuff in game that is not able to be explored/visited, it actually upsets you that much. The flip side would be to block out those areas so it's "walled away" by terrain/objects, or to use fog filters so distant stuff just vanishes away from view. That's also a common shortcut dev's use to avoid having to create additional or unnecessary assets.

I agree with what you say about Mass Effect, though more so with 2 and 3 than ME1. The first to me felt massive due to the fact every planet you could explore had such a large terrain to move around in (as exhausting as that was). When I got to ME2 and 3 and not being able to explore most planets (but just "scan" the whole universe felt..small..

I do agree with the idea of having a level of detail and purpose to the areas you have to walk. having the sheer square footage helps, but having a reason is good too. I think of like, an MMORPG and how often times they try and make most 'zones' large and open and MASSIVE so the world feels huge and so hundreds of players have room to play and work without being all up on eachother.

But when you explore these when no one is online.. or when a game loses it's core playerbase and it's generally abandoned.. you start to see just how empty and gaping and pointless it all seems. This was apparent even early on in the Matrix Online game, where they rendered dozens of city buildings and offices (from street to rooftop) so that you could run missions up into them ad infinitum. But most of the buildings were strangely devoid of people, items, or stuff. they were just "space" and players really didn't like that.
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david
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Wed Feb 05, 2014 5:40 am

@Kwisatz... I totally understand what you mean by arbitrary barriers (and invisible walls). When Conan O'Brien played Resident Evil 6, in his Clueless Gamer segment, his big-muscled hero is blocked by one of these silly little obstacles. Conan comments... "Cool guy with a gun blocked by some folding chairs" Darned smartmouth :lol:
http://teamcoco.com/video/highlight-clu ... ent-evil-6

@EvilKing and Kwisatz... As Seith has observed, its all about creating a lovingly-realized world to play in. I believe Seith will build an entirely solid island for us to explore and figure out, with tunnels and caverns underneath, and also accessible buildings and other structures on top... plenty of nooks, crannies and interesting areas. As you know, Periclave has a rich, somewhat dark history... many of the locations will assist in telling the story or be part of the mystery. For this reason, imho, the equipment/loot/power-up drops will fit each location, so they won't be randomly generated... each will be carefully positioned to fit each place, the story and the gameplay progression. There is certainly an argument for procedural levels/items, but GOAT is a different kind of experience.


@Kwisatz... Seith personally confirmed that there WON'T be temptingly interesting but annoyingly unreachable areas (except the mainland far, far in the distance). You'll also be pleased to know that you'll definitely be able to jump in GOAT, and walk sideways/angled/forward/back. In fact there will be a bit of platforming to do... mice are agile little creatures ;)
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evilkinggumby
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Wed Feb 05, 2014 8:41 am

david wrote:Seith personally confirmed that there WON'T be temptingly interesting but annoyingly unreachable areas (except the mainland far, far in the distance).

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I can understand why (the extra time and work to create these assets and all) but I am sad to see that be the case. Still, I am sure the game will end up loads of fun.
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david
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Fri Feb 07, 2014 2:25 am

evilkinggumby wrote:
david wrote:Seith personally confirmed that there WON'T be temptingly interesting but annoyingly unreachable areas (except the mainland far, far in the distance).
I am sad to see that be the case
Ummm I kind of thought it is a good thing. Periclave will be like a real island, there will be great views and everywhere you see WILL be playable... there will be no vistas that look awesome on screenshots but are fraudulently inaccessible.

I think your telescope suggestion can still bring a huge amount. In fact I love previewing/planning my route through sections on other more open (non-corridor) games...with binoculars or telescopic sights :D
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