How to create an attractive open world
How to create an attractive open world

How to create an attractive open world

8 minutes, 29 seconds Read

Open-world games have surged in popularity as immersive playgrounds that captivate players with endless possibilities for exploration and adventure. From vast landscapes teeming with hidden treasures to bustling cities pulsing with life, these virtual worlds are the pinnacle of modern level design.

 But what makes an open world so appealing? This article explores the key principles, techniques, and considerations that bring these vast digital realms to life.

different view of the world

 Video games can be broadly divided into three types. Linear, open world, matrix.

 Linear games are centered around a “critical path”, and the player must navigate all available space along that path to advance. These levels have well-defined start and end points, but can contain optional content as long as they don’t provide an equivalent alternative to the main path. Dead ends, loop spaces, etc. Callisto Protocol, Doom and 2013’s Tomb Raider are all good examples of linear games.

 A non-linear open-world type would be much more expensive to produce, as it would require doubling or even tripling the available gameplay options in a given time frame. In a game like this, the player doesn’t follow a set path, so how you play the game can make a huge difference to your experience. Such games usually introduce multiple (seemingly equivalent) critical paths leading to the same point (unless they employ the multiple ending/multiple protagonist format). Examples can be found in immersive simulation games that emphasize player choice, such as Deus Ex, System Shock, Dishonored, Thief and Prey.

 Matrix level structureUsually consists of a large outdoor environment and some indoor space, and the critical path is not a predetermined trajectory, but a list of coordinates that the player must visit in order to progress through the game. In a setting like this, it’s no longer possible to dictate (i.e. predict) much of the player’s experience, so the level designer has a strategy for how to place points of interest (POIs) across the map. must be targeted.

 There are some basic rules to remember here. For example, “don’t repeat the same gameplay twice in a row” (i.e. don’t introduce a battle scene directly after another), and “always design multiple entry points for each perspective”. That means open-world designers need to think carefully about how they implement core loops and skill checks .

Skill checks and POI diversity rules

Video games have a core loop , an in-game cycle of skill checks  that players go through during the game . Skill checks are in-game challenges that ask the player how well they can use the mechanics taught early in the game.  Playing in this format can be critically successful. The 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider is a perfect example. The series’ traditional core loop of traversal, battle, and puzzle skill checks tended to be equally used for mainline progression, but the complex puzzle mechanics became obsolete over time.

 More hardcore brain games will be optional side content, and the format will be adjusted to focus on battles, acrobatics and shorter puzzles, optimizing story progression and allowing players to enjoy a more free and controlled experience. It has become. The game has since become the best-selling title in the Tomb Raider series, selling 11 million copies and averaging a Metacritic score of 87.

 Another important consideration for engaging play is the order, frequency and setting of various game mechanics. It’s important to keep things fresh while ensuring immersion and fluidity between challenges. Players get bored quickly with 40 minutes of continuous combat, or repetitive animations and actions in physical puzzles and worlds.

 Level designers also have to keep in mind the order in which players face certain skill checks. This is especially difficult in open-world games, where the player decides the order of events themselves. But after years of observation and experience, I’ve developed what I believe is the key to open-world success

 Breath of the Wild (above) shows how places of interest can lead to different experiences:

  • The tower on the left shows a climbing challenge with stamina management
  • The misty forest in the center is a navigational puzzle leading to the shrine.
  • The volcano on the right introduces survival elements related to its dangerous environment.

 The POI diversity rule goes like this: To maintain core loop quality in an open in-game environment, level designers should place at least three horizontal POIs that each offer different gameplay. No matter where the player goes.

 You can’t control the order in which locations a player visits, but you can control the variety and distribution of mechanics within a given area. Keep at least 2-3 POIs visible to the player, using landmarks and composition as a guide.

 But sometimes it strays from there. Similar POIs can be brought closer together. If there’s a clear division between them, players won’t experience them immediately after other POIs. A good example of this is Resident Evil Village, which is exactly the village itself. It’s not your typical open world, but the underlying distribution logic is the same.

 But this time, the logic is applied to game objects placed in villages. So there are at least 2-3 game objects in action (in the scene or minimap) visible to the player at any given time, but not all are readily available due to the environment and built partitions.

outdoor essentials

 Basic considerations for open-world outdoor areas are:

  • Average time to introduce a new event or attraction . BOTW is about 40 seconds. If this had been two minutes, the vast world would have felt more empty
  • Effective attack distance . Essential for proper implementation of Battle Encounter
  • Maximum line-of-sight reach . You can’t make the whole map visible from corner to corner. Not only does it not perform well, it also spoils the sense of exploration. Huge space dividers like mountains and dense buildings are present in all open world games because they’re important for optimizing line of sight
  • altitude limit . Understanding how verticality works in games is important, and this is hampered by the lack of vertical level streaming support in modern engines. Days Gone shows why this is necessary. Zombies in the cave below will respond to your sounds and actions while you play, even if you’re out of sight. because it’s still close when viewed vertically

urban space

 General level design rules for outdoor spaces are useful, but much more difficult to implement in many highly constrained spaces, such as towns and cities. Here we have to take a slightly different approach.

 Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu, level designer for Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, says that when designing a city, you have to start with macro design: squares, high streets, landmarks, and so on. Because these ultimately define the player’s navigation and what gets the player’s attention.

 Once these are established, you can then highlight the main entrances to this urban space, leading players inside. Navigational symbols such as lines, breadcrumbs, framing, relative objects and landmarks are of great value here.

 Once you get to the micro level and start working on less basic streets and props, it’s important to understand the concept of possibility maps . Simply put, this is in terms of the number of paths available and the weight of each (the probability that a player will take that path).

 A probability map contains important points along the player’s route. These include crossroads, doorframes, gates, corners, points of no return, and other places where players are forced to make navigation choices.

 In the city of the game Titanfall, there are rarely more than four paths available at forks and crossroads. By contrast, other games like Dishonored guide the player along one available path at first, and then two or three forks later, allowing the player to gradually become accustomed to local navigation. It is designed to be added.

 To control the amount of stress a player experiences, you also have to consider the odds of a player taking each path. For the main road to be the most inviting, it needs to be clearly defined and highlighted with features such as wide entrances, lights, leads, open doors, and so on. On the other hand, for other optional routes that lead to side content, it is necessary to use obscure entrances or curve trajectories to make them look unattractive.

 The scene below, taken from Dishonored 2, shows the player facing a three-way fork in the game for the first time, and illustrates this well. At this fork, deliberately placed in a low-stress environment with no time pressure, Paths 1 and 3 are clearly less attractive than Path 2 .

 This avoids unnecessary stress and shows players where to go in order to progress through the game and where they can choose to explore side content.

Negative and positive effects of fast travel

 Don’t underestimate the impact of fast travel – fast travel is more important in level design than you first think. Fast-travel points, whether intentional or not, almost always become one of the most visited areas in the game just for their convenience. The design and implementation of fast travel points also fall into three general categories:

  • 1. Flexible
  • 2. Fixed position

 A fixed fast travel point creates a near-radial search pattern, making it a frequently visited point for players, while the furthest area or halfway point between two travel points is less explored.

 From a level design standpoint, having a favorable item, skill check, or plot device really far away from the fast travel point means more backtracking for the player, especially if the character travels on foot. Itinerary, distance, rewards, and experience all need to be carefully considered.

 Analyzing level design is also difficult when fast travel points are fixed. Did the player visit the point to return to a nearby fast travel point, or was it because the area itself piqued their curiosity and curiosity?

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