The Evolution of Open World Games
It’s probably safe to say that open world games are near ubiquitous at this point. It isn’t difficult to understand why. Open world games give players control over the whole gaming experience. Instead of following a linear narrative, players can take a far more leisurely approach to the game. They can complete tasks and missions at their own pace. It’s easy to spend countless hours simply exploring the game world.
But how did the open world game that we know and love today come to be? Glad you asked, let’s dive into a bit into the background of open world games.
Open World Games Came Along Earlier Than You May Think
There is no real consensus on what constitutes “the first” open world game. However, the ideas and concepts came along as early as 1976. In that year, Colossal Cave Adventure, a text adventure game allowed players to control a character through a series of simple text commands. The premise was to explore a cave rumored to hold hidden treasure. Players earned points for finding treasure and making it out of the cave alive. Although it may not be well known today, the game has had a lasting influence on not just open world games, but role-playing games as well. It created a virtual world and encouraged players to interact with it.
Games That Helped Shape the Open World Game
Elite, a space simulator was released in 1984 and is considered the first “truly open-ended” open world game. Players could earn credits by completing missions. These credits could be used to purchase upgrades for the player’s spaceship. It was also one of the earliest games to use 3D graphics.
The Legend of Zelda (1986) is considered a precursor to the modern role-playing game. It was lauded for it’s non-linear gameplay which relied on puzzles, combat and exploration of the game world. Mercenary (1985) is widely thought of as the first 3D action-adventure game and contained vast environments. Missions could be completed in a non-linear fashion to complete the game’s main objective. It was also one of the earliest games to offer several different ways to complete the game.
Hunter (1991) has been called the progenitor to games such as the Grand Theft Auto and Far Cry franchises. The player was able to roam the open world freely and use a variety of vehicles to do so. Players also had access to a large cache of weapons and most buildings could be entered and explored. Super Mario 64 (1996) was considered revolutionary for the open-ended roaming ability it offered to players. Similar praise was aimed at Ocarina of Time (1998).
The Open World Game of Today Begins to Take Shape
The games previously mentioned helped to shape the ideas, concepts and gameplay that would be associated with open world games. However, it wasn’t until Grand Theft Auto III was released in 2001 that the genre really saw it’s greatest leap forward. GTA III took these elements and melded them in an immersive 3D world that helped define what the open world game is today. From that point on, other open world games such as Watch Dogs and Saints Row began to be referred to as “Grand Theft Auto” clones. Such was the impact that GTA had on the industry and the genre.
The Elder Scrolls franchise also became a mainstay of the genre during the early 2000s. It did so while mixing in elements of fantasy and role-playing games set in a fictional world. In addition to the vast game worlds, the series also freed players up to customize their characters abilities instead of being restricted by class (Skyrim).
Assassin’s Creed (beginning in 2007) allowed players to explore historical eras and settings. These ranged from the Middle East, Rome, New England and the Caribbean among others. The Far Cry series mixed the genre with first-person shooter gameplay. Red Dead Redemption took the open world to the Old West with a heavy emphasis on horse-riding and gun-slinging.
No Man’s Sky (2016) cranked this up a notch by creating an “open universe”. Through new game mechanics, the game is capable of producing more than 18 quintillion different planets to explore. Grand Theft Auto V (2013) enabled players to control not one, but three different protagonists and to switch between these characters during missions.
What Is In Store for Open World Games in the Future?
It is possible, as is the case with Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017), that new games will emphasize and encourage exploration and discovery. The story and mechanics of the game with be secondary. With less of an emphasis on narrative, the player will have freedom over the story of the game, not just the world itself. Will every game follow this type of strategy? Probably not, but it will be interesting to see more games in that vein.
Procedural generation (as was used in No Man’s Sky) makes it possible to create near infinite open worlds. The challenge will be to fill those worlds with enough content to satisfy gamers. VR may also become a mainstay of the open world game. This may allow for deeper, more immersive gameplay.
Wherever open world games go in the future, there can be no doubt that the ride will be an exciting one.