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MMOGs and Sandbox-Style Play

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the d-k-p-minus-fifty-for-creativity dept.

Role Playing (Games) 113

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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113 comments

The Ultimate Evercrack Killer... (0, Redundant)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941094)

I haven't played in a sand box since I was kid. Why would I play in one today over the internet?

Re:The Ultimate Evercrack Killer... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17941188)

I haven't played in a sand box since I was kid. Why would I play in one today over the internet?

Most of us never played knight in shining armor off to rescue the princes; cops and robbers; or tag since we were kids, yet we play Mario and FF; Need for Speed and GTA; and Super Smash Bros as adults.

Funny thing how so many of us are just kids at heart and we're loving it. Peter Pan rocks.

Re:The Ultimate Evercrack Killer... (2, Funny)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941458)

Most of us never played knight in shining armor off to rescue the princes; cops and robbers; or tag since we were kids, yet we play Mario and FF; Need for Speed and GTA; and Super Smash Bros as adults.
If Super Smash Brothers is your equivalent to tag, then that must have been one crazy game of tag...

Re:The Ultimate Evercrack Killer... (2, Funny)

rkanodia (211354) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941938)

If Super Smash Brothers is your equivalent to tag, then that must have been one crazy game of tag...

Ah, to be a kid again... I'll never forget the look on Billy's face when I used a Downward Smash Attack to spike him off of the cafeteria roof, then yelled, "Tag!"

So, typo or not? (4, Interesting)

ReverendLoki (663861) | more than 7 years ago | (#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?

Re:So, typo or not? (4, Funny)

skroz (7870) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942078)

Is this a typo, a clever play on words, or an unintended pun?


Absolutely.

Re:So, typo or not? (1)

Lectrik (180902) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943572)

Is this a typo, a clever play on words, or an unintended pun?

One of my favorite monsters from Munchkin was the Maul Rat...

Re:So, typo or not? (2, Funny)

Wornstrom (920197) | more than 7 years ago | (#17949490)

yes, there is a maul in the game, as well as battle axes and katanas, a high powered lawnmower, guitars, boomerangs, golf clubs (which I would have rather not had it be a ranged weapon, you hit golf balls at the zombies with it), 2x4s, propane tanks, potted plants, trash cans, televisions, cash registers, hunting knives, guns, police night sticks, severed limbs (that you can shove in zombies mouths to distract them for a few), parasols, skateboards, lead pipes, dumbbells, super soakers, nerf ball guns, jewels (another range weapon), and many many others. My all time favorite is the louisville slugger, you can hold down the attack button and wait until the zombies get close, and slam the crap out of them for extra points :D
that game is teh awesome but I haven't played it since the accursed WoW xpac came out...
but probably a typo, given the structure of the statement. I have yet to find a chainsaw myself, but I have heard you can remove the machine gun from the jeep if you kill the 3 escaped convicts that are riding around on it, trying to kill you in the courtyard after it gets dark on the first night...

Star Wars: Galaxies (4, Interesting)

cmize (573277) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:Star Wars: Galaxies (2, Interesting)

Terminal Saint (668751) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941374)

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.

Re:Star Wars: Galaxies (4, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Star Wars: Galaxies (3, Funny)

Null537 (772236) | more than 7 years ago | (#17944166)

When Star Wars: Galaxies first came out it was more of a sandbox game

Well, you were on Tatooine.

Re:Star Wars: Galaxies (2, Insightful)

andy9701 (112808) | more than 7 years ago | (#17946646)

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.

Re:Star Wars: Galaxies (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 7 years ago | (#17946780)

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.

Sandboxes aren't fun (4, Insightful)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17941398)

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 don't think you can accurately say that about "most gamers". Consider that sandbox game play makes up much of both the Sims and the Grand Theft Auto series. I would hardly argue that gamers don't enjoy these titles so perhaps the trick is that a good sandbox game doesn't point out that you are playing in a sandbox.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (3, Insightful)

EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

MBraynard (653724) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941784)

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.

GTA is the poster-child for a sandbox game (2, Informative)

jchenx (267053) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941972)

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 agree to that, or argue that there different levels of non-linear gameplay within sandbox games, but that's a different issue ...

Re:GTA is the poster-child for a sandbox game (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942454)

Wow. Someone who actually knows how to respond to a semantics argument. Good to hear.

Re:GTA is the poster-child for a sandbox game (1)

Cheeko (165493) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942696)

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 and find a random dungeon and just clear it and see what kind of stuff I find.

I think thats the true greatness of the sandbox game. The option to do the expected, but not have to if you don't want to. MMOs are a little different in that I don't think there is an expected path. They are slightly more sandbox than the classic sandbox games, in that you really just have a toon, and go do whatever you want.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

x-caiver (458687) | more than 7 years ago | (#17944438)

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 expects you to do something on your own.

I'm not sure where I would put World of Warcraft. There are all sorts of quests, and I guess when you get to be level 60 (or 70 now) you have gotten to the top... but it seems hugely open ended.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

Endo13 (1000782) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945122)

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.darkfallonline.com/ [darkfallonline.com] Check it out, you might just find it's exactly what you're looking for.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

MeanderingMind (884641) | more than 7 years ago | (#17948852)

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 able to secure even half of the gamespace against bandits, barbarians, and lone wolves.

It'll be interesting to see that one develop.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

mqduck (232646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945430)

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 attention at all to it.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

x-caiver (458687) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945714)

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 print a full quest list off the internet to verify, I think I've talked to everyone), and completed all the downloadable content for the 360 with the exception of the most recent one. In my opinion the main quest line did not always contain the most fun (as in challenging or as in amusing) quests, those were scattered around between faction quests and some of the chance encounters with normal countryfolk. And I did deliberately postpone a couple parts of the main quest so that I wouldn't alter the world I was enjoying, but I am glad that I did them.

But really my point was, that I do not think that any game with a bunch of specific 'winnable' events, or an arcing central story of the specific type Oblivion has is a 'sandbox'. If it was a game with extremely high level themes, then maybe I'd consider it a sandbox - but while a theme may direct to do certain things (rule a peaceful kingdom, would imply rise to ruler and stop a war), it isn't quite so stair-stepped.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17947162)

"Ever heard of Grand Theft Auto? Morrowind? Oblivion?"

Those games all have a linear main story thread AND a sandbox aspect.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1, Insightful)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941870)

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 until you realize that an environment without goals and limits is largely unfulfilling.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17942050)

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

You have an interesting definition of the word "most." The Sims is the top-selling PC game in history [wikipedia.org] and The Sims 2 and it's expansion packs held 5 of the top 10 slots for best selling PC game of 2006 [gigagamez.com], two years after it's release (of coarse it was # 1 when released [pcvsconsole.com]), despite starting sales in September of 2004).

You certainly have a personal preference against sandboxes, and I guess a confusion as to how they work, but statistically speaking, your preference comes up a bit shy of "most."

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

Sku-Lad (990269) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943096)

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

You have an interesting definition of the word "most." The Sims is the top-selling PC game in history and The Sims 2 and it's expansion packs held 5 of the top 10 slots for best selling PC game of 2006, two years after it's release (of coarse it was # 1 when released), despite starting sales in September of 2004).

You certainly have a personal preference against sandboxes, and I guess a confusion as to how they work, but statistically speaking, your preference comes up a bit shy of "most."

I'm sure you could argue that the people playing The Sims don't qualify as "gamers" in the traditional sense. The Sims sales numbers are a reflection of "non-gamers" (or "causual gamers"?) buying video games (much like Myst back in the day). But does that really matter?

I think it does, actually. Sure, a non-gamer's money still spends the same way as a gamer's does, but "gamers" buy more games and spend more money on games than "non-gamers". I guess that's why the industry more often gives them what they want rather than trying to pull non-gamers into gaming.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17944278)

PS2--Madden NFL 07, Electronic Arts--2.8 M
NDS--New Super Mario Bros., Nintendo--2.0 M
360--Gears of War, Microsoft--1.8 M
PS2--Kingdom Hearts II, Square Enix--1.7 M
PS2--Guitar Hero II, Activision--1.3 M
PS2--Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix--1.3 M
NDS--Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day, Nintendo--1.1 M
360--Madden NFL 07, Electronic Arts--1.1 M
360--Tom Clancy's GRAW, Ubisoft--1.0 M
PS2--NCAA Football 07, Electronic Arts--1.0 M


Once again we're looking at a top 10 list for 2006, but this one is for console games. I see at least two games that have a broad appeal to "non-gamers."

In addition to this list, the Wii has been selling like hotcakes. Arguably, the entire console is designed and targeted at non-gamers.

With 5 of the top 10 PC games, 2 of the top 10 console games, and 1 of the 3 new consoles being targeted directly at "non-gamers," what more is going to be necessary to get the "non-gamers" a boost in status to "gamers"?

Let me put it another way. You say that "gamers" buy more games, right? That may be true for individuals, but the overall market favors the non-gaming population. There are so many more of the "non-gamers," that even if they buy far fewer games per person, the total number of dollars going into games ends up being quite large.

The top 10 lists represent cash that goes to game developers. To write this off simply because the dollars don't come from "gamers." would be a big mistake. Nintendo was wise to target this audience and they have the sales to prove it.

Sandboxes still need direction (4, Insightful)

jchenx (267053) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942052)

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:Sandboxes still need direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17942200)

> After the initial section of the game, I had no idea what to do next.

Take the package to the blades guy, blades guy says you need more experience, you join a guild, the guildmaster gives you a bunch of quests, and in the process of talking to everyone and walking into every house, you pick up on the blades quest again. Just in case you don't get the idea, assassins come after you just to drive the point home. Not too hard to pick up on the plot, whereas he real world doesn't let you just meander into everyone's house. What Morrowind suffered from was poor pacing. There was just no urgency to anything.

Re:Sandboxes still need direction (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17946552)

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 in the game - you eventually falling back into the main story line and fulfilling your destiny - it's awesome. Oblivion I played for a bit, and I was always being told to go to this town and talk to this person to progress the main storyline - of course I could deviate and do side quests - but really I felt Oblivion was actually like a very linear passageway, that just happens to be incredibly wide - you can sidestep all you like, but so long as you keep going forward your really just going the same way.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942230)

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 even I as a huge fan of trade skills got bored of making bricks pretty quickly.

What I think needs to happen before we start seeing sandbox games really take over (and they inevitably will I believe) is much better in-game physics. Every new game with physics seems to push the boundaries of the box a bit further out but none truly gets rid of them (even Source). Humans inherently come up with creative uses for the things in our environment. If we had a game that truly let us explore that, it would be amazing. But we are a LONG ways away from computing power that can handle that on a massively multiplayer scale. Think Second Life, but with the interactivity of the grid in Snow Crash or Neuromancer.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942284)

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 given the game a lot of longetivity for me. First is "See how badly I can piss off the cops and live to tell the tale". That's a fun one, and since I can go wherever I want it's never the same twice. Similar is the Vigilante missions, basically "See how many criminals I can kill in the time limit, while simultaneously avoiding the cops, and live to tell the tale".

It works for me.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

Cheapy (809643) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942576)

Which is exactly why games like Grand Theft Auto, Oblivion, and Mercenaries never sold a single copy.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

ThePsion5 (1037256) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943404)

Not true at all! Sandbox-style games allow you to determine your own goals and motivations, not confining you to "complete mission x" or "eliminate threat x" or anything so linear; this style of gameplay, especially when used in an online world, creates a very dynamic universe where the players are truly PART of the world, not just using infinitely-spawning resources against other infinitely-spawning resources and/or each other. EVE Online is a perfect example of this.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (1)

merreborn (853723) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943526)

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.

Re:Sandboxes aren't fun (3, Funny)

ChaosDiscord (4913) | more than 7 years ago | (#17944944)

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.

What's worse - the article or the summary? (5, Insightful)

RichPowers (998637) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:What's worse - the article or the summary? (1)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941546)

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 (2, Informative)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941696)

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.

Re:go outside (1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945158)

They have that. It's called real life.

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

-

Re:go outside (1)

edschurr (999028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945442)

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.

Re:What's worse - the article or the summary? (1)

cliffski (65094) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945580)

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, gameplay elements and situations to my stab at this genre (www.kudosgame.com), purely because the cost to adding a new job / item / event was simply some design, a bit of gameplay code and maybe some text or stock imagery.
Everyone wants a fully rendered totally freeform photorealistic game, but you are talking about the fictional metaverse or matrix there, and its not coming anytime soon. In the meantime, we can really go to town with less pretty, but very expandable worlds, if we avoid the need for it to be 3D.

Re:What's worse - the article or the summary? (1)

edschurr (999028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945582)

Spore will have a progression similar to that, although it's the same kind of game--not RPG-like.

Re:What's worse - the article or the summary? (1)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942256)

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.

Re:What's worse - the article or the summary? (1)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942444)

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 hard to have enough space for everyone to do their thing, and to prevent others interfering with what you've made.)

Re:What's worse - the article or the summary? (1)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943464)

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 era if you can find it. You'll salivate, and wonder what the fuck happened, and why nobody is doing it today.

What's worse - the artificial or real life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17942830)

"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."

Gee, that sounds a lot like real life.

Dead Rising...? (4, Insightful)

Wilson_6500 (896824) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Dead Rising...? (1)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941946)

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.

Re:Dead Rising...? (1)

Babbster (107076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941986)

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 buildings (and then perhaps rebuilding them) despite the fact that you've probably got the in-game tools to do so (explosives and money). The setting is static and therefore not at all like a sandbox game where the setting is under your control. Even in The Sims (which I could argue is less a sandbox than, for example, SimCity or SimEarth), whatever buildings or settings are already in the game (like restaurants and prebuilt homes) can either be altered significantly or completely destroyed and replaced. You can even add dozens of new characters to your neighborhood. All of this can be accomplished within the context of the game.

This is one area where I think it would be easy to get our definitions straight (since they seem to be argued so often on Slashdot): The Sims is a sandbox, GTA is a playground, Final Fantasy is a movie turned into a game. :)

Sandbox Life (1)

Wilson_6500 (896824) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942842)

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 have to have a fixed plot, which is perhaps an important feature of a Sandbox game--you build the custom missions that you like in the framework of the AD&D setting provided, or one that you mod in yourself (with a huge work investment, yes).

Re:Sandbox Life (1)

Babbster (107076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17944252)

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 modifications - even Bethesda's own mods for Oblivion don't change the game's fundamentals. It's not an insult to those games - in fact, I quite enjoy them. It's just a matter of drawing lines between genres, much like drawing lines between RPGs, point-and-click adventures and action adventures.

Sandbox vs Storyline (3, Interesting)

hollywoodb (809541) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:Sandbox vs Storyline (2, Informative)

colganc (581174) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942250)

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.

Re:Sandbox vs Storyline (1)

hollywoodb (809541) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942630)

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.

Re:Sandbox vs Storyline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17944202)

You are describing Planetside. Fun game. Chain of command, supply structure to be used/taken over, etc. Fun game. The best global combat I've experienced online, the battles are amazing, thousands of people, weapons vehicles, air combat, logistics, support. Its a start on what you describe, for sure.

real or no real (3, Interesting)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941516)

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 (2, Interesting)

HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941602)

> 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.

Re:Important premise (1)

mqduck (232646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945462)

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 way.

Re:Important premise (1)

Lemmeoutada Collecti (588075) | more than 7 years ago | (#17949542)

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).

Realtime physics is a big win (4, Interesting)

Vector7 (2410) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941868)

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.

Re:Realtime physics is a big win (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942166)

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.

Re:Realtime physics is a big win (1)

Vector7 (2410) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943046)

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 hours, you realize you're seeing the few caves/shrines/ruins repeated over and over. Well, that, and the characters have nothing interesting to say when you talk to them (but then it's probably totally infeasible to record voice for the amount of dialog that U7 contained). It might be less immersive, but we haven't outgrown textual dialog yet (and never will, until some major advances in speech synthesis occur). Still, Oblivion deserves a lot of credit for creating such a huge world at AAA production values.

Re:Realtime physics is a big win (1)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943832)

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 Brotherhood comes to mind), but it's all built on a pretty bland game system that can't do much more than Daggerfall. Quantity over quality. Can you do anything to affect the world? Not really. Building up your character isn't much fun, since there are so few skills to choose from. Oblivion suffers from a severe lack of interesting choices, instead letting you do anything and everything with minimal resistance.

(but then it's probably totally infeasible to record voice for the amount of dialog that U7 contained)
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". You can't levitate or see more than a few characters on screen, but the graphics are so much prettier. In many ways, Oblivion is a technology upgrade for technology's sake. It's nice that Bethesda is continuing TES, but I just want them to do something interesting with the series.

Re:Realtime physics is a big win (1)

Vector7 (2410) | more than 7 years ago | (#17944960)

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 these kind of games, but all around I still enjoyed Oblivion. YMMV.

Re:Realtime physics is a big win (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942588)

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 headphones on and the audio system in Second Life is sufficiently accurate that you can localize where sounds are coming from. So I looked up. There I saw some bamboo hanging from strings. As I watched, the wind blew through the bamboo and they knocked together. That's where the sound game from. I sat there for about half an hour watching the bamboo, and the sky. It was starting to get dark and the wind was picking up. Soon I was hearing a lot of noise from the wind chime. But I thought maybe I could hear something else.. like a higher pitched noise. That's when I noticed there was another pontoon in the distance. In fact, I could see about five pontoons, scattered across the water. I got up and went to one of the other pontoons, it had a wind chime in it too, but this one appears to have metal bars hanging from strings instead of bamboo. It made a much higher pitched sound. I then went to the pontoon that appeared to be in the middle of the other four.. it had no chime, but I could hear all the other chimes as the wind blew. It was a very enchanting sound.

At the risk of spoiling the moment, I had to take a sneak peak at the wind chime. I expected to see a script, and possibly even some form of connection to the other chimes. There was no script.. these were literally objects hanging on strings, banging against each other when they were pushed around by the wind. Of course, the sounds the objects make on a collision is defined by a sound material.. it doesn't emerge from the properties of the object or anything, but knowing what I know of today's technology, this was still pretty impressive to me. Other people probably just think it is easy to get a computer simulation to do that.

Re:Realtime physics is a big win (1)

Vector7 (2410) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942800)

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.

Cat got my tongue (1)

Nussbaum (863595) | more than 7 years ago | (#17941886)

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.

Sid Meier said it best... (4, Insightful)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 7 years ago | (#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

Re:Sid Meier said it best... (1)

Silicon Jedi (878120) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942156)

Yes, cause DM's never go to the bathroom, or start looking up rules for five minutes or anything that is boring...

Re:Sid Meier said it best... (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942282)

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? :-)

Re:Sid Meier said it best... (3, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942384)

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.

Re:Sid Meier said it best... (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943020)

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* wish I could pay *double* and fly twice as fast.

Agreed about the other transit modes. They first time waiting for them is cool, the 100+ time, is not.

Re:Sid Meier said it best... (1)

edschurr (999028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945480)

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.

Re:Sid Meier said it best... (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943262)

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

You have to eat sometime.

Garrys Mod (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17942026)

I bought this with Counter-strike source, for a few more dollars. Heck, the GBP to USD rate is great right now so I thought why not. It's half life with the ability to spawn whatever you want.

There are some fantastic levels out there, some interesting puzzles can be created for others to enjoy. It's fun.

Sadly the Sandbox is a Dying Style of Game Design (3, Insightful)

Phrogman (80473) | more than 7 years ago | (#17942074)

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. I think a lot of people prefer fast paced gaming, and being given an open ended world to explore, feel lost and unfocused, or perhaps like its a waste of time. I think a lot of people like a clear goal to accomplish - in effect they want to "beat" the game - which in an MMORPG (which has no ending and no victory conditions) is a hopeless task. A lot of players prefer to be the industry "churn" and assault a new game, get max level in game as quickly as possible - often bypassing a lot of game content on the way - then whine they are bored with it, and move on. This hyperaccellerated style of gameplay is also contra to sandbox and roleplaying styles of gameplay


Take my time in SWG for instance. I started on day 1 in that game (well day 2, since you couldn't actuallly log in on day 1 due to server problems). I chose to play a crafter and made droids for well over a year and half in game. I didn't level, I didn't do quests, I didn't really explore, I got involved directly in the fascinating and complex player-based economy the game offered, and slowly built my way up as a successful crafter. Later I switched professions a few times, even getting most of the way to becoming a Jedi Padawan before they canned the Jedi system in game. In the end I mastered 19 professions in that game on my one character, but I always returned to crafting. And crafting was pure sandbox play. I built cities, I made houses and other structures, I built up a business from scratch, never selling any looted items. I quit the game with 250m or so in the bank. It was tough, unforgivably complex and challenging to accomplish that and it was immensely enjoyable.


The point I suppose, for Sandbox environemnts, is that you enjoy merely being there in the environment, that you can suspend your disbelief to the point where your mind is subsummed in game and you more or less forget about the real world around you. There are many who can achieve this sort of consciousness in game with a variety of styles of gameplay of course - in fact its one of the lures of MMOs I expect - but in a Sandbox it seems easier, and more powerful to my thinking.


I suspect that we will always have one or two sandboxy games around, but the majority of MMORPGs coming out these days are taking their lead from World of Warcraft (who can argue with 8 million subscribers?) sadly (because I think its a very poor game overall) and seeking to simplify the gamers experience in game, with the view to attracting more subscribers. This simplification usually takes the form of making things easy to follow, more linear, quest based, and unchallenging in the end. I tried WOW and concluded its appeal and design was intended for new MMORPGs players as it seem to lack the depth and engagement I expect from an MMORPG. In short I found it shallow and uninteresting, far far too easy.



Perhaps when the current crop of WOW addicts move on to other games they will expand their horizons, perhaps the design of WOW will evolve, I dont know, but I do hope we continue to see more sandbox based approaches to game design in the MMORPG industry. Linear and scripted is far less interesting than wide open, complex and flexible. :P


Want to change the game world? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17942488)

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 things to note for all you amazingly twisted "classic" MMOG gamers out there:

1) There are absolutely no quests.
2) Mobs do not drop gold, weapons, armor, tools, panties, or anything else when you kill them. If you're good at butchering, you get meat, furs, teeth, eyes, and sundry other animal parts.
3) Cash is not required. Period. While there is an in-game currency, it is entirely superfluous, if you choose to play that way. Anybody can make any item in the game. (Eventually. Might take some practice.)
4) Two servers, with travel between. One PvP, one not. Don't even start to complain.

It's very much a boutique game. If you're willing to accept that it wasn't developed by a mega-corp, and therefore has some glaring deficiencies by modern standards (characters don't animate), and if you like self-directed gameplay, you might like it. It's one big sandbox world.

Yes, it runs in Linux.

http://www.wurmonline.com/ [wurmonline.com]

Open gameplay (4, Interesting)

Shadukar (102027) | more than 7 years ago | (#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". On the other hand, there were a lot of missions that were very open for you to choose your own means of transport, your own approach, and your own strategies. If you thought through your approach, picked right weapon/vehicle for your strategy, a mission could be satisfyingly easy!

Games which tried very hard to do it but failed:

Deus Ex2
- Limited number of approaches, 2-3 ways to approach most problems at most. I think the design philosophy behind this game shows how "open gameplay" games are heading in the wrong direction: developers create a problem, then create a number of solutions, along the lines 'hey, lets make a way for people to get in the back door by putting in a back door!" They add 2-3 set ways, then the marking department goes berserko on "oh wow this game is soooo good because there's many ways to approach a problem! its soo free!"

Lets look at what dx1 and morrowind did:

I believe, and of course I could be wrong, that they create a situation, say a quest, city, dungeon, etc. They then imagine a logical setting: how many guards would you have, what monsters live in this lair and how they act. What security is there and what a logical layout of the area is. They all of this with total disregard for the fact that in a few months there will be players trying to get through this. They do however balance the situation by ensuring that the guards have patrol routes, there is more than one entrance - ie, logical number of doors, rooms, etc.

Once they are satisfied with the situation, they play a few times through it to ensure it is doable with a few obvious methods and leave it at that! They leave it for the players themselves to figure out the best approach, the way to get through, the way to kill or not kill everyone or anyone or no one.

Some people think that this sort of 'open gameplay" is a recipe for unbalance and easy-mode/god-mode approaches. For me however, it is the satisfaction of beating a situation that makes these games so much fun. I didn't use "dancing the goons" twitch reflexes, I didn't re-load the save game till I got 4 headshots in a row, I thought about the situation logically, found a good solution then implemented it and it worked perfectly. That's fun for me.

Why aren't more games like that?

I think the reason more games are not designed using the philosophy of "lets create situations and let players find their fun" is that some developers find it risky. Not all gamers are intelligent. Some actually enjoy being pushed on rails through corridors with no branches/side passages/doors. Some enjoy being told "here, take this longcat, you will fail the game if you don't use it when the force tells you to use it". Some gamers do not like making choices, to think about what they are doing while they are playing. Some enjoy games where the only thing you have to do is "punch the monkey" - you see monkey, you click it (counterstrike).

Another problem is that some developers see it as "risky". Lets say you are a big development house making a multimillion-dollar game. You spend a few thousand dollars in development time/resources to create a rather flashy looking model of a monster/npc/guard. You then spend further thousands on creating a realistic looking hut - with volumetric smoke and items, probably paying tons on the physics/graphics engine modification/licensing/etc.

How can you face your boss/shareholders/publishers/etc and say "yes, we spent thousands of dollars on developing this guard and this hut but many players will use a long range rocket launcher to destroy both in split second"

boss: "what, you mean without seeing the volumetric penis particles emitters we licensed from havoc/unreal ?! all that money wasted ? why? why?!"

dev: "oh because some players like to do that sort of thing, you know, doing things differently"

boss: "but if they do things differently, they won't experience certain scripts we paid a ton for to our programmers! and they wont see the amazing textures on the volumetric nose of the guard!!!!"

Who are you to argue with the shareholder/accountant overlords ?

Re:Open gameplay (2, Insightful)

edschurr (999028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945566)

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 approach. There were sometimes opportunities for interesting alternatives, eg. driving into a group of mobsters with a huge truck and bumping their cars over them, or driving past them with a fast car, or, taking a route where the cops will have a tougher time crashing into you.

I've always thought a game would look fine if the models were blocky and untextured, as long as their animations were decent (eg. minimal, but reflect the action such that it's identifiable) and the game ran smoothly as a result. Special, accurate lighting doesn't necessarily add anything to the gameplay either. I vaguely remember playing a game like this years ago, which was very fun; it was a 3rd person view assault-the-base with a diverse-choice-of-weapons sort of game.

A possible conclusion then is that indy game developers might be the ones to introduce better sand-box games.

Just my thoughts (2, Insightful)

6-tew (1037428) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943004)

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 needs structure, rules and goals. Without those it something else, I don't know what. I believe (but don't know) that many gamers would rather play adversarial or co-op than have total freedom to do either or niether or both. Hence Counterstrike, WOW, and all the other big, famous games out there's popularity. Some say it is the want of imagination that limits some from enjoying the sandbox style, but I think time is a consideration too. I may just want to play casualy and not be bothered to learn all the intricit methods of play. That in mind, I still want to feel like I'm getting, if not the most, at least a fair amount of the total game play available. Like I said though, just my thoughts. How do you win the Sims, or Second Life?

Wait, what? (2)

The Orange Mage (1057436) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943208)

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. :[

Re:Wait, what? (1)

KillerBob (217953) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943666)

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 (2, Insightful)

jchenx (267053) | more than 7 years ago | (#17943742)

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, but it's possible.

In fact, having the game being so easy to solo is actually a problem at the later levels, when many folks do start grouping more often to tackle the dungeons. It becomes very apparent (and painful) when you are in a pick-up group with folks that really don't know key things such as aggro management, crowd control, etc. since they've been soloing the vast majority of the game.

City of Heroes/City of Villains (1)

Phrogman (80473) | more than 7 years ago | (#17944130)

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.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

mqduck (232646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17945498)

I don't think (s)he meant "on my own" to mean "solo". I think (s)he meant independently - solo or as a group.

Re:Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17945852)

Wait, there's MMORPGs where you can solo? The whole game?

  Yep, it's called Oblivion! You can solo the whole thing, the shops and banks aren't surrounded by people shouting IN ALL CAPS, people stay in character and don't randomly run up to you to ask "How I mine for fish?" Plus it actually has a plot! Which you can affect!
  Best MMORPG I ever played. :)

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