Talking to Gamasutra as part of an in-depth Gamasutra interview
, Indigo Prophecy
creator David Cage has been discussing MMOs as sandbox games, saying that leveling is great for those who want to "build self esteem", but asking: "What's the real narrative or emotional value?"
Cage is currently working on PlayStation 3 exclusive Heavy Rain
, which was shown behind closed doors at last week's E3 event, and was musing on how you keep players involved in your game.
When questioned on how the wide-open 'sandbox' gameplay ethos, where you can go anywhere you like in the game world, helps immerse players, the Quantic Dream founder commented:
"Sandbox gameplay... yeah, it's true that in this industry, we have a real position between people talking about sandbox, and people doing rollercoasters. A rollercoaster is an experience that is entirely defined by some to be optimal.
From the time you're in the line, you go in the back of the rollercoaster and through the tunnel and everything is defined. We knew while you were waiting how to make the stress grow, how to make you feel something, get you scared, make you feel better, et cetera. This rollercoaster is being conceived by someone to optimize the experience.
Sandbox is not that. It's saying, "Look, there are tools. There are things. Maybe there will be friends. Maybe not. Do what you want." There's one possibility that these sandbox experiences are so fantastic because you've been extremely lucky. You know how to use the tool. You met people that were truly great, and you had something incredible to do.
But you know what? It's also possible that it happens that you get bored and don't cope with the people in the sandbox. You don't like the tools, or you don't know what to do with them, and you end up with a very poor experience.
So in my mind, some of the very few kind of real sandboxes I know are with massively multiplayer games. When I say "kind of," I don't believe there are absolutely real sandboxes out there. It's only a list of scripted things, but there are so many of them and you can play them in any order, you get the feeling that you're in a sandbox. In fact, it's really rare that you're really in a sandbox. Most of the time, you're in a scripted experience but it's really heated.
I've played many MMOs these days, and most of the time, the experience is really poor, because you end up doing not very exciting things. I think the value of the experience is not on that. It's really about building yourself - the vision of yourself, like, "Oh, I want to be a hero, because I've spent so much time at level 16. I'm so strong. Look at my weapons and my helmet." These are the core mechanics these games are based on.
I think that's fine for people when they need to build self esteem, and it's a very important core complementing experience, but if you're not into that, what's the real narrative or emotional value? Sometimes it's really interesting when you're in the guild in a massively multiplayer game and you attack the fortress or whatever. Some great things can be told, but it's not guaranteed. The value is not always there."
These comments by Cage came as part of a much larger Gamasutra interview
in which the developer discussed issues as diverse as capturing true emotion in games, what it really means to make a "mature" game, the true diversification of the gaming audience, and the controversy that surrounds games in the mass media.