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How to control the pacing of an open world game
How to control the pacing of an open world game Exclusive
June 29, 2012 | By Staff

June 29, 2012 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Design, Production, Exclusive

In a new interview about upcoming free-roaming crime game Sleeping Dogs, United Front Games tells Gamasutra that while "it's not easy" delivering a story, there are tricks that can be used to keep things working.

"Controlling the pacing is probably one of the most difficult things to do," admits executive producer Stephen van der Mescht.

"I think the fact that we've stuck with a linear story, which picks up from where you've left off when you tackle the next piece, is sufficient in terms of bringing you back in where you left off so there is some continuation there; you understand where you're at from an emotional standpoint."

"One of the biggest things that we did was, right from the get-go, to really design out core game flow, the world, and our narrative together and have each of those elements feed off each other," says Jeff O’Connell, the game's senior producer.

"While we do have a linear narrative, we've really taken a lot of our core start and end points of our scripted missions and analyzed those areas and the routes that we think that players will take and finely crafted a lot of our secondary and ambient encounters around those. We've actually even made our own version of Google Maps where we look at all of the content in the game, and by using this program we can actually go in and really scrutinize the different routes and play-styles that players will use."

Then, says design director Mike Skupa, who worked on Bully at Rockstar Vancouver, it comes down to finesse. As the game is late in development, not all changes can be accomodated. However, he says, "while we may not have the resources available in one department, we often find that, because we've developed the game this way, we can use another medium to convey a message."

The full feature, which goes into how the team used different types of crime fiction to inspire the core of Sleeping Dogs' combat and story structure, among other topics, is live now on Gamasutra.

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brandon sheffield
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I will tell you my experience with the finely crafted pacing of this game at E3.

the first time you get to fight some enemies, it tells you you can attack, grapple, or block. if you grapple, as I quickly did, it tells you you can pound them, throw them, or do environmental takedowns by hitting B near an environmental object. The first thing I did was go over to a giant open dumpster and try an environmental takedown. after all, it seemed perfect for it!

I pressed B and nothing happened. eventually my character let go of the guy. I figured maybe I had the wrong spot, so I grabbed another guy and tried again - still nothing. "okay," I thought, "maybe no environmental takedowns with dumpsters," and dispatched everyone normally.

then the game spawned in one more guy, and said "grab this enemy and try an environmental takedown by the dumpster." the dumpster was now glowing red. I took the guy over there, and a scripted sequence occurred.

the end.

Luis Guimaraes
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There goes my hope...

Vincent Hyne
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Yeah, it treats people new to the game like idiots.

There's a logic to it, and yeah, it should let you dumpsterize every single foe before it actually tells you to do it and highlights the object, but I doubt that design direction is indicative of the game in any shape or form.

Arkham City starts you off with cuffs in a suit, and limited actions and movement. Hardly reflecting how the greater game plays.

John McMahon
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It was a tutorial, what did you expect. It states an Overview and then tells you how to do each one.

True, maybe they should wait before telling you something that you can't yet do.

brandon sheffield
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I expect more intelligent gating than that - first they gave me the tools, but didn't let me use them. then later, treated me like I couldn't understand them by forcing me to and highlighting the object like I was an idiot.

if we're talking the power of pacing, that's the wrong way to go about it.

Mike Thorpe
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Exactly. This is a pretty consistent with most tutorials. "You can do a, b, and c". "First do a.. then.. b.. " ..

Also there's the case that 99% of people don't read the text and just follow visual cues (like the glowing dumpster).