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Game Design Essentials: 20 Open World Games
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Game Design Essentials: 20 Open World Games

September 26, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 11 Next

9. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Considered by some the greatest video game ever made.

Published by Nintendo

Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka

Platform: N64, Gamecube, Wii (Virtual Console)

Length: Long

Of Note:

Ocarina of Time is a "modern" Zelda in just about every way, for all the good and bad that implies. It's got Heart Pieces, puzzle dungeons, and an overworld with a good number of secrets (but doesn't make them very hard to find). It is also, unlike the original Legend of Zelda or later bits of Link to the Past, depressingly sequential. But an interesting thing about it is that, despite appearances, it isn't completely linear. After getting the bow in the Forest Temple (approximately level four if one's counting), he can actually choose to tackle either the Fire Temple or Water Temple next. The game's clues point to Fire, but nothing at that point prevents the player from either entering or completing Water. In fact, this can be done as soon as the bow is acquired, without having to fight the Forest Temple's boss.

Unfortunately, that's where the break in linearity ends. The temple after cannot be reached until a certain cut scene happens, and it only occurs after all preceding dungeons have been conquered.

The Game:

Ocarina of Time is nearly worshipped these days, and I have no desire to incur the wrath of a legion of fans by telling you that it sucks. Especially since I'm quite fond of it myself. But I'm writing about open world games here....

One thing about Ocarina of Time that harms the feeling of being in a vast, interesting world is that vast plain on which nothing much happens: Hyrule Field. It's a huge open area, even by recent standards, but so very little happens there. In Young Link's time there are only two enemies that appear there, the gigantic, menacing Peahats during the day, which don't even notice the player unless he approaches one, and at night the continuously-appearing Stalchildren, which are easy to beat. In Adult Link's time, after Ganondorf's taken over the land, even these enemies stop showing up. Say what you want about Ganon, at least he did something about the Peahats! In their place are ten Poes that are usually invisible, and it isn't difficult to avoid being hurt by them.

There's also little to do there other than fight enemies. There are exits south to Lake Hylia, North to Hyrule Town, southeast to Kokiri Forest, East to Zora's Domain, Northeast to Kakariko Village and Death Mountain, and West to Gerudo Desert. In the middle is Lon Lon Ranch. These are nice places to go to, but they're all exits, and between them there's not a whole lot to see other than a handful of bomb spots.

Yet an exploration game is ultimately about finding cool things to see and do. If there is a mountain in the background, by jove, I should be able to climb it. If there's a tremendous lake, I should be able to reach the bottom. If there's a waterfall, I should be able to look behind it. And when I get to these places, there should be a reward waiting for me; if there's not I feel cheated, but usually there is.

This has been the essence of the Zelda overworld throughout the series. It is a way to inspire players to go places just because it is cool to do so. It has been a highly influential concept, and yet there are times when it seems like it hasn't been influential enough.

Design Lessons:

The Zelda games proved the elemental coolness of just hiding stuff in out-of-the-way places. Of course, there must first be out-of-the-way places in which the stuff can be hidden.

I think this kind of game is somewhat ruined by the prevalence of strategy guides, either for purchase or on the internet. A well-designed game can be completed without having to find lots of secrets, but players who use guides to hunt them all down end up shortening the experience far short of what was intended. If any players are reading this, then consider my plea: leave the guides on the shelf until you complete your first playthrough! They really aren't all that essential, at least if the game's worth anything.



Speed Demos Archive

10. Crazy Taxi

Perhaps strangely, perhaps not, but few arcade games feature exploratory elements. How can it be that a driving game should feature them so prominently?

Published by Sega

Developed by Hitmaker

Platform: Arcade, Dreamcast, Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube

Length: Arcade

Of Note:

There's a code that can be entered from the driver select screen that puts the game into "Another Day" mode. In it, the layout of the city is exactly the same, but the player begins facing the other direction at the start, the fares are all different, and the flow is generally reversed. There also seem to be fewer fares in this mode, and the player ends up driving routes that never occur in the normal game. The result is that the feel of the play is much different. Each of the sequels offered its own "Another Day" mode as well, with the Dreamcast-only Crazy Taxi 2 even offering "days" that were downloadable from the game's website. I do not know if they're still available.

The Game:

Is this really an open world game? I maintain that it is, and it's not even a huge stretch. But a basic description of play is mandated here.

You drive a cab in a section of a large city. You start out with a quantity of time, 50 seconds by default. Scattered around are customers with dollar signs over their heads. Park near one and he climbs in. When someone is picked up, time is added to be main clock, and a fare clock begins. The color of the dollar sign indicates how far he wants to go, with longer routes granting more time and money. He says where he wants to be dropped off, and an arrow shows the way. Make it there in time and park and you earn money, and a small time bonus if you're fast enough. Find another fare and keep going until the main clock runs out. There, that wasn't so bad.

The exploration comes from the fact that, despite this being an arcade driving game, it's not a race. You can actually drive anywhere you want, and often usefully so. There are also no checkpoints to race to, and no opposition to try to beat out. The game is purely a race against the clock, and there is nothing other than the timer itself to force you along.

In most 3D racing games, finding shortcuts is occasionally a helpful aid, and they're often treacherous enough to make traversing them difficult even if you know the way. In Crazy Taxi, finding the way is part of the game. Finding fares is also important; most people you can pick up cycle, over time, between potential destinations, but knowing where they are can help the player to plan ahead to form a route that extends beyond the current fare.

You see, the city is laid out roughly in a circle. The starting location is the University, and there are a number of areas the player passes through on his way. Each area has a few possible destinations, and a number of fares that might want to be dropped off within that neighborhood (red dollar-signs) or in another neighborhood (yellow or green dollar-signs). But there's also another factor: fares that want to be dropped off further counter-clockwise along the cycle tend to be worth a little extra time. In particular, fares towards the end of the cycle who want to be dropped off at, or even beyond, the University are worth a bit of extra time, and customers picked up at the University or the areas right after it are worth much more bonus time than any others in the game. But it's difficult to find fares who want to travel the last leg to the University! As the game continues, time bonuses from picking people up are shaved progressively thinner, and these lucrative trips can be lifesavers.

It's not enough just to pick any customer up. If you drop someone off at a destination, then drive a long way to pick up the next fare, you're going to lose far more time than it's worth. The trick is to find a fare that wants to be dropped off at the beginning of a valuable route. Those routes can only be learned through long experience.

Further, once a customer is picked up he is unavailable to be picked up again for the remainder of that game. It's possible to play a one-credit game of Crazy Taxi for almost an hour, but around halfway through that the player will notice that all the good fares have been taken. That's when the exploration elements come in, for in addition to the fares that are lurking around the drop-off points, there are other fares scattered around the city. Usually those are for longer routes, and a few particular fares, like those on hard-to-reach rooftops or under water at the marina, will ask to be taken clear across town, and score substantial points and time. There are even a couple of little-seen destinations, Sail Street and Fresh Avenue, that many players never see until they start checking out those side roads and hidden nooks for off-the-path fares.

The result is, beginning and intermediate players can do well at Crazy Taxi by just picking people up and taking them where they want to go, but to get really great scores requires knowing the ins and outs of the virtual city as well as a real cabby. And it's exploration, of terrain, of routes, of traffic patterns, and of fares, that makes truly high-scoring games possible.

Design Lessons:

Crazy Taxi's exploratory elements are unique in that they're limited by the need to continually earn extra time. Just driving down side roads randomly will doom the player to an early Game Over. To get a good look around while continuing the game requires finding fares that go where you'd want to go anyway. In a way it's like a board game with a branching path: from KFC, you can either go to the Church, the Heliport, to Tower Records, or to FILA. The way you go depends on your knowledge of who'll want to go where. The high-level player will want to travel to places with good routes, and not be dropped off at a place where no fares remain. When playing past that 40th minute, the strategy involved in finding fares can be surprisingly involved, making Crazy Taxi a game with tremendous hidden depth.

The main way the game increases difficulty is by decreasing the extra time awarded for each pickup down to a minimum value, which is constant for each route. So many things can slow down the player between destinations that the game has what amounts to a substantial random element, something nearly unheard-of in exploration games. Well there is one exploring game that features that, but we'll be talking about that soon enough....






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