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Life In Vegas: Surreal's Alan Patmore On Open World Innovation
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Life In Vegas: Surreal's Alan Patmore On Open World Innovation

June 23, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Open world games have so much content, but do you ever worry that you're working on this content that no one's going to see, necessarily? Someone doesn't go all the way down that tree?

AP: Yeah. A large part of working on an open world game is making sure that you have enough experiential density at all areas. And with This is Vegas, it's not such a huge geographical location that it's unmanageable. You will be able to explore it in a couple hours, in terms of driving back and forth, and things like that.

Now, obviously, one of the unique features that we have is really detailed interiors, and big interiors; about 40% of the game takes place inside. So there's tons of areas to explore... But yeah, that's always the risk with open world games; that's why you have to make it fun and engaging enough that people continue to play.

But one of the fears of open world games is, in some of the failures of open world games, that they don't have the level of experiential density necessary to reward the player for going around the world and exploring. And that's where, again, to tie it back to the gigs, where the gigs are all over town.

And we've also made it a very big point for design, to make sure that the missions were covering -- we literally have coverage graphs all over the map, how much time you spend in any given area, and when. So it's all paced so that you're going from location to location, and really utilizing the game environment.

It's literally a tool that we've used behind the scenes, so that we can tell how people will play the game, basically, so we can tune the missions to make sure people are using the world appropriately. It's completely transparent to the player.

The toolset that you're using to design the game, you have this tool, so that when someone's designing that mission tree, it will encourage them to place the missions in different parts?

AP: Yeah, exactly. So, when the designer is literally placing the missions, first we make up, "OK, we don't really go to the Fremont area, you know, for the first two hours of the game, so let's put a vigilante gig there that's going to reward the players for exploring that area."

And then, within the vigilante gig, we may go, "OK, in this area, no one's really hitting that for another two hours, if people played linearly through the game, so let's reward the player from that." So you're really making sure that players are hitting all locales within the open world, no matter how they play; whether it's just going off the rails, doing gigs, which again are optional missions, or doing the narrative.

It is a challenge, right? And it's not just a challenge creatively; the resources you spend on making this game are deeply relevant to the company, and to your publisher, so you don't want to waste those resources. Games are expensive to make; the idea of wasting significant effort would be kind of terrifying.

AP: Yeah. We're really trying to use the terrain we've created. And not only is it a cost issue, it's even a creative issue. To have an art team that has spent four months, or whatever it is, to build, say, a casino, and if no one's going to go in there, no one's going to use it, you know, why did we do that? And then they get all bent out of shape because we're not using that.

And again, that's just bad design, so it's really up to the design team to make sure that the distribution of activities is properly set up. And again, it comes all down to experiential density, and making sure there's enough to do at any given area, to reward the player for going to that place.

With open world games, there's a certain -- and I'm not saying this is the case with your game, but there's a certain "jack of all trades, master of none" when you come to the play mechanics. How do you combat that?

AP: Well, it is challenging. Because there's basically open world games which, the way I look at it is "seeing the forest, not the tree," and then there are games, you know, very cinematic games like Gears of War, for example, where you see a very small field of view, you're seeing what the designers want to show you.

Great game experience, but they're two totally different game experiences, and I think the consumers are starting to figure that out; that the game experiences I get with GTA or Saints Row are much more of a breadth experience, and people's expectations are not going to be fighting game level of mechanics.

Now it's interesting because we've actually gone pretty deep in a lot of our mechanics -- probably deeper than other open world games -- and we did that just more to support the Vegas vibe, and, quite frankly, I think you can go deeper.

You don't need just to have an open world game with just one kick or one punch, you can have a more fun, robust combat system; especially when combat's such a pivotal part to these open world games. So it's really just a balancing act, just like the size of the world is balancing your resources in how deep you want to go on certain mechanics, and how important those mechanics are in the open world.

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