In Gamasutra's latest in-depth design feature, veteran game designer Neil Sorens examines the 'sandbox game' genre
, advocating - with plenty of practical examples - that "designers can and should do more to exploit player-generated stories."
Sorens says he decided to focus on the "sandbox" genre because it leaves room for players to create their own stories. Player behavior in games like these, he says, creates a personal chronicle.
The key for designers, Sorens says, is in communication:
"The problem that sandbox games have is that their stories are not obvious. The average player, when asked about the story in a sandbox game, would probably reply, "There isn't one." Since we know this to be untrue, the disconnection between player and story must be an issue of presentation. Players do not realize they are creating a story because the game does not communicate the story in a way they understand.
Sorens provides a series of solutions presented in carefully explicated steps. One of these, he says, in addition to presenting analysis of cause and effect, is to let the player focus on the "cool" stuff, and he provides some examples of steps in the right direction:
"Most games already to this to some degree. For example, many sandbox games use the "pause and pan" method to call attention to special events, such as the natural disasters in SimCity.
Another example is the automatic replay found in sports games, where the game detects through a simple trigger (event, animation, time window, etc.) that a spectacular or close play has occurred and queues the instant replay to ensure that the player had a good look at it. These systems are a step in the right direction, but they are generally simplistic and do not cover a wide enough range of situations.
You can now read the full feature
, which takes into account the inherent complexity in the sandbox genre, and offers suggestions based on specific examples of opportunities that designers can use as a springboard to further story development in sandbox games (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).