One of the main selling points for Sucker Punch's PlayStation 3 game Infamous is a sprawling, open 3D world.
But the original super hero title didn't have a large army of artists creating this expansive world. In fact it was created by a team of 12 environment artists. "That's pretty dinky," the game's director Nate Fox said at GDC on Thursday. "We don't have a particularly massive squad at Sucker Punch."
The studio had to employ certain "tricks" in creating the game with such a small group of people. One of the primary methods of creating Infamous' world was using a Carcassonne-like hex system.
The entire city in Infamous is made up of hexes where Sucker Punch's artists would place roads, buildings and other environmental pieces. Roads meet perpendicularly at the center of a hex's side, which allows artists to rotate hexes to create different configurations, as roads would line up from piece to piece. This meant less work for artists, but there is still good variation in the environment thanks to different hex configurations.
Reusing assets, and reusing them often, is something that developers shouldn't shy away from when making an open world game, Fox said. For instance, in Infamous, the team only used two different car models for the entire game. "What really matters with the cars is that they blow up well," said Fox.
Sucker Punch also reused buildings in the game. "We were surprised how little people cared about repetitious buildings," he said. He thinks there's a reason for this. "Gameplay is where players' attention goes, not really the art. ... Focus your expressive art on where players are going to be spending their time." He added, "Reuse in a way that people don't see."
Fox also said that creating diverse environments is also key to making a successful open world game. He used Disneyland and its many different themed sections as an example. Failing at diversification can make even the biggest world seem repetitive.
Another trick Fox and his team implemented was restricting player sightlines. By doing this, buildings and other obstructions hide the geographical limitations of a world. In Infamous, all of the street intersections are "Y" shaped -- this is a natural effect of the hex-based layout, but it also means players can't look straight down a long street. "If we provide really long sightlines, you get bored running down the street," Fox said.
As Infamous is a vertically-minded game in which the hero can climb on top of very tall buildings, the team tried to limit sightlines above the street as well, to an extent. But there are also locales that are extremely tall where the main character, Cole, can overlook the sprawling city below to get a sense of the environment's expansiveness.
Gated content, or areas that only become unlocked after certain points in a game, also can make a world feel like it is growing larger as the game progresses.
In the end, creating a large open world isn't all about creating geographically sprawling world, rather creating a world in which players feel like they're in large world, Fox said. And it can be done with a smaller team. "Making a 360 degree world... is an incredibly expensive proposition for an art team," Fox said. "You have to have your art and your design working in tandem. ... It takes a lot of planning early on."