Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bridging the Gap

This week sees the release of Crysis, a game I am very much looking forward to playing. Crysis is the sequel to Far Cry, a game I very much enjoyed playing. Far Cry exemplified the 'sand-box' mode of play - give the player a wide environment, rich with its own systems, and let the player approach it as they like.

So, given a stretch of jungle with two villages connected by roads, you could choose to attack them in any order. Maybe steal a jeep from one and steam up and down the road mowing down the mercenary soliders. Or stay hidden the bushes gradually sniping the off one by one. Or perhaps just take a hang glider over the whole thing. The environments were *huge*, and exploration was nearly always rewarded - it was quite an eye opener for me at the time - I don't think any game before or since has trusted players with quite that degree of freedom, and the space to express it in.

Recently I completed episode 2 of Half Life, a series that approaches level design in the polar opposite way. In Half Life the player is led by a gentle but firm hand down a single path full of perfectly balanced combat situations and spectacular set pieces. If they are ever allowed to stray from the path, and do, the most that will happen is that Steam will capture and report this fact, and Valve will be sure to stick in another Gman sighting from that point (although I didn't spot him once in Ep2).

Both of these approaches make for good gameplay, but I find myself wondering whether they couldn't be combined in some way, and whether Crysis will go any way to address this.

The problem is that in order to have a truly successful 'set piece', the player needs to be genuinely involved in the action, rather than just stumbling into a situation that is going on regardless of their presence (like all those infinite npc battles raging on in World of Warcraft's Outland).

The way Half Life usually deals with this is to funnel the player down a narrow path, whereupon they trip an invisible wire, and the scripted action plays out right in front of their eyes, where they can't possibly miss it. In order to reproduce this kind of effect in a open Far Cry environment, the scripting, AI and triggering system would need to be considerably more complex. I guess what you'd ideally want is a way to describe a series of things happening in a general enough way to allow the game engine to apply them to arbitrary situations and environments.

At this point, even I barely know what I'm talking about, so I'm going to get back to Actionscript 3.

1 comment:

Damian said...

Sorry to be a gravedigger, but I've just found your journal and am enjoying it immensely. The way I see it is, you could have large open environments with small scripted sequences. It would take a while to program, but it would be worth it. My only concern is that scripted sequences in a sandbox game would seem contrived, and limiting. The other way it could work is if the game alternated between sandbox and linear levels, or, sandbox and linear sections within levels. Give players an enormous jungle w/ various points of interest and optional objectives, then funnel them through a linear cave-system, full of scripting. In fact, Crysis does this in a sense - many of the later levels are linear with numerous scripted events. I couldn't help but feel that something was missing in these areas.. integrating the two types of level design - instead of separating them - would probably provide a more immersive experience. I think this would be fairly easy, as most games, even sandbox games, have objectives. You could center scripted events around objectives. I think for the most immersion however, scripted events would have to happen throughout the sandbox environment. In that sense, they would be completely optional. Chances are a single player would not initiate them all on a single play through. This would, in fact, increase the longevity of the game by increasing its replayability. The question then, is, are there developers out there, who would be willing invest the time/money/effort into optional material - stuff that some players may never see?