LOS ANGELES--One of the most common questions you hear from nongamers as they watch someone playing a game is some variation on, "Hey, can you go over there?" Usually, that refers to being able to open a door in a building, get in a car on the street, or walk down a winding mountain path going off into infinity. For gamers familiar with the visual language of interactive entertainment, it's a silly question, there are simply places you're meant to go, and places you're not. For a casual observer not as familiar with the limitations of virtual game worlds, it seems like a matter of common sense; if there's a shop in the middle of the street, why can't I open the door and walk in? If there's a car next to me, why can't I drive away in it?
For example, the recent game L.A. Noire addresses the issue with a bit of visual shorthand that makes perfect sense to gamers, but is honestly ridiculous if you stop to think about it: only doors with golden doorknobs can be opened. Everything else is shut tight, essentially facades painted on wooden fronts, like a video game version of a Potemkin village.Related links John Carmack on Rage, PC graphics, iOS games, and OnLive Nintendo Wii U, Sony Vita, and the dangers of complexity E3 and the video game bubble Why isn't Apple at E3? E3 2011: Complete coverage
Few games dare to deal with the demands of creating a truly open sandbox-style world, which surprises me in a way, as the few times it has been done, it has been done to great success and critical acclaim. The best example is Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series, the latest of which, Skyrim, is on display at E3 this week. Like its predecessors, Oblivion (2005) and Morrowind (2002), Skyrim takes on the considerable challenge of letting players inhabit a virtual world so complete that nearly every door can be opened and every computer-controlled character spoken with--a level of interaction many times greater than sandbox-lite games such as Grand Theft Auto (or the previously mentioned L.A. Noire). Perhaps the closest cousin is online games such as Second Life, where the basic rules and building blocks are laid out, and it's up to participants to decide how to use them. … Read more