Blueprint : The Open Narrative
VoxelArcade Blueprint # 007
I generally hate open-world games. With a passion.
It’s not the inevitably watered-down graphics or the huge environments that get under my skin. Nor is the endless grind or the incessant map-reading that bothers me. And even though the very last thing that I normally want to do after a busy day making decisions is to come home and have to make more decisions in a game, what really gets me down, each and every time, is the utterly shitty story.
In comparison to a tight-knit and carefully woven linear experience such as Half-Life, Unfinished Swan or Alan Wake, open-world games always feel like a schizophrenic mess – as though someone has taken a perfectly good story, cut it up into a thousand fragments and then pieced it back together, drunk and blindfolded. Sure, there might be the essence of a good yarn in there somewhere but it ends up being nothing more than a skeleton upon which a saggy lump of side-quests and treasure hunts it adorned in the vain hope that we won’t notice the disfigured mess presented before us.
I mean, seriously: in what other medium would this kind of user-driven car-crash pass as credible story telling?
The Never Ending Story had the right idea. How have we overlooked this?
So here’s the idea: If you’re going to insist on making them, I want an open-world game that has no core narrative whatsoever. I don’t want there to be any overarching moral-lessons woven in, no boy-destined-to-save-the-kingdom crap or gangster-rags-to-riches bullshit getting in my way. No, I just want a world to explore. I’ll make my own story, thank you very much. And as I approach people within this world and as they seek my help, I want that to dynamically trigger other events in the world – perhaps even randomly, as though the background code was some kind of wonderful chaos theory in action. I want the experience to be utterly and completely different each time that I play it, for the lives of the NPCs to be influenced in a myriad of different ways by my actions or reactions or those of others and for the whole experience to be a rich tapestry of subtle simplicity, normality and intimacy.
Rather like real life itself, wouldn’t you say?
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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.