This week I wanted to reflect on a concept I've been working on as of the last couple of weeks - that is the idea of building a world for an open adventure - rather than a linear one!
This challenge came to me - not in the form of developing a game per se - but from the fact that I will be acting as the Dungeon Master in a game of Dungeons and Dragons within a months time approximately. My previous experience - as well as that of my colleagues - with Dungeons and Dragons is minimal; however I came to it from a more unique perspective as someone delving into game development and someone who appreciates the strength the game offers.
Even though I am new - I knew that I wanted to play on the game's strength to offer my colleagues an interesting and fun experience - that is of openness. Dungeons and Dragons allows you - as a player; to do whatever you please - so long as your Dungeon Master can 'accommodate' for it. I say 'accommodate' because as I've been learning it's often a case of improvising and providing building on elements as you go. This did make me think more deeply as to the notion of designing an open world rather than a linear one in a way.
In a linear situation - you simply need to offer the players the information they need, some information to keep them entertained, and ensure that whatever the players can touch - you can explain. In an open situation - this is extremely difficult, the players are human beings - more over, the game offers them large freedoms that you as the Dungeon Master should embrace rather than restrict as much as you can. There is simply so much in an area - let alone a world - that it seems to be a far too enormous task for any one person. Tolkien - the individual who built the wondrous world of Middle Earth, created it little by little. However one can always realise that the world itself can house so much more stories than Tolkien himself wrote. If Tolkien simply wrote a story and built a small world to accommodate for it - individuals interested in perhaps creating their own stories would likely have a harder time to keep it close to the source in a sense.
The same goes in an open world situation - the approach I am currently taking is building a world the players can explore - a small plot that will happen - regardless of the player's intervention or not. This key point means the players will experience the world in their own fashion. The world is open and alive - the players are inside of that world, and they are not stuck in a linear position where the story requires they do A or B before anything else happens.
How a system like this can be implemented effective within a digital game setting - is a more difficult concept. Adaptive systems or AIs that change the world according to actions taken by you is a step towards that direction. However - the difficulty still remains that the content present in the game - is the content present in the game. It is difficult to simply create a whole new model if a new character is interacted with - unless you are using simplified sprites and create a generation tool within the game that creates new characters as needed. That being said - there are ways and means to getting around these obstacles - more over, as technology gets better - so will our capabilities to create a more open world within games.
Tynan Sylvester's A Guide To Engineering Experiences has a number of pointers that really fit well with this idea of open design in a sense. Within the book - you read about Elegant systems - systems within the game that are so useful that they create a large number of possibilities in terms of game-play - but do not make it incredibly difficult to balance and modify.
As to how my approach to designing the experience for the Dungeons and Dragons game will go remains to be seen - however this is proving to be both a fun activity and a useful insightful one! I look forward to exploring more ideas and concepts like this in a more digital games fashion - as the idea does interest me highly!
Until next time,