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Old 07-02-2011, 06:42 AM   #1
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Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Roeselare, Belgium
Posts: 1,442
Default Article: Off the scale (WIP)

"Scale" can mean so many things. Fish have them, you use them to weigh yourself, it's another word for climbing, it's on maps to help you determine the real size ... it can mean so many things.

When they mention scale in a game, it can have different meanings as well: the scale of quests, the length of the game, the amount of land you can cover - despite the many possible angles, it all boils down to depth and size and that's what I'd like to talk about: the scale of games.

If I were to ask you to name a few games with a great scale, I'm sure I'd get many different replies. Baldur's Gate II, Final Fantasy VII, World of Warcraft are answers I've heard very often before but have we really reached the ultimate peak of scale in games? I don't believe we have ...

Games (especially RPGs) have always been about a balance between size and content. id Software could have added 100 more maps to Doom at the expense of quality. Bioware could have made Baldur's Gate take twice as long to finish as well, by adding filler maps. It's not hard to drag out a game but it IS hard to make a long game which you'll still want to complete. All too often, you notice a decreasing amount of detail and polish as you draw near the end of the game - areas added at the last minute after it was deemed too short, which didn't receive any of the attention of the earlier levels.

But despite the many millions sunk into games today, the scale of them is actually decreasing instead of growing. Games such as Call of Duty have tightly compressed action on a small playing field and while a lot is going on at once, it's mostly cheap scripting to keep you from realizing how bland the game actually is. Four to five hours is the average time it takes to complete Modern Warfare 2's single player campaign. Sure, you're taken all over the world during those hours but is this really the right direction for games to go in?

When I was a kid, I dreamt of games that would let me explore the world. I'd be able to walk around in huge cities, enjoying myself as I'd duck into side streets, explored apartments or how about immense ancient ruins with hidden treasure in dense parts of the rain forest, Indiana Jones style. "But there's Tomb Raider and GTA!" I hear you say. Yes, at first glance you're right but at second glance, the dream is still far from complete.

To truly feel immersed into GTA, it would mean getting out of my car as the police is chasing me, running into a nearby sky scraper and running through the offices inside, trying to find a hiding place. It would mean the kind of scenes you see in movies - the SWAT would lock down the building and I might take hostages, or try to sneak outside - maybe hijack a helicopter on the roof? Ask most gamers my age what they thought future games would allow you to do back when they were 10, and you'll get a similar answer which boils down to one thing: freedom.

Scale and freedom go hand in hand for a good reason: a bigger scale means more to explore, more to find, more to do. To get back to the examples mentioned earlier, I wouldn't ever name World of Warcraft myself when talking about scale. Ultima Online and EVE deserve for more to be examples. in UO, you can design and build houses, you can farm land, you can grow and cultivate plants and flowers, go on treasure hunts, tame animals, design outfits, craft furniture, create hunting trophies, etc. etc. etc. Being one of the first MMOs, it set the bar high, only for most MMOs after UO to completely ignore it and lay the bar much much lower in terms of freedom and scale.

So why are we moving away from freedom towards tightly scripted games where you're told what to shoot, when to shoot? What happened to the dream of letting your imagination run wild, turning the game in the direction you want it to go? Even MMOs seem to have more linear experiences these days - only letting you move from area A to B after you've done a series of preset quests. I'm sure it's a lot easier to code and to bug-test but is it really what people want?

(more later)

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