On Exploration

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I've been playing minecraft a lot latly. And who knew that competly computer generated worlds could be so fun to just explore in a game that's not even fully finished yet. Really recommend it. (Like everyone else who played it.)

A game I really liked exploring in was Fallout 3 I must say, Oblivion and Morrowind had their share of me wandering around doing nothing. But Fallout 3 completly hooked me, Isn't much in that game I haven't touched. It's more calm when you are running around and somehow more rewarding for me. The atmosphere really succeds along with gameplay that wasen't as frustrating as it can be in morrowind and oblivion.

I agree. No matter what game I'm playing, be it Bioshock or Half-Life, I always feel the need to explore everywhere. Even in all the Halo games games, I made it my mission to find every possible vacation. It's because of that exploration element that the Halo games have stood out to me, for a straight fps, at least. That's not to say that it has more exploration than other games designed explicitly that way. It's the ability to do things that the game didn't account for that I've always liked.

Sort of like in Deus Ex. Now, somebody go reinstall it.

I like these extra punctuations :) It's nice to see Yahtzee back up his opinions solidly, so that idiots in the aforementioned twitter post can go play in traffic XD

I might count as one of those 'fuckwits' you mentioned. I like exploring, but I don't feel very motivated to do so if I'm not going to be encountering any side quests or collectibles or whatever along the way. Then again, most games that are heavily based in exploration have all sorts of stuff like that, like Fallout 3, or as you mentioned, Batman: Arkham Asylum.

The Brewin:
I think the biggest thing undersold about SOTC was the emotional attachment you forge with the 'characters', that is you, your horse, the mysterious dead girl and the colossi...considering none have any tangible or actual dialogue between one another, you grow incredibly mentally drawn to the colossi, the hulking beasts that I actually felt sorry for.

that and when your beloved horse...well I wont spoil it...

I cried D:

I'm not as interested in exploration as a mechanic in most games, mainly because it's done poorly.

Shadow of the Colossus had a large, very prettily designed environment that wasn't broken up by Generic Monster #73 attacking you every five minutes, and as such, you could wander around with impunity. It's one of the few close to worth exploring for cosmetic appreciation, but it still wasn't enough to convince me (granted, I didn't know about the lizards/fruit for the whole game.)

I'd consider Thief and Thief 2 to be the best games exploration-wise that I've played. There's a lot of nooks and crannies, and other ways to approach a guard from behind; the exploration gives you loot (but even the hardest difficulties don't force you to grab it all) but also other ways to tackle a level. It's not "I want all the heart pieces" or "I must find 13 MacGuffins to continue the plot" but rather looking for a wooden beam onto the second story or into the vault, and the good design of the levels means that there are usually multiple ways to get where you want. It's much more integrated into the gameplay, because the advantages you get from exploring are optional and don't feel contrived into a scavenger hunt. Also, the maps help to maintain the feel of the game as well as giving you a decent amount of information (a few exceptions apply, like the Lost City.)

Wind Waker's exploration was poor. Yes, you had lots of space; yes, through manipulation of the wind/warping magic you could get around it at a moderate speed; but the constantly spawning enemies knock you out right when you start to enjoy it and the endless expanse of blue never changes from one place to the other. There are lots of regularly spaced islands, but they're still mostly "do action X to get optional equipment boost Y here, and you're done with this sector." The Triforce hunt late in the game turned the exploration into a mandatory punishment as well: it becomes less about enjoying the scenery as it is about combing every inch of an area, a practice which is as fun as using every inventory object on every object in the game in adventure games.

That's where I stopped playing Metroid Prime - hunting down those artifacts by pacing again and again over previously cleared areas with respawning enemies to find the random little dongle labeled "Bomb me here" is a great way to get players to loathe expansive environments. Outside of that treasure hunt, it still had a pretty linear progression in what you were forced to do (a recurring problem with most Metroidvania games, especially when they're not clear on where the game designers decide you need to go next. Valve's major "genius" to me seems to be integrating that last bit into the game environment.)

I haven't played Batman: Arkham Asylum or Silent Hill, so I can't comment.

Bethesda's games are a good example of expansive environments that can encourage exploration, though I was really only personally impressed by Morrowind's (because it was new.) But they fell to the problem of making the exploration redundant - Morrowind's had no interesting characters nor quests nor much reason to actually visit all the areas the game offered. There were hundreds of caves, but randomly generated loot that would generally be worse than what you had, and leveling/moneymaking was done much more effectively through repetitive grinding. Oblivion did a good bit better on quests and characters, but shot itself in the head with its horrifically applied auto-leveling of monsters that made enemy selection a matter of what level you were, not where you were, and often punished you for leveling up more than the actual level gained you. Fallout 3 seemed a bit better, but still got repetitive and I stopped playing after a series of crashes that come standard to all Bethesda games (I was still rather burnt out on Bethesda's overall style, too).

I wonder if Yahtzee's ever played the Metroid Prime Trilogy on the Wii. I've always found platforming in FPS's to be a bitch with analog controls (actually, I found aiming to be a bitch, too), but the Wiimote made it all so intuitive. In fact, it's the only series that I felt the Wiimote gave a significant improvement to basic gameplay (barring all that gimmicky knob-turning shit in Corruption). I'm actually very surprised that Nintendo hasn't made a bigger deal out of what the Wii's aiming can do for FPS's in general. Maybe it just doesn't gel with the "revolutionary" image.

A bit off topic I guess, but I enjoyed and agree with the article %100.

I can't help but feel some vague sense of pride or of having been rewarded upon seeing that Yahtzee quite liked some games that I too quite liked. (Metroid Prime and Wind Waker, specifically.) Mr. Croshaw, you amaze me with the level of reverence, vitriol, and other assorted emotions you inspire in me and others. I must say, I envy your Internet fame. Not enough to actually try to make a name for myself, but still.

Metroid Prime absolutely nailed the first person exploration, its a shame the next two games got progressively more linear and story driven.

I agree but with Metroid Prime this would be kind of hard to do unless they have a 'reset' after every game like Legend of Zelda. Metroid Prime was essentially the original flavour Metroid, the 3D equivilent of the original NES Metroid and Super Metroid. Personally I strongly believe the original flavour Metroid is the best gameplay experience, but it would be weird if they kept following the same trend for follow up games so you can't really blame them for trying to mix it up a little.

For the Yahtzee artical I'm kind of surprised that I have this in common with him, since my core genre's are strategy or RPG games. The only time I really venture out of that area is when a game like SotC or Metroid Prime come up which I'll gladly dive into. Unfortunately these types of games are too few and far inbetween to be considered their own genre, buried under a mass of more action orientated games.

Also, like the article says, I sometimes loathe miny maps and compasses. The Oblivion one was horrible because it was too big and front & center so it couldn't be ignored which really helped ruin the game for me. Fallout 3 was better as it found a happy medium making it more obscure and tucking it out of the way into the corner of the screen. For mini-maps, the worst for me was FFXII. They put so much effort into creating that huge open game world, but I missed half of it because I could never keep my off at the big simplistic but informative map in the top right corner of the screen. Kind of like how if you get subtitles turned on a regular english show it's hard to keep your eyes from wandering to the bottom of the screen and reading along when you don't have to.

We need a remake of GTA San Andreas, quickly. They could actually add Bigfoot for you to find or something.

How exactly is Arkham Asylum based around exploration? The game is linear, and the most you can hope for in terms of exploration is backtracking ala Bioshock.

He never said the core gameplay was exploration, he said it has an exploration element, based on the Riddler sidequest and acquisition of new gadgets, which allow access to new areas of the map, ala Zelda.

The main plot may be linear, but the map is expansive enough that you feel like you're in an open world. Illusion of freedom vs. actual freedom. I think Shamus Young wrote an article on this once. Plus finding all those goddamned question mark trophies triggered my obsessive-compulsive side.

Having said that, I always felt SoTC's exploration aspect felt too massive, and always gave me a sense of agoraphobia and anxiety from the impending tedium of getting to the next monster. Maybe it was the dodgy horse controls; I never had any problems exploring in Oblivion, both melee and shooty versions, and I actually enjoyed the horsey rides of Assassin's Creed 2.

Cynical skeptic:
Another example of over-priced fluff standing directly in the way of making a bigger game with more to explore and do is mass effect and it's sequel. Instead of paying some guy to read off a couple thousand pages of flavor text, how about some more variety in missions, planets, and environments with more plot missions and missions that directly establish whats written/spoken in the codex?

We have the tools to make living, breathing worlds. In these worlds, hundreds of pages of text can be compressed into a single observable event. The bachelor party in me2, for example, gives more information and context on the asari than EVERYTHING written/spoken in the codex.

BioWare loves the Codex text-dump. Personally, I never read any of their games' codices unless they're quest-based, like in DA. Since ME2 never had any quest-based codex entries, I'd only read it when I was getting bored. I agree with using the environment and minor characters to define the setting more than codices (Half Life 2 managed to do this no problem), though I understand why you'd want it in a setting where everyone assumes you know what a damned Thresher Maw is.

Also agree with more sidequests; some of the N7 missions, despite the relatively small maps and XP output, are pretty interesting (the geth weather controller, the batarian terrorist attack). Now had they devoted more spoken dialogue to sidequests like that, and added some map exploration like in Overlord, and minimize the tedium of mining, and give us an exploration vehicle with good maneuverability, decent armor and stopping power, then we'd have a perfect ME game. Oh and bring back Legion as a squadmate.

The first thing I did when I bought Assassin's Creed 2 was to go to all the lookout points I could. Then finding the feathers and treasures was really absorbing too, all thanks to exploration.

I'd actually like to have Morrowind/Oblivion added to the list - Exploration in Morrowind was fun, there were caves and interesting places, walking the land felt like actually journeying, and there were adventures to be had everywhere - in oblivion on the other hand, stuff to explore just appears on your map, even if you run past it, and no one goes anywhere, because you can always quick travel :(

I agree with this completely. Exploration is one of my favorite things in any game that offers it and it always adds a lot to the immersive-ness and character of a game's environment.

One game that wasn't mentioned in which I particularly enjoy exploration for its own sake is Skies of Arcadia, which featured such a wide variety of interesting places and objects to discover (often with no gameplay benefits) that just sailing your flying pirate ship around afforded constant surprises.

As far as Wind Waker goes, I wouldn't have minded the long sailing times and annoying fish if there had been more interesting things to find, but exploration in that game leads to very few interesting, developed locations or things to do that aren't part of the main quest.

I feel I should bring up something else that Yahtzee has said about exploration, particularly in sandbox games: that the exploration should be rewarded. I remember his Prototype review where he said of InFamous that exploring and doing sidequests had the purpose of cleaning up the city.

Then you have Metroid, where you are filling in the map, getting missile upgrades or whatever, and apparently flavor text.

Almost none of the above applies to SotC. You are technically filling out the map, but that map was of dubious value even when fully explored. There are no flavor rewards (though, from what I understand of defense arguments made about this, that was kind of the point) and the only available gameplay rewards are for someone who, for whatever arbitrary reason, decides to try to shoot fruit and lizards, and figure out how to pick them up. There is absolutely no indication that either of those activities will help you, and the ability to pick things up isn't even vaguely introduced until colossus 11 or so.

So I guess the questions are:
Where is the line between exploration and faffing about?
Is exploring (or faffing about) in pretty scenery rewarding and satisfying on its own? Even when there is minimal-to-no tangible benefits from it.

I agree with Yahtzee. Exploration is an integral part of any immersive game, or at least the feeling that the game world is larger than when the eye can see. Valve are great at this; They create (lets face it) really quite linear games however, it's what you can't see and what they hint to that makes you feel like a tiny pawn in a huge world.
For me Fallout 3 was partly what I dislike about some sandbox/exploration based games. I thought it was way too cookie cutter, grey/brown seen one-seen them all type exploration. Yes it had the occasional un expected mission or whatnot but it was all very similar (sue me).
If there isn't enough unique occurrences then it gets very boring very quickly.


It seems as if the 90s games had this aspect in spades, because back then far fewer of them held the player by the hand from start to finish as much. And at the beginning of the 90s I still remember Star Control 2 - that game was ALL about exploration with a capital 'E'. I wish like hell we'd get a game like that these days though...not likely at all I guess. :(

I liked the Stalker trilogy for exploration.

I hear tell of a Stalker 2, and hope the open-concept exploration type world survives.

I'm witty, English and astonishingly handsome. Although that is part in parcel of being English.

Exploration is a simple subject that a lot of developers seem to cock up. Bigger isn't better, unless there's something actually in the world to explore. And I don't mean just the scenery, but things to find that aren't just mobs of enemies or more items. Games that really make me want to explore are ones that reward me with information and tid-bits about the world and its characters. Things that invest me into the world. Morrowinds a game that does this very well, rewarding you with books, stories and interesting places wrapped in culture and imagination. Everything tells the story, and the environments just as much a character as the characters themselves. That makes me want to keep playing, and makes me actually care.

MMOs are an example of a whole genre that really doesn't get this concept, and their massive, yet shitty, boring bland worlds make me want to gouge my eyes out rather then play them. Nine out of ten times there really isn't anything intriguing about the environments, or the way they man handle you in the direction of the next quest.

Anyway, I agree whole heartily with Mr Yahtzee, and Batman Arkham Asylum, Shadow of the Colossus and all the other games he mentioned were great because exploration and the environment had a little bit of personality pumped into them, instead of being bolted on as an afterthought.

I do quite like exploration, it's why I loved exploring Morrowind, the lack of a quest tracker(while cursing me to wander aimlessly from time to time attempting to find the proper place only to realise that I walked straight bloody past it without noticing...where was I? oh yeah) added to the sense of "Go look for it" rather than "It's thataway" with a big blip on the map pointing ye there, plus the lack of fast travel meant I had the choice of finding the nearest city, teleporting or doing some crazy jump or levitate that meant I could have lotsa fun exploring as I travelled... man I loved Morrowind

Completely, unequivocally, 100% agree with Yahtzee. The Exploration element within games, with rare exceptions, is atrophied. All of my favorite games involve some kind of exploration...and almost all of my disappointing experiences with MMORPGs come with pisspoor exploration design.

Well well well, who would've thunk it that I somehow would've gotten under Yahtzee's skin with such a harmless comment? I felt like I needed to respond so here I go. When I played the game I was unimpressed because there was no real story other than "Hey Princess Terri Schiavo's in a coma, go get her feeding tube by defeating 14 of the biggest monsters in this sacred land before the people chasing after you file an appeal that pulls the plug on Princess Schiavo's life support" or something like that.

Rather than building something around this, the game has you going out in a world filled with nothing (which I'll address in a moment), has you holding up your sword with the sunlight magically pointing you in the right direction and surprise surprise a boss fight ensues. You could argue that half the battle is getting to the fight itself but that's like saying half of the battle to fight hunger would be me traveling to the kitchen to finding the ingriedients to make myself a sandwich. Plus, the boss fight itself isn't all that enthralling seeing how you have to play American Gladiators getting up onto whatever Colossus, survive them doing the hokey pokey or whatever it is they do to try to shake you off for the most part, and nail them in their weak spot which they blantantly throw in your face.

That's how I thought the boss fights were lame. They were epic but they were also epically lame. So when you have stuff in the main part of the game that's terrible, you either do the side quest stuff or turn the game off and return it to the store to get credit towards hopefully a better game. The only side questy stuff here are the lizards that you have you painstakingly seek out just get your grip meter increased (which as Yahtzee pointed out, you kind of have to later on). It's like finding an ant in a world the size of Manhattan. Or you could do the other thing which is admire your surroundings. I didn't do either and basically gave up early on in the game because it wasn't that challenging. (Or you could get the useless bonus items like the parachute.)

You can't just have - wait wait, I'm sorry - IN MY OPINION, you can't just have a game based off of exploration alone. There has to be some other aspects in there to get me enticed to play it. It's like if GTA had a desolate city landscape with no other cars, no other people, just npc's for you to scope out on your own and defeat just to please the sky for whatever reason. Someone in this thread earlier (apologies for not getting your name) brought up BioShock and it's exploration. I liked how you could just travel around Rapture dicking about getting money, hypos, etc and just beating up stuff until you want to proceed with the story, much like any other sandbox'ish type world setting. So I'll end on this and say that SotC had probably one of the most terrible endings to a video game I've ever seen (at least the music was decent) and that I'm sorry Yahtzee that my comments took a dump in your Corn Flakes or Branston Pickle or whatever it is you eat but hey, that's opinions for ya.

Right off the bat, I agree with you. About throttling xSmootx, that is. As a fan of Kingdom of Loathing, I remember when he was a particularly notorious troll in that game's forums. It was truly rare for the Powers that Be to ban someone just for being annoying, but he was the exception.

LOL! I think the last part should be my epitaph when I die

I like the way Yahtzee is answering to feedback lately.

And once again, Yahtzee has earned some more points towards restoring his credibility by pretty much responding the way I do to people like that. (only I'm less polite about it)

BTW, to all of you who keep saying you won't try out a game because Yahtzee doesn't like it, (You know who you are) I want you to read that first paragraph of Yahtzee's over and over again until it sinks in. The only time Yahtzee's opinion should matter on whether you play a game or not is if he says it's good.

Need I remind everyone of how many people didn't want to play Monster Hunter Tri after Yahtzee teared it a new one on a very biased level. It's one thing if you're unsure whether or not you'll like a game and don't want to waste money finding out the hard way. But letting a man who has a clear track record of hating JRPGs and MMOs tell you whether or not to buy a game with both of those elements? That's like me asking that kid Sony uses in those PSP commercials if I should buy a DSi.

Games that have compelled me to explore every inch of the environment either by promise of great loot, beautiful vistas, and/or interesting yet unknown puzzles:
Fallout 3
San Andreas
Assassin's Creed 2

These games didn't just have interesting environments, they had features within the environments that pulled me in.

[insert 4chan Gaming board "monster hunter general" thread spew here]... But letting a man who has a clear track record of hating JRPGs and MMOs tell you whether or not to buy a game with both of those elements?

Here's the interesting thing: much of the non-japanese gaming community tends to have "a clear track record of hating JRPGs and MMOs " ... people who grew up with action/puzzle platformers, point in click adventures and some of the early FPS's in general do not like those kinds of games.

So we would give such games a pass unless someone who likewise hates these kinds games likes one in particular despite his taste.

One of the the main reasons I loved Metroid Prime Echoes was because it fleshed out the scanning system. It made it easier to tell what you had already scanned as well as what you actually needed to scan (switches and important log entries) vs. what was just cool flavor that might offer you a bit of an edge latter (although I scanned it all anyway).

About you comment again how some people don't like exploring: while it is possibly true some of the time, I don't think the main reason is that they are stupid and lazy (although they might be as well). It is hard for a game designer to simultaneously mix exploration and action, SotC being a pure example of that. If you are someone who bought the game to hack, shoot, or drive really fast you are going to see intensive exploration as the game depriving you of it's most enjoyable parts.

As much as I usually agree with Yahtzee, and as much as Shadow Of The Colossus is definitely one of my favorite games ever; I find myself torn here. I do like some exploration in games if it is done right (it usually isn't) but I like having a little GPS marker in most of them so I don't get too lost and I have some inkling of where I am going (since I have a terrible sense of direction too). I also greatly prefer linear games in general and I was under the impression Yahtzee did too.

I believe developers keeping you on track through tightly designed areas allows for a much more intimate "relationship" between the devs and the players during the game, if that makes sense. In a large open world I am going to miss things, and I am going to lose track and get lost. In linear level design every step of the way can be refined perfectly (see Valve's games) so I see everything I am supposed to see and the game remains persistent and immersive, while keeping me on track and giving extra attention to detail. I always thought this was one of the reasons for Yahtzee loving the Half-Life series, so I am a bit confused here.

Exploration is a good thing, but only if the world is worth exploring. Wind Waker and SotC are the perfect examples of a world not worth exploring imho. Empty, bland with next to nothing in rewards.

The whole point is that SoTC is about exploring. Not exploring to find new items, or cool shit to add to your weapons, but just simply exploring. It's not a means to an end, it IS the end. If you need to find cool shit to warrant exploration, than you don't like exploring, you like cool shit.

like you said the in the review: "ico sound horrible on paper". and thats is the same with SOTC. the idea is: "you have to kill 16 bosses, in a world which is pretty empty, where are no other monsters to fight with and the gameplay exist most out of climbing with a timelimit". is sounds boring a not interrestng. but somehow they created a great game with a 'soul'. every boss was great and unique, the empty world gave you the feeling that you were in sacred place where no man lives, because there were no lesser monsters the game had more contrast (like you said) and because of the timelimit you were always nervous, like would have been if you would fight so monster for real.

Yay to exploration. Freedom to explore in games is wonderful, hell, I even try to explore in linear games.

Touche Good Sir. And a very nice avatar, if I do say so myself (*cough*not a Lovecraft fan at all no sir not me*/cough*.
OT: Exploration is a fantastic aspect of gaming- it can add so much. I just wish that there was much more of a chance to explore more of Rapture in Bioshock; perhaps in the manner of Bethesda's Oblivion/Fallout3 style. It would be SO interesting.


The Brewin:
I think the biggest thing undersold about SOTC was the emotional attachment you forge with the 'characters', that is you, your horse, the mysterious dead girl and the colossi...considering none have any tangible or actual dialogue between one another, you grow incredibly mentally drawn to the colossi, the hulking beasts that I actually felt sorry for.

that and when your beloved horse...well I wont spoil it...

I cried D:

Didn't we all? :(

Thief II also had the awesomeness of feeling like you were somewhere you really oughtn't be. That to me, is what made it so awesome~!

I love exploring in games. Travelling to places completely out of my way, just to see what was there.

I remember on SoTC I'd just ride around for hours at a time, completely away from the colossus I'd been sent to kill, just to look around.

And yes, its a shame that most games don't implement exploration aswell as this game does.

Metroid Prime is awesome. The more times I play it, the more I discover about the world and its story. It's part of why it's one of my favorite games of all time.
I agree on the lasting appeal of Windwaker's graphics against realistic-looking ones. I just watched the new Unskippable with Alpha Protocol and it looks old already.

I've never really minded linearity as long as the experience was well put together, but recently I've come to appreciate exploration a lot more. Guess the long summer days have created a desire just to look around and find new things to do and...uh find.

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