On Exploration

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Sovvolf:

Speaking of exploration though, that new PoC game looks like the type of game to have some potentially good exploration. I mean you go around sailing every where, there's got to be plenty of undiscovered islands to explore, nasty sea beasties to run into and possibly a few ghost ships.

Call me dense if need be, but what does this acronym stand for? I browsed through the thread and didn't see any mention of this. What game are you talking about here? Sounds interesting, the sailing bit.

Exploration for the sake of exploration... sure I could get behind that the problem I had with SOTC was that the world was boring and was seemingly filled with nothing (Except lizards...). However a good example of exploration are the Unique Landscapes mods for TES:4. They didn't have any quests or treasures or anything but they were creative and interesting enough to keep you (or me) coming back to bathe in the "glory" of virtual nature. IMO that is a better example of exploration.

SyphonX:
Yahtzee often illustrates and articulates my guilty pleasures in gaming. Sometimes I just feel like, "the dork" when I play games, because I always want a little more than what's offered. I scoff at minimaps and GPS features, unless the game explicitly supports it. Such as a high-tech futuristic adventure, it would be warranted. Though that doesn't mean there should be an arrow pulling you around like a silly child.

Oblivion is a prime example. Differing tastes in the game and series aside, one could hardly argue that it makes sense to have a fully illustrated map telling you exactly where you are, what your azimuth is (direction you're facing), and exactly where you need to go. Let's also not forget you could simply click anywhere on the map and go there..

How much more exciting and majestic would Oblivion have been if the map was just a hand-drawn antiquated sheet of cloth with ink blots and tears throughout? Whenever something need to be explored, a quest of sorts, then your character would vaguely draw a destination with ink and feather. So you look at your map for a minute and note to yourself that you must go north until Cheydinhal, then branch off the western path until you find the big boulder & tree landmark, cave destination directly to the north of that.

Seriously, isn't that what fantasy exploration is all about? Forget arrows and waypoints, it doesn't make sense anymore. Developers spend all this time designing fully realized and detailed 3D worlds, yet instead of using them in any sort of logical gameplay mechanic, they'll just design them as "pretty art". Not enough I say. It's time to start abandoning minimaps and waypoints altogether for the appropriate games.

I want my next quest NPC to tell me to leave the southern gate, and travel along the cobblestone path until I find the abandoned hovel, then proceed towards the tree line to start my investigation for the missing child kidnapped by bandits. As Yahtzee stated, I don't want to stare at a 10x10pixel minimap when I should be taking in the beautifully detailed world, and actually using it.

I don't want him to brifely (briefly) say, go fetch the child from the bandits, then have a destination pinpointed on my map, on my unable-to-malfunction compass and in full 3D in the form of an arrow on the horizon. How silly. I don't care if it "takes time" to find, that's kind of the point of a quest... you know, an "adventure", a freaking quest?? Not a monotonous task.

If people complain and whine that it's "too much work" and "not fun".. then.. get this.. they could make a separate difficulty!! The possibilities.... I shall journey to the patent office immediately!

Now you made up for it with the last sentence and different settings however I could tell you that I would not have enjoyed Oblivion if it didn't have a compass and waypoint system (I also used the mod where to fast travel you would have to be on horseback, which in my mind made sense). I was playing TES:3 the other day (A game I loved) and I was was constantly thinking about how much I hated the vague directions (Not to mention the god awful journal) and how I would constantly have to metagame (in other words look at a FAQ/map) to find things. There was this one quest which basically said the tomb was east of the village...(No other directions!) and I thought "okay..." and spent hours running and jumping over the bleak ashlands landscape looking for the damn tomb. This was part of the main quest!

I will however admit to going the opposite way the game leads me... (probably because I subconsciously believe the dev left secrets/treasures there) because I'm a rebel. ;) Yay Thief.

SyphonX:

Sovvolf:

Speaking of exploration though, that new PoC game looks like the type of game to have some potentially good exploration. I mean you go around sailing every where, there's got to be plenty of undiscovered islands to explore, nasty sea beasties to run into and possibly a few ghost ships.

Call me dense if need be, but what does this acronym stand for? I browsed through the thread and didn't see any mention of this. What game are you talking about here? Sounds interesting, the sailing bit.

PoC = Pirates of the Caribbean. The new game is Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned. What I'm talking about there is pure speculation, assumptions made from what I've seen. I hear you sail every where and you captain your own ship. I'm assuming you'll be able to got to different islands for explorations along with meeting sea monsters during your sailing. Not much of this as been confirmed yet unfortunately.

Exploration is what keeps me into games, these days. I'm drawn to open worlds with hazy goals, and any chance to say "screw you, minimap. you say I need to be here, but what's on top of that mountain over there?" is what keeps me enthralled more than anything else.

On one hand, I love having waypoints and tick-marks to highlight where I need to be or where to go, or what's around the next switchback, but on another, I don't.

I works in some games. Others, not.

I loved how in Morrowind it was totally possible to stumble across a random cave entrance out of the blue and know absolutely nothing about it. Oblivion kind of took a sense of reward away by "saying," constantly, "HEY! LISTEN! There's a dungeon over here! Over here! Look over here! It's the Knotty Bramble! Over here! Over here!" and that was kind of a turn-off for me. Much the same for Fallout 3. I found more interesting set-pieces and random, satisfying discoveries in the occasional areas not tied to a tiny triangle.

Getting some guidance to keep the story on track is one thing. Keeps frustration down when all we want to do is get there, and see what's next. Ushering me to every "point of interest" within 10km is a different story. It takes away a lot of the fun, a lot of the surprise. Detracts from the desire to explore, to pay attention, and to be rewarded for such.

Shadow is one of the few games that has elicited a strong emotional reaction from me, not like "zomg zombies aaaaahh!!" but the kind that felt like something had attached itself to your heart and was applying a yanking motion.

It's the type of game you never want to end. That's the type of game you get to play level after level in gamer heaven.

I would much rather play an exploration sandbox game like RDR than SOTC for 1 simple reason. When I am riding on my horse through RDR I never know what will happen next. Will I come across some damsel about to be hung? Or a bunch of bandits about to kill some poor guy? Maybe it will be a cougar who wants my horse for lunch? Or a horsejacker? Or a wagon being stolen? You know interesting things. Not oops you went the wrong way enjoy looking at your horses ass for another 20 minutes while you try another route. That to me is not fun. But apparently artsy games are not supposed to be fun. Or so I was just informed.

The exploration part of a game is sometimes what keeps me into the game knowing i need to find a place and the map does nothing for me. For one it keeps me playing unlike other games where they seem to end do fast and two looking at the art and styles they put into a game is also another reason why exploring a jungle or a town is fun and entertaining. And also a few hidden Easter eggs while exploring is always a plus.
TIMBAP_AJR

Well. Shit. Someone actually believes the same as myself. I played SOTC and ADORED every second of it. The only thing that could top that is another next-gen version of the SAME game.

Simply put, The game was genius, and so is Yahtzee.

Has anyone mentioned Aquaria yet? I personally loved the exploration aspect of it.

For those who don't know, Aquaria (http://www.bit-blot.com/aquaria/) is an indie title whose genre I guess could be described as 2D action-adventure, with very light RPG elements in the mix (You can use bits dropped from critters you kill to cook and make powerup foods, you can find outfits with helpful effects, and you can find health upgrades. That about covers the RPG aspect.)

Anyway, you play as an amnesiac mermaid (it's not as bad as it sounds!), Naija, searching through the ocean for her origin and for other sentient species. The environment in the beginning level seems pretty restrained. A few side things if you look around a bit, but primarily just temple 1 and temple 2. After those, you can finally advance out of that area.

The true open ocean floored me quite quickly. Even though Naija provides pretty broad hints of where to go next plotwise, the game makes very little effort to prevent you going an entirely different direction. A healthy slice of the entire game world's open for viewing even when you have only the two powers you obtained from the beginning.

But I'll carry on for a long while if I don't close off soon. Aquaria doesn't have quite the silent beauty of SotC, but it definitely has the loneliness. The way I say it makes it sound like a bad thing, but I mean it in the best way possible. Only a few sentient beings do actually reside in the world (semi-spoiler, but you get that impression pretty early in anyway). And I've noticed all the people with distaste for maps, fear not! The minimap only displays the structure of the land, and the main map only labels things after you find them.

I truly feel this game exemplifies exploration like the others you all have mentioned, with its vast and quite stunningly beautiful seascape.

Okay, okay, I'm done now.

hermes200:
I got the article, I just don't agree with the example... I feel exploration is rewarding when the designer give you something to explore. Its the little details that I found interesting and flesh out a setting for me. If the game is set on an huge, empty or generic environment, I don't feel interested in exploring it. It was just me, my horse, the ocassional lizard and endless miles of grass. While finding a new Colossus was always new and interesting, and maked me wonder what was next; riding over a hill was never a surprise, and never got me wonder what I was going to find...
Its the equivalent of Fuel, which advertised as "world record winner for world size"... It turned out, the world was mostly empty and functional generated.
Sorry if the example got into a soft spot for you, but you have to wonder, if the world gave you the feeling of a big, dead and empty world, maybe its because it was big, dead and empty.

Read the rest of my previous post. SotC is a fantastic example of a game world that is empty by design rather than convenience. It's full of small touches that indicate the previous existences of people, places, and things - which are now gone. Those small touches are conscious decisions on the part of the developer. You won't notice them if you're not exploring. Things like the tree, the village, and the garden have no impact on your progression in SotC. If you're only goal is to progress, you'll probably miss them - and to you, it will just be an empty, dead world same as any other.

squid5580:
I would much rather play an exploration sandbox game like RDR than SOTC for 1 simple reason. When I am riding on my horse through RDR I never know what will happen next. Will I come across some damsel about to be hung? Or a bunch of bandits about to kill some poor guy? Maybe it will be a cougar who wants my horse for lunch? Or a horsejacker? Or a wagon being stolen? You know interesting things. Not oops you went the wrong way enjoy looking at your horses ass for another 20 minutes while you try another route. That to me is not fun. But apparently artsy games are not supposed to be fun. Or so I was just informed.

Well, I think RDR is a great example of how an amazing story can be strained by gameplay. Putting aside exploration, and how constantly you run into the same scenarios over and over, and over. John wants to leave his killing days behind yet is constantly duped into mass genocide and political intrigue, just for some tidbits of information. He is strung along an absurd number of times, not to advance the story, or to make the plot better, or stronger, but simply to give the player an excuse to kill tons and tons of people.

I'm not trying to criticize RDR, it was probably my favorite game this year. However, it serves to illustrate how even the best games do things that aren't really good for their stories to serve gameplay/content, and rarely if ever go out of their way to make the gameplay/content serve the story.

I think this is appropriate, it's how the vast majority of games are structured (and should be in my opinion). Like many have pointed out, most people plays games to have fun. The more fun, and excitement packed in the better. I certainly wouldn't have wanted RDR to emulate a SotC formula at all.

That being said, I think there's more than enough room in this huge industry for the occasional developer to think outside of the box, and go against the norm. Even if the game they make isn't everyone's cup o' tea. Because, trust me, the people who SotC resonated with had an extraordinary amount of fun.

So very very true Mr Croshaw. God how I love games with a good exploration element. Half the fun of Arkham Asylum was figuring out how to get all the riddler stuff, some of which was amazingly and cleverly well done.

Also anyone who shits on Shadow of the Collossus needs to be smacked hard across the head for being a moron. Its quite possibly -the- game with the best exploration gameplay of any ever and the boss fights are utterly incredible experiences, to the point you couldn't even call them just boss fights really. I'm still waiting for another game to do at least one boss fight as good as the ones from SotC. God of War 3 couldn't even manage it.

FieryTrainwreck:
Read the rest of my previous post. SotC is a fantastic example of a game world that is empty by design rather than convenience. It's full of small touches that indicate the previous existences of people, places, and things - which are now gone. Those small touches are conscious decisions on the part of the developer. You won't notice them if you're not exploring. Things like the tree, the village, and the garden have no impact on your progression in SotC. If you're only goal is to progress, you'll probably miss them - and to you, it will just be an empty, dead world same as any other.

I get that the world is intentionally empty. I get that feeling of being alone in a huge world devoid of many things is an intentional design choice. I get that, I just don't feel an intentionally empty world gives me more motivation to explore than an world that is empty or generic due to laziness.
That is why SotC is not a good example about sucessful exploration to me...

exploration tis the shit. i think shadow of the colossus was great,exploration and everything, but my disappointment with the exploration is that theres nothing to find except for another colossus,which is why fallout and metroid are great,because they are a couple games that are rare in that you dont get frustrated if you get lost in them.one thing i hate is when a linear game looks like it has exploration and when you try to explore you find doors that lead to empty rooms so you have spent twqenty minutes looking for secret awesome nuggets covered in rocket sauce,only to find that youre looking in empty rooms.

I think the same can be said about exploration in ES: Oblivion and Fallout 3. Massive worlds with all sorts of things to see makes games that much more fun. Although, fast travel tends to dilute the experience.

Myself, I like Skies of Arcadia for that reason. It reads like an itemized list of Yahtzee's pet peeves about JRPGs (the messy-haired teenage protagonist with the ridiculous outfit alone would likely spark vitriol; his sleeves are buckled to the rest of his outfit!). It has a prison level, complete with robot guard. But it's a big game world (sky... thing) filled with neat stuff to find, and that makes up for a lot.

Also, airship battles.

For me exploration would be low on the list of things I look for in a game.

First would be writing. I love a good story with interesting characters. Which is why I'd rather play Sam and Max Save the World than Halo 3.

Second is fun mechanics. PoP's time control was great. The free running also made it really fun. I've a friend who's into big open worlds, he doesn't like linear games. He says it just feels like you're going through the motions (which is pretty retarded) but who cares as long as the motions are fun.

Humour is third. Sam and Max, Gex, Portal, I love all of these for the same reason I read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Discworld novels and love movies like Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice. I love quirky, sometimes dark humour and anything that has that is automatically better to me.

I think it's the same with all the things I love, the music I listen to, the books I read, the shows and movies I watch and the games I play. The most important thing to me is just having fun. It's why I loved Overlord despite it's flaws. That being said I've never had that sense of wonder. Never been impressed by just seeing something. I went to the Louvre once and was bored out of my mind. I don't find just seeing something entertaining at all. Maybe i'm a philistine but to me just having a lot of walking is the same reason I hated LOTR.

Another game that has an emphasis on exploration is Just Cause 2. The game is GIGANTIC in every sense of the word. Its fun to just fly around in a jet or explore for easter eggs in this epic sized map.

hermes200:
I get that the world is intentionally empty. I get that feeling of being alone in a huge world devoid of many things is an intentional design choice. I get that, I just don't feel an intentionally empty world gives me more motivation to explore than an world that is empty or generic due to laziness.
That is why SotC is not a good example about sucessful exploration to me...

Don't ever read The Road.

Games like Oblivion and Fallout 3, which seem to have publicly approved exploration elements, feel incredibly artificial to me precisely because they are so "filled with content". The devs have neatly organized all of the "exploration" such that you reliably find a landmark, dungeon, or bandit camp every 100-150 meters. It's very dense and rewarding and false. It's wilderness as a shopping mall. I can see the imprint of a level designer everywhere I turn, and that takes me out of the game. SotC was a much more organic experience because I didn't find something every 200 feet. There's definitely some beautiful scenery, but I wasn't led by the nose with obvious metagame "breadcrumbs".

Anyways, this specific discussion has turned highly subjective. You seem to be taking specific issue with the tone and aesthetic of the game world rather than the actual structure of it. You can definitely prefer not to explore a game that you find dour, depressing, and dead. For some people, those are selling points.

I like exploring. Another reason Morrowind is one of my favorite games and better than Oblivion.
Hell, when I realized EVERY Ancestral Tomb with locks have keys for every lock, key hunting was a fun game to play.

Call me a mad bastard, but I'd prefer exploring something real. I don't play games to admire a stunning vista, I play them to do the impossible and escape the confines of the real world. If I want the kind of exploration that Croshaw is speaking of, I'll book a ticket to Maui.

It doesn't matter how big and beautiful a game world is, you're still exploring nothing more than your seat cushion.

Javarino:
Finally! Someone mentions Metroid Prime in a positive light! That game was awesome. (and series; I only own the third one, sorry) The way Yahtzee kept mentioning Nintendo knocking off games like Metroid I got the feeling he didn't like them.(Sorry people, but Other M looks like a load of bullshit to me. My god does it look horrible!) Anyways, I love exploration, especially when a game manages to mix tension, mood, and a sense of discovery into the mix. Great job Yahtzee.

...I miss you Metroid Prime...

Yahtzee hasn't said that much about the Metroid series in general, but it doesn't surprise me that he has good things to say about Metroid Prime. Back in the "Turok" review, he presented Metroid Prime 1 as an example (or should I say, THE example) of a good console FPS.

The indie game scene is full of awesome exploration-centered platformers. I'm glad that Yatzhee brought up Knytt. Other great games in the same vein include Cave Story and Lyle in Cube Sector.

Exploration= time and effort, thus its been cut back to not get in the way of shoveling slop to the witless masses.

QUINTIX:

Lordofthesuplex:
[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.

Good point but here's something else: Yahtzee isn't reviewing games just to please those people either. Unless you expect me to believe most of the non-Japanese gaming crowd you just mentioned are shallow, biased closet fanboys like Yahtzee is. I honestly like to think that despite the recent trends the industry has relied too much on, not all hardcore gamers just want to play gritty realistic competitive FPSs and not all casual gamers want to play Mario games and half-assed mini game collections despite what any form of evidence says.

Anyway the MHTri review is just one example. Don't assume I'm some 4chan Japanophile just because I defended a game I like from someone who doesn't know how to properly work a Wiimote. I also don't approve of Yahtzee's views on War For Cybertron.

Yahtzee hasn't said that much about the Metroid series in general, but it doesn't surprise me that he has good things to say about Metroid Prime. Back in the "Turok" review, he presented Metroid Prime 1 as an example (or should I say, THE example) of a good console FPS.[/quote]

Sweet. I dare you to say otherwise

I think Shadow of the Colossus just might be the best PS2 game out there.

Yahtzee, I think you and I are going to love "Journey" for the PS3. Talk about open world and exploration, that game looks amazing (especially since you already expressed your dislike for realistic graphics when you talked about LOZ: Wind Waker)

He'll be telling us he likes portal next, imagine that.

Hrm. I like exploration to the extent that there's something interesting to see when you explore and the game doesn't seem to punish you for doing so. Back in days of yore, Daggerfall (you, know, that game before Morrowind?) bragged that it had twice as much land mass as Great Britain to explore, but a lot of it was a pain in the neck to get through (particularly mountains, given the semi-broken climbing mechanic), much of it was dull and "samey", and all of it was delightfully likely to get you randomly attacked for having the audacity not to use Fast Travel.

Games that genuinely make exploration rewarding require two things game developers tend to hate: creating interesting content that a significant portion of the audience will never see, and not forcing the player to actively engage every x minutes (usually through conflict) but rather take things at their own pace and thus risk the possibility that part of the audience may get bored and put the whole thing aside. Until someone comes up with a clever way around these two factors, I suspect mainstream games that make exploration for exploration's sake feel rewarding are going to remain a tiny minority.

I must agree, exploration can be a very important, but often misused or underused part of gameplay. It's certainly something that lets me enjoy a game more.
I feel in so many games lately a sense of faux-exploration. Small tangets off a linear path that are only there so you can collect all the extra "hidden" coins to upgrade your gun or get an achievement. I experienced this in several FPS games recently, and eventually found myself spinning the mouse around in every nook and cranny just to collect useless shit. It all felt much to dull and mechanical.

OMG WHAT IS THIS I SEE PUNCTUATION.

Personally, I love games that have the exploration element. But lately for that you really need to dig around for oldies, like Mario 64 and Banjoo&Kazooie for N64, or the mentioned Metroid series.

One exploration/boss-fights indie platformer that enormeously appealed to me was "Untitled Story", by Matt from Mattmakesgames. Google it up if you like Metroid or Cave Story, you won't be disappointed. As for major, commercial releases, I yet have to see one that does this thing well.

Exploration can be a great way to keep games interesting and fun for longer times then just a single playthrough. However When a actually very linear game tries to include exploration by making/letting you look for collectibles which are hidden under some rock.

A game that springs to mind is Assasins creed, it is very linear in its story and activities you must preform. But it has an immense world with collectibles which serve no point other then to look nice and grind through.

And as said before some of the older 3D adventure games (Banjo&kazooie, Mario64) had a very fun exploration element which served a point. you could get useful items and such to help you in the main quest.

AgentNein:

MasterV:
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.

I don't believe this to be entirely accurate. I like to explore and just take in the world sometimes, but what makes that exploration really feel like I've accomplished something, is when I find something nifty, a new enemy to fight, something that seems 'secret'. Really that's what exploration is about, finding out the secrets of the world you're playing through. Exploration seems quite empty when it's only scenery and nothing more. A good balance between exploration and reward for that exploration is what is needed. You want an expansive world, but you also want that shining nugget hidden away somewhere that entices people to explore all over to see if there is another little 'mystery' out there to find.

Those things don't have to be game breaking, or even be loot. Sometimes just fighting a new type of moster, or a different type of challenge that alters the world or gameplay somehow is enough. Maybe its a dungeon that turns the shy ashen when you beat the boss, or you direct a lava flow onto some small village that causes problems. Possibly it gives you a key that unlocks a new sidestory for flavor of the world, etc. I mean it can make the world deeper without being powerup X, potion Y and weapon Z.

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