It’s the Sandbox Jim …. but not as we know it..

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Video games have always struggled to strike the right balance between the size of the game world and the detail poured into said world, this dilemma is something that has become easier and easier to dodge as our gaming machines have become more and more powerful. Creating a living breathing world is an incredible achievement and those few who manage it are revered like Gods in the gaming world and much like it’s immortal counterpart this idea seems to never die.

For me this idea of exploring a world at your own will began with early RPG titles. While not necessarily “Open world” games, titles like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Breath of Fire gave gamers an early opportunity to navigate an entire world in the however they wished and while some of these games may have changed tactics in recent iterations other developers have taken the idea and made it their own.

Grand Theft Auto (1997) though simple in it’s execution was huge in scope and allowed players to travel through three large cities however they felt necessary. Many others have challenged Rockstars crown as the Kings of the open world title but the Edinburgh based production house remain firmly planted upon their very own iron throne. This isn’t to say that one of to days most admired titles has had it all it’s own way, nor is true to say they haven’t taken a few hints along the way.

gta1

The Humble beginnings of a world beater

Shenmue (1999) is widely regarded to be the first title to be set in a completely open 3d city which featured a “living” populace offering players un-rivaled  freedom to interact with the world around them. This was a huge step in the video game world and Segas contribution cannot be ignored although it may have been somewhat overshadowed by what was to come.

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Is this the real life …. or is this just fantasy

Rockstar as ever unwilling to relinquish their grip on the open world genre would soon after release GTA III, the first game in the series to feature a fully 3d sandbox city in which the player was free to cause as much mayhem as they wished, it was an insane achievement. Sega did not want to give up the fight though and they struck back with their own crime based open world title Yakuza and all the while PC gamers were gifted with The Elder Scrolls series which is undoubtedly the most important game in the “open world first person” sub-genre.

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All of these titles featured impressively sized game worlds be it a city, county/state, island and in some cases even a country but in 2004 Blizzard came and stole all the accolades by creating a game that encompassed an entire world to be explored by you and millions of others in the most acclaimed MMORPG of them all. What WoW did affected and continues to effect everything that came and will come, despite recent drops in revenue this game will forever be regarded as a gift and a curse by gamers across the world. Then there’s the small matter of a little game you may of heard of called Minecraft the founder of the proceduraly generated unlimited world, MC once again changed our perspective of just how much of a sandbox a game can be and it’s popularity continues to soar, this kind of dynamic world and changing environment could be seen the epitome of the genre.

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This place is your life now!

Most games these days don’t shy away from creating an experience that can be shared with a friend, even games that are traditionally a solo experience are beginning to see the value in multiplayer, after all a game like any other form of entertainment is at it’s best when you are sharing it with a friend or two .. or more. Forthcoming titles such as Destiny, The Division and The Crew have shifted ideals from being about multi-player or open world and instead look to focus on creating a persistent shared world which can be occupied by thousands upon thousands of players. This idea is one still very much in it’s infancy but it’s something that we all as gamers are becoming more and more intrigued by with every passing day. Combining the elements of open world play with the full on living world experience is a salivating concept for everyone. Add in to that the ability to meet strangers along the way, those who may wish to join you or those who definitely wish to kill you (and steal your beans) and you have a frighteningly appealing genre that might just mean the end of the real world for good.

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Is the MMO the ultimate gaming Destiny?

All that said “Sandbox” games can be something of an enigma and it seems difficult to achieve balance between a compelling story and complete freedom, many games have tried and many have failed, sometimes you don’t need a story as proved by the hugely popular Arma II mod DayZ but other times it’s simply the most important part. Some of the most critically acclaimed games of recent years buck the trend for open world and are much stronger titles for being more linear. Bioshock, The Walking Dead, Half Life 2, Dishonored, Portal, Heavy Rain and The Last of Us have all been nominated for and taken home many awards globally. This shows that there is still life in games that are more focused on creating a story than simulating a world these smaller more narrative driven titles offer the player something deeper than a world to play in and will often invoke a stronger emotional attachment than their larger counterparts but it may just be that they are more difficult to develop.

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Get ready to be punched in the feels

Creating a living world is one thing but creating a believable story is something else entirely and something that can often be neglected in games which are more focused on adrenaline fueled action and competitive multi-player. The art of weaving a tale is as old as time and I for one don’t think it’s ready to rest it’s weary head just yet.

It’s true to say that video games are always evolving and always looking for that next big idea, how do you guys feel the gaming world will evolve next? Are open worlds or deep stories more important to you? Do you value a short game over a seemingly un-ending one or would you prefer that your favourite game could last forever? Let me know in the comments below and as always thanks for your time.

-eremenko

The Swource of all Evil


Resource gathering, troop training, construction and research can all take a loooong time in “The Hobbit, Kingdoms of Middle Earth” so while I’ve been waiting for my little Elves to perfect their bowman-ship,  my tax collectors to refill the coin purse and my master craftsmen to construct majestic improvements to my city I have been filling the time trying to get to grips with a little belter I picked up for a holiday bargain on the Google Play store.

sword and sworcery

In Sword and Sworcery you take on the role of the Scythian as she searches for the mysterious mega-tome and attempts to seal away the darkness which plagues the world she has entered. Starting out there is no simple tutorial to play through you just have to figure things out as you go, abandoning the virtual pad which is overused to the detriment of most touch screen adventures this game is controlled with a series of taps, swipes and gestures which makes for a far more pleasing experience. To move the Scythian you can use a simple double tap on your destination or a hold to follow function this means you can concentrate more on your surroundings than struggling to move around and this is something you will find both useful and enjoyable. The pixel art styling of the game is exceptionally detailed and stunning to look at, the art work and the sound are the heart of this beast and it is something that begs to be absorbed and prodded.

a house that looks oddly like a face

The game recommends using headphones and that is a good call, the ability to hear what’s going on in your enviroment from the tip tap of footsteps to the rustling of the undergrowth is a massive advantage in helping guide you along in the early stages of the Scythians tortured journey. The game itself pays almost like a point and click adventure but without any of the tedious item searching and pointless conversations, there aren’t many non-player-characters in the game Logfella, Dogfella and Girl are the only three you meet in the first two chapters and they are not what you would deem conversationalists. The real star of this game is the world in which it takes place there are puzzles cleverly woven into the environment and interestingly tied in to the cycles of the moon and it does prove something of a head scratcher in the later stages.

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The music is beautiful and haunting if you’re not already listening to it I implore you to hit the play button at the top of the post and soak up the score provided by Jim Guthrie  fits so well with the games sound effects and adds to the atmosphere in a way that would make most video game composers green with envy.

Playing this title has renewed my faith in the touch screen adventures whilst your Zenonia games and similar are all reasonably decent I always find them to be lacking somewhat in innovation. Most of us now carry around in our pockets a touch screen device capable of so much more than a traditional controller, why don’t we see more games in the vein of the DS Zelda titles which optimise the use of the touch screen over the game pad? It’s a more difficult feat to achieve it would seem, it’s a lot easier for a developer to simply throw in a virtual pad rather than imagine new control techniques or in this case re-imagine control techniques to work with your game. Switching your device from landscape to portrait to perform actions, tilting on an angle, pinch to zoom and sweeping the camera with your fingers to get a better view all work brilliantly here and lend the gameplay an organic nature which is sorely missing in most mobile rpg/adventure games.

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From the introduction we are guided through the story by a mysterious, creepy but snappily dressed cigar smoking host the Archetype, who will explain the basic premise behind the coming chapter and throughout chapters will offer handy hints via your mega-tome (once you acquire it) I mention him mainly because something about him really freaks me out and I wanted to put a picture of him in.

You will feel a connection to the strange folk  you meet along the way (despite their monosyllabic nature), a yearning to learn more about the mysteries surrounding the Scythian and the evil that follows the mega-tome. The strange way in which the story is narrated with really obscure references and just down right ridiculous lines keeps the entertainment value high throughout you can even post your favourite peculiar lines to twitter. Check out #sworcery to see for yourself some of the weirdness for yourself.

scythian and dogfella

An adventure not unlike “Journey” in so far as it it focused on style and substance rather than flashing images and explosions Sword and Sworcery is a compelling title which begs to be played and deserves a lot more attention than many of its high ranking mobile game rivals.

eremenko

The DayZ after Tomorrow

Having survived a while with the supplies gifted to me in by the strange rescue party that had helped me out of Chenarus on my second attempt at survival in the wastes it was soon obvious that I was going to have to venture back into the villages once inhabited by the friendly Chenarian people. Now teaming with nightmarish undead.

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I stopped at a gas station just outside of a small township thinking that I may be able to re-fill my Jerry can to lengthen the lifespan of my already run down motorcycle. The bike had day z petrol stationalready gotten me out of several sticky situations and I was wary of my ever decreasing fuel supply. Pulling onto the forecourt in the dwindling sunlight everything appeared to be clear. Turning off the engine and jumping off the bike I hurried over to the pumps. Nothing, they were empty most likely drained by another survivor who had already passed this way, perhaps it was Merc and his rag-tag bunch of bandits turned temporary heroes. I wasn’t ready to meet up with them again just yet. I turned away from the pumps and headed into the kiosk, hoping to find some food or drink to bolster my waning supplies but there was nothing there either, whoever had scavenged this place had been thorough. I left the small shop heading back to my bike but a Zed blocked my path, my newly aquired AK-47 tore straight through him and sent him straight to the ground, not a wise idea two, three, four then five more of his companions appeared from the surrounding hedges, trees and from behind the cars and buildings in the distance further blocking my route to the bike, I ran cursing myself for not leaving the bike running to allow for an easy escape. As I back peddled up the road I loosed a few more rounds from my rifle, taking down more deadites but alerting more and more with every shot, soon there was a mob chasing me. I clambered over the siding on the edge of the road and started to double back on myself hoping that I could get back to my transport and get away before the shambling horde caught up to me. Rounding the kiosk once more, hope looked lost. A moving corpse standing right by my bike, I had no choice but to try my luck. Gently squeezing the trigger on my Russian Army standard issue AK *blam blam* I felled him quickly and clinically. Sprinting for my bike another walker lurched from behind the pumps moving toward me with alarming speed I pulled the trigger again *click* my clip was empty, Merc and co had been stingy with the ammo. Quickly I leapt onto my trusty motorcycle and pumped the kickstarter the engine bursting into life. Looking back as I sped away across the fields I could see a crowd of roughly fifteen Zed’s frivolously stumbling after me.

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Having exhausted my ammunition on such an ill-fated affair I had no wish to return to populated areas for a while and instead focussed my attentions on the barns, farmhouses and hunting stands that littered the countryside. The flaw in this decision should have been pretty obvious to me the sun was setting and it was about to get dark, very dark. I followed a dirt track that went up into the mountains as far as I could hoping that I might reach a lodge or shack that I could hole up in before night came and the fear returned.

Darkness fell quickly. Alone on the mountaintop my fuel ran out a short while ago and I have seen no sign of shelter. A track weaves down through the trees but my quick torch bursts reveal little else I’m afraid that keeping it on may attract unwanted attention. I fling a few flares around the surrounding area and hunker down for a cold night spent hiding in the foliage.

a dark forest scene

As you can probably tell I’m really enjoying my time in DayZ although it has to be said that the fear factor involved keeps me from playing marathon style like I can with Halo or Skyrim and I do find myself becoming frustrated by many aspects of the game. It can be irritating to creep all the way up to a building only to find it completely inaccessible for instance and it’s very easy to loose your bearings while fleeing for your life. Of course the game is not going to be perfect mod’s rarely are after all the engine wasn’t built specifically for that which it is being used. All said and done this game is a really exciting prospect that has many console gamers green with envy but that olive tint may not last long. DayZ has been given the opportunity to release as a standalone game entirely separate from Bohemia Interactive‘s Arma series and this has sparked a fever among Xbox 360 and PS3 owners alike in the vain hopes that this may mean a console release. Meanwhile a bunch of quick thinking folk over at Hammerpoint interactive  have been quietly working away on a similar title of their own. The War Z boasts the claim of being the worlds first Zombie MMO ….. lies aside it looks excellent, combine DayZ gameplay with the guns of Call of Duty add a sprinkling of Battlefield 3 graphics, zombies straight out of Left 4 Dead and an interface that looks very much as if it was designed to run on a console  and you’re gonna leave a-lot of jaws on the floor.

Let me know if you think The War Z looks like a DayZ rip or does it stand up as a game in it’s own right? Why has it taken so long for a game like this to be released? Would it be a success on consoles? Comments always appreciated.

see you in the Zedpocolypse.

Elth