What we now know as open-world gaming took on a more definite shape this same year on the BBC Micro and its cheaper sibling the Acorn Electron (then later on nearly every other system). Elite changed everything. It was the home computer game to have in the mid-1980s—an open-ended spacefaring romp through eight 256-planet galaxies, which were fixed in their composition but cleverly generated on the fly by an algorithm in order to save on storage space. Its abstract 3D wireframe planets and spacecraft provided just enough detail to instil the appropriate sense of scale, with the rest left to your imagination. And there was so much possibility wrapped around that imagination.
Dwarf Fortress is barely a blip on the mainstream radar, but it’s an object of intense cult adoration. Its various versions have been downloaded in the neighborhood of a million times… At bottom, Dwarf Fortress mounts an argument about play. Many video games mimic the look and structure of films: there’s a story line, more or less fixed, that progresses only when you complete required tasks. This can make for gripping fun, but also the constrictive sense that you are a mouse in a tricked-out maze, chasing chunks of cheese. Tarn envisions Dwarf Fortress, by contrast, as an open-ended “story generator.” He and Zach grew up playing computer games with notebooks in hand, drawing their own renditions of the randomly generated creatures they encountered and logging their journeys in detail. Dwarf Fortress, which never unfolds the same way twice, takes that spirit of supple, fully engaged play to the extreme
It’s easy to see why Undertale spoke to so many people. It’s rare to find a game that so thoroughly embraces nonviolence not just in mechanics but integral themes (though of course there are plenty of games with pacifist routes, from indie offerings like Iji to big fish like Metal Gear Solid). It’s a truly special game. And yes, I know the wave of praise for this game and the ensuing backlash have already both come and gone. Most people have not only heard of it but either played it or seen all the salient spoilers. As much as I liked it, I’d stopped thinking much about it months ago.
Idea: Battle of the Worlds!
The contestants will not be informed of the battle. This will be announced at the end of the designing phase.
Each team has a good amount of time to design and create a world of any theme or style.
The teams can create worlds with societies, life, resources, systems, transportations, and any other special life featured needs.
Restrictions to designing a world:
-Cannot make world invisible
-No black hole or massive destructive force feature. (Self exploding or big bang energy creators
-World must be stationary in it’s universal space.
After the Designing Phase is over, the teams will stand in their spots of designing and the battle is announced. And teams will have a shorter amount of time to devise a plan that will help them attack other planets, and defend their own.
(Example: Team A has a planet of kittens and kitten societies. Team B has an all water utopia. Team A can attack Team B with deadly kitten bombs and take their kitten space ships with claw missiles to bombard Team B. But Team B could have a hydro cannon and drown the kittens in water. And Fish spears.)
The battle phase is technically a very hypothetical battle where the teams will have to come up with a set of moves or defenses to use on their turn. (The battle phase is a turn by turn kind of deal. And the battles can be done tournament style or an all out brawl [If all out brawl, each planet can only attack one other planet at a time.])
The Team who cannot come up with a believable situation on their turn is out!
Each turn is about 5 minutes.
LET THE WORLDS DUKE IT OUT IN AN ALL GLORIOUS BATTLE
Megagames have no strict definition, but here’s an outline of the (pretty typical) first one that I tried two years ago. Strange alien forces mass near the earth, alarming the world’s governments. Multiple teams of three-to-six players represent various nations, and teams take on roles like diplomats or military leaders. Each team plays its own straightforward game of economics to balance a country’s budget, fund the military, and direct scientific research.
I recently said something in class about how narrative- or story-based video games haven’t developed much beyond branching events, and a someone mentioned open world games like Grand Theft Auto were very sophisticated story-driven games. Players could follow the main story-arc and finish the game, or they could focus on side-missions or no missions at all, if they want to.
I couldn’t express the missing potential of story-driven games at the time, but I’ll try now. Basically, interactive stories are still following the storytelling conventions of older media like movies and books. As they evolve, however, the old distinctions between “player,” “author,” and “character” will blur. The player of a game will not just take the role of a character in a predetermined story, but will increasingly be the author or creator of their own story.
For example, if we were to create a game based on a well-known story like Harry Potter, or Lord or the Rings, there are a few possible approaches:
- Enable players to play the role of an established character (like Harry Potter or Gandalf) who goes through a story described in the books, or through a similar adventure within the narrative structure established by the books.
- Enable players to create their own characters and go through a series of adventures within the established bounds of the books. This might be a sequel or a set of re-worked plots the player can choose from.
- Enable players to control an established character or create their own characters and take them on an adventure that goes beyond a preconceived plot unanticipated by the game designers or authors of the original books.
This last item is what I mean by the potential of interactive stories. In a truly interactive game within an “open-world” setting, you might control Harry Potter to drop out of Hogwarts and become a master criminal. Or Hermione might become the first Wizard Queen of England. In a truly open-world framework, narrative choices can be mixed-and-matched the way physical objects in Minecraft can be combined.
You step into an early build of The Magic Circle as a player getting a sneak peek, but even this demo is still in flux, and the world changes around you. It’s a joke at the expense of Steam’s controversial Early Access program, where players can willingly buy unfinished games to play them as they develop, paying in full even if they’re never finished. Early Access games can be trainwrecks, and The Magic Circle is no exception.
The “demo” only lasts a few minutes, additional quests are removed for budgetary reasons, and the boss fight is quite pointless considering the fact that Gilder took your sword away, afraid that you’ll use it to murder innocent AI characters. The developers are represented by gigantic floating David Bowie eyes, gods of this unfinished world, bickering over creative decisions and dramatic word choices.
But there is something deep inside the game calling for help, a lonely AI created for one of The Magic Circle’s earliest versions that needs you to break the cycle and end its living hell. As you embark on a new quest to save this AI, it gives you the ability to hack the world around you, reprogram enemies, and revive vapourware against Gilder’s will. If there seems to be a platform too far away, you can give turtles the gift of flight and hop along them. If you want to get real creative, you can steal a teleporter’s niche and warp around reprogrammed mushrooms. Catch a plant queen off guard by giving a rat a railgun. Revive a sci-fi DOS-era version of the game to send the mighty Gilder into a panic.
The most important thing we learn from pen-and-paper roleplaying games is that anyone can be a storyteller. Books, movies, TV, video games—all of these can inspire a would-be writer, but the audience’s role is still fundamentally passive. These media are fun, but do nothing to fill the chasm separating us from creative “professionals”: the gulf between “Wow, that was cool,” and “I want to do what they did!” At the end of the day, we’re still standing outside the dream factory looking in.
Roleplaying games burst right through that wall, Kool-Aid-Man style. By their very nature, RPGs force audience members to take control, to see themselves as storytellers. RPGs are improv, and even the best-written adventure module is still only a stage for the participants. Creativity is mandatory, and as people game, they come to identify as creative. I can’t count the number of professional authors I’ve met who were drawn into writing by the urge to create more elaborate backstories for their characters, or settings for their game, or journals of their parties’ adventures. Gaming breeds writers like salad bars breed bacteria.
It was always my hope, in writing novels and stories which asked the question “What is reality?”, to someday get an answer. This was the hope of most of my readers, too. Years passed. I wrote over thirty novels and over a hundred stories, and still I could not figure out what was real. One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” That’s all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven’t been able to define reality any more lucidly.
The API offers the ability to retrieve individual comics, an entire series, components of issues (for example, the cover), events from inside an issue, creator details and individual character data. For example, you can retrieve an entire story arc from the Marvel universe with a simple API call.