Hey everybody! Welcome to the first Gaming Debate from Gamer Assault Weekly. In this piece, 2 writers will take on each other in a debate about opposing view in the gaming world. Today’s debate is between Alex Russ and Jordan Scott, and the topic is Open World vs. Linear Gaming. Make sure to listen to the debate through the media play above, and read each person’s perspective below. If you want to give your 2 cents on the matter, leave a comment in the section below, and if you have any topics you think we should do our next debate on, put it in the comments as well! Enjoy the debate!

Jordan Scott for Open Design:

There was a point when designers were trying to make video games into interactive experiences rather than moving lights on a screen. They wanted gamers to feel like they could have an impact on these digital worlds the way tabletop D&D role-playing did. A good DM, like a good video game developer, let participants make decisions and those choices affected their game or world. This design decision has evolved to the point that today you see the signs of it in all video games.

From choosing weapons in Call of Duty, picking perks in multiplayer games, and the expansive skills trees in almost all RPGs open design has permeated nearly every aspect of game design and while there is room for linear experiences they can’t compare to the open games. I say open games instead of open world games because you can categorize the Telltale games or even the grand, albeit failed, experiment that was the Mass Effect trilogy into this genre.  These games have a single thing in common. The choices you make affect the game world. You get to be the hero, the villain, or simply ignore the story as you brave the wilderness in games like Skyrim, Borderlands, GTA, Crysis, Red Dead Redemption, Saints Row and Assassin’s Creed.

While all of these games do not give you a large varying pallet of choices with which to paint your experience they do allow you to choose the type of experience you want to have. These choices allow you to change the narrative, and sometimes physical, landscape of the game you are playing. And by the time you finish the experience you had will be different from others. The joy of finding that someone’s play-through of a particular game is wildly different from yours is something that almost no other medium out there can offer.

This can come from the narrative pockets left out in the open like in Red Dead Redemption and in GTA 5 where you find little tiny stories randomly placed throughout the games sprawling maps or in the sandbox. In this open world sandbox design developers give you the tools to achieve goals and put you in an environment where there is no optimum path to succeed. The emergent storytelling and emergent sandbox gameplay in games like ARMA, Don’t Starve, Minecraft, and Crysis allow players to make your own fun. All those crazy things that happen in Day Z or Titanfall aren’t predetermined to happen. They happen because the tools are in place for you to make amazing moments. You are the catalyst, creating what you want from the open design mixture.

Video games are interactive by their very nature: we make choices and because of the open design we mold the world into what we want to see. We get to be a savior or a destroyer as we help everyone or walk by as NPC’s die on the ground pleading for us to stop.  The world and the story become ours. In linear design we simply witness a story the way we do in movies and books. Open design, and by extension open world design, helps us be, as the recent president George Bush so eloquently put, the deciders. We decide whether the village and its entire population die from a nuclear explosion as we move on. Deciding to lose out on all the benefits they could have given us.  And while you can say a choice like that doesn’t matter. I argue that the choices that reflect who we are as people, when choose as ourselves or we role-play as someone else, are the most rewarding choices in gaming.

Alex Russ for Linear Design:

Open world games have become a staple for many video games as of late. Think of a linear game as a hallway, a straight line yes? You are given an objective, and its entirely up to you how to achieve that objective so long as it gets you from point A to point B. An open world game plays like this, you are given a task what you do on the way to that task is up to you so long as it gets you from point A to point B, only this time your hallway is much larger in width.

Games like Skyrim require a lot of time, and its perhaps time that we no longer have. I love my RPGs, but quite frankly I don’t have the time to finish them. Because I don’t have the time I skip over the fluff of the game anyways just to beat it. Even in a game like Borderlands 2, players generally skip the story to beat it, all in a rush to get the best loot and come back later to do it again on new game plus. Sure there may be fast travel, but many times I must first traverse a large expanse just to get from my “Point A to Point B” destination.

I find the open world approach to be a crutch or an excuse for bad or poor game design processes. In many cases, you’ll find yourself doing the exact same thing repeatedly. Its like developers decide to hide the fact that their game is short, or built with poor game design choices simply by making you run great distances, hopefully you get distracted by a copy and paste side quest of driving this person around the city, go grab this ingredient and bring it here, etc. When a game is built on a singular core mechanic, or that of a very minimal selection of mechanics, your open world game becomes limited, and loses what could’ve been a great experience into the expanse of the world that wasn’t necessary. Had the production of the entirety of the world gone toward improving gameplay perhaps it could’ve been a more compelling experience, instead of skipping out on a random dragon appearance because you’ve been there done that and are beyond the level of the game keeping up with you i.e. Skyrim.

Many people like to think that a spanning decision or story arch is an addition to the open world genre. In Assassin’s Creed or even Mass Effect, you can make these decisions, but your end result is the same. Assassin’s Creed you certainly can decide how you’ll kill your target, but you will kill your target and the game will progress on as normal. Or you can kill a messenger, because of that messenger being dead you haven’t changed the game’s outcome in any way. Mass Effect is riddled with binary choices, which is certainly not far from linear, but we all know how the game ended. No matter what happened, or who died, your end result is the same, and even the game’s ending was the same out of three choices disregarding any previous choices. You can for example make the decision in Call of Duty on how to proceed through the mission, all of you having a different story but all having the same result.

So why play games at all? When our ending is coming up to be the same, why take in this experience? The answer is what you get out of the experience, yes a linear game may take me through a myriad of challenges to complete all with a singular end goal in mind, but if we all can recall Uncharted 2 when dangling for dear life off the edge of a cliff in the Himalayas. We can remember a compelling experience that we can revel in and share with our friends and still find great enjoyment. Much like a movie experience, we all saw the same plot, ending, climax and the like but we can find people who also enjoyed in our experience and what their take was to the theme of a particular scene. Because in the end we haven’t made the same choice every time in the same game, our approach, our thoughts, and emotions all end up being different when presented with any sort of entertainment medium!


About The Author

Nick C
COO/Podcast Host

I’m Nick, a proud nerd and gamer. I rock my Star Wars tattoos like I’m a real Jedi, and I hope I will be making games first and playing them second in the future!