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Video Games May Be Getting Too Big For Their Own Good
I watched E3 this year and absolutely loved everything I saw, from favorites like Fallout 4 and Halo 5 to new titles I had never heard of before or seen such as The Last Guardian, The Division, and Until Dawn. During Sony’s conference, I saw a game that made my jaw drop. No Man’s Sky immediately excited me due to it being a first-person exploration game. When Sean Murray (director of No Man’s Sky) started showing it off, I was floored with how open the world was. You are able to fly around in space, engage in space battles, and pick the side you wish to fight with.
Then things took an enormous, eye-opening turn: Murray began demonstrating exactly how large this game is. First, he showed a few stars and galaxies you could visit. Then he zoomed out to reveal entire galaxy clusters, and again, and again, and ag—this game is ridiculously huge! There were thousands upon thousands of solar systems that one could visit and explore. But that got me thinking: is this game too big?
A couple days later I came across something on Twitter that said Hello Games’ latest world has 18 quintillion galaxies and that it would take billions of real-world years to visit each one, even if you only spent one second on each of them. I sat back and thought, “What was the point of creating a game, as beautiful and magnificent as it seemed, that would take that long to explore?” That brought up the question of whether games are getting too expansive and taking too long to complete. Games like Skyrim, The Witcher 3, and even The Elder Scrolls Online are such huge games that it would take you hundreds of hours to finsh them in their entirety, and that’s not even including searching for hidden goodies along the way.
It also doesn’t help that many developers procedurally generate maps, which in turn renders the maps and games bigger and longer. That idea came alongside the length of games. If developers are randomly generating games and it doesn’t take quite as long as it would if they designed the maps and layout themselves, they could make the games and maps as big as they want (just like No Man’s Sky). I also had to ask if developers are growing lazy by procedurally generating their games.
I mean, isn’t just writing a code to randomly create worlds kind of cheating? What happened to developers putting time and effort into their games and the worlds by designing everything in them? I know it would take longer, but look at The Witcher 3, for example. CD Projekt RED took several years to develop it and they even delayed the game a couple times to really make sure they were dropping something amazing. It even received awards for its fantastic world. If game developers are going to take the easy route of creating games, does this mean we’ll get more games of a lesser caliber than the tedious yet rewarding task of designing a game from the ground up? Or is it possible to create great games going this randomly-generated route and risk overwhelming players with quantity?
I therefore asked several of my fellow writers and editors to see what their opinions were on this topic. This is what some of them had to say:
Ronald Hoffecker, Co-founder, Dropster, Inc.:
I see no reason to call randomly-generated maps lazy. The amount of coding, designing, and thought that goes into this generation is absolutely insane. When I look at No Man’s Sky and think of how much procedurally generated terrain, NPC, lighting, meshes, and AI there is, my brain wants to explode…however, I am still a lover of crafted worlds seen in games such as Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls, or Mega Man. For me I split it into two thoughts: if the game is procedurally generated, I better have a lot to do and things to excite me. If the game is crafted, it better be unveiled and explained to me in an exciting or meaningful way.
I subscribe to the thought that games never get too big, but the developers may not have the creativity to fill those types of games up…
No Man’s Sky excites me because I know I’ll never be able to see everything. There will be things in that game I never see with my own eyes and some things that will never, ever be seen. By anyone.
That’s exciting to me because it adds a sense of realism, at least in my eyes. I will never be in space, let alone travel to another planet…This game is giving us a universe where we can travel in space freely but it is so massive that we still cannot visit every location in this digital frontier.
Stephen Pollard, Editor:
I agree that it shouldn’t be labeled lazy. I’m just a bigger fan of crafted worlds myself. I never feel as engaged in randomly-generated worlds. It just doesn’t seem like there’s as much world-building (in a non-coding aspect), and I love learning about the nuances of a fantasy world.
Also, I totally agree with Ron’s point here that developers sometimes don’t have the creativity to fill up huge game worlds. I would point to the original Mass Effect as an example. So many of the planets where you could ride around in the Mako were the same planet re-skinned. There was a very boring procedure of: Ride across rocky terrain until you reach your destination>Enter building>Antechamber>Main room with enemies and lots of cover>T-shaped corridor with two rooms on either end, with one being your objective. I was so bummed by the side quests in Mass Effect. Granted, I still loved the game, but seeing I had all these planets to explore and then finding out they were all the same thing with different skins was a huge letdown.
Jack Kimberlin, News Writer, Gamenews.io wrote:
I think that procedurally-generated maps aren’t lazy; however, I think sometimes they are unnecessary and might even hurt games. I look at Xcom 2 getting procedurally-generated maps and I’m like, “No, I want to learn the maps so I don’t suck.” It would be like [Call of Duty] procedurally generating maps. Like, no, that’s bad. But with creative games like Minecraft and even No Man’s Sky, it seems to be the right way to go about it.
Games are absolutely getting too big. The Witcher 3 (however much I love that game) was a buggy mess for almost a solid month, because it’s really hard to get QA to get every inch of such a massive span of video game. Bethesda games have terrible QA, and as much as I am excited for Fallout 4, I have no doubt it’s going to be a broken mess until the modding community steps up. No Man’s Sky is so big I can’t even get excited for it because I won’t even see half of that game and I’ll just get bored in like three hours. I don’t think these should go away; however, I see so many series that should be condensed experiences like Hitman and Metal Gear Solid taking this big open world route, and I don’t think that those games will be bad, just not as good as they could be. MGS is so story-driven and so urgent and dire in its stories, and open world games ruin urgency in video games with this checklist of stuff to do. Really it comes down to the game, but I feel like there should be a healthy balance between condensed experiences and big giant ones in AAA, instead of everyone trying to be this massive thing.
Sarah Blackburn, Editor:
I don’t think procedurally-generated levels are lazy, per se. When I was working on my Thesis in Uni, we were working on procedurally-created levels for a project and they’re kind of hard work. Putting them together, making sure they actually work, creating all the assets needed so you’ve got complete and “random” worlds… it’s often more stressful than creating a level straight from a Design Doc. I think it also frees up a bit of time to put effort into other things, like the narrative, audio, or even creating gorgeous assets. It does depend on the game, though, and sometimes the repetition gets a little irritating…
And with gigantic game worlds, I think that depends on the game, too. I love Skyrim and Fallout because I love exploring, finding hidden goodies in the world, and having something I can play for hours on end. They’ve become my fall-back games, in case I have nothing to play or I really don’t know what I’m in the mood for. But potentially games could become stupidly large: with each game company competing to outdo the next with graphics, audio, narrative, etc., it kind of makes sense that they might start competing with game world size, too. One game might boast 100 hours of story and exploration, so why wouldn’t another company make one with 200 hours? No Man’s Sky does look pretty awesome, though, and I take the exploration part as a challenge: see how much I can find before I get bored or before I die from playing it for a billion years.
If you have any opinions, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from every one of you!