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What does "Open World"/"Sandbox" really mean?

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by AndrewGrayGames, Dec 20, 2014.

  1. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    I've been puzzling over what I wanted to post for days, actually. I tried different wordings, but they all sounded stupid. So, I decided to ask directly, because it sounds least stupid.

    I've noticed a lot of games are labeled 'open world' or 'wide open sandbox' - most Bethesda games (Skyrim, for convenience), Xenoblade Chronicles, Terraria/Minecraft are great examples.

    Yet, other than relatively (and, varying degrees of) broad goals, it occurred to me that I don't really understand about what makes a sandbox a sandbox, other than broad, largely player-defined goals. I certainly don't understand what makes certain 'sandboxes' good sandboxes, for that matter.
     
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  2. RockoDyne

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    Something I've noticed is that open world and sandbox kind of mean different things, or at least get used for different contexts. Open world usually says more about the story structure being completely non-sequenced. Sandbox refers more to how the world is a playground.

    I would say open world has more in terms of world simulation, or is at least presenting the world as fleshed out. The terms are definitely not easy to define since they get used a lot for pretty much anything. Assassin's creed uses the term sandbox to say there is a ton of mostly pointless S*** to do to keep the player distracted, but otherwise it's a linear story with no options at all. Just some observations.
     
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  3. Eric5h5

    Eric5h5

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    Sandbox means the goals are up to the player. Like you're playing in an actual sandbox (where the name comes from), as opposed to playing, say, baseball, where there are defined rules. Minecraft = sandbox (do what you want within the bounds of what's possible in the engine, not necessarily any real "win" or "lose" conditions), Bioshock = not sandbox (goals defined entirely by the game, and there are specific win and lose conditions). Open world is a different thing. Assassin's Creed isn't sandbox, it's open world, where you can go where you want to some extent, but all the goals are game-defined.

    SimCity is another good sandbox example, where you're given tools to build stuff as you see fit, and you decide when you're "done" or not. Half-Life would be not sandbox and not open world; there's a single track you can go down and that's it.

    --Eric
     
  4. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    Thanks for that explanation, man!
     
  5. Teila

    Teila

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    Lots of people use sandbox when it is simply a theme park within an open world. I have had numerous discussions with our game fans on this. :)
     
  6. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    What's more to say? @Eric5h5 nailed it perfectly! What fascinates me is looking at Sandbox games, through the prism of FLOW. Flow requires: 1) Clear Goals, 2) Immediate feedback, 3) No Distractions, and 4) Balanced Difficulty and yet, 'sandbox' seems to imply no goals. Again, Eric nailed it: "Sandbox means the goals are up to the player." In researching Flow, I identified 3 types of goals.
    1. Explicit goals are directed by the game - ex. kill the boss, collect the key, rescue the princess.
    2. Implicit goals are implied conditions of the game world - ex. don't die.
    3. Player Driven Goals come from the player's imagination - ex. get farther than yesterday, beat my brother, or build a glass house.
    Minecraft has no explicit goals and one implicit goal that you discover when it turns night - don't die! That discovery is a magic moment. "OMG! I need to find shelter!" And then, "Wait, I can build shelter!" which leads to "What else can I build?" The rest of the game is player driven goals, until the player loses interest, which given the $2B valuation of Mojang takes a VERY long time.

    Gigi
     
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  7. DryTear

    DryTear

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    Another example to a sandbox game is legos! Wondering if 7 days to die or rust is an open world game or a sandbox game (maybe even both?).
     
  8. TheSniperFan

    TheSniperFan

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    Open-world (level-design) means you can go wherever you want. Sandbox (gameplay) means you can do whatever you want.
    This definition probably isn't 100% accurate, but it should be good enough.

    It's a sandbox, if you are given a quest that tells you to go in a certain direction, and you can say "F*** THAT!", turn around and go 4 kilometers in the other.
    It's a good sandbox, if doing the above is fun.

    Have a look at Fallout. You could follow the main-story line. Alternatively you could get yourself some supplies, climb on the next hill, find an interesting landmark, travel to it, meet new characters and do other quests for hours.

    A bad sandbox would be Mafia 2. Sure, you have pretty much absolute freedom as to where you go next. However, outside the strictly linear chain of missions, there really isn't anything else to do.


    As I already said, open-world is a type of level design. It's the opposite of linear. CoD has linear level design, while Fallout's level design is open-world.

    CoD works like this:
    You go through this hallway till you reach the only door you can interact with. There you will proceed to wait till the super-manly dialogue between your team and HQ has finished. Then you will look at your captain kicking the door open in a very dramatic manner. You will clear that room, jump out of the window and proceed to do a vehicle section that will take you to a specific destination, by a predefined route. And so on...

    Fallout works like this:
    The destination of your currently active quest is a cave about 2 kilometers north of here. You can stop by, whenever you feel like it. Have fun.

    Fallout is also a sandbox, because you can do whatever you want and don't have to do the current quest right away.
     
  9. RockoDyne

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    As much as I don't disagree with defining a sandbox as being reliant on player driven goals, trying to define anything by the presence or absence of goals doesn't serve much of a point. Goals are fundamentally transient. They exist for a time and don't even have to be constant across playthroughs.

    It's too easy to end up in a grey zone where explicit goals aren't present for a time, or where player goals overshadow the explicit goals. Case in point: The End in Minecraft and the Golden Saucer in FF7. Minecraft does have an actual ending and goals that stem from that, but I don't think there is a huge debate over whether that invalidates it as a sandbox. The flip side is that player driven goals themselves don't constitute a sandbox, or else FF7 would be considered a sandbox when most people can easily spend more time dicking around with mini-games and sidequests than the rest of the game.

    Sandbox as a term could just as easily be boiled down to being about sheer unbridled play. At that point, the term doesn't serve any purpose other than to be a secondary, fall-back term in the "that's no videogame" argument.

    I would much rather use sandbox as a level design term, either referring to more open levels, without clear start and end points, that are meant to provide their own forms of play, or to refer to a more literal sandbox where the level itself is played with in the case of Minecraft or Sim City.
     
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  10. JoeStrout

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    Sorry to be chiming in late here, but I think perhaps the easiest way to tell a sandbox game from a non-sandbox game is: when have you won?

    If the answer is "never," then it's probably a sandbox game (SimCity, Minecraft, High Frontier when it's done). There are no victory criteria. The game is a bunch of toys you can play with however you like, for as long as you like.

    On the other hand, if there is a goal which you can achieve and then you've won, it's not a sandbox. I never played Infiniminer, but from my understanding of it, that was basically a FPS set in the blocks world (which we now all identify with Minecraft). So the game mechanics were virtually identical... but it wasn't a sandbox game, it's an FPS. You win by wiping out the competition.

    Of course the distinction gets fuzzy in games where you can win, but you don't have to... or where you can keep playing after you win. Oblivion is an example. You can certainly blow off (or complete) the story line and play the game as if it were a sandbox. But I'd argue that most players don't play it that way, and it wasn't designed primarily to be played that way, unlike SimCity etc.
     
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  11. RockoDyne

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    What about a game like Disgaea though? You can spend a hundred hours getting a few characters up to level 100 and finish the story, but this is a game where the level cap is 9999, there is a fair bit of higher level content, and it isn't uncommon for saves to be in the three to five hundred hour range. It's not unfair to say most of the game is a sandbox.

    It's easy to say a game that outright has no goal is a sandbox, but just about every game can be without a goal at some point, usually either for a period in between goals or after finishing the final one. It's a black and white term, but in a world of so much grey that it's meaningless.
     
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  12. Tomnnn

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    Minecraft is basically digital legos. Each 'piece' is a voxel. 7 days gets pretty close because they have voxels for all of the construction, as minecraft does. Rust has prefabs but a decent degree of placement. Hard to say.

    7 days - most definitely
    Rust - ehh, for the most part

    Life is Fuedal : Your Own is a sandbox game with voxels. It's incredible, save for it's slower-than-runescape pace.
     
  13. evan140

    evan140

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    I think of a sandbox like when you're a kid and you're playing in the sandbox. You have a bunch of toys, serving as props and you get to do whatever the $%#@ you want.

    I think Sandbox and Open World are almost interchangeable. Almost. To me, open world is more like you can go anywhere at any time (like Zelda) but the story/stories are pretty much set in stone. A sandbox game is where I can decide what my character is, and I get to decide how I affect and impact the world.

    I can't really imagine a sandbox game that isn't open world, yet I can imagine an open world game that isn't a sandbox.
     
  14. Heu

    Heu

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    Think of an actual sandbox.

    There's sand already for you to use, now use it for whatever you want. Some may want to build a castle, others may want to throw it at the weird kid.

    If there's little sand, then it's a S***ty sandbox, if there's tons of sand, then it's good sandbox.
     
  15. Kiwasi

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    Someone should make an actual sandbox simulator... That would be a sandbox game to me :)

    Actually the points already presented cover it nicely.
     
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  16. RockoDyne

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    Closest I can think of are the zen garden sims.

    Mostly related:
     
  17. angrypenguin

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    So? That doesn't make the definition useless. Definitions and labels are useful in helping us know what we're communicating and/or thinking about. That doesn't mean that we need to restrict our thinking to things that fit neatly into pigeonholes, though!

    It's perfectly fine that Minecraft, and other games, don't wholly fit into either "sandbox" or "not sandbox". You were sill able to easily articulate that Minecraft is mostly sandbox, until a point where explicit goals and an end point are made clear at which point it isn't really "sandbox" any more. What's wrong with that? The definition still fits parts of the game quite well, and the label is still useful in communication and thinking in so far as it helps you more easily talk about different parts or aspects of the game.

    Definitions and labels should assist in communicating and thinking, not define or restrict our ideas.
     
  18. angrypenguin

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    A sandbox simulator with rigid, linear goals... :eek:
     
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  19. RockoDyne

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    The problem there is that labeling something a sandbox becomes completely subjective. It becomes entirely dependent on the game presenting an explicit goal and whether the player actually cares to reach that goal. At that point, sandbox is a state of mind that says little, if anything, about the game itself.

    The irony to your last argument though is that that's what is already what is being done with the term. Hell, the presence or absence of goals is already used by people to define if something is even a game or not. The other half of that post was me trying to shift the definition to something that won't actually restrict ideas.
     
  20. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    Researcher or practitioner? Researchers like Koster, Schell, and others have posted lengthly explorations of whether something is a toy, a game, a some sort of ludic construct (?). I enjoy the intellectual exercise, and yet, these meta-discussions seem only slightly relevant to my craft. On the other hand, there's flow, which I use every day.

    Gigi
     
  21. imaginaryhuman

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    Interesting that regardless of whether a game is a sandbox or not, all games are just computer programs with predefined rules, one way or another. It's to do with the level of perceived creative freedom by the user, I think, and how much emergent gameplay can come out of it - how much freedom of choice the player has to not be blocked by certain rigid structures in the game's design. More of a canvas on which to `play` with your own ideas more than those of the developer.
     
  22. angrypenguin

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    Or player?

    I'm talking about design intent, because looking at it in any other way kind of makes it useless in the sense of a design term. Sure, a player could decide that to them Wolfenstein 3D is actually a walking-around-in-a-prison-cell sandbox game. It could actually be pretty good at that if you play it accordingly, but it's clearly not the design intent. In the same manner, a car could be used as a paperweight and a word processor could be used as a chess board. Do you think the designers consider those things as such? Of course not, because it's of no use to them in meeting their design goals.

    As far as I can think at the moment, the only time a designer in any field should take counter-design usage into account is when it's relevant to safety. Aside from that it's just a distraction from meeting whatever the design goals actually are.

    In that context, if a design goal is for something to be a "sandbox" or have "sandbox elements" then that means that the player is to do their own goal setting to some degree.
     
  23. RockoDyne

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    I still question how valuable the term is from a development standpoint. It's kind of a lazy shorthand for not having goals with completely unfocused player attention. It just seems more valuable to be talking about the degree of player focus and goals with their setup/structure. Essentially, it's a term that paints in black and white, when it's much more important to understand about the shades of grey.
     
  24. angrypenguin

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    I don't see why it has to be considered black and white at all. Many things sit on a spectrum, this is one of them. The term itself isn't lazy, it's the poor use of any term that is lazy.
     
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  25. NeoTacticalGaming

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    Hmm. I like all of the posts here. If i repeat some things i apologize. This is just me putting in a penny.

    I like to think of terms in my own way. Although they share characteristics with others its a tough subject.

    Sandbox. Well you build Sand Castles and moats and mold it to how you want. So i like to think of sandbox games as games that allow players complete creativity or building of structures etc. Minecraft, Xeno Miner, Terraria, Space Engineers, are a few examples in my mind that qualify as sandbox.

    Open world. I like to think of this as Extreme Large spaces that do not limit where a player can go. Defiance, WoW, Tera, GTA, Just Cause 1/2.


    I really dont think there is an definitive answer to What is or What isn't But i do think they share common aspects.
     
  26. ostrich160

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    Just wanted to say Sandbox =/= Open World

    Sandbox games include eve online, gmod, minecraft, Open world games include GTA, Skyrim, you get the idea
     
  27. Kiwasi

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    !=

    :)
     
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