Today is a strength building day. I have been pretty bad with them recently, but I'm going to make sure I get back in the swing this weekend, hopefully the momentum will take me through to PAX.
For today I am reading the the Uplink Analysis from October 19th on the subject of Sandboxes and Themeparks. Followed by the Further Analysis post from October 26th. After the break I'll have read them and will be providing my thoughts.
First, the question: Why are we always so concerned about "Sandbox vs. Themepark"? What causes that conflict between players, and is it solvable?
What a great question. I've been mulling over this all evening actually. I want to say that the conflict begins with a "sandbox" player wanting more freedom, a freedom they cannot be afforded because it muddles the game play for a "themepark" player. Any limitation placed on player choice is seen as bad in a sandbox game, and without structure it is very hard to tell a cohesive story which is the pivot point of a themepark game. There is a market for this kind of open ended play. Games like EVE and Minecraft demonstrate that. The market for the modern quest based MMO seems larger to me, more sustainable.
Can the two be integrated in a way that is fun for everyone? Maybe...but I think the reality in the proposition is that the Sandbox gamer will not be happy as long as any integration, or as they will see it, limitation is placed on their play. Meanwhile you run the risk of creating content that sits unused because there is no incentive for the themepark players to engage. If done correctly it could help introduce this mass community of modern MMO players to a new way of looking at online games and the way grab the reins and make it their own.
The problem that I think plagues most pure sandbox games is the long periods of nothing that preludes the crazy event that makes it worthwhile. Some players love that. For me personally, I'm interested in the crazy event part, I don't want to get home from work to sit in a base and run in circles (and jumping, always jumping) for 3 hours just in case an enemy team decides to attack. How can that "Downtime" be made engaging without making it a limitation to open play? That's probably the direction games need to move in. I've heard people say that Guild Wars 2 is sandbox-ish because you can do whatever you want, I don't exactly agree with that assessment. There are lots of things to do, and you can do or not do any of them, but they are all *there* and pre-created. To step into sandbox game play there needs to be unclear objectives all over the world. Part of that would need to be some sort of power-muting, a level cap mechanic for all zones so that max level players can come into low level zones to participate in open ended content without becoming a blight on the players who are progressing through that stage of the game.
Alright, enough about what I think, lets see what the developers had to say in the follow up post, which starts off with this amazing quote from Jeremy Gaffney. "We're trying to build WildStar as a hybrid - sandbox elements mixed in
with theme park elements. This guarantees we should be able to piss off
everyone at one time or another ...or vice versa!" At least he knows what he's getting himself into and has a good sense of humor about it.
The general feel I'm getting from this post is that the game will be mostly Theme Park with some mild Sandbox-ish elements in the form of random events that can happen. It sounds like these will be less static than Guild Wars 2 in that they could occur at different places around the map depending on which NPCs are left to their own devices. He indicates that there is a strong story path through each of the zones they've created so far but they are experimenting with making some high end zones purely operate on these random events.
This is the model that Guild Wars 2 uses for the zones in Orr. There are no "renown hearts" which are Guild Wars 2's take on quest hubs. Instead the zone is a living battle field. The first zone is straight forward, a fight on 3 fronts with a start and finish. If players are participating in the path and help the friendly NPC's they can move the path forward, if left alone the friendly NPCs will fail and the enemy NPC's will push back the line eventually to the starting point. Once you get into the deeper zones in Orr things get more muddled. It's just things happening. What could be interesting about this in Wildstar is seeing how having two factions effects this sort of environment. In Guild Wars 2 you have the Players and Friendly NPC's versus the Orrian Undead, powerful high level bad guy NPCs. How does the dynamic change when it's the players and their friendly NPC's versus the Eldan Machines, powerful high level bad guy NPCs...and also enemy faction NPC's and enemy faction players.
Jeremy Gaffney makes some further revelations that are interesting, you can read the whole entry here.
One piece I want to draw attention to is this quote, "some zones have elements like poachers who might get bored, build camps,
and then there is a prisoner in the camp with a quest for you."
What if players could do this? What is players could come into a zone and set up some sort of resource gathering operation that opposing players could disrupt? That's pretty sandbox.
Originally I was going to add another uplink analysis to this post, but that is a lot of words and Lara Croft needs to hunt down some wolves who stole her mentor's research notes...they are going to try and cheat on the next test I know it!