Thursday, January 21, 2010

What shape is that sandbox anyway?

In the comments to my last post the question arose, what happens if you ignore the town and go out in the mountains to dig for gold? Well, in DitV you are God's Watchdogs, who travel from town to town so doing that would be an error in the part of the player. Basically, you wouldn't play the game, so why did you show up?

This is where I think the shape of the sandbox becomes an issue. Imagine a game where you are playing a roguish character, but stop behaving like one. Imagine a game where you are a preacher and mailman, but stop behaving like one. In a narrow sandbox you would be able to do whatever you want, as long as you stay within that box. The thing is, there's always a shape of that box, be it narrow and long or something else.

I think that while strictly limited games where you can only do what's expected of you is considered bad, the solution to that problem is not the Sandbox silver bullet. I think the wish to be able to go anywhere and do anything is the ultimate dream of Simulationism. I'm afraid I have to use some Forge-speak, since it actually expresses what I mean here. But, for a casual gamer who just want to be heroic this wont cut the mustard.

I suggest that the reason we have adventures is that for those of us who don't want Simulationism, there has to be a Story, of some kind. The effect will be that the sandbox has to shrink, and maybe a little more narrow. It doesn't have to be narrow as a railroad track, but it suddenly gets a bit of focus when the edges are no longer lost in a mist, but can at least be imagined. I have some ideas about how to bring that focus, which I will detail tomorrow.
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