The Open-World Immersive-Simulation

At this point of the concept creation process of my game, I have organized my various ideas and feature wishlists into a somewhat coherent concept that reflects what I consider the ideal open-world roleplaying game. However, Open-world RPGs have gotten a somewhat stained reputation in recent years, for a number of common features and design decisions that many people are increasingly fed up with, and that are regarded as actively making the games less enjoyable instead of more. I do agree with many of those complaints and the whole reason that I find making an open-world game of my own interesting is that I have a very clear vision of how many of these problems would be very easily fixable. After doing some extensive research on the subject, I've found that the common issues many people are having with Open-World RPGs from the last 10-15 years are not actually about the open-world environment, but about widely adopted gameplay features that actively get in the way of what made the early 3D open-world games from the early- to mid-2000s so compelling and enduringly beloved in the first place.

People don't hate open-world games. People hate Ubisoft games. A category in which I also include Horizon, Rockstar games, and sadly even the most recent CD Project Red games. You know the type. You get a big world map full with quest icons and are expected to go to each icon and have a typically generic fight scene or very bland mini-quest, which is then interspaced with highly scripted and choreographed cinematic story chapters that aren't even open-world at all. The story missions in The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 are the best I've ever seen in any game, but they don't need to be in an open-world game. Mass Effect and The Witcher 2 did exactly the same thing but without an open world. And having these admittedly great stories actively gets in the way of having a great open-world gameplay experience. That much of the open-world content that actually is in the game is mostly low-effort grind doesn't help things either, of course.

What really interests me about open-world environments for games is how they have the potential to continuously generate new and varied situations for players to encounter that confront them with obstacles that always need to be approached differently. Gameplay emerges from the interplay between various systems of gameplay mechanics and the player's unique individual inputs. As a great example, one time I was playing Stalker and just started playing a new game, when I came upon a randomly spawned small group of stalker wandering into the path of a randomly spawned large group of dogs. The dogs attacked the stalkers close to them, rather than going at me who was a good bit further away, and due to their randomly generated numerical advantage and the randomness of combat managed to kill the stalkers. But they had been heavily decimated in the fight themselves and even with my crappy little pea shooter I was able to kill the last three wounded dogs myself. Which then allowed me to loot a very nice mid-game rifle with plenty of ammunition in the first hour of the game. And that made a huge difference for the next several hours of that game. I had so much more firepower and considerably longer range than in any of the other times I had played the game before or after, which made a good part of that particular game very unique. There's also a really cool story that happened to me in Kenshi, where my group of five characters tried to sneak past a bandit camp at night to reach the safe town on the other side of a mountain pass, and in the resulting chaos two of my characters got separated from the others, spending the whole night hiding in a ditch with broken legs, just meters away from the bandits' campfire. That group of bandits making camp for the night just in the middle of the pass I wanted to cross at that moment was completely random. The pass could have been clear. The bandits could have been much fewer. The enemies might not have been bandits but something else. My characters might not have been spotted while sneaking. They might not have gotten injured in the legs in the fight. My characters would have been much stronger if the encounter happened three days later. Everything about this was entirely the result of randomness, enemy behavior scripts, and my own player inputs.

And both these examples are two of the most memorable stories that happened to me in games years ago. These are stories that were not written by a designer. These were stories that emerged. No dialog, no plot. But so much excitement and drama. And the impact that my choices at those moments had on all the other stories that emerged later on in those games was massive. Had I acted slightly differently in those moments, every other encounter and scene in the entirety of those playthroughs would have been completely different. And this is something that you really only can have happening in open world games. (For all intents and purposes here, Grand Strategy games are also open-world.)

Emergent gameplay from the interactions of multiple interconnected systems is a trait that is most prominent in the Immersive Simulation genre. Which is generally considered to go back to Ultima Underworld and includes famous classics like Thief, System Shock, and Deus Ex, and perhaps less famously Arx Fatalis and Prey. And while I don't typically see them included because they have no character stats that you improve, if Thief is an Im-Sim, then Stalker is one too. And while they often lean heavily into being cinematic narrative games, I think the Metro games as well. All of which feature very prominently in my mind when I am imagining the game I want to make. So I think probably the best way to describe my game concept in a condensed term that still provides a good impression for what I am aiming for, would very much be an Open-World Immersive-Simulation.