Void() Mathieu De Coster

Take, do not give

Ever since I started playing Guild Wars 2 back in 2012, I’ve had this feeling that the world felt smaller and less mysterious than it did in the previous Guild Wars games. I’ve said this before: it feels more like a set of game levels than a real world. A large part of this were the camera settings at launch. Since a few years, it is now possible to alter these settings to show more of the environment. And rightly so, because the game does have some pretty impressive environments!

When Oblivion was released, people were gawking at the graphics and were telling their friends, “See those mountains? You can actually walk there!” and we were all impressed. Now, many years later, this has become the norm in open world games. Anywhere you can see, you can go. One can argue that this adds to the believability of the world, but I also think that it is a limitation on the game designers and world builders.

Take for example Guild Wars: Nightfall. In the starter mission, you can look out into the bay and you see this small island with three massive statues, along with a couple of fishing boats.

Nightfall1 One of the first sights in Guild Wars: Nightfall. It immediately sets the tone.

Nightfall2 I bet there aren’t any people out there. Why would they be? But imagine that you can easily swim up there. Then the question changes to, “Why are these ruins still here, and why isn’t this populated by people if it is so easily reachable?”

You cannot actually reach this island and I think this is part of the beauty. By making certain parts of the world visible, but not reachable, you add to the mystery of the world, and to its size. You ask yourself, “I wonder what’s out there”. It also allows the world builders so much more creativity: geometry doesn’t need to have collision meshes, it doesn’t need to look good from all angles and you don’t need to populate it with NPCs just because players may reach the place. By limiting the player’s path to a single road along the coast, this island can also remain in view all the time and the artists have complete control over what angles the player can view it from. This is one of the things that make linear game design awesome at times. Let’s take another example: the Lion’s Arch bay.

Proph1 This looks almost like a painting. Because of the limited viewing angles, artists are free to design the world as if on a canvas.

In Guild Wars: Prophecies, you can see the light tower and a boat in the bay. You cannot actually swim out there, all you can do is wonder what is on the ship and what is out there beyond the massive ocean. In Guild Wars 2, you can actually swim up to the light tower, but if you try to go any further, a text message appears that says that you will be pushed back.

GW2 Vast emptiness. Unlike in Guild Wars: Prophecies, you are not limited to a few views, but can explore freely. Artists cannot frame the world like a painting, because everything is visible from every angle.

My point is that, by not giving everything to the player, but by holding back, you can increase the believability and the mystery in your game world. Instead of having the player notice invisible walls, empty voids and abandoned ships, you can have them take it all in from a distance, and have them wonder what is out there. This is also something that makes books such a great medium: your imagination is allowed to fill in the blanks. And our imagination is so much more powerful than any game engine that is currently out there.

Factions This screenshot is unrelated to the blog post, but I thought nighttime Kaineng was too pretty not to share…