Having been playing video games for the better part of the last thirty-five years, I have come to a point now, where one particular childhood dream is now on the horizon, and I can’t express in words the scope of my excitement.
As a kid, I remember talking with some friends and saying “I wish games were so big, that when a character told me ‘It’ll take you a week to get there,'” it would actually take me a week of real time to accomplish the said journey. Fifteen, twenty years ago, that might’ve seemed completely asinine. Games were limited by technology for so long, that it almost seemed impossible.
Today, with the advent of the powerful new technologies that are so pervasive throughout the gaming industry, games are growing larger and larger. Thankfully, Notch and his buddies over at Mojang, with their movement to increase the popularity of procedurally generated worlds, have made my childhood dream seem not quite so crazy. Minecraft is able to continually create a world ahead of you, with almost limitless capacity, and the hundreds of clones that have popped up are increasing the scale of what Notch originally conceptualized.
Enter games like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen, where entire starscapes are available to the player. In particular to my experiences, I have learned that Elite: Dangerous has something in the vicinity of 400 billion stars, collecting as 100 billion star systems, all of which are exporable. Consider the scale of our galaxy, and the time it has taken us just to discover all of that. Now, consider the amount of time it would take even a large number of participants to fully explore that content.
Boggles the noodle a bit, doesn’t it?
Perhaps you’re among the people who think “Nah.” Okay, you let me know when you’ve seen everything. I’ll wait. For a few lifetimes.
The other game, slated for release later this year, that is also a compelling step towards this childhood pondering of mine, is No Man’s Sky. A procedurally generated galaxy, with the goal of “reaching the middle.” Sure, you could attempt to make a beeline for the center, just to finish the game. But it’s not the destination, is it? It really is the journey. With NMS’s basic mission to journey to the center of the galaxy, it seems like a simple finish. However, there is seemingly endless content in nearly any direction, where the player can explore, get lost, find new planets, new races, new species, leave their permanent mark in “Atlas,” the star chart that affords both a navigational system, as well as a living document where players accomplishments in exploration are forever seared into the annals of history.
With numerous factions, constantly vying for power and position throughout the game, alien races who are either welcoming or angry at your sudden appearance on their worlds, and countless missions, events, and other occurrences at every turn, suddenly the idea of reaching the center of the galaxy shrinks away to almost a pinprick, with countless other options to fill the hours and keep your attention.
In the past, games have had to stick to linear paths. One story, one idea, stick to the path, don’t deviate. This type of gaming is rapidly growing into a memory, as games now, with more and more open-world style construction, are giving players the opportunity to open nearly any door, any window, jump through any portal, and go anywhere. An old friend of mine used to gripe that the only true open world game is one where “If there’s a door, I should be able to go through it.” As much work as that would take, developers like Rockstar, Ubisoft, and countless others are working towards that goal.
And they are rapidly approaching success.
Years ago, when games like Condemned: Criminal Origins first came out, they were focused more on the immersion, giving players realistic environments to lose themselves in because of the intense detail, the different textures, and the lighting. Now, with those technologies commonplace, they are beginning to turn their attention to using those abilities to create extensive, nigh-limitless environments with so much detail that, to see it all, you’d have to spend years fully visiting.
Overall, games are growing by leaps and bounds, and 2016 seems to the first year where developers are taking worlds, gameplay, and story to the next level. With the release of titles like The Division, Ubisoft will be cracking open an entirely new can of potential for the gaming industry, ensuring other developers are forced to up their game and give us, as gamers, even more reason to keep returning to our platforms of choice.