Sandbox Blues

SandboxIf you’re like me and you have a tendency towards mayhem in games, then you’ve most certainly purchased or played one of those “sandbox” games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Assassin’s Creed, or Saints Row. A result of the wild success of these games and the inevitable fawning that goes with them is criticism of games presenting something like a sandbox model. The thing I tend to hear a lot about in reviews is how the sandbox game in question isn’t “immersive” or “realistic” enough – how citizens are mindless puppets rather than independent entities, how the player can or cannot control the environment, or how someone can’t partake in something happening around them to affect the outcome.

I mean, sure, I can see why these folks might be critical of this stuff. Gamers deserve to have more in a game that draws them in and makes the experience more real. Why not? It’s not like there’s something more important to do than watch TV or play pool in the game you’re playing. Sure, there’s going outside and being socially adept, but hey, why do that when you can make the experience more “real” for a fake world? We’re probably two steps and a nutjob away from being jacked in to the game world like “The Matrix” anyway, so why not try to make for a more “living, breathing” experience?

I’ve always been a big proponent of “if you’re going to do it, do it at 110%”. Forget that it’s mathematically impossible or redundant, it’s a great saying! That being said, here’s some positive suggestions to make those sandbox games better than they already are.

  • Introduce Force Feedback – Let’s just stop half-assing it with the vibrating controllers and the steering wheels that give you the shaky feeling of driving under the influence. You might as well start making the players feel what is happening to them. Electric shocks are a low-tech, simple way to do this. Heck, it’d serve as a way to keep those all-nighter gamers awake at night.
  • Create Forums in-Game – Let’s face it, gamers just love forums because it allows them the luxury of saying whatever they want and not have to be found beaten up in an alley outside the bar for being a dick. So create “literal” game forums within the game for characters to post all their whines, flames, and Rickroll videos, and you’ll have an “authentic” experience in no time.
  • School Them Good – Get gamers to attend classes filled with stereotypical professor personalities in-game to get “edumacated”. Allow for notebook doodling and spitball throwing. I mean, never mind the terribly ironic idea that gamers might skip real school for the in-game school in the game. If you can achieve “stay in school” at least on this level, we must be doing something right.

Developers have an obligation to make these sandbox games a “living, breathing entity”, or whatever else buzzwords these recent critics have to say about them. The day when a sandbox game has more actual life than the person playing it, means that we’ve truly succeeded at making the right kind of sandbox. Trust me – it’ll keep all those people who really value that stuff busy, while everyone else will be doing the unimportant stuff like getting a good job, education, and actually getting laid.

More sand, please!

One thought on “Sandbox Blues”

  1. dave says:

    Didn't some game already have in game forums? And can't you unlock some code in the new GTA game for a "get laid" coupon?

    Also check out the "World of World of Warcraft" vid on youtube. Kind of like what you are talking about.

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