January 30, 2011

Open Worlds

Filed under: beauty,digital,interfaces,parenting,toys,vendetta,want — mhoye @ 11:12 pm


Nethack, the venerable console game, is almost 25 years old now, and new releases come out, irregularly, every few years. Keep that in mind for the moment.

A friend of mine who also has kids was a little shocked to find out that I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood with Maya lately. You may well share his opinion that it’s not exactly a game someone a few months shy of two should be playing, and if I were playing it as intended you’d be right. But because it’s this beautiful, spacious open-world game, rich enough and flexible enough for us to wander around doing whatever we want, that’s what we do. As far as Maya’s concerned, AC:B is a boat and horsey game.

Maya likes to help me pilot gondolas around the canals, jump off of tall buildings to splash in the water and ride horses around the countryside. She points out the moon when she can see it in the sky, and when it sets we find a tall building to climb and watch the sun come up over the city. Her biggest complaint with the game so far is that horsies are OK, but she also wants to see cows, geese, the odd giraffe and, on some occasions, penguins. I’ve tried to convince her that penguins are neither geographically- nor period-accurate, but I don’t think she’s convinced; in the meantime Ubisoft, if you’re listening, that’s what you should really be working on. Old Macdonaldinio e il suo dell’allevamento bovino, e ai, e ai, o.

Get on that, guys.

It’s pretty great that so many games now are broad enough that if you’re looking for something different you really can wander off to the side of the story line and spend some time making your own fun. I love me some Renaissance-era Templar-Conspiracy parkour-and-stabby, don’t get me wrong, but it turns out I also like having my daughter navigate us around the countryside on her favorite horse and tell me that we’re done with the horsies and now it’s time for boats and swimming.

I’ve got to say, though, the better video games get, the sadder I get that they’ll never get open sourced. Open-world games have gotten so great, and Ubisoft in particular have done such a spectacular job with the Assassin’s Creed series. I would love to be able to repurpose those spaces for other things, whether they’re scavenger hunts, guided tours, maybe even different games entirely.

There’s no reason that you couldn’t have a gondola race, an art exhibition, an RC plane racing, any number of things. But like Rapture, the worlds of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, later incarnations of Hyrule, the Fable series, these are sprawling cities and wide-open spaces are essentially frozen in amber, perpetually the same. These worlds are stunningly detailed, lush and beautiful, and it’s really heartbreaking that they’ll never be anything more or other than they are.


  1. Give it time.

    Comment by gnomon — January 30, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

  2. If not for our draconian copyright term extensions, we’d at least stand a chance of having these things fall into the public domain during our lifetimes, in which case we could spend our senile years wandering around the virtual environments of our youth. Maybe we need to start a virtual world liberation group that extracts the assets from games and ports them to some open source game engine? :)

    Comment by Ted Mielczarek — February 1, 2011 @ 8:30 am

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