Sandboxed

Actually, I wanted to write a post concerning several reviews of Red Dead Redemption I have come across recently. Unfortunately, my draft with the links to those reviews has been lost, with the exception of Guido Berger’s review (in German). The other one is, unfortunately, forever lost in the wilderness of electrons.

Or, maybe it is not. After searching for yet another review to contrast it, I guess I stumbled over it: Michael Abbott, a. k. a. the Brainy Gamer has some thoughts on the topic as well.

This is what it boils down to: sandbox games seem to fall exactly into the same valley as computer graphics in general. At some point, they are pretty good; so good, actually, you start to notice the gaps and holes, the problems especially well. A sort of Uncanny Valley.

At times, Marston’s actions - and especially his inactions - are no less despicable than Niko’s. When the Mexican soldiers tell him to burn down the villagers‘ houses (a senseless act of violence) I have no option to refuse their order. Each house appears on my mini-map, and I cannot proceed until I’ve torched each one. Why would a man who has risked his life to rescue complete strangers from bandits do this? Similarly, when Marston witnesses women villagers physically abused by Allende’s men (and, clearly, raped off-stage), why does he not utter even a word of protest? Is this the same man who shot a stranger in Armadillo for pulling a knife on a prostitute? [The Brainy Gamer]

Guide Berger says essentially the same:

Obwohl uns aber totale Handlungsfreiheit suggeriert wird, kann John Marston eigentlich nur sehr wenig tun: Reiten und Schiessen. Trifft man z. B. auf einen Besoffenen, der eine Prostituierte verprügelt, kann man der Dame nur helfen, indem man den Säufer umlegt - entweder ohne Warnung, oder spätestens dann, wenn er auf uns zu schiessen beginnt. Derselbe John Marston, der vor zehn Minuten einer jungen Farmerin von seiner Familie erzählt oder einem General empfohlen hat, seine Leute etwas besser zu behandeln, derselbe Mann lässt nun gleich seinen Revolver sprechen, ohne mit der Wimper zu zucken. Das macht keinen Sinn.

Das Problem ist, dass ich als Spieler nichts anderes tun kann - Action ist immer Kampf, andere, gewaltlosere Optionen gibt es nicht. Das Vokabular, mit dem ich meine eigene Geschichte erzählen sollte, ist streng begrenzt. Als würde ich eine Sprache sprechen, die nur aus Fluchwörtern besteht.

The sandbox pretends that the player is free in his choices when in fact he is not; the sandbox suggests that the player is able to write his own story when in fact he is not.

Compare that to the most scripted game to date: Final Fantasy XIII. According to Michael Abbott (again), while you are carried on rails in this game, the story manages to be deep and compelling.

Maybe sandbox games must restrict themselves in terms of storytelling, in order to allow the players to create their stories on their own.

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