Things that I Like that Aren't in Games (But Should Be), Episode 1: On Exploration - debtcollector Blog -
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Things that I Like that Aren't in Games (But Should Be), Episode 1: On Exploration

     This is the first in what I hope will become a series of blogs in which I whine wax rhetoric about things in life I enjoy that I feel are lacking in the games I play. 

     I play games because I am, to some extent, dissatisfied with the world around me--a feeling I imagine many others can relate to. The world in which we live (here referring to the planet Earth we breathe and eat in--some people may "live" in Azeroth or Tamriel, but they are lying) does not feature dragons, oceans of churning sand, or sapient bears and because I can easily access worlds that do, there is little conflict in my mind as to which world is better. The first game I ever became wholly absorbed in was The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and then all I did for years was faff about on Termina Field for hours and then reset time and do it all again. It was the first time I encountered a game world that felt truly real to me, and I wouldn't rest until I experienced every inch of it. Then I learned about the game that came before it, and without a moment of regret I fondly bade society and productivity a cheerful adieu and here I am now. Yet that joy of exploration is something I haven't really found much of in recent years, and so I propose my humble solution:

     I propose a game with no story, no leveling up, no numbers to watch--just a vast, beautiful world that begs to be explored.

     You see, when I first played Shadow of the Colossus (quite possibly the greatest game I have ever played), I came to a realization: all the killing giant monsters was fantastic, like gaming zen to me, but equally engrossing was just looking at the beautiful world and bizarre architecture on the way between colossi. I told myself that I would explore every cranny of that world just to take it all in if I wasn't operating under time constraints (I had borrowed the game and a PS2 from a friend who had in turn borrowed the PS2 from somebody else and the upshot was I had to beat the game in like two days). Later, when I owned my own copy and console, I made good on that promise, and it was every bit as mesmerizing as I had hoped. Yet there was no practical motivation for it--nothing to kill, nothing to obtain--just letting the scene wash over me was enough.

     This idea, which has been gestating in my skull like the eggs of a cranial parasite, follows that same structure. You start in a central location--for the sake of wholeheartedly ripping off Shadow, we'll start you in a giant shrine. Perhaps this shrine is in some sort of city, wherein reside a few dozen NPCs. These NPCs give you a sword or a stick or whatever weapon you want and a little bit of context about the world: "'Outside?'" they will ask, "What do you mean, 'outside' the city?" With that bit out of the way, you leave the city and enter the wilderness, walk a bit in whichever direction you choose, whereupon you are set upon by wolves and devoured.

     You respawn in the shrine and head out a second time, lacking any other real option. Combat in this game is somewhat Dark Souls-y, with very little margin for error. After several cycles of being torn to shreds, respawning, rinse and repeat, you best or escape the wolves and proceed through the wilderness. This wilderness, I may add, stretches for pixelly miles in every direction and is absolutely beautiful. I suppose if you took Agni's Philosophy and mixed it with Skyrim (supposing, of course, that you modded Skyrim so as to make the environments actually interesting as opposed to the bleak, same-y terrain some people enjoy spending all their time in) and tossed in the architectural scale of Shadow of the Colossus, you would arrive at something very similar to the game I'm describing.

     And that's the game. Wandering across this endlessly intriguing world, dotted with ruins and monsters. Away from the central city, NPCs are sparse at best, and will more often than not try to kill you. Meanwhile, you find temples, caves, and the like that you can delve into and loot. You may even find some sort of Golden Sword of the Ancient Ones hidden in one of these temples, but apart from looking cooler than the Blacksmith's Reject you currently wield, there is no stat bonus from these items. Eventually, lacking a goal, you choose the only one that makes sense: walk to the edge of the world. And eventually you do. The ground drops away before you, or perhaps a tremendous waterfall roars into the abyss. And at each cardinal direction is a massive tower that helps hold this world aloft. Obviously, you explore these towers, fight a boss or whatever, and you gain the only power ups in the game. I'm imagining these to take the form of some sort of elemental telekinesis--think Avatar: The Last Airbender realized using the Force grabbing/throwing mechanics of The Force Unleashed. At which point of course, the opportunities become endless (and, incidentally, absolutely impossible with today's technology). Target a plant, extract the water from it, freeze the water and fire little ice bullets at enemies. Levitate a boulder, crush it into gravel, and toss a cyclone into it. Extract fire from the sun, or the planet's core. Hell, implement a Journey-like matchmaking system where a random other player will enter your world for a crazy element fight. Or join forces with him or her, and experience the rest of the world together.

     A game of this scale is a bit unfeasible, unfortunately--a difficult-to-market concept with a massive budget requirement isn't a good proposal to throw in front of the board, particularly when sales of ShootBang 6 are down and they have to lay off their third secretaries. But what should be taken from this is that a huge explorey world is one of my favorite things to experience, and until they bioengineer dragons and loose them into the Rockies, I'm gonna have to keep playing games for those.