Poll

Do you want free roaming in space sims?

Yes
17 (58.6%)
No
12 (41.4%)

Total Members Voted: 29

Author Topic: Free Roam Gameplay  (Read 4738 times)

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Offline feltoar

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Free roaming gameplay is the latest fad in gaming. Most gamers want it and most developers want to provide it. GTA 3 made it popular and multiple sucessive hits using it have validated it. Its here to stay and unfortunately looks like every developer is chasing after it the same way they chase after maxiumum player counts.

Reading around HLP I found a number of members who thought the next big evolution in space sims was more free roaming gamplay (plus people who disagree). Thought it was a good topic for discussion.

Personally I think there is a place for it, but so far its all we have seen since it was introduced. Mission based games allow for better developer control and scenario integrity. In other words it allows for more consistantly intense gameplay. There is a reason all the TCs for FS are so bloody awesome compared to retail prodicts. No pointless cruising to get from point A to B. Free roaming has its place for sure, ship customisation and random discoveries are pretty damn cool!

It would be nice to see a return to a more stage/mission structure though. Let us select weapons and ships without having to live by that decision many missions later. Theres a reason why Xwing and FreeSpace were so damn awesome and it wasnt just the balance and scenarios.

Ill finish up with an idea of mine (humour me :D) Imagine something like Freelancer where you can go around, accepting missions and customising ships. You can go and explore and find some neat effects and watch others (NPCs) randomly do stuff. Then, outside of that context a story and missions which are very much like Xwing Alliance and FreeSpace. Have the main character help the military on story driven missions which force you to pilot stock craft, greeting the player with a load out screen like FS. No need to fly to where the mission takes place either, you start there just like FS. No more of that 'have to fly everywhere'. The player can instantly warp to visited locations (like Oblivion) and can be instantly teleported to the next story mission briefing after completing the previous mission without ANY need to level up what so ever (god I hate that). Structured so that if the player never wanted to fly aimlessly they literally dont have to. Everything can be accessed through the main menu (next story mission, mission simulator, etc) without the need to first fly to a station. No alignment crap, no factions, no trade routes, no economics, no silly 'consequential' decisions. Just the barebones fun with the added light hearted exploration, customisation and setting/story development of free roaming.

What are your own personal opinions on free roam gameplay and its place in space sims?
« Last Edit: February 27, 2008, 10:50:23 pm by feltoar »

 

Offline jdjtcagle

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I personally believe that it's not here yet, I liked tachyon which was a "borderline" free-roam type game, I was excited when Mass Effect came out, maybe  it'll spark more interest in space genre.
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Offline Ransom

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I really have no interest in free-roaming space sims. To me they're synonymous with awful storytelling. I'm sure the two aren't mutually exclusive, but at the very least good stories and open-ended gameplay are two philosophies that don't blend easily. To be honest I'd rather space sims went back to linearity - most of the recent ones have been free-roaming in some shape or form and, unsurprisingly, have featured worthless narratives.

 

Offline Flipside

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Well, I was going to say it in the Spaceforce thread, but I'll put it in here instead.

Do not confuse 'open-ended' or 'free-roam' with 'doesn't know when to end'. To suggest that games like Freelancer is 'open-ended' simply because it doesn't end when the story is complete is an inaccurate way of describing them.

For a game to be truly 'free roam' you would need systems far more advanced than we have available today, you could fake some of it, but until  someone comes up with an algorithm that can generate good story lines, something I never personally see happening, or someone takes the time to create a lot of complex player missions that interact with each other and  a way of testing conditions within the game and applying the most appropriate storylines, we will not see anything more than games that continue after the storyline, they don't grow or change, they simply continue to play.

 

Offline NGTM-1R

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Free roaming is difficult to work through for a storyline. All the way back with Privateer they couldn't make it work, and while there's been improvement since, we're still not getting there. The closest we've gotten so far, IMO, was Freelancer, but it had its obvious problems. And in a way, Freelancer's success was because it blended mission-based play and roaming play more seamlessly than most; it was mostly roaming, but included significant mission elements. And when the mission-based aspect went away, it started to fall apart. I think it would have done much better to have reversed those proportions, and therein, IMO, probably lies the key to the problem.
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Offline Flipside

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If you go by post-storyline possibilities alone then X3 is probably the closest to a 'true' open-ended game, it's a pity the gameplay and below-average AI can ruin things, though, the AI is somewhat understandable, it's part of the burden of 'real' free-roam rather than the 'pretend' free-roam of other space games.

 

Offline NGTM-1R

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Oh crap. WRITER MODE ENGAGED.

In a greater sense however, the serious problem here is that everyone has jumped on the free-roam open-ended bandwagon like a bunch of rabid dogs attacking a three-year-old. Why? Because it lets them do things! "Hey we could do this and this and this and this and..."

But the problem is that options do not make for storytelling. It's not that they break storytelling either, mind you. Hey, the Choose Your Own Adventure books were pretty good, y'know, but the writers were better or had their heads screwed on straighter. Actually, I think that perversely a three dimensional environment is somehow screwing people up. Don't ask me why, don't ask me how, but Mass Effect called and said you could go around solving the problems of the galaxy one headshot at a time in whatever order you wanted, and you know what? It kicked ass and forgot the names.

Escape Velocity: Nova called too, and said that it was kicking ass with its 2D top-down-ish universe, so we must conclude that 3D is indeed the problem. Why? How? Damned if I know. There's really no logical reason for it.


Sarcasm aside, here's how it goes.

In their rush to alternative storytelling methods a lot of them have forgotten the basic methods of how to tell a story. You see, mission-based gameplay limits the type of stories you can tell. Most of those games like Wing Commander, our own dear FS, and hell even things like Falcon are military or perhaps mercenary because that makes the greatest sense for the medium.

So what's wrong with roaming? Well, that's pretty simple actually. We're still trying to tell the same stories with the same elements using a medium that's different. And for the most part, we're not adapting stuff at all when we do so. Of course it's going to come out crappy. We're writing for the last generation for the most part, because...

...the last generation makes sense and this one doesn't. Roaming is an illusion, an artificial construction. Things don't ever really play out that way. Sorry folks! You're all living a damned lie that's basically a result of crappy worldbuilding! Welcome to vacuum-packed dungeons and other D&D cliches necessary to keep the adventurer economy going!

Mass Effect, EV: Nova, the good parts of Freelancer, KotOR, they were all good because they were mainly mission-based with a light dusting of roaming on top and because that makes more sense in a social, pyschological, economic, and a crapload of other senses. True open-ended roaming games are not just beyond the capablities of our computer science. We don't know how to create a world like that because we couldn't do it in reality in a much more deeply fundemental sense then the one we use for sci-fi technology.
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Offline feltoar

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Seems most of you are more interested in the narrative (and some real far-fetched expectations on free roam gameplay, lol, its just a descriptive word no need to take it so literally).

Honestly I think it would be very easy to mix a good story with freedom just as games in other genres have. The problem is good naratives need good writers and high production, elements not reserved for space combat anymore.

There are other elements I dislike about free roam ing gameplay. Primarily flying to and from places and other similar attempts to expand realism and immersion with boring and monotonous tasks. Ship customisation has so far (well in the games Ive played) been married to the free roaming mission related stuff. Almost like MMOs in a very grind-like nature (but with less time involved). I hated it when in Freelancer I needed to do something to get stronger before continuing. And I dislike having to make long-ish term decisions when finally spending my money.

Convenience is lost, which is my gripe with it. Free roaming gameplay has had easy entry into just about every genre and franchise so far. People just accept it. Although one example of it not being received well would be Burnout: Paradise. Loads of people do not like the latest changes to that series and I feel very much the same way about most of the genres out there currently adopting similar directions.

 

Offline Flipside

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I suppose it's not so much 'storyline' that is the problem rather than original content. Take Oblivion, there is a non space-based 'psuedo' free roaming game.  They actually did a very good job of blending the storyline into the world around it, but once all the storylines are complete, what do you do? Yes you can end up with really shiny armour, a mega-sword of doom and the ability to kill every creature in the game, but what's the point if there is no reason to owning the stuff?

A game is defined by its gameplay, with small games like Breakout etc, it doesn't matter that there is no 'story' because the players' role in the game is obvious, but once you start playing with much larger environments, players need to be more aware of their position within that environment to motivate them to travel larger distances, get better equipment etc.

Most free roam games fix this with missions, hundreds and hundreds of repetitive missions, (go there, shoot that), it's not the long distance travel that annoys people most in games like this, though, as you say, it can be monotonous and boring, it's the fact that once the main storyline is complete, there's extremely little to actually do other than keep repeating those missions. There's a hell of a lot of travelling in the Storylines of most games, but when there's that 'what happens next?' question in the players head they don't notice it as much.

 

Offline TrashMan

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Honestly I think it would be very easy to mix a good story with freedom just as games in other genres have. The problem is good naratives need good writers and high production, elements not reserved for space combat anymore.

In this you are WAAAAAY wrong.
Free-roaming requires far, FAR more content. Content = time = money.

Make 1 free-roaming game for 10 Million $ or 5 "normal" games for 2 Million each? I cna tell you what every game developing studio will decide.
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The problem Freelancer had was it gave you a universe with all sorts of optional areas, factional alignments, alternate routes, etc....but what that translated to is that maybe certain groups wouldn't be taking pot shots at you and you could buy a different ship from them, or land on some base.  But once you're IN that base, you get the exact same randomly generated mission types you'd get from any other installation anywhere else.

Essentially, it needed a point to caring about where you stood with the various factions, like a miniature story arc you could start if you were in good standing with the Junkers or whatnot.  Even if every installation only had a few non-random missions it would have been a much better game, as you'd actually care who you made nice with or ticked off if you wanted to see them all. 

There would be a point to going everywhere.  Instead the optional regions were entirely devoid of narrative and we just stop caring.
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Offline Jeff Vader

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The problem Freelancer had was it gave you a universe with all sorts of optional areas, factional alignments, alternate routes, etc....but what that translated to is that maybe certain groups wouldn't be taking pot shots at you and you could buy a different ship from them, or land on some base.  But once you're IN that base, you get the exact same randomly generated mission types you'd get from any other installation anywhere else.

Essentially, it needed a point to caring about where you stood with the various factions, like a miniature story arc you could start if you were in good standing with the Junkers or whatnot.  Even if every installation only had a few non-random missions it would have been a much better game, as you'd actually care who you made nice with or ticked off if you wanted to see them all. 

There would be a point to going everywhere.  Instead the optional regions were entirely devoid of narrative and we just stop caring.
Yeah. I, too, hoped that there'd be different random missions with different factions. As well as some little plots or such. Also it would have been cool, if factions could have placed bounties on your head, like if you attacked convoys or military targets too often.

And why were the bases indestructible? It would have been interesting to be able to seriouslyaffect the game universe. Either take out criminal factions or try to bring governments down. There would have actually been some use for the Sunslayers that way.
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Quote

And why were the bases indestructible? It would have been interesting to be able to seriouslyaffect the game universe. Either take out criminal factions or try to bring governments down. There would have actually been some use for the Sunslayers that way.

Anyone here play Space Rangers?

Seriously. That is what a good free-roaming space sim looks like, and noone's even mentioned it.

Noone mentioned Battlecruiser either, but anyway.

A good free-roaming game keeps things simple. This is how the GTA games succeeded. Your armor and firepower are represented very simply. Hell, you can't even trade or sell back your weapons. Admittedly, most of the "free roaming" element was just going around looking at scenery, finding secret items, or completing minor side missions, but it worked well.

Tachyon: The Fringe is something like what Vice City in space would look like. A very simple free roaming element supports what's basically a mission-based game.

 

Offline Flipside

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Well, that's down to personal taste, I didn't find GTA to be anything particuarly 'good' as free-roaming goes, once you get beyond the hype it is an extremely mediocre game as far as I'm concerned.

The reason that 'markets' don't usually work in these games is that they are either seemingly 'random' or are fixed in place for all time. That's what X3 tried to fix, but unfortunately at the risk of stagnating gameplay and making enormous CPU demands for the AI.

Personally, I wouldn't be the least bit interested in a 'GTA in Space'. 3000AD is probably closer to what I would enjoy, if it were not for the fact that the implementation is terrible and the HUD very non-intuitive, it's an excellent example of 'When Feature Creep Attacks'. Whilst there's nothing wrong with a great deal of variety in a game, part of programming is about providing a clean, intuitive interface for the user, it may not be as 'important' as a knowledge of 3D maths from a programming point of view, but your average gamer is not going to look at it from that perspective.


 

Offline Bob-san

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I think free-roaming is awesome, but not for a military space shooter. Basically you don't have your pilots jump into a fighter and go wherever they want--you assign them to a ship and a mission and they have to do it. Now I know that's not your point, but it seems like it can be. For some games, a mix of open-ended and mission-based would be good and a nice relief from the constant flurry of fights. Not every mission should be hard. For Freespace 2, my idea of this would be to fill out the normal storyline missions where something happens every time with more "generic", if you will, tasks. Not every convoy needs to have 30 fighters and bombers try to destroy, not every supply depot needs to be blasted to oblivion. Duty in the military isn't 30 missions of intense firefights, it seems to be more a daily task and a pat on the back. I know Alpha 1 is the protagonist in Freespace 2, but one thing that made FS2 unique was the fact that Alpha 1 always without a formal name and was just another pilot, really. I'd like to see more of that "just another pilot" stuff, instead of having to fight for my life every level on Insane. Even if it's a third or a half of the missions being "guard this depot", "watch over this cruiser", or "fly this patrol" without an intense firefight would be nice. The NTF doesn't have unlimited resources, nor does the GTVA. For a matter of fact, nor do the Shivans. It's quite surprising and gets repetitive that a cruiser+ gets blown up at least once every other mission. Anyways--I'd like to see a few campaigns that Alpha 1 is back to being a normal pilot doing normal duties.
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Offline Unknown Target

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While free-roaming is nice, it generally comes at the expense of having fun combat. A game like Freespace, which is centric on fighting and plot, would not work with a free-roaming structure. A branching campaign, sure, but not free-roaming.

 

Offline Bob-san

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While free-roaming is nice, it generally comes at the expense of having fun combat. A game like Freespace, which is centric on fighting and plot, would not work with a free-roaming structure. A branching campaign, sure, but not free-roaming.
I just edited my post... basically I'd like to see Alpha 1 being a normal pilot and having some "boring" missions that are filled out with wingman's jabber.
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Offline feltoar

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Quote
In this you are WAAAAAY wrong.
Free-roaming requires far, FAR more content. Content = time = money.
Thats what I meant man. "The problem is good naratives need good writers and high production, elements not reserved for space combat anymore."

Anyway, I just read what everyone else had to say and pretty much agree. Got nothing much to add lol because most of it was said.

 

Offline karajorma

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Whenever I start thinking about free-roam games I'm reminded why I used to play pen and paper role play. The reason was that it was a game where I could do anything I could think of.

Free roam on a PC is never going to be able to do that. You can never have a computer think of all the possible things a player might think of trying. In a pen and paper RPG the player could decide to hijack a fighter from one faction, attack a second one and then clean up selling weapons to both sides once they start a war while simultaneously helping a third faction prepare to clean up the winner. Good luck trying to get a PC to cope with that unless it's a scripted mission.

I think Marcus got correct a lot of what was wrong with Freelancer but he's missed the fact that there is no urgency to the game until the last few missions of the campaign where they finally ditch their crappy pseudo-free roam and went mission based. You'd get Juni telling you that war was breaking out and the whole galaxy was going to pot only for you to blow her off and go diamond trading for a couple of days. I enjoy GTA but it suffers from exactly the same problem.

However that doesn't mean that free roam games can't be better than they currently are. A lot of the problems are fixable.
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Offline Bob-san

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It would be more interesting to be able to volunteer for certain types of missions on top of your normal duties. For example, having a prompt appear on which mission you want to take after a message from the Admiral or something, then you get briefed on your selection.
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