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Critical Hit: Why Don't We Reuse Game Worlds?

Critical Hit: Why Don't We Reuse Game Worlds?

Given the financial state of much of the games industry right now, it has to be said that it really is a shockingly wasteful business. How much technology is created for a single ten-hour game, only to be completely thrown out and rewritten from scratch a few months later? How many worlds go underused, simply because people might get sniffy at revisiting the same awesome place?

Rockstar's open cities especially always struck me as places that should be licensed out. They're beautiful places, built in incredible detail, and it's such a shame that nobody else truly gets to play with them. Imagine the kinds of game you could plan if you knew you could start with a fully functional New York in which to set it! Or the old West! Or a Noir-ish version of LA!

Would it be difficult convincing people to return to these places? Sure, but it's never been a problem for other media. People have never grown bored with stories set in New York, and we've been telling stories just about the fictional Gotham City since 1939. Set and location re-use is absolutely standard practice in both TV and Hollywood, just as nobody bats an eyelid when the same guest star appears in one show as a main character's lost father, and another as a sadistic serial killer. Only in games does even returning to a genuinely awesome location, such as Bioshock's Rapture (and Bioshock 2 was great, incidentally), usually get people yawning and complaining.

Critical Hit: Why Don't We Reuse Game Worlds? Critical Hit: Why Don't We Reuse Game Worlds?
Liberty City - a lot of effort for just a few games

Rapture and similar locations probably wouldn't work for this, simply because the only bits that get built with that kind of location are the corridors required for the game. A full city is something different, however. Rockstar's Episodes From Liberty City demonstrated this by telling brand new stories in those streets, even if it stuck to the core GTA IV templates. Red Dead Redemption's Zombie Nightmare on the other hand is a great example of how much fun it can be to shake things up and take chances. Just imagine how much cool stuff we could see.

A side benefit of all this, especially on the PC, is that once these worlds are made, they just keep getting better and better. Check out mods such as the iCEnhancer, which ups the quality of the textures, boosts the AI and adds a tonne of extra visual effects that should be no problem for modern computers. It's a compelling reason to revisit Liberty City in itself, provided you can ignore the absolutely dreadful state of the original port.

Critical Hit: Why Don't We Reuse Game Worlds? Critical Hit: Why Don't We Reuse Game Worlds?
Will we never see Rapture again?

To see how good the game can look now, admittedly in a very carefully staged and high-resolution form, visit Dead End Thrills. You won't find a better looking city anywhere, yet its only official future is to sit on a shelf, waiting to be blown away by the inevitable GTA V. That's just sad.

Rockstar may be the current king of open worlds, but the same could easily apply to other games' free-form environments, such as Mafia II's Empire Bay, Test Drive Unlimited's Hawaii, Just Cause 2's Panau, or even an MMO world such as the sprawling World of Warcraft. The odds of any of them actually doing so are somewhere between zero and none, of course, and for good financial and legal reasons. The only way it could possibly work is to approve and publish any spin-off games directly, and even then the risk of someone producing something brand-damagingly crap would likely be too high to justify.

Still, at the very least, it makes for an interesting thought experiment. Next time you head into an open world, put your gun back in your holster, get out of your blood-stained sports car, and just wander around for a little. Admire the craftsmanship, and wonder just how many more stories the mean streets might still have to tell, if only people were willing to return.

Critical Hit is a twice monthly column that explores the games industry.

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