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MoonHunter Sayeth 20180209

MoonHunter

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Dynamic Sandbox

My youngest child is a dedicated computer gamer. Shooters, Sneakers, Driving, Piloting, Military, RTS, and games with both Single Player or Multiplayer mode games. (No Warcraft yet, but... who knows). He is a AAA and AA gamer. But does he roleplay like his parent? Sigh. No. He is one of the Boyscouts I have mentioned earlier. He liked playing, but he was not as "in to it" as the others were. He has the game need of "showing off the cool stuff I can do" with archers or assassins (of the Creed mold, complete with grapple tools and such).

So, I had been thinking about "play experience" recently. My kids and I spend a lot of time ignoring each other in the car driving up and down the hill to town. However, yesterday it was different. I disturbed his video during a period of poor connection and asked.

"So what is it that you like or don't like about tabletop rpgs?"

I was not expecting much, as he never seemed to have a lot of enthusiasm about table top RPGs. And he is a teenager, so talking to an adult, let alone a parent, seemed like a foreign concept. So of course he completely surprised me... he went on and on.

He thought about it for a few moments and said, "I like that you can do anything and are not limited to just a few commands or preprogrammed things from button mashing. I just describe something cool and after you work out the rules, we roll and my character does it, or not.

I like that it is even better than a dynamic sandbox game because it is dynamic sandbox squared. "

Okay, that last phrase needed needed translation for me. We switched student teacher hats and he explained. The first time he heard the phrase, it was from a 3E panel Podcast when they were discussing Prey (2017) and some other games. It has come up on the "edgy" podcasts, videos, and c game boards since then. It seems like it is the new cool thing, but it is really hard to do and really hard to do right in a computer game. "

Then came the definitions... (I am going to add some more to the points he covered)

Sandbox means what in this context?

A sandbox game is also known as an open-world or free-roaming game.

A sandbox is a style of game in which minimal character limits are placed on the player, letting you roam a (virtual) world at will. Different than a progression-style game (railroad/ single path), a sandbox game emphasizes roaming and allows a gamer to select tasks they want to do.

Sandbox games can include structured elements – such as mini-games, tasks, submissions and quests/ story lines – that may be ignored by gamers (like me). You can do what you want or pick and choose the game things. I only do the storylines and quests to unlock things I want to play with.

In the computer game world, sandbox game types vary. Massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) generally include a mixture of sandbox and progression gaming and heavily depend on emergent interactive user gameplay for retaining non-progression-focused gamers. Modern "beat 'em ups" and first-person shooters have delved more deeply into the sandbox realm with titles like the "Grand Theft Auto" series, "Red Dead Redemption," "Assassin’s Creed" and others, allowing gamers to run and gun wherever the mood takes them. Minecraft and Grand theft Auto 3 onwards are good examples of different styles of sandbox game play. Starbound, a very popular game with their game crew, is a 2d sandbox.

In spite of their name, various sandbox games continue to impose restrictions at some stages of the game environment. This can be due the game's design limitations, or can be short-run, in-game limitations, such as some locked areas in games that are unlocked once certain milestones are achieved.


Dynamic Sandboxes deals with The World and what I (a gamer) can do with it. The Gamer is not limited to obviously preplanned and preprogrammed things. The Gamer can use the world in lots of ways and you can make changes in the world that stick.

So when I was playing Prey the first time, I didn't get it. So there are these monsters that come up as a second encounter... you are spamming shooting them with your pistol and doing a crappy job because you are dodging because they make your health bar go down the drain (disappear really fast).

After I heard the podcast, I realized a couple of things about how to play this kind of game. So I learned they were fire sensitive by watching them, so I could go around and find things to set on fire to hit them with... or I could get them to chase me into an area with some fire jets like that movie (Princess Bride, Fire Swamp)... or I could be a lot more careful and avoid these things.... most of the time.

So the whole dynamic thing is there is nothing but a vague end goal (or a couple of vague goals you have to do to unlock the next one until you get to the final one). You can do anything you want. Everything you do "makes a mark on the world" (persistent). So if you collect a resource, more of it won't respawn. If you burn a patch of bushes to get the monster, now you have the big open area to cross and nothing to burn to deal with the new monster. So you can do what you want, however you want to do it, for as long as you want, and an occasionally finish some goals until you finish the game. Then you usually go back and do what you liked to do with it (the game becomes a toy).
--- -O- ---​

He took a drink from his soda while he was putting together his summary thought.
"So in a Dynamic Sandbox video game, I (the gamer) can do a lot of things. However when I (the gamer) try to do certain things that make sense in the game, I find out my character can't because nobody programmed the results. It is getting better with newer and AAA games, but there are still things you want to do that you can't because there isn't a button for it or they haven't programmed it yet.

So Table Top games are what dynamic sandbox games want to be. The GM can "program" any action you want to try with the rules. So you can do or try to do anything. That is what is so cool, you can really do what you want to do to get the job you want to do done."
--- -O- ---​
As we pulled into our extra long drive way, I found out his biggest complaint about table top was the limited access. Unlike his games, where he can find either his friends or strangers at all hours to play with, table top required us to plan and get together. (And some of us are flakes).

He hadn't thought about playing over skype and didn't know about virtual table tops as they are now. So now he is going "hmmmm" and thinking about gaming in that context.
--- -O- ---​

TL,DR
So, that was a long ramble about computer games, many of you are wondering why I went through that.

Like the Programmers who have yet to write all the tools they need, GMs need to have the right tools.

1) Being responsive to your players every semi-random impulse requires the GM to spend more effort (and maybe time/ attention). In my D&D runs, I had to come up with carpentry rules, how burning alcohol/ beer works, and so on... (See point 1). GM's need rules and guidelines to make rulings/ adapt the rules for everything that might come up in an expected chronicle. That way, they can quickly and easily work out how to "resolve" anything the player comes up with to do.

On a personal note, the reason I have a long standing dislike for most computer games that were RPGish (and for me, this started in the 80s), was I found them limited. Attack action, run action, maybe a climb action or jump action, and that was it. Now they are finally getting to be sophisticated enough to do the sort of things I want to do with them.

2) Sandboxes are the new paradigm that many GMs are adapting. They see them work for the Computer Games, and see them as a less prep alternative. While a human GM is able to handle The Dynamic part of the phrase easily, a properly sandboxed setting can actually take more effort to set up than a more story oriented chronicle (a number of plot triggers/ plot lines, and extra scenes attached to them vs only so many scenes to create ). Remember that when GMs don't fill into many options, so the sandbox can get a little flat as no option set up engages the players.

2b) Doing it right and being a pantser, requires a lot more skill and "natural sense of story" rather than having loosely planned plot lines. If you have "The Touch" for it, go with it. If you don't or don't feel confident enough with your story skills, a more structured setting and adventures are there for you.

3) They do not always take the sand box events you want. They may just want to wander the land and slay things (and maybe not be as careful on who they kill). They may just decide to go round up wild horses and drive them to the big town and go into business. Still they may head for the edge of the map. You also need to have plot options for them to take to have something to do - and an entire bag of plot bait (finding out goals and need for characters and players make it easier to fill that bag).

4) Again, the GM is the dynamic part of the programming for the game. What the players do, should have continued impact upon the world. Burn something down, it stays burned until enough time passes and people take action to put something new. How the players treat NPCs in the area, should continue to impact them donw the time. The plots they encounter and how they tackle them should open more and close others.

This is mostly a piece to be thought provoking. There is no right answer or wrong answer. (There are MoonHunter's better answers though...) See how these ideas apply to your GMing and gaming.
 
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