|Open-world video games|
The term "free roam" is also used, as is "sandbox" and "free-roaming". "Open world" and "free-roaming" suggest nonlinear gameplay with the absence of artificial barriers, in contrast to the invisible walls and loading screens that are common in linear level designs. The term "sandbox" is often used incorrectly. Open world doesn't necessarily mean sandbox. A true "sandbox" is where the player has tools to modify the world themselves and create how they play.
The roots of open-world gaming can be traced back as early as Go (c. 300 BCE). The first open-world game was SEGA's Jet Rocket (1970), followed by Taito's Western Gun (1975) and Interceptor (1975). The first 3D open-world game was SEGA's combat flight simulator Heli-Shooter (1977). The first top-down scrolling open-world game was Namco's Rally-X (1980). The first true fully-scaled on-foot open-world games were Courageous Perseus and Hydlide (1984), which influenced The Legend of Zelda (1986), the first open-world console game and the most influential open-world game, with most modern open-world games tracing their roots to Zelda. The first polygonal 3D open-world games were Arsys Software's Wibarm (1986) and Star Cruiser (1988). The most influential 3D open-world video game was Grand Theft Auto III (2001).
- 1 Definition
- 2 History
- 3 Evolution of open-world gaming
- 4 See also
- 5 References
The term "open world" doesn't have a clear definition. But the most common usage of "open world" refers to a game that features free-roaming outdoor exploration across a large game world that is fully-scaled and continuous. The term "open world" is rarely used in reference to games where exploration is limited to indoor dungeons, or games with outdoor overworld maps that are not to scale.
The definition of an open world generally, but not always includes most of the following criteria:
- A free-roaming environment with limited restrictions on where the player can go, in contrast to more linear games with heavier restrictions on where the player can go.
- An outdoor landscape, which accounts for the majority of the game's environment, in contrast to games where most of the environment is indoors, such as a building, dungeon or cave.
- A large world, with an environment that at least has the size of a large city or island, in contrast to environments limited to a smaller locale such as a building, dungeon or small town.
- A fully-scaled world, which is graphically represented with a fairly realistic scale relative to the player character or vehicle, and with a constant, uniform, continuous scale. This is in contrast to an overworld that is represented with a highly unrealistic scale, and often with differing scales for different environments.
- On-foot traversal, where a world can be mostly traversed on foot, in contrast to worlds that are mostly traversed in vehicles.
- A real-time world, where the world is in motion regardless of what the player does, such as a world rendered in real-time, enemies moving around independently of the player, or a persistent world with day-night cycles.
- 3D graphics, with the world rendered as a real-time 3D environment (particularly a polygonal 3D environment) that the player can explore in a first/third-person perspective.
Go (c. 300 BCE) to Dungeons & Dragons (1974 CE)
In an abstract form, the first open-world board game was the ancient Chinese-Japanese strategy game Go (c. 300 BCE), where the board represented a large overworld. While the ancient Indian-Persian game Chess (c. 400 CE) was more tactical and smaller-scale, Go was more strategic and larger-scale, with the board representing a large overworld map that pieces explored while capturing territories.
In 19th-century Prussia, Chess and Go evolved into wargaming, which had more realistic overworld maps. Chainmail (1971) gave wargaming a fantasy setting, which provided the basis for role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons (1974) and Empire of the Petal Throne (1975), retaining the overworld maps of their wargaming predecessors. In turn, the overworld maps carried over to role-playing video games in the early 1980s, though these early overworld maps were not to scale, so would not fit the modern definition of an open world as understood today, but can be considered precursors to open-world gaming.
Jet Rocket (1970) to Hydlide (1984)
The first open-world game was Jet Rocket, a video projection arcade game released by SEGA in August 1970. It introduced free-roaming flight movement over an open-world 3D landscape, for the first time in an electronic game, with players flying around in a first-person perspective and shooting at various landmarks across the game world. This makes it the first open-world electronic game. Jet Rocket inspired several clones, including Bally's Target Zero and Williams' Flotilla, both released in December 1970.
The most first 3D open-world game was Sega's video projection arcade game Heli-Shooter (1977), a combat flight simulator that allowed the player to fly a helicopter in any direction across a free-roaming, open-world landscape.
The first open-world video game was Taito's Western Gun (1975), localized for North America as Gun Fight (1975). Western Gun had two cowboy gunslingers who could freely roam across an environment littered with cacti and mountains while attempting to shoot each other. The North American Gun Fight limited each player's movement to their own side of the screen, whereas the original Japanese Western Gun allowed players to freely roam across anywhere on the screen. Gun Fight also reduced the scale of the environment, with mountains no longer being present.
The first video game with an overworld was the University of Tokyo's Heiankyo Alien (1979). It was a maze chase game predating Pac-Man (1980), but with a major difference being that the maze represents an entire city, the ancient Japanese city of Heian-kyō, or what is today Kyoto. SEGA's stealth game 005 (1981) took this further, with the player walking around an overworld city and entering buildings.
Rally-X, released by Namco in 1980, was the first scrolling open-world video game, and the first open-world driving game, a distant ancestor to Grand Theft Auto. Rally-X featured a vehicle driving around a multi-scrolling game world, becoming the basis for Miami Vice (1986), which in turn became the basis for Grand Theft Auto (1997).
While the roots of open-world strategy gaming can be traced back to the board game Go (c. 300 BCE), the first open-world strategy video game was Nobunaga's Ambition, released in 1983, featuring a large overworld map. The same year, Portopia Serial Murder Case was the first open-world adventure game.
A precursor to open-world gaming was the open dungeon exploration of early role-playing games. This dates back to tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons and Empire of the Petal Throne, which adapted the outdoor exploration of earlier wargames such as Chainmail, which in turn is rooted in the outdoor overworld exploration of Go. Dungeon exploration can be seen in early computer role-playing games such as Temple of Apshai (1979) as well as RPG-influenced adventure games such as Adventure (1980), and in treasure-hunting arcade games such as Tutankham (1982) and The Tower of Druaga (1984). However, these do not constitute open worlds in the modern sense, which refers to large outdoor environments, which early computer role-playing games or adventure games did not have until Ultima (1981), which in turn got its overworld concept from tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons and Empire of the Petal Throne. But in Ultima's case, the overworld was not to scale, as was the case in tabletop role-playing games, with the player character being a giant on the world map, which doesn't fit the modern definition of an open world either.
Early examples of free-roaming, non-linear, open worlds in video games, with generally gradually increasing open-endedness, include Bosconian (1981), Time Pilot (1982), Panorama Toh (1983), Mugen no Shinzou (1984), Dragon Slayer (1984), Ginga Hyoryu Vifam (1984), Hydlide (1984), Tritorn (1984), and Elite (1984).
Open-world arcade flight simulators such as SEGA's Jet Rocket (1970) and its clones Flotilla and Target Zero, along with SEGA's more advanced 3D flight simulator Heli-Shooter (1977), influenced the development of free-roaming flight simulator video games such as Flight Simulator (1980), which in turn influenced open-world space simulators such as Elite (1984), and which in turn influenced Grand Theft Auto (1997).
Hydlide (1984) to Drakkhen (1989)
Released in Japan at around the same time in 1984, the action role-playing video games Hydlide and Courageous Perseus were the first true open-world video games in the modern sense of the word. They were the first games to feature on-foot, outdoor exploration in a fully-scaled, continuous open world. They marked a significant departure from earlier attempts at exploration, which was either limited to open dungeon exploration but with no outdoor exploration (such as earlier role-playing games and adventure games), or outdoor exploration represented by an overworld that is not to scale. Modern open-world game design largely traces back its origins to Hydlide and Courageous Perseus, especially through their influence on The Legend of Zelda.
Hydlide and Courageous Perseus, the first fully-scaled on-foot open-world games, influenced The Legend of Zelda (1986), which adapted a similar open-world design on a larger scale. The Legend of Zelda was the most influential open-world game, with most open-world games today tracing their roots to The Legend of Zelda. With non-linear gameplay, it set the foundations for later action/adventure video games games like Metroid and role-playing video games like Final Fantasy, while influencing most modern games in general. For example, The Legend of Zelda also went on to inspire the constant-scale continuous open world designs that later appeared in Times of Lore (1988), the Ultima series from Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990) onwards (which in turn inspired The Elder Scrolls series), the Grand Theft Auto series (which its creators called "The Legend of Zelda meets Goodfellas"), and The Witcher series (its creators cited The Legend of Zelda as inspiration behind its world design).
There were several early games that offered players the ability to explore an open world while driving a variety of ground vehicles. TX-1 (1983), The Battle-Road (1984) and Out Run (1986) were non-linear driving games that allowed the player to drive through multiple different paths that lead to different possible routes and final destinations. Turbo Esprit provided a 3D free-roaming city environment in 1986 and has been cited as a major influence on Grand Theft Auto. River City Ransom (1989) was an early sandbox brawler reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto. Another early open-world game reminiscent of GTA was Takeshi no Chōsenjō (Takeshi's Challenge), a 1986 Family Computer video game only released in Japan; it was an unusual game for its time, featuring free-roaming gameplay while, much like GTA, allowing players to randomly attack any people (and having to escape police if the player murders a person) or even punch random objects (including menus). Another precursor was Speed Rumbler (1986), which featured a combination of run & gun shooter with driving mechanics, resulting in a new action game hybrid that would inspire games like Grand Theft Auto decades later.
The Metroidvania school of game design introduced side-scrolling open worlds. Early examples of open-world Metroidvania game design included Brain Breaker (1984/1985), Xanadu (1985), Metroid (1986) and Vampire Killer (1986). The Metroidvania school had a significant influence on open-world gaming.
Other early examples of open-world games released during 1985-1986 include Star Luster (1985), Baraduke (1985), Brain Breaker (1985), Riglas: Tamashii no Kaiki (リグラス) (1985), Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1985), Metroid (1986), Dragon Quest (1986), and The Legend of Zelda (1986).
Later in 1989 Infogrames would release Drakkhen, an Action RPG with real time tactic elements as well as a day an night cycle. The game did not employ a fully 3D game engine, instead implementing a hybrid approach using vectors and bitmapped character-scaling algorithms. This possibly makes Drakkhen the first 3D open-world RPG with real time tactics.
Metal Max (1991) to Shenmue (1999)
Since 1991, the Metal Max series of post-apocalyptic role-playing games featured truly open-ended, non-linear gameplay. They lack a predetermined story path, but the player is instead given the choice of what missions to follow in whichever order while being able to visit any place in the game world at any time. The ending can be determined by the player, who can alter the ending through their actions, can complete the game at almost any time, and continue playing the game even after the ending. Some of the games give the player the freedom to complete the game almost immediately after starting it, particularly Metal Saga, which could be completed with a full ending scenario just minutes into the game, making it the shortest possible RPG. Since Romancing SaGa in 1992, the SaGa series has also been known for its truly open-ended, non-linear gameplay, offering many choices and allowing players to complete quests in any order, with the decision of whether or not to participate in any particular quest affecting the outcome of the storyline. The game also allowed players to choose from eight different characters, each with their own stories that start in different places and offer different outcomes. Romancing SaGa thus succeeded in providing a very different experience during each run through the game, something that even later sandbox RPGs such as Fable had promised but were unable to live up to.
Metal Max (1991) was an open-world RPG, where the player can pursue missions in any order, visit any place in the game world, determine the ending through their actions, complete the game at almost any time, and continue playing the game after the ending. Romancing SaGa (1992) was an open-ended RPG by Square that offered many choices and allowed players to complete quests in any order, with the decision of whether or not to participate in any particular quest affecting the outcome of the storyline.
Secret of Mana (1993) was a major leap forward for open-world gaming. Its open world was the largest at the time (millions of square miles), significantly larger than The Legend of Zelda games at the time, for example. Secret of Mana could've had an even larger open world if it released for the SNES CD add-on as originally planned, but had to be cut down to fit onto a SNES cartridge.
Grand Theft Auto III (2001) to Breath of the Wild (2017)
Some critics treat the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001 as a revolutionary event in the history of video games. The game's creator Sam Houser, however, described Grand Theft Auto III as "Zelda meets Goodfellas". Other critics also likened Grand Theft Auto III to The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, as well as Shenmue, and noted how GTA III had elements from earlier games. For example, open-ended missions based on operating a taxi cab in a sandbox environment were the basis for SEGA's Crazy Taxi (1999).
The next major leap forward for open-world gaming is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017). It introduced an innovative sandbox approach to open-world design, where the player has full freedom to interact with the open-world environment, with intuition, an advanced physics engine, and a new chemistry engine.
Evolution of open-world gaming
The following tables and diagrams show the evolution of open-world gaming.
Timeline of early milestones
|c. 300 BCE||China||Go||Open-world board game,
board game with overworld
|c. 400 CE||Indian subcontinent||Chess||Free-roaming tactical wargame,
|1970||SEGA||Jet Rocket ||Open-world electronic game,
3D open world,
first-person open world
|Dungeons & Dragons,
Empire of the Petal Throne
|Role-playing game with overworld||Tabletop RPG|
|Western Gun||Open-world video game,
free-roaming arcade video game
|Interceptor||Scrolling open-world video game||Flight sim|
|1976||Don Daglow||Dungeon||Free-roaming computer game||CRPG|
|1977||SEGA||Heli-Shooter||3D open world,
3D first-person open world
|William Crowther||Colossal Cave Adventure||Free-roaming computer game||Text adventure|
|1979||University of Tokyo||Heiankyo Alien||Open-world computer game,
video game with overworld
|1980||Namco||Rally-X||Scrolling open-world video game,
open-world driving game
|1980||Atari||Adventure||Multi-screen indoor castle exploration||Action/Adventure|
|1980||SubLOGIC||Flight Simulator||Free-roaming flight simulator video game||Flight sim|
|1981||SEGA||005||Open-world action game,
action game with overworld
|1981||Namco||Bosconian||Open-world shooter||Shoot 'em up|
|1981||Origin Systems||Ultima||CRPG with overworld||CRPG|
|1982||Yoshiki Okamoto||Time Pilot||Endless open world||Shoot 'em up|
|1982||Konami||Tutankham||Scrolling dungeon exploration,
action game with dungeon exploration
|1983||Yoshio Kiya ||Panorama Toh ||Open-world action RPG,
Action RPG with overworld
|1983||Yuji Horii ||Portopia Serial Murder Case ||Open-world adventure game,
Open-world immersive simulation
|1984||Namco||The Tower of Druaga||Action RPG with dungeon exploration||Action RPG|
Tokihiro Naito 
|Fully-scaled on-foot open-world||Action RPG|
|1984||Hiroshi Ishikawa ||Brain Breaker ||Side-scrolling open-world||Metroidvania|
|Ginga Hyōryū Vifam,
|Open-world space simulator||Space simulation|
|1985||Novagen Software||Mercenary||Open-world with wireframe graphics||Action/Adventure|
|1986||Nintendo||The Legend of Zelda||Fully-scaled open-world Action/Adventure||Action/Adventure|
|1986||Arsys Software||Wibarm||3D open-world,
|Open-world crime game||Action/Adventure|
|1988||Arsys Software||Star Cruiser||Fully 3D open-world,
open-world role-playing shooter
|1989||Infogrames||Drakkhen||Vector Based 3D Fully-Scaled open-world,
open-world role-playing game
|1997||DMA Design||Grand Theft Auto||Open-world crime game||Action/Adventure|
|1999||SEGA AM2||Shenmue||3D open-world adventure game||Action/Adventure|
Roots of open-world gaming
The following diagram traces the roots and influences of various games involved in the history of open-world gaming.
Comparison of early titles
The following table shows a list of early games that meet several or more of the criteria listed in the Definition section above.
|Games that meet 3 or less of the criteria are not open-world games|
|Games that meet between 4 and 6 of the criteria are partially open-world games.|
|Games that meet 7 or 8 of the criteria are fully open-world games.|
|c. 300 BCE||Go||4||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|c. 400 CE||Chess||3||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|1974||Dungeons & Dragons||4||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Empire of the Petal Throne||4||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Colossal Cave Adventure||3||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Temple of Apshai||4||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Portopia Serial Murder Case||6||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|1984||The Tower of Druaga||5||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Ginga Hyōryū Vifam||5||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No|
|The Lords of Midnight||4||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|The Seven Cities of Gold||4||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Romance of the Three Kingdoms||5||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Riglas: Tamashii no Kaiki ||7||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Alternate Reality: The City||6||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Back to Skool||4||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|1986||The Legend of Zelda||7||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|1987||Castlevania II: Simon's Quest||7||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Sid Meier's Pirates!||5||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No|
|1993||Cosmology of Kyoto||6||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|1996||Super Mario 64||8||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|1997||Grand Theft Auto||7||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|1998||The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time||8||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
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