The Next Level had the opportunity to sit down with Bethesda Softworks' Emil Pagliarulo for a Q&A about Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and open-world video games as a whole.
TNL: What do you think are some of the limits of open world games? A lot of people have expressed that shorter, more linear games lend themselves better to strong narratives. Do you agree? What do you think are some of weaknesses of the open world format and what are some linear games that you personally respect?
Emil: I can certainly see how some people would think a shorter, more linear game would naturally present a better narrative than a larger, more open-world game. I mean, you're on a straight path, and that's really what a narrative is a straight fictional path. But just because not a lot of large, open-world games have successfully pulled off strong narratives doesn't mean it isn't possible, or even better, in an open-world game.
See, for developers, the trick is being smart enough to recognize the player's need to have a straight narrative, even if your game world is open and sprawling, and even if some of your fiction is open, and dynamic. Let the player get out there and experience your giant world, sure. Let them tell their own stories. But there's really no reason why a developer shouldn't also provide its players with a great story, and the direction they need to get back on track fictionally.
In Fallout 3, you can leave Vault 101 and take off into the Wasteland, but you've always got an objective pointing you back toward the main quest. The main story is always there for you to follow, if you want. And even though a lot of Fallout 3 is about exploring this huge, post-apocalyptic world, it's also about a child coming to terms with the decisions of their father. It's a pretty strong narrative at least I hope it is and, just as importantly, it's easy for the player to get back to at any time.
Now, as far as linear games I personally respect, well, there have been tons of them. I still regard the original Thief: The Dark Project as one of the best linear action games ever made. Half-Life 2 is completely brilliant. But for me, Call of Duty 4 is the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of linear games with strong narratives. The story is told through the gameplay; the player experiences the story from a first-person perspective in ways that no other games have really offered. I think CoD 4 marked something of an evolution in video game storytelling, and most people never even realized it; they just thought they were playing an awesome action game. But it's an awesome action game partly because of the way it presents its narrative through the gameplay, so effortlessly.