To round out my week of talking about open-world games I wanna finally bring up a sort of idea of a kind of game I wish I could see made possible by next generation consoles. A simple description of it would be a dynamic open-world shooter, but bigger and more dynamic than anything yet seen on consoles.
I’ve seen surprisingly few people talk about what kinds of gameplay the PS4 and next Xbox might make possible that are simply beyond the hardware limitations of the PS3 and Xbox 360. All I usually here is “better graphics, better AI (does anyone really know what that entails?), and more physics” without really describing what that makes possible. Whenever the discussion does come up I always think of probably the only recent high-end PC game I’ve played that would probably be impossible to run on current gen consoles — ArmA II.
For those that know ArmA II is a super-realistic combat simulator and strategy game, I’m not even talking about those parts of its design. All I want to bring attention to is the massive scale that game (along with its upcoming sequel) exhibits in regards to environments and AI. For hose not familiar with ArmA, it is a shooter that manages to create completely unscripted battles involving hundreds of NPCs in massive sandbox environments. Think of a combat situation in Halo, but several times larger.
For starters, the whole of ArmA II takes place in a sandbox that I believe is comparable to Grand Theft Auto games in size, inside which all of its missions take place. The main thing that impressed me technically about this game is that no mission in it happens the same way twice. Instead of going through scripts or just waiting for you to shoot them, every AI character in a battle is reacting to every other AI character, and even communicating real data like enemy positions to each other. This can happen up and down the chain of command with hundreds of NPCs on each side.
If you’re with a squad in the middle of combat and you order in an attack helicopter, that helicopter doesn’t just appear, attack, and disappear. There is an actual frigate or base on the other end of the game world where an NPC pilot must hop into that helicopter, take off, and fly to where you are. That helicopter can actually be shot down, the pilot can survive, and he can even get captured, which could then give you the additional mission objective of rescuing him. Just think about that in other games: dynamically-assigned mission objectives.
And that’s just the campaign, which most people who own ArmA games don’t even really play. The multiplayer is basically the same dynamic battlefield deal, but with upwards of 400 players.
Whenever I look at that game I just keep wondering what if there where a Halo game, Battlefield game, or some new mainstream FPS that put players in a zone with hundreds of characters where absolutely nothing is pre-scripted. People keep talking about the PS4’s 8GB of RAM, I imagine creating larger contiguous worlds with more things going on as an actual use for it.