WHERE IN THE WORLD?
We play games in an ever growing world.
The worlds we play games in are growing and are expanding to ever greater horizons. Sometimes, it's because they do incredible new things, shattering our perceptions of what games can be and how they can play. Those are the special games, the one's we'll remember in years, even decades.
Often times though, games will go for a more obvious solution to the innovation problem - they get bigger. Size is only one factor in a great open world. There's also character, liveliness and continuity. A sandbox can cease being a world and turn into a sterile diorama without something to bring it alive.
In a nutshell, what is the future of open worlds? What kind of open worlds to we want to see? And can we make new worlds are that are worth exploring?
So, altogether now, let's get lost.
When you place a block down in Mario Maker, the music sings "block" to the tune of the level music. When you use an Amiibo costume, the death noises change to match the game the character is from. Sometimes, when you hit a mushroom, Mario turns into a terrifying, lanky monstrosity officially named "Weird Mario". Mario Maker is, at its heart, a tool for making Mario levels. But beyond that, it's a wonderful tribute to the weirdness and creativity that's always been inherent to the series. Maybe it doesn't feel big enough to be the 30th anniversary celebration game, but in a way, that in itself feels oddly appropriate.
Super Mario Galaxy is the spaciest space game of all time.
To be fair, it doesn’t seem that way at first glance. Mario is a plumber from Brooklyn by way of the Mushroom Kingdom, which isn’t the kind of CV you need to get into NASA. The planets have nonsensical and inconsistent gravity, the stars have big cartoon eyes and goofy singsong dialogue, and all of outer space is ruled over by an amazonian princess with a magic wand. But, beyond all the parts of Mario Galaxy’s space that put it squarely in the Disney afternoon sector of the universe, its mechanics are not only what make it unique among platformers, but the only game I can think of that’s both about space, and actually feels like it earns it.
Years ago, Nintendo used to hold a show called Space World. It was a sort of Nintendo-only counterpart to Tokyo Game Show, which they didn't (and still don't) attend, where they'd announce new games and consoles, and put them out for the public to play. It had very little to do with space as a concept, but its makes for a very convenient segue into the fact that Nintendo has a crazy shared universe you never knew about, and it all takes place in space. Also, it's all perfectly reasonable and requires no insane leaps in fan fiction logic.