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Red Faction: Guerrilla’s Open World Chaos

I’m a big fan of Gamasutra’s features that highlight the behind the scenes aspects of game development. They generally involve giving a lengthy look into the development history of a video game by asking designers, producers, and engineers to either write about a topic special to them or form some sort of interview-style Q&A article for the site. My latest favorites probably include “Reshaping the Modern RPG” with Greg Zeschuk from BioWare and “Backstage With The Audio Of Guitar Hero 5” with Tom Parker, an audio engineer from Neversoft.

Now, however, my top pick is “Embracing the Chaos,” a post-mortem look back at Red Faction: Guerrilla with Volition‘s design director James Hague. Gamasutra calls the four pages of Hague-talk a collection of “several case studies” on evolving player involvement in the game, but I prefer to call it an enlightening look at achieving freedom in an open world game.

The length shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s played the game, as RFG is also quite the time-suck—though in a totally good way.  Hague covers a lot of topics in a short span, especially considering designers could probably write entire tomes on the subject of controlling player experiences. However, Hague manages to hit some highlights that I think really exemplify why RFG was a great game.

For one, he understands that the actual “open world” component of sandbox games should serve as more than “just a lobby for starting missions,” and that to truly fit the model, the missions have to match the environment. Designers have to eschew the old mindset of micromanaging every little thing in the game, letting go of being a “control freak,” and just “embrace the chaos.”

It’s great that during and even after the game’s development, the team could recognize what they needed to do to make RFG work. The inherently chaotic nature of the game in that absolutely everything is completely destructible made for a development nightmare. If you feel like you could do to learn more about how to deal with letting go and rationalizing with a game that thrives on the lack of designer control, you should definitely head over to Gamasutra and give it a read. The four pages go by way too quickly.

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