The Texture of a World

I’ve written before about the idea that game content can be divided into “structure” (core/main) and “texture” (side/optional). I argued that having texture greatly outlast structure is a Bad Thing, but I noticed that there’s a genre - one that I like - which regularly has texture far beyond structure: open world games.

I’ve been thinking about why this is and I think it comes down to one of the specific advantages of texture I called out before: “[i]t can provide an alternate, calmer way to occupy the game’s world”. Open world games are especially good at providing the experience of occupying a world. (It’s not unique in this - immersive sims, JRPGs, MMORPGs, etc. all also lean in this direction.) So it makes sense that these games would be well-positioned to make good use of texture, even to the point where significantly outlasting structure isn’t a problem if you love being in the game’s world.

I recently played One Piece: World Seeker which is kind of meh as an open world game but by far the best game yet made for letting the player occupy the world of One Piece - something I’ve wanted ever since being introduced to the setting by Pirate Warriors 3 and which was not really provided by Unlimited World Red. I fell in love with it and very much didn’t want it to end. I was glad for all the collectibles and side quests that helped me stretch my time as Luffy (no pun intended). There might not have been a lot of point to running around hunting down all the treasure chests for crafting materials I didn’t even need, but doing so gave me a reason to keep checking in with the Straw Hats and gum-gum rocketing my way around the island.

On the flip side, this means open world games are particularly poorly suited to the PS5’s activity cards, which strip content of the context which is vital for making you feel like you are occupying an actual world. As discussed by Patrick Klepek, using activity cards in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales “turns in-game activities into a long list of checkboxes to work through. . . . One of the biggest joys of Insomniac’s Spidey games is aimlessly swinging around, and it’s clear the distribution of activities on the city map are meant to encourage this behavior. The cards, on the other hand, remove this from the equation entirely.”