Games Within Games: Building a Better World

By Xbox One on at

What is your favourite gaming memory? Scoring the goal that puts you into division one on FIFA's 'Seasons' mode? Stepping out of the sewer tunnel glimpsing Cyrodiil in TESIV: Oblivion for the first time? Both excellent choices, but not quite enough to topple my number one gaming memory, made about four weeks ago. In fact it was the 17th of September: the day Grand Theft Auto V came out. As is now the traditional way to begin playing GTA, I stole a car, ignored what I was meant to be doing, and went out in search of adventure.

Rihanna warbling out of the speakers of my newly-acquired not-Audi-R8-but-clearly-is, I headed straight for the freeway of Los Santos that would take me into the surrounding Blaine County countryside. Back to the Future sprung to mind and it dawned on me how silly it was to follow conventions, such as driving on a road like a normal person. Where I was going I didn't need roads, and this was about the time I started making up objectives for myself.

Could I drive off a cliff and survive? I could, but only by totalling the car in the process and plonking my character in the middle of nowhere. If I sprint, could I jump onto that moving train? Turns out I could, but then swiftly fell off. So I stole a truck, jack-knifed the container and began my pursuit of the train. After jumping out of the moving truck onto the moving train and standing on top of it with a smile on my face, I thought "...maybe I should play the game now."

Despite having done it for many years in various different games, it's only recently that I've noticed how much I enjoy metagaming; creating mini challenges that the designers may have never intended. It ceases to be their world and instead becomes ours to do with as we wish. When the demo of Xbox 360 exclusive Crackdown 2 first came out, I spent an hour with my friend trying to see if either one of us could get outside of the barrier preventing us from playing the whole game. We never managed it, but we sure had fun jumping off buildings into the water to see if we could dive under it, or testing the perimeter for weaknesses like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. And no, we never attacked the same place twice. Because we're clever, and we remember.

Minecraft has perhaps popularised the idea of entirely player-driven objectives within games the most, giving you a world and some tools but absolutely no instruction on what you should do. The whole point of the game is to set challenges for yourself and to think of things to do, so there isn't the same level of forbidden-fruit excitement behind attempting your own ideas. However, it does contain opportunities to surprise the player with their own ridiculously-detailed constructions. One minute you're building a dirt house and then three months later you realise you've rebuilt King's Landing from Game of Thrones.

Considering Minecraft has sold over 33 million copies, it's reasonable to assume the next generation of consoles will produce titles of a similar ilk. One such title announced already is Project Spark for the Xbox One, which is described as a "Digital-Canvas Open World." Or D-COW which, if we combine our efforts, I'm sure we can make happen. Project Spark will allow players to literally create their own games which can be as simple or complex as desired, right down to the programming of object behaviour. This was demonstrated at E3 during Microsoft's press conference by altering the behaviour of a rock to either bounce every time players are near or follow them on their travels. I plan to name my rock Dwayne Johnson, just to be ironic. Perhaps I'll program it to be a wonderful cook and my avatar will (finally) be able to smell what the rock is cooking. All thanks to this D-COW.

A wrestling reference followed by a Mean Girls meme? Only on Giz, folks.

One of the best aspects of Project Spark is that it's completely free, and does not require an Xbox Live Gold account in order to play it. What this potentially means is that you could have hundreds of what will essentially be free full games created using Project Spark available to you by year's end on your Xbox One. Not sure what to give to your friend this Christmas? Make them a personalised game! It's possible to shape your game using Microsoft's Smartglass app on your tablet or through use of Kinect 2.0. You could also use the integrated recording features of the Xbox One to create a 'making of' diary to share your progress socially.

While it is great that Minecraft and Project Spark will be available, these sorts of games won't be for everyone. However, Dead Rising 3 should provide plenty of opportunities for hilarity because zombies + open world + online co-op = win. Mathematic fact, that, so it can't be argued with. I'm very much looking forward to attempting things I should get an achievement for but probably won't. That's ok though, I'll just play the 'ba-ding' noise in my head. It's just as good.

Have your own example of something you should have got an achievement for but didn't? Looking forward to creating your own next-gen worlds? Think the Xbox achievement sound is more like 'coo-pah' than 'ba-ding'? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Image Credits: CVG