Searching for meaning in open worlds: when does filler stop being filler?

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Lulcielid

Warrior of Light
#1
Original thread from GAF but i found it to be an interesting topic to discuss here.
EatChildren said:
I see this discussion crop up a lot recently, the "it's just filler/fetchquests/tower climbing/repetitive content" argument used a lot when discussing the overarching design and content of open world games and how said content is subjectively resonating with individuals. I myself am guilty of this, particularly when the topic of Ubisoft comes up and how much I do (or in most cases don't) enjoy engaging with their open worlds.

Lately I've been asking myself what exactly it is that I do not like. For example while I'll freely point to the checklisty points-of-interest in a game like Skyrim or Assassin's Creed as repetitive, workman-like box ticking under the guise of searching out content I perceive as meaningless and unrewarding, Wild Hunt's similar points-of-interest (admittedly toggleable) never caused issue despite essentially being highly repetitive in game design variety. Perhaps a better example is Just Cause 3; while I'll scoff at climbing towers and whatnot in Assassin's Creed, likening the activity to a chore, aimlessly wandering and blowing up military bases/plants still hasn't gotten old despite the rewards usually trivial and the content itself arguably very repetitive.

By extension of this I see criticism of many open worlds, across the spectrum of genres and franchises, of being guilty of not using their open worlds correctly, repetitive content, meaningless objectives, or more potentially "filler".

And I have to ask myself: at what point is content actually filler? Do we consider the core game systems in, say, a stealth game or a first person shooter, in which we master game systems in order to get from A-to-B, as "filler"? Of course not. In 'Souls do we consider the stretches between bosses and the challenges they bring as filler? Not at all, it's the game design in itself.

Why are open worlds so frequently subject to this criticism, when it is often the heart of the design itself? In a game like Just Cause 3, for example, the core game systems revolve around successfully and methodically demolishing key weaknesses at military points-of-interest. That is literally the objective of the game, to seek these out and destroy them, as a means of both enjoying the game and progressing through it. Similarly for Assassin's Creed, the objective is to utilise and master the parkour system to traverse points-of-interest and claim them, along with complete assassinations under various conditions. These are the core game systems, the template on which the very essence of enjoyment and fun are built, ergo the reason to play in the first place. The difference being that in an open world title the linearity is exchanged for a greater degree of agency in choosing where to go and order of objectives.

So I guess the topics of conversation I challenge in this thread are:
- In an open world game, how do we define "filler" content from regular content that exists to exemplify the game systems?
- Is critique of "filler" always accurate, or are we mistaking personal disinterest in the core game systems and content as "filler"?
- Which open world games appeal to you, compared to those that don't, and why exactly do you enjoy that content/design more?
- How can open world game design evolve to more intricately weave its content/"filler" into the freeform explorable landmass itself?
 
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Likes: Wazi the pa

Wazi the pa

Samurai Legend
Moderator
Site Staff
Oct 26, 2013
2,540
841
Australia
#2
Now this is a discussion topic.

Lets start by defining what filler is in terms of video games: specific content with the key and sometimes sole reason to just fill up the empty space & simply add up more content to the video game. By doing this, that specific content is not given the same amount of care and focus compared to other content that took a lot of thought in the design and implementation to make that happen which turn leads to that content having imperative reasons for it to exist in the game be it the game design concept, the level designs, enemies etc.

When coming across with filler content in the game, most common complaints & problems it has from both the consumers and developers is:
  • It gets repetitive
  • No variation
  • It lacks in balance (may vary)
  • Not interesting, unappealing
  • Too easy or too hard
  • Lacks innovation (Seen it in other games or it's been done before)
One open world game franchise to justify filler content in a game are the Assassin's Creed games. There are three gameplay pillars to every AC game and it's those pillars we take notice especially:
  • Parkour (climbing & jumping)
  • Stealth
  • Combat
I'll only talk about parkour and stealth as those two stand out the most

Starting with the pillar of parkour; the pillar that has only evolved in AC2 but almost kept the same for later titles up to AC Syndicate so far. AC3 tried to introduce tree climbing but that was never used for later titles. Though the architectures look different in every AC game or so (thanks to the historical setting), the mechanic of climbing has been kept the same and climb mapping on the buildings to be around the same as well. In this case, what's motivating the player to parkour is different architecture designs(and other aesthetic factors) but in reality, the parkour gameplay hasn't changed at all. Whatever their reason is, all in all this is one example of filler content.

Stealth has been kept the same as well and because of that, it leads to the same kind of quests in every AC game, your typical:
  • Follow/Stalk this person
  • Run away and go incognito
The curse of this is because of the AC game's main three pillars that's been kept the same & consistent throughout the franchise. Many AC games have attempted to add more gameplay mechanics to hide the repetition but in return, players are still treated with filler content AKA the same style of objectives and missions. This is solely because nothing of the main gameplay has actually changed or innovated. Thus, you see why many has complained or straight up abandon Assassin's Creed.

This is how I see "filler" in games.