Would you rather? Massive sandbox simpler graphics or Beautiful graphics smaller sandbox


Lets assume the writing, story, pacing, characters and side content where at least a 8/10 so then my question would be:

Would you want an absolute monolith of a sandbox 2-3 times the size of Breath of the Wild where you could travel for hours but the graphics had to be simple to accommodate that, i.e Stardew Valley etc


would you prefer an absolute beautiful game with modern day graphics that is limited in its sandbox ie. GTA and Watchdogs 2 (im not saying GTA isnt big BTW)

Let me know!

Peace from Christian in Wellington :slight_smile:


TBH, the huge space in something like GTA V could hold an extreme range of different areas if it wasn’t aiming for a compressed version of “real”. I would consider it to be a massive sandbox but one painted with the same brush a lot of the time. Those different brushes are often a significant part of the expense of development.

I’d happily take a smaller space if it was still painted by a large ranges of brushes, removing the scale of some things like a desert or mountain but doing so in a way that reduces the duplication of much of that area rather than just omitting the “biome”, for lack of a better term.

I am very interested in ideas around Warren Spector’s One Block RPG concept. Cut it all back, make everything detailed and specific, offer everything in the simulation and give it all a reason to exist and greater interplay in the wider world. To me, that’s absolutely a sandbox and an open world, even if the space is highly compressed.

I don’t see the point of a world so huge as to be able to travel forever if there’s nothing to see. If the visuals are primitive (preventing even the rendering of great vistas perhaps) and built of a few tiles then it’s not a world in which there is value to just travelling. What would the basic graphics allow? Beyond things being possible to put at the end of great distances? What added value in the spaces in-between is being unlocked if the fidelity drops sharply? We can build games with infinitely long roads but if they do nothing with the journey then there is no reason to not just make them a cut to black and resume the game at the other end of the trip.

Again, it’s not just about simplicity of graphics but variety and intent. The Division is a compact open world compared to the space of GTA IV but it’s also almost a 1:1 recreation of the small space it represents rather than a compressed representation of the entire city. Those are very different goals and with more tech, development time, and tricks, The Division could be built into a space with a lot more working interiors or add more of Manhattan - those are two completely different ways of making the space much bigger but only one creates a space which takes longer to travel (on foot, intentionally, in the case of that game).


Small and dense > large and sparse imo

I’d rather have a truly memorable experience in a modestly-sized space than a forgettable one in a massive expanse.


It doesn’t matter how big a space is if there isn’t anything to do or if the things you can do can’t keep your interest over the course of the entire space. Those sold on No Man’s Sky hype learned that the hard way. Even if I like the things that I’m doing, eventually it’s going to overstay it’s welcome. This is sort of why I wish Minecraft didn’t have infinite sized worlds. How many more jungles do I need to explore? If my farms provide all the resources I need and I’ve built my dream castle/town/golf course is the infinite expanse necessary?

On the other side, a small space has a lot going for it. It can be designed and designed and designed. Every detail can be looked over. Even if there is little to do, at least it is probably going to be a well thought out experience. Think about PT or Dr. Langeskov; there is a lot going on in such a small space. There might not be a whole lot of different things to do, but the things that you are doing are what the developer intended. You are experiencing what they wanted you to experience.

I don’t actually care how a game looks. Someone once turned down the publishing rights for Tetris in the mid 80s, saying that it was too retro. Gameplay is king.


I’d much rather have a beautiful and compact experience than something sprawling and dull. But it really comes down to what there is to do, more than how it looks. If the huge sprawling ugly game is interesting and is packed with stuff to keep me busy, I’d be more than happy looking at pixels versus polygons.


I always loved the Warren Spectre idea of one city block. To simulate just one city block perfectly.


not that this is a particularly new or spicy take, but i hold a life motto that a small crowded room is better than a large empty room. this is as true in game design as it is in putting together a convention


I’m not sure the original question is “large and sparse vs small and dense” but rather “large and dense rendered in lower fidelity vs small and dense rendered with high-end realtime shadows and high-polygon models”

Even putting aside the time saved on actually CREATING the assets (which is kind of a myth anyway, based on the false idea that developing low-fi/stylized graphics is somehow “always easier” than attempting realism), the number 1 limitation on any game is gonna be how much stuff you can render at once. The idea that increasing the size of the world decreases the amount of stuff you can put in it only applies if both have the same level of fidelity, and therefor the same limitations on things like actor count, environmental interaction, setpiece complexity, etc etc etc. Dropping that surface-level fidelity (shadows/polygon counts/hi-res textures) allows you to expand the world without needing to remove levels of detail from the world to compensate

idk what my point is but i think it should be noted that the OP question and the one people are answering are two entirely different beasts


I think the size of the sandbox isn’t important, just what they do with it. Burnout Paradise does more fun and interesting things with its comparatively tiny sandbox than every GTA game combined.

The thing that makes BOTW interesting, to me at least, isn’t just the breadth of the sandbox but the depth of the interaction.

Also, I think the insinuation that “simple graphics” always look worse than “modern day graphics” is misplaced. Simplistic visual styles can be just as, or even more, expressive and communicative than ones that try desperately to mimic reality, and I’ll always support people using their budgets to further interesting systemic and narrative goals rather than dumping money into ever-fancier rendering tech.


The Legend of Zelda: Breadth of the Wild


It depends if it’s a Fallout style sandbox where it’s entirely unmapped and I’m discovering new locations as I play, or if it’s a pre-built one where all the destinations are fixed and already on your map. If it’s the former, then I wan as big a place to explore as possible. If it’s the latter, then a smaller space is fine because discovery isn’t a mechanic.


I only recently got into the Yakuza series but those games are a very strong case for small sandboxes. Yakuza 0’s map is two small neighbourhoods but they’re full of stuff to do and they feel super alive because of it. I feel like the smaller the scope of the play area, the more time can be dedicated to filling that area with Stuff, and thinking of the way that Stuff can interact with one another.

Though there’s also games where map traversal is a fun/primary mechanic, like Burnout Paradise, I don’t mind a sparser play area if it means bigger/varied environments.


Really is a tough one to answer, both have their advantages. My go to answer would be small and beautiful, becasue I prefer to get to really know an area when I’m playing a game. Then again, Breath of the Wild & Xenoblade Chronicles X are bloody amazing, so…


In the posed question, I think each has their own place and case. My personal thought would be that I’d lean towards the latter, but your example of Stardew Valley makes me pause and reconsider. Whatever these two things are, they sound like they would be substantively different kinds of game. While Stardew Valley does have a smaller scope and budget than, say, Grand Theft Auto, an open-world game based on that kind of spritework sounds like it would be fascinating in what it did.

What does that look like? What kind of game is that? Those questions push me towards that first one, even though I am not a ‘sandbox’ person generally.


I really don’t think the question is just asking if we want a 30 hour sandbox game with current 3D graphics or a 250 hour sandbox games (with so much more to do and a massive world to fit it all in) with 2D graphics - otherwise why not just ask “long and big” vs “short and small”? So the question of density of content combining with fidelity absolutely comes up because game length isn’t in this question’s framing.

Walking into a room in a game and it looking like a room, all the furniture and props that make it a home, is absolutely a deep mechanical system and not some surface-level “fidelity” that doesn’t mean anything except “the graphics are turned up to 11”. The impression of a lived-in space with a story, the way you can explore the Greenbriar’s house in Gome Home, is a function of dense design and modern day graphics. The picking up and putting down of objects - it’s core to the game. It makes it a space we inhabit that feels like the spaces we inhabit outside of games.

Not to say there’s not merit in simple graphics and 2D stuff like Stardew Valley but “beautiful graphics (modern day, implied 3D)” is not simply something to be discarded as “just graphics”. There is something to the density of modern 3D spaces and how that allows a smaller world to have just as much stuff and draw for the player. Which is how we get to the One Block RPG.


I think I’m always gonna go for smaller sandbox honestly. Even if all things are equal, I just don’t have the energy to explore a world that’s half the size of Canada.

I do have the TIME but eh…


Smaller sandbox. As good as Witcher 3 is, I think it’s too big, and led to a lot of padding that was not needed.


To answer your question, smaller sandbox. But not because I want better graphics, it’s just because I want a smaller sandbox.

If we’re playing the game of magically reallocating development resources and priorities, I would much prefer that developers create smaller worlds with more hand-crafted level design and art direction, and an emphasis on depth of gameplay and systems as opposed to the vast quantity of mechanically uninteresting activities that most open world games seem to sell themselves on.


I’ve also found that a small world with a lot of variety and points of interest feels much bigger than a physically larger world with less visual diversity


in general, smaller sandbox. but more than that, i want a much more complex sandbox, with different kinds of interactions and gameplay than what we normally see in open-world games.

to be more precise… i remember reading a lot about what Bethesda was supposedly trying to do with Radiant AI in Oblivion. not just the idea of characters having their own schedules, but of characters having their own motivations and actions independent of the player. and they cut a lot of it out because it led to quest lines becoming unwinnable because of the AI’s actions. screw quest lines. i would really like to see a game that expands upon and fulfills those promises.

the two big things i want are a world where the players’ actions have much more consequence, especially in ways that are subtle and not explicitly stated to the player. and i want to see a world that morphs and changes as a result of the players actions (and as a result of its own independent ebb and flow) in similarly subtle and unstated ways.

like, maybe if you steal all of a town’s crops, a nearby butcher becomes suspiciously wealthy. or, maybe if you explain the idea of crop rotation to a nearby farmer (like in Fallout), that town suddenly becomes a major exporter of potatoes. and ideally, these are all values that fluctuate organically (dare i say, procedurally), not fixed events that are part of a quest log like some shopping list.

i also want a game that discourages a lot of behaviors in open world games that are often selfish, thoughtless, and cruel, but that rarely have any consequence. like if you rob a merchant of all their money and most valuable stock, that would normally have an incredibly detrimental impact on their livelihood. the player should feel the impact of that. in general i want to see gameplay that revolves less around killing and looting, and more around trying to build and develop and sustain and be a part of communities and societies through your actions.