Exploration. It’s simply something gamers do. Sometimes it’s searching every area of that huge castle in town, even when you know there’s really nothing there. Other times it can be as simple as looking around for extra coins or orbs or whatever else your game keeps telling you to get more of. To me, exploration occurs when a player purposefully moves to an area that the game did not specifically tell him to go to. I consider myself to be an explorer. I always seek “unnecessary” NPCs and my “to-do” list usually ends with the main story objective. Sometimes I even forget what the main objective is. That being said, I had an experience that challenged my definition of exploration in video games.
Recently I had the privilege of playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I thoroughly enjoy this game. It rewards players for exploring. Each area has a route that is obvious, and the developers award extra XP to players who search for alternatives. This usually means crawling through an air vent or stacking objects to reach high places, but some areas require more creativity to access.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with the exploration in DE:HR. Why not reward observant, creative players? It just seems like the right thing to do. Limiting curiosity feels wrong, but is it? Later that same day, I played a completely different game. It was Riviera: The Promised Land, an RPG published by Atlus. In this game, players accumulate Trigger Points (TP) based on how well they perform in battles. Battles that award TP are limited in a given area. TP is required to explore points of interest in a room. Logically, this means that a player has limited exploration.
Is this a good thing to do? At first I hated the system, but only because it sounded like something a designer shouldn’t create. However, after a few hours, I discovered the play style that the mechanics of the game wanted me to use. Exploration wasn’t a challenge of observation anymore. All of the explorable stuff is clearly marked, and the story based events never require TP. Instead, exploration became a challenge of prioritization. “I see flowers. Are they important? Maybe they’re magical….nope, not magical. I just wasted 1 TP.” These situations forced me to learn from my mistakes and take risks based on what I already knew.
Riviera: The Promised Land taught me that sometimes limiting players is the best thing you can do for them. It forces players to be intelligent, which I think is amazing. This system doesn’t belong everywhere, but I’d love to see more games limit actions that players take for granted.