Stylised Open World Games Have Absolutely Done My Head In

Stylized open world games absolutely made my head

Open world games. It’s a broad label that covers a lot of range.

‘Stylized Open-world games” in particular are still broad, but can be narrowed down to “an open-world game that doesn’t actively try to look hyperrealistic”. They can be gorgeous, beautiful, charming, sexy, fierce , killers, etc. Of course, they can also look bad. Everything has the potential to suck on a sack of hot, steamy cock. It’s all about balance and execution. That being said, sometimes the appearance of the game is not a problem given that the content is strong.

I must say here that visual design and art style do not determine the overall quality of a game. A game can look absolutely stunning and run like a car pumped with cement. A game can also look like your child’s simple and somewhat offensive drawing they did in school, but play in an amazing and unique way. But this post is not about the gameplay. It’s incredibly shallow.

It’s all very complex and confusing, but in my mind, the visual design of stylized open-world games exists on a spectrum. I have drawn a simple version of the spectrum below. I call it the SOW spectrum (for “stylized open world”).

The SOW Spectrum

Image: Ruby Innes/Kotaku Australia

In my mental palate, placement on the SOW spectrum depends not only on the art style of the game, but also on the execution of the art style. When I say that, I mean that a game could be a Sweet Spot game but due to a lack of finishing, it sits closer to another end of the SOW spectrum. I would also say that there is no point in the SOW Spectrum that is better than the other or the defining factor of a good game, just different.

You have the left end of the SOW spectrum, very clearly not real. This spot is for highly stylized open-world games like Minecraft and terrariums, which are so their own style that anyone who takes them for real might need to check their house for a gas leak. Minecraft Steve isn’t real, he can’t hurt you.

On the right end of the SOW spectrum, you have This might be real, but my character looks weird here. This place is reserved for games that seem to have a disconnect between the playable character and the world around them, with the world looking quite realistic compared to the heavily stylized main character. A current example is, of course, sound borders.

I’ll get to the sweet spot at the end.

So where do the other stylized open-world games fall? Well, thinking about the recent additions to the label, my first thought is Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Sure, technically it’s not an open-world game, but it’s the closest the franchise has gotten so far. I do not include the next Pokémon Scarlet and Violet games in this considering all images currently released are “not final”.

Stylized open world games absolutely made my head
Image: The Pokémon Company

Now I am personally convinced that Arceus’ the gameplay was enough to make up for what some would consider bad visuals. They’re definitely a step up from previous versions of the game, but there were still bits and pieces that could have been tweaked.

Where does it fit on the scale though? I have to say somewhere between Very Clearly Not Real and the Sweet Spot, because it’s definitely trying to hit the Sweet Spot mark, but little graphically stinky moments here and there bring it closer to the left.

Then at the other end towards This Could Be Real, But My Character Looks Weird Here but still close to the Sweet Spot, I would very specifically place New Donk City in Super Mario Odyssey.

He has a style that very clearly mimics real life but with his own distinct Mario art style, and Mario stands out like a sore thumb compared to the other humans around. It makes me wonder if Mario is human or not, and whether or not Nintendo considers the Italians to be visually different from standard human.

So what is a Sweet Spot game then?

The perfect place

Stylized open world games absolutely made my head
Image: Nintendo

The Sweet Spot in the middle of the SOW spectrum is reserved for games that suspend reality while making you wish the real world looked like it. Very clearly stylized in its own way, but not completely devoid of truth. Visually correct. In my personal opinion and what I understand from the general consensus of people who constantly compare every stylized open world game to this one, a great example of a Sweet Spot game is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

There are definitely a few reasons why people always seem to refer to breath of the wild when it comes to yet another stylized open world game coming out. Visually, it’s stunning. The thing is, Zelda games always used to be visually pleasing when they were released. Even with Windwaker, a title that had people divided on its art style, there was still a level of polish that made it work.

With breath of the wild specifically, it sticks to the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch without downsizing. The use of color is more vibrant than the real thing, but not to the point of looking like chewing gum dirt. The game’s depth perception and landscape views feel grounded in reality, but not so much that you feel like me without my glasses (I’m myopic). To be more basic, breath of the wild is visually balanced and executes its artistic style neatly. People keep referring to it because it takes both hyper-realistic and hyper-stylized elements while looking like a Zelda Game.

And that’s what people ultimately want, isn’t it? Series fans like Pokemon and Sonic want two things: a game that stays true to the themes and styles of the series, but also a game that takes advantage of the technological advancements of the current era and builds on what they have done in the past. That’s how I see it, at least! It is, after all, a video game theory.

Thank you for coming to my TEDx talk.

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