Open World Tower Systems and Player Motivations

Throughout the years of open world game design, games have generally struggled to maintain a consistent, and a constant motivation for the player to keep on progressing.

But this point was only applicable until game designers developed the theory of tower systems:

The motivation of reaching someplace higher, towards an eventful objective serves as an internal motivation in itself.

I personally think that such internal motivators are part of our core, where we as humans are attracted to unique objects to interact, and distinctive places to visit.

“Attracted to Contrast”

We generally set goals for ourselves upon noticing such factors in our environment.

“I see a tree, I want to climb it!” / “I see a toy, I want to try it!”

And generally provided with all the movement tools available in open world games, this only enhances the purpose of utilizing your toolset to do something which you truly desire.

GOAL

But the actual-larger goal of these systems is to slowly, and gradually, expand upon the world step by step.

I mean, imagine you are in a kitchen, and you see you have to clean-up your plate. You wouldn’t hesitate to do it, in respect of cleaning 20 more plates in comparison.

If you have to clean 20 more plates, then you would lose a bit of motivation to “begin” cleaning your plates.

The ultimate object is to never overload the player, and gradually reveal what lies underneath…

Unlike linear games where you unlock one level after the other, tower systems unlock multiple objectives at once, in a set pace, in an area visible to the player.

These unlocked objectives now can be expanded onto more unlockable objectives, giving the player the feeling of freedom, and adverting the term “open world” to the games of the genre.

PROBLEM

Now actually throughout the years, these systems have become stale and have lost their purpose.

The towers are used in areas where they are not the highest / distinctive enough to attract the players. Now they just act as some some random structures designers think are important to the progression of the game.

The towers no longer gradually expand on the world, but rather dump a checklist of tasks to be finished as the game keeps on progressing.

While the tower systems gradually lost importance, designers also began adding in more objective markers to grab the attention of the player to slowly nudge players towards climbing them.

Few others have altogether thrown away such systems in better exchange of other ideas which can capably do the same…

The ultimate problem I feel is that we as designers have lost the purpose on why these systems actually work in the first place.

SOLUTION

Understanding why these systems work, is the absolute core of solving the problem…

Now, I have to reveal something.

I made this whole post to praise Legend of Zelda BOTW’s tower systems!

BOTW has a lot of objectives, and subsequently has a lot of towers to reveal the objectives as well.

Each time the player climbs a tower, instead of the menial reaction they might have in some other games, BOTW fills the player with the joy of reaching to the top of the tower!

The “menial” reaction could occur due to many reasons:

  • Be it the tower is not distinct enough from the environment.
  • Or it can be about the events which get unlocked after the player climbs it.
  • Or it could also just be the nature of “climbing” the tower itself.

To understand why BOTW tower system works in comparison to other open world games in the industry, I’ll be going through the progression of climbing towers in BOTW to bring more context.

BOTW TOWERS – DISTINCTION

All the towers in BOTW follow a singular consistent shape, and these shapes are drastically different from the rest of the environment.

This in itself achieves the purpose of tower systems.

But to better explain the other reason on why this system works in the first place… Have you ever had the feeling where you didn’t know if you had locked the main door of your house? Or if you actually did?

This is because you had done the action intrinsically, by a habit formed by locking the door on a day-to-day basis.

BOTW keeps the shape consistent throughout the game, in order to form a habit of “climbing to the top of the tower” – A trigger which gets initiated just by looking / recognizing the shape of the tower.

BOTW TOWERS – EVENT UNLOCK

In BOTW even after the player climbs the tower, the tower does not instantly reveal everything in the environment by itself. It’s something which the player does manually, one objective at a time.

You scale a tower to find physical points of interest that speak to you, and then place your own pins / stamps on the map to tag accordingly. It’s a map making process which speaks to the wanderlust of folks…

If you’ve been told to get some groceries from a store, in comparison of you wanting to get the groceries yourselves… The motivation of executing the action will be always higher depending on how much you are emotionally invested in the task yourselves.

In BOTW, nothing is given to you other than the topographical layout of a region, and you have to invest yourself on what you want to do, and where you want to go. 

And whatever you choose, since you’ve invested your time into it, you’ll be more connected to finishing the task compared to the other way around…

BOTW TOWERS – CLIMBING

I think the closest game which comes in comparison with the climbing ideology of a tower in BOTW is surprisingly – Assassin’s Creed.

The prodigal creator of the system, AC maximizes on the skills required to climb a tower each time you find one.

On one maybe you just need to hold your left stick up? On the other you may need to turn and twist yourself to reach to the top of the tower? In some other, maybe you can’t do anything, and you need to unlock a route to the top?

The possibilities are endless.

BOTW achieves this point in similar standards as per the prodigal creator AC, but the better part comes in how masterfully the towers are placed (following how the player progresses through the game map).

CONCLUSION

BOTW has no real objective marker at the beginning the game. All the game asks you to do, is defeat “Ganon” – the main antagonist of the narrative.

You are not nudged towards your goals by objective markers, you are not guided by auto-pathing systems, and you are never “bored” each time you look at a new tower to climb.

All I can say is – Nintendo developers have put incredible care and love into all their systems, to create synergy and focus on how the experience is delivered.

Now as an end note, I’m not saying tower systems are the only way we as designers can control progression in an open world game. It could be dependent on what the game is trying to achieve, an experience, which we as designers need to understand, accept, and deliver.

P.S. I personally feel tower systems are mainly useless if your game doesn’t feature any intensive movement abilities, but that’s up to you to decide as a designer.

Hope you folks enjoyed reading through this post, and I’ll see you guys in my next post.

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