A couple of days ago I was going to work and I posted a photo on Instagram. The moon was up in the sky, despite being already 8AM, but that made me think about a simple concept regarding videogames: density.
Videogames' density is how much games are diluted in their mechanics, gameplay, worlds, universes and people. Whenever you play a game you immerse yourself in a world with atoms, particles, dots in the game designer's mind.
Consider the journey of the game, like its vastity, how deep the game container is, then you can think about how many things you have to do in this container. The more the world is open, the more time you spend covering it, walking, driving, swimming, the more the container is big and deep.
So what is the games' density? The more the dots and atoms are, the more the container is filled with density, but there is a balance to that. If the game's container is too big, no matter how many dots and particles you have, it will still feel less dense, on the contrary if the container is too small, with a ton of things to do, it will feel restrained and suffocating.
Like a chemist, game developers have to deal with this kind of mechanism. Many times we found ourselves walking from point A to point B forgetting what's in the middle, or we forget about point B and go wandering for repetitive subquests that add nothing to the game itself.
Enought with the theory though, let's talk about games' examples. The first one that comes to mind to explain this is The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Designing a videogame map does not define its density, and Majora's Mask it is full of subquests and things to do, without suffocating the player, with a well constructed town, populated by dots that have stories, life and connections. That concept can be extended, of course, meaning the container is bigger, but that means it is more difficult to handle it.
For instance Xenoblade Chronicles has definetely a bigger container than TLOZ:MM but some of the quests are less intense, more towards collecting items, less relevant and dense, that reflects in a lesser dense videogame, that does not mean better or worse, just with other priorities.
What is the consequence of this? What is the output for customers? Videogames that have very little density, will surely feel empty on the long run, when it is just a matter of balance to get it right. In a gaming industry that go towards open environments, city replicas and algorithms that depicts games for you, it has become really important for game developers to not let players get lost in empty world without personality, since they have less control over minor details.
Instead of rushing towards the bigger possible container, it could be better getting there focusing on mantaining the right amount of density in videogames, especially considering the fact that a well crafted environment takes time to be explored and be filled with content.
I am not, right now, in the state of mind that we have reached the larger container, but we could definetely work on the density.