Game Development Reference
complete freedom to alter their surroundings, yet the story still comes through and
seems natural vis-a-vis the in-game situation.
13.3 Examples of Sandbox Games
Let's look at some of the past examples of sandbox games. Some of these games
demonstrated the different directions a sandbox game can be taken. They are defi-
nitely recommended for study as the experiences they present are profoundly unique.
Ultima series. A series of role-playing games originally developed by Origin
Systems, Inc. between 1980 and 1999. This is one of the earliest iterations
of an RPG played in a sandbox environment while holding firmly to a rich
dialogue and storyline. The best example is Ultima VII, with its improved
approach to dialogue and general interaction.
Grand Theft Auto. Driving/action series of games developed by Rockstar
from 1997 to present. GTA sticks to a more streamlined approach to sandbox
SimCity. Developed by Maxis, first in 1989 and last in 2007 ( SimCity Soci-
eties ), this is a city-building simulation that gives free rein to players without
worrying about plot at all. This type of title is often likened to a toy rather
than a rule-based game and probably owes its success to that characteristic.
Other sandbox games. Baldur's Gate , Gothic , Oblivion , Assassin's Creed ,and
Saint's Row .
13.4 Structuring a Narrative in a Sandbox Game
The prime difference between a sandbox story and a regular story is in the linearity.
Sandbox games are non-linear. Missions usually can (and should) play independent
of sequence, allowing the player to pick and choose the story thread he would like to
pursue (yet still feeling natural). For the writer, this means a difference in structure,
which needs to allow the player the sort of freedom a sandbox game usually demands.
I'd really like to deal with some of the prevailing philosophies behind stories and non-
linearity, but that is not the focus of this topic. In this chapter, I hope to outline a
method/process I've found useful in structuring such a story, which hopefully will
lead to less confusion on prospective projects. For brevity's sake, we'll need to assume
that you already know the basics of writing stories. I'm going to deal with just the
aspects of sandbox games that have to do with writing.
Your Approach to Writing
So let's just jump right into things. Hopefully you've spent some time coming up
with concepts and writing backstories and character profiles. Now you've got your