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Sliding Scale of Content Density vs. Width

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Content in video games, whether it's new gameplay or plot, can be presented to the player in various ways.

Sometimes, the developers keep a taut pace with the content, keeping large areas, optional items and sidequests to a minimum to maintain that pace; these games are content intensive and have "Denser" content. Other times, developers space out the content so that the main portion of the game is experienced much slower and amidst a myriad of extra options; these games are content extensive and have "Wider" content.

Each approach has potential boons and drawbacks. Games with Density can easily maintain the player's attention and provide a meaty experience within a relatively short playtime, but the types of experiences can be fairly limited and not very cerebral. Games with Width offer a broad palette of experiences over a frequently long playtime and a potential for greater Worldbuilding (in games that actually have plot), but can also leave players bored by the pacing (and Fake Longevity in some cases) or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content.

Genres that tend to be Denser include Action, racing games, Casual Video Games, Platform Games, and Rail Shooters. Genres that tend to be Wider include Adventure, Action-Adventure, Role Playing Games (especially most Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), Strategy Games, and Wide Open Sandboxes. Gaming in general saw a shift to Width with the Video Game 3D Leap during the 5th console generation.

Tangentially related to the Sliding Scale of Linearity vs. Openness, as Linearity typically correlates with Density, while Openness typically correlates with Width. Fake Longevity is sometimes present in games on the Width end of the scale. The Super-Trope of Sliding Scale of Video Game World Size and Scale.

Instances where the Scale was consciously considered when producing a game:

  • Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma felt that The Legend of Zelda got a bit too Wide with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. This is why they made sure that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was Denser. Fan reaction to this led to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild being a Wide-Open Sandbox in the vein of the NES original.
  • Shigeru Miyamoto had largely sat back and let the Paper Mario staff do its own thing, but for Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Miyamoto became heavily involved. The result was a much, much denser game than any previous Paper Mario title.
  • Rocksteady has stated they were focused on making Gotham Dense rather than Wide in Batman: Arkham Knight, as they feel that Detail is more important than Scale. Interestingly, they still have to give the world some width as Batman can now drive in his Batmobile and the streets were too narrow for that in Batman: Arkham City.
  • The Elder Scrolls series started out on the far, far "Width" end of the scale. Arena and Daggerfall have absolutely massive game worlds, on the scale of real life countries. However, to fill out these worlds, any areas not related to the main quests (or a few prominent side quests, in the case of Daggerfall) are Randomly Generated, with Procedural Generation used for dungeons. This allows for huge game worlds with nigh-infinite content...but at the cost of that content getting very repetitive, very quickly. Come the third game in the series, Morrowind, Bethesda took a drastically different philosophical approach, swinging to the "Density" side of the scale. The game world was significantly scaled down (to a "mere" nine square miles compared to thousands) but was entirely hand-built. It helps that, through the use of Space Compression, it is nowhere near the size of it's predecessors, but is still far larger than most game worlds. Another reason for this philosophical change was Morrowind's Multi-Platform availability on console (specifically, Xbox) as well as PC, a first for the series (and first for a prominent Western RPG in many, many years at the time). This changed helped Morrowind to get into the hands of a wider audience, being the Breakthrough Hit for both the series and the development company. Follow-up games (Oblivion and Skyrim) swung the series back toward the middle of the scale. Both increased the size of the game world compared to Morrowind, but also brought back elements of random and procedural generation to fill out those larger game worlds. Coupled with enemy and loot spawns being spread sheet generated, much of the "density" uniqueness seen in Morrowind was lost.

Alternative Title(s): Sliding Scale Of Content Density Versus Width