Rune Skovbo Johansen
Creative Programmer & Designer
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Structured Exploration Games

Sep 25, 2014 in ,
I love exploration in games! I like platforming, and I like puzzles, and I can deal with a little combat, but the biggest reason I play games at all is to experience and explore strange, beautiful, mystical places, and unravel the secrets they contain.

Secrets and mystery awaits.

Though many games have elements of exploration, there's not that many I know of that has it as a major focus and really get it right. It doesn't help that some otherwise good exploration games are also very difficult. Being stuck at the same hardcore challenge for ages can get in the way of the joy of exploration.

In order to bring more focus on games where exploration is a major element, I created this Steam curated group:

Exploration Games curated group on Steam

Great games where exploration is a major focus, taking place in worlds that are non-linear yet structured. Also: Secrets and mystery!

Games in this group may have limited but not excessively challenging puzzles, combat, and platforming. They will often have maps.

They may have gated progress based on ability upgrades ("MetroidVania" games), collected items, completed goals, or similar, as long as the progress is not mainly linear.

The word "structured" is also important. The group is not for games that allow you to dig or build anywhere, since it's at odds with structured level and world design. MineCraft, Terraria, and similar are great games that arguably have strong exploration elements, but not of the type this group promotes. 

Also, although the group welcomes easy games with practically no challenging elements, it's not for what some would call "non-games" that contain no gameplay at all (not that there's anything wrong with that).

The best exploration games not only let you explore interesting places, but also let you uncover secrets and gradually gain a better understanding of the mystical world around you.

Yes, yes, this is exactly the types of games I love too!

Are you among the niche that are thinking that? If you are, follow the Exploration Games curated group on Steam!

If you know some great games on Steam in this genre, let me know in the comments. And if you like, get in contact with me about becoming a member of the curated group who can add new recommendations to it.

7 comments:

Ben said...

Hi Rune!
So our game Seasons after Fall is still very much WIP so not on Steam yet, but I think it very much fits the type of game you're describing: http://www.swingswingsubmarine.com/games/seasons/
It's an "exploration-based puzzle-adventure game", so basically there are platforming mechanics and puzzles, but it's all to support the exploration of a mysterious ecosystem. It should never be so challenging as to frustrate the player, get him stuck or whatever.
No combat, no death, no stress! And btw no HUD and no map: yes we love MetroidVanias (Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet oh yeah!) but we don't want that level of complexity for this game, nor the distraction of a HUD.

Oh and btw it's #madewithunity and I'm giving a talk at Game Connection Paris about the 2D techniques used to create this organic level design & level art.

Rune Skovbo Johansen said...

Hi Ben!

Thanks for the heads up. The game looks lovely! Let me know when it's on Steam.

Jonas Christian Drewsen said...

Many MMOs have the traits you describe I think. I have mostly been playing WoW myself and large part of that is exploration and experiencing different worlds with lore that crosses the worlds in many cases.

Rune Skovbo Johansen said...

Hi Jonas!

That's an interesting point about MMOs. The impression I've gotten of MMOs from friends and media portrayal is that they're centered around quests of varying quality (often lots of grind - "kill ten rats"), raids about killing dungeon bosses and similar, getting loot, and lots of social interaction.

That said, I've never played MMOs myself. Maybe the exploration aspects is something people talk less about?

Rich Wilson said...

Miasmata definitely needs to be on that list. I've never before seen such a meticulous implementation of systemic cartography in a game, and it's vital to finding your way around the island.

Ruud Lenders said...

Anyone who recommends Knytt Underground certainly knows the great exploration games Steam has to offer. I own almost all the games you recommended, so I'm interested to see what you will recommend next.

I can recommend you two games: The Talos Principle and Kairo. Both great games!

Anonymous said...

Just ran across this post while trying to do some research on a mechanic for unity and would like to put forward Tri (http://store.steampowered.com/app/293660/) for your list of exploration games.