Recently I was looking into which different game genres exist, and realized that I didn’t know where to categorize a game such as Minecraft, or Portal, or Tetris? Computer game stores typically categorize games as Action, Adventure, Role playing (RPG), Simulation, or Strategy:
- Action games are the ones that challenge the player’s hand-eye coordination. The goal of Action games is to train your own reflexes until you beat a previous highscore. Typical shooters such as Counterstrike are found in this category, but also sports, arcade games, Jump’n’Run, Tetris, Pong, Pacman… There are Action games where you beat a level by replaying the map over and over, and learning the key presses by heart. In general, everything where the player has only one role, and speed and difficulty increase over time, is an Action game.
- Adventure games are the ones that typically don’t challenge the players reflexes and dexterity, often you can even take your time. These games are about solving puzzles and mazes in the broadest sense of the word. The goal of Adventures is to beat the game designer by solving the puzzle. After all puzzles have been solved, replayability is low, since new challenging puzzles cannot be randomly generated. My favorite examples here are Portal, Myst and Monkey Island, but also Interactive Fiction belongs in this category.
- Stealth games, a.k.a. Action-Adventure games are a small category that covers Survival Horror and Stealth games that don’t clearly fit one of the other genres. These games focus less on quick shooting than Action games, but they clearly require better reflexes than Adventures. Typically the goal is to avoid direct combat and reach a safe spot without getting killed by NPCs. The player has special skills such as sneaking, climbing, lock picking, stunning or distracting opponents, that are rare in other genres.
- RPG games are the digital incarnation of Dungeon&Dragons styles games. Players create characters with individual roles. Roles are defined by assigning points to skills, abilities, equipment, experience, health, and many more game properties. Players manage these resources (points) according to a complex (computer controlled) set of rules. Replayability is high, since there can be random encounters, and sometimes even maps are randomly generated. The goal of RPGs is to “configure” a character that can beat the next more difficult opponent. Well-known examples include World of Warcraft, EVE online, and Diablo.
- Simulation games simulate the rules of a specific limited environment. The fun of the game is fiddling with parameters and finding their impact on the system. Players set their own goals and choose whether their creation is stable and balanced, or dramatic and extreme. In a simulation you can be an owner raising a pet (Tamagochi, Spore), a politician building cities (SimCity), a boss leading an enterprise, or a God controling the fate of a tribe. In contrast to an RPG, your “creation” does not fit one role, and there is no predetermined opponent or end state.
- Strategy games simulate a more limited environment as Simulations and require long-term strategical planning. Strategy games have one clearly defined goal: Be the one who takes over the map. Usually they are military themed and focus on resource management. Players command production and army units and create fleets and bases.
Now back to the original question: Minecraft is not a typical citybuilding simulation, but there is enough overlap I guess.
In this context, I came across the term Open World: It describes a game with no levels, no fixed “dungeons”. The world goes on forever (theoretically) and the players explore it in the order they choose. Open World games often occur together with Sandbox games, in which you don’t have to complete tasks in a certain order: The game situation around you can reset or change over time (e.g. who is hostile towards you). Wikipedia mentions sandbox as a type of RPG — I would categorize is as simulation.
Now, to add to the confusion, Minecraft inspired a new game called Mythruna. It’s still in development, but the beta testers are already addicted. ;-) Mythruna calls itself a Role Crafting Game… So it’s aiming to be a cross between an RPG and a building simulation. The RPG features are not in the Test Build yet, but you can check the current state out already (just walk to an island using WASD and space, and start building using left and right click, and the mouse scroll wheel with and without ctrl pressed).
One can argue that “open world” games do not make up a genre, it’s rather a property of a game that you can find in any genre. For example EVE Online has sandbox/open-world elements, too…
So apart from genre, there are other defining game properties:
- PvP and PvE — Does the player fight the environment (computer-controlled opponents) or other players (human opponents)?
- Number of players — Solo, one-on-one, or multi-player?
- Storyline — Linear, branching paths, or free-form?
- Type of maps — Open-world, sandbox, procedural maps, randomized maps, fixed maps?
- Point of view — 1st person, 3rd person, top-down, side scrolling…?
- Timing — Turn-based or real-time?
- Game setting — Contemporary, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Steampunk, Apocalypse, …?
Did I miss anything?