Exploration and risk zones

Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu
6 min readApr 22, 2021

This entry explores the relationship between player and environment in natural spaces.

It applies to most open-world games that offer a naturalistic approach to their world (Far Cry Series, Death Stranding, Zelda Breath of the wild, → I am looking at you)

Affordances — Player and Environment

There is an inescapable relationship between the player and the environment he exists in. It’s unavoidable. The player is needed for the environment to live.

The player needs the environment to fulfil his needs and transform the gameplay space into a playground by exposure alone. The player, thus, will turn the area into a set of affordances.

The player gives meaning and usage to the space he has available to generate gameplay events.

Leading lines vs prospect spaces

But to understand what that means, we need to look at how the player interprets the space it inhabits.

From a purely psychological standpoint, not just as humans but as creatures capable of perception and interpretation, we have tendencies. Geometry is attractive, and geometry imposes behaviours on us in terms of movement and orientation.

When faced with an extensive prospect space in direct advance, we will avoid and stick close to the wall.

In Interior Design and Architecture, the tendency is to try to break the space and contextualise empty spaces.

This void acts as a repulsor, and we will feel compelled to move alongside it,


When faced with two parallel walls, our behaviours dictate that we should move alongside them due to the imprinted motion.


Since walls tend to act like rigid barriers, we have gently pushed away from the wall instead of being stuck to them.

As with the prospect space above, the tendency will stick somewhere between these components and move in the directions available to us (to the left or the right).

If you would like, it creates a state of suspension between the two components. You are somehow entering a state of imponderability generated by the surfaces of the two spaces that border your world.

Types of paths

This undoubtedly leads to a classification of paths or entities that we can use to guide ourselves in and out of real-world places.

Walls — Hard Edge Barriers — Will be reliable if followed, allowing for clear directionality. In practice, we can utilise them for clear guidance. In conjunction with other elements, we can create a mental model ideal for facilitating orientation in levels and maps. They are, however, impassible and limit visibility.

Rivers — Paths — Are reliable guidance elements that will allow you to reach your destination safely without sacrificing clarity and visibility. They are, however, passable for risk since crossing a river can a daunting challenge.

Vegetation/Fog/Low Visibility — Like all zones, We can map these soft wall areas with precise delimitations; however, since visibility is low, they will look initially like Hard Edge Walls and cause the traveller to stop and think. Depending on the case, these kinds go areas with their own set of risks and generate emotion when being considered for exploration.

Directionality Tradeoff

These kinds of zone come with a few trade-offs, specifically to their property ratios.

The components that constitute these elements (as far as this topic is concerned) are:

  • Passability
  • Visibility
  • Risk

By combining different percentages of these macros, we can develop different risk zones and guidance paths.

Properties of the zone and phenomena

In general, this ties down to the game design associated with these zones but can fall into two pretty large categories.

If Passability is high and Visibility is low, then the risk increases, orientation gets lower, leading to a situation that causes some anxiety. There is a risk associated with the choice of crossing the soft wall edge. What happens there? Is there danger? In a nutshell, the smooth wall turns the zone into a prospective space.

If passability is low and visibility is high, you get a vantage point. Good for orientation

If passability is low and visibility is down, you get a wall that you can’t cross over that implicitly offers safety.

Aggressive space

Depending on the character's capabilities and the amount of information available, plus the nature of the player's needs, what we get is a clear distinction between environment where the protagonist can be either prey or predator.

In the absence of information and a high amount of soft walls surrounding the player, crossing the soft wall barrier can turn you into prayer since you don’t know what to expect.

On the other hand, with plenty of visibility, information and tools, they cross the edge put the player in a predatorial role.

Heart of the Hurricane

It should be stated that there should be at least a safe spot in every soft wall risk bubble.

This mimics the structure of a hurricane:

  • Large risk bubble
  • Obviously, soft wall edges
  • Immediate danger or high tension after crossing the edge
  • The eye of the storm serves as a pause moment in the middle of the chaos.


When we put it all together, combining paths, edges, nodes would lead to a tapestry of organic experiences that the player will have to engage with.

Clever combinations between types of paths lead to interesting ways of composing the space and generating explorative gameplay.

In practice, it would look like this:

Things that would happen:

  • Players will travel alongside cliffs, rivers and forest soft edges
  • Crossing forest edges is possible; however, it’s a risk factor, and the players would have to have to commit to being in some form of possible danger
  • Soft edges don’t have to be forests; they can be fog clouds, sand storms, low visibility weather conditions, or anything else that might put the player in danger and limit visibility but still allow for traversal.

That’s it for now.



Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Senior Open World Designer. #Leveldesign #Open World #Design @notimetoulose.