What is Sandbox? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

The term sandbox refers to games that allow the player freedom to explore a world that feels limitless in its options, and promotes non-stop exploration. Another term that tends to fly around is Open World, in which the player takes on the role of a character and has access to pretty much anywhere on the map without very little loading time. These types of games are starting to become the norm in regards to game design, because now developers are starting to see the benefits of allowing their fanbase to traverse around this magical free world without any issue. Back before the dawn of Nintendo’s Mario 64, which help to revolutionize the world 3D open world genre, many titles had players situated within very rigid walls which meant that a lot of exploration was limited to only certain areas. Now fast forward to today and you have games like Skyrim demonstrating just how remarkable a game can be when you allow the player to create their own journey. Let’s take a much closer look at the sandbox genre, and just which games have helped to transform the game industry as a whole.

Open World Experience

Open world as stated in our first paragraph, refers to a game that allows the player to freely explore a unique world without any limitations. That means very little loading times, a vast array of ways to journey around the world, and take part in objectives that encourage you to go beyond what’s expected. Role playing games have certainly taken advantage of this criteria and have amazed players worldwide for years. It’s not just role playing games that can benefit from this open world experience, but also adventure games can truly create a spectacular experience for just about anyone. With the way technology is advancing along with new hardware accessories that only help to further emphasize the immersive experience that open world games have to offer, the future of sandbox gaming is only just beginning to take fight. The perfect example of a truly open world experience would have to be that of Mario 64, because not only did it create a paradigm shift in the way developers would approach their games, it totally remodeled the entire blueprint of how games are meant to be played.

Super Mario 64

  • System/Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release Date: June 23, 1996

The 90’s were an exceptional time for any gamer who grew up in that era, because that was when gaming had really started to explode and technology was beginning to advance forward. Nintendo had always been at the forefront when it came to innovation, and to this day a lot of the peripherals and hardware we love so much derive from the geniuses at Nintendo’s headquarters here in Japan. Their groundbreaking achievements have allowed us to see the gaming world in a different light, along with other remarkable companies like Sega who too also ushered in new ways of playing with the Dreamcast. Super Mario 64 was just on a totally different level because at the time, 3D gaming wasn’t necessarily a fully functional platform. Many companies dipped their hands into the cookie jar, but many simply didn’t have the tech prowess that Nintendo had.

What Super Mario 64 did was it took what we all knew and loved about the series, which was its platforming adventure formula, and threw it into a world that allowed so much more interaction and freedom unlike anything we’ve seen before. Not only could you run and jump atop enemy heads on a whim, but now you could do so without any loading times and in complete 3D. This was unprecedented and even today Mario 64 is widely regarded as the game that spawned the creation of all the games we now play today. From the unforgettable soundtrack to the marvelous level design, Mario 64 came with all the nuts and bolts and threw in some extra goodies to entice you.

Super Mario 64 -Launch Trailer (Wii U Virtual Console)

Endless Options

When you first hop into an open world game the first thing you tend to ask yourself is “What do I do first?” You’re so unsure of what to do because for the first time you’ve actually been given permission to do just whatever the heck you wanted to do, and not ever feel restricted. You walk around the town for a bit just to check out the scenery, maybe even walk into a building just to see what the interior looks like. To your surprise there’s very little loading time in between and within seconds you’re now in someone’s house, rummaging through their belongings in search for clues to beating an objective.

This feeling have having endless options is the true selling point of sandbox games, because much like a sandbox, if one idea doesn’t seem to fit your criteria you could always come up with another one that does. Sandbox games are what dreams are made of, because these types of situations are things that you never thought were possible back in the day, but now everything is right under your nose and nothing can stop you. One fantastic example of this is Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series, in particular the more recent V, that now not only allows you to immerse yourself in a mind blowing single player campaign, but can take to the streets online in the same open world.

Grand Theft Auto V

  • System/Platform: Multi Platform
  • Publisher: Rockstar Games
  • Developer: Rockstar North
  • Release Date: September 17, 2013

While Grand Theft Auto V can be quite subjective in terms of the content within, what it provides is an experience that you can’t get in any other video game. Much like Super Mario 64 that helped to push the boundaries in 3D platforming, it was Grand Theft Auto III that took that blueprint and evolved it. Grand Theft Auto V takes all of the pros from past GTA titles like San Andreas, Vice City and IV, and wraps it all together beautifully in this almost lifelike title. As you travel around the fictional city which resembles that of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, you find yourself knee deep in this eclectic adventure that takes you from point A all the way to point Z without any hiccup in between. You can travel in just about any way you’d like whether it be in a jet plane, helicopter, car, or something as simple as a bicycle. All of these methods of transport just further emphasize just how expansive GTA V is and you can go anywhere your heart desires and discover new territory.

The story of GTA V itself plays a major role in encouraging you in traveling around the state, which is remarkable because it encourages you to take off the safety belt and just go crazy. One minute you’re doing a mission where you have to steal an airplane and gather goods for a drug cartel, and the next minute you’re racing down the street on a motorcycle trying to outrun an annoying paparazzi from snapping photos. There’s never a feeling of boredom, especially now with the online side of it because what made you weep with excitement in the campaign, you can do it all with friends and thousands of other players in an online open world frenzy.

Grand Theft Auto V Trailer

Enormous Depth

Sandbox games just come with this enormous depth to them that you often can’t clear in one sitting. These games require so much of your time because of how vast the world is, and objectives may take up a large chunk of your gameplay experience. It’s because of this depth that give sandbox games that distinguished charm and separate them from the other genres that tend to play on a more linear scale. Mind you there’s nothing wrong with taking a linear approach to gaming, but there can oftentimes be roadblocks within the infrastructure of the game that take away from the experience and leave you wishing there was just a little bit more available. Now we’re starting to see more connectivity between the two where let's say for example, the story follows a very linear plot but the objectives themselves allow you the versatility to still travel around freely. You don’t have to travel along this linear road to get to that objective, now you can choose whatever direction you desire to achieve the same result. One prime example of this is Fallout 4.

Fallout 4

  • System/Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
  • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
  • Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
  • Release Date: November 10, 2015

In our previous ‘What is’ article, we spend a good chunk of time looking at the perks behind what made Elder Scrolls: Skyrim such a fantastic RPG for anyone to pick up and play. We decided that we covered that mammoth title already, so giving Fallout 4 its much deserved spotlight was important. Much like Skyrim, Fallout 4 gives players the freedom to modify the game in whatever fashion they’d like, so long as they fall under the company guideline. This allowed players to take an already amazing title and now add on whatever they wanted to create an even more sensational experience. This is a lot like our sandbox analogy earlier where you could simply refine and alter your sandcastle in whatever way you wanted, and create a very unique experience for not only yourself, but others as well.

That’s the beauty of Fallout 4, it’s that while you can use these mods solely for your own personal gain, you can also share those mods with the community and hear feedback from the developers themselves. Bethesda has had an amazing track record when it comes to interacting with their community, often times even taking ideas from certain members and promoting it so that others can partake in that modder’s hard work. Fallout 4 throws you into this desolate yet living free world, where you have to rely on collecting items in order to upgrade weapons, while using your dog to sniff out enemies and clues as to where to head next. All of this put together creates an experience like no other because now you have man and animal working together seamlessly in this massive open world, in search for the truth and to restore what’s left of humanity.

Fallout 4 Official Trailer

Final Thoughts

We love sandbox games because it’s like the game developer giving you the keys to the vehicle and telling you to drive wherever you please. That opportunity is something we’re starting to see more of in other genres now, which is only a small taste of things to come in this rapidly evolving world of gaming. With games like Horizon: Zero Dawn just around the corner, along with Square’s more recent Final Fantasy XV growing in popularity, there’s no telling where we’ll head next in regards to sandbox gaming but be sure Honey’s Anime will be right there as it all unfolds. Which sandbox titles do you enjoy? Let us know in the comments section below, and be sure to share and retweet our articles to friends to keep the community running strong!

As always for all things sweet, with all the buzzing news straight from Japan, be sure to keep it locked here on Honey’s Anime.

Fallout-4-game-Wallpaper What is Sandbox? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]


Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.

A passionate fan of gaming, writing, journalism, anime, and philosophy. I've lived in Japan for many years and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love to travel around Japan and learn about the history and culture! Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles and watch me play on twitch.tv/honeysgaming ! Take care!

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