Recently I read an interesting article on Gamasutra, that I believe any aspiring game designer should keep in mind. It was on the topic of creating immersive worlds for the player to explore. To be clear though, it should be mentioned this isn't the only way to go about it and in fact it is only a theory. However, part of being a designer is simply knowing that there are many ways to build a game, and that knowing more of them is helpful even if you don't use them. So essentially the theory is as follows:
When building a game world for the player, build one that doesn't care about the player.
Don't lead the player by the hand, don't always open to these epic vistas, just let the player do what they're going to do. In some older games, levels felt more expansive, and it felt like there was more to discover. Many of you may have seen this map:
Part of the reason for this feeling was probably because there really wasn't much (if anything) to guide the player along their way. Players started the game, and they would explore until they found where they needed to be. These days we're so terrified that the player might lose their way that it can result in the 2010 map. Either that or we throw giant blinking red signs EVERYWHERE so the player can't possibly lose their way which will actually make the level FEEL smaller.
So what essentially happened with older games is that those worlds didn't care about the player because of technical limitations. But it worked out because they were still brilliant games. We can still do that with today's technology, but we as creators need to be aware of the fact we can let go. We DON'T need to attempt to micromanage every interaction the player will ever encounter.
By building a world that doesn't care about the player you build a world that is closer to our own world. Life continues around you whether you are actually do anything or not. The player will still have things to do but it's up to them to actually go out and find it. By doing this, yes perhaps they'll wander into places without any real value but the sheer sense of exploration will go a long way.
Like to the original article: http://gamasutra.com/blogs/AdrianChmielarz/20140307/212594/The_Secret_of_Immersive_Game_Worlds.php