The Birth of Open World Games: The Influence of Jet Set Willy
Released back in 1984 for the ZX Spectrum as the direct sequel to Manic Miner; Jet Set Willy by Matthew Smith brought a new level of freedom to video gaming. This game was one of the first (maybe THE first in gaming history?) to feature open-ended gameplay and non-linear progression, allowing players to explore the screen’s of it’s world in any order they chose. Yes, I am proclaiming Jet Set Willy was indeed one of the first open world games.Jet Set Willy hanging around the toilet.Jet Set Willy vs Manic Miner
Before Jet Set Willy, video games had a set progression that players had to follow, and on home computer systems of the time such as the ZX Spectrum, this unfortunately was an expectation due to it’s obvious limited memory and capabilities. However, Jet Set Willy broke the mold! Refreshingly and surprisingly the game allowed players (as Willy) to explore every room of Willy’s mansion in any order they chose which opened up new possibilities for re-playability and added a whole new level of excitement and intrigue.
This was an absolute treat for gamers of the time, especially for fans of it’s predecessor game Manic Miner, where players could only direct Willy to collect objects around one screen (one level) at a time. Now, “levels” were gone, because the whole game was just one big open world level. Staying true to the main objectives of Manic Miner (i.e. collect objects and avoid the baddies); Willy could walk around his mansion, this time room by room, and return to any room at will. Player’s could even hang out in any one room if they felt like it as long as they wanted as there was no pressure to move along. As a kid I used to hang around the bathroom a lot.. more specifically the animated toilet, for some reason. I think I just liked it.
It is no far-reach to say Jet Set Willy’s innovative approach to gameplay inspired and influenced many future games. In fact, it’s easy to see the legacy of Jet Set Willy in some of today’s most popular open world games. The Grand Theft Auto series, for example, owes a lot to Jet Set Willy in terms of its non-linear structure and open-ended exploration. Similarly, the Fallout series also draws from Jet Set Willy’s groundbreaking approach, by allowing players to make choices and progress through the game in their own way. Of course with less graphic and sound cues than that of Grand Theft Auto and Fallout (due to the limitations of the ZX Spectrum); besides the fact the “items collected” number had changed, players were forced to imagine their own character progression as they played. But this is fine. With what Matthew Smith had at his disposal at the time in terms of coding and system limitations, coupled with a tight release deadline, the game was one of the most impressive and biggest platform (open world) games of the time.The Kitchen. The corner stone of all great open world games. And it so obviously looks like a kitchen. ahem.
I can only think of Skool Daze (also from 1984) as a game that could rival it in terms of open world and non-linear play. Although to be fair, in Skool Daze you were confined to a small school setting, and although you could walk around as much as you wanted (this would eventually impose penalties on the player in the form of lines), I suppose it did in fact have linear gameplay in the way that it was confined to the chronology of a typical school day, lessons and all.
With this considered, I think it’s safe to say that it was in fact Jet Set Willy that set the stage for the open-world, non-linear games we know and love today.The Cold Store room featured a graphically innovative swinging rope.Conclusion
It’s amazing to think about how far we’ve come in terms of open world games. Jet Set Willy may not have had the graphics or sound effects of modern games, but it paved the way for the open world games that we know and love today and set the standard for what open world games could be. It’s legacy lives on in the countless open world games that have come after it.
The impact of Matthew Smith’s masterpiece Jet Set Willy on the world of gaming is firmly cemented and will be forever acknowledged in history (at least certainly on this website), and whether you’re a fan of retro games or modern games; there’s no denying the importance of Jet Set Willy in the context of open world games’ history. So, next time you’re playing your favorite open world game, take a moment to think about the trailblazer that started it all: Jet Set Willy.
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* This article was originally published here