Sandbox or nonlinear games are a form of video game where the player is free to explore an “open world” scenario. This means they are free to ignore the main plot of the game or the pattern of objectives which have been laid out for them and simply go their own way through the game world, making their own decisions. Frequently designers furnish these worlds with lots of side quests and subplots to really allow the player to feel they are interacting with the world at large and that there are living breathing people within the game. Here are some of the most interesting examples.
(1984): One of the earliest examples of a sandbox games was this space trading simulator which, through a then revolutionary
though now rudimentary graphical interface of 3 dimensional wire frames, appeared to contain an entire galaxy of planets, races, traders, currencies, products and laws. As well as buying and selling products (both legal and illegal) across the galaxy you also had to contend with or join up with criminal elements, cyber police and spy networks.
The Elder Scrolls Series (1994-Present): Perhaps the most fascinatingly detailed world ever committed to a video game is the continent of Tamriel in which The Elder Scrolls takes place. A rich, diverse landmass separated into nine vast and widely differing states, Tamriel has stretched across five major games plus another nine releases. Each country has its own history, landmarks, races, culture, laws, government and police and the overall detail of the franchise is absolutely stunning.
Grand Theft Auto Series (1997-Present): The most famous and controversial of all sandbox titles is, of course, Grand Theft Auto. Beginning in the late nineties with bird's eye view of a sprawling city based on New York in which the player was allowed to pursue their own agenda, which often meant murder and mayhem, the franchise has evolved into a breath taking, deep, cinematic experience. The fifth in the series is currently in development.