Yeah, I feel like the term is pretty poorly-defined. That and "sandbox." When I think of a sandbox I picture an environment that gives the player a wide set of tools and lets the player use them to construct whatever he imagines. LittleBigPlanet is probably the closest thing we've had in a while. Of course it's not totally unlimited or unrestrained (nothing in the real world is) by the emphasis is on player-driven construction. But I don't think of GTA as a sandbox since by and large the only things you can do in the open world are 1) drive and 2) shoot. Yes, there are various minigames and side-missions but those aren't really facilitated by the open-world as they could just as easily be items in a menu. They aren't part of the main world, they're ancillary to it.
If it wasn't implicit in my post, I'll explicate it here: we're talking greater and lesser degrees of interactivity, not absolute on/off. More linearity means less interactivity, and vice versa.
I haven't thought about this too long but I'm inclined to say this far oversimplifies the issue; I don't think interactivity can be compared so easily with linearity. Insofar as the concept of "interactivity" can be quantified, I'm not sure how it would be measured such that Half-Life 2 (generally agreed a linear game) has drastically less of it than Grand Theft Auto 3 (generally agreed a non-linear game). Both games allow full degrees of movement in a 3D world with abilities of shooting, driving vehicles, crouching and a a few others. Neither game requires substantively more button inputs or mastery of complex mechanics than the other (at least, not compared to, say, Tetris). But your simple inverse proportion would hold that GTA3 is far more interactive than HL2. I'm not sure I agree. GTA3 might give the player more things to do, but surely interactivity isn't simply the sum total of activities included, or else Mario Party is the pinnacle of interactivity. I like MP, but hey.
I disagree with Opiate but I also completely disagree with this. How would the full impact of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings be reproducible as a play? (Yeah I know there was that failed LotR musical, but let's not pretend it was able to capture the imagination of anyone over the age of 10 for a second as well as the films did.) Transformers? Inception? Fight Club? Alien? (How would you even do effective horror in a play?) Or even Let the Right One In (just saw it last night). What you're saying was true at the beginning of film (when movies basically were filmed plays) but you can't deny that the medium has progressed light-years since then with advances in the use of editing, cinematography, sound, special effects and all the other movie-only things that facilitate telling stories in ways you just can't do on a stage, where everything is revealed through dialogue and the set can't change that often and everything in the scene is always visible. You can't do a montage in a play. You can't do selective framing in a play. You can't do slow-motion in a play (not well anyway). You can't have anything larger than the theater in a play. You can't have anything so small as to be invisible from 100 feet away in a play. You can't kill somebody in a remotely convincing way in a play (magicians notwithstanding).
Take any random movie review from Ebert or whomever, and see how many of the observations could just as well have been made of a play. You have The 100 Greatest Movie Quotes and The 100 Greatest Characters, but strangely no one's come up with The 100 Greatest Crossfades or The 100 Greatest Pans.
That's because you're being needlessly reductionist. No one's come up with the 100 Greatest Stage Directions or the 100 Greatest Set Designs in the history of theater either even those things are elemental to plays. But what people remember and write about plays are the sums of those things and, yes, characters and quotes, just like they remember characters and quotes from all fiction any form. Quotes and Characters are not specific to the theater, and the theater does not have a monopoly on the best of them.
(If you insist on being so reductionist, however, there are most certainly discussions of the Greatest Camera Shots however. Try doing any of these or these on a stage.)
Let's say for me, non-linear storytelling in Starcraft II was a REAL bummer. Not only couldn't you simply dive down one branch but the choices you made had basically no impact aside from what units you get.
Life or death, trust or abandonment, forgotten after a simple cutscene.
If that's how it's gonna be, give me back my linear storytelling, where your actions are remembered and you get an actual dramatic flow and not... that.
Now Saints Row 2, that I dug. Each branch was linear but you were free to dive down each one at any time and each told a nice, consistent story.
Linear vs non-linear gameplay, I don't care that much. I grew up on a steady SNES diet, stuff was linear but awesome as hell. Oh, and 2-player Metal Slug on NeoGeoCD for live
Depends on the type of game. However, making the player think he has choices that he doesn't (invisible walls, exploding cars instantly killing a player preventing him from walking past/around a certain area) is just fucking hokey.
Linearity depends on if it fits the game or not. Some games are set up with stage/level design and its entirely fitting. Being confined in a RPG that offers an open world but shuts you off from it is frustrating.
SSX3 claimed to be more open world, but actually was full of invisible walls and instant death areas that "appeared" to be open. It's presenting the player with a view and slapping their hand hand for trying to go there that sucks.
I like how Assassin's creed 2 approached open world gameplay. The game allowed you to wander in the city of but not too far from the main story. The game lets you explore the environment piece by piece so you dont get lost or overwhelmed by the size of it.