# Linearity

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• 01-12-2012, 10:12 PM
NathanH
Quote:

Originally Posted by gundato
So that gets us into a "tree falling in the woods" kind of situation: If a gamer is only ever going to play something once, does the other path even "exist"?

I think that, as along as the player is aware that branching according to their choices is occurring, then the existence of the branch is meaningful to the player even if they don't replay the game. I care more about what is going on if I know that what I'm doing affects what is going on. I suppose that for a no-replaying gamer, a game with branches is equivalent to a game that tricks you into thinking there are branches, at least until the gamer talks to someone else who has played the game.
• 01-12-2012, 10:25 PM
LTK
Quote:

Originally Posted by gundato
A friend got me thinking on something similar:

As all of us SHOULD know, The Witcher 2 has two major paths for Act 2 and Act 3. But my friend only played it once and thus only knew of one path. And video game conventions make us assume that both choices would lead to the same path.

So that gets us into a "tree falling in the woods" kind of situation: If a gamer is only ever going to play something once, does the other path even "exist"?

Good question. If you decide to play the game only once, then it's a lot like a choice in real life: the other options are gone forever, and you will never know what could have happened if you chose another path. Your choice is permanent, and the way of another path exists only as a hypothetical. You will not find out unless you travel through time. Which is kind of what starting a new game is like.

What if a game actually enforced this? Choices you make the first time are permanent, and you can only ever replay the game with those choices intact. It would be phenomenally player-unfriendly, but also really interesting. It's like a variation of the roguelike principle: instead of perma-death, which erases your entire history, you get perma-choice, which sets your history in stone. That, to me, is a far more terrifying prospect.
• 01-12-2012, 10:38 PM
Nalano
Quote:

Originally Posted by NathanH
I think that, as along as the player is aware that branching according to their choices is occurring, then the existence of the branch is meaningful to the player even if they don't replay the game. I care more about what is going on if I know that what I'm doing affects what is going on. I suppose that for a no-replaying gamer, a game with branches is equivalent to a game that tricks you into thinking there are branches, at least until the gamer talks to someone else who has played the game.

You are aware, of course, that this is why developers would much rather design linear paths that make you feel like you're making a decision rather than giving you every option conceivable: If 90% of the content is never seen by the average player, then that was wasted man-hours and money.
• 01-12-2012, 11:08 PM
Protoman
Slightly off-topic, but why do people now consider linearity a bad thing? Why would a game designer want to trick people into thinking a game is non-linear?
People seem to praise games for being "non-linear" and call poorly designed games that push you through like you're on an escalator "too linear." They speak as if it's a tree of game design that needs to be cut down. As if a game can't embrace modern game design without letting go of linearity.
Are people forgetting how GOOD linearity can be? Are they forgetting how flawed the opposite can be?
The gaming community needs to stop implying that non-linear gameplay is inherently superior to linear gameplay.
• 02-12-2012, 12:15 AM
soldant
Quote:

Originally Posted by Protoman
Are people forgetting how GOOD linearity can be?

Yes, and you can lay the blame directly at the foot of the CoD series. There's been an overabundance of heavily scripted FPS games that have a story that drives the gameplay like an out of control Thomas the Tank Engine strapped with nuclear bombs. People have decided that because CoD is basically the Michael Bay of the gaming industry that linear = bad, while simultaneously rewriting the Golden Age of Gaming (i.e. the 90s/early 2000s) to be a "non-linear" paradise... to the point where linear design is now called non-linear.

A lot of people on RPS wish games had strong stories but that generally pushes things towards a linear design, because there's way too much content to create for a complex branching story. Games without structure that lead to true non-linear design are great, but not everyone can load up Minecraft with the will to make their own CPU out of redstone.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with linear game design, as evidenced by how many people trot out Doom maps as examples of excellent level design. But since half the fun of PC gaming seems to be blaming consoles and AAA developers while praising indie devs (plenty of whom also focus on linear designs) we're going to be stuck in this "linear = bad" period for a whole yet.
• 02-12-2012, 04:39 AM
Namdrol
Quote:

Originally Posted by Protoman
Slightly off-topic, but why do people now consider linearity a bad thing? Why would a game designer want to trick people into thinking a game is non-linear?
People seem to praise games for being "non-linear" and call poorly designed games that push you through like you're on an escalator "too linear." They speak as if it's a tree of game design that needs to be cut down. As if a game can't embrace modern game design without letting go of linearity.
Are people forgetting how GOOD linearity can be? Are they forgetting how flawed the opposite can be?
The gaming community needs to stop implying that non-linear gameplay is inherently superior to linear gameplay.

I think some of the pushback against linearity comes from those who don't like streamlined cinematic vgames, and they are confusing linear gameplay design with linear story.

Since most single player big budget games attempt to motivate the player through story and they spend most of their time and money on that aspect, the story is the defining feature of those games. And because people are buying a game, they want that defining characteristic (story) to be a game. That is, multiple unpredictable outcomes and meaningful player impact on the game at the story level. Computers cannot do that. and people get angry because the biggest part of the videogame they bought isn't a game, and their input matters diddly/squat; or the extent of it is 'choose ending 1,2, or 3 by pressing one of these buttons' a la ME3/DX:HR.

So some people get pissed that these 'games' are too linear, not realizing that story =/= gameplay. Stories should be seen as being separate from the game part of a videogame. If people understood this, maybe there would be fewer angry gamers, probably not though.
• 02-12-2012, 06:44 AM
Mohorovicic
Quote:

Originally Posted by soldant
Yes, and you can lay the blame directly at the foot of the CoD series.

Which is ironic since no game does linearity as good as CoD.
• 02-12-2012, 09:31 AM
NathanH
Quote:

Originally Posted by Nalano
You are aware, of course, that this is why developers would much rather design linear paths that make you feel like you're making a decision rather than giving you every option conceivable: If 90% of the content is never seen by the average player, then that was wasted man-hours and money.

You're basically right, but I'd be careful of taking this argument too far. Even if most people playing don't play more than once, games that are less linear tend to get review points and buzz for this, and this is important. Also when people who have played the game talk to each other, it becomes obvious if the non-linearity was real or invented, which might not be good for the reception of your inevitable sequel.
• 02-12-2012, 11:07 AM
b0rsuk
Quote:

Originally Posted by LTK
It's pretty useless to categorise games into linear and non-linear. Every game that has an ending (or a 'win' state) can be considered linear, because every player has the same starting point, and will eventually arrive at the same conclusion.

Using the same logic, your life is completely linear - it starts with birth and ends with death.

Note that you can draw any number of lines (not saying straight lines) between two points. When people say a game is linear, they most likely mean their progress is a line, and always the same line. Like rails, except that rails are certain to branch sooner or later, "games" aren't. People are complaining because they feel their actions are very limited, there's little or no choice.

It's the number of interesting ways from A to B you can take that matters.
• 02-12-2012, 11:12 AM
soldant
Quote:

Originally Posted by Mohorovicic
Which is ironic since no game does linearity as good as CoD.

I'd kind of agree with that assessment, because the CoD games do a good job at being BIG AND LOUD AND EXPLOSIONS AND PEOPLE BEING SHOT etc, but it's a tired genre and it's too on rails which constantly shoves you forward.

While we're on the subject of linear design, the entire "RETURN TO THE COMBAT AREA" arguments need to be toned down a bit too. Prior to that all we had were big invisible walls or arbitrary walls that blocked off a section that quite obviously went to nowhere. I agree it's a bit silly, but a big invisible wall that clearly indicates "SKYBOX RENDERING STARTS HERE PLEASE DO NOT CROSS" isn't much better.
• 02-12-2012, 12:01 PM
coldvvvave
While I appreciate the effort of devs to add some branching in a mostly linear storyline but often writing suffers and its not a good thing.

Quote:

Hey, Paul. The computer wants to merge with my brain or something.
Almost direct quote.
• 04-12-2012, 05:16 AM
Mohorovicic
Quote:

Originally Posted by soldant
I'd kind of agree with that assessment, because the CoD games do a good job at being BIG AND LOUD AND EXPLOSIONS AND PEOPLE BEING SHOT etc

And that's exactly what you want if your game is as linear as CoD. Otherwise, if the player isn't in the action at least 90% of the time, he's going to look around, wander around and burst the bubble.
• 04-12-2012, 06:39 AM
Internet
I agree with everyone else on the difference between linear level design and linear story, but I would say that it's on a continuum. On the most linear side of level design you have Canabalt and on the most non-linear side you have something like Minecraft. On the most linear story you have something like Unreal Tournament 3 and on the most non-linear side of story you have Dwarf Fortress, Mount & Blade, or Fallout 2 a few rungs down.

I would say that games can be good anywhere on the continuum, but the further you get to the extremes the more sacrifices you have to make. Also, without the illusion of choice games lose the greatest strength of the medium; which is the ability to make choices and interactivity.
• 04-12-2012, 07:52 AM
soldant
Quote:

Originally Posted by Mohorovicic
And that's exactly what you want if your game is as linear as CoD. Otherwise, if the player isn't in the action at least 90% of the time, he's going to look around, wander around and burst the bubble.

Except that doesn't happen, as evidenced by... well, pretty much everything else. Half Life 2 is still a linear run from scripted sequence A to B to C until the end, but nobody's complaining about that.

What's off with CoD is the pacing. It's entirely possible to have a linear game and not toss explosions at the player every 20 seconds. Again, having secret areas or giving the player the opportunity to look around a room does not constitute non-linearity.
• 04-12-2012, 08:30 AM
Nalano
Quote:

Originally Posted by soldant
Except that doesn't happen, as evidenced by... well, pretty much everything else. Half Life 2 is still a linear run from scripted sequence A to B to C until the end, but nobody's complaining about that.

What's off with CoD is the pacing. It's entirely possible to have a linear game and not toss explosions at the player every 20 seconds. Again, having secret areas or giving the player the opportunity to look around a room does not constitute non-linearity.

Long story short, linearity sucks when, due to narrative errors, disbelief is no longer suspended.

Long story short, non-linearity sucks when, due to lack of cohesive narrative, disbelief is no longer suspended.
• 04-12-2012, 09:40 AM
Mohorovicic
Quote:

Originally Posted by soldant
Except that doesn't happen, as evidenced by... well, pretty much everything else. Half Life 2 is still a linear run from scripted sequence A to B to C until the end, but nobody's complaining about that.

I've been bitching about that for years.
• 04-12-2012, 10:46 AM
soldant
Quote:

Originally Posted by Mohorovicic
I've been bitching about that for years.

So go play Minecraft, it's clear you have a problem with these types of games.
• 04-12-2012, 10:47 AM
LTK
Even more nonlinear than Minecraft is Hyperrogue. :D
• 04-12-2012, 12:30 PM
ado
Quote:

Originally Posted by Mohorovicic
Which is ironic since no game does linearity as good as CoD.

That's highly debatable, even if you keep it only to the first person genre. The Half-Life games are a tired and obvious example (especially the 1st one and ep.2) and the simple reason is pacing. In comparison the modern CoD games are pure pornography of violence.

But for me Portal does linearity the best, by far, because it never ever endangers it's illusion with it's design, which is something every shooter game does by default since death is potentially around every corner and you can get stuck and die and repeat a section a bunch of times for whatever reason. And being stuck in Portal means that you're still in the illusion and having to experiment your way out of a problem.

And even Uncharted 2 does it better than CoD because it has pacing and a classy adventure story to tell with characters that you can maybe even relate to. But then you have excellent games in other genres like the Metal Gear games, Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, God of War games (that do the spectacle thing so much better than any FPS game so far) etc.

In my view CoD has become a pretty good example of how not to do linearity, which makes it a bit depressing that every linear shooter out there is so desperate to emulate it.

Edit: Also, I very much second what Nalano said about suspension of disbelief.
• 04-12-2012, 12:36 PM
sonson
Quote:

Originally Posted by Nalano
In other words, there's no particular reason to divide everything between 'linear' and 'non-linear' unless you were attempting to make a value judgement on one or both.

Exactly this. A good linear game for me is far better than a poor non-linear one. Freedom of choice doesn't matter a jot if those choices aren't any good in the first place.
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