Are Levels Really Necessary?

5th September 2006

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

In a post entitled Loading Screens: A Waste Of Time? Leon said; “it’s even nice to have small break between all the action.” I disagreed because I feel that’s the job of the developer but it got me thinking about the flow of levels and the constraints of a game engine. Let me explain.

Quick Survey

Here are a few questions for you:

  • On average how long do you spend playing a game in one sitting?
  • Is that through choice or circumstances like outside distractions?
  • What would be your ideal play time? (You know, in a perfect world)
  • Have you or would you play a game right through without stopping?

I considered installing a polling system for the above questions but decided against it. I think the answer may be very interesting. I personally play for a max of 2 hours before I need to take a break. It’s not the sitting down in fornt of a computer (I do that for 10 hours or more sometimes) it’s the level of commintment. I get too excited.

A Prefect Engine

Anyway, can you imagine a game where there were no levels? The game engine and the computer you were playing it on have the ability to create and load an area so big just moving from one corner to another would take hours. All the details are there, meaning there’s no mini loads. In fact that’s irrelevant, as long as the player is completely unaware of it.

How would this affect level design? How would it affect you playing routine or rhythm? Knowing that there are no defined levels could make it hard for the designers to control the action. Are level need from a purely gameplay point of view?

Was Leon right about needing a break? IS it the job of the designers to control that, or should it be the player who decides?

Perhaps instead of levels players reach Option Areas. These allow the player to choose the type of next section they play. All would need to be played eventually but it’s the player who decides the flow not the designer. Maybe that’s giving the player too much control.

Your turn

I have quite a bit more to say but I think I’ll open it up for discussion first.

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4 Comments

  1. Luke L

    My personal preference would definitely be towards levels. You see, games like Splinter Cell and Halo (two of my favourites) do this very nicely. The levels link up so if you want you can play right through with only a few small breaks. I can complete most Splinter Cell levels in an hour to an hour & a half on Expert difficulty, this feels like just the right amount of time for a quick spot of action.

    Other games which don’t feature ‘levels” such as GTA are good, but if you wish to replay a particular section or something, it is very hard to do so. A bad example of combining these two seperate ideas is Thief: Deadly Shadows. There are many times I’ve wished I could go back and replay one of the earlier levels, just to try it again. But alas, I would have to restart the entire game!

    Or load from a savepoint which I ultimately end up overwriting. Overall, I would always take levels over full game. Merely for conveinience, I can load up and play my favourite bits in minutes. Mainly through choice, I decide when I’ve had enough and quit.

    Oh, and to answer your questions; on average I play from 30 mins to up to 4 hours in one setting. My ideal playtime is what I currently do, if I don’t feel like playing I don’t. And yes, I’ve played a few games straight through, but many are so long I can’t.

  2. Ol Scratch

    * On average how long do you spend playing a game in one sitting?

    From an hour to three hours, depending on the next question.

    * Is that through choice or circumstances like outside distractions?

    Both: by choice, it goes longer, because I have no internal sense of time. It would be nice if the game makers would install a clock we can see when we play.

    * What would be your ideal play time? (You know, in a perfect world)

    Two or three hours, above four I start to lose my “edge” in the game and start making silly mistakes.

    * Have you or would you play a game right through without stopping?

    I did it ONCE, with Doom2; but I would much rather a game that can keep me occupied over more than a few hours, which is why I like HL and HL2.

    That said, there are times when I *NEED* the break (read: bathroom), others where I need to flex my fingers and work out the stiffness, so load pauses are nice, but they just go too long on this machine.

  3. Ol Scratch

    My personal preference would definitely be towards levels. You see, games like Splinter Cell and Halo (two of my favourites) do this very nicely. The levels link up so if you want you can play right through with only a few small breaks. I can complete most Splinter Cell levels in an hour to an hour & a half on Expert difficulty, this feels like just the right amount of time for a quick spot of action.

    Other games which don’t feature ‘levels” such as GTA are good, but if you wish to replay a particular section or something, it is very hard to do so. A bad example of combining these two seperate ideas is Thief: Deadly Shadows. There are many times I’ve wished I could go back and replay one of the earlier levels, just to try it again. But alas, I would have to restart the entire game!

    Or load from a savepoint which I ultimately end up overwriting. Overall, I would always take levels over full game. Merely for conveinience, I can load up and play my favourite bits in minutes. Mainly through choice, I decide when I’ve had enough and quit.

    Oh, and to answer your questions; on average I play from 30 mins to up to 4 hours in one setting. My ideal playtime is what I currently do, if I don’t feel like playing I don’t. And yes, I’ve played a few games straight through, but many are so long I can’t.

    I have a similar complaint about Far Cry: you can’t go back a reasonable amount and replay a small section: you’re forced to die first, and start up where they game makes you. At least with HL et al, you can pick and choose your restart points (and, yeah, they allow you to go back further and replay whole levels if you wish, as long as you either do a normal save, or have a series of quick saves prior to the one you use now–heck iirc, the game stacks the auto-saves).

  4. I want to be clear here. I’m not suggesting that you can’t save and have to play the game with no breaks, or that the game decides where you can save I.E. Farcry or Pariah.

    I’m saying that it’s one huge level and YOU decide where and when to stop.

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