Poll Question 163 – Is Endless Spawning a Valid Gameplay Mechanic?

15th March 2010

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

You don’t see it too often but when you do it can be as frustrating as hell – endless streams of enemies, poring out of some entrance with an almost demon passion.

On the surface I would say that there is never any place for this game mechanic in a normal map or mod, but there are times when a designer may want to challenge your preconception that you are invincible.

I think it’s important for larger mods to occasionally have a section where a player can’t win and must make a decision to move on. The problem is that most players don’t want to “move on” and therefore view these types of situations as badly designed areas.

It’s important that the player be told “There may be areas that are too well protected, so ignore those!”. If they aren’t told the “invincibility” mentality kicks in and anything except success is met with criticism of the map or modder.

We don’t complain when we can’t jump 50 feet into the air, so why do we complain when we can’t win. Because we have yet to play a game that somebody can’t beat.

Think back to Space Invaders. The mentality was very different. We knew we couldn’t win because essentially there was no end. The invaders just kept coming, faster and faster, lower and lower. Of course gaming has come on a long way since then but shouldn’t we occasionally challenge the assumptions of the player? If for no other reason than to shock them into new thinking patterns.

Thanks to Jasper for this week’s Poll Question.

The Poll


  1. I’m agree that this kind of gameplay can be interesting in a long game (tunnel in chapter anti-citizen one for exemple), but I don’t like little survival map whith no end.

  2. Luke L

    There have been one or two very small mods I’ve played that have done unlimited spawning well (the old Antlion one was a notable example) but for the vast majority of mods and even more so for triple-A games it’s just an utter cop-out. CoD4 and CoD5 were awful for this, especially on Veteran as you couldn’t move forwards against an endless wave of enemies.

    On a related kind of note however, RANDOMISED spawning is brilliant. It’s one of the reasons the original Alien vs Predator is so much better than the new Aliens vs Predator. Ultimately there will be the same number of enemies on a given map, but you never know where they’re going to come from each time you replay it.

  3. RunningJack

    it should only be in scripted sequences where the player doesnt take part in directly.. such as fighting scenes between friends and foes just to increase the atmosphere.
    and even if the player should take part in that fights… he always has to be on the stronger side, to avoid frustations.
    Or there should be a time limit. so that the spawning stops after a certain time…
    but it NEVER should be in a common situation. I stopped playing the mod “strider mountain” because of its supid neverending enemy spawning

  4. Soylent Bacon

    As long as it makes sense in the story and it is made clear that the waves are endless, I like it.

    It pretty much defines Left 4 Dead’s gameplay, and works well when used more subtly in System Shock 2 and Bioshock, in which they occasionally spawn enemies to keep the player from becoming bored as he wanders an atmospheric corridor while backtracking to grab a key item.

  5. Voted yes but there must be a good reason

    When it’s a good mechanic:
    Strider Mountain. There is only one instance of this (yes, just one).
    End of Chapter 6, Garrison, where the authors have quite deliberately made it impossible to wipe out the Combine in that area and you need to hit the ground running for the tunnel in double quick time.
    This is an actual reflection of what real life armies do. Leaving hardcore pockets of resistance behind so as to pursue the main objective — winning the war.

    Other good reasons include you having to do something under fire – blow something up, solve a puzzle, go for essential ordnance. Members of armed forces can relate to this as well, I think.

    When it’s just plain silly:
    When it’s endless spawning just for the sake of it and to make it near impossible to survive.
    The end of Calamity. An absolutely brilliant Mod with the final scene ruined by constantly, endlessly spawning Combine Elite. What was that about? There is no where to go. You can but mindlessly slaughter and hope to survive with 1HP when the train blows up.

  6. clunkfish

    I almost voted no, but opted for yes but with good reason. I have to admit that one thing I like about gaming is the tidiness of it – you enter an area full of baddies, then clean it all up. You can then explore in peace if you want to. I like that. Re-spawning enemies prevents it, and particularly when there are goodies to be found by diligent exploration it can be extremely frustrating because you keep getting interrupted as you attempt a difficult jump, or to climb up a painstakingly assembled pile of unstable items, for the nth time!

  7. I voted Yes, with a good reason.

    For the life of me, the only endlessly spawning part in Strider Mountain that I remember is the epic battle right before you get the buggy; and they stop spawning when you hit the right button.

    I don’t like endlessly spawning enemies that you can’t hope to defeat. (The antlion pits in Ep1 are bad enough.) If there’s a short enough learning curve for you to realize you should just avoid that area or RUN, then it would be okay, but I don’t want to have to reload 5 times to learn it.

    I’ve gotten used to cleaning out an area, and after going forward I can come back and there are no enemies to deal with. However, that’s not very realistic. (Maybe if it’s been a short time it’s fine. But if it’s been awhile in game-time, some enemies have probably moved in. That occasionally happens in a mod, but it always surprises me!)

  8. hoff

    Sorry, Phillip, but all your questions always invite the same answer: “Yes, but only if done right.”

    Of course, it’s lame to just have a flood of enemies and you never quite know whether they stop or if it makes any sense to wait. But if you do it smartly, it can make a lot of sense. For example: If you have an event where you have to defend a certain position, you might want to use a timer or set of challenges to determine the end while the enemy swarms stay constant. You can only do that with an “infinite” number of respawns until the winning conditions are met.

  9. MikeS

    No! Never! I hate infinite spawning. Whenever I come across it — a mercifully rare occurrence — I nearly always quite the map/mod in disgust. You only have to ask yourself: “Do Valve do it?”

    Answer: “No.”

    Because it’s crap, and that’s that. 🙂

    1. Kyouryuu

      Technically the Antlions do it, most obviously with the Antlion pits in Episode 1.

      1. Da Fat Cat

        And that’s why I hated that section of Episode 1

  10. grabbie

    Endless spawning is terrible. I recently beat Call of Duty 5 (World at War) and this game is loaded with endless respawning. The only way to stop the endless wave of guys is to move past an invisible line/barrier/trigger point that the developer set. Playing on the highest difficulty setting will make you want to break a controller. The game isn’t rewarding you for having talent, just that you can blindly charge ahead.

    Endless respawns takes you out of the environment since it’s very hard to stop and look around. I don’t mind if it’s built into the game for a section. For example, guarding a tower with a time limit set. It would make sense for enemy to keep attacking in this situation. It’s not a bad mechanic if it’s used properly.

  11. Kasperg

    Keep in mind that there are multiple ways to stress that the player has to move on without resorting to vital NPCs dying and having to restart. If a few rounds of spawning enemies (Combine soldiers for example) aren’t enough for the player, you can always spawn a few snipers so the player takes a hint. If you can have the friendly NPCs highlight that one must move on, so much the better.

    I think the main problem with endless spawning is that it shouldn’t fool the player into thinking that’s a fight he should be a part of. If your endless baddies are coming out from the place you need to go to, chances are the player will take a long time to notice what’s going on. Making the enemies come from where YOU came from (and blocking the way with an energy shield or similar) is probably a much better tactic of pushing the player forward.
    The other problem is that endless spawning only makes sense in very few situations. I could accept some tunnels being filled with so many antlions, the Citadel housing several regiments of soldiers, but a simple apartment building in C17 should never have 35 soldiers inside.

    1. Kyouryuu

      The start of HL2 does a good job of demonstrating the urgency of moving forward without having anything terribly dangerous or infinite behind you.

      It is something I’d like to see some mods explore however – the Mirror’s Edge concept of running away from insurmountable odds rather than always having the tools necessary to overcome them. Given a Pistol and a Strider, I’m definitely going to run away. 🙂

  12. WizardExt

    I agree and disagree to many of the opinions so far. All of them very interesting though.

    Endless spawning enemies is a valid feature when used right. For example, a puzzle on enemy territory. When puzzle is solved and player progress into next area the endless spawning ends.

    Endless spawning enemies is sometimes used in scenarios where the author wants the player to progress through a battlefield. For example near an enemy base. The player will close spawns as he progress, but also open new ones… until he/she reaches the end. I remember such a scenario towards the end of Killzone 2.

    Endless spawning is often used when the author wants the player to complete something and keep the scenario interesting and intense. An empty world, with no enemies or activities, tend to break the illusion.

    Anyway, endless spawning works if done right. If the player doesn’t see it happen it’s gold. The author needs to provide with enough health and ammunition. But also tell and remind the player what to do. It could be Alyx shouting out something like “Gordon, we need to push forward” or “Find a way to open that gate, I will cover you”.

    Very good Poll. I voted “Yes, but there must be a good reason”.

    1. Kyouryuu

      For example, a puzzle on enemy territory. When puzzle is solved and player progress into next area the endless spawning ends.

      This is always a dangerous mechanic because it presumes that the player is going to immediately understand what they have to do. There are few things as infuriating as trying to solve a puzzle that you don’t understand while the designer keeps sending wave after wave of enemies at you.

      1. WizardExt

        I fully agree Kyouryuu. The player needs to know what to do, maybe not right away but very soon after the endless spawning begins. So continuously reminding the player about the problem and possible solution is a must.

        So it’s very much about ergonomics. Having a very uncomfortable situation played out smoothly, giving all the hints, power-ups and cover that the player needs.

  13. Trooper

    Yes, but there must be a good reason.

    MikeS Says:
    “Do Valve do it?”
    Answer: “No.”
    Because it’s crap, and that’s that.

    Dont you remember Ravenholm with endless slow zombies, or sea beach with endless antlions? Endless enemies not always crap.

    1. MikeS

      Ah, you got me there. :p I think the subtle difference with the antlions spawning is you know it’s your own movement triggering them, so you learn to tread carefully! I can’t remember the spawning slow zombies. Was that in the graveyard with Father Gregori?

      1. Yes, in the Valve HL2 retail games that’s the only instance I can remember.
        It is in a graveyard so fair doos I suppose. It’s easy enough to imagine they were rising from the dead.

      2. The final street in Ravenholm is an endless spawn. And probably the 5 years you’re waiting for the cart to arrive from the church. And maybe the headcrabs in the mine.

        Episode 1 has two instances of endless antlion spawns, until you cover the holes. So in those cases, it’s not your movement that’s causing it, but it is your presence.

        The wait for the elevator in Ep1 Lowlife may also be an endless spawn. I’ve never hung around long enough to find out!

        1. MikeS

          I wiped out all the headcrabs in the mine, so they definitely weren’t an endless spawn, and the antlions in ep1, where you had to cover the holes, I’d argue they aren’t really an endless spawn as you can stop them. I guess it comes down to how we define endless spawning.

  14. feckineejit

    The only way that I can see endless spawning as a good thing would be if you are in a huge battle, just mowing down enemy after enemy with your vehicle mounted energy weapon/missle launcher – whatever.

  15. I hate endless spawing for the reason that my prefered decision is to make the area clean before progression One exception may be the one that rewards you as long as you can hold the position before diing (increasing of point) but this doesn’t give a long replay value…

    One exception has to be noticed in FPS game (perhaps some other have the same mechanics) in COD and CODUO you have always reinfocement of enemies (spawing) to a certain trigger point where the wave is clearly the last and then, most of the time, you get the reward of finishing…I like this so much 🙂

  16. Again, yes, but only with good reason.
    It can be great in places where you’re not supposed to come up again the enemies or for discouraging (but not disabling) players from going through it.
    In places where you have to fight a lot of enemies, I would prefer that the AI capabilities be increased instead of compensating for lack of it by increasing the number of enemies.

  17. The Dias

    Left 4 Dead would be boring as hell without it.

  18. ANonEntity

    Ditto, RunningJack!
    “I [too] stopped playing the mod “Strider Mountain” because of its supid neverending enemy spawning”.

    Voted: No, it’s unnecessary in any circumstances.

  19. The only way that I can see endless spawning as a good thing would be if you are in a huge battle, just mowing down enemy after enemy with your vehicle mounted energy weapon/missle launcher — whatever.

  20. There has to be a damn good reason for it. It works for something like antlions, creatures that come out of the ground and dig elaborate caverns for their millions of offspring, but it doesn’t work at all for something like the enemy combatants in the Call of Duty series. It works for the L4D series because the new zombies are a horde, a procedural event that makes the world a more chaotic place (as opposed to just filling a battle with enemies constantly).

  21. Anon_218912

    Endless spawning is ok as a way of telling the player “your going the wrong way” or you have failed to reach your objective by stealth (assuming that was your mission). Endless spawning is “crap” because it take away from the realism. Could I really survive a gauntlet of 50 combine?

  22. I do agree that endless spawning can be used in certain circumstances, but usually just ends up giving me the unsatisfied feeling that not everyone is dead yet.

  23. My very old 99 Bolts map had a tunnel section with endless waves of zombies. The idea of that section was to travel through the tunnels avoiding the zombies, grab some grenades, and make your way all the way back to the start to proceed.

    Some people hated it, even though it was stated that they should not try to fight the zombies. Some people thought it was an excellent variation of the standard “infinite spawning” mechanic.

    I totally plan to revamp that section of the mod, but it will be the only “infinite zombies” section present. And at some point in the new map, you will be able to shut off the flow of zombies – or redirect them to various targets of opportunity.

  24. Kyouryuu

    Two words everyone I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing: “It depends.”

    It depends on a number of factors. What kind of game is this? Does it fit within our fiction? What precedent have we set in earlier levels? Finally, is this a lame solution in lieu of a more clever one?

    As far as HL2 goes, infinite spawning belongs in few places beyond the Antlions – and even then, you better have an equally infinite ammo source somewhere to use against them. Scripted sequences with NPCs are okay too if you trying to depict a situation where things are being overrun, but it has to be made clear to the player that they cannot win and they should not engage.

    I’m also a fan of the “straggler” enemies that repopulate areas you’ve previously visited, though in HL2 there’s rarely a reason to do this since levels don’t tend to traverse the same space more than once. BioShock is a different story.

    But generally speaking, I tend to think of infinite spawning as the last resort of a creatively bankrupt designer.

  25. Planetary

    Infinite spawning will ruin my mood in pretty much any fps.
    That sort of thing is for game you aren’t meant to win, but just grind for a high score, arcade-style.
    Just lazy developers.
    The antlion bit was okay, because they only did it if you stepped on the sand. If its a scenario where they keep coming until you move up, than yuck!

  26. Everyone has pretty much said it all here and quite well at that. Voted Yes with a good reason.

  27. 23-down

    I say maybe…

    It depends on the game & gameplay on the storyline and on the factor fairness.

    In Starship troopers a 2nd class FPS shooter there were hordes of Arachnoids spawned until you arrived a common goal for example activating some laser defence fences. In a game like that it might be ok and you also had ai support on your side.

    In Half-Life it was ok with the Osprey. There were 4 max 6 grunts spawned all the time. You could have run and escape or try to destroy the osprey nothing negativ here.

    In many other games or custom mods this mechanic didn’t worked so well and it was indeed frustrating so that you had to use cheats or abandon the specific game\mod for good.

  28. Robert Yang

    Endless spawning is not a mechanic. Therefore, it can’t even be a valid mechanic. No.

    A mechanic is a semi-contained system of interaction — jumping is a special player verb and thus a mechanic because there is a special skill to jumping and jumping well. Shooting is a mechanic because there is a skill to shooting accurately. Pushing / pulling with the gravity gun is a mechanic because it’s a skill-set separate from shooting.

    So, surviving a wave of endless spawning requires several mechanics: moving / finding cover, shooting, scouting, throwing a grenade, driving the buggy, etc.

    But most especially it requires a special mechanic of “genre literacy,” that the player is aware that someone designed the level and that someone put an endless wave of NPCs because the player has to move past the distractions. The player has to recognize that there is intent to the design of the world.

    It’s the designer’s job to telegraph this intent: ospreys / dropships that constantly land, a player-clipped shield wall, a teleporter prop, an obvious exit and path of progression, ammo and health near the exit, etc. So it IS a valid level element. Yes. The elevator-defense in Episode 1 wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without it.

  29. DuckSauce

    Voted, yes but with a good reason, once heard of a game where new enemies kept spawning if you hung around a place too long. That’s stuff is just plain annoying, dead enemies should stay dead.

    But a well protected area must be really deadly or have a viable reason for a horde of enemies.(if it’s humans, they need to be deadly, but it it’s something like bee’s… well endless bee horde attack makes sense for me)

  30. Gaming

    I also agreed that this kind of game play can be interesting in a long game, in a short game its not that much interesting.

  31. Grey Acumen

    Greetings from the Philippines!

    I put my vote in as “yes, but there must be a good reason” but more than that there needs to be a clear indication that the endless spawn is occurring, and what tactics to use to deal with it. Some endless spawns require you to meet certain conditions to stop the spawn while others are there to force you to keep moving instead of sticking around.

    In Timeline (either 1 or 2) I ended up getting stuck in an area because I didn’t realize that there was an endless spawn occurring, and when I did I didn’t know what to do about it. I thought I needed to meet certain conditions in order to stop the spawn from occurring, but it turned out I just needed to run from the area. Very frustrating.

  32. Mel

    I fail to see how ENDLESS spawning can be a valid form of gameplay from any view point of consideration of its use and implementation. Surely by its nature ENDLESS spawning does not contribute to gameplay, in fact it replaces gameplay leaving the player with a very pointless and boring piece of none game mechanics, which is fine for the brainless but for any one seeking a modicum of gameplay is service no propose.
    I want to play Half-Life that’s why I am here, if I just wanted some sort of repeated rubbish never ending going around in loop, I doubt that I would have ever taken up FSP in the first place.

    Please budding authors if you are thinking about mapping, if you can call it that, an ENDLESS spawning piece then keep it to yourself and don’t release it, the world will be a far better place of it.

  33. Warren

    Things I hate in HL2 more than endless spawning (such as the Antlion areas) include the need to move past a trip-wire to bring down a large enemy with the rocket launcher. What? You put some crap line in the narrative that says “you should have everything you need if you cross the square”? Now THAT is a cop-out. I also didn’t enjoy the “restrict your ammo and make you use only the gravity gun” levels. Okay so they add depth and variety to the gameplay, but I’d rather be able to choose to use the gravity gun, and maybe have my ammo supply limited to my most weak weapon. But being busted back to crowbar and gravity gun sucks. At least let me whittle away at some rushing zombie with a pistol. More Choices = Fun. Less Choices = Railroad (Non-)Shooter = No Fun.

    The Ant-lions endlessly spawn, but there are not very many endless streams of grunt Combine soldiers in any HL2. The only other place where I decided to “just run away blind” on my second time through, was at the bottom of the mine shaft before you enter ravenholm, where those poison headcrabs are coming at you in what seems an endless assault. I think that “endless” should really be qualified to be “number of bullets you have + 1”.

    A smarter level design could slow the stream of baddies to be dictated by your current level of armament.


  34. 1234567890

    I voted no just because I hate it.

  35. It gets annoying. How many combine could POSSIBLY fit in one freakin closet, elevator or hallway!

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