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Games Entertainment

Why Do Games Still Have Levels? 512

Posted by Zonk
from the good-question dept.
a.d.venturer writes "Elite, the Metroid series, Dungeon Siege, God of War I and II, Half-Life (but not Half-Life 2), Shadow of the Colossus, the Grand Theft Auto series; some of the best games ever (and Dungeon Siege) have done away with the level mechanic and created uninterrupted game spaces devoid of loading screens and artificial breaks between periods of play. Much like cut scenes, level loads are anathema to enjoyment of game play, and a throwback to the era of the Vic-20 and Commodore 64 - when games were stored on cassette tapes, and memory was measured in kilobytes. So in this era of multi-megabyte and gigabyte memory and fast access storage devices why do we continue to have games that are dominated by the level structure, be they commercial (Portal), independent (Darwinia) and amateur (Angband)? Why do games still have levels?"
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Why Do Games Still Have Levels?

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  • HL2 Has Levels? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Svet-Am (413146) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:18PM (#21440947)
    Since when? HL2 is set up exactly the same as HL1.
    • Re:HL2 Has Levels? (Score:5, Informative)

      by NickCatal (865805) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:24PM (#21441047)
      You are correct... Both have 'levels' but they are seamless (when you go from level-to-level all you see is a white semi-transparent text saying the title of the 'level' you are on.)

      Although there are 'loading' screens, but that is just because the game is programed that way.

      Portal is similar, but much more distinct in the way of 'levels.' But that works into the gameplay quite a bit because each 'level' is a new test. Once you get into the behind-the-scenes area there is no real 'level' change. Just loading screens, which you have with all Valve single player games.
      • HL2 takes place in a much larger area. HL1 takes place in black mesa. I don't think you ever had a traveling part where it faded to black and you cam back "a few hours later" You walked and rode across the entirety of black Mesa yourself.

        In half life 2 you did have a few of those moments.

        Thats funny, I never really thought of it that way.
        • Half-Life 2 has none of those moments, what are you talking about? It's a complete stream of consciousness, totally uninterrupted (except between the different Episodes), and the only time you "black out" is when you meet Alyx- and then only your vision fades; you still hear what's going on and there's no discontinuity.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rucs_hack (784150)
          It's a matter of the scripts. Any game needs scripting unless you want to code everything natively, which just doesn't work any more. It used to, when games where smaller.

          These scripts are slower, if you have too many in memory a machine would slow intolerably. Thus you split it up into portions. Transition between levels can be made seamless, but the separation is still required. Do you want scripts involving an area you won't reach for ages resident in memory? Nope. Seamless transitions are good, even bac
          • Re:HL2 Has Levels? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by CastrTroy (595695) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @09:30PM (#21442801) Homepage
            The game just has to be smart about what parts to keep in memory. If you won't be getting to a certain point for hours, there's no point in having it in memory. The game knows you can't go from the place you are now to a place 100 rooms away in 10 seconds. Same with flight simulator games. You could technically fly around the whole world, but it only loads stuff in the vicinity of where you are. Games like Metroid although they don't have distinct levels still do little tricks to avoid loading. Between some areas where the entire scenery changes, and they have to load a lot of content, they put an elevator. What you're riding in the elevator it's loading the content. It looks likes it's not loading so the user isn't bothered. Personally I find it much more acceptable to wait 15 seconds in an elevator, than to wait 3 seconds while the game pauses with some big loading message on the screen.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by p0tat03 (985078)
              This is something we're just starting to scratch on. Why have we always been stuck with boring loading screens, why can't the game load things on the fly? The answer is very simple: multitasking SUCKS on a single CPU. Oh yes, we run a lot of apps simultaneously every day, but have you ever tried loading a level in the background while trying to render a complex scene at 60fps, on a single CPU? You may have noticed that, in the old days (which really is just a couple of years ago) loading screens weren't jus
            • Well, that doesn't necessarily scale.

              I guess the best way to say it is: it boils down to how long your loading times are. If they're fast enough, sure, you can put them in a background thread. If not, not.

              It may sound like merely stating the obvious tautology, but there are some actual game design implications there.

              If we decide that all games must be seamless and loading screens are sooo last century, then that puts an upper limit on how complex your game can be. Complete changes of scenery (e.g., from jun
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mattbee (17533)
        Well the term might be outdated, but those 30-60s of Loading screens mark "levels" off as far as I'm concerned, and the maps have painfully clear delineations - you know to put the kettle on when you turn down an S-shaped corridor, or an "airlock" style door closes behind you, or your car speeds towards a white light in a tunnel. For me, the loading screens were the biggest problem with enjoying the Half-Life story because there is literally *nothing* to hold my attention while the game loads, it's time to
  • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:21PM (#21441009) Homepage Journal
    Games that have levels usually have them as way to indicate that the game just got harder. For example, games such as tetris increase speed each time a certain number of blocks are cleared and arkanoid after a screen is cleared. Games that can't be broken down into such simplified logic rarely ever have the notion of levels and instead make it so that you can't get into a certain area, or fail in it, if you haven't got the necessary equipment, XP, etc.

    In short the existence, or lack of, all depends on the type of game in play.
    • by Libertarian001 (453712) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:33PM (#21441161)
      For as insightful as that comment was (and I've no gripes with it being modded as such), you do realize that the examples you gave are for 20+ year old games that were memory limited...just like in the original question.

      I understand why Doom has levels, since you're literally descending to a new location. So the name basically fits.

      But what about the host WWII games? Ooohhh, Normandy was easy, wait 'til you get to Bastogne... Don't think the troops saw it that way.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by cambraca (1191551)
        Is that the origin of the word "level" for designating this concept? And pleeeeeease, don't forget, Wolfenstein 3D came before Doom, and it had "levels" (if I remember correctly, it was a building and each "level" was a different floor).
      • by Erioll (229536) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:45PM (#21441319)
        Well putting aside the fact that the game DESIGN is around the idea of a level (arkanoid especially would be a COMPLETELY different game with some kind of continual level), let's give a modern example: The Halo series. In more than one case you get on/off a ship, a planet, or wherever. Teleported, or any other method of "fast travel" then gets you "between levels" of the game. But as the "quip" in the tag for this article said, why do books have chapters? The answer is the same as for games: to segment the story. Either for something as simple as a new art look, or for story reasons, breaking up the game isn't necessarily a bad thing. Go back to one of the earliest methods of storytelling, theatre, and you see acts in the play that are NOT there just to change the set on-stage, but also help segment the story.

        Overall, I wouldn't put "seamless" above story in ANY case, in any medium. Sometimes seamless works (HL2 is nearly-seamless, though there is the "slow teleport" which definitely qualifies as a break in the continuity), and sometimes you need the break-up to move around the story (Halo). And some games just work better with discrete campaigns, such as RTS games. And even the FPS example you gave, any WWII game. Well as veterans can tell you, the fighting DOES stop at some points. You make discrete attacks, push forward, and hold. It's not anything like the games of course, but it's not 24/7/365 from the start to the end of any war.

        Levels work as both a story tool, and a gameplay tool. If they're eliminated, you need a reason for that too, which is OK, but they shouldn't be eliminated "just because."
        • by vertinox (846076) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:53PM (#21441417)
          Well as veterans can tell you, the fighting DOES stop at some points. You make discrete attacks, push forward, and hold. It's not anything like the games of course, but it's not 24/7/365 from the start to the end of any war.

          You mean 24/7/365 like WWII Online?

          There are games that exist. On an individual a soldier doesn't fight 24/7 but there is always something going on like a bombing raid, naval attack, or troop movement on a strategic scale.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sootman (158191)
          Overall, I wouldn't put "seamless" above story in ANY case, in any medium.

          It is funny (if I were snootier I might say 'ironic') but on a really, really good book I don't even notice the new chapters starting. There have been several books I've read that really hit the ground running and the first time I'd notice a new chapter was around 7 or 8.
        • by 75th Trombone (581309) * on Thursday November 22, 2007 @02:54AM (#21444385) Homepage Journal
          People keep replying that levels are for some technological reason, or else that a story or some other external element requires them. But neither of those are correct. It's HUMANS that require them.

          We need payoff. We need to feel like we've accomplished something bigger than defeating one enemy, but smaller than finishing the game. We need to expunge all the cruft from one section of the game from our minds to make way for new information.

          LAYMAN BEHAVIORISM FOLLOWS:

          On one level, we're getting reinforced all the time when we play games. We see an enemy (antecedent), we shoot the enemy (behavior), the enemy dies and the path is cleared (consequence). A couple of levels up, we have the whole game as one contingency, where playing the game is the behavior and having the game finished is the consequence. (I was having a hard time coming up with the exact antecedent on that one.)

          But other than with very short games, we need something in between those two. Eventually most people will get satiated on the enemy-shooting contingency; without a higher contingency than that, but a lower contingency than the far-away end of the game, there's no strong enough, near enough reinforcement to be worth continuing to play. (At least for a while.)

          END LAYMAN BEHAVIORISM

          Game designers know all of this, so they space out the payoff so that there's always something near enough (end of a level) to be worth fighting toward. Eventually, most people will get satiated even with intermittent big payoff, but it takes a lot longer than if the game was just one big level. And in the end, the main goal of game designers is to keep you playing as long as possible.
      • by vertinox (846076)
        But what about the host WWII games? Ooohhh, Normandy was easy, wait 'til you get to Bastogne... Don't think the troops saw it that way.

        I forgot to mention that aspect in my post. Yes, unrealistic games like MoH, Wolf, and BoB (don't lynch me) have progressively harder and harder levels but I don't agree with that aspect.

        Lets talk about Day of Defeat, WWII Online, and Red Orchestra which are online (mostly) only and against real humans. There are maps, but they aren't scaled based on difficulty but who you m
        • Well even if it's not the typical soldier's experience, the progressively-more-ferocious combat style story could happen to a soldier, and it's more dramatic and fitting to a video game, so they use it.
    • by vertinox (846076)
      Games that have levels usually have them as way to indicate that the game just got harder.

      Or the opposite like in Oblivion where the hardness is simply adjusted to your power everywhere you go but lets you go wherever you want (mostly).

      Now if you want to go complete non-scaled, then lets talk about games by Paradox Interactive [paradoxplaza.com] that create world simulations such as Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron.

      There are no levels... No end goals... No difficulty progressing as you progress if you ch
  • by PitaBred (632671) <slashdotNO@SPAMpitabred.dyndns.org> on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:22PM (#21441017) Homepage
    Because sometimes, it's nice to do themed, episodic content that's broken apart by firm delineations. If anything, I think that Mario 64 did the best mix of levels and "seamless" play that's been done (haven't tried SM Galaxy yet, it's on my list). Any other silly questions?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by webmaster404 (1148909)
      Exactly, for some games like adventures and RPGs levels take away from the game, for platformers and some shooters it is pointless not to use a level or mission like system.
      • by sqlrob (173498)
        Missions are not the same as levels.

        Jak and Daxter is completely seamless, no loading screens. Finishing missions will open new areas, but the entire old area is open at most points.
        • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @07:19PM (#21441683)
          This is sort of like Metroid- yes there's no loading screens so it's "seamless" but come on, seriously. Would you deny the label "level" to describe the distict areas? My favorite Metroid was Prime- a few areas are revisited constantly like Magmoor, but the Phendrana Research areas, the Phazon Mines, etc.. those are levels. The article is seriously wrong about Metroid.
    • Same as for levels in games, they represent a discrete section of the narrative. For games with a linear narrative, this makes a lot of sense.
  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doomstalk (629173) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:22PM (#21441019)
    The reason is memory. There's only so much you can load into RAM at once, and levels allow you to more easily control what assets get used and when. You can also do this with streaming and clever tricks, a-la Metroid Prime, but that requires a lot of planning at the initial design phase. It can lead to crash issues if the player gets too far before you've finished loading everything. Again Metroid Prime is a good example of this.
    • This just isn't a problem. RAM is plentiful, and you can stream from disk as needed. World of Warcraft is a good example of this. You can fly from one end of a continent to another and there's never a pause for a level switch, the game grabs the data as it is needed (it only does a loading thing if you teleport). In a lot of games this is feasible. You just set up your engine so it loads data as it is needed or may be needed, and discard it as it is not. You move away from the idea of having to have every t
      • by Hamilton Lovecraft (993413) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:48PM (#21441355)
        As a game programmer who is currently having to deal with the complexity of memory management in a streaming open-world environment, I'd like to say shut up, I hate you. Or to put it a little more politely, once you take away the known-memory state checkpoints that you reach between levels, you start having to worry about fragmentation of memory, so you start instituting fixed-size memory "slots" for assets, which deals with the fragmentation problem, but then you sometimes aren't optimally using memory, and then the designers start wanting things to follow you through the world, or allowing you to carry things back and forth through the world, so you have to manage memory outside of the slot system as well as within it, so you have the fragmentation problem again, and then you have to sneak into the designer's house late at night and stab him to death with an icicle.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Cornflake917 (515940)

        If you system is good for making sure that enough is loaded so that wherever the player goes the data is ready, it is quite workable.

        It's workable, but from a company's standpoint, is it really worth coming up with the schemes for loading data dynamically (which will probably be more complicated then just having predefined sets of memory loaded at certain points)? I think it's rare that people will refuse to play a game on the sole fact that the levels take 10-20 seconds to load. Now getting towards a minute and upwards, (like the battlefield series) companies may start getting in to problems.

        As stated earlier, I think it depends on t

    • Re:Simple (Score:4, Interesting)

      by complete loony (663508) <Jeremy DOT Lakeman AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:46PM (#21441333)
      Because scheduling disk IO in a way that doesn't effect performance is hard. And IIRC because someone patented the idea of playing a mini game while the main game is loading.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Pete Brubaker (35550)
        And because not every potential platform has the same specifications. Take the PS3 and the 360 for example. PS3 256mb main / 256mb video -- 360 512mb unified. PS3, constant linear velocity drive reading at something like 5mb/sec -- 360 constant angular velocity drive at like 24x. Throw PC into that mix and you have an infinite number of combinations. It's just very hard to do, not to say that it cant be done, but it's just really hard.
    • by sheetsda (230887)
      Memory isn't really an excuse. You could cut the size of the levels down to a fraction of what they are now (maybe with some overlap necessary for visibility stuff calculations?), and load the chunk the player is heading toward in the background while they are playing through the current chunk, and free the farthest away chunk. And don't give me any crap about slowing down the game waiting on the disk to load stuff, thats what threads are for. For example say you reduce level size to 1/5, you keep the ch
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dmomo (256005)
      Memory management doesn't have to be aided by the introduction of levels. But it sure helps. There are plenty of opportunities to manage memory. Take newer Zelda games for instance. There are buildings, rooms, caves and dungeons. These, from a programming point of view (and memory managing point of view) are similar to levels, but they are not levels from the player's perspective.

      BTW, I was impressed by Katamari Damacy. This game does have levels, but each level is a big world. You start off tiny. Ob
  • well (Score:2, Interesting)

    by moogied (1175879)
    If it works, don't fix it.
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JUSTONEMORELATTE (584508) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:22PM (#21441023) Homepage
    Because it's fun to have intermediate progress goals.

    Or was this a trick question?
  • Accomplishment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jacobcaz (91509) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:22PM (#21441025) Homepage
    Games have "levels" so gamers can feel a sense of accomplishment at moving up a rung? Kinda' like - you know - life? Work hard, get promoted = meatspace leveling. Same with XP in MMORGs?

    What I can't figure out is why everyone in my office gets all weird when I start killing co-workers during my XP grind? Sheesh...
  • Darwina had levels, because it made sense within the games framework and actual story.

    As for portals, I'm not sure the HL2 engine can stream a level or load one in the back ground.

    I think its more a limitation of the technology/power than actual design. As stuff has gotten more powerful, the games have used more power to make them look pretty as opposed to making them look smoother and load seamlessly.

    In some cases, you just can't realistically link 2 separate places.
  • slow news day (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nuzak (959558) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:23PM (#21441035) Journal
    Wow, Angband, really brand new game there.

    Portal had individual puzzles in individual rooms. Duh.

    Next questions: Why do books still have chapters? Why do plays still have acts? Why do movies still have scenes?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Artifakt (700173)
      While we're at it, why do pen and paper RPGs still have dungeons and similar structures? Why does any game ever put someone in a position where there are only a few directions to go, instead of constantly giving them 32,364+ choices of direction? Why does chess start off with only the pawns and knights capable of moving? Why can't my checkers move backwards until they are kinged?
      The summary repeatedly begs the question - "Levels are bad, M'kay? Only a terrorist pedophile would like
  • by Sowelu (713889) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:24PM (#21441043)
    Because the writer thought that a clean break in the action, or in the theme between two distinct areas, was important.

    Or because "downtime" occurs between levels that the player doesn't need to see, whether they're following corridors or going back to base.
    • by quanticle (843097)

      Also, sometimes books follow more than one thread of narrative at once. Same way, if you're displaying the point-of-view of more than one character, having levels makes the transitions less abrupt.

    • by HTH NE1 (675604)
      But have there been games where a level has been as short as some books' chapters?

      Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Chapter ??: Nothing much else happened that night.
      As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, Vardaman Chapter: My mother is a fish.
      Gremlins by George Gipe, Chapter 11: Pete forgot.
  • by R15I23D05D14Y (1127061) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:25PM (#21441055)

    If the basic idea behind a game is a string of essentially separate puzzles, like in portal where each room is a new puzzle, then levels really enhance the gameplay by creating a sense of achievement. I'm thinking of a 2D version, I don't keep up to date on games and I vaguely remember there being several others that might be different.

    Levels can be new layers of interest and difficulty. An immersion game is more like a storyline - games with levels play more like a series of puzzles. Some groups of gamers really like puzzles.

  • by EMeta (860558) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:26PM (#21441067)
    For the same reason books still have chapters and music albums still have tracks. Humans like pauses between though, time to digest and segregate before doing something different.

    Ever read a book without chapters? It's a pain. Likewise, can you imagine playing a Mario game where you were just running form the beginning to the end? that would be nuts. Sure, for some applications, continuous can be really interesting. But that's just not what is most natural to people, whether it's like the real world or not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by morari (1080535)
      I think albums would do better without such harshly separated tracks. I much prefer long, seamlessly integrated concepts as opposed to a collection of tunes vying to become the one or two radio singles.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 75th Trombone (581309) *
      It's not just that people like pauses, it's that we like payoff. We like to feel that we've finished something every once in a while before we finish the whole thing.

      There's much more to a chapter or level ending than a pause. There's a wrapping up of previous story/gameplay elements, and a feeling of beginning anew: a chance to compress all our experiences in the previous level down to just the important stuff and to expunge the tedious parts.

      In a way, like the people above have said, it has everything to
  • Half-life has Levels (Score:2, Informative)

    by Jthon (595383)
    I have to point out that Half-Life has levels just like HL 2. It just depends on how modern a system you play it on. Since HL has such small levels/textures compared with a modern system the load time is minuscule.

    I remember waiting a minute or two to load levels on my old 166 MHz system with a Voodoo 1, and 32mb RAM back in the day.
  • Changes in pace? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ynot_82 (1023749) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:29PM (#21441123)
    games have levels for the same reason books have chapters
    any substantial storyline has natural breaks and scenery changes contained within it

    what's the problem?
  • by Lord Satri (609291) <alexandreleroux@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:30PM (#21441133) Homepage Journal

    amateur (Angband)?
    Instead of Angband [wikipedia.org], try Tales/Troubles of Middle Earth [t-o-m-e.net] instead (on wikipedia [wikipedia.org]). Angband has been mostly frozen for years, while TOME, amongst the numerous Moria/Angband spinoffs, is the most advanced and active.
  • by ZombieRoboNinja (905329) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:30PM (#21441135)
    Yeah, a modern computer could load up every single level of Doom or Super Mario Brothers at once and string them together... but strangely enough, game designers have actually scaled up the detail of their games as computing power has improved.

    It's a pretty tough tradeoff, I imagine. Take Half-Life 2. They probably could have more-or-less eliminated load times by scaling down level detail a bit and loading on-the-fly like Oblivion... but would that make it a better game? Apparently Valve thinks we'd rather wait 20 seconds every 15 minutes that have a "seamless" but lower-detail gaming experience.

    If we're talking about non-technical reasons for levels (like the different "chapters" in HL2, which didn't change every time a "loading" screen came up), well, games are (ideally) 20+ hours long. You don't expect people to actually play them straight through, so it makes sense to have breaks and intermissions in the narrative, the exact same way almost every novel is broken into chapters.
    • My understanding is that it was a technical challenge (as you mention). Due to hardware advances, it's no longer a problem. When the game was ported to the 360 they developed a way to stream the levels, avoiding that problem. They have not released that as an update to HL2, but I thought they used it somewhere (HL2:E2?). Maybe they didn't. Now that systems have enough RAM to hold both level bits, they can do this. They didn't think they could when HL2 came out.
  • by Have Blue (616) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:31PM (#21441149) Homepage
    Why isn't everything filmed in one continuous take, like Children of Men or that X-Files episode? There are even some movies that let time pass during cuts. 24 obviously perfected pacing and editing, why isn't everyone doing that?
  • by 7Prime (871679) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:35PM (#21441191) Homepage Journal
    No matter what you do, you have to have some kind of organizational system to a game. Be it "levels" or "zones" or "areas". All of the "non-level" games you mentioned simply use litterary and organizational devices that superficially hide the level structure. Metroid, for instance, has enclosed locals, which usually are accessed via elevators or (herectical) drop points. Shadow of the Colossus has different Colossi which are defeated in order. These are levels, they provide the same super-structure, they are just better hidden. But some games thrive off of much more obvious hierarchical organization. The Mario series, for instance, has always done wonderfully with levels, and (in the 3D era), missions within these levels.

    You are basically complaining about superficial differences in game progression. Traditional, levels-based gameplay can be made to be completed in a non-linear fashion, with minimal loading time, and freedom of movement (see Super Mario Galaxy for a recent, and rediculously good example). Where-as less defined organization (like some of the games you mentioned) can be very strictly linear, and have terrible load times. This is more a result of the programming and overall design, not whether a game has levels or not.

    There are great usages of level-based design, and terrible ones. It's about as helpful as saying, "why, after all these years, are there still FPSs?" as if one genre of game is inherently inferior.
  • by InfinityWpi (175421) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:35PM (#21441195)
    I mean, seriously, I can understand that books had chapters back when they had to hand-set every letter in a printing press and had to have some way of designating where to stop printing and bind the pages into a book, but we have things called 'printers' nowadays that can handle collation, printing, etc, much faster and more reliably. Why the heck do books need chapters? Personally, I enjoy books that go n and on and on and don't give me any indication that I've moved on to the next significant chunk of the storyline; it makes saving my progress with a bookmark so much more fun when I don't know if I'm past the good stuff or not yet...
  • Why do books have chapters?
  • Simple reason (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rossz (67331) <ogre&geekbiker,net> on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:38PM (#21441233) Homepage Journal
    Levels give those of us who can't play 24x7 some short term goals. Reaching the next level is a basic goal you can use as a time marker when you have other things to do, but need a little down time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jamesh (87723)
      That cuts both ways though. How many times have you played "just one more" level of a game or read "just one more" chapter in a book?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rossz (67331)
        Just last night I kept reading "just one more chapter." It was 1am when I finally turned off the light. Getting up this morning was not pleasant. I hate when I do that.
  • GTA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:40PM (#21441253)

    ...the Grand Theft Auto series...


    Has some "open" play, but also set scenarios which must be completed in order (and reset if/when you fail). Which, to me, is a clear variant of classic level-based play.

    Such level-based content is easier to design and implement than completely emergent, open gameplay that is as interesting (the first time through, at least) and detailed.
  • Because it works (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 91degrees (207121)
    The level structure is still a perfectly valid mechanism for a game. It provides the player with clear objectives and motivation and allows for variety within the game (e.g. level 1 = streets, level 2 = building, level 3 = chase baddies to the north pole).

    The fact that other games have developed alterantive methods of providing structure doesn't mean that existing methods have been surpassed. Linear Movie plots are still being written even after Pulp fiction. heterosexual romance plots are still being
  • by Sciros (986030) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @06:43PM (#21441295) Journal
    Sheesh what a douchebag. Games do not have to reflect the structure of the real world to be enjoyable. That's why there's board games, puzzles, sports, etc. If a design is fun then it's fun. It works. End of story. Games might have levels in order to provide the player with a series of challenges that aren't intertwined. If there isn't a reason for seamless transition from one "chunk" of gameplay to another then why expect one? A boatload of games have "levels" and they make perfect sense even if the game mirrors real life. Do you want to go on James Bond missions one after another or do you want to also play through his day-to-day dilly-dallying in Britain when he's off duty in the meantime? For sure the latter is more 'realistic' and may be more 'seamless' but there's no sense in saying it will for sure be more fun.

    Basically this guy decided to criticize a gameplay setup without giving any thought to why it's there in the first place. Some games don't need it, sure -- take Oblivion for instance. But to say that games "shouldn't have levels" is to say every game should be like this other game (or games) and to hell with all other designs regardless of how they affect the actual play.

    That bit where he claims cutscenes are anathema to gameplay is also rich. They work wonderfully in some games and not in others. To say that in every game ever released from here on out the interaction should be constant with no exposition or story progression told through non-interactive segments is assinine and privileges any pressing of buttons over simply enjoying visual media, which is nonsense. In other words, sometimes it's a better idea to tell something through film than it is through "gameplay." It simply takes a good game designer to know when that time is.

    Seriously, all of this cutscene and "levels" criticism is ridiculous. Is Metroid Prime hands-down the best fucking game ever made or something? Is it the design we all want for every game? Hell no! We want it for *some* games.

    It would be just as retarded, BUT NO MORE SO, to say that EVERY game should have cutscenes or should have its gameplay divided into "levels."
  • Why do movies and plays still get written in acts and scenes? Why do television commercials come on just when something interesting is happening?

    The answer is that that it is a classic story telling technique. Some (books/movies/plays/tvshows) have successfully done without, and more power to them.

    Now that the technology doesn't need so much time to catch up to the player, the game designers and story tellers out there can concentrate on using it purely as a story telling technique, and not as a crutch to
  • You think you're going to fit all of the level data of STALKER into 2-4 gigs of RAM?
  • I supposed some games lend themselves to the level-less experience, some don't. Some of it is probably just organizational on the part of the creators. Nevertheless, it is probably true that levels in many modern games are a legacy effect from bygone eras and could be done away with. However, even back in The Day, games like Zork didn't have levels as such, you just played. Ironically, a level-based game may actually be somewhat more realistic. Although we think of life itself as a continuum of moments
  • time? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AlgorithMan (937244)
    for example in mafia you played the biggest "jobs" of tommy's career - and there were years between them

    wouldn't it be kinda stupid to play all the uneventful years between those "jobs" in realtime?
  • by B3ryllium (571199)
    I'm almost tempted to join the tagging beta, just so I can tag this as "becauseyoureanidiot", "thisisastupidquestion", and "whydoesslashdothaveeditors".

    But that aside, when it comes to games with levels vs. games without levels, I swing both ways. Fluidity is important, but so are cutscenes and transitions.

    If I have to jump through one more Flood-anus to finish Halo 3, I might start changing my opinion.

    Actually, come to think of it, Halo 3 sort of employs both mechanisms. 9 missions, separated by cutscenes
  • by Nimey (114278) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @07:14PM (#21441625) Homepage Journal
    They're not as cleanly split as in Doom, but there are definite levels, and they even have names and different map names.
  • I think that was the first game I ever played that didn't noticeably have levels in the traditional sense. Sure you had different areas of the world, but never any loading. Despite some Tomb Raider-esque puzzles, it was a very well done game overall and the lack of loading helped out tremendously in adding tot he immersion. Most games shouldn't have levels nowadays, no doubt!

    Of course, The Legend of Zelda just had one big world. I don't think I'd count the fade-to-black when entering and exiting dungeons

  • The fact that they load quickly doesn't matter. In fact they specifically lock you into some areas until you finish a goal.
    No the don't call them levels, but What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.

    An interesting insight is the new half-life two mission they put on steam. You can run it in a mode where you click on a bubble and the devs. talk about the scene, or area. It was very interesting.

    My primary concern is that the game is fun. These days that seems a radica
  • Divide and conquer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hugg (22953) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @07:47PM (#21441925)
    Because it's easy to divide the game design tasks among several designers by level. It's harder to show "emergent behavior" on a Gantt chart.
  • Ultima Ascension! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by myowntrueself (607117) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @08:11PM (#21442139)
    Ok aside from its really really crap game play in other respects, one of the things that really impressed me about 'Ultima IX: Ascension' was the way that the world was totally seamless.

    You walked around the world with no load screens at all, through tunnels under the sea to the island on the other side and swim back again. Walk into buildings, cave systems, castles all in one huge seamless world.

    The graphics were incredible. Did I mention no load screens?

    1999 or so. And there was not much hardware available at the time to play it with all the graphics turned right up to 11.

    Pity about the crap game play tho, it became so boring after a while that the only way I could bring myself to finish it was to use hacks.

    So no, lack of load screens does not a great game make.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dido (9125)

      True, but there were cutscenes too (never mind the fact that they seemed really badly contrived most of the time). The other thing is Ultima IX's Britannia was a helluvalot smaller than in any previous Ultima. Britannia had been shrinking continuously since its largest size in Ultima V, and in Ultima IX it seems that it would be possible to walk from Minoc to Paws in less than an hour of game time, where the same trip would have taken several days of game time in Ultima V. That must have made things a bit

  • by graveyhead (210996) <fletch&fletchtronics,net> on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @08:19PM (#21442193)
    Take a look at this neat paper The Continuous World of Dungeon Siege [drizzle.com].

    It explains a great detail of the issues surrounding a system like this. The more interesting issues are as others have mentioned are memory and disk i/o management, but also there's another lovely curiosity in there... floating point numbers begin to quantize more and more the further you get away from the origin. It means it's impossible to have a global coordinate system.

    Enjoy.
  • by Targon (17348) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @08:32PM (#21442329)
    The only people who would ask such a question do not have a background in either programming or in game design. So, here are just SOME of the reasons for having "levels"...

    First, you need to look at what goes on behind the scenes.

    In some cases where there do not seem to be "levels", there is one, but the transition is done without a pause. The new area is pre-loaded during game play. This assumes that the game areas are contiguous, where the entire game is played in the same area, and there is no "boring travel" that would bore the player between areas. For these contiguous areas, the plant and animal life may not be all the different, so loading new textures and unloading the old textures may not be needed, while for some, this would be a case of needing to predict which textures need to be removed from memory while loading the appropriate textures and objects on the fly.

    When one fairly small area is enough to strain the average computer, the small size makes it even harder to predict and properly pre-load what is needed for a smooth transition between areas as well.

    There are some very good reasons for having these breaks, including modularity, and allowing for custom content, in addition to saving memory. Back in the ancient days of computers, if you had 16KB of RAM, that was a good amount, but it also meant that you had to really work to reduce how much memory your program would take. Even into the days where 8 megabytes of memory, a programmer had to look at how much memory code would take, and spend a good amount of time trying to cut back on memory usage. So, what do you do to cut back on memory used? One method is to take code that is not needed and clear it out of memory so that more memory is available. By having "levels", it allows a game to clearly define what will be available at one time so that the old junk can be cleared out. If a "new area" will make a huge change to what is going on in the game, that would also be a good reason for a "transition", because the old "rules of gameplay" need to be swapped out for the new.

    There is less of a reason for LONG load times these days, but if a game has a lot of options for which areas the player can enter, being able to pre-load the next area may not be a good option. What if the current area takes a gig of memory by itself? Pre-loading the next area may cause the game to go over the 2 gig mark, and may cause an application crash. There is an increasing number of people who are aware that if a game takes up more than 2048 megabytes of memory at once under 32 bit Windows, it can cause the application to crash due to the limits of 32 bit processors, and the design of Windows(blame Microsoft). You can adjust this number, but it risks the stability of the OS if you do.

    So, if all you play are games that have ONE path, where you enter on one side, and leave on the other, it is easy to pre-load the next level when you get to a certain point. If there is any complexity to the path the player can take, it may not make sense to pre-load all the available areas that the player may choose to enter.
  • Several reasons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LordZardoz (155141) on Wednesday November 21, 2007 @09:10PM (#21442625)
    And yeah, I am a game developer.

    1) Development purposes.
    When you design a game with a set of discreet levels or areas, it is easier to cut out a level than it is to do something like cut out 30% of a contiguous game world.

    2) Narrative expedience
    If you have a game where the narrative jumps from London to Tokyo to Moscow, do you really want the developers to try to tack on a bunch of filler for parts of the world that have no importance to the story? In Knights of the Old Republic, you only ever visit 5 or 6 worlds. Is that game better served by providing you with a hundreds or thousands of habitable worlds when only those 5 or 6 are relevant to the game?

    3) Not all games are about exploration.
    Wario ware would not be a reasonable type of game to set in a contiguous world. Trauma center is also not a game that really needs that kind of structure.

    In any event, not all of your examples are good ones of continuous worlds. Metroid in particular has two types of loading screens. One shows up when your on a long elevator ride, say between an ice level and between a fire level. You may notice the cut scene that does a close up on Samus during that time. The other loading screen is when you shoot a door to open it, and then get to wait 20 to 30 seconds for the next chamber to load.

    END COMMUNICATION
  • Elite. (Score:3, Informative)

    by leuk_he (194174) on Thursday November 22, 2007 @07:58AM (#21445275) Homepage Journal
    If you do a hyperjump between galaxies that surely counts as a "level" to me. You cannot simply go back to the previous planet, if you do that you will have to fight all the pirates all over again since that level is loaded again....

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