Jump to content
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
Polri

Opinion: When people say they like “non-linear” maps, they actually mean something else

Recommended Posts

I think the best way to answer this is point you to a quintessential hyper-linear map:

 

https://www.doomworld.com/idgames/levels/doom2/Ports/v-z/wsite

 

Looks good, doesn't play too badly, but if you think about it, you enter an area, clean it out, move on to the next area, rinse and repeat. You rarely revisit a place, aside from the starting area. There's little to no variation in repeat playthroughs. Note that you may backtrack to pick up ammo you left behind but it doesn't change anything about the layout itself.

Many more modern games employ similar design where each area is either a battle, puzzle, riddle, etc. but once you solved it, the area loses any interest. Quake 4 even went as far to lock doors to places no longer of interest, forcing the player to move on instead of exploring.

 

56 minutes ago, Polri said:

So here is my thesis: when people say they like “nonlinear” maps, they are actually saying they like “explorable” maps, such as Downtown, Containment Area or the Chasm. Maps where progression towards the exist is just one aspect in a larger environment, where you are not guided towards a scripted path, and where not every weapon or powerup is tailored towards a specific fight. PWad examples that would come to mind are the two Vader levels (maps 14 and 15) in BTSX-E2.

 

 

Actually yes, I like such maps a lot more, because once you have beaten them you can try a different approach and have a totally different experience.

Funny, though that you list the two examples from BTSX that really tried my patience. While non-linearity can increase the replay value, you have to be careful not to let the map degenerate into a maze where the player may get lost.

 

 

I wouldn't call a mod like Ancient Aliens 'linear'. What you call "gameplay oriented design" is a completely different phenomenon, that can also negatively affect a map. While I generally like Skillsaw's output it cannot be denied that his maps are often very intense from start to finish without any moment to take a breath. This can be quite exhausting.

 

Share this post


Link to post

If there's one thing that disappointed me about the progression of games development post-Doom, it's the lack of non-linearity. Quake occasionally had explorable maps, Quake II had the illusion of explorability - it had a hub, but you just went back and forth - but from that point onwards linearity seemed to become the default. Even the original Far Cry really only had the illusion of an open world (I haven't played the later games in the series).

 

The original System Shock struck a neat balance between leaving the player free to explore multiple levels and making the player do things in a specific order; System Shock 2 also cleverly managed to feel non-linear although in reality you cleared out the levels and never revisited them. Having said that SS was often impenetrable unless you had a walkthrough, so it's not a great example of a successful non-linear approach because it was easy to get lost in a series of similar-looking ruined corridors.

 

I think the problem is that it takes a disproportionate amount of effort to make a good non-linear map, and furthermore the kind of trigger-line-trap setpiece gameplay that characterises most post-Doom first person shooters is harder to implement if the player can approach an area from an unexpected direction, and a lot of modern shooters are really "illustrated action stories" that are necessarily linear.

 

Deus Ex, there's another example of a game with cleverly-designed linear non-linearity, in the sense that every map had a path but you could take multiple choices to get there. The Thief games also had a non-linear aspect, and in a more modern timeframe the Fallout games let you do pretty much whatever you want, or at least you can approach a bunch of mostly linear dungeons in a non-linear order.

 

The other thing - while I'm ranting - the other thing is the weird misremembering that developers and people and PEOPLE seem to have when they think about Doom. I have the impression that when most people think of Doom they're really thinking of Smash TV - or Doom (2016), e.g. a series of brutal arena fights with some creepy tunnels. Doom wasn't like that, you generally fought a mixture of ambushes and inter-ambush encounters and the monsters were on the map at the start, they didn't teleport in (or vanish when you killed them). It worked because the maps were fairly small and even though it was unstructured the action was exciting.

Share this post


Link to post

In designing SPECTRUM I deliberately included optional areas in maps - places you never need to go to finish the level (though there can be value in going to them, of course).  I also deliberately included times when the order in which you did mandatory things was up to you, and times when mandatory areas could be accessed from multiple directions so that you could have different experiences with it.

 

The playtest for that is still going, for the record :)

 

Share this post


Link to post

As long as a map isn't a W+M1 simulator or so confusing that Castle of Grief from Hexen is linear in comparison, I'm usually not to bothered by the layout. A linear map is nice since it lets you roam around a simple map without needing anything complex to make it feel great to play. Downside is, linear maps are highly predictable since it's just 1 continuous path.

 

On the flip side, a good non-linear map opens up multiple ways to strike your foes and allows you to get weapons/secrets in a different order. Plus, non-linear maps can have some fantastic aesthetic designs (not saying linear maps are ugly. they're not... always). A huge flaw of Non-linear map design is unless the map has clear indicators of what switches do, you'll likely be lost.

 

Basically, both styles of mapping are good in some angles and bad in another. As long as you're not making a mountain out of what should just be a mole hill, you're on the right path. :)

Share this post


Link to post
1 hour ago, HAK3180 said:

Is there an industry standard definition of "linear"? 

 

As far as Doom maps go, I think Wraith777's Level Progress Diagrams come about as close as I've seen to really interpreting linearity/non-linearity in basic map design (that is to say, on the subject of "defining" linearity, I'd sooner consult those diagrams than actually attempt to clarify the term in words).

 

Personally, I've always enjoyed linear maps over non-linear ones, for the same reason that I enjoy linear campaigns over open-world campaigns in a single player game. I just want to sit down and be immersed in the experience which the creator has carefully crafted for me. I'm usually not interested in having to carve out my own gameplay. I realize that this sort of thing is designed to give players the option (or the "freedom") to play and experience the game how they want, but it always just felt like a cop-out to me - as though the developers weren't very confident in their own ability to craft truly enjoyable gameplay experiences, so they just hand over half the responsibility to the player to generate their own. 

Share this post


Link to post
22 minutes ago, RonnieJamesDiner said:

it always just felt like a cop-out to me - as though the developers weren't very confident in their own ability to craft truly enjoyable gameplay experiences, so they just hand over half the responsibility to the player to generate their own. 

 

As a map designer, my experience is that you have this exactly backwards.  It's much easier to make a linear map that plays well than a non-linear one that's sufficiently balanced and robust to support the diverse approaches a player might take.

Share this post


Link to post
Posted (edited)

while i get some of the gripes of Polri, i really dont understand the point in saying e2m2 is linear.

 

In one of the Castle Vids he discusses NERVE.wad map02, iirc, and goes on about how Valve invented the whole 'go left or right, but one way is blocked off until later'.  Sure, its a simple ploy but its extremely valid point.  By forcing the player to choose you are invariably forcing them to think.  And once the player is actively thinking about how to progress in the map, you are essentially no longer linear, imo.

 

And yes, I dont think AAA games have much in the way of 'go left or right, but one way is blocked off until later'.  Maybe I am over simplifying what some DOOM curators can accomplish, but I think of e1m1 as non-linear.  All it takes is a few little detours and suddenly Our Hero must make choices [even if one of them is wrong].

 

Interconnected routes are big plus.  Secret powerups are neat too.  Fight or Flight encounters also reinforce non-linear designs.  But all that is essential to a non-linear map is that the player has to make decisions wrt to progression.

 

i generally agree that people mean the environment is ripe for exploring when they say non-linear.  OP is correct on that point.

Edited by Mk7_Centipede

Share this post


Link to post

I had a rather huge totally optional area in my map and people got confused what to do in there. Which ties exactly in with the opionion in the opening post. Maps these days are so structured and rigidly "polished" that almost every room serves some kind of purpose for progression. People wandered into my optional area and since there was no switch to press or key to find, they were wondering what the hell they were doing there and just got confused. It didn't help that this area was accessible only with an optional key, which made it seem more important than it was, I guess.

Share this post


Link to post
1 hour ago, Capellan said:

 

As a map designer, my experience is that you have this exactly backwards.  It's much easier to make a linear map that plays well than a non-linear one that's sufficiently balanced and robust to support the diverse approaches a player might take.

 

To be fair, that last point I was making was in reference to open-world style games specifically, not Doom maps. I don't disagree with your sentiment.

Share this post


Link to post
Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, elend said:

I had a rather huge totally optional area in my map and people got confused what to do in there.

 

I think a lot of players expect to be spoonfed progression, because a lot of mapping advice is basically "ensure I don't get lost". The assumption seems to be that the player is blind, deaf and an idiot, so the well-hidden (or just outright obscured) progression and mazes of yore don't fly these days. The average streamer seems to play to confirm this, from my limited viewership, rushing around like a heavily-armed headless chicken, presumably to keep their viewers entertained with as much frequent action as possible.

 

 

Along the same lines as your anecdote, I was surprised to read on the Doom wiki they my MAP 03 in Community Chest 4 apparently has the yellow key as required and the blue key as optional. In reality, either key opens up a path to the exit, so you can easily skip over half of the map if you know what you're doing (or stumble through that way).

 

Likewise, I felt bad for Austinado playing one of my old maps in Persephone, as doors were hidden in the dark that he seemed to miss for a while. Having gone through Doom and Doom II, where an awful lot was hidden in very dark areas, including actual mandatory progression, I've kind of stopped wanting to fix up my old stuff now. It follows the standard I seek to attain, by the metric of "id did it".

Share this post


Link to post
56 minutes ago, Phobus said:

 

I think a lot of players expect to be spoonfed progression, because a lot of mapping advice is basically "ensure I don't get lost". The assumption seems to be that the player is blind, deaf and an idiot, so the well-hidden (or just outright obscured) progression and mazes of yore don't fly these days. The average streamer seems to play to confirm this, from my limited viewership, rushing around like a heavily-armed headless chicken, presumably to keep their viewers entertained with as much frequent action as possible. 

 

Define "getting lost". It's a fine line to tread. Like with everything you can give too much non-linearity. If the player has to choose between 10 paths at the first junction, 5 paths at the second one, 4 at the third you'll end up with something the brain can no longer memorize. Even a non-linear map needs to have some key areas where progression takes place. Ultimately you want the player to find these areas and not to run around aimlessly, trying to find them but constantly taking wrong paths because there is no clue where to go.

 

If a map gets too non-linear it is very important to give some visual hints, like giving separate areas their own identity or (like iZDCMP2 did) use signposting to give some orientation.

 

ZDCMP2 is a great example of a heavily interconnected map where the player can roam around at free will, but thanks to the signposting there is little chance of ever getting lost. Now imagine the same map WITHOUT the signposting: I guess for many people it'd degenerate into an impenetrable maze where it is hard to find the path to the important locations in the map.

 

Or as an older example, think of castevil.wad from 1994. The map is huge and takes an hour or so to play, but it has been divided into sections that each have their own identity, so no matter which path you take, everything is immediately recognizable.

 

Where it gets tedious is if you got a map of this complexity but then stuff it with rooms that all look similar. It won't take long until boredom sets in and it's getting harder to find your way around. That's where players will start to complain and it is a clear sign that something was done wrong.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post

Just to be clear: my aim was not to define "linearity", Wraith777 did a perfect job at that.

 

What I'm trying to say is that in my opinion the distinction between "explorability" and "gameplay-oriented design" is more relevant to how people wil experience a map, than the distinction beween linearity and non-linearity. 

Share this post


Link to post
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Graf Zahl said:

 

Define "getting lost".

 

Either of the following:

  1. Not knowing where they are in relation to a known location
  2. Not knowing where to go next in order to keep progressing

Your examples of ZDCMP2 and castevil is avoiding #1 by having plenty of clear markers, signs and distinct areas. My point was more around how "difficult to navigate" is a legitimate part of difficulty that was heavily indulged in back in the 90s and is rarely seen now. To my mind, "gameplay-oriented design" is all about moving the player from one planned or scripted encounter to the next, making sure the player sees all or most of your work, whilst exploration is designed into the map by opening areas up and providing the player with options, extra areas, side "quests" and rewards for going places they don't need to.

 

I'd agree with @Capellan that the latter is harder to do well and would also state that, as @elend and I have given examples for, it's much easier to be misinterpreted by players and thus garner less rewarding feedback as a mapper. Whether that matters or not is down to personal taste. On this forum in this day and age, certainly, "gameplay-oriented design" seems to reign. I'm sure at some point exploration will be seen as game play again, but for now it's (largely) all about the battles, puzzles and scenery.

 

 

One could argue that the much-maligned "The Chasm" is a "gameplay-oriented" map that rubs a lot of people up the wrong way, because the challenge is navigational and there's several totally unnecessary optional areas.

Share this post


Link to post
Posted (edited)
29 minutes ago, Polri said:

Just to be clear: my aim was not to define "linearity", Wraith777 did a perfect job at that.

 

What I'm trying to say is that in my opinion the distinction between "explorability" and "gameplay-oriented design" is more relevant to how people wil experience a map, than the distinction beween linearity and non-linearity.  

 

That may be, but not necessarily. That "Waste Site" map I linked to above is clearly linear but I do not see much of gameplay oriented design in there - and after the 6th or 7th area this will start to wear down the player. It's not just whether a map has a linear path to the exit but also how this linearity is experienced. If the player feels they have no choice where to go it can quickly become very boring - Quake 4 is a good example for an entire game suffering from that.

 

I also do not really agree with Wraith777's analysis. It is a major difference whether a map has a linear solution or a linear design. A linear solution merely means you have to visit certain places in the map in a predefined order. A linear design means that the map has only one path to go that inevitably leads to the next important checkpoint.

 

The main problem with gameplay oriented design, on the other hand, is that this doesn't start to become boring but exhausting - quite the opposite of what a linear map does, in fact.

 

What both have in common is that you have to be careful not to employ too much of them.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post

I agree with everything you've just written there and would add that mixing a linear solution with exploration is pretty much the basis of good, classic level design. Get it wrong with too much exploration and too linear a progression of objectives and you've got the cryptic progression something like HeXen is notable for. Go too far the other way (i.e. no exploration and very linear progression) and you've got your "Waste Site" example.

Share this post


Link to post

Linearity to me, is the absence of player choice in progression.  That is, either the map has only one path, or there are multiple paths, but only one is ever open at a time (i.e., Quake 4).  Whether the options are necessary or not, is another matter.  Some levels allow the player to make a choice, but one choice is superfluous (i.e, it takes them somewhere they could have avoided to finish the level).

 

I think having the player be able to choose where to go is an important part of gameplay and level longevity.  In DK Shrine Remastered, there was a deliberate design choice to make the level in such a way, that the player can complete sections in different orders, so when they play it again, they don't have to play it the same way.  It can be a different experience each time, and sometimes you had to go explore, just a little, to find weapons, ammo.   Navigating the level can be fun, as long as the level is not so complex the player cannot map it in their head.

 

Linear levels can be good here and there, but when its linear level after linear level, I don't feel like I'm playing Doom anymore, but rather something more "arcadey".  I don't really like levels which are clearly built to create scripted and specific gameplay.  I much prefer levels where you feel like you've been dropped in this area, building, whatever, and have to find your way around and out to the exit to survive.  Levels which first represent a "place", even if abstract, are more immersive.  I want to feel like I'm somewhere, and some non linearity and ability to explore and move around helps.

 

That being said, I'd rather linear to hideously large and complex labyrinthine levels.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Posted (edited)

Interesting thread. Many good points made. 

 

My first map was HUGE and lengthy and mostly non-linear.

(https://www.doomworld.com/idgames/levels/doom2/Ports/d-f/dab79)

 

It was based on exploration and survival. Very Dark Souls inspired. The first key was linear. The second key was not, however there were multiple paths to obtaining it. The map size was overwhelming to most. It was truly non-linear in the sense that you had to figure out yourself what to do next and explore and try to survive. Wasn't too complicated if you looked at the map and joined the dots. Got mostly bad reviews but sometimes someone says that they liked it. I don't know. I made what i wanted to make, so i was happy with it. 

 I prefer non-linearity. I prefer freedom of choice and different solutions to problems. I wanna feel like a Marine lost in a tech base tryin' to find the way out and survive. I like lengthy, detailed maps. 

 

Secrets don't have to mean a nice pickup. Secrets could mean a shortcut. I've learnt this recently and put it into my maps. It's a cool idea. 

 

I think most people don't really want true non-linearity. I've tried it. You kinda need a large map with many choices. I've learnt from feedback that many don't want 100% non-linearity. Players just get lost or frustrated. I think 50-70% works a lot better for people. Everyone hates "hunting for the critical path" / "switch hunting" etc. 

Mapping for Doom is weird. Sometimes people miss stuff that you would consider obvious and vice-versa. LOL. I've watched many videos and sometimes players walk right past critical switches / pickups etc. You have to make them super-obvious. 

 

Ironically all Doom EP1 (which i consider the best Doom) maps are mostly linear

 

Conclusion: Everyone's different and prefer different things. Most people hate 100% Non-linearity. I prefer 70% non-linear and 30% linear. More choices mean freedom and exploration and especially, re-play value. 

Edited by PeterMoro : mistake

Share this post


Link to post

Ahem...

 

Linear, you say?

 

Screenshot_Doom_20190331_030136.png

 

In my opinion - every map which allows to run 2 paths to final room/checkpoint room is NON linear. So, this is the opposite concept to screen I've attached here.

Share this post


Link to post
Posted (edited)
On 8/13/2019 at 10:08 PM, Đeⓧiaz said:

Ahem...

 

Linear, you say?

 

[deleted]

Edited by PeterMoro : another mistake : (

Share this post


Link to post

A few additional thoughts:

  • Explorability was also very much a thing in ID's previous game: Commander Keen. Most levels had large optional areas, many had different paths to reach te exit, and except for Keen 5, all Keen games had quite a lot of optional levels. In fact, the majority of levels in Keen 3 were completely optional.
  • Since at the onset Sandy had to work with Hall's layouts, it might be that those optional rooms were the result of inserting progression in an existing map, rather than a deliberate choice. But in any case, Sandy continued to design in this way in several Doom 2 levels, so at that point it was definitely a designers' choice.
  • Explorability seems to work differently in Romero levels than in Sandy levels. In Romero's levels, the "intended" or "main" path is always easily discernible, with the optional areas clearly looking, well, optional. Gotcha! being a good example here: at the start the player is clearly guided towards the Mastermind / Cyberdemon room (from which the progression to the end flows rather naturally on a linear path), whereas to discover the alternative paths, you need to take a risk and go messing in the lava.
  • In Sandy's levels, the main path is much less clear. E3M5 for instance starts with 4 entrances to the "cathedral", but without any indications of a main entrance.
  • TNT Evilution had considerably fewer explorable maps than the original Doom games.
  • Plutonia maps allmost all followed the "gameplay-oriented design" pattern, and in that respect seems to have been an important inspiration for modern megawads.

Share this post


Link to post
Posted (edited)

90% of my SP maps have been linear experiences. Sometimes I do the “choose your own path” thing, where the player starts with multiple doors or paths or whatever. Sometimes “faked” nonlinearity can be fun, where every area is mandatory, but you get to choose what order you do it in. This gives the player the illusion of choice (and illusion is usually enough) but still allows for generally pretty “scriptable” gameplay.

 

What I’m really struggling with in my current project is “true” nonlinearity, making areas that are totally optional in each map that also don’t skew the gameplay too far by giving the player a bunch of supplies, or conversely by draining them with too many enemies. Most of all, I don’t want any path to be boring - the toughest thing about this design approach is that players are going to necessarily backtrack through already cleared-out rooms, and I fear that will leave many players bored, even though I love having a look around, checking back on all the bodies I’ve stacked up, and seeing if I can’t find a secret soul sphere.

 

I’ve never once had a player complain about my mostly-linear maps, but the few times I have tried the nonlinear approach (Shovelware Adventure comes to mind) I certainly heard about it in multiple reviews, even if they were positive overall.

 

What I’m getting at is, it seems like nonlinear mapping is “higher

effort, lower yield”. BUT, for that 1/3rd of the Dooming population who loves exploration alongside their carnage, perhaps nonlinear maps are the “sweet spot” and end up more fun for that specific demographic.. At the possible expense of the larger half who just want to be sent on a path of destruction, so to speak. Do you all think this is a fair assessment? Is there some way to bridge the gap, or are these two design approaches just fundamentally different? Is there some way to please the majority of Doomers and avoid either boredom or exhaustion respectively?

 

If you guys have some examples of maps you think bridge that gap I would love to see them.

Share this post


Link to post
4 minutes ago, Nine Inch Heels said:

Personally I feel like it's become a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in the same manner as for example "engaging", and the correlation with exploration seems at least far fetched - if not baseless to me.

 

I think it might be a case of, the less of a "straight line" it feels like the player is going in, the less linear the map feels - even if it's technically linear. So, I guess the direction I'm coming at it from has more to do with how the map feels rather than anything definitive. Taking, for example, your hypothetical strict linear progression map with a handful of optional side areas - if the layout was such that, multiple playthroughs could feel very different depending on the order in which you did the side areas, the map would likely end up having a strong non-linear vibe to it, despite this being just sort of an illusion. So for me, that is the correlation I see between exploration and non-linearity. Though again, the stress is on the experience felt, rather than anything definitive.

Share this post


Link to post
On 8/13/2019 at 5:51 AM, PeterMoro said:

Secrets don't have to mean a nice pickup. Secrets could mean a shortcut. I've learnt this recently and put it into my maps. It's a cool idea.

 

This. Secrets can be entirely optional areas, shortcuts, a positional advantage on enemies, even entirely different routes through the map. The tricky thing is guiding the player enough that they don't become confused.

Share this post


Link to post
7 hours ago, Nine Inch Heels said:

Personally I feel like it's become a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in the same manner as for example "engaging", and the correlation with exploration seems at least far fetched - if not baseless to me.

 

Agreed that the term is used veeeeeery loosely around here, although I think it can be defined easily as "multiple viable paths to exit". Then I suppose we have to define "paths" heh, which can be both the physical geometry or a set of goals (switch hitting, key grabbing).

 

OP is touching on something though, where an author designs a map to be nonlinear at least in terms of geometry, but then becomes linear after heavy gameplay testing. There's an easy trap to fall into (I'm a guilty party) where the author wants a tightly balanced gameplay experience, so the battles tend towards scripted sequences of weapon progression, and "grab x then the arena fills perfectly with y enemies" fights. So even while the map itself may have a nonlinear layout, the action that occurs in it is identical every time.

Share this post


Link to post

Yeah, "non-linear" isn't really what the term literally is meant to be. At least for me, a level is already non-linear if you have two or more ways to reach a required goal (a key, for example). With that in mind, you can have some sort of poor non-linearity (which isn't bad btw), with two optional paths that in the end ends up being both mandatory. Or you can go crazy, and depending of the route, your experience will be completely different from the other player that has played the same map. (if different playstyles wasn't enough).

 

They're many different layout styles that the mapper can use to accomplish this. The most common I see, especially for the modern gameplay-focused levels, is either the hub that has three mandatory paths and once you've all the keys, you're good to go, or a linear map that keeps opening up itself and showing alternative routes to avoid backtracking. But you can also focus on more interconnected areas with different routes (por example: A-B-C-D-E) and reach them in different order, where some are mandatory and others are optional, allowing multiple combination to reach the goal (A-B-D-E or A-C-E-B-D, por example), use the hub style and make only 2 out of 3 keys mandatories (so very few areas becomes mandatory), or mix linear moments with non-linear ones.

 

As for myself, I love doing non-linear stuff and it's pretty rewarding when a player finds a route you didn't think it existed and then the map behave well. The hard part is to make the player to be aware of where they need to go >.<

Share this post


Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×