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GoatLord

Why are modern shooters so linear?

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Before I rant, I wanted to mention that I don't have a whole lot of experience with newer first person shooters, but the ones I've watched and/or played seem to indicate a fundamental shift in map design: The abandonment of levels with interconnected areas, allowing for a certain degree of exploration, and the favoring of levels which have one and only one very obvious path, and even using slightly insulting indicators to help move the player along. Why is this? Are today's gamers just not as hardcore? Or is it just a new school attitude?

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It's because "map design" these days is more "make the level look pretty" than it is "make the level flow well." Much like many parts of game design these days, the shift toward making it more of an "art" form is ending up with a lot more "pretty" than "clever."

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Part of it is that making a non-linear map takes more time and effort. With the amount of visuals expected in games these days, making a bunch of areas that players aren't guaranteed to even visit, may seem like a waste of time to the level designer.

I think the audience has something to do with it too. Games seem to be more geared towards a more general group of players, that emcompasses casual players with more experienced ones. This I think explains why you have stupid indicators, simple puzzles, and linear level design. You can't get stuck or lost if the map is one long corridor with signs and hints plastered everywhere.

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I think part of it is also driven by the story lines. As they get more involved, there's fewer chances for them to deviate or be fluid. Since there aren't as many chances to have an open environment, they just make linear levels. This is opposite of older games like Doom, where there was a skeleton of a story but the "real" story was basically created as you played.

I don't think this is the only reason, simply part of it.

Technician said:

I was actually going to make a thread asking if it were possible to make a modern FPS not linear.

As I was typing up my response, GTA popped into my head. You get mission objectives, but they're open and it's an open sandbox environment. If an FPS had gameplay and stories like that, it wouldn't need linear levels.

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There are "sandbox" first person shooters, aren't there? I mean, I've only played a handful of shooters period, so I may be speaking out of ignorance, but isn't that what Fallout 3 and Borderlands essentially are?

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I think part of the reason is scripted sequences would not be triggard at the right time if the player took a different route, and the player might also be facing the wrong direction if said scripted sequence was activated while the player was backtracking.

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I would think that, if modern gaming wasn't so dependent on scripted events, perhaps this would not be as much of an issue. In fact, it could even turn into a gameplay element.

Say your mission objective is to take down a terrorist who has a hostage, in an alleyway. You could take him head-on, but then the hostage would be at risk. Or you could find a way to get into the alleyway from the other direction, take him from behind, and save the hostage without risking their life.

It's these kinds of things that it seems like modern FPS developers never seem to take into account. I love it when a game ends up with solutions to puzzles that the developers never expected to happen (see: rocket-jumping).

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The thing with modern game engines is that you can't simply open an editor, draw a few lines and end up with a level. You have to use things like brushes, models, etc. which take time and are a big pain in the ass.

If only there was a modern game engine that was actually easy to map for...Just imagine what you could do with it.

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I like linear games. They don't leave me with that feeling of "Did I see every part of that level I possibly could have? Did I check under that one rock?"

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There are tons of reasons! However, the absolute biggest reason is that content is extremely expensive these days compared to before, and no game can have that big of a budget. Think about how big of a budget the recent Call of Duty games have had, and yet how short they were! This, combined with the popularity of carefully constructed, highly-scripted level design, makes nonlinearity out of the question. Too hard, too expensive.

It just goes along with the style of cinematic games.

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Shooters have always been linear. It's much more noticeable now with more cutscenes and FPP sequences, but even Doom's stock maps were fairly linear. The big difference (besides cutscenes and such) is some games opt to close off the path behind you or give you one path period instead of going through one path, backtracking to explore another path to unlock a way to go to the next path or an exit. They're certainly more linear than Doom, of course, but I honestly think after having played a decent number of shooters that for the most part, the linearity is just more noticeable than it is more prevalent.

This is of course excluding the "we won't let you shoot here, HAHA" pseudo-cutscenes, "you can't go faster than your AI buddies" segments of games like Homefront and Black Ops(according to TB's many rants; I've personally never run into these, though I generally am shooting at people and taking in the story rather than trying to go faster than the AI, personally.), some games having an insulting and unnecessary glowing line sort of thing pointing exactly where you need to go, and the lack of mini-paths for secrets.

And surprising as it may be, Call of Duty of all modern shooter series still has these secret paths, albeit far less useful, being items used to unlock achievements, cheats, or in BO's case, in-universe history in the form of documents, as opposed to health kits [because hurr durr "health kits aren't modern. ;)" - F.3.A.R. 3 developer on reddit] or weapon/ammo caches.)

@Goatlord Nope. Borderlands if anything is an FPSRPG hybrid (with very loose RPG elements, considering the only real stats are in weapons and all the quests are pretty much crappy MMO "go here/collect this/return for reward" things. Fallout 3 is an RPG through and through. Especially considering the shooting mechanics are basically a dice-roll based on your character's respective gun category stats. The closest to a "sandbox FPS" I know of is some of the levels of the first Crysis, given the openness of the jungle environments, and even then it doesn't quite cut it.

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Xeros612 said:

And surprising as it may be, Call of Duty of all modern shooter series still has these secret paths, albeit far less useful, being items used to unlock achievements, cheats, or in BO's case, in-universe history in the form of documents, as opposed to health kits [because hurr durr "health kits aren't modern. ;)" - F.3.A.R. 3 developer on reddit] or weapon/ammo caches.)

And what about missions like Safehouse in CoD 4 or Silo in CoD 2 where you have several objective points to take in no particular order? Or the city sections where you can maneuver through buildings in different ways to attack enemies from different directions? Unfortunately though, I think these things have become less frequent in later games in the series.

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I haven't played CoD4 in ages besides a little bit of "All Ghillied Up", and the only CoD2 I played was Big Red One for the PS2, so I guess I forgot about the former and never experienced the latter.

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I can't imagine being a mapper in the gaming industry today. Those guys spend hundreds of man-hours to create miles of background architecture that the player will never interact with.

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Games (shooters in particular) just want to be more like movies today. Developers want to "tell a story", but the only way they know how is by looking at cinematic narratives, it's too hard to have good player-driven ones. I imagine we won't see things like completely destructible environments for this reason, even when it will be technically feasible on that scale. I mean, we're not even able to hurt friendly or neutral NPCs anymore because it may disrupt the very specific chain of events the developers have planned out for us.

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Because committee-made, slightly interactive movies, mostly made of borrowed cookie cutter code with pretty pictures on the box, made in a 16 hour a day sweatshop, is where the money is, due to Joe Sixpacks and Jane Soccermom's christmas and birthday shopping buying habits. Its similar to the reason Arnold Schwartzinigger became governor. Oh, he's a movie star!!11 I'm voting for him11 More like an economic parasite. Life is like one of those games where you can upgrade to a magnet so the coins gravitate toward you. Arnold and Tom Hanks have one of those damn magnets by sheer luck of the untamed survival of the fittest economic system, certainly not by any real intellectual or other worth. Such is the nature of our current insane massively multiplayer mandatory economic role playing game; Some fag named Justin Bieber can sell a lock of his hair for 40 thousand dollars, worth more than some people's entire family trees. I think, especially after AI comes, you'll start seeing human beings as just another product in the economic system. $5 each? Meh just squash those obsolete things. The entire human race will be sold in bulk to some future AI for 4 hundred dollars as a quaint display novelty, like an ant farm or something.

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Most of the art for modern video games is now commissioned to cheaper studios found in Russia. Much like animation was/is.

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All that matters in the end is whether or not I choose to play them. What others are doing, that's their business. I learned long ago that new games are not for me. First of all, they don't run under any OS I'm interested in using. Then, they're not the style of game I like. And finally, I've already got plenty enough games to keep me occupied.

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hex11 said:

All that matters in the end is whether or not I choose to play them. What others are doing, that's their business. I learned long ago that new games are not for me. First of all, they don't run under any OS I'm interested in using. Then, they're not the style of game I like. And finally, I've already got plenty enough games to keep me occupied.

If only this mentality was adopted by more people.

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Technician said:

If only this mentality was adopted by more people.

But it's easier to bitch about everything you don't like!

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Most people don't like wondering around with no idea what they're meant to do next especially if they've not got as much time to fire up the video games anymore. It's actually not unreasonable.

I'd prefer it if they'd take the Dues Ex/Crysis method of giving the player an obvious goal but allow a few options to approach it or the Oblivion/Fallout 3 route where; again, obvious goal, but be in a world with so much stuff hidden about the place that exploring is fun.

I'm playing the original Ultima Underworld at the moment thanks to GoG being awesome and as much as I admire the bold steps the game took and how clever the puzzles are, I hit up the FAQ as soon as something looks like it might take more then five minutes to solve. I just don't have the time nor patience nowadays.

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Bucket said:

Those guys spend hundreds of man-hours to create miles of background architecture that the player will never interact with.

A) LOL DOOM MAP DETAIL OBSESSION
B) Statement is also fairly wrong. Actual visual detail is solely the realm of the legions of artists in employ. Level builders themselves set up all the gameplay elements moreso than the level architecture these days, and smart studios let level builders greybox a level before setting their artists loose.

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Less thought and imagination required to make them. It grieves me to say that it makes sense from a business point of view to make money off something that takes less work to design than to make the same money off something that requires more effort to conceptualize, at least.

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If every room in your Doom .WAD cost thousands to make in terms of man-hours for the artwork, scripting, licensing of various engines and APIs and all the other crap that goes in, you'd want to make sure players stood a good chance of seeing at least 90% of them.

Plus, if you're following a railroad, its relatively easy to set up scripted spectacles, ambushes and everything else that is meant to distract from the fact you're effectively walking down a corridor.

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Also linear gameplay is often not very replayable gameplay, and at the rate video games are being developed, in the amount of time it takes for players to get bored of a game, their already more than halfway into making a sequel.

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Let's not forget most shooters these days depend on Multiplayer. With this in mind, Singleplayer elements don't have as much thought put into them. People would rather be running around an area or perhaps quickly going through Coop with little time to explore. I've seen kids play through coop, they try to go through it as fast as they can it seems.

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The thing is, modern games take a lot of effort to make compared to older games. Back in the day, a group of 4-5 guys could make an awesome game with nonlinear levels within the span of a year. Hell, even Doom was a massive undertaking back when it was made. Many programmers back then could spit out a couple games a month by themselves, due to the simplicity and low expectations of games back then. Nowadays there is an expectation of at least reasonably good graphics and the like in games, so there is pressure to spend a lot of time on it. There is also plenty of pressure from publishers on developers to get the games out in a reasonable time scale, which is why most development studios consist of upwards of 100 programmers, artists, and level designers working on a game in an 18 month time span.

In short, there's just way too much for them to do, and most of that time is spent building the engine and creating the resources. Level design is wedged in between that and the final play testing, so the pressure is on to do it in a small time frame. Even if they're using an extant game engine, they still have to spend time modifying or updating that engine for their game, and the publisher is probably giving them a smaller time frame because they know they already have the material there.

That being said, I'd love it if someone would make a modern-looking game with 90s style level design. An independent studio using a preexisting engine could probably do it. The problem would be an independent studio being able to AFFORD a preexisting engine.

hex11 said:

All that matters in the end is whether or not I choose to play them. What others are doing, that's their business. I learned long ago that new games are not for me. First of all, they don't run under any OS I'm interested in using. Then, they're not the style of game I like. And finally, I've already got plenty enough games to keep me occupied.

Well said. I've personally not bought any first person shooters since Half-Life aside from the Orange Box, Portal 2, an Unreal pack, and what was in Steam's Id bundle. I just don't have interest in the modern iterations of the genre. If I want to play some games with old-school level design, I'll just download some PWADS, DN3D maps, or what have you.

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