Are Linear Games Inherently Bad?

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There's a difference between just being linear and having far too much linearity. Games like Half-Life, Portal, Bioshock, etc. all give you a sense of freedom, even if that freedom isn't necessarily there. The boundaries of the game, while they certainly exist, never feel forced on you as they do in games with too much linearity.

At the end of the day, any game which attempts to tell a semi coherent story is linear to some extent. There's no point in allowing the player to do the final mission before the opening one. Even the Bethesda games, though they claim (and can back up to some extent) to allow you to do whatever you want, whenever you want, start to beat you around the ears if you consider doing the main story missions out of order.

I find that heavily linear games tend to allow for the more immediate Call of Duty adrenaline rush type scenario's, so to answer your question: No, not at all. Linearity can be effectively used to push the story, presentation and more importantly; pacing.

It's been mentioned before, but many (not all, but most) open world games are pretty poorly paced, simply because of the fact that the game isn't constantly pushing you along and so it needs to find other methods, usually pointless gimmicks, to fill in the extended gaps between missions.

Still, at the end of the day, both methods have their uses.

leady129:
At the end of the day, any game which attempts to tell a semi coherent story is linear to some extent. There's no point in allowing the player to do the final mission before the opening one. Even the Bethesda games, though they claim (and can back up to some extent) to allow you to do whatever you want, whenever you want, start to beat you around the ears if you consider doing the main story missions out of order.

I find that heavily linear games tend to allow for the more immediate Call of Duty adrenaline rush type scenario's, so to answer your question: No, not at all. Linearity can be effectively used to push the story, presentation and more importantly; pacing.

It's been mentioned before, but many (not all, but most) open world games are pretty poorly paced, simply because of the fact that the game isn't constantly pushing you along and so it needs to find other methods, usually pointless gimmicks, to fill in the extended gaps between missions.

Still, at the end of the day, both methods have their uses.

What he said, except with cake.

As with all games, this is simply a design decision. If you make a game that needs to be linear open, it will feel too thin, and if you make an open-world game linear it'll feel restrictive.

Games like Bioshock only really work as linear games, because they are incredibly story-focussed. However, if you were designing something with an overarching story but not a lot else (say, a straight-up RPG) then you'd want to make it open-world.

Neither is inherently better or worse than the other - it just depends on the type of game you're making. And if the game is badly written, then even the right choice won't save it.

Non-linear games aren't all that often non-linear in the first place.

Lets take Mass Effect 2 for example.
My playthrough is totally different from yours.
But is it really non-linear?

No.
You still have exactly the same missions as I do, with exactly the same way from A to Z. Only you get the decide the sequence of those linear paths.

Games like Oblivion, Fallout, give a bigger feeling of non-linearity, but in the end, you're still following that one road the developers made for you to finish that quest, and that story line.

The cool thing about non-linear is the sense of freedom they give you which more linear games have been incorporating. A great example is Arkham Asylum that requires you to complete all missions in exactly the same order... but let's you go back and re-explore previously played areas. It felt a bit like a sandbox game without being one. The original Bioshock did the same thing. I enjoy not feeling artificially cut off from earlierlevels. I'm sure all of us have had that situation where we walked through a door ending the level and thought "Im not through yet" but unable to simple walk through the door again.

Not for every game but I like games that work to sell the illusion.

Nickompoop:
There have been good, linear games made: the Half Life series, Portal (I assume Portal 2 fits this too, but I haven't played it yet), the Left 4 Dead games, Bioshock, Metroid Prime, and Super Mario Bros. (all of them) leap to mind. These are all excellent games; hell, Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made. Every game in this list brutally linear.

Metroid Prime is linear? I have to disagree on that one for a variety of reasons, though admittedly there is a semi-defined "path" you're expected to take in the game. The thing is that path overlaps with itself numerous times, and the series is very well-known for it's backtracking (exploring previously completed areas for upgrades & items). Sequence-breaking is a common practice for experienced players of the franchise, which allows the player (using a minor glitch or two) to go around the expected path and acquire some key items much earlier than intended. Anyhow, the key point is that Metroid (referring to the series as a whole) is traditionally considered non-linear.

Back to the main question, linearity isn't objectively bad... but it does create some problems. The issue primarily arises when a game is obviously linear, especially when things start to get repetitive.

Ultimately, almost all players want some variety in their gameplay. If you're going to make a linear game, you can't have it consist of the same thing over and over again; things have to be mixed up a bit or else the player is just going to get bored of repeating the same task without deviation. In a non-linear game, the player is given the option to deviate from the main course at any time they want (how far they can get may be limited at first, but the game world opens up more and more as they progress). Sand-box games can be described as being primarily or entirely composed of these deviations, and quite often the entire point is for the player to just do as they please.

So yeah, you could say linearity is inherently bad for a game... but feeling linear is definitely a negative aspect for any game. Because games are interactive, players want choice (which leads directly to variety). If a game is going to be linear, variety has to be incorporated into the level design. In a non-linear or sand-box game, players have the option to make their own variety if need be (though overly repetitive level design and/or not enough variety is the possible activities can still be an issue).

The issue isn't of linearity, which most people accept in games, but of showing you its shackles. Homefront is a good example of this: Invisible walls everywhere, you can't go anywhere until your teammates go first, absolutely no scope to tackle anything your own way. Every game has its constraints, the fault is when it points them out so obviously.

Half life 2 and Portal 1 and 2 are good example of linearity done well, since you don't feel like the world is just out of reach, but that you're actively interacting with it, even on the straight path. As long as the world feels tangible and real, and not just some props on a roller coaster, then linearity is fine and dandy.

THIS IS MY OPINION.

It really depends on the game. If its an rpg its definatly going to suffer if they take the linear approach. I dont like being railroaded down a single 5ft wide path the entire game and have absolutely no choices. It ends up creating a pretty shitty game.

In other games it actually works really well. I mean look at the prince of persia games or god of war. They are linear, but since they are platformers it works extremely well for them. Now look at games like say call of duty, as linear as the levels are they are big enough that you dont have to take the same path every time. There is generally atleast three or four different routes you can take to reach the objective. This allows you more freedom of choice

In the end it is all down to PERSONAL preference. Some people like the rediculously linear type of game where you stay on one 5ft walkway the entire time. Others prefer a much more open game where you actually have choices. Other times it depends entirely on what genre the game is in.

Nickompoop:
Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made.

I think you mean to say worst. Honestly just because some random wackjob calls it the greatest game ever that does not mean its true.

Linearity is only bad in RPGs. RPGs should allow for as much freedom as possible, as long as they don't let the story suffer in the process. This is why the old Baldur's Gate and Fallout games are so highly regarded: they provided a sandbox experience that was still story driven.

No, linearity is not inherently bad. When someone says that a game is too linear, it usually means that the linearity is badly executed.

BioShock, Half-Life 2 and even Mario let you make small choices that influence gameplay. Do I kill the Little Sister to harvest more Adam? Do I use the med-station now or save it for later? Do I risk my life to get more coins? A game that's too linear takes that away from you, becoming merely a test of skill.

Eh, there's only a very few games that I enjoy exploration in. Mostly, I prefer linearity. How it usually goes for me, more freedom of exploration (geographical exploration AND narrative exploration) leads to more clunky storytelling.

Some people expect so much freedom where it was never promised.

when done right. linear games can be awesome too.
sad thing is, most linear games are just..sad

Jodah:
Personally I prefer semi-linear games. Those are games like Dragon Age. You have a specific goal and you are limited in what you can do or where you can go at that specific time but you are free to accomplish those goals in any order you wish. You could go to the Circle tower first and go to the elves last. Or you could go to Redcliff first and go to the dwarves last.

What troubled me with Dragon Age was that I somehow felt disconnected. I didn't like "travelling in a map" and that somehow tore the story a little apart for me. But boy was I surprised the first time I was ambushed during my journey! I had no idea that my travels could be stopped while between locations (yes, I was that naive). I ended up in some patch of forest with arrows coming from all directions. All I could think was "Where am I and who are all these people!? I needed to see the elves, I come in peace!"

But I guess my point is, I don't mind linear as long as it's well done. I even enjoy linear RPG's. Sandboxes are great fun, but I tend to get distracted too much and easily wander around doing menial tasks for hundred odd hours and never finish the game. This is what happened with Oblivion. But someday, I will finish it. Don't know when, but I will. And I will keep buying both types of game. Sometimes I get disappointed, but that's life. Only when linear in a game means pulling me forward with a fish hook through my eyelid will I stop playing it.

i dont mind linearity, however it does for me often severely decreases replay value. one simple way of fixing this in a game like cod, is to make each level more open to give you different ways of getting to the objective. this increases replay value without impacting on the story.

Just to jump on the bandwagon. No, linear doesn't mean bad. A linear game just needs work in different areas than a sandbox game and not all dev teams may be able to recognize/do both well.

Personally, for me to enjoy a linear game it needs an engaging story that ties everything together.

Nope it is not. It depends on the experience. Some sandbox games are utter crap.

Linearity is definitely NOT a bad thing.

A lot of the best games are linear. If you have a linear story, but allow the player to go and explore past areas, and mingle with NPCs and the like, then you did it right.

HOWEVER, if you allow the player no freedom to do anything but march ahead and see cutscenes and the occasional battle...You did it wrong. In fact, the game is no longer linear but rather ON RAILS! And unless it's an arcade shooter, that's a bad thing.

If you mean linear in the sense of walking the player along a predetermined path from set piece to set piece, a la Half Life 2, no. If you mean making the entire game one long corridor with endless repetitive random encounters, a la FFXIII, then yes.

Depends on the style. Having a supposedly "open" world, only to constrain it with a sense of linearity is a bad thing. This is why Fable: The Lost Chapters fell on deaf ears for most individuals that were expecting a more exploration type of game.

Linearity isn't inherently bad but a linear game runs the risk of losing interactivity. If there's a set path you have to follow, there's a greater possibility that there's nothing else but the path to follow. It can also contribute to bad level design where exploration is replaced with almost a slide show of interesting locations.

For instance, the issue with FFXIII wasn't that it was just linear, but that it was a razor-thin rail with no content outside of that narrow path for 30 hours until you can hop off the story railroad and hop on the mark quest railroad instead.

Outright Villainy:
The issue isn't of linearity, which most people accept in games, but of showing you its shackles. Homefront is a good example of this: Invisible walls everywhere, you can't go anywhere until your teammates go first, absolutely no scope to tackle anything your own way. Every game has its constraints, the fault is when it points them out so obviously.

Half life 2 and Portal 1 and 2 are good example of linearity done well, since you don't feel like the world is just out of reach, but that you're actively interacting with it, even on the straight path. As long as the world feels tangible and real, and not just some props on a roller coaster, then linearity is fine and dandy.

I agree with this a lot. A lot of my favorite games are extremely linear, but due to good design you don't notice/care about the limitations. For example, the Ace Attorney series are about as linear as they get, but you don't mind because of the great storytelling and the investigation sequences making you feel more free than you are. If you're having fun or engrossed in a story, you often don't give the rails a second thought.

It's a design choice, and some games implement linearity better than others. Invisible walls in illogical places can do a lot to frustrate players.

No, because there's no such thing as a [truly] non-linear game.

The closest thing to true non-linearity in gaming would probably be Mass Effect (or maybe L.A. Noire, but I haven't played it yet and I hear whether or not certain criminals get away is scripted in anyway) and even that works more like a "choose which corridor you'd like to take this linear story down." game.

Even GTA games are just linear story missions spread across a sandbox where you can do whatever you want.
For more of what I'm talking about, see:

I never bother with such judgements.

juliett_lima:
I agree - a lot of good games are linear, and there are a lot of bad games which are sandbox. Some games do like to even out the linearity though. There's a really interesting thought about that in this article - http://www.nowgamer.com/features/1349/the-making-of-goldeneye - which says that early in development, Goldeneye was meant to be an on-rails shooter like Virtua Cop - about as linear as it gets. When they changed this, they fleshed out the levels so that the player was able to essentially explore outside of the set path that was designed before.

It's probably likely that there'll be good games doing one or the other, but a lot more good games striking a balance IMO. Mass Effect features linear levels set in an Open world - the first level on Crysis features a sandbox area with no linearity aside from a start and end point (and a few funnels), and eventually moves into focused gameplay. Without linearity there's no compulsion to move ahead.

Of course there's also FFXIII, which was 20 hours of running through corridors. Fun.

everyone says that of 13
but i remember a lot of 10 being corridor-ey aswell.

Am i just remembering wrong

It isn't, next question.

bahumat42:

everyone says that of 13
but i remember a lot of 10 being corridor-ey aswell.

Am i just remembering wrong

No, FFX was INCREDIBLY linear. Thing of it, it hides that linearity with towns, minigames, sidequests that weren't monster hunts, etc.

innocentEX:

Nickompoop:
Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made.

Since When? I have never heard of anyone say this sentence in real life, sure people say its good, but do people really think its worthy of that title?

MaxPowers666:

Nickompoop:
Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made.

I think you mean to say worst. Honestly just because some random wackjob calls it the greatest game ever that does not mean its true.

Perhaps I should explain why I say that Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game made. Here are my sources:
Number 8 on Metacritic out of every single game ever rated. http://www.metacritic.com/browse/games/score/metascore/all/all?view=condensed&sort=desc
Number 1 on Steam. http://store.steampowered.com/search/?sort_by=Metascore&sort_order=DESC&
Number 1 PC Game on IGN. http://pc.ign.com/articles/101/1011624p26.html
Number 6 Xbox 360 Game on IGN. Technically, it's the Orange Box, but I think it still counts. http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/104/1045042p21.html
Number 4 Best Selling PC Game on Wikipedia, not including expansions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_PC_video_games
Number 4 on Gamefaqs.com. http://www.gamefaqs.com/features/top10/2288.html
Number 2 on Destructoid. http://www.destructoid.com/the-top-50-videogames-of-the-decade-10-1--155591.phtml

I believe I've made my point.

Linearity is only bad if the function of the gameplay feels limited in a way that only more freedom can provide. Being given a limited mechanic is a good thing in a lot of ways, as a focused experience is the heart of gaming. This being said, some genres have more issue with this than others. If an RPG does not have enough freedom to move and grow, then the player's investment is lost, since the primary idea and all mechanics in RPGs tend to be about growth and exploration. Conversely, if a shooting gallery has too much freedom and too many ways to be lost, the punchy nature of the genre currently would be completely lost due to frustration.

Basically, linearity isn't bad. However, if it's being brought up as a point against a game, it probably means that the developers needed less of it. If you notice it, there is a problem.

Corridor gameplay such as every bioware game is generally what is considered too linear.

Nickompoop:

innocentEX:

Nickompoop:
Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made.

Since When? I have never heard of anyone say this sentence in real life, sure people say its good, but do people really think its worthy of that title?

MaxPowers666:

Nickompoop:
Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made.

I think you mean to say worst. Honestly just because some random wackjob calls it the greatest game ever that does not mean its true.

Perhaps I should explain why I say that Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game made. Here are my sources:
Number 8 on Metacritic out of every single game ever rated. http://www.metacritic.com/browse/games/score/metascore/all/all?view=condensed&sort=desc
Number 1 on Steam. http://store.steampowered.com/search/?sort_by=Metascore&sort_order=DESC&
Number 1 PC Game on IGN. http://pc.ign.com/articles/101/1011624p26.html
Number 6 Xbox 360 Game on IGN. Technically, it's the Orange Box, but I think it still counts. http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/104/1045042p21.html
Number 4 Best Selling PC Game on Wikipedia, not including expansions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_PC_video_games
Number 4 on Gamefaqs.com. http://www.gamefaqs.com/features/top10/2288.html
Number 2 on Destructoid. http://www.destructoid.com/the-top-50-videogames-of-the-decade-10-1--155591.phtml

I believe I've made my point.

Right so the only thing it is actually number 1 on is steam and IGN the site that is less trustworthy then wikipedia on a university paper. Honestly it even says on the wikipedia that it may not even include just pc sales. Also for the 360 game come on the orange box contained both portal and half life 2 so that kind of skews it in their favour.

Pretty much you have proven that alot of people like it thats it. Nothing about it being the best game ever or anything. We already knew it was popular so no you havnt proved any point.

iDoom46:

The closest thing to true non-linearity in gaming would probably be Mass Effect.

Can you expand a little on how ME represents the pinnacle of non-linearity, given that it conforms neatly to the old RPG trope of:

"Doom is coming, you must hurry to save the world! But, whilst you're out, can you pop down the shops and pick me up a snickers™ and a healing potion? Oh, and the various misfits you've collected together to save the world have some issues from their past they'd like to waste your time...er...resolve."

Not that I'm massively knocking ME for being hideously linear or anything. I just think that it's a long way from being truly non-linear.

Back on topic:

Linearity is not inherently bad - indeed sometimes, it's awesome. I cite Metro 2033 as an example of when leading the player down the road to the ending and offering them little choices along the way that you barely notice creates a truly cinematic experience. Metro isn't a game with an awful lot of replay value, but it does a particularly good job of telling a compelling, atmospheric story without distracting you and itself from that story with a lot of fluff and padding intended to draw out its playtime by sending you off on sidequests.

Linearity is good when its employed as a tool that keeps you, the game and the story moving forwards to the climactic ending. FPS, by their nature fast-paced, benefit from tightly drawn, linear storylines that take you from the beginning to the end, revealing little bits of their plots along the way.

RPGs, on the other hand, tend to sprawl a little more and move slower than their shooter brethren, and in general, any levels-based system tends to acquire a large amount of non-vital XP and loot gathering quests in your quest to hit the games level cap.

Sandboxing is good when it provides extension to the game/depth to the world/fun activity and bad when it distracts you from how bad the metaplot you were meant to be following is.

farq1414:
are you calling PoP sand of time bad because it's good. linear games are good because your actions are planed around a line of where you have to go making interesting story

yeah the PoP games are the perfect example

PoP SoT was linear but was excellent

PoP(2008) was terrible because it's open world destroyed story possibilities and ensure that the entire world had the same difficulty because people had to be able to go where ever they wanted

There is no true right or wrong with these games, open world sandbox-inesss can bee good but so can linearity.

I think the real issue is when you have a corridor game though, in that you play a shooter and theres only one way ever to approach a situation because the game dictates it, theres never the option to cut through this back alley and come around behind an enemy it's just keep on chugging forward.

trouble_gum:

iDoom46:

The closest thing to true non-linearity in gaming would probably be Mass Effect.

Can you expand a little on how ME represents the pinnacle of non-linearity, given that it conforms neatly to the old RPG trope of:

"Doom is coming, you must hurry to save the world! But, whilst you're out, can you pop down the shops and pick me up a snickers™ and a healing potion? Oh, and the various misfits you've collected together to save the world have some issues from their past they'd like to waste your time...er...resolve."

Not that I'm massively knocking ME for being hideously linear or anything. I just think that it's a long way from being truly non-linear.

Just because Mass Effect follows lots of RPG tropes doesn't make the game linear.

Just to be clear, I never said that Mass Effect was the pinnacle of non-linearity, you just misquoted me. I probably should have been more clear, allow me to rephrase; Mass Effect is the closest to non-linearity in a AAA main-stream title that immediately comes to mind.

What I meant was that Mass Effect offers tools that give the player the chance to approach obstacles in a variety of different ways, be it going in guns blazing, disabling the enemy with tech/biotic powers, or sometimes even talking yourself out of a sticky situation. BioWare specifically engineered it so that virtually no two players will have the same experience.

You can also choose your missions as they come, and doing one and not another will result in some sort of consequence for you. Ultimately, these consequences have little to no effect on the end result of the game, but at least it is something.

Yeah, the plot is linear, but the gameplay mechanics are far from that. As a matter of fact, I'd think you'd have a hard time finding a non-linear story in ANY game.

Similar to I said before, Mass Effect is like a mountain biking/ski resort, you can choose which path you want to take, but when you're done you're always going to end up in the same spot every time.
Sure, its nowhere near the pinnacle of non-linearity, but neither are sandbox games (and Mass Effect works sort of like a sandbox RPG). If you want true non-linearity, I suggest learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons.

No, linearity in a game isn't bad and I think usually when people claim a game is "too linear" what they usually mean is that the game is "noticeably linear". It the same way a game is "noticeably non linear" when in sandbox games when you can't figure out where you are or where you need to go.

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