×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Why Do Games Still Have Levels?

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the good-question dept.

Games 512

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?"

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

512 comments

HL2 Has Levels? (4, Insightful)

Svet-Am (413146) | more than 6 years ago | (#21440947)

Since when? HL2 is set up exactly the same as HL1.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441007)

Said the asshole who didn't read the summary.
"Half-Life (but not Half-Life 2)"

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (1)

PylonHead (61401) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441085)

He's pointing out that HL1 and HL2 work the same way. So making a distinction between them (as is done in the summary) makes no sense.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (2, Informative)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441173)

Not quite, in hl1 you literally walked across black mesa, you experience ever bloody foot.

In HL2 you did have a few, fade to black then a few hours later, moments.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (2, Informative)

a.d.venturer (107354) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441327)

RTFA

Half-Life has a continuous space which loads as you move throughout it. Half-Life 2 has loading screens that sit between each map - forcing you out of the game experience. Sure, both games have the same underlying map mechanism. But Half-Life 2 interrupts your game play to load the next stage. That's why I make a distinction in this instance. Of course, both games are on the same side of a lot of the other arguments I give for the existence of levels.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (2, Informative)

SkinnyKid63 (1104787) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441415)

HL1 definitly had levels. If you use the noclip cheat you could easily see the game was divided into maps and had load trigger points. In fact, HL1 displayed "Loading" in the same way HL2 does it.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (1)

Skillet5151 (972916) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441485)

You may have played one of the console versions. Half-Life 1 and 2 for the PC have very similar loading screens and do interrupt gameplay for them.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (5, Informative)

NickCatal (865805) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (1)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441113)

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.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441293)

In HL1 when you walk into the dark room and get jumped by marines, the game fades to black, the character travels to a new part of black mesa (dragged by marines), where play resumes. I don't know if it's appropriate to call it a "level", but even today it stands in memory as a division between two epochs of gameplay--a) survive, escape; b) win.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441393)

Well, you get knocked out at some point and wake up in a garbage compressor in hl1. I don't remember if you were transfered to a different area though.

Re:HL2 Has Levels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441061)

Toilet seats: Excellent?

In the same vein... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21440949)

Why do blogs still have inane topics?

It made sense in Portal (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21440993)

And that's really good enough for me.

Because they are useful (4, Insightful)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441009)

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.

Re:Because they are useful (4, Insightful)

Libertarian001 (453712) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Because they are useful (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441225)

I don't want to play a marching game.

Re:Because they are useful (2, Informative)

cambraca (1191551) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441251)

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).

Re:Because they are useful (5, Insightful)

Erioll (229536) | more than 6 years ago | (#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."

Re:Because they are useful (3, Insightful)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Because they are useful (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441379)

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 meet randomly online. Some people you meet on the first map may be hard to fight but on the next map they may have gone home and you play against a bunch of newbies on the next map.

Then of course there are hex based and various other strategic games don't get harder by default by play depending how well you plan early on.

Re:Because they are useful (1)

spirit of reason (989882) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441561)

In the WWII games, they're just mirroring a certain amount of reality. It's not like you're going to be constantly fighting; you probably did get to sleep sometime after completing an objective. At least, if you believe the guys who made Brothers in Arms. Can't say I fought in the war myself...

Re:Because they are useful (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441283)

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 choose certain paths... But rather is a sand box type of a game.

One of the terms they use is "World Conquest" in which it may get progressively difficult for a player to take over the world due to revolts, micromanagement, and supply efficiency but this is not scaled at an arbitrary level.

And if a player chooses he could remain a small country and do his best to stay out of world conflicts.

Re: TFA is a defense of why we still have levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441291)

If you RTFA, you'll see that it's not whining and asking why we still have levels. Rather, it's a (poorly written) defense on why levels are still a good idea.

N.b. I don't mean to pick on the parent, but it does seem to assume the title was a question, and it answers the question with one already given in TFA.

Why do games have levels? (5, Insightful)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441017)

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:Why do games have levels? (2, Interesting)

webmaster404 (1148909) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441065)

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.

Re:Why do games have levels? (1)

sqlrob (173498) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441559)

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.

why do books still have chapters? (2, Insightful)

acidrain (35064) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441347)

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.

Re:Why do games have levels? (1)

tsalaroth (798327) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441529)

If SM Galaxy isn't on the top of your list, move it up there. GH3 is awesome, but SM Galaxy has got to be the best Mario game ever.

I hate most Mario games, but this one has renewed my faith in the money-making machine that he is.

I, for one, welcome our Italian plumber overlords!

Simple (5, Insightful)

Doomstalk (629173) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Well on computers at least (2, Informative)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441279)

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 texture, object, etc in a given "level" loaded. Rather only things that are around the player are loaded. 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.

Re:Well on computers at least (5, Funny)

Hamilton Lovecraft (993413) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Simple (3, Interesting)

complete loony (663508) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Simple (3, Informative)

Pete Brubaker (35550) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441413)

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.

Re:Simple (1)

sheetsda (230887) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441399)

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 chunk the player is current in, the two adjacent ones, and one other that fluctuates based on what the player is closest to. You have to design your chunks such that the player can't get through the intermediate chunks before the next one can be loaded, but that seems like a practical, solvable problem.

Re:Simple (2, Informative)

dmomo (256005) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441407)

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. Objects in your world consists of pins and needles. Furniture are obstacles and you are in a house on a planet. As you get larger, furniture becomes objects. Growing even still, the house you were in becomes an object and the landscape becomes the obstacle. Transitioning from these states (getting bigger) is similar to loading a new level. The difference is, you are loading a new version of the same level. This happens right under your feet. There is still a "loading" time. The game tries to keep the player engaged at this point by spitting witty text onto the screen in the spirit of the game as a whole.

Accomplishment (5, Interesting)

jacobcaz (91509) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441025)

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...

Re:Accomplishment (4, Funny)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441235)

It's because you get more XP when you convert the co-workers to your side. Didn't you play Syndicate with just the persuadatron? It's a little like that.

That's why they're looking at you funny. You're doing it wrong. It's a classic newbie mistake.

WTF (0, Troll)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441027)

Um...both Half-Life 2 AND Portal never leave the first-person view unless you are loading the game...in Half-Life 2 the next "level" is reached when the small bit semi-transparent text shows up in the center of the screen...in Portal, you ride an elevator (again, entirely in first person, not even a loading screen) and when the doors open...there you are at the next level (or in this case, test) Again, both games NEVER leave the first-person view while playing them...not a load-screen in sight. Come on. Do at least SOME simple research before you start mouthing stupid crap.

Re:WTF (2, Funny)

ninjapiratemonkey (968710) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441143)

Except that while you are riding in this elevator, in first person, the game locks your ability to move, and a box in the middle of the screen shows up that says "LOADING..." but you know, maybe that's not a load screen, maybe it's just part of the plot, and GLaDOS temporarily poisoned you with neurotoxin or something...

Re:WTF (4, Interesting)

croddy (659025) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441307)

Portal has levels because the Enrichment Center's testing environment has levels. If anything, Portal is a satire of this phenomenon, presenting the absurdity of slicing up an adventure into neat chunks by putting the player in the position of a real person progressing through such a system.

Re:WTF (1)

Hamilton Lovecraft (993413) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441391)

Um. They stop the game for several seconds at that point, even if they don't render a loading screen. It's levels; it just happens that the exit foyer for one level looks exactly like the entry foyer for the next.

Maybe (1)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441029)

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 (5, Insightful)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441035)

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:slow news day (2, Insightful)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441305)

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 levels. Your mommy will cry if you see any value at all in levels. Now, why do we still have levels?". It's behavior on the level of a political candidate, and I felt deeply ashamed for the writer who was trying to manipulate me like that.
     

The same reason that books still have chapters. (3, Insightful)

Sowelu (713889) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:The same reason that books still have chapters. (1)

quanticle (843097) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441203)

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.

Re:The same reason that books still have chapters. (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441463)

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.

Levels provide separation (3, Insightful)

R15I23D05D14Y (1127061) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

See Books, Albums, etc. (4, Interesting)

EMeta (860558) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:See Books, Albums, etc. (1)

Ciggy (692030) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441403)

Ever read a book without chapters?
Yes - most of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of books have no chapters (as such...just an occasional "next level" line of asterix as the bottom of a page). It was actually useful in my previous job where I could get a few minutes to read the books at a time - having no chapters as such meant that it was actually easier to stop for the time I needed to work between breaks and to pick up again soon afterwards; though it also had the disadvantage that I could end up reading for hours right through a book in one go (instead of doing other needed things - like sleep).

I must admit to not having played many recent games, but I do remember playing games of both styles. Level games had the advantage in that there was a definite break when the game could be stopped (and saved) and restarted easily at a later time, but with non-levelled games, restarting a game after a break would leave me disorientated for a few, sometimes vital, moments whilst I got back into where I was in the game. (At least with the books, I could easily refresh my memory by quickly skimming over the previous paragraph or two.)

Books without chapters... (1)

kn0tw0rk (773805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441533)

There are books without chapters like Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and Fighting Fantasy.

But to the original question asked - Its like any medium used for communication - there are many ways of presenting information and different styles make for different experiences. There are many ways to skin a cat.

Yawnfest (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441075)

I don't give -- what most Western Civilization scholars would term -- a flying fuck about this topic.

(But I cared enough to share it with you, losers.) CHECKMATE.

Half-life has Levels (2, Informative)

Jthon (595383) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441081)

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? (4, Insightful)

Ynot_82 (1023749) | more than 6 years ago | (#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?

Angband? Get T-O-M-E instead (4, Insightful)

Lord Satri (609291) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441133)

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.

Re:Angband? Get T-O-M-E instead (1)

a.d.venturer (107354) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441575)

Really? I wasn't at all aware of that. It's not like I actively maintain an Angband variant... [blogspot.com] And I think you'll find Angband development has kicked off again [rephial.org] , whereas ToME doesn't look in danger of releasing a beta quality release of ToME 3 for some time. But hey, the roguelike community is small enough we shouldn't be kicking each other in the shins.

Because content size scales with storage capacity. (2, Insightful)

ZombieRoboNinja (905329) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Because content size scales with storage capaci (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441223)

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.

Re:Because content size scales with storage capaci (1)

C0rinthian (770164) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441489)

I have played HL2 on the 360, and the game STILL stalls at load points.

Re:Because content size scales with storage capaci (1)

Osty (16825) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441497)

When the game was ported to the 360 they developed a way to stream the levels, avoiding that problem.

You must be playing a different Xbox 360 port of HL2 than I am, as there were plenty of "Loading ..." bars in HL2 from the Orange Box. It's also quite obvious that a new "level" has loaded after a loading bar rather than just streaming in some new data. Though you're still looking at the same place and the same geometry, you'll often notice lighting differences from before and after the load. I haven't played through Ep2 yet, so maybe loading changed there.

Portal did a good job of hiding loads during the elevator rides, but the late-game breaks that convention since data still needs to load but there are no more elevators.

That doesn't sound like a real impossibility. (1)

Estanislao Martnez (203477) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441447)

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.

So, don't implement it that way. To implement an arbitrarily large seamless world, just load the area that the player is at currently, and adjacent areas. As the player moves around, then load the areas adjacent to where they moved.

This technique is useful even if the game is divided into levels, actually; the point is to load only as much game data at any time so as to (a) show the player everything that they can see from where they are, and (b) enable seamless movement away from where they are.

Why do movies still have cuts? (2, Interesting)

Have Blue (616) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441149)

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?

Re:Why do movies still have cuts? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441317)

Did you notice that in Children of Men that the one pregnant woman was black? That was because even something like global infertility can't stop those people from collecting, food stamps, and WIC money.

The mentioned games DO have levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441157)

If I recall correctly from God of War, Grand Theft Auto and Shadow of the Colossus, every now and then you'd have a cutscene, after which your objectives would change, then you'd complete your task and have another cutscene and new objectives. So how do these games not have levels? Is the objection to having a screen displaying the level number before the cutscene? The difference between having levels and not having them seems fairly superficial.

Some of the best games also have levels... (4, Interesting)

7Prime (871679) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441191)

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.

Why do Books Have Chapters? (4, Funny)

InfinityWpi (175421) | more than 6 years ago | (#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...

Re:Why do Books Have Chapters? (1)

Aleksej (1110877) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441301)

See point 6 of the article: "Player constraints". IMO, it is easier to stop and resume at a clear point, than from the middle of a random sentence that just happened to be split at the page or the line that you have bookmarked.

Discussing blog issues (1)

js92647 (917218) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441205)

is the new fad.

Welcome to Digg guys, watch your step and make sure you say hi to the mac fanbois on your way in. /s

Honestly why the fuck are you dissecting a shitty blog piece? As the tag says "why do books still have chapters?" Sometimes chapters are a Good Thing, and this fucking blog is trolling it around.

But hey, since we're on Digg, I guess discussing blogs is A-OK.

God of War II doesn't have levels? (1)

Uberdog (73274) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441213)

Then why are there nine people listed as Level Designers [gamefaqs.com] ? It's been a few months since I played through, but I'm pretty sure there were loading screens between the levels.

Re:God of War II doesn't have levels? (1)

Hamilton Lovecraft (993413) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441507)

Very few loading screens, actually. But OP is whining about having to wait a few seconds for his game to continue because he's no better than a rat addicted to cocaine hitting a lever over and over, not complaining about the division of the narrative structure of the game.

bragging rights (1)

juan2074 (312848) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441219)

So you can tell people how good you are at the game.

It used to be point total, back in the days of pinball and Pitfall.

Simple reason (4, Insightful)

rossz (67331) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441233)

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.

GTA (3, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#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 (2, Insightful)

91degrees (207121) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441271)

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 written after Brokeback Mountain.

Because they're GAMES (5, Insightful)

Sciros (986030) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441295)

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."

screw that! (1)

hyperform (965303) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441323)

I love levels! They make me feel like I've accomplished something. I DON'T play Ico or Shadow of the Colossus, because I feel lost and tragic after playing for so long and sitting on so many couches (Ico) but without any really recognizable progress except mentally. Kung Fu for the NES is still my favorite game ever: once you beat level five, it loops back to level 1. You can progress up those stairs and beat the game infinitely. There are few things more satisfying.

Why do books still have chapters? (1)

CokeJunky (51666) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441337)

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 support technology.

Cutscenes and levels are just another tool on the utility belt of game designers. Those tools do not need to be ignored, but just as a carpenter is able to smack his thumb with a hammer, the question is how will game devs/designers use them?

Because people have favorite levels (1)

kryten250 (1177211) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441353)

I loved ice world in super mario brothers, it may seem like you can enter a save point on that 'stage' but in my book that is a partition that can be called a level. I'd say it is for game navigation after the fact.

Not necessarily to mask load times... (1)

Dorkmaster Flek (1013045) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441369)

Old cartridges effectively had no load times. Look at the N64. Levels are a useful gameplay design construct. Perfect example: Super Mario Galaxy. Level structure, but absolutely zero load times (very cleverly masked).

Why do we have levels? Simple. (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441401)

You think you're going to fit all of the level data of STALKER into 2-4 gigs of RAM?

Portal (1)

Kenoli (934612) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441411)

Portal has individual, disconnected levels because its story was specifically designed for it.
When you're done with one test chamber you get on a elevator and go to the next one. I don't see any artificial interruptions in the gameplay.

More importantly... (1)

pestario (781793) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441449)

... why aren't there mini-games (e.g. a small asteroid type game) while the game is "loading"?

It's just how they're made. (1)

meist3r (1061628) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441457)

You can distribute a large team of people to work on single levels but it's really hard to have say 20 people work on a single huge level design. Have a couple of designers each contribute a few map files is easy but to coordinate lots of people working on the same files is quite complicated I would guess. Most of the games mentioned in the article (Metroid, HL2) are divided into sections that are connected creatively so the transition is not as rough from one to another but they're still done in sections.

levels more realistic? (1)

xPsi (851544) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441475)

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, our real circumstances actually do break naturally into something approximating "levels": that is, well defined cycles and milestones based on shifting local goals. These milestones are often separate by periods of routine. Perhaps levels in games (like chapters in books or acts in a play) are just a caricature of that real-life organizational effect with the routine periods removed to expedite the entertainment value.

Why do books have chapters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21441499)

This is one of the lamest posts in quite a while.

so you know where you are? (1)

themushroom (197365) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441501)

Let's say you played a game for 12 hours a day, 3 days solid, and someone asked you where you were in the game. Wouldn't you feel gimpy if you said "I'm in front of the castle" because there was no metric for success? It'd be more like... real life that way.

time? (2, Insightful)

AlgorithMan (937244) | more than 6 years ago | (#21441581)

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?
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...