Welcome to the Wolfire Blog! This is where we keep everyone up to date on our progress on Overgrowth and other new stuff. Be sure to subscribe to get the latest news! Also, be sure to check out the forums for even more up to date news - or get on IRC for up to the second updates.

Avoiding artificial gameplay restrictions

Add Comment! By Aubrey Serr on August 20th, 2010

Lugaru levels were designed differently from most games. Most of the levels had the same set of rules and the same objective: kill everyone. The variety came from the layout of each level: how the enemies were placed, how they were equipped, and how the blocks restricted their sight lines. There are things I would like to add to this, but I think this approach has some big advantages compared to standard linear level design techniques.

In most games, it's common for a level to be a linear set of challenges. In order to make sure you do the challenges in the correct order, the player's freedom is restricted in some way. The two most common restrictions are corridors and failure conditions.

linear level example
An example of a linear level

When using the corridor restriction, you typically have freedom to use any of the gameplay the game has to offer, but you are confined to a narrow path. Examples of this technique include Half-life, Halo, and Uncharted. What this has in common with Lugaru is that the objectives are often implied. The player doesn't need to be told what to do because there's only one thing that makes sense to do: press ahead and kill all the enemies.

Open world games have no literal walls, but unlike cinematic games, you often have many failure conditions that restrict what you are allowed to do. Examples of this technique include Grand Theft Auto, Assassin's Creed, and Red Dead Redemption. You may fail a mission for going too far away, shooting the wrong person, or not doing something fast enough. To keep this from happening too often, you are frequently reminded of what you need to do, and usually have a minimap that has a line to your objective.

Both of these methods have the perceived advantage of giving the level designers complete control over the user's experience. However one of the main ideas behind Overgrowth is to open up the core gameplay as much as possible — no invisible walls and no hidden rules. This means that we need other methods to give us gameplay structure to make one level different from the next. One idea I would like to try is using "islands" of restricted gameplay. For example, a fort with access through only a few gates, or a tower with limited options for climbing.

islands example
A level with "islands" of structure

To further extend the variety, I would like to work with David to add more gameplay-rich content in Overgrowth. For example, different guards can have more varied strengths and weakness, and different relationships to one another. By making enemies and objects interact on a deeper level, a player is able to improvise much more, but is also more responsible for 'making their own fun'.

Do you think this is a good direction to go for levels in Overgrowth, or would you prefer more linear, 'cinematic', levels?