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What is the difference between linear, wide linear and open-world games?

Physiocrat

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I keep reading the terms linear, wide-linear and open-world but I am unsure as to exactly what they mean.

Linear makes the most sense to refer to side scrolling 2D games. like Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive, but even that wasn't entirely linear in that you had some options to decide on which route to take through the level.

On the other hand in what are generally considered open world games, you have missions that can only be completed in a limited or possibly only one way.

Another way of looking at linear vs open-world is whether you can return to the same location time and time again however say in the first Witcher game there are locations you cannot return to but it is not an obvious linear game - would this make the Witcher wide linear?,

So my question is what aspects of game play can be considered on the linear vs open-world spectrum? My guess is that there are many different axes which is why it is difficult in some cases to class a game as open world or linear. Further is the open world vs linear really a question of how much choice you have as a player over various aspects of the game? Or is there more to it than that?
 

TheCockatrice

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There's a difference between linear gameplay and linear level design. Linear and nonlinear gameplay refers to what you're talking about, the ways you can finish or do a mission. Open world games have nothing to do with it and can contain both linear and nonlinear gameplay. Linear levels are call of duty games. Nonlinear levels are dishonored games.
 

AV

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Think of linear as a corridor, so even in something like Sonic, you can go up and down in the corridor, but you're still going from A to B in a line. Another example is Call of Duty, there might be two alleyways you can take, but you're still going in a line.

Wide linear is more of an open space in which you can move in any direction, but within isolated maps. So yes, Witcher 1 is absolutely wide linear, it's made of a series of small, but open, maps. Whereas The Witcher 3 Skyrim is one large, connected, open world map (even if it has sub-levels like dungeons within).

Other good examples of wide linear are Deus Ex and Dishonored, where you're essentially getting a string of miniature open worlds.
 
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Vier

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Linear games - There is a impression that most of the huge AAA games this gen have adopted this approach to game design. The obvious advantages is that it allows proper focus on story, pacing and set pieces. The disadvantage is the seeming lack of choice in the narrative and mechanics.

Open World - Unprecedented potential for completely immersing the player if the world is built well. More room for exploration and choice but the disadvantage always show up in repetitive missions, grinding, lack of pacing, no extravagant set pieces or OMG moments that deviate from the norm in terms of mission structure, mechanics tend to get old really quickly after playing the game for a few hours and you start seeing the shallowness of the design.

Wide linear/ Orchestrated Sandbox - A seemingly nice blend of the two that allows both space and focus at the same time though does so at the risk of not doing either superbly. Crysis 2, Dishonored and TLOU seem to take this approach.

Personally speaking I would love the Orchestrated Sandbox approach to be used by more games as that has the best potential to blend the advantages of Linear and Open World Games and really take advantage of the medium's strength in terms of both interactivity and story.
 

DunDunDunpachi

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I think the strongest distinction needs to be made between sandbox and open-world. Open-world just has a big map. Sandbox has non-story NPC behavior, physics, and world simulation above and beyond what the story requires. This would help me know right away if I'm getting myself into another AssCreed feather-hunting game or a survival-crafting Minecraft sort of game.

Think of linear as a corridor, so even in something like Sonic, you can go up and down in the corridor, but you're still going from A to B in a line. Another example is Call of Duty, there might be two alleyways you can take, but you're still going in a line.

Wide linear is more of an open space in which you can move in any direction, but within isolated maps. So yes, Witcher 1 is absolutely wide linear, it's made of a series of small, but open, maps. Whereas The Witcher 3 is one large, connected, open world map (even if it has sub-levels like dungeons within).

Other good examples of wide linear are Deus Ex and Dishonored, where you're essentially getting a string of miniature open worlds.
Witcher 3 is made up of several large maps, though.
 

GymWolf

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The order linear
Tlou2\gow 2018 wide linear
Spiderman open world

The confusion is mostly between wide linear and sandboxes.
 
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Physiocrat

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There's a difference between linear gameplay and linear level design. Linear and nonlinear gameplay refers to what you're talking about, the ways you can finish or do a mission. Open world games have nothing to do with it and can contain both linear and nonlinear gameplay. Linear levels are call of duty games. Nonlinear levels are dishonored games.
So linear gameplay might be the old Sonic boss battles where you can only defeat the boss one way, whereas non-linear would give multiple ways to defeat the boss.

I haven't played Dishonoured. How would you describe the difference between those levels and those in COD?
 

Physiocrat

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Think of linear as a corridor, so even in something like Sonic, you can go up and down in the corridor, but you're still going from A to B in a line. Another example is Call of Duty, there might be two alleyways you can take, but you're still going in a line.

Wide linear is more of an open space in which you can move in any direction, but within isolated maps. So yes, Witcher 1 is absolutely wide linear, it's made of a series of small, but open, maps. Whereas The Witcher 3 Skyrim is one large, connected, open world map (even if it has sub-levels like dungeons within).

Other good examples of wide linear are Deus Ex and Dishonored, where you're essentially getting a string of miniature open worlds.

So suppose a game had say 10 different corridors, or combinations thereof, to reach a particular destination would you describe this as linear?
 

AV

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So suppose a game had say 10 different corridors, or combinations thereof, to reach a particular destination would you describe this as linear?

I can't really even think of a game that would fit that description, but yeah - if the idea was that you picked one corridor out of many to get to the same end point, I'd still say that's linear. And if those 10 corridors ended at different places, that's more of a branching path, like a David Cage game.
 
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Hal.

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Wide linear would strike me as the inability to go back to a certain point in the world.

For example, after you leave x village, you cannot simply choose to go back there unless the next level takes you there. Like you can’t just click fast travel on the map.

Whereas open world is basically allowing you to go back to any place you want (unless it’s locked behind a certain event etc)
 
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Physiocrat

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I can't really even think of a game that would fit that description, but yeah - if the idea was that you picked one corridor out of many to get to the same end point, I'd still say that's linear. And if those 10 corridors ended at different places, that's more of a branching path, like a David Cage game.

Are the Cage games physically branching paths, just narratively or both? And do you think they fit the linear/non-linear distinction or are they are third type of game?
 

AV

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Are the Cage games physically branching paths, just narratively or both? And do you think they fit the linear/non-linear distinction or are they are third type of game?

Been a while since I played any, but I'm almost positive it's both in Detroit: Become Human. I'm sure there's certain scenes (which in a Cage game are locations) that are locked behind certain choices, kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure book, even if eventually some of those different paths end at the same place. They're quite unique, I don't think they fit any mould really.
 
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ButchCat

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Ordered correspondingly. Whatever it is that you're into.
 

TheCockatrice

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So linear gameplay might be the old Sonic boss battles where you can only defeat the boss one way, whereas non-linear would give multiple ways to defeat the boss.

I haven't played Dishonoured. How would you describe the difference between those levels and those in COD?

hard to describe since theres so many variations of gameplay and one could argue that if I can kill this boss with a mace instead of a sword it equals nonlinearity but thats not the case imo. It refers to the whole package. If you havent played Dishonored what about Deus Ex games? The difference in level design is the complexity of how you can reach your objective and target and the branching paths towards that objective. You can't just have one map with cool level design and have the rest of the game straight up one corridor and call it nonlinear. So I guess you can call these metroidvanias or games like Dishonored, wide-linear in terms of level design as well as gameplay because you can choose to go stealth or loud. GTA is an open world game but it has a linear gameplay since afaik there are never any other ways to tackle the missions, hell most of them even have the same route. Far Cry or ubisoft games on the other hand despite the shit they get have not only open world but also nonlinear gameplay since they love mixing stealth and action and giving the player a choice. Oh also I think open worlds can be linear in level design as well like for instance I'd rather replay the Clockwork mansion from Dishonored 2, 5 times and get a different result despite being in the same house and going through the same corridors compared to a huge map with just some outposts here and there with 0 love in its design.
 
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vkbest

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Linear: CoD campaigns, Resident Evil, Uncharted
Wide-linear: GoW, Tomb Raider, Horizon
Open world: Witcher 3, RDR 2, GTA V, DQ XI

Horizon is a open world. In fact technically is more open world than Witcher 3, W3 have several different maps.
 
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Physiocrat

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hard to describe since theres so many variations of gameplay and one could argue that if I can kill this boss with a mace instead of a sword it equals nonlinearity but thats not the case imo. It refers to the whole package. If you havent played Dishonored what about Deus Ex games? The difference in level design is the complexity of how you can reach your objective and target and the branching paths towards that objective. You can't just have one map with cool level design and have the rest of the game straight up one corridor and call it nonlinear. So I guess you can call these metroidvanias or games like Dishonored, wide-linear in terms of level design as well as gameplay because you can choose to go stealth or loud. GTA is an open world game but it has a linear gameplay since afaik there are never any other ways to tackle the missions, hell most of them even have the same route. Far Cry or ubisoft games on the other hand despite the shit they get have not only open world but also nonlinear gameplay since they love mixing stealth and action and giving the player a choice. Oh also I think open worlds can be linear in level design as well like for instance I'd rather replay the Clockwork mansion from Dishonored 2, 5 times and get a different result despite being in the same house and going through the same corridors compared to a huge map with just some outposts here and there with 0 love in its design.
I think I get you now. I have played Deus Ex Human Revolution and Mankind Divided. The stealth and action choice makes sense to me.
 
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Physiocrat

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Been a while since I played any, but I'm almost positive it's both in Detroit: Become Human. I'm sure there's certain scenes (which in a Cage game are locations) that are locked behind certain choices, kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure book, even if eventually some of those different paths end at the same place. They're quite unique, I don't think they fit any mould really.

Just had a look at Detroit Become Human. That looks right up my street. Thanks for referencing it.
 

AV

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Just had a look at Detroit Become Human. That looks right up my street. Thanks for referencing it.

It's easily the best of his games, it's still very much just a branching story, you don't "do" much other than walk around certain locations, choose dialogue and executes QTEs. But it's worth playing once for sure. Until Dawn is still the best of those IMO but I have an attachment to cheesy B-movie horror (and the ending is always the same with difference amounts of dead people, which isn't as cool).
 
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