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Why do linearity in games get so much criticism?

seady

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Oct 31, 2009
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I don't remember when this weird gaming trend started, but it seems that linearity has become a staple on the 'con' side of a standard review checklist, especially from gaming critics. Points are always being marked off for games that are linear.

Linear storyline always have the ability to provide a strong and long lasting impact in people's experience. Like many good books and films, the creator can determine what they want the viewers to experience and shape it in a way that every viewers will experience it the same way. However, the gaming community always favor games that are 'open ended', 'sandbox', 'multiple endings', 'emergent gameplay' and devalue games that are linear in nature.

While I appreciate the unpredictable/open nature of these (comparably) new types of gameplay, I don't think their existence should come at a cost to those games that are more linear. This trend in gaming shows how immature storytelling is in video games - that the industry are still obsessed with what were popular back in the 60-70s with those 'choose your own adventure books' storytelling.
 

Roto13

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Dec 5, 2008
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I find it really annoying when people whine that Super Mario Galaxy is linear. It's a frigging platformer.
 

Q8D3vil

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Jul 16, 2009
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depend on the game type.
if it was rpg then linear won't cut it.
if its action linear may suite it better.
i think crysis is by far the best game to mix between linearity and open world structure.
 

Jackson

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Mar 16, 2007
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Games are about a player's perceived control. Games that don't offer enough options make players feel less like an interactive experience, a game and more like a passive experience, a movie.

The key word here is perceived, because no one comments about games likes like Half-Life 2 being linear because the perception at each movement feels like the player has control to do what they want at anytime, even when that's far from the truth.
 

DaBuddaDa

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Sep 12, 2004
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I agree with you that linearity should not be an automatic knock on a game. It really depends on each individual game whether or not its linearity hurts it or helps it. For example, FF13's linearity certainly hurt the game, while I felt it helped in Dead Space.
 

fernoca

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Sep 17, 2006
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Linear storylines or linear gameplay?
I'm fine with both as long as it was the intention. Don't create illusions of non-linearity (like speech trees that doesn't affect the outcome of a relationship or the story in any way) or put you "exploring areas" when those same areas are covered by either invisible walls or just visible walls.
 
Oct 25, 2006
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Linearity in storytelling is fine.

Linearity in gameplay is fucking awful. The most "linear" gameplay being QTEs, followed by shit like the train climbing sequence in Uncharted 2. There is literally one correct input. No decision making.
 

StuBurns

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Jan 9, 2008
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a Master Ninja said:
Linearity in storytelling is fine.

Linearity in gameplay is fucking awful. The most "linear" gameplay being QTEs, followed by shit like the train climbing sequence in Uncharted 2. There is literally one correct input. No decision making.
This is basically it.
 

Patryn

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Dec 4, 2007
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One thing is that linearity kills replay value, since you'll pretty much always get the same experience each time. With non-linear/sandbox, you can switch stuff up.
 

Gravijah

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Patryn said:
One thing is that linearity kills replay value, since you'll pretty much always get the same experience each time. With non-linear/sandbox, you can switch stuff up.
Bayonetta was pretty linear.
 

Kad5

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Sep 9, 2009
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Im very open minded. I don't mind games being linear as long as the game itself is fun.
 

Earl Cazone

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May 18, 2007
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I dont know uncharted is really linear and neogaf and critics love it.

I like linearity, i am one of those people who get lost in games really fast, morrowind is my nightmare, i have no idea where i am, or how i get back to that last place, i war 2 hours ago.

I think it just has to fit the experience, though. Some games are better with linearity, some would need more open worlds
 

Red

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Feb 16, 2008
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Linearity, in many cases, robs players of interactivity. And interactivity is what sets gaming apart. It's criticized so much because it makes gameplay and progression automated. If developers want that, they may as well make a movie.

The term "linearity" in itself is not a negative. It becomes a problem when games go overboard with controlling the actions of a player, when it gets in the way by establishing arbitrary boundaries that hinder the enjoyment of actually playing a game.

jman2050 said:
Eh, I can't really agree with this. Games aren't about how much control a player has, at least not primarily. Video games, at their core, are more similar to board games or sports than anything else: they present an objective that must be reached given a specific set of rules that the player must adhere to. It's not really important how much "control" a player has, the important part is that the game's rules are properly communicated in whatever fashion possible and that the player has the ability to execute the actions needed to complete the objective. Under that perspective, it's easy to see why linearity in games was never a problem in the first place. People who complain about linearity without any sort of supporting context seem to want their video games to be something other than games, and I can't support that need.
Board games tend to be games of chance, whereas most video games are games of skill. The sports comparison is more apt, but even then it is overly simplified. It's applicable to certain games (multiplayer games certainly have an element of that competitive edge), but at this point in time there are games that have moved past those boundaries. Consider something like Metroid Prime, which allows the players a whole breadth of interactive fiction, completely unobtrusive to the game itself. The player is allowed to explore and construct their own story. There is an element of linearity in that series, sure, but every game has some sort of guidance (because, as you've said, they are essentially built on top of a goal and skill set).
 

jman2050

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May 18, 2005
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Jackson said:
Games are about a player's perceived control. Games that don't offer enough options make players feel less like an interactive experience, a game and more like a passive experience, a movie.
Eh, I can't really agree with this. Games aren't about how much control a player has, at least not primarily. Video games, at their core, are more similar to board games or sports than anything else: they present an objective that must be reached given a specific set of rules that the player must adhere to. It's not really important how much "control" a player has, the important part is that the game's rules are properly communicated in whatever fashion possible and that the player has the ability to execute the actions needed to complete the objective. Under that perspective, it's easy to see why linearity in games was never a problem in the first place. People who complain about linearity without any sort of supporting context seem to want their video games to be something other than games, and I can't support that need.

Speaking of complaining about linearity without context:

Patryn said:
One thing is that linearity kills replay value, since you'll pretty much always get the same experience each time. With non-linear/sandbox, you can switch stuff up.
 

Version 3.0

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StuBurns said:
It started when we got Halo and GTA3 and realized the alternative is far better.
Wait...are you saying Halo isn't linear? My entire beef with the FPS genre is it's decline into linearity, and that can be laid directly at Halo's feet.
 

Gravijah

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Leondexter said:
Wait...are you saying Halo isn't linear? My entire beef with the FPS genre is it's decline into linearity, and that can be laid directly at Halo's feet.
Basically, everyone is arguing different definitions of linear.
 

Burger

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Jun 9, 2004
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Most of my favorite games are linear, because I like the control of the narrative the game designer exerts. I want to play games that have a beginning, middle and end, not a beginning and the rest is up to you (oh and when you finish you will get 1 of 6 half baked conclusions).

The ending to Mass Effect 2 for instance had visible seams where bits of endings were mashed together depending on what characters you took and what choices you made. I appreciate how well they pulled it off, but it was completely unsatisfying.
 

Teknopathetic

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Jun 6, 2004
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Depends on the type of game. However, making the player think he has choices that he doesn't (invisible walls, exploding cars instantly killing a player preventing him from walking past/around a certain area) is just fucking hokey.
 
Oct 25, 2006
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Gravijah said:
Bayonetta was pretty linear.
The combat is anything but. While the goal is "kill the bad guys", you are given dozens of attacks resulting in thousands of possible combinations. Everyone and GAF could record of video of them fighting Gracious & Glorious and no one's would look exactly the same.

Dragon's Lair on the other hand...
 

Fredescu

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Jan 30, 2007
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a Master Ninja said:
Linearity in storytelling is fine.

Linearity in gameplay is fucking awful. The most "linear" gameplay being QTEs, followed by shit like the train climbing sequence in Uncharted 2. There is literally one correct input. No decision making.
Most people think level design when thinking of linearity, rather than those two. Although you're right on both counts.
 

RSB

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Feb 15, 2009
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Nah, the problem is when games play exactly the same way every time. Because, you know, games can be completely linear, and still offer a fresh experience every time (see Halo CE or Bayonetta)

So I personally don't prefer linear games over open-ended sandbox games (or viceversa) but I greatly prefer games with dynamic gameplay and a deep gameplay sandbox over estrictly limited and over-scripted games with shallow gameplay mechanics, that are only fun on the first playthrough.

Bye ;)
 

Gravijah

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a Master Ninja said:
The combat is anything but. While the goal is "kill the bad guys", you are given dozens of attacks resulting in thousands of possible combinations. Everyone and GAF could record of video of them fighting Gracious & Glorious and no one's would look exactly the same.

Dragon's Lair on the other hand...
But you're always going in one direction!
 

Version 3.0

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On topic, though, there's nothing wrong with linearity in concept. Probably more often than not, it's the right design decision. But in some genres, it feels quite constricting, especially if it's not masked well. Sometimes the feeling of linearity is worse than the actuality of it, and on the flipside, the feeling of freedom is more important than actually having it as well.
 

DaBuddaDa

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a Master Ninja said:
The combat is anything but. While the goal is "kill the bad guys", you are given dozens of attacks resulting in thousands of possible combinations. Everyone and GAF could record of video of them fighting Gracious & Glorious and no one's would look exactly the same.
Multitudes of abilities, randomization and lots of difficulty levels are good ways to make an otherwise linear "go in a straight line from plot point to plot point" game feel less constrictive and unworthy of replay.
 

mileS

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a Master Ninja said:
Linearity in storytelling is fine.

Linearity in gameplay is fucking awful. The most "linear" gameplay being QTEs, followed by shit like the train climbing sequence in Uncharted 2. There is literally one correct input. No decision making.
The Uncharted example seems kind of silly if you ask me. Would it really be better if there was multiple ways to climb up the train?
 

XiaNaphryz

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Nov 5, 2005
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Fredescu said:
Most people think level design when thinking of linearity, rather than those two.
Linearity in level design alone isn't necessarily bad, it all depends on the gameplay.
 

Razor210

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If a game hides the fact that you're being pushed down corridor after corridor and makes you feel like you are progressing for your own reasons, it's less linear than "here is a room, kill everyone" scenario.

It's like entering a room with a bunch of stuff that can be used as cover and the illusion of exploration is destroyed with the realization that there is an incoming fight.

Though I think the traditional "giant room for boss battle" design is good for hype.
 

jman2050

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DaBuddaDa said:
Multitudes of abilities, randomization and lots of difficulty levels are good ways to make an otherwise linear "go in a straight line from plot point to plot point" game feel less constrictive and unworthy of replay.
Or one could go for the superior option, which is making a game that is actually fun to play rather than just fun to "complete", millions of options be damned.

It sure worked for Super Mario Bros. to name an example.
 

Red

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DaBuddaDa said:
Multitudes of abilities, randomization and lots of difficulty levels are good ways to make an otherwise linear "go in a straight line from plot point to plot point" game feel less constrictive and unworthy of replay.
Definitely.
 

DaBuddaDa

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jman2050 said:
Or one could go for the superior option, which is making a game that is actually fun to play rather than just fun to "complete", millions of options be damned.
Or the penultimate option, which is making a game that is fun to play and complete and replay and watch and.......
 

jman2050

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DaBuddaDa said:
Or the penultimate option, which is making a game that is fun to play and complete and replay and watch and.......
Generally if you get the first, the others follow by default.
 

Gravijah

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DaBuddaDa said:
Or the penultimate option, which is making a game that is fun to play and complete and replay and watch and.......
If that's the penultimate option, what is the actual best option?
 

.GqueB.

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It depends on how linear it is. I dont mind Gears of Wars linear nature. The areas are open enough where I feel like I have a few choices as far as how I tackle the area. Same with Killzone. It was open but controlled.

But some instances its pure ass. Im playing FF13 right now (picked it up late) and the linearity here is just irritating. I literally feel like Im walking in straight lines the whole time. It feels redundant.

All in all, it really depends on how its done. It can easily be done wrong.
 

DaBuddaDa

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Gravijah said:
If that's the penultimate option, what is the actual best option?
GTA 4.




but really I just had an incorrect definition in my head of what that word meant. :lol
 
The topic strikes me as a bit too broad. Which games are we bashing(or defending) for their linearity?

Cause if I'm led through an entire game on QTEs, rail-shooter segments, vehicle sections, and anything else that severely limits my control then damn right linearity sucks arse....for that particular game.

Okay wait strike that...How would making the game non-linear improve it? I'll just end up wandering to some other part of the world to do QTEs and etc etc.
 

StuBurns

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Leondexter said:
Wait...are you saying Halo isn't linear? My entire beef with the FPS genre is it's decline into linearity, and that can be laid directly at Halo's feet.
The game progresses in a linear manner sure, but the encounters themselves are not scripted in a CoD style mind numbing manner.

When people criticize linearity, for the most part I think they're complaining that the gameplay interactions which are very digital in nature, when the player isn't given freedom to take on an encounter in their own way, which really fucking sucks. And what Halo did was give console gamers that taste of being able to take on gun fights in a far more open manner that encourages replaying because the experience is always different.