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Is linearity (inherently) bad in videogames ?

Discussion in 'General Gaming Discussion' started by Lulcielid, Oct 5, 2015.

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  1. Lulcielid

    Lulcielid Turk

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    With the overwhelming amount of games that are leading torwards and open world/sandbox structure (from shooters to rpgs) there seens to be little space and interest for linears games this days in the AAA market.

    From my experiences diving deep into different gaming forums i have seen that players aren't very fond of this design philosofy and some groups deeply reject it, this actitude from my pov is very strong within the rpg community, which sees linearity+rpg as the worst creation to ever put a foot on Earth.

    It is understandable if your taste leads more torwards the non-linear type of games and that's totally fine.

    With the introduction out of the way i ask you :
    1. Is linearity bad ?
    2. Is linearity bad for today standards (by standards i would say post Skyrim or 2012 onward) ?
    3. Is there a problem in games (particulary rpgs) being linear ?
    APZonerunner likes this.
  2. Wazi the pa

    Wazi the pa Samurai Legend Moderator Site Staff

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    RPGs in video games has always been made (compared to linear designs) to give the player freedom, depth in the things the player can do, expansive levels that the game offers to utilize such freedom. These are only the things compared to linear based games.

    I'm not sure about linear games being less dominant. That's only because the linear games we are hyped for has been delayed to 2016 so this year, we've been seeing a staggering amount of open world based games ranging from MGSV & Bloodborne, to The Witcher 3 & Batman Arkham Knight. Loads more to list. 2015 is the giant bomb of open world games. 2016 will maintain the balance.

    However, linear games by design, can be bad if people think it's bad. The majority in the industry says otherwise. Linear games work, it's appealing to many and it's satisfying to many. You can use statistics of last generation games as an example for that (Uncharted, TLOU, Rayman etc.). There is many RPG players that will move away from linear based games because those players are fond of freedom in their games with the likes of ESO, Fallout and more. That's just how it is.

    Incorporating linearity in RPGs can be okay, good or even amazing if the design is done right. FFXIII is one example that has screwed up. FFX is one that has done right. In loads of RPGs, there's a percentage of linear elements involved such as with modern Final Fantasy games having a linear story. By design, it's greatly appreciated and many play FF games for the story alone. If linearity is used 'wrongly', that's only when people start to play the blame game.

    Linear games is still a thing and it's still going strong in the industry. You should look at the overall majority of statistics to get a better picture at things. The stats alone justify how imperative linear games are to many players and the industry alone. There are a varieties of ways to use a linear design of a game just like with the varieties of ways there is in designing an open world game like an RPG or sandbox.

    For me, I love linear games & plenty of other genres of games. If you look things from a wide perspective, both linear designed games and open worlds games have their fair share of advanatages & disadvantages if you compare the two. Linear is not better than open world & vice versa, when you look at things critically. Personal tastes justify one or the other because it's people's taste in what they like or not.

    To be honest, I don't even see the two genres of games like that. If the game (be it linear or open world) was designed and made amazingly, deciding which genre of games mean nothing in the end. That is all dependent on what people prefer.
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2015
  3. yeah_93

    yeah_93 AVALANCHE Warrior

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    No, no, and no. Linearity doesn't equal bad. Some of the best video games ever are completely linear. For example, look at The Last of Us, a linear, non-interactive game that won tons of awards and is considered by many as the greatest game of last gen. It all depends on the quality of the game, or if the linear design blends well with the gameplay/story.
  4. coffee-san

    coffee-san Red Wings Commander

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    It's a lot easier to put into perspective when you make it a point to not generalize RPGs and separate the open-world from the linear games.

    Japan has never been fond of open-world games, not even in JRPGs (and I share the same sentiment, usually). Open world RPGs tend to place so much focus on exploration of the world around you so much so that it prolongs, and sometimes drowns out, a game's main story content.

    Linearity isn't always ideal either though (though i feel it's a lot harder to screw up a linear JRPG), XIII is a good example of a poor linear JRPG. The game was linear in a lot of other aspects outside of this "long hallway" that people love to bring up constantly. Gameplay was quite linear until basically the final chapters because of Crystarium lock, Eidolons are limited to plot device, etc. You don't get to experience the whole of the game until literally the end of the game + postgame.
  5. Squirrel Emperor

    Squirrel Emperor Nuts Staff Member Moderator

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    It’s either bad or something that goes unnoticed, which would be the good thing here and what gamers should want. The key is to make sure it’s not a distraction to the overall experience. Players should not be thinking about it. There attention should be focused on the world and gameplay itself. Linearity is fine as long as it is covered up.

    You could flip it around and say the same thing about open world design too.
  6. Crystal Power

    Crystal Power ShinRa SOLDIER

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    I will answer no for all, And open-world is good as well.

    I just enjoy games (and about everything in general) for what they are...
  7. Misty

    Misty Yevonite

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    Linearity is a problem if it interrupts the player experience; otherwise, the openess of the game should be decided according to the game's needs. In a title like The Last of Us, the player will rarely notice the linearity because of the strength and pacing of the narrative: you feel compelled to move forward because you want to know what happens next. The game encourages the player to spend time in every area, picking up collectibles that inform on the world and hearing the optional dialogue of companions (usually Ellie). Further, while the game moves you from city to city and doesn't allow you to backtrack, the player must creatively navigate limited areas according to their resources and the level's stealth requirements. One must constantly reassess how they attack new areas according to their shifting challenges; for example, when the player's control switches from Joel to Ellie, the player essentially must throw out their entire rulebook and learn to fight as a teenage girl rather than a grown man (stealth takedowns take longer, hand-to-hand combat isn't possible as a last resort). Other times, a player might conquer a level using mostly stealth and shivs, but find in the next that they only have bombs and guns. Finally, the game achieves a balance between corridor-style linearity and a more open kind; when trapped in sewers, basements, and buildings, the game can feel like the former, but in a good way -- it leaves the player feeling claustrophobic, intentionally and to the boon of the narrative. When players reach large towns, they're allowed to breath, collect resources, and interact with the environment.

    For a game like Final Fantasy XIII, however, linearity becomes a problem and it's a valid complaint about the game. We're told of a large, grand world, and the minute details of it are central to the plot. Yet we're allowed to see only thin slivers of it. We want to travel outside of the backalleys the game forces us into to learn more about the world that dictates our narrative, but cannot. Instead, we must learn about it through datalogs (which is a huge narrative problem for the game). The corridors have no variety and no break; you run through one after the other with identical strategy each time (run, fight enemy, collect treasure, repeat). It's not until hours into the game that the player gets a reprieve, but even then, exploration is optional and repetitive sidequests. The player becomes hyperaware of the linearity because it makes for a repetitive experience and injures, rather than supports, the narrative. A similar game that suffers from linearity is The Order 1886 -- it's not just a problem with JRPGs.

    Open world games aren't necessarily superior, either. They can often leave the player feeling lost or, again, interfere with the narrative. In Shadow of Mordor, for example, one is lost within Mordor and has no reason to follow the main plot (which is weak). Gratefully simply running around Mordor and slaying random Orcs is fun thanks to the Nemesis system, but even if the player wanted to do their story quests, they're given little direction towards them.

    To demand that all games shift towards an open-world format just because some popular games have done it (like Skyrim) is myopic and trendy. Open-world, linear, and anything in-between can be done well, and should be selected according to the game's unique needs and purpose.
  8. APZonerunner

    APZonerunner Network Boss-man Staff Member Administrator Site Staff UFFSite Veteran

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    This post nails it. I also think there's an argument for a middle ground between the two as a positive, also: Things don't need to be The Last of Us or Skyrim -- there's plenty of middle ground in between. There's plenty of areas of games that can be used to give players opportunities for non-linear decision making or exploration within an otherwise linear narrative.

    The example I'd use for that as a basic one is Mass Effect; in that game (and its sequels), the game frequently serves you up with a number of mission objectives often on different planets, and lets you choose from your ship which of those drastically different locations you'll head to next. Most of the time once you pick one of those locations you're locked in there; you can't then leave once that story is in motion - but the choice you have there makes the player feel like they have a lot of latitude without going 'open world'. The order in which you do things has a measurable gameplay impact, too - depending on which story thread you tackle first, the story will warp and change in minor ways as a result. Beyond that, there's gameplay ramifications as well - you'll have different party members, skills or items available to you depending on what order you do them in, and one mission might be harder if you do it before doing another. It's less implicit a choice, but the Souls games also do this, though you make these decisions almost passively without being prompted based on difficulty stuff.

    This structure is really one that, in 3D at least, was pioneered by (of all things) Mario 64, though I feel of the RPG world Bioware has handled it best. I also think it's the best possible way to handle openness and giving the player a sense of choice and agency in how they traverse the world in a story-driven game - the story plays out broadly the same, but the pieces can be slotted into place in any order you wish, or in some cases, skipped entirely. I'm not saying this is the only approach, obviously, but this is one that works - and I'd be very sad indeed to see everybody simply try to ape the Fallout/Elder Scrolls structure. That structure does work, but it's a very specific thing, and it doesn't work for strong narratives. You need some linearity alongside that - and while I feel games should embrace non-linear storytelling as they're the only medium that can do it in this way, they need to do it smartly and not just throw everything at it blindly... which I feel a lot of developers and publishers have.
    Nikolasvanitas and Misty like this.
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