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Game Worlds.
Random philosophical musings thread, partly inspired by Bal talking about Stalker not having a truly seamless game world.

This topic isn't for a set purpose but rather discussing the various aspects of game worlds that inspire people.

For example, some thoughts...

Is seamlessness important to people?? Is it better to have a seamless world without the distractions of loading times etc? Or perhaps, is it better to have distinct levels so one's brain can keep everything in order and know where one is in the game?

I think these days, games are tending towards more coherent game worlds, i.e. ones that have some sort of "geographical" sense to them, even if they are in wild and fantastic settings. Seamlessness is I think a part of that, but not the only part. Another part is maps - if you have a map in a game and can point to your location on a map and get a picture of other locations, there is a strong sign of a coherent world.

Do people like this though?? It might make for a strong presence of the game world, but then again it reduces the sense of trepidation and disorientation of not knowing where you are not being able to picture your location other than your immediate surroundings. In older games, including our firm friend Quake, there was a stronger "lost in a different world" feel.

I personally tend to be very into game worlds in general. The location and settings are important to me, hence why I prefer sci-fi and fantasy games to real world games. The "sense of place" is important whether it's one Quake map or a whole world like Gothic 3 or a distinct entity like Prey. The wilder and more bizarre the place the better, as long as it's coherent (as Clive Barker once said, it's important in fantasy worlds for them to obey some sort of logic, even just their own twisted logic, rather than to be a random mess).

So I do like the trend towards more prominent game worlds, and I'd like to see that continue (not at the expense of other gaming aspects of course), particularly where the style of game world contributes distinctly to the atmosphere and even hostilities involved (this is the case with Stalker??).

Discuss etc etc ;)
Some Fast Shot 
For FPS I rather like "small" throughly designed and well layouted, nicely textured and "cogent"(? I mean levels where everything fits) levels. Of course a decent connection between them is nice, but it is not important.
A game like STALKER is something else. When it's playing "under the sky", then borders feel bad (Oh lord, there is a fence! I cannot cross that fence, it's a magical fence! Duh...). There are other ways like water (to some extend), mountains (,swamp, radiation, cursed ground, mines) but most often the developers fail on providing a seamless convincing world (in my experience).

So for me it's well made single maps please. 
In older games, including our firm friend Quake, there was a stronger "lost in a different world" feel.

You know, I'd never thought of that, but that's an excellent point - lack of continuity or awareness of location in a greater space increases the feeling of being lost, and makes the world seem larger by leaving most of it up to the imagination.

Deus Ex had very sharp breaks between chapters (new york to hong kong to etc), and that worked pretty well. Plus, the strong change in level design between such areas helped drive the point home further.

That's another point to discuss - how does variety in the design affect player's sense of space? I think part of why people felt Doom3 'dragged on' was that there was never really any major characteristic to the design that indicated what part of mars city you were in or how far from whatever pointless destination you were - it was just variations of metal over and over. Half-Life gave you a strong sense of progress just by the style of each map: you transitioned from cold war bunker to nicer 'administrative' labs to the desert surface, then finally arrived in Lambda's high-tech steel corridors and chambers. Quake lacked that, but it didn't harm Quake's design at all because you weren't really meant to be going anywhere other than the exit - you played in the moment and not towards a goal.

Half-Life's seamless level transitions also really reinforced the travelling aspect of the story, whereas Doom3 had a lot of sharp breaks, which made you feel more like you were just beating levels than really progressing through a world. 
Seamles Or Not 
The level designer needs to have built around how long the levels are. And there are always levels. Even if it's just a load bar appearing for a few seconds at most, it's a changeover point.

Doom3 level design was terrible, I hated it. Think of all the opportunities missed - air domes on mars, walking across a martian landscape in a spacesuit, subterrainian alien structures etc. These are not new concepts (Total Recall?) and granted, everyone expected cold metal bases and then hell but the big mistake made was writing a design doc and then not modifying at all whilst creating the game - just setting thier brains on autopilot.

Alot of people really liked the game, but it had shitty design. I got bored of teleporting and respawning enemies back in System Shock 2. (Although Bioshock is looking good).

Quake worked really well because levels were small and compact, built for a different audiance. The modern gamer thinks nothing of a half-hour or hour session, most of the original id maps take 10 minutes or (much) less to complete, and come away with a feeling of accomplishment.

In the modern map it's taken for granted that's its big, it's just the trend. My warp mod approaches release, and it's suffered for the scale I built at, with hindsight I'd have made the individual maps much smaller but better put togther. I hate everything I make around five seconds after I finish it. My most recent game was an arcade shooter - it too had bloated levels that detracted from the overall feel of the game. 
Depends On The Game 
IE Legend of Zelda games work with a huge coherent world with minimal loadscreens. Quake doesn't. Depends on if you're creating a "world" or a "game." 
Interesting Thoughts So Far... 
<insert thumbs up smiley here> 
usually break the feeling of coherence, yes.
it would be better if they were masked in some clever way (if seperation into multiple levels can't be avoided in an engine), by a short cutscene for example. i could image a very small 'in-between level', a building maybe, which the game character passes through while the next level is loading in the background. since loading times vary on each computer, the game character could take a rest inside said building or do anything else (take a leak ffs) to pass the time.
at least such a technique would reduce the harsh impact of the loading process.. 
Loading Time 
The first game that I played that IMHO had the matter solved was Dungeon Master.

In it's forteen or so levels of 3d maze you would notice at certain points in your progress, usually at a point around two thirds to three quarters through a dungeon, the game would hit the floppy disk for data, but do so without causing you any pause. It wasn't flawless, as sometimes you would stumble in to a pit and find your four avatars in a pile of bones at the bottom minutes later as the disk loaded up the next level down, but verall, it was pretty efficient.

It was also the first 3-D world that I found to be emmersive. Greyish white brick walls with an occasional fountain with a lion head sculpture predominated the entire layout, but it was quite a bit to be excited about at the time.

Good topic, btw. 
I think it's a mostly something about linear vs non-linear models.

Most FPS games like Doom3 and even Half-Life are pretty much completely linear, you rarely have a choice of where to go next, so slight loading times (like in HL2, D3 were sooo long) aren't really a problem as you don't really expect to go back to where you just came from.

In more open ended games like Gothic3, Oblivion and Stalker, you are expected to always be going back and forth from area to area, because of side-quests, shopping etc, and loading times really kill the feeling of one vast world. In stalker each area feels like one big square map of terrain with buildings on it, in Gothic3, you can go from the southern desert area, jump in the sea, swim for 10 minutes to reach the middle lands, and walk your way pasts mountains and castles to climb up into the northern snowy peaks without having a single loading screen, and that just feels soooo right, and is totally immersive.

I'm still waiting for a futuristic version of Gothic3, was hoping Stalker would be that game, but unfortunatly it wasn't. 
One Thing 
Oddworld; Stranger's Wrath had the shortest loadtimes and biggest worlds I've seen in any modern game. 
honestly, i'm not really bothered by the loading screens in stalker. but i think i am becoming somewhat of a fan-boy of this game. :P the levels and the absolute coolness that is in every square meter of this game makes up for any small amount of time spent looking at a loading screen. ^_^

i'm not denying it wouldn't have been even better had it been a completely streaming world like oblivion or WoW, but the maps themselves are huge enough that you're not loading new maps every second.

i think to me what makes the stalker world so great is that it is surprisingly consistent. all the anomalies have distinctive cues, and each monster tends to hang around in similar types of areas, so can sometimes anticipate what you'll be meeting. i wish monsters were a bit more vocal, so that you could hear them from farther away, with pehaps distinct footstep sounds too. can't have everything though, i guess. 
i think that the world's coherence strongly depends on gameplay.
if's it's single player shooter, it might be a bit boring to have vast open spaces and possibility to walk everywhere, because shooter means frequent shooting and it would be a bit chaotic if happens in open spaces. so fps games usually get jailed in the linear closed levels. and i don't mind them to be separated with the loading bar. because as was said here already, completed level feels good.
from the other side, the games that don't narrow gameplay down to pure shooting but include vast number of other things player can do (wow), would look better seamless and have a proper multilayered map, to help players to submerge in this world. it'd be not right if you walk from one forest to another, and suddenly have loading bar, but u haven't done anything important in previous forest, u just walked off it. so loading bar would be a major irritant here.

so, all this 'big world' thing depends on the game. personally i love when there's giant map and you know what part of the world you visited and what are yet to be visited and that's really cool. 
Seamless World 
is an evil gimmick. More on it later, when I have time 
I Can't Wait 
Von brings up another good point - discrete level ends provide discrete moments of accomplishment, while seamlessness needs more contextual goals. 
The level ends in games like Quake maybe, but they aren't really discrete. In HL2 the level ends, which are discrete, don't bring any feeling of accomplishment to me (but the storyline and game action do a good job of creating those moments anyways, for instance, I know I've left the enemy base cause of the scenery change, not some trivial level change).

But in Quake, the very goal is to "get to the end of the level", most games have gone away from that concept (now it's, "OMG TURN ON THE GENERATOR!", how far we've come...)

One thing I quite agree with that Von said, is that when you get a loading screen, you expect you're gonna have something interesting to do before getting another loading screen. In stalker that's not the case, sometimes you have to run through whole areas to get to places (like going from Bar to the Cordon, having to pass through Garbage). 
Loading With Masked Load Screens 
I like the way the metroid games use lifts for transfer between different "zones", in the 2d games it's not as much for loading as it is "hey you're now transfering to another area!" while in the gamecube 3d games it serves both as a loading screen and to suggest that you are leaving one distinct part of the world and entering another. Also short loading times between different smaller areas inside one game world part is masked as doors sometimes taking a bit longer too open. 
I think it really comes down to the style of gameplay.

Seamless world games like metroid prime, zelda, grand theft auto, and WoW, etc. Are really cool. I love the feeling of endless world that I travel back and forth in.

I think the discrete levels in quake (and doom 1 & 2) are peftect for that game, becuase it was much more arcade-y and chapter-based. Each level feels like a chapter, and the hard break in the gameplay provides structure and pacing. Things like "secrets found" and "monsters killed" and "time" would feel really inappropriate in a "seamless world" game. Which means you'd actually lose that aspect of the game if you tried to add seamlessness to quake.

As a nintendo kid, i'm used to the instantaneounsness of cartridge-based games -- games where the only pauses between levels or menus were by design. I think that both types of games, level-based and seamless-world, should hide their loading as much as possible, and make it feel like all pauses or breaks in the actions are designed to enhance the expierience.

Note: metroid prime was constantly loading, and only kept a small number of rooms in memory at once. The long, cramped hallways, with some small bugs or evil grasses to shoot, between large caverns were there to slow you down while it loaded the next big room -- some game devs call those types of rooms "airlocks." The door-not-opening that bear mentions is what happens when you ran so fast that the loading hadn't finished yet.

Also note: seamless world games still need "levels" in the sense that the world needs to be divided into recognizable zones or areas that have their own personality. Games where it's just endless, near-random terrain don't work as well as games like where even within the major zones, they've created smaller locations with distinctive appearances and somewhat defined boundaries and transitions. 
Vondur & Metal Are Right 
you can't decouple this from a gameplay/-design discussion at all. 
like many of you, i agree the loading screen is annoying as hell. with all the technology and shit, why cant they figure out how to make it shorter or just do something to well, make it go away.

dark messiah ruled for me, i thought it was well designed, but some annoying bugs here and there, but the loading times killed it for me. yes, they give you a bit of text to read and a nice image, but still... fuck them!! to hellz :-) 
wrote my name on the title.
damn me for being sleepy. 
Good Thoughts... 
Although seamlessness isn't the only issue. The "profoundness" and depth of game worlds are also interesting I think.


in Gothic3, you can go from the southern desert area, jump in the sea, swim for 10 minutes to reach the middle lands, and walk your way pasts mountains and castles to climb up into the northern snowy peaks without having a single loading screen, and that just feels soooo right, and is totally immersive.

Yes....I think it works great that way. When I realised you could swim across it was quite a relevation in the freedom you're allowed. I love the "suicide" island too.

But in Quake, the very goal is to "get to the end of the level", most games have gone away from that concept (now it's, "OMG TURN ON THE GENERATOR!", how far we've come...)


Seamless World

#12 posted by Speeds [] on 2007/04/02 10:22:15
is an evil gimmick. More on it later, when I have time

LOL #2. I can't wait either! 
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