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The Advantage of a Linear Game: Control
by Christopher Gile on 10/17/12 04:08:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This is a cross post from my blog here.

Multiplayer doesn't need to be in every game, but I can see how a game not having it could be considered a knock against it. If it is a game that lends itself to multiplayer doesn't capitalize on that then that is a missed opportunity and pointing that out is a valid criticism. I think it is over/missed used as a criticism as this often leads to games that are made as a single player experiences then have multiplayer experiences tacked on (Bioshock 2) because apparently no one is allowed to like a single player experience unless multiplayer is shoe horned in (thank you game critics).

Adding multiplayer to a game isn't a bad thing as it is something you didn't have before that you now have. You can choose to ignore it or engage in it at will and so if you don't like it fine, it doesn't affect the single player experience. What is bad about it is the opportunity cost, it might not be bad in and of itself but the developer spent money making it that might of gone to making the rest of the game better. Often times multiplayer isn't bad because it is bad but because we could of had a better version of the good parts of the game (the same thing can be said about multiplayer games that shoe horn in single player experiences).

I'm talking about this because I often seen similar complaints about linear gameplay and while I'm (kinda) fine with the ones about multiplayer the complaints about linear gameplay are flat out wrong. I often read reviews (because I'm a hypocrite) where they say they like the game but it is very linear and wished it was a bit more open and often open gameplay is talked about as something intrinsically better, it isn't. Multiplayer is modular, in that adding it doesn't affect single player, but linear vs open progression is a distinct choice each conferring different advantages. Open gameplay offers the player the freedom to create their own story and it is pretty great, and since it is typically held up as the better of the two I don't feel the need to defend it (right now) and so I'm going to talk about the advantages of linear gameplay a bit. Linear gameplay does offer a huge advantage over open gameplay, control.

When you keep a tight rein over what you let the player do you can create a constant difficulty level and narrative. When the player can do anything in any order how could you possibly tell a story? If you have ever played Skyrim, I'm sure you know the feeling of being told to do something gravely important only to blow it off and go punch a mammoth. It is great and all, but it makes telling a story with any kind of gravitas or urgency impossible.

I'm willing to meet everyone halfway on this one, how about instead of talking about a game being 'too linear' we say it is 'more linear then needed' or 'linear without using the inherent advantages of linearity'? There are certainly games that are very linear but don't' use it to craft an experience, and wouldn't be made less for opening up a bit but those are different from games that are super linear and use that to its full advantages.

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Jake Shapiro
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Ha. This seems in line with the featured post I wrote last week about Alan Wake's "limited open world," and I got a lot of flak from a few people.
I agree, linearity is good for telling the story its creator wants to tell. But I guess we always walk a fine line with it, because we still want to take advantage of what makes it truly a videogame, and not just a glorified interactive film.
With that said, Heavy Rain was arguably "too linear" but it's one of my all-time favorites.

Benjamin Quintero
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I personally don't understand the backlash against linear story games. I don't like linear action games because it feels like you are being pulled down a corridor just to shoot more bad guys. Maybe this is where the knee-jerk comes from; people just hear linear and assume CoD or Gears, not Heavy Rain or The Walking Dead.

The thing that critics seems to beg for (but have no clue how hard it is to do) is create player choice. Every choice is a branch in the tree of possibilities. That is art + code + design + testing and more that is needed every time the player makes a meaningful choice. There is a reason why linear has been overtaking the industry these past 10 years or so.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"I personally don't understand the backlash against linear story games. I don't like linear action games because it feels like you are being pulled down a corridor just to shoot more bad guys."

I have the complete opposite reaction where I hate linearity in narrative but am willing to accept it in action games.

I think in action games its far more important to get the player to the gameplay, the action, since thats what the genre is about. Having a linear design makes focusing on these elements easier and oftentimes the game is better that way.
I wouldn't really want multiple paths in God Of War (Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta), it wouldn't add anything to the gameplay the games hinge on.

With narrative-driven games its different, there the gameplay often takes a back seat to the story, so you could at least put some effort into the choices the player makes.

Its why I don't understand why Point And Click Adventure Games never moved past their horrible linearity in narrative and choice.
As an example could stand Resonance, the latest from Wadjet Eye, where you control different characters that could potentially craft unique and different narratives, but they don't.
I understand that PnC adventures have this staple of being actually puzzle games, but it wouldn't hurt them to have multiple solutions to a puzzle.

Thats why I appreciate games like Deus Ex or Dishonored, where the game gives you the choice on how to solve problems and craft your own narrative.
Even though Deus Ex and Dishonored -can- be played like an action game, but if you do so, they become lackluster and mundane.

David Navarro
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"There is a reason why linear has been overtaking the industry these past 10 years or so."

Benjamin, you mean since the release of GTA III or so? Somehow, I don't seem to have a recollection of games being much more open before GTA III.

Daniel Accardi
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I think you're quite right that people should be using linearity well, and that SotC is just such an example. I'm also inclined to say that the Metal Gear Solid series has been something of an extended meditation on this idea. Nick Fortugno wrote a great piece about the idea of "futile interactivity" over at It's well worth reading, and mostly discusses how games can effect tragedy by giving the illusion of choice when there is only a linear path.

I'm still not sure I agree with you, but part of that may simply be about defining terms. SotC, for instance, is a totally linear game, but the gameplay is quite open. That's a big experiential issue. Star Fox 64 has quite a few clever branching paths, and multiple endings, but the gameplay is totally linear. Do we want to more definitively set some terms down here?

Roberta Davies
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I can't really add anything to what's already been said, but speaking as a proofreader I just wanted to congratulate you for spelling "tight rein" correctly.