Categorizing game ideas and structures

Game design requires thorough effort and thought, obviously. There are two general variants that all game structures should have: linear and nonlinear. I wasn’t initially aware of what this even meant, until @Xiousa introduced it to me after we were talking about her new game (the documentation is lost; the discussion was a few months back).

To define a linear game - it’s a game that repeats multiple feats, maps and other content with noticeably changed details. Usually, the atmosphere of each map heavily differs from one another, including its fundamental obstacle. As a demonstration, Swordburst 2 has multiple maps with the same objective: defeat the enemies. When players progress through the game, they obtain better items and weapons to defeat other worlds and fight other obstacles proportional to what the player has. For example, if a player defeats the first world, they will receive loot as a reward (including better weapons and items) that prepares them for the next world.

Traditional linear variants

When I asked her what “linear” and “nonlinear” refers to in game development, I was approached with “linear is linear, and nonlinear is nonlinear.” To define what this means in depth: a linear game is when a basic process is repeated throughout a game to achieve a grand or exotic feat. Linear games traditionally have an ending, but, obviously, more contemporary variants have arose. A good way to exemplify a traditional linear game is by peeking at Pokémon. In Pokémon, the player proceeds through multiple stages and feats until they eventually beat the game. After the player beats the game, the proceeding content is lackluster and boring, inclining the player to restart or let it go.



Traditional linear game cycle


Contemporary linear variants

More variants were made to include creativity, simplicity, and originality. Here’s a list I compiled that came to me.


Synchronous Gameplay

Whenever two or three main objectives synchronously exist; the player completes the same identical process multiple times to achieve a greater feat. An applicable example of this is Jailbreak - rob all potential robberies and upgrade weapons. The greatness and power of a weapon is indicated by its price in most cases.



“Synchronous Gameplay", fake terminology that resembles games similar to Jailbreak.


Lackluster Progression

The name is slightly misleading (and is consequently why I usually don’t make up terminology). Essentially, games that gradually get more and more lackluster and boring until they eventually finish. There is no official ending - the only route is to progress and gain access to more worlds, then finish.



There is no official ending to these type of games. They’re not as lackluster as they appear, though. Examples include Swordburst 2.


Unlimited Gameplay

No official start, and no potential ending. These games allow the player to perform whatever they intend to for the small price of completing a task.



With so much freedom and potential, it (theoretically) never gets old. Examples include Welcome to Bloxburg.


Tedious.

This is (or should) be a last, desperate resort. Imagine working as a fisherman, but doing it inside of Roblox. That’s the most tedious, boring variant. If the entirety of a game is a single quest or objective, it is categorized here.



For uncreative developers who rely on one extensive purchase as the main monetization source. Don’t do this. Please.


That’s what a linear game is in context. Unless your game is purposely nostalgic, you’ll want to utilize a game structure listed in “Contemporary linear variants.”


However, nonlinear games are popular and ideal as well. The structure is unanimously made by the creator or game developer, and requires creativity. Usually, the final result is something creative and occupying, but only if done correctly.


Nonlinear game design definition

A nonlinear game is a game structure that does not contain a systematic loop. There is no definitive result, but instead chance; which is something commonly overlooked. Each player experiences different gameplay throughout the whole game, until they eventually reach the end. One player could have it hard at the beginning, while another could storm ahead. Eventually, all players will reach the end where they will finish the game identically. For streamlined gameplay, it usually requires some RNG and luck, but ultimately, players equally achieve the same feat.

Essentially, there is no definitive chance that every player will have the identical gaming experience, but ultimately, all players will reach the end.


Author’s comments…

Many thanks to @Xiousa, who informed me about the root principle of linear and nonlinear systems in game design. I’m somewhat passionate about game design, and this was fun for me to produce. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to present them. Additionally, I’m open to any ideas you might have - I’ll include them in this thread in a heartbeat.

All the terminology was made by me, and is consequently unofficial. If you have any name ideas that better represent these variants, feel free to attach them to this thread.

To informally conclude: happy developing!


cc @yenyang4 @Cinema_Sin - who patiently waited for this as I lazily procrastinated its arrival.

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Amazing job of explaining this, truly detailed. I think this will be a great post to look back on if I ever need help deciding what to do with a game’s story with your great descriptions and diagrams showing the viewer how these things work. Once again, amazing job to both you and Xiousa!

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Thank you! This is a very helpful, detailed and important guide! I needed this, since I’m creating a game and needed help with the gameplay, once again, thanks for this! :slightly_smiling_face:

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This is one of my favourite posts :slight_smile:, game design is very difficult but knowing the industry-standard models can help you create awesome games that players will learn to enjoy!

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