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Do you view Level Design in Level-Based games in the same lens as Open-World games and if yes/no how do you differentiate between them?

Mozzarella

Member
Recently, I have become more interested in studying level design aspect of video games, it feels like its an underrated aspect, its such an important core element of video game design in how levels are structured and designed to maximize the enjoyment out of the player by having design decisions that compliments the level with the gameplay loop and its creativity and sandbox.

One thing that came to my mind is how some people considered open world games when it came to level design discussions. I have always had this idea that Level Design aspect is exclusive to Level-Based games and not to Open World Games, where you have a one big open level that is designed seamlessly. On the other hand a Level-Based game (linear and non-linear) will consist of levels that are distinctly designed around certain mechanics and structures. This also applies to games like Dark Souls and Prey where you have one big interconnected world that consists of multiple levels, hence why we dont refer to them as Open World games.

The question here is where do you find your perspective on this? do you look at games like Skyrim, Witcher 3, Breath of the Wild, Red Dead Redemption...etc etc. As games with Level Design OR do you (like me) consider their design as Open World design and dont refer to it via the word level design? It puts them all in one category called Open World design with its unique with its own standards.
Games like Dishonored 2, Hitman, Thief, Dark Souls, Persona 5, Final Fantasy 7, Resident Evil, NieR, The Last of Us, Hollow Knight...etc Are all different but non-open world games that have certain levels.

Do you think its right to consider to put them all under the same umbrella when talking about Level Design? or do you separate between Open World games and non open world games?
Also, What are some examples of Great level design and why?

For me I would say a good level design should have some of this:
1- Multiple ways to progress through the level.
2- Compliments its gameplay mechanics or physics engine.
3- Meaningful backtracking
4- Secret areas with neat hidden clues scattered around it.
5- Depending on the genre: Good Puzzles or Platforming
6- Compliments its lore
7- Has a unique theme in its art direction and structure.
8- Good enemy placement
9- Rewarding exploration
10- Allows for creative solving, whether via traversal, usage of abilities or high replay value or using the level environment to your advantage.

Immersive sims are example of games with excellent level design.


Hitman (Sapienza - Italy)
One of the best Hitman levels, a huge area full of different stories and ways to tackle the object, great beautiful landscape, good sense of realism in the world and immersion in the place, good secrets and ways to play the game.
Hitman's best episode is free right now - Polygon

Dishonored 2: Clockwork Mansion
One of the best Dishonored levels, a creative dynamic level with excellent structure and replay value, multiple of ways to play and feels like a breath of fresh air.

clockwork mansion | Explore Tumblr Posts and Blogs | Tumgir



Thief 2: Life at the Party
Possibly the best rooftop mission of all time, a great density and importance from theme standpoint.
Life of the Party


Thief: Down in the Bonehoard
A quick mention to this old level that understands the depth in level design not just horizontally but also vertically. Dense and atmospheric.
DOWN IN THE BONEHOARD


Resident Evil Remake: Spencer Mansion
One of the best levels ever made, meaningful backtracking, haunting atmosphere, clever puzzles and captivating soundtrack.
resident evil remake mansion foyer - Google Search | Resident evil, Fancy  houses, Resident evil game


Hollow Knight: City of Tears
One of my favorite metroidvania levels, the sound of rain and the captivating soundtrack and how it connects various points within the world.
➤ Hollow Knight, guide and lore: City of Tears I 🎮


Prey: Talos
Interconnected space ship level, packed with creativity and depth, very multilayered and open ended, highly compliments the game mechanics and its physic engine.
Prey – Guided Tour of Talos I


Bloodborne: Central Yharnam
One of the best intro levels in modern gaming, packed with secrets, meaningful lore, and amazing art direction.
Yharnam | Bloodborne art, Dark souls art, Bloodborne


Dark Souls: Sen's Fortress
The ultimate death trap level, nasty traps, and packed with danger, atmospheric and memorable.
HM to: Blighttown
Not the best one in Souls, but its infamous and hated, i like this level, its also a nasty death trap.
Sen's Fortress Lore | Fandom


Half-Life 2: Ravenholm
Probably the best or among the best Valve levels, has a haunting atmospheric horror theme and heavily compliments the gameplay and the physics engine around every corner.
Half Life 2 Ravenholm HD Wallpaper | Half life, Wallpaper, Hd wallpaper


Divinity Original Sin 2: Fort Joy
One of the best intro levels to any cRPG, insane amount of possibilities to complete and very fun to replay.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 - All Companion Locations | AllGamers


That should be enough for some examples.


I do feel open world games cannot do that level design, instead it relies on its open world design as a whole, things like.
1- Meaningful Exploration: around loot or lore (quests)
2- Great aesthetics
3- Multi-Layered (e.g underground dungeons)
4- Physics
5- Dynamic A.I and Giving the feeling of breathing living world. Either through A.I or Story choices and impactful decisions.
6- Sense of scale
7- Traversal that is fun and unique
8- Compliments either gameplay through its mechanics and physics or Story through lore and backdrop setting
9- If Sandbox, interactivity with the side content and gameplay systems.


The Legends of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Heavily compliments its physics engine, fun traversal and exploration
The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild review: Game of the year


Red Dead Redemption 2/ Grand Theft Auto
Western sandbox, ultra realism, breathtaking visuals and high technical value
Red Dead Redemption 2' Review: The New King Of Open-World Adventures |  Digital Trends


Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Heavily compliments the story setting and captures the theme of Witcher world perfectly through its atmosphere and quest decisions.
New The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Screenshots Revealed


The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind/Skyrim
Probably the best RPG sandbox open world, great exploration, tons of interactivity and dynamic world (STALKER HAS THIS TOO! its dynamic)
Rifatevi gli occhi con Morrowind ricostruito tramite il motore di Skyrim -  The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Gamereactor

How to Take Screenshots in "Skyrim" - LevelSkip




So what do you think? are those examples of LEVEL DESIGN different and handled separately or its the same aspect but one is one big level divided to multiple smaller areas and the other is crafted separately for each level?
Personally i like to separate them as you saw in my thread, and i judge them differently. Also i prefer the Level Based design in case you are wondering.

Tell me what you think and post some cool sketch from your favorite levels. :messenger_beaming:
 
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01011001

Gold Member
leveldesign is leveldesign. It always has to compliment the gameplay.
for Open World games I think we have to further distinguish between Mission Design and Leveldesign.

the "Leveldesign" in RDR2 for example is pretty good as long as you do no mission and are just walking around. but the second you do an actual mission it is a pure shitshow of bad design, basically contrary to what an Open World game should be.
it is extremely limiting as you can literally lose by stepping outside of an invisible mission barrier that can sometimes be ridiculously placed. and you have basically zero player agency due to how ridiculously scripted everything is.

One really bad example I had while playing this terrible game was in one of the early missions. when you come out of the saloon and have to help the girls of your crew and follow a guy to a hotel or some shit.
I literally got control of my character... moved 1, YES, 1 METER to the right... and GAME OVER, RESTART MISSION... wanted to try run a faster route... guess what? EXACTLY! Game Over, Restart Mission...

absolutely awful Mission Design
in RDR2 the Mission Design is directly opposite of what the Leveldesign of the game would need. it is an open world game that turns into the most limiting and linear shooter imaginable as soon as you want to progress in the story.
 
No, I will never ever view open world maps like Far Cry, HZD, RDR2, AC the same way as I view maps like Dark Souls, Hitman, Prey, Deus Ex. The latter is the best, because unlike the former, you actually get to see the devs impressive creation in every corner of the map and not only that the levels themselves are extremely important to the gameplay mechanics, they become gameplay mechanics. That being said, some open world games(Cyberpunk) do a good job at incorporating multiple smaller zones like say a Deus Ex type of level which I can appreciate, a lot. If Elden Ring can do that, based on that castle gameplay I saw, then that would be fantastic. Verticality and metroidvania type of levels is a huge plus in my eyes and having an open world that can do both then fuck yeah.
 
The problem with open world games is a lot of them go for realism but reality does not have good level design. I’d like to see an open world 3D platformer that isn’t just a collectathon some day, but I’m sure it is difficult to make.
 

bender

What time is it?
leveldesign is leveldesign. It always has to compliment the gameplay.
for Open World games I think we have to further distinguish between Mission Design and Leveldesign.

the "Leveldesign" in RDR2 for example is pretty good as long as you do no mission and are just walking around. but the second you do an actual mission it is a pure shitshow of bad design, basically contrary to what an Open World game should be.
it is extremely limiting as you can literally lose by stepping outside of an invisible mission barrier that can sometimes be ridiculously placed. and you have basically zero player agency due to how ridiculously scripted everything is.

One really bad example I had while playing this terrible game was in one of the early missions. when you come out of the saloon and have to help the girls of your crew and follow a guy to a hotel or some shit.
I literally got control of my character... moved 1, YES, 1 METER to the right... and GAME OVER, RESTART MISSION... wanted to try run a faster route... guess what? EXACTLY! Game Over, Restart Mission...

absolutely awful Mission Design
in RDR2 the Mission Design is directly opposite of what the Leveldesign of the game would need. it is an open world game that turns into the most limiting and linear shooter imaginable as soon as you want to progress in the story.

The mission where you help you save your ex's brother from a cult is the worst. You can only catch up to him at the train tracks because they want the train to cut off your pursuit. It's nothing new for R* as they've done this shit with every game after GTA3. They create these wonderful worlds with sandbox elements and then turn want to turn the missions into Naughty Dog styled scripted bombast.

No, I will never ever view open world maps like Far Cry, HZD, RDR2, AC the same way as I view maps like Dark Souls, Hitman, Prey, Deus Ex. The latter is the best, because unlike the former, you actually get to see the devs impressive creation in every corner of the map and not only that the levels themselves are extremely important to the gameplay mechanics, they become gameplay mechanics. That being said, some open world games(Cyberpunk) do a good job at incorporating multiple smaller zones like say a Deus Ex type of level which I can appreciate, a lot. If Elden Ring can do that, based on that castle gameplay I saw, then that would be fantastic. Verticality and metroidvania type of levels is a huge plus in my eyes and having an open world that can do both then fuck yeah.

As strange as it sounds, I actually consider Hitman and Dark Souls open world games. I guess I just prefer my open worlds to be smaller and dense with a handcrafted feel. It's probably why I like the Yakuza games so much.

Large open world games are fine too but you have to nail traversal which is why I loved BOTW and Just Cause 2 so much.

I think most open world designs these days are failures though. One of my favorites was Morrowind. No map. No quest markers. A very limited fast travel system that made sense with the lore of the game. Quest were written to give you details about were to go and the game had sign posts to help you find your way, but the game also was confident enough in the player to allow them to get lost which is where the best adventures take place. It's why I hate modern TES or games like the Witcher 3 as it they feel like they need to hold the players hand and lead them by the nose. It just kills any sense of exploration and is completely counter to why a game should utilize an open world in the first place. I'm sure this is unintentional, but there is a quest giver in Morrowind who gives you inaccurate directions which will lead players astray but makes the game feel "real". I get the counter argument for people not wanting to waste time but if your game relies on way points and people feel the need to utilize a travel anywhere at anytime fast travel system, I'd consider that a failure of open world design and your game would be better served as something else entirely.
 

tvdaXD

Member
Level design is level design in my opinion, it's the scale here we're talking about basically and how devs slice the game into either 1 piece (open world) or multiple (levels.)
I view them as the same, but I do keep in mind that there's always a budget. The budget decides mostly how the levels or the world are created, if you go open world, it's usually less dense and detailed than different maps/levels. That being said, open world games can still have beautifully crafted worlds and can also have good level design. Sometimes it's less obvious, but if a map looks inviting for exploration, has you walk from A to B without any quest markers and makes good use of the games physics and traversal options I'd consider it good level design.
 

Kuranghi

Gold Member
The mission where you help you save your ex's brother from a cult is the worst. You can only catch up to him at the train tracks because they want the train to cut off your pursuit. It's nothing new for R* as they've done this shit with every game after GTA3. They create these wonderful worlds with sandbox elements and then turn want to turn the missions into Naughty Dog styled scripted bombast.



As strange as it sounds, I actually consider Hitman and Dark Souls open world games. I guess I just prefer my open worlds to be smaller and dense with a handcrafted feel. It's probably why I like the Yakuza games so much.

Large open world games are fine too but you have to nail traversal which is why I loved BOTW and Just Cause 2 so much.

I think most open world designs these days are failures though. One of my favorites was Morrowind. No map. No quest markers. A very limited fast travel system that made sense with the lore of the game. Quest were written to give you details about were to go and the game had sign posts to help you find your way, but the game also was confident enough in the player to allow them to get lost which is where the best adventures take place. It's why I hate modern TES or games like the Witcher 3 as it they feel like they need to hold the players hand and lead them by the nose. It just kills any sense of exploration and is completely counter to why a game should utilize an open world in the first place. I'm sure this is unintentional, but there is a quest giver in Morrowind who gives you inaccurate directions which will lead players astray but makes the game feel "real". I get the counter argument for people not wanting to waste time but if your game relies on way points and people feel the need to utilize a travel anywhere at anytime fast travel system, I'd consider that a failure of open world design and your game would be better served as something else entirely.

I always see people mention loving Just Cause 2 (presumeably over the other titles), I did quite like it but I wasn't really into 100%ing it due to how you travel around with the parachute. Just Cause 3 for me was amazing, felt so good to glide through the valleys in the wingsuit, I loved those wingsuit courses even though some were very challenging just because the actual act of traversing felt great. Like just talking about it makes me want to boot it up again kind of brilliant fun, whereas 2 just didn't do that for me. The physics + wingsuit just made it so superior for me.

Whats the reason you choose JC2 over JC3? I know console performance of 3 was awful so I'm thinking it could be as simple as that for console only players.

Actually, did I miss something later in 2 where you get another traversal method like the wingsuit in 3?
 

Mozzarella

Member
leveldesign is leveldesign. It always has to compliment the gameplay.
for Open World games I think we have to further distinguish between Mission Design and Leveldesign.

the "Leveldesign" in RDR2 for example is pretty good as long as you do no mission and are just walking around. but the second you do an actual mission it is a pure shitshow of bad design, basically contrary to what an Open World game should be.
it is extremely limiting as you can literally lose by stepping outside of an invisible mission barrier that can sometimes be ridiculously placed. and you have basically zero player agency due to how ridiculously scripted everything is.

One really bad example I had while playing this terrible game was in one of the early missions. when you come out of the saloon and have to help the girls of your crew and follow a guy to a hotel or some shit.
I literally got control of my character... moved 1, YES, 1 METER to the right... and GAME OVER, RESTART MISSION... wanted to try run a faster route... guess what? EXACTLY! Game Over, Restart Mission...

absolutely awful Mission Design
in RDR2 the Mission Design is directly opposite of what the Leveldesign of the game would need. it is an open world game that turns into the most limiting and linear shooter imaginable as soon as you want to progress in the story.
I agree with the criticism on RDR2 Mission Design.
So what you are saying is that you look at Open World games from the perspective of "Dungeons" "Shrines" "Missions" "Quests" As the Level Design of it.?
For example, when i search: Games with the best Level Design, few open world areas show up, i always get confused at this, since i consider open world games and non open world games to be different in this aspect. For one i call it Level Design, the other i call it Open World design. I Replace the word Level with Open World.
Also if we just pick an area from any open world, its hardly going to measure up well to a well established and structured standout level. Do you agree?
No, I will never ever view open world maps like Far Cry, HZD, RDR2, AC the same way as I view maps like Dark Souls, Hitman, Prey, Deus Ex. The latter is the best, because unlike the former, you actually get to see the devs impressive creation in every corner of the map and not only that the levels themselves are extremely important to the gameplay mechanics, they become gameplay mechanics. That being said, some open world games(Cyberpunk) do a good job at incorporating multiple smaller zones like say a Deus Ex type of level which I can appreciate, a lot. If Elden Ring can do that, based on that castle gameplay I saw, then that would be fantastic. Verticality and metroidvania type of levels is a huge plus in my eyes and having an open world that can do both then fuck yeah.
We seem to agree, Do you look at it similarly?, in the sense of open world design vs level design rather than putting both under the same umbrella of level design even if theoretically it may appear so.
The problem with open world games is a lot of them go for realism but reality does not have good level design. I’d like to see an open world 3D platformer that isn’t just a collectathon some day, but I’m sure it is difficult to make.
In a way you are making a good point, but when we look at Hitman, it shows that realism was never the problem. Or do you disagree? Have you checked out Hitman? levels like Paris, Japan, Italy. Really good stuff.
The mission where you help you save your ex's brother from a cult is the worst. You can only catch up to him at the train tracks because they want the train to cut off your pursuit. It's nothing new for R* as they've done this shit with every game after GTA3. They create these wonderful worlds with sandbox elements and then turn want to turn the missions into Naughty Dog styled scripted bombast.



As strange as it sounds, I actually consider Hitman and Dark Souls open world games. I guess I just prefer my open worlds to be smaller and dense with a handcrafted feel. It's probably why I like the Yakuza games so much.

Large open world games are fine too but you have to nail traversal which is why I loved BOTW and Just Cause 2 so much.

I think most open world designs these days are failures though. One of my favorites was Morrowind. No map. No quest markers. A very limited fast travel system that made sense with the lore of the game. Quest were written to give you details about were to go and the game had sign posts to help you find your way, but the game also was confident enough in the player to allow them to get lost which is where the best adventures take place. It's why I hate modern TES or games like the Witcher 3 as it they feel like they need to hold the players hand and lead them by the nose. It just kills any sense of exploration and is completely counter to why a game should utilize an open world in the first place. I'm sure this is unintentional, but there is a quest giver in Morrowind who gives you inaccurate directions which will lead players astray but makes the game feel "real". I get the counter argument for people not wanting to waste time but if your game relies on way points and people feel the need to utilize a travel anywhere at anytime fast travel system, I'd consider that a failure of open world design and your game would be better served as something else entirely.
I dont think they are open, Hitman is level based games, you cannot go however you want, its objectively false to say its open world. Dark Souls could have an argument for it, but i also dont see it, the interconnected level design is one big world but each area is distinct in its design, they are just connected without you going to a main menu and continuing them, its similar to Half Life 2 and thats from 2004. Never heard someone say Half Life 2 is open world. It's more like Metroidvania design when it comes to Souls.
Yakuza is a tricky one, the city hubs feel immersive and they are packed with restaurants and minigames but ultimately i personally found them to be boring, because the level is just more of the same and your interaction with it is very very limited, you only get to visit restaurants or do minigames, even going from one mission point to another results in you basically walking around to it, thus it doesnt take any advantage from its level design, which is no different that any standard open world actually.
As for games with Markers, i understand the issue, hand holding kills joy of exploration in Open World. A good example for open world without hand holding is actually Outer Wilds (2019). However for some big open worlds that focus on realism in its design, you can see that having markers actually saves your time, i won't argue that its good because hand holding could be argued for boring design, but i think it saves you the tedious part, especially when those open world give you the option to disable them. I feel like making an open world without markers requires extra hard work at environment design. You have a point but i wouldn't say failure its just a lazy trope for design.
Level design is level design in my opinion, it's the scale here we're talking about basically and how devs slice the game into either 1 piece (open world) or multiple (levels.)
I view them as the same, but I do keep in mind that there's always a budget. The budget decides mostly how the levels or the world are created, if you go open world, it's usually less dense and detailed than different maps/levels. That being said, open world games can still have beautifully crafted worlds and can also have good level design. Sometimes it's less obvious, but if a map looks inviting for exploration, has you walk from A to B without any quest markers and makes good use of the games physics and traversal options I'd consider it good level design.
So in that case, do you view different areas in Open World as different levels? Like in Skyrim do you view Blackreach and Soltitude as both different levels, or all are part of this one big open world design?
Also could you give me an example of open world that you liked its level design? something that reinforce your idea that this world is example of good level design, that design which you can find in level based games.
 
We seem to agree, Do you look at it similarly?, in the sense of open world design vs level design rather than putting both under the same umbrella of level design even if theoretically it may appear so.

Yes, I keep them separate in my mind but like I said, there are some examples of open-world games where they implement multiple great levels similar to Dishonored but these are rare cases. Cyberpunk, if it were next-gen only, and had more time to bake would've been the perfect example as there are several missions and interiors in the open world map where you can clearly see the Deus-Ex level design inspiration.
 

Mozzarella

Member
Yes, I keep them separate in my mind but like I said, there are some examples of open-world games where they implement multiple great levels similar to Dishonored but these are rare cases. Cyberpunk, if it were next-gen only, and had more time to bake would've been the perfect example as there are several missions and interiors in the open world map where you can clearly see the Deus-Ex level design inspiration.
I suppose what you mean by the implement level within open world, is that megabuilding you enter during the side quests, well.. would that be referred to as Mission Design instead? Or am i just being crazy obsessed with definitions and words right now? :messenger_tears_of_joy:
 
I suppose what you mean by the implement level within open world, is that megabuilding you enter during the side quests, well.. would that be referred to as Mission Design instead? Or am i just being crazy obsessed with definitions and words right now? :messenger_tears_of_joy:

Not just that, but some of the side quests take you in these explorable buildings like a club or something that you can obviously access through the roof, or back, vent, etc. and you have the freedom to just take everyone silently or not just like in Deus Ex. It's why I played the entire game as stealthy as possible and non-lethal. The map is filled with these mini-buildings and yes I wanted something bigger, to explore all those apartment complexes and enter apartments and read emails and stuff but alas, most stuff is just unexplorable limited by old-gen hardware. They could've done something similar to Skyrim with the dungeons, have a loading screen when entering a big building and just let me have my immersive sim fun in it.
 
Virtually the only open world game that has compelling level design is Breath of the Wild. You can organically find your way around very easily without a ton of checkpoints. The markers in the distance are all visible in mid and long range. Almost every section of the world has tiny secrets or observations worth looking at, and you're guided there almost entirely organically.

What most people who are critical of Breath of the Wild miss is this element. They say it's just an empty world without much going on. But in reality, I think this is one of the main things that sets the game apart. I think Nintendo staff would continually replay the game regularly and tried to include something interesting in virtually every corner of the world; even if it's just the shape and contours of the rocks near you subconsciously inviting exploration and curiosity.

I'm hopeful that Elden Ring is basically the 2nd game to pull this off.
 

Nikana

Go Go Neo Rangers!
Extremely big topic and nice post OP.

I would classify level design as just as important in a linear or open world game but they accomplish different goals slightly depending on the title. Lumping them into the same thing would be a bit disingenuous for me.

When it comes to open world I need something that has density and not just size. If I can't get "lost" in the world I have a hard time sticking with it. I do not considering being pulled into a linear side quest as getting lost. I need to discover them organically or be compelled to find them. Its an extremely hard thing to do and is why i think a majority of open world games fall flat for the hardcore crowd.

I look at something like Assassins Creed's most recent few games and its size is a bad thing. There is actually some really awesome little side quests baked into the games you can stumble into organically but because its pulling you in so many directions at once with its structure it kills the discoverability. Its an open world game, its right in the name. Not a linear world game.
 

Fredrik

Gold Member
I love open world games. And the best ones have some sort of levels within the open maps. Can be a big city or a dungeon or an island or whatever can be a bit isolated and unique, with specific quests and story.

Skyrim does this perfectly, I spent about 20 hours in or around Falkreath doing all side quests and building the house.
Breath of the Wild have the different regions, completely different from each other.
Metroid Dread have the different areas.
RDR2 have the different cities and camp sites.

What open world games are completely open without any type of regions where classic level designs can be applied?
Maybe Assassin’s Creed? Nah, Odyssey have the islands. Valhalla have the cities.
No Man’s Sky? Maybe. But it has different planets and solar systems.
Maybe Forza Horizon? Hmm, yeah that’s probably without regions. But the festivals have their own unique events.
 
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VN1X

Gold Member
How not to do level design: PUBG (or rather, it has a destinct lack of level design)
How to do level design: Apex Legends

Now you might be a fan of the former or dislike the latter but you can't deny the craft of Apex's level design what with its thoughtful sightlines, structure placement and "bowl"-type arenas for most of the locations. Contrast that with something like PUBG where it feels like there's no flow to any of the maps and they've just let AI handle the map creations. Sure it's wide and open but all the assets seem like they are placed around randomly. Even something as basic as tree placement is so structured and rigid in PUBG and feels unnatural.

Another example of fantastic level design is Hunt: Showdown where you have these big maps but feature a ton of micro detail and proper flora placement that make it feel authentic while still allowing for bespoke sightlines and game flow (instead of having something like the same tree asset dotted around the place).
 

Danjin44

The nicest person on this forum
Virtually the only open world game that has compelling level design is Breath of the Wild. You can organically find your way around very easily without a ton of checkpoints. The markers in the distance are all visible in mid and long range. Almost every section of the world has tiny secrets or observations worth looking at, and you're guided there almost entirely organically.

What most people who are critical of Breath of the Wild miss is this element. They say it's just an empty world without much going on. But in reality, I think this is one of the main things that sets the game apart. I think Nintendo staff would continually replay the game regularly and tried to include something interesting in virtually every corner of the world; even if it's just the shape and contours of the rocks near you subconsciously inviting exploration and curiosity.

I'm hopeful that Elden Ring is basically the 2nd game to pull this off.
I agree with you and also some might not agree with me but I value my empty space in my open world game where I can just run without any interruption.
 
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bender

What time is it?
I always see people mention loving Just Cause 2 (presumeably over the other titles), I did quite like it but I wasn't really into 100%ing it due to how you travel around with the parachute. Just Cause 3 for me was amazing, felt so good to glide through the valleys in the wingsuit, I loved those wingsuit courses even though some were very challenging just because the actual act of traversing felt great. Like just talking about it makes me want to boot it up again kind of brilliant fun, whereas 2 just didn't do that for me. The physics + wingsuit just made it so superior for me.

Whats the reason you choose JC2 over JC3? I know console performance of 3 was awful so I'm thinking it could be as simple as that for console only players.

Actually, did I miss something later in 2 where you get another traversal method like the wingsuit in 3?

I played JC3 on PS4...at launch...to completion. While it was an abysmal experience, even if it had performed flawlessly, I don't think my opinion would change much. It's been a while since I played it but I remember something feeling off about the mission structure. I also don't think it added enough new to mix the over the previous and I spent so much time in JC2 that the allure of grappling enemies to exploding fuel tanks had probably worn off. My save file for the PS3 in JC2 was something like 99.something% and that mostly involved going to every city/town, destroying everything and collecting every package. I think JC3 was developed by a different team from JC2 and it just felt off (maybe that has to do with the PS4 performance). JC2 didn't have that many missions and there isn't a ton of depth to the systems, but what is there is like an 80s action movie and is just dumb fun. It's lightning in a bottle.

I dont think they are open, Hitman is level based games, you cannot go however you want, its objectively false to say its open world..

I can appreciate the counter and to be considered wrong, but in this case, I'm happy to be wrong. A lot of Hitman's levels are larger than some open worlds. Almost all of Hitman's levels have no linearity to the level design or mission structure. They usually provide a wonderful sense of exploration and discovery and really, that's the most important thing to me in open world games outside of traversal which plays back into those core concepts and layered game play systems that allow the open world to be a sandbox. Hitman's levels aren't large enough for traversal to be an issue. IO just gives you multiple open worlds per game.
 
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NeoIkaruGAF

Gold Member
Virtually the only open world game that has compelling level design is Breath of the Wild. You can organically find your way around very easily without a ton of checkpoints. The markers in the distance are all visible in mid and long range. Almost every section of the world has tiny secrets or observations worth looking at, and you're guided there almost entirely organically.

What most people who are critical of Breath of the Wild miss is this element. They say it's just an empty world without much going on. But in reality, I think this is one of the main things that sets the game apart. I think Nintendo staff would continually replay the game regularly and tried to include something interesting in virtually every corner of the world; even if it's just the shape and contours of the rocks near you subconsciously inviting exploration and curiosity.
The Office Reaction GIF


I was going to say this, but you said it better.

BOTW is the only open-world game where I felt like pretty much every part of the world, down to the smallest detail, is at the service of gameplay and overall design. I don’t think the game could hold my attention for so long otherwise. Even the (few) truly empty spaces in BOTW don’t feel so empty, as there’s always some landmark to entice the player to go towards it. It’s a most impressive example of level design on a vast scale, an achievement that’s often underappreciated.
 

Mozzarella

Member
Virtually the only open world game that has compelling level design is Breath of the Wild. You can organically find your way around very easily without a ton of checkpoints. The markers in the distance are all visible in mid and long range. Almost every section of the world has tiny secrets or observations worth looking at, and you're guided there almost entirely organically.

What most people who are critical of Breath of the Wild miss is this element. They say it's just an empty world without much going on. But in reality, I think this is one of the main things that sets the game apart. I think Nintendo staff would continually replay the game regularly and tried to include something interesting in virtually every corner of the world; even if it's just the shape and contours of the rocks near you subconsciously inviting exploration and curiosity.

I'm hopeful that Elden Ring is basically the 2nd game to pull this off.
Alright, here's my question; in this case you said BoTW had compelling design which i agree with, but how do you differentiate between that design aka open world, and the linear or mission based design like we see in Dishonored.
Or do you simply look at both of them from the same perspective? which means you see BotW open world as one big level contrasted to one of the smaller levels in Dishonored.
So when i give you a task of lets say list me 10 great levels from this generation, you would be willing to list Hyrule-BotW as one on a list that can consist of Raccon Police Station - Resident Evil 2?
Extremely big topic and nice post OP.

I would classify level design as just as important in a linear or open world game but they accomplish different goals slightly depending on the title. Lumping them into the same thing would be a bit disingenuous for me.

When it comes to open world I need something that has density and not just size. If I can't get "lost" in the world I have a hard time sticking with it. I do not considering being pulled into a linear side quest as getting lost. I need to discover them organically or be compelled to find them. Its an extremely hard thing to do and is why i think a majority of open world games fall flat for the hardcore crowd.

I look at something like Assassins Creed's most recent few games and its size is a bad thing. There is actually some really awesome little side quests baked into the games you can stumble into organically but because its pulling you in so many directions at once with its structure it kills the discoverability. Its an open world game, its right in the name. Not a linear world game.
Thank you.
Exactly, that was the confusing part for me, im asking about it here to get a different perspective on this. When i hear the term level design what comes to my mind is a Hitman or Dishonored or Thief or even Souls level. when i hear the term open world design what comes to my mind is how the open world on the whole is structured like for example how some users talked about Breath of the Wild.
I also feel that going through the open world direction limits creativity and uniqueness in terms of level design, but that's just based on my personal experience with the games.
I love open world games. And the best ones have some sort of levels within the open maps. Can be a big city or a dungeon or an island or whatever can be a bit isolated and unique, with specific quests and story.

Skyrim does this perfectly, I spent about 20 hours in or around Falkreath doing all side quests and building the house.
Breath of the Wild have the different regions, completely different from each other.
Metroid Dread have the different areas.
RDR2 have the different cities and camp sites.

What open world games are completely open without any type of regions where classic level designs can be applied?
Maybe Assassin’s Creed? Nah, Odyssey have the islands. Valhalla have the cities.
No Man’s Sky? Maybe. But it has different planets and solar systems.
Maybe Forza Horizon? Hmm, yeah that’s probably without regions. But the festivals have their own unique events.
Another point to look for is that i guess, different sections scattered in the open world, to be treated as levels, which is actually possible.
I wouldn't say Dread is open world though, its more in lines with Prey, an interconnected world split into different areas that are distinct giving it levels within one big interconnected world, which is not technically an open world.
How not to do level design: PUBG (or rather, it has a destinct lack of level design)
How to do level design: Apex Legends

Now you might be a fan of the former or dislike the latter but you can't deny the craft of Apex's level design what with its thoughtful sightlines, structure placement and "bowl"-type arenas for most of the locations. Contrast that with something like PUBG where it feels like there's no flow to any of the maps and they've just let AI handle the map creations. Sure it's wide and open but all the assets seem like they are placed around randomly. Even something as basic as tree placement is so structured and rigid in PUBG and feels unnatural.

Another example of fantastic level design is Hunt: Showdown where you have these big maps but feature a ton of micro detail and proper flora placement that make it feel authentic while still allowing for bespoke sightlines and game flow (instead of having something like the same tree asset dotted around the place).
Does PUBG have level design? isn't it one big level for battle royale? what could you give as example from a single player?
Also for example it could be a game like Overwatch, which features different maps as levels, but since its multiplayer i think it will be different on how you look at it and balance it.
I can appreciate the counter and to be considered wrong, but in this case, I'm happy to be wrong. A lot of Hitman's levels are larger than some open worlds. Almost all of Hitman's levels have no linearity to the level design or mission structure. They usually provide a wonderful sense of exploration and discovery and really, that's the most important thing to me in open world games outside of traversal which plays back into those core concepts and layered game play systems that allow the open world to be a sandbox. Hitman's levels aren't large enough for traversal to be an issue. IO just gives you multiple open worlds per game.
Ofcoruse, they are non-linear, a good level imo is nonlinear. The idea of open world though is that once you exist the tutorial area, you are free to roam on how you want in this map, going in any direction and exploring, kinda like GTA, they give you the world and say go play how you want and make all your progress in this area that is all shares common design. But in Level based games like Hitman you will be taken to a different area each time, you are free to progress through it just like in an open world on a smaller scale but when you finish you move on to the next area hence me calling it level based. The term open world i personally dont find it fitting to use in such case. But now you may ask me how is Prey a level based game on my OP, it simply gives you one interconnected world but you progress through it on level based way, you go from Level A to B to C to D ...etc etc its all interconnect but each one has its own area, you will be allowed to play through it how you want, endgame though it becomes open, just like Soulsborne and Sekiro but in a level based sense, like areas. What i mean is that its easy to distinguish those levels, but once we go back to open world game like GTA, its not like that, its just one big open ended city but has no levels technically, thats the point im trying to talk about. I think its basically terms, like Open-Ended level vs Open World map. Hitman would be on the former rather than the later.
Sorry for the mess and the confusion though, lol 😬
 
Alright, here's my question; in this case you said BoTW had compelling design which i agree with, but how do you differentiate between that design aka open world, and the linear or mission based design like we see in Dishonored.
Or do you simply look at both of them from the same perspective? which means you see BotW open world as one big level contrasted to one of the smaller levels in Dishonored.
So when i give you a task of lets say list me 10 great levels from this generation, you would be willing to list Hyrule-BotW as one on a list that can consist of Raccon Police Station - Resident Evil 2?
The open world is it's own thing. I still view it as a hub that connects more focused individual levels (like the divine beast dungeons). There's really only so much you can do with an open world hub. It's going to be more limited in terms of how intricate the design is. The only exception being Skyward Sword which basically turned the overworld into individual levels with that level of intricacy.

I'd put open world / hub sections in a different category.
 

Mozzarella

Member
The open world is it's own thing. I still view it as a hub that connects more focused individual levels (like the divine beast dungeons). There's really only so much you can do with an open world hub. It's going to be more limited in terms of how intricate the design is. The only exception being Skyward Sword which basically turned the overworld into individual levels with that level of intricacy.

I'd put open world / hub sections in a different category.
Actually you reminded me of that, thanks.
Yeah, the divine beast is a great example of this point you make, which comes as open world area that contains levels inside it, like Blackreach in Skyrim, Isle of Mists in Witcher 3, Deadly Money DLC in New Vegas, Divine Beast in Zelda and such examples.
So i guess thats a great point for me to consider. 👍
 

Nikana

Go Go Neo Rangers!
Thank you.
Exactly, that was the confusing part for me, im asking about it here to get a different perspective on this. When i hear the term level design what comes to my mind is a Hitman or Dishonored or Thief or even Souls level. when i hear the term open world design what comes to my mind is how the open world on the whole is structured like for example how some users talked about Breath of the Wild.
I also feel that going through the open world direction limits creativity and uniqueness in terms of level design, but that's just based on my personal experience with the games.

The very nature of a game being open world I think will put a different design doc in front of the developer but it also really depends on the game. I think many open world games get lost/stuck/whatever at simply having to fill an open world with stuff to do rather than designing the world. I look at a lot of Ubisoft games where they have these worlds that are very distinct from game to game. But I couldn't tell you a single thing about them and how they played into the game play. None of the game play feels like it was centered around the world.

I think of something like Doom Eternal or Doom 2016. That game is made with game play first in mind. EVerything about the level design, which is very linear, is created to push the player to use mechanics they have created. Could it work in an open world? Sure, but I have a hard time picturing anything about the world playing into the design of the mechanics that were created for them.

Nailing both the world and the game play I think is going to be extremely rare. As much as I don't like BOTW, I totally understand why some people do. The systems feel like they were created in conjunction with the world and the co exist rather than Nintendo trying to make Ocarina of Time but in an open world.
 

Majukun

Member
botw definitely had some fine level design, both on the macro level (the whole peak and valleys and hw to always gibve to the player some new place to aim at) and on the micro one (some parts of the open world are basically small old zeldas environments stuck into a bigger world)

generally speaking i'm more lenient with open world games design because most of the times exploiting stuff to bypass it just gives birth to great moments of emergent gameplay and ingenuity
 

Roxkis_ii

Gold Member
I don't think I would classify open world level design the same as non open world games.

Most non open world game can kinda set up set pieces, because they devs know your going to get to this place, at that this time of the game, and you should should have this equipment, etc.

The same can be done with open world games, but the maps don't seem as finely crafted for certain experiences.

I personally like the level designs in metrovainas. As far as my favorites, off the top of my head, Souls games and Control sticks out. Maybe I'm just a fan of the anesthetic, but I was interesting see the map warpped by the current events, then slowly be corrected as you finished an area allowing you access to new areas in the process.

My knowledge of level design is real basic. I just play the games and enjoy them, but I can always admire good craftsmanship.
 
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Markio128

Gold Member
In my experience, all the top open world games have had their pluses, but only a few of them have compelled me enough to play until the end. Skyrim, BOTW, Horizon ZD, GTAV, The Witcher 3; all very different open world games. It wasn’t the level design as such that kept me hooked to those games, but a sense of adventure and mystery; not knowing what you were going to find around the next corner - the panic of seeing a new machine in Horizon, the sense of accomplishment in working out an environmental puzzle in BOTW, the chaos that can come out of nothing in GTAV, the brilliant sense of place and freedom of choice in Skyrim and the fantastic story and characters of The Witcher 3. Even the Spider-man games are great open-world games because they pack in a lot of fun and don’t outstay their welcome.
 
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Notabueno

Banned
Eventually, the only and main challenge of open-world is to have the same level of detail and intricacies as "linear" levels, and the other way around for "linear" level to have the same degree of freedom and happening as open-world (I mean that is if you only consider BoTW and RDR2)
 

Mozzarella

Member
I don't think I would classify open world level design the same as non open world games.

Most non open world game can kinda set up set pieces, because they devs know your going to get to this place, at that this time of the game, and you should should have this equipment, etc.

The same can be done with open world games, but the maps don't seem as finely crafted for certain experiences.

I personally like the level designs in metrovainas. As far as my favorites, off the top of my head, Souls games and Control sticks out. Maybe I'm just a fan of the anesthetic, but I was interesting see the map warpped by the current events, then slowly be corrected as you finished an area allowing you access to new areas in the process.

My knowledge of level design is real basic. I just play the games and enjoy them, but I can always admire good craftsmanship.
Yes, have you tried Immersive sims? they usually have great levels within them.
I think im coming to the conclusion that Open World itself has a level design in how they lay out the different points for you like shrines, dungeons and such locations or probably on the macro level for exploration. But personally i will still go for my personal two terms to avoid confusion, like Level Design for level-based games and Open World design for open world games, just to make it clear for myself that i look at them in a similar yet different perspective like i illustrated above.
 
I liked Days Gone’s open world level design because it looked hand crafted and different everywhere. I didn’t have to look at a map to know exactly where I am. I could pretty much navigate based on visual cues. Most open world games seem to be AI generated so a lot of stuff just looks the same with no character.
 
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brian0057

Member
Hub worlds/Levels > Open worlds.

Small levels and hub worlds have one advantage that makes them superior in my book: depth.
A hub world the size of a couple city blocks can have insane levels of detail, make almost everything in it interactible, every NPC can be unique, missions can have a million solutions, and the amount of freedom the player has is insane.

In other words, go play Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
 
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