First up, a disclaimer, This won’t be bashing up on Notch, and I know this topic and tweet is old and crusty, but it still provides a jumping off point for today’s topic: linearity.
Waaaaay back in April last year, Notch tweeted (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Making your game linear is artistic suicide.” Now, there are a lot of ways you could interpret it, but for my purposes here, I’ll say that he doesn’t like linearity and that it destroys any artistic value the game had. Notch, I think you’re a cool guy, but perhaps you should think before you tweet, not only for you, but for you to not dupe budding game designers into thinking in your ways. Linearity is not “artistic suicide”.
Linearity can actually be pretty awesome, if used in the right way. Any way you make your game, any way it plays, can be awesome if made with the right intentions and with care. Linearity is no exception. Let’s look at Half-Life 2, quite a linear game.
Half-Life 2, for the most part, is a giant line that you follow throughout the entire game. You go from one encounter to the other, with some filler in between The way you approach combat is very diverse, and can be taken from multiple angles. That’s where HL2 shines. The game is still pretty linear though, but the game is also one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, and not because of the name. Because it was beautifully designed. Every combat encounter had enemies placed in fair and interesting locations, the game never felt stale or boring, and it made you feel like the biggest badass in the world, due in part to the dialogue. It was a fun game, and had plenty of artistic merit. And it was linear.
So, the conclusion can be made, linearity does not necessarily equate to bad. And the same could be said with non-linearity, like in a sandbox. GTA and the Just Cause series are among the most fun games I’ve ever played. So, neither linear or non-linear games are bad, and not one is better than the other.
Of course, they can be bad, as with any game. HL2 could have been a terrible sequel, had it not been for the nothing-but-the-best attitude from Valve. Amnesia: The Dark Descent could have been a shoddy horror game had it been designed poorly. The point is, any game, any idea, any mechanic is never inherently bad, and with the right dedication and work, anything can be crafted into an amazing experience. If you are in the preliminary phases of making a game, and it gets playtested with the result of, “it sucks”, it’s not because the idea is bad, it’s because the execution is bad.
Just because your game may fall into a label doesn’t dismiss it from being a great title. Your game could be a shooting gallery, and it could still be a game worth buying. If you make a good game, it will get noticed, no matter what it is. So go out there, make the game you want to make, but don’t exclude ideas because you think people won’t like them.