Level design in video games fall into one of two camps, either linear experiences or randomized levels. I’ve seen both good and bad examples of both; while they both have advantages they also have major disadvantages as well.
With linear levels, the designers can craft unique tight challenges balancing difficulty with periods of rest, a well crafted level can be a thing of beauty. However the charm only lasts the first time you encounter the level, on repeat visits you know all the tricks and the excitement is gone. Random levels keep the player guessing as the geometry of the game space is different each time, unfortunately this removes the tight level design of linear titles.
Also I’ve yet to see a random level generator deal with the issue of huge areas with absolutely nothing going on. I had a thought just now about a way to combine these two opposing elements to allow an interesting take on level design.
Before I give my idea I would like to mention one that has already met halfway in some regard between these two. The director of Left 4 Dead adds randomness to a linear world, while still keeping the tight game play. The game space of each map is purely linear, with crescendo events and end points, however where enemies will come from and what items the player will find is randomize with each start.
This keeps the player on their toes as periods of challenge and rest are different each time. However the director is working on linear maps; no matter how random it is set up to be there is a limit to the number of different elements when dealing with a set constraint. Now here is my idea for creating randomize linear levels.
A level in a video game can be split into sections either by changes to the environment (Move from a gas station to a warehouse) or by explicit changes to the game play (chase section, followed by puzzle, followed by boss fight), now what if instead of just randomizing item and enemy placement we randomize the sections themselves? Let’s take a normal city that is destroyed for example, the player will need to get from their house to city hall in the middle. The player must follow a linear path; however that linear path will change each time.
For example on one play through the player finds themselves near a supermarket which is demolished to the point that they can’t get through it, so instead they cut through the back alley. Now on another play through the super market is fine and the back alley is now collapsed, do you see what I’m getting at. The game would still have the tight linear design yet randomized to keep the experience fresh.
However I can see the major flaw in my plan, one complete level in a game would have to be built several times larger then in other games to accommodate the different randomized sections. Which would increase development time of the game, but I think it could be worth it.
The actual size of the level would not change, if the level takes about 15 minutes on one play through then that should be the same regardless of any changes. I could see this working for games that are built on replay ability over huge 30+ hour games.