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Make Your Own Video Game: Selecting a Style of Gameplay

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While video games may have first appeared on the scene in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s before they really became an important part of mainstream culture. A lot has changed since then. Just in the past decade alone games have improved tremendously, offering more complexity, speed and highly sophisticated graphics.

Yet, even with all of the changes that have taken place, many video games still follow many of the same design strategies and principles that originated in the early days of gaming. So if you’re interested in making your own video game now or in the near future, here’s a brief background on a few of the most popular styles of gameplay, and our picks on what environments work best for each.

Linear Gameplay

Linear gameplay is designed with a shared beginning, final destination or objective, and checkpoints in between regardless of who is playing the video game. Sure, there might be loose departures here and there, but each mission, and the game itself, is built solely for drawing gamers down a defined path to an end goal. Shooters, and action games tend to find their way into this gameplay category.

The reason for linear gameplay is usually immersive storytelling, or at the very least, non-stop action. Though nonlinear games present highly immersive stories, they often don’t bring the dynamism and energy of a Hollywood blockbuster to your living room. By funneling your character from one area to the next, linear-style games ask you to do a specific task, like fighting your way through a cluster of armed criminals, wounding their leader so he can be interrogated, and moving on to the next mission or set of objectives.

What types of environments work best for linear gameplay? Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Airports
  • Amusement parks
  • Housing complexes
  • Prisons
  • Research labs
  • Underground passageways or above-ground alleyways

Nonlinear Gameplay

If you’ve ever played an RPG (role-playing video game), you’ve already been exposed to a largely nonlinear style of gameplay. Last year, one of the most popular RPGs on the planet was released in Fallout 4, giving players an opportunity to experience a wide set of linear objectives that can be approached in a very nonlinear method.

The story in nonlinear games are just as important as those found in linear-style video games, but they’re tackled at a gamer’s leisure, rather than dangling the proverbial carrot down a clear-cut route. This gives gamers the option of leveling up their character before continuing with the storyline, as well as departing from the slightly linear aspects of their nonlinear environment – and many times adding several, if not dozens, of hours to their gameplay.

Our choices for the best environments suited for nonlinear gameplay:

  • Alien planets
  • Apocalyptic environments
  • Fantasy and dream worlds
  • Islands

Open-World or Sandbox Gameplay

Open-world and sandbox games are similar to nonlinear games in many ways, yet they offer gamers a vastly larger nonlinear experience by putting less emphasis on structure and stressing the game’s free-roaming aspects. MMORPGs fall into this category, differentiating themselves from RPGs by offering interactions with thousands (and sometimes millions) of players around the world, countless landscapes and/or planets, and a focus on “grinding”, where a player does repetitive tasks to progress their character or obtain new and improved items.

Really, the only thing stopping open-world gameplay from being infinite in its capabilities are technical limitations, though this hasn’t stopped many of the top design outfits from making video games that involve well over 1,000 hours to complete – and some that are never really complete at all. This is particularly true in open-world games, which consistently offer expansions to maintain their fan-base and entice new users.

Many of the same environments work as well here as they do for nonlinear games, but here are a couple of great ideas to explore for your open-world or sandbox video game:

  • Earth in the future or highly-evolved planets
  • Simulated city environments
  • Sandbox games like Minecraft

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