Learning – Non-Linear Single Player Level Design

This talk shows some high-level principles of non-linear level design. He mainly discussed the single-player level. However, in my point of view, some principles may also apply on the multiplayer level.


Define Radically Nonlinear Levels

Linear Levels start with making paths

Non-Linear Sandbox Levels start with an area of movable space and place walls to block the player

  •         Encourage unpredictable player movement and exploration of the space

Some examples: (Single player Non-Linear Sandbox & Multiplayer Arena)

        There should be some same features in those maps, but what?

  •                 Encourage unpredictable player movement and exploration of the space

Ms. Pac-Man Level Analysis

  • Not too big or too small
    • Easy to understand
      • Complex enough to be interesting
      • Transparent enough to be predictable
    • No exit
      • Have an exit but players often ignore it until other objectives are met
      • Even a starting point is unimportant
    • Dynamic pacing
      • As a trade-off for being unable to pace the linear storytelling

Non-Linear Sandbox vs Open world

        Didn’t have nearly infinite challenges and objectives

Non-Linear Sandbox vs Multiplayer Competitive Maps with bots

Really Similar Expect

This talk by Doom’s studio indicated that some part of the level with loop core gameplay and 360-degree fighting really feels like multiplayer levels.


MDA for Non-Linear Sandbox


8:00 of this talk: https://youtu.be/CTBor4rhnQs

Basics of how to build them

Layout First

Four Examples

Symmetrical Layout

Concentric Layout

Node Layout

Field Layout


  • No matter what kind of layout, avoid boring.
  • Use gameplay systems for the layout rather than building it into the map.
    • Gameplay first, level layout second
    • Make the gameplay echo the level layout

Find a gameplay concept – Make the gameplay echo the level layout

Example in Brigador. The center point is a trap. If players go there, enemies on the edge of the map will move to the center and attack. Players can choose to clear the enemies first when moving around the whole map. Or they can also just go the centre and defense.

How to fix issues that come up

Learn how to guide the new player on a non-linear level:


Non-Linear Level Examples


“Non-linear level design is a complicated topic. And because these maps integrate so closely into the gameplay, there are a bit slippery to nail down. But I think they really are a distinct and interesting style of map with their own history and design trends.”


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