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In video games, a level (also known by many other names) is a discrete subdivision of a video game's virtual world or set of challenges.

Each level almost always has an associated objective, which may be as simple as walking from point A to point B, though the objective can be far more elaborate than that. When the objective is completed, the player usually moves on to the next level; if it is failed, the player must usually try again. Not all games order the levels in a linear sequence; some games allow the player to revisit levels or complete them in any order, sometimes with an overworld in which the player can transition from one level to another. An example of this is The Legend of Zelda.



Programming constraints such as a limit on memory with which to store graphics and sound necessitated that games be split into levels—or from another point of view, using levels allowed a great deal of variety in the game despite hardware limitations. Variety in a game's environment could not have been achieved at the time without a level system, since the hardware could not hold multiple sets of game data at the same time.

Some modern games have attempted to gain the benefits of a level system while giving the impression that the games are continuous—i.e., one long game rather than levels. In these games, data required for an upcoming level is loaded into memory in the background as the player approaches it, a process known as prefetching.

A practical advantage is that levels divide the game into manageable sections, giving players a chance to rest at periodic intervals.

Common gameplay

Levels contain challenges and obstacles that are laid out in a 2D or 3D space using shapes and elevations. The termination conditions for a level vary, including a victory condition, a loss condition, or both. Throughout the level may be various resources, including weapons or powerups, depending on the video game genre. Levels sometimes include secret areas or locations that trigger certain events. Although some games allow players to save at any time, some levels include specific save points and checkpoints where the player can restart from should they fail. Common challenges come from non-player characters, and in many video games these characters engage the player in combat.[1]

Levels are sometimes designed with jumping puzzles, a form of obstacle course.[2] Players must judge the distance between platforms or ledges and safely jump between them to reach the next area.[3] These puzzles can slow the momentum down for players of fast action games;[4] the first Half-Life's penultimate chapter, "Interloper", featured multiple moving platforms high in the air with enemies firing at the player from all sides.[5]


The term "level" is derived from early role-playing games, where it referred to levels of a dungeon—the setting most such games were played in. Players would begin at the bottom (level 1), and proceed through increasingly numbered levels (of increasing difficulty) until they reached their freedom at the top, or they would start at the top (which would also be level 1), and proceed through increasingly numbered (and difficult) levels until they reached the treasure at the bottom.

As games became more varied and specialized, terminology has arisen in level design as shorthand to describe a specific type of level that are often seen in certain genres or accommodate to specific game designs.

Term Description
Act/chapter Levels that, along with most of the rest of the game design, are built and designed to specifically accommodate and sync with an existing story or narrative provided by a writer (as opposed to constructing a level for more traditional means such as for setting or gameplay).
Area An area is used to define a level that, literally, physically coexists amongst multiple levels, in that the player can progress from one "level" to the other simply by using the game's physics. Despite coexisting spatially, each area presents its own themes, rewards and challenges. Access to areas is often designed to require learning and progression gained from other areas. An area that serves as the only direct access to all other areas is known as a "hub".
Board An archaic term used in first and second generation games to represent any type of changing stage that cannot be classified as a wave or round. Used in modern times to represent levels in board game-structured games or puzzle games where all levels share a common basic geometry, such as The Adventures of Lolo or Umihara Kawase.
Dungeon/overworld A subset of "area/map" terminology which is commonly used to describe stock "hub-to-areas" level design; in this case the "overworld" functioning as a hub to the "dungeons". The overworld is often designed to resemble a true landscape, replete with civilization, economy, and expansive terrain design. The player can access dungeons from the overworld, which are areas that more directly challenge the player's abilities, usually using enemies, exploration, and puzzles. This design format is commonly seen in RPGs and action/adventure games, where they originated; they have become so prevalent a concept that the terms are used even when a medieval fantasy element is not present. The overworld is also known as a "world map".
Episode Used in game publishing to describe a series of levels that are sold as an extra add-on to a game already established in the marketplace. Also commonly referred to as a "mission pack".
Map Used to describe arenas in competitive multiplayer games in which the gameplay is heavily dependent on terrain design (such as real-time strategy games and multiplayer first-person shooters). This term is also often carried over into single-player games, also to describe levels with a high degree or scope in terrain design, or simply as the sum of all the game's areas.
Mission Often used to describe a "level" in objective-based gameplay, in where the majority of the action takes place all within one area or scenario, and the player's ultimate goal is to simply complete all the objectives central to core progression. This term is sometimes supplanted simply with the term "objective". Occasionally, a synonym for quest, in modern-day or futuristic MMOs.[6]
Round Usually refers to a particular game design in where the overall challenge must be overcome across more than one (up to infinity) identical or near-identical attempts. The core challenge and rules remain the same, and changes to gameplay across rounds is limited to an increase in stakes and/or to difficulty. Typically seen in fighting games (i.e "rounds" during a martial arts match), this concept is also often seen in puzzle games, party games, and titles that are driven by mini-games. They can also be localized into specific gameplay such as a boss encounter that is broken into rounds.
Stage Similar to wave and round, a designation for sequential levels: first stage, second stage, etc.
Track The environment that a race occurs on.
Wave A level purely defined by overcoming a number of enemies. The core gameplay is simply defeating or surviving the foes present, with little-to-no gameplay elements that would otherwise diminish it (such as exploration).
World A series of levels all revolving or subsisting on the same theme, elements or concepts. Worlds allow a designer to propagate specific gameplay themes across several levels without having to create a level that is too large and unwieldy. For example, several levels containing lava and flame hazards that are all part of a "fire world".
Zone Especially in MMOs, an area, map, or dungeon, the verb 'zoning' is used to describe the passage from one zone to another.[6]

Game designers often use other terms to suit the game's theme, such as "book", "camp", "floor", "land", "phase", "room", etc. Designers may also avoid actually using level terminology at all, instead referring to each level only by its title or location (town, city, country, etc), usually to maintain a sense of immersion.

Level design

A person who creates levels for a game is a level designer or mapper, the latter most often used when talking about first-person shooters where levels are more often referred to as maps. The computer programs used for creating levels are called level editors. Sometimes a compiler is also required to convert the source file format to the file format used by the game, particularly for first-person shooters. Designing levels is a complex art that requires consideration for visual appearance, game performance, and gameplay. Creation of levels is an integral part of game modding.

Secret levels

A secret level is a level that is hidden from a player. A secret level is usually accessed by performing actions that a player would normally not perform except through incredible coincidence or prior knowledge (such as jumping on a block seven times and then punching the air). In many cases, secret levels are accessed by locating a hidden goal in another level (which is sometimes a secret level in its own right). Other times, a secret level is accessed by performing exceptionally well (such as in Super Smash Bros.), or by performing an exceptionally large task (such as in Sonic Adventure 2). Sometimes, a level can be accessed simply by watching the credits (such as in Call of Duty 4) or completing the game. See also: easter egg.

See also




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