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Level (video gaming)

Level (video gaming)

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A level, map, area, or world in a video game is the total space available to the player during the course of completing a discrete objective. The term "level" can also refer to difficulty level, as in a degree of difficulty.


The use of levels in video games dates back to Namco
is a Japanese corporation best known as a former video game developer and publisher. Following a merger with Bandai in September 2005, the two companies' game production assets were spun off into Namco Bandai Games on March 31, 2006. Namco Ltd. was re-established to continue domestic operation of...

's shoot 'em up
Shoot 'em up
Shoot 'em up is a subgenre of shooter video games. In a shoot 'em up, the player controls a lone character, often in a spacecraft or aircraft, shooting large numbers of enemies while dodging their attacks. The genre in turn encompasses various types or subgenres and critics differ on exactly what...

is an arcade game developed by Namco in 1979. It was published by Namco in Japan and was imported to North America by Midway in 1980. A fixed shooter-style game in which the player controls a spaceship at the bottom of the screen and shoots enemies descending in various directions, it was designed...

, released in 1979 during the golden age of video arcade games. The term level used during this era of arcade video games
Arcade game
An arcade game is a coin-operated entertainment machine, usually installed in public businesses such as restaurants, bars, and amusement arcades. Most arcade games are video games, pinball machines, electro-mechanical games, redemption games, and merchandisers...

 represented a difficulty phase or defined section of a given game, as in Galaga
is a fixed shooter arcade game developed and published by Namco in Japan and published by Midway in North America in 1981. It is the sequel to Galaxian, released in 1979. The gameplay of Galaga puts the player in control of a space ship which is situated on the bottom of the screen...

(stage 2) or Dungeon.

Another early example of the term "level" is from early role-playing game
Role-playing game
A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development...

s, where it referred to level 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 game section or segment that are often seen in certain genres or accommodate to specific game designs.


In games with linear progression, levels are areas of a larger world. Games may also feature interconnected levels, representing locations.

Each level usually has an associated objective, which may be as simple as walking from point A to point B. When the objective is completed, the player
Player (game)
A player of a game is a participant therein. The term 'player' is used with this same meaning both in game theory and in ordinary recreational games....

 usually moves on to the next level. If the player fails, they must usually try the same level again or perhaps return to the very start of the game. In games with multiple human players, the level may simply end once a limit in points or time has been reached. 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
An overworld is, in a broad sense, an area within a video game that interconnects all its levels or locations. They are mostly common in role-playing games, though this does not exclude other video game genres....

 in which the player can transition from one level to another. An example of this is The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda, originally released as in Japan, is a video game developed and published by Nintendo, and designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka. Set in the fantasy land of Hyrule, the plot centers on a boy named Link, the playable protagonist, who aims to collect the eight fragments...


Programming constraints such as a limit on memory with which to store graphics
Computer graphics
Computer graphics are graphics created using computers and, more generally, the representation and manipulation of image data by a computer with help from specialized software and hardware....

 and sound
Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard, or the sensation stimulated in organs of hearing by such vibrations.-Propagation of...

 necessitated that games be split into levels if they were to offer a great deal of variety in the game. 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
Prefetch input queue
Fetching the instruction opcodes from program memory well in advance is known as prefetching and it is served by using prefetch input queue .The pre-fetched instructions are stored in data structure Queue. The fetching of opcodes well in advance, prior to their need for execution increases the...


A practical advantage is that levels divide the game into manageable sections, giving players a chance to rest at periodic intervals. Games can be automatically saved at these points and the gaps can help build suspense.

Levels are usually laid out as a continuous 2D or 3D space, but in games such as Super Mario
Super Mario Bros. 3
, also referred to as Super Mario 3 and SMB3, is a platform video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System , and is the third game in the Super Mario series. The game was released in Japan in 1988, in the United States in 1990, and in Europe in 1991...

, the spaces may be separate, with some form of teleportation in between. The space may have varying elevation and physical obstacles. The level will usually feature entities (usually characters) that commence some sort of procedure after being triggered by the player standing in a particular area or perhaps interacting with an object in the level.

Although the challenge in a game is often to defeat some sort of character, levels are sometimes designed with a movement challenge, such as a jumping puzzle, a form of obstacle course
Obstacle course
An obstacle course is a series of challenging physical obstacles an individual or team must navigate usually while being timed. Obstacle courses can include running, climbing, jumping, crawling, swimming, and balancing elements with the aim of testing speed and endurance. Sometimes a course...

. Players must judge the distance between platforms or ledges and safely jump between them to reach the next area. These puzzles can slow the momentum down for players of fast action game
Action game
Action game is a video game genre that emphasizes physical challenges, including hand–eye coordination and reaction-time. The genre includes diverse subgenres such as fighting games, shooter games, and platform games, which are widely considered the most important action games, though some...

s; the first Half-Lifes penultimate chapter, "Interloper", featured multiple moving platforms high in the air with enemies firing at the player from all sides.


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
Board game
A board game is a game which involves counters or pieces being moved on a pre-marked surface or "board", according to a set of rules. Games may be based on pure strategy, chance or a mixture of the two, and usually have a goal which a player aims to achieve...

-structured games or puzzle games where all levels share a common basic geometry, such as The Adventures of Lolo
The Adventures of Lolo
Adventures of Lolo is a puzzle game released in 1989 by HAL Corporation for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is based on the Japanese Eggerland video game series...

 or Umihara Kawase
Umihara Kawase
is a series of platform games, starring a nineteen year old Japanese school girl of the same name, who has somehow become lost in a world of mutated salt-water and fresh-water creatures...

An overworld is, in a broad sense, an area within a video game that interconnects all its levels or locations. They are mostly common in role-playing games, though this does not exclude other video game genres....

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
Dungeon crawl
A dungeon crawl is a type of scenario in fantasy role-playing games in which heroes navigate a labyrinthine environment, battling various monsters, and looting any treasure they may find...

 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".
An episode is a part of a dramatic work such as a serial television or radio program. An episode is a part of a sequence of a body of work, akin to a chapter of a book. The term sometimes applies to works based on other forms of mass media as well, as in Star Wars...

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
Real-time strategy
Real-time strategy is a sub-genre of strategy video game which does not progress incrementally in turns. Brett Sperry is credited with coining the term to market Dune II....

 games and multiplayer first-person shooter
First-person shooter
First-person shooter is a video game genre that centers the gameplay on gun and projectile weapon-based combat through first-person perspective; i.e., the player experiences the action through the eyes of a protagonist. Generally speaking, the first-person shooter shares common traits with other...

s). 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
Quest (gaming)
A quest in role-playing video games — including massively multiplayer online role-playing games and their predecessors, MUDs — is a task that a player-controlled character or group of characters may complete in order to gain a reward...

, in modern-day or futuristic MMOs.
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.
Race track
A race track is a purpose-built facility for racing of animals , automobiles, motorcycles or athletes. A race track may also feature grandstands or concourses. Some motorsport tracks are called speedways.A racetrack is a permanent facility or building...

The environment that a race occurs on.
In physics, a wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, accompanied by the transfer of energy.Waves travel and the wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, often with no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass...

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.

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.

Choke point is a small area that controls transition between levels.

Focus node is a location of a shared resource, increasing player interaction.

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 shooter
First-person shooter
First-person shooter is a video game genre that centers the gameplay on gun and projectile weapon-based combat through first-person perspective; i.e., the player experiences the action through the eyes of a protagonist. Generally speaking, the first-person shooter shares common traits with other...

s where levels are normally referred to as maps. The computer program
Computer program
A computer program is a sequence of instructions written to perform a specified task with a computer. A computer requires programs to function, typically executing the program's instructions in a central processor. The program has an executable form that the computer can use directly to execute...

s used for creating levels are called level editor
Level editor
A level editor is a software tool used to design levels, maps, campaigns, etc and virtual worlds for a video game. In some cases the creator of a video game releases an official level editor for a game, but other times the community of fans step in to fill the void...

s. Sometimes a compiler
A compiler is a computer program that transforms source code written in a programming language into another computer language...

 is also required to convert the source file format
File format
A file format is a particular way that information is encoded for storage in a computer file.Since a disk drive, or indeed any computer storage, can store only bits, the computer must have some way of converting information to 0s and 1s and vice-versa. There are different kinds of formats for...

 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
Mod (computer gaming)
Mod or modification is a term generally applied to personal computer games , especially first-person shooters, role-playing games and real-time strategy games. Mods are made by the general public or a developer, and can be entirely new games in themselves, but mods are not standalone software and...


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 or location in another level. Other times, a secret level is accessed by performing exceptionally well (such as in Super Smash Bros.
Super Smash Bros.
Super Smash Bros., known in Japan as , is a fighting game developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64. It was released in Japan on January 21, 1999, in North America on April 26, 1999, and in Europe on November 19, 1999. Super Smash Bros. is the first game in the Super...

), or by performing an exceptionally large task (such as in Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Adventure 2 is a platform game developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega for the Dreamcast video game console. It was released in North America on June 19, 2001 and in Japan on June 23, 2001 to mark the 10th anniversary of the release of the first Sonic the Hedgehog game. It is the sequel...

). 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
Easter egg (media)
Image:Carl Oswald Rostosky - Zwei Kaninchen und ein Igel 1861.jpg|250px|thumb|right|Example of Easter egg hidden within imagerect 467 383 539 434 desc none...


Bonus stage

A bonus stage (also known as a bonus level or bonus round) is a special level designed to reward the player or players, and typically allows the player to collect extra points or power-up
In computer and video games, power-ups are objects that instantly benefit or add extra abilities to the game character as a game mechanic. This is in contrast to an item, which may or may not have a benefit and can be used at a time chosen by the player...

s. Often a bonus stage will have no enemies or hazards, or may contain them but player character is invulnerable to attack from them and cannot be harmed. Some games have bonus stages where the player character can be harmed by enemies or hazards, but will not lose health or lives if killed, instead the stage just ends and play continues with the next regular stage. Many bonus stages need to be activated or discovered in some manner, or certain conditions must be satisfied to access them, also making them secret levels. Sometimes bonus stages are not secret but compulsory and must be played, often after comleting regular stages. In some games, bonus stages have an interface and game paradigm that is completely different and disconnected from the rest of the game, as in the slot machine
Slot machine
A slot machine , informally fruit machine , the slots , poker machine or "pokies" or simply slot is a casino gambling machine with three or more reels which spin when a button is pushed...

 bonus stage of Super Mario Brothers 2. Other bonus stages use the same gaming paradigm as the rest of the game, as in the car smashing bonus stage of Street Fighter II
Street Fighter II
is a competitive fighting game originally released for the arcades in . It is the arcade sequel to the original Street Fighter released in and was Capcom's fourteenth title that ran on the CP System arcade hardware...

or the bonus stages in Super Monkey Ball
Super Monkey Ball
Super Monkey Ball is an arcade platform game developed by Amusement Vision and published by Sega. The game debuted in Japan in 2000 as an upright arcade cabinet called Monkey Ball and was released the following year as one of the launch titles for the Nintendo GameCube.-Modes:Super Monkey Ball...

where you collect bananas to earns extra points and lives. In the Bomberman
Bomberman is a strategic, maze-based computer and video game franchise originally developed by Hudson Soft. The original game was published in 1983 and new games in the series are still being published to this day. Today, the commercially successful Bomberman is featured in over 70 different games...

series, they also have enemies in bonus stages with the goal being to defeat as many enemies as you can to earn items and power-ups. In addition, the player won't lose a life from touching the enemy or being caught in a bomb blast during the bonus stage. Many games feature bonus stages somewhere between the two extremes.