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Level (computer and video games)
In computer and video games, a level (sometimes called a stage, course, map or landscape) is a separate area in a game's virtual world, in modern games typically representing a specific location such as a building or a city. In very early games, levels were simply "levels of difficulty", but since areas with few exceptions are ordered by increasing difficulty within a game, levels were directly associated with areas, and the word was quickly adopted for referring to areas.
Each level has an associated mission which may be as simple as walking from point A to point B or as complex as finding several hidden items in a limited time. When the mission 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 re-visit levels or choose in which order to complete them.
The use of levels
There are a number of reasons for the concept of the 'level' in video game design. Many early games used it to extend the length of a simple (and short) game by allowing a victorious player to play again on a higher difficulty setting (such as tougher opponents), a different game setting (such as a different maze layout), or both. In this manner, the game could last much longer and be more interesting without changing the basic gameplay style.
Even as games became more advanced, programming constraints such as a limit on primary memory with which to store graphics and sound still necessitated many games being split into levels - or from another point of view, using levels allowed a great deal of variety in the game despite hardware limitations. A platform game might have the protagonist fighting against skeletons in Hades for its first level, but upon its completion the game can pause for an interlude while it removes this data from memory and loads in the Greek soldiers he will be fighting in the next level. This could not have been done at the time without a level system, since the hardware could not hold both sets of game data at the same time nor display enough colors at one time to 'draw' the sprites and background.
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.
Dividing a game into levels has other advantages. One advantage is that non-stop action can overwhelm a player if the game does not afford the player points where he may rest, and levels break the game up into manageable sections which allow for this. Another advantage is that while a player can usually only complete a game once, they can still achieve a degree of satisfaction each time they successfully complete a level. Games which do not have levels in the strictest sense usually have some other satisfying objective which can be achieved more than once, such as completing a line in Tetris or conquering provinces in Rome: Total War.
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.
Levels in roleplaying games
In many role-playing games, levels are numbers that represent a character's overall skill and experience. To level or level up means to gain a level.
This kind of level (sometimes referred to as a character level) should not be confused with the term 'level' meaning a discrete section of a videogame. RPGs typically do not have levels, although they often have towns, wilderness areas and dungeons which might be considered similar to levels. Gaining levels in an RPG is generally secondary to completing the game's objectives and something which happens naturally as a result of the challenges overcome on the way to completing the objectives, although some players enjoy levelling up characters for its own sake, especially in MMORPGs (this is known as powerlevelling).
See also: experience point.
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