Techniques for Implementing Multiple Routes

In Brief

  • Multiple routes can hinder navigation
    • This isn’t an issue in 2D games, as the player can usually find the goal by moving forwards.
    • In 3D games, however, it can be difficult to know which direction forwards is.
  • Modern games have used narrow paths to assist navigation
    • This, however, negates most of the benefits of multiple routes
  • Sonic R contains a number of techniques for assisting navigation without sacrificing the benefits of multiple routes
  • These include the use of different themes, varying heights, hidden routes and navigation markers

Problems with multiple routes

One of the drawbacks of multiple routes is that it can become easy for the player to become lost. This isn’t an issue in the 2D games as the player can simply move forwards and to return the main path. In a 3D game, this strategy is not possible, as the camera is continually re-positioning itself behind the player, making it difficult to know which direction is ‘forwards’.

A problematic solution: Narrow paths

The navigation problem may a reason why modern Sonic games contain narrow paths that are suspended in the air.
modern_good.png With the path isolated from the rest of the game world, the player can easily identify the path and the direction of the goal.

However, this causes two problems:

  • modern_bad.png It makes the level overly linear.
  • modern_bad.png If the player deviates from the main path, s/he will fall into a bottomless pit*.

Hence, the player is being punished for not following the main route.

*(Bottomless pits are more fully examined in The Challenge Zone).

The ideal solution - Navigational techniques in Sonic R

A more suitable solution to the problems of navigation has actually appeared in a previous Sonic game. Sonic R may not be remembered as the most innovative of the series in game play terms, but there is no denying that its level design is exceptional. This should be no surprise as the level designer is Hirokazu Yasuhara, the genius responsible for the levels in the original Sonic games.

Sonic R features at least two different routes per a stage together with a myriad of shortcuts. These frequently interlink with each other, offering a wide combination of paths for the player to take.

To prevent the player from getting lost, Sonic R utilises a number of strategies:

Distinguishing routes

Different themes

At least two of the paths in each Sonic R stage has a unique theme that compliments the overall theme of the level.

▲ The path to the left sports a village theme, while the path to the right is shaped like a canyon. The themes allow the player to differentiate the paths.


Height is a key way of differentiating paths.

▲ The 2 routes (left route, middle route and right route) are different heights, which allows each path to be clearly defined.

▲ The main path is much taller than the surrounding area. This not only differentiates the path, but directs the player to the goal.


Half sized walls can be used to differentiate routes.

▲ The walls are tall enough to separate the route from the rest of the stage. However, as they are half-sized, the player can still see the surrounding pathways.

Walls do not occur frequently and this prevents the sense of freedom from being compromised. Sensibly, they only occur in urban/factory stages, as they do not fit the context of an outdoor stage.

Directing the player to the goal

Accelerator machines

Accelerator machines pull the player towards the direction of the goal at high speeds.

zoom_machine.jpg zoom-machine-2.jpg

▲ The length of the pull depends on how many rings the player has collected. Hence, in addition to directing the player to the goal, the machines increase the sense of speed and give the player a motive to collect rings.


Arrow boards are frequently used to direct the player.


▲ When two are used in the same space, as in the above example, they can help distinguish different routes.

Arrows are especially useful for correcting players that are unknowingly travelling in the opposite direction of the goal.

Foot prints

Most of the characters leave footprints on the track. This is a useful for marking out the areas that the player has already visited.

▲ The limitations of the Sega Saturn console causes the footprints to be represented as black circles. On modern gaming systems, the footprints could be rendered more realistically.

Hiding routes

As mentioned above finding secret routes can often be a magical experience. Sonic R uses two methods for hiding routes

The subtle method

Often, by deviating from the main path, the player can find gaps in the walls that lead to new areas. This method requires the player to actively explore stage.


◄ The level is designed to encourage the player to go forwards (both the arrows on the path and the shape of the path itself is pointing forwards). However, by examining the walls carefully, the player will notice that they are not continuous. A barrier to the right side occurs in between the wall. By deviating from the main path and hitting this barrier, the player can access a secret area.

The direct method

Each stage has a number of routes that are locked behind doors. To open the doors, the player has to collect the indicated number of rings.

▲ As the doors are giant sized, they are easy to identify and so little exploration is necessary to find them. The player will, however, have to explore the stage to find enough rings to unlock the door.

Modern games need use Sonic R as a guide for designing levels.
This will allow the levels to offer individuality, without causing the player to become lost.

◄◄ Previous Section Index for this page Next Section ►►
Choice through Multiple Routes Creating Choice through Level Design A Classification of multiple routes


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