Bottomless Pits

In Brief

  • Bottomless pits have become the main challenge in 3D games.
  • They carry five key problems
  • They are the key factor responsible for destroying the Sonic series.
  • Bottomless pits do require players to master levels.
  • However, there are much less frustrating methods for achieving this.
  • One such method is to ensure levels have multiple layers.

Bottomless pits have become a staple of the 3D games. The levels are often wholly suspended over a bottomless pit. Veering too far in one direction will cause Sonic to fall and die.

Virtually all the challenges in the newer games occur over a bottomless pit. If the player fails to complete the obstacle, s/he will fall and die.

The five problems of bottomless pits

Bottomless pits are problematic for five key reasons.

Problem 1: Pits work against speed

Bottomless pits spoil the flow of speed. If Sonic falls into a pit, the player has to wait for the game to reset. The wait may only be a few seconds, but it is counter to the experience of high speeds. It also destroys immersion by drawing attention to the existence of the game (as, when immersed, the player should feel that s/he exists in the game world).

Problem 2: Repetition

Bottomless pits induce large amounts of repetition. After falling, Sonic will be returned to the previously touched checkpoint. This causes the player to retread much ground to return to the pit.

Problem 3: The fear of exploration

Bottomless pits instil a sense of terror, which works against exploration. Particularly in later games, where a bottomless pit surrounds the stage, the player will be reluctant to explore by deviating from the main path, for fear of falling in the pit.

Problem 4: Unfair punishments

Bottomless pits often serve as punishments for understandable mistakes. Often Sonic will fall into a pit if he fails to perform the homing attack or light dash at the correct moment on obstacle that requires precise timing. Making such an error is understandable, as the player would not have a feel for the timing when they first encounter the obstacle. As such, bottomless pits turn the play experience into a memory test – the player must replay the obstacle sections multiple times to learn the correct manoeuvres needed to overcome the obstacles.

Problem 5: Empty worlds

Bottomless pits remove the sense of the levels being ‘actual worlds’. The pits add much empty space to levels, which makes them feel incomplete. This reinforces that the player is merely playing game as opposed to being on a ‘real’ adventure.

Advantages of bottomless pits

Bottomless pits do carry a single advantage. They require the player to play to perfection, by mastering the environment to perfect the skills needed to progress.

The solution to bottomless pits

As noted in the forgiving challenges section, challenges in the Mega Drive games were forgiving. In order for bottomless pits to function as effective challenges, they should also be forgiving.

To achieve this, the level should make greater use of the Y axis with the levels having multiple paths that are layered on top of each other. Challenges that make use of bottomless pits should only occur on the top most layer.

If the player falls from the an obstacle on the top most path, instead of landing into a bottomless pit and dying, the player will simply land on a different path of the level.

To avoid frustration, this different path must provide access to the goal. It should not require the player to backtrack to the top path.

The player will still have to spend much time learning the level layout to remain on the top path. However, players that do not wish to take part in this challenge will not be forced into doing so.


  • Modern games desperately need to do away with bottomless pits.
  • This will remove frustration and enhance the speed.
  • The levels should become layered.
  • That way, if the player fails an obstacle on the top most path, they will land in another part of the level.
  • This will allow the game to remain challenging without being frustrating.

◄◄ Previous Section Index for this page Next Section ►►
Forgiving Challenges The Challenge Zone Coming Soon!


Rate this section:
[[module Rate]] Use the +/- buttons to rate this section.

Post a comment:

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.