Choice through Multiple Routes

In Brief

  • Multiple routes are the key method for adding choice to Sonic games
  • They add variety and so break up the linearity of speed
  • When implemented as secret routes, they become a truly magical experience as they effective extend the game.
    • Multiple routes also offer the added benefit of creating challenge and making the levels seem like real worlds.
  • In modern games, multiple routes consist mainly of shortcuts
    • These lack the advantages of true multiple routes.

Multiple routes provide the player more choice over how to reach the goal. This is empowering for the player, as it allows for more action than simply holding down right on the d-pad.

Secret multiple routes can be very rewarding. It is exciting to find a new area to explore, especially if the area was hidden and the player did not noticed it on previous play sessions. The experience of finding such a ‘new area’ is almost comparable to the excitement of purchasing a new game or expansion pack, as the new area extends the game (particularly if it is of a significant size).

Sonic 3 & Knuckles use this technique to great effect. The game must be played multiple times to find every route, and as each new route offers over a minute of play, the player is strongly compelled to complete this task.


▲ An partial extract of Marble Garden Zone in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
As with all stages in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the player has plenty of choice in how s/he progresses to the goal.

Additional benefits of multiple routes

In addition to being a key technique for creating individuality, multiple routes offer two further benefits:

The benefit of challenge:
Multiple routes that are hidden require the player to have a sharp eye to identify them or possess refined skills to perform the tricky jumps that are need to access the route.

The benefit of immersion:
Multiple routes create the sensation of being in an ‘actual world’, as real worlds, in contrast to man-made worlds, have multiple routes through them. This increases player immersion.

Problems with multiple routes in recent games

There have been two key problems with multiple routes in recent games.

1: Multiple routes are non-existent and offer no incentives: In newer games, multiple routes have been reduced to shortcuts. These shortcuts rarely provide new areas to explore and often send Sonic back to the main path after a few seconds. Hence, they do not create the irresistible and magical experience of finding a new area.

2: Newer games punish the player for exploring: Newer games have made a greater use of bottomless pits. If the player deviates too greatly from the main route, s/he will fall into pit and die. This effectively punishes the player for exploring. The result is a very linear and shallow play experience.

▲ The player decides to explore by accessing a mountain in a distance.
The bottomless pits punish the player for exploring.


  • Modern games need to include more multiple routes.
    • This will increase the choice and enhance player immersion.
    • Secret routes will provide a satisfying and rewarding challenge.
  • For multiple routes to work successfully, bottomless pits need to become a rare occurrence.
  • Methods for creating multiple routes in a 3D space are examined in the next section.

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Creating Choice through Level Design (Section Index) Creating Choice through Level Design Techniques for Implementing Multiple Routes


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