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In my previous experience with Unity, I have had an organized level structure where each level instance was easily separated into a different scene.

For my current project, it would be much more natural to avoid such transitions, and instead disable or remove GameObject instances far from the player's position, and of course loading them in when necessary.

It strikes me that this must be how titles like Gone Home & Firewatch must have been made, and while my game won't be huge in scope, it will be bigger than those ("distance" wise).

Basically, I don't want to get halfway down this road and realize I've made a terrible mistake, so any input is appreciated. Are there disadvantages to using a singular scene in Unity?

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A few disadvantages that spring to mind for me:

1. Loading up the level in the editor will probably take a good while. As well as negotiating to that one fern you want to change.

2. You have to setup the streaming of the level seamlessly (i.e loading in the level as the player uncovers new areas, and unloading the ones no longer needed). You're giving the illusion of one constantly loaded world and breaking that with some spontaneous mountain creation up the player's nose is almost worse than having a loading screen.

3. The world size limit is mighty deceiving. As you breach further and further distances the little devils start to rear their ugly bug heads. One of these is floating point drift. With a physics engine or any other persistent calculations this can lead to some unpleasant jittering. ( Unless it's an open world horror game, then it'll be spooky shivering. )

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