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I'm working on a game that focuses on a campaign/story mode for the majority of the content; the player progresses their character, collecting items/currency/upgrades along the way, and playing levels in a strictly sequential order. For most players, simply having a "Continue" button that throws them into the next level should work just fine, but I want to give players the option to replay an earlier level that they enjoyed before.

However, I'm struggling to come up with a way to conflate this "Level Select" ability with the (persistent) progression of the player character:

  • How do I avoid the player accumulating more currency and items by playing old levels (potentially misbalancing the difficulty of later levels)?
  • How do I deal with "future" upgrades that the player acquired in later levels that should not be available in the earlier level yet?
  • How to "lock in" decisions that the player makes that might affect the story later on in the campaign?

I noticed some games with a campaign structure opt to deal with all this by simply loading an older savestate, essentially going back in time and undoing all progress made in later levels, but this feels overly destructive to the players who might just want to replay a cool boss battle without losing their overall progress.

Another option I thought of would be to run previously completed levels in a "replay" mode that does not save any progress, but this feels a bit inelegant, and might not be what the player expects.

I'm looking for advice on how to approach this in a way that feels right to the player, maybe how other games typically solve this, and (if needed) how to communicate the mechanic to the player.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Consider the Baldur's Gate 3 you can create a new character to replay the levels in the story mode. If you want to create something like a puzzle game you can predefine all starting values and available features for each level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bogdan
    Jan 22 at 22:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bogdan Baldur's Gate is perhaps not a good example. If you are 20 hours into act 3 and suddenly feel the urge to fight an act 2 boss again, you have to start right from the beginning and probably invest another 40 or so hours until you are at that point. That's not really a very convenient way to allow the player to replay specific content at will. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Jan 23 at 14:02

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One game that handled savegames in a way I find really elegant is Papers Please:

Papers Please Savegame Screen

The way the savegame system operates should remind every software developer of how version control systems like git work:

  • The game auto-saves after every level (or "day" in the narrative of the game)
  • All the previous level autosaves of every run are easily accessible on the "load game" screen.
  • When the player continues from a previous level, the savegame history "branches". The savegame history of both branches is preserved separately.

That means the player can easily replay any previous level from the gamestate they had at the start of that level, make different choices, and then either continue the story from there or return to their old savegame branch.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh wow, that is interesting. While I think this is the most ideal solution from a mechanical point of view, it does result in a rather complex (and potentially confusing) UI for the player. Some tradeoffs to think about probably. \$\endgroup\$
    – tkers
    Jan 23 at 21:29
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For currency the first question is if the total amount of currency available in a level is fixed or whether it is somewhat random.

If the game is more puzzle like and the amount is fixed, then a replay just gives you another attempt to find more and the bigger value is used. If on the first play through you found 15 out of 20 and in the replay you found 18, then you have 3 more. This should be balanced because people may find all 20 as well. This would encourage replaying because missing too much currency will make later levels too hard.

If the total amount is somewhat random then I think you just have to balance the game in a way that allows for gathering more currency be replaying. If the amount available per level increases sufficiently fast it doesn't disturb the balance much. Carefully consider how many replays you want to encourage the player to do, too many quickly get tedious.

For future upgrades I would recommend to just make it a feature. Using later upgrades you can access places in earlier levels that you couldn't access the first time you played them. It is meant to be that way and allows reusing levels and discovering little secrets.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! These are good points for games where you want to encourage replaying earlier stages. In my case specifically though, I merely want to enable the player to play a level again, not so much retry/improve. i.e. I don't want to have to worry about making levels interesting enough to make replaying them worthwhile. \$\endgroup\$
    – tkers
    Jan 23 at 19:49
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However, I'm struggling to come up with a way to conflate this "Level Select" ability with the (persistent) progression of the player character:

  • How do I avoid the player accumulating more currency and items by playing old levels (potentially misbalancing the difficulty of later levels)?

  • How do I deal with "future" upgrades that the player acquired in later levels that should not be available in the earlier level yet?

  • How to "lock in" decisions that the player makes that might affect the story later on in the campaign?”

The problem with making story heavy games is that the choices you make should be and are permanent. Unless there is a story explanation for him somehow being able to reenter previous levels.

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