Segmentation of Gameplay

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The process of managing and regulating the development of gameplay experience through the design of a game.

Segmentation of gameplay describes how a game is broken down into smaller/shorter elements or chunks of gameplay. It is not something new or particular to videogames—e.g. consider a game of football (soccer), where the match is divided into forty-five-minute halves. Splitting the total duration of the game in two is an example of a way to segment gameplay. Another common form of gameplay segmentation is by coordinating players’ actions. For example, many board games force players to take turns, alternating periods of action and observation. In these cases, gameplay is segmented by forcing the players to coordinate their actions, so that individual players cannot affect the state of the game simultaneously.

Videogames have greatly extended the varieties of segmentation, making the concept richer and more sophisticated. Specifically, videogames have introduced new vocabulary referring to gameplay segmentation. For example, words like level, boss, and wave refer to particular ways of segmenting gameplay that have become essential in describing and analyzing videogames. These terms, however, are also used informally, so that novel forms of segmentation are sometimes conflated under these general terms.


Strong Examples

Gitaroo Man

Gitaroo Man is a rhythm game where the gameplay is broken into segments with the story. Each level has its own story and design where you battle a different boss. Given very much to a game of progression, you have no choice in how you progress and in failure you must redo the level, and with success you move further down the story line, where you learn more and must fight a more challenging boss. The segments in Gitaroo Man are well designed and implemented, as even though you have very little freedom in the game, you feel as though you are smoothly moving through the story.

Golden Sun

Role-Playing Games, like this one for GBA, are a great example of how different forms of segmentation can coexist in the same game. Following the model of classic RPGs, such as the Final Fantasy series, the most predominant form of segmentation in the game is by challenge In order to advance in the story of the game, you will find enemies that you will have to defeat in battle. These battles are turn-based – another form of segmentation –, which is inherited from paper-and-pencil RPGs. Some of the key items of the game will only be acquired after solving a puzzle, such as moving stones to the right fulcrum to open a door. These puzzles appear in the temples, where the items that are key to complete the game are found, thus segmenting the game in puzzle challenges as well. The milestones in the action of the game are marked by boss challenges. The bosses cannot be defeated until the characters of the game have enough experience points and power-up items, acquired in battles and by solving puzzles. Defeating a boss will grant the player characters more experience points, which will be necessary to defeat subsequent, more powerful, enemies.

Metal Gear Solid

In this game the Segmentation is very evident in the level design, as you complete specific objectives you advance further and further into the military base, moving from area to area, building to building, into radically different levels. Specific items and completion of puzzles allow you to move on to progress the storyline. Also getting into fights with enemies triggers a new segment of the game locking some doors and disabling radar and other features normally open to you. Also boss fights unlock new stages, and abilities for the player furthering the gameplay and storyline/

Civilization 4

Sid Meir’s Civilization 4 is segmented by turns. During each turn the player decides what actions he wants to take, then the AI takes a turn for each of the enemy civilizations. Also, Civ 4 has 4 distinct time periods, or epochs, in which certain in-game bonuses stop working. For example, the player can build certain wonders of the world that give bonuses, however, the bonuses stop working in later epochs.

Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country for SNES has a strong sense of segmentation. The game takes place on an island where Donkey Kong and his pal, Diddy Kong, go and explore different regions of the island. This serves as a broad level of segmentation. Each region is then divided up into a series of levels with similar backgrounds and bad guys that tend to get harder as one progresses through the region. Much like the levels, the regions also tend to get more difficult as the game continues. This type of segmentation is useful to help the player get a grasp on how the game will progress. If the player of DK was just thrown into a series of 100 levels without segmentation, they would get confused, annoyed, or bored.

Ragnarok Battle Offline

This sidescrolling "beat 'em up" action game is segmented in various layers of complexity. The game has very distinct, differently themed stages (levels) by decontextualizing them to a certain extent while maintaining a certain sense of RPG and linear stage progression. In addition to the segmentation of the stages, every stage is segmented into anywhere from 3 to 9 Areas, each Area having it's own sense of visual and difficulty progression within the overall level, typically ending with a series of difficult enemies, mini-boss, or final boss (in the last area). Furthermore, each stage is segmented into a number of several seperate 'rooms,' allowing for visual/spatial segmentation within Areas, freeing up more resources for more visually complex and appealing areas, helping to progress the implicit storyline.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

This game is segmented two-fold. Most notably, the "main game" requires the player to accomplish a number of different missions, and there are a number of "side quests" that a player has the option of completing. A few examples of these side quests are: The taxi missions, where the player drives citizens of the city around getting rewarded for speedy times. Another side quest is collecting various tokens around the game map. All of the side quests in this game reward the player with elements that make the main game either easier to accomplish (attaining more powerful weapons), or more fun to accomplish (flashy cars, unique out-fits). Another type of segmentation in this game is spatial because the game has distinct cities and neighborhoods the player can travel to.


This game has very clear segmentation as each game has quarters which last an equal amount of time. A quarter can have further segmentations within it such as time outs or foul shots. Half time is an extended break and players are given their stats and time to recollect themselves. The segmentation in sports games is essential to creating smooth gameplay and a realistic experience.


Elebits for the Wii has game segmentation in levels with time limits and watt goals to reach, though this game is mostly free of structure during that gameplay. These segmentation goals are very specific, in that you must reach the watt goal within the given time limit to reach the next level of play. Within a level, however, limits are less strict, and segmentation only appears in the watt requirements to turn on certain appliances.

Weak Examples

Star Wars Galaxies

Star Wars Galaxies is a weak example of segmentation of gameplay. If you play the game on a day-to-day basis you will not see too much variety. It is somewhat of a life simulator and there are tasks that you must complete every day in order to truly accomplish any certain stage of life. However, with a major update of the game from a developer, you have a huge change in gameplay and this segments the experience in one chunk of game time from the other.


In Starcraft's melee gameplay, a game can be divided into sections. The first section of the game is called the early game, around the first 5 minutes of the game, which consists of building up your economy and choosing what some of your first buildings will be. This section transitions into mid game, usually 5-20 minutes, between which is generally characterized by the expansion to other resource nodes and/or the build up of a larger army. Late game, 20 minutes till end, begins when most of the resources on the map are controlled and resources begin to become scarce.

It is a weak example because the segmentation results from the availability of resources in the game and the speed in which these can be harvested/depleted. This pacing, is the result of that, although it isn't an explicit part of the design of the game.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, gameplay is only slightly segmented. There are distinctive areas, but they transition very smoothly to one another. There is no indication of completion or loading screen; one simply moves on to the next area.


Golden Sun. Camelot Ltd. Co. (2001) Nintendo: GBA

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