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Level Design chapter 1: The introduction of level design

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About the author Hi everyone, first of all I just want to say, I have been fallowing and read many topics from this website for sometimes now. I must say I am glad to see many people wanted to chare there knowledge in the Thai GameDevX and GameDevX and really please to see everyone wanting to make the games of there own dreams. This is the first chapter about the level design that I have written, there are total of 3 chapters all together. Please feel free to make any suggestion and comments. Oke Level Design chapter 1: The introduction of level design What is Level design? This can be explained in two ways. First Level design is like a heart of the game design; your game cannot exist without a level to play. For example, it is like swimming without a pool to swim. Second Level design can be a game prototype and gameplay testing. It is to help the designer to proven the game ideas to others and himself by playing. Level design can shows that you got more then just a document to read. It’s transforms from theory of the designer ideas, to become theoretical gameplay. What the level designer do? Designing the level is a must duty to all level designers to take responsibility for creating fun levels, with the gameplay mechanics that already have been designed. This also can be game designer duty. The difference between level designer and game designer are that, both titles have difference tasks and responsibilities. The game designers are focuses more on overall gamesplay and keep updating the game. The level designers are focuses on the designing the levels and make sure that the levels are fun to play. However these two titles have the same specialist skill that is game design knowledge. Here are the difference in responsibility between the level designer and the game designer. Game designer responsibilities: -Creating the concept of the game and implementing the gameplay. -Create a prototype of the game. -Play test and balance the game. -Writes document for concept, design document and updates team members throughout the production. -Communicates vision for the game to the team members and producer - Create levels for the game (or the game designer can work with the level designer) -Understand the game elements that the players wanting to play. Level designer responsibilities: -Creates level design concept. -Implement the levels for the game. -testing level and cooperate with the game designer to improve the gameplay. The level designer job is to help game designer reduce some of his responsibilities and it can help the team to developing the game at faster process. When should I start level design? After you have the solid idea how your game is played and what is the game goal. Level design is the next step. It is very important that you have layout everything in mind, and then transfer it to pen and paper, then to the programming plan for level design tools, before you can start designing the actual level. However you may skip the programming part and start using the tools that already exist in the industry. But keep it in mind that you should decided first, which is best process for you and your team. Designing a level When designing the levels, you have to think step by steps, how the player can learn the basic skills from your game by playing,especially when you are making the first level for your game, it is important that you must think carefully, how can you make the player understand the game basic controls and gameplay, before you can make them learn all the details in the game. Most of the games have a tutorial level for player to understand the basic gameplay. Some are just using images and texts, and some are using animations or movies. Keep it in mind that the player must have fun while learning the game basic or he will be no longer interested playing your game. Some games like puzzle or any small games intent to make the player understand all the game details within the first level. This way can work too. There is no right or wrong way for level design as long as the player is learning something new by playing the game. However it is important that you balance the difficulty settings on each designed level, so the player can feel that he is achieving something greater and harder challenges, each level that he completed it must has a reason why he want to go to the next level. As well as rewarding the player, when he’s accomplished those challenges. Level design can be like watching an action movie, for example: when a hero has reached the evil boss house, the hero has to kill all the evil boss minions first, before he can fight the evil boss. After he fights and killed the evil boss, he manage to save his girl from the swimming pool that full of sharks, and finally hero and his girl live together happily after. Here is the breakdown in document for the level design of this movie. Level design document: Title: Hero Revenge Level: 10 the final showdowns Level story: Hero found out that his closest friend is an evil boss after all. He decided to go to his friend house and did not wait for police to take actions; his tasks are now to take out the evil boss minions and evil boss in that house and rescuing his lover. Level location: Evil boss house Level goal: Hero has to rescue his girl form an evil boss before she has been eaten by a shark. Overall Challenge: Hero has to fight many enemies that been hired by the evil boss and rescue his girl within 10 minuets or he will fail his task. Challenge difficulty: very hard Enemy amount: 10-20 Enemy Type: Kung-fu masters, Soldiers and Assassins. Learning curve: Hero can now combine all of his moves into one move “The final strike”. Level Reward: Hero gets his girl back and they live happily after. You don’t exactly need all of these contents for your game, but just make sure that you have created enough contents that will help you and the team members to understand what the game level is about. Conclusion My conclusion is that level design should not be ignore when developing in any games. It is also important that all the team members must know there responsibility and tasks that they have been given. A Level designer is nothing without a good team that helps him complete his tasks. Well, I hope this information I have written is useful to any reader that wanting to know about level design. In chapter 2, I will be explaining with lots of examples for the elements of level design, level designer skills, and breaking down the level design etc. ^_^ Study Resource Here is the list of website that you may find it useful to study further more about level design. http://www.gamasutra.com/resource_guide/20010716/index.shtml http://www.gamasutra.com/features/19990416/level_design_01.htm http://www.cliffyb.com/art-sci-ld.html http://www.gamespot.com/features/3d_design/ Here is a nice book that might be also interest you, if you wish to study more about game design. Title: Game Design workshop ISBN: 1-57820-222-1 Author: Tracy Fullerton, Christopher Swain and Steven Hoffman And here are the interesting books that I find some useful information for the level design and others creative ideas. Beyond feeling http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0767415892/104-9534420-9491137?v=glance&n=283155 Plot and structure http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/158297294X/104-9534420-9491137?v=glance&n=283155 Dialog http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1582972893/ref=pd_bxgy_img_b/102-5009988-3680102?%5Fencoding=UTF8 Writer journey http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0941188701/104-9534420-9491137?v=glance&n=283155

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I don't mean to be a hater and I certainly respect what you're trying to do but...

Your grammar is a little weak. There are a lot of run on sentences and such. Those things make it very difficult to read. I realize that may sound mean or petty or not to the point but as long as you're trying to write a book I think grammar needs to be a priority.

P.S. - I realize my own grammar leaves quite a bit to be desired, but then again, I'm not writing a book :)

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I'd classify level-design as the designing of game environments, where environment can be interpreted in an abstract way as well. In these environments the gameplay comes to life. I think your definition is a bit... undefined...

I'd also say that a level-designer actually implements gameplay, while a game-designer designs these gameplay elements with such situations in mind. Being a level-designer myself, I know it's perfectly possible to introduce new gameplay elements through level-design alone - a shooter game with vehicles may never have been designed with racing in mind, but if entity systems allow it, a single level can be made as a racing-game of sorts. I would conclude that the game-designer creates certain rules for the level-designers to follow.

As for formatting, make paragraph titles bold or something to make them stand out better - it's really a bunch of text right now, hard to navigate. You may want to cut down on single lines of text too - an article divided into several text body's looks more solid and is easier to scan. As for grammar, perhaps you can find some proofreaders to fix that.
Oh, and clickable links please... ;)

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I'd like to know what principles of design apply to designing levels. (I've written chapters about the principles of designing concept art and stories myself.) For example, I think levels should be basically linear (or looped, in the case of a linear level which ends in the same place it begins). If there is a linear path to follow through the level the player will not be in doubt about what to do next, will not encounter things in a nonsensical or dysfunctional order, will not miss things and will not be bored by passing through the same area several times.

(BTW I'm looking for an RPG/Adventure level designer for Xenallure. [smile] )

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Hi everyone

Thank you very much for all these advices, I apologize for the weak grammar, because I didn't put too much time training in writing (that is because I am from Thailand and English is not our first language) this can be my lame excuse, but it is. ^ ^

As for Captain P, he mentioned that this article format is not readable, that because I found out this site doesn’t support format writing and I didn't found any buttons apply to that ^ ^ So In next version, instead of write this article in this text box, I will send a PDF version next time. (With a proof reader (^_^))

I want to agree with Captain P on the environments design can bring the level design to life. I didn’t mention this topic in this chapter because I was plans to put this topic in chapter 2. But I think its need to be put it in the “Designing a level” section too, so I will update that in next version. Also I will mention more details about improving gameplay by level design in next version too.

Thanks captain p. btw nice! Portfolio 

For sunandshadow, you have asked me and whoever read this article, about the principles for level design. From my point of view, I cannot answer you as “must do” design principles, because each game genre have difference focuses and difference game designs and even all the books did have a section about principles of level design, you will find it not 100% fit into your thinking, but I encourage you to read those books and make your own principles once you understand them. However I can give you some questions, for you to ask yourself when designing the level.

PS: I will mentions the principles of level design in chapter 2 

Here are the questions

1) Have you make the level design document or the blueprint for this level?

2) What makes this level fun?

3) What is the level goal?

4) What is so special about this level?

5) Is this level too hard or too easy or it nicely balanced?

6) What do you think about the level theme and the environments? Do they perfectly fit what you have tried to accomplish?

7) Can the player learn something new by playing this level, new tricks perhaps?

8) How many difference strategies you can use in this level, or is there any key strategies, if there is, can the player keep using this strategy to dominating others, and if it is how can you prevent it? (You have to prevent cheater as much as possible or your level will be broken)

9) How many times have you tested this level?

10) Are you working on this level with the artists and the programmers? If so, what advices did they give you when you were making this level, did you find this level fits the team goals?

11) If you think your level is completed, why do you think it is? (Deadline, don’t know what to improve, can’t be bother etc.)

12) Is there any technical problems? (Frame rates, sound effects delay, broken animations, bad coding etc.)

13) If this project is contracted with your clients, have you sent this level and get there feedback often?

14) Have you try to send your level to any QA company? (Hiring either large or small company for QA) If not have you try to gain targeted and casual audiences to test your levels?

You need to ask yourself, how far the level quality would go, if you want to just make levels and have fun, then some of these questions can be ignore.

Please feel free to ask me if you still had some questions, or you can ask Captain P I’m sure he can answer your questions too.

Thank you all
Oke

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Quote:
Original post by okekydoke
For sunandshadow, you have asked me and whoever read this article, about the principles for level design. From my point of view, I cannot answer you as “must do” design principles, because each game genre have difference focuses and difference game designs and even all the books did have a section about principles of level design, you will find it not 100% fit into your thinking, but I encourage you to read those books and make your own principles once you understand them. However I can give you some questions, for you to ask yourself when designing the level.


I'm not asking for "must do" design principles, I'm looking for "should do" or "usually works well" or "try to avoid". Of course it's very rare to agree 100% with any non-fiction book, and every game designer is responsible for choosing whether or not to agree with any design principle they read about and modifying some to better match their taste. But that said, if you are going to write about level design don't you think you should collect all the design principles mentioned in other books and present them in a convenient package for your reader? To me, talking about level design without talking about principles of level design seems pointless, since principles are the heart of any kind of design.

As for your questions, the problem is that they assume you have already designed a level. What I would find helpful is questions that walked you through the process of figuring out what a particular level should accomplish, designing the level, and making sure the level design accomplished everything you wanted it to.

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@sunandshadow:
Linearity is often felt as limiting by players, if it's taken to the extreme. Yet it's easier to design - there's little question where the player will come from so area's can be designed with that single approach in mind, rather than thinking about other approaches.
Non-linearity can feel pretty intimidating and it's easy to feel lost when taken to the extreme. On the other hand, it does give players a lot of freedom. I believe a combination of both works best.

To avoid players feeling lost, a goal should always be known. Whether that's the grande goal (save the princess), or just a sub-goal (get out of the collapsing castle!). It's perfectly fine to give multiple routes to a player to diminish the feeling of being limited and letting them handle the various goals in different orders.
Using the same area multiple times isn't per definition boring. Sometimes it's a very interresting approach - using the same area first to give the player some exploring gameplay, later some combat (and the player has the advantage of knowing the area, depending on how well he explored it).
And just in case you're going with wide open levels (but also important otherwise): use landmarks. Objects or structures, or colors and styles to make it easy for the player to see where they are. These can serve as focal points too, just in case the player doesn't have a direct goal.

@okekydoke:
You can use html on these forums, so it's possible to mark it up without using .pdf's. I don't know about others, but personally I hesitate a bit before opening a .pdf file - it takes just longer to open and all that hassle. How about putting it up on a site as a html file? You'll want to put them up somewhere anyway...

Thanks for liking my portfolio. Do you have one too? I'm interested to see some work. :)

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Polsin - some good insight there. Are you writing this for a project, article or just the benefit of your fellow devs?

It's interesting to note, however, the impact that the next crop of consoles (XB360, PS3, Revolution) is already having on the level design field. In particular things like crowd dynamics are no longer a pipe dream, or real-time physics for handling in0game damage and entity movement rather then proscribed paths and keyframed animation.

What does this mean? Essentially that we as level designers need to stop and consider the consequences of game playspaces that rely heavily on the integration of unpredictable systems. Using physics and gravity to set up a puzzle may not result in the same behaviour each time, so designers are going to have to deal with fail cases a lot more often, as well as makes sure levels are aware of when the player is diverted and redirect them onto the critical path when necessary.

Even still, with so much realism and raw calculation abilities, most of the age old rules of level design (which this trhead brings up) apply. In the end we need to give the player the illusion of reality, the facade of a living world that goes on without them, rather the try to create that world from scratch. I'm looking forward to seeing some hefty advancements in game levels over the next few years.

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