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Does a level desiger for an AAA game also have to be good artist?

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#1 unit187   Members   


Posted 16 April 2013 - 09:46 AM

I've been thinking about it and can't really figure it out. Not enough information.


So, lets pick a game. For example, World of Warcraft or Diablo III. 

I suppose every location starts off with a number of sketches or even matte paintings done by a concept artist. It will establish general mood and a number of key points of interest.


Then comes a level desiger and draws general maps in Photoshop, shares with game designers, draws again and so on until he can finally get his hands dirty and start building actual level.


Obviously, in World of Warcraft and Diablo III there is sculpted terrain which could be done only by level designer. But what about architecture and all other assets? Will level desiger model and texture walls, arcs, stairs and so forth? Or does he do rough sketchy 3d models for an environment artist to come forward and build high quality assets based on the level desiger's needs? 

And if the level designer is responsible for building rough 3d models, how detailed should they be? For example, in Diablo III there are dozens of different kinds of walls, with or without decorations, columns, holes, ruined elements etc. Will the level designer make all those little things?

Edited by unit187, 16 April 2013 - 09:59 AM.

#2 Plethora   Members   


Posted 16 April 2013 - 10:29 AM

I think the answer is, "it depends".  You bring up WoW and Diablo III.  In both of those cases you're talking about games with hundreds or thousands of individuals working on them.  While I clearly didn't work on either game, I would guess that the roles on those production were highly specialized.  I would imagine that you'd probably have junior level designers who would kind of sit there and play around with a premade collection models following plans set forth by senior level designers.  The senior level designers would be working on the overall plan of a given place and would be in more contact with the artists and modellers to decide when new assets might be needed.  Now, I'm just conjecturing as I've never worked on a big project like that, but as a general rule the bigger the project the more specialized the roles will be.


Take, on the other hand, Bastion.  According to wikipedia, there were seven people who worked on the game.  One did the music and sound, one did voice acting, so then you have five people left, and they officially list two directors, two developers, and one artist.  Obviously we don't know who did what really, but obviously people were doing double duty in certain areas.  Maybe the artist did concept art as well as modelling.  Maybe the directors got their hands dirty with the level design, or maybe they didn't and merely directed the two developers.  


Point being, it really heavily depends on the scope and scale of the project.  Smaller projects generally benefit from people who can fill multiple roles effectively, whereas bigger projects are going to be a lot more interested in people who are really really good at one thing.


Edit:  Reread your title and saw that you specified AAA... My point stands really, but to answer your question directly, I doubt any level designers on WoW or D3 really got their hands dirty with artwork and modelling.  Though at the same time I would say that it couldn't hurt to at least be able to describe what you're trying to do with a level in terms an artist can understand.  :)

Edited by Plethora, 16 April 2013 - 10:31 AM.

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#3 AllEightUp   Moderators   


Posted 16 April 2013 - 10:32 AM

It really depends on the game in question but mostly 'no', being a good artist is not part of the design process, though having an eye for the eventual artwork is important.  For instance, on a recent game we did what we called 'blue box'ing as the first pass.  Basically the area was laid out with basic boxes and raw shapes with a bluish texture which had a grid on them.  The grid was supposed to be scaled to match the world unit size for reference purposes, i.e. 1 grid equaled 10 feet or something like that.  The level was filled with puzzles, traps, monsters etc within the blue box environment and play through was performed until everyone was happy.  The designer described the 'vision' of how the area was supposed to be represented, such as indoor broken down mansion, dirty grimy sewer or possibly very clean research facility etc with notes along the way as to special objects say a mantle with a key quest item, a manhole cover to xyz location or of course a computer terminal.  This was handed off to the artists to put in detailed terrain, objects and textures while the designer went on to the next area to be blue boxed.


Many games do this, some do not.  For us, the blue boxing was great because we were still playing with character abilities and as such any detailed artwork would slow down required modifications to adjust for the character abilities.  I.e. super jumps were added which allowed players to get into places we didn't want them, many blue boxes had to be reworked.  If the geometry/art had been more detailed this could have taken a very long time and wasted artist time.

#4 Tom Sloper   Moderators   


Posted 16 April 2013 - 12:41 PM

A level designer is part artist, part architect, part game designer, and part programmer.



-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#5 unit187   Members   


Posted 16 April 2013 - 02:13 PM

Thank you guys.


Just a little background of mine to remove some of the misunderstanding - I have worked for a couple of years as a level designer in the past, at the very start of my career. I was junior since I mostly was sculpting the terrain and arranging premade assets. Also at present days I am pretty good in 3d graphics overall, I would say upper intermediate user of Maya. Long story short, I think I am familiar with general level design concepts, but I am particulary interested in how do they do the work in major titles.


Anyways, I still can't understand how do they set up the level design pipeline in AAA games.

I doubt there (WoW, Diablo III) were senior level designers who did plans only and then junior/mid guys, who did the levels themselves. Planning takes some time, sure, but not that much. Most of the time goes into building a prototype, playtesting, killing all the stuff and rebuilding. Just look at those dungeons in Diablo, most of them are no more complicated than multi-floor corridors.

Also plans are good, but they lack 3d feeling. In my opinion it is very hard to build good multi-floor level from scratch without adjusting initial plans. I find it a little non-effective if different people would work on plans and on level design itself in 3D app or an editor.


That brings me back to my question about level desigers' responsibilities.

I see that it depends on the game heavily. For example, in "Dishonored" and latest "Lara Croft" the level designers absolutely had to model stuff because of the nature of the game (like they had to measure the distance between buildings in Dishonored to predict if a player can jump between them). But how detailed was their work? Were they building 3d dummies or finished models with sculpts and normal maps and shaders. 

Same goes for good old WoW and Diablo. But what did they had to do exactly.


I did some research on Blizzard web-site. In "exterior level designer" vacancy they list the following:


- Design and implement large-scale game environments.
- Work with artists and designers to create a fun and compelling experience.
- Experience creating levels in 3ds Max or other 3D level editors
- Able to create artistic, well-composed environments
But none of those things give good enough description of the job. They also have a vacancy for "Dungeon Texture Artist" and there is a point "Able to collaborate closely with a 3D level artist and create a consistent vision", that means their level desigers are also 3D level artists, but "3d level artist" is quite vague description too.


P.S. Bastion is a remarkable game. I have enjoyed every single bit of it smile.png

Edited by unit187, 16 April 2013 - 02:18 PM.

#6 Kylotan   Moderators   


Posted 17 April 2013 - 06:31 AM

the level designers absolutely had to model stuff because of the nature of the game (like they had to measure the distance between buildings in Dishonored to predict if a player can jump between them

That's not true - the tool that allows a designer to place a house model will usually have some sort of scale in there. It doesn't mean the level designers were modelling the houses. In fact, given that Dishonored has separate teams of level designers and level artists/architects in the credits it's extremely unlikely that level designers were doing the modelling.


Anyway, as you say, the production method depends a lot on the game, and this is why we don't have any standard terminology for designers in this industry. Certain types of game require (or at least benefit from having) level designers with some degree of modelling skills as the tools require them to sculpt or construct the play area, decide on its broad appearance, and so on. Other types of game will have a tool that is more about assembling pre-made objects and the designer here doesn't need to have any sort of modelling or artist skillset.


You say "I find it a little non-effective if different people would work on plans and on level design itself in 3D app or an editor" but others will find it inefficient if you expect one person to have all the skills from planning the level from a game design perspective right down to being able to manipulate the mesh and textures in a modelling tool. People have to play to their strengths, both individually and as a team.


Only the developers on a certain game can tell you exactly how they went about it. Even 2 games with the same engine might approach things differently, if one team is using a lot more prefabricated scenery than the other. The skills involved in level design may overlap with skills involved in environment art, but it all depends on how the team works, and what tools they use, and what sort of game they're making.

Edited by Kylotan, 17 April 2013 - 08:02 AM.

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