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Level Design Lesson 14: Essence

Today's lesson cover's the importance of having a defined essence for your next creation and how you can capitalize on having a "soul" for you map.

[This was originally posted on my personal blog www.reachingperfection.com]

[Forge Lessons is a level design series that I have written for the halo forge (the simplistic in-game level editor) communities. While it is tailored towards Halo multiplayer map design I feel that it covers general level design very well. I would love everyone's opinions on how these lessons can translate into other games and genres like the Call of Duty series, the Unreal Series, RTS games, platformer games, etc.]

I want you to tell me what you are building. Do you know what you are trying to build? Sure you have an idea for a map, but do you have any goals of what you are trying to create? If I asked you to describe your map, what kind of things would you tell me that you are trying to create that are different than other maps that exist out there? Would you be able to give me a short unique set of points that completely describe what you are trying to create? What is the essence of your map my friend?

Core, Soul, Root, Base

So I went to look up some synonyms instead of directly defining “essence”. The essence of your map is its definition. It is the unique soul that you create. It is the root of everything that makes up your map. It serves as the base of the experience. And it is the core of the description that you share with your friends. A map’s essence can consist of numerous amounts of things. Maybe you are trying to create a replica of the Death Star. Maybe you are trying to recreate the feeling of war. Maybe you want your gameplay to consist of shotgun fights down narrow halls. Maybe you want to give the sense of a medieval castle. Maybe you want your players to feel frightened and afraid of going around the next corner. Maybe you want your players to be in a dazed state with dazzling lights that distract them from what is really happening. Theme, feelings, colors, gameplay, areas, and structures are just a few things that the essence of your map can contain. What makes your map unique is taking these features/requirements and mixing and matching them to create something truly unique.

A list of goals

Everything that makes up the map’s essence can be broken down into a list of goals. It is important to keep a list in mind of all of your map’s goals. They don’t have to be written down somewhere you just have to make sure that you remember them all. They are what you are trying to achieve with your map. They define what makes your map different. They direct you in how you build your map. Any individual goal could also be possibly used in another one of your creations. Maybe you wanted to keep your goal of a Star Wars theme for your next map, but maybe this time mix it with long range focused combat in space. Mixing and matching individual goals is a great way to define a new map creation… essentially you are building an essence out of building blocks. As you build maps and gain experience you create new goals to add to your growing goal library. But that isn’t the only reason to make a list of goals…

Essence is key to decision making

Take that list of goals for your map and put them in order from most important to least important. This is one of the most important things that I have learned while studying design. This prioritized list of goals is how you will make your decisions on your map. Should you put a sniper rifle in this area as an incentive or should you instead use a bright light to serve as eye catching for area introduction? Does your map encourage long range combat? Then put a sniper rifle. Does the essence also support darkness? Maybe you should put the light after all. Take a look at your prioritized goals and decide based on that. The essence should be the deciding factor.

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