Basic Level Design: The Unseen Job

In this article I'll be telling you about my process in creating a level.

People forget about the level designer: most people can imagine someone programing the controls, an artist drawing a character, or a writer weaving a story, but his job mostly gets ignored. The level designer is kind of like a janitor: he only gets noticed if he does a bad job. If a level designer makes a bad level you'll be screaming at your iPod about how you can't find the exit, or how that one area keeps killing you. Now if he does it right, you'll see the awesome art, you'll experience amazing mechanics, or you'll be immersed in the gripping narrative. Basically I get to create the frame and make sure I don't cover up the painting. In this article I'll be telling you about that job or essentially my process in creating a level.

First, I need to know what my limitations are - basically, where in the story I am. I also need to slowly introduce gameplay elements so as not to overwhelm the player. So, I start off by getting the list of story elements Dan made me for the level (person A meets the player, person B dies, and event C happens), and my own list of which gameplay elements are present (new gameplay element D, reiterate gameplay element E).

Next I decide how much of this level is going to be tunnels or open exploring. I use tunnels to guide the player towards an objective and I use open exploring when I want them to find it themselves. Most of our levels fall somewhere in between.

Then I sketch a quick outline to get me started. This isn't a blind sketch - I know where I left the player at the end of the last level - and I know where I want to take him. I take this sketch and take each room and ask questions like "what would make this hard", "what would make this not confusing", "how does this tell the story", but most importantly "what would make this fun". I flush out each room and move onto the next one.

Then I hand it to Todd for QA. He does some playtesting with my level and lets me know what he thinks then I go back and make alterations, asking the same questions as before. We do the QA loop a couple more times and then we have a level. That level, if I did my job right, should be fun, tell the story, showcase the art, and introduce the mechanics - all with out anybody knowing I've been there.

I'm Zak, and I'm the janitor. ;)

Reposted from Fixbot Blog:

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