Level Design - What's your procedure?

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Flopjack, Sep 27, 2011.

  1. Flopjack

    Flopjack New Member

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    This is always a tricky thing for me for some reason. Sometimes a level design will spill out of my mind quickly and it's a success with minor modifications or with obvious improvements. Other times I stare at a blank piece of paper, blank dry erase board or empty 3D scene and just scratch my head.

    I was once told by a former EA employee who worked on The God Father games that he liked to hold on to a principal that was simply "repetition with variation". Those words have stuck with me for some time as I feel there is a lot of truth to them. You can take repeating elements with variations and create a lot of content that feels fresh for your player.

    So what about you? How do you go about designing a level for [insert genre]? How do you balance functionality and aesthetics?
     
  2. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I make an example level of all the various puzzles, widgets and clever tricks I accrued whilst thinking about and designing the game, then hand it off to someone else who's good at making levels for games.

    It's quite a skill to make engaging levels from a finite set of building blocks and is often best placed with someone who specialises in it, imo.

    Though I could be lying.
     
  3. Jack Norton

    Indie Author

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    I think there's no universal reply but varies based on the game genre. For a casual game I think really the best way is to do small prototypes since usually they don't involve any complex mechanics. For a RPG instead is a completely different story. Right now I'm designing a new one, and I use a openoffice spreadsheet with all the values in it, so I have a better vision of each item/skill/feature of the game and what it does. But again, every time I try in the game there's inevitably something to change. I think the best thing is get going and write some ruleset, then a prototype and see if is fun/balanced.
     
  4. princec

    Indie Author

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    My technique is to fart about with it for weeks then give up and give it to Chaz to do :) But as it's a tedious waste of time we're going to be using procedural generation from now on, for everything.

    Cas :)
     
  5. jcottier

    jcottier New Member

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    > So what about you? How do you go about designing a level for [insert genre: Physic platformer]? How do you balance functionality and aesthetics?

    Level design isn't something simple, that is obvious. Personally, I like to spend a lot of time re-playing my levels and somehow I'll come up with idea to put in it. Also, level design like anything else do requiere a lot of polish. In "Jump Birdy Jump" my last iOS game, I was able to create a level in 30 minutes (they are small and I am using a good in-game editor) but it took me a day to polish and reach a stage were I was pleased about how the levels looks and feel.

    JC
     
  6. GolfHacker

    GolfHacker Member

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    It definitely depends on the game. With my 2D space shooter, The Adventures of Rick Rocket, I could crank out a new level in 2-4 hours. It was easy to set up the scenery, position the ships, and then play through it and make some tweaks. However, with my Dirk Dashing platformers, it takes 1-2 weeks to finish one level. It takes many long hours to set up the 16-layer parallax backgrounds, lighting, furnishings, etc so the level maps look good.

    I usually draw the layout for a new Dirk Dashing level on graph paper, then build the tile map from that. I keep a list next to me of all the different enemies/units, hazards, interactive elements (platforms, bridges, conveyors, etc), and gadgets. The theme in each level is decided in advance when I do the story, so I just need to go through the list and pick out stuff that fits the theme. Then try to draw a cohesive level design that incorporates all of the elements I want. The hardest part for me is coming up with new puzzles and/or new arrangements of the elements.
     
  7. mwtb

    Original Member

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    I'm no expert in this but I'm working on a physics platformer and I'm following a basic pattern of:

    * Introduce new element (bouncy platform, power-up... whatever)
    * Give the player some levels that require use of that element in different ways culminating in a level where the player can demonstrate "mastery" of that element.
    * Normalise use of that element alongside the existing elements
    * Repeat

    That cycle can be long or short depending on the complexity of the gameplay element and the cycles can overlap.

    Also, just as a workflow point, having an in-game editor makes life a lot easier.
     
  8. Bad Sector

    Original Member

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    Really depends on the game, style and gameplay. Assuming 3D games (since you mentioned that) you need to decide what the focus of the levels will be - trying to be realistic locations or designed around gameplay? See Valve's Portal for the former and L4D for the latter. Both provide good gameplay, but it is obvious that the Portal maps were designed first to play good and second to look good (the looks were designed around the gameplay) while the L4D maps were designed first to look like real places and then play good (of course i'm not saying that playing good was not high in priorities, but that having maps look like real places was much more important for the game).

    Then it depends on your game's setup. Is it a first person or a third person game? For third person games you need more space in areas for the camera to move around. How the controls will be? If you are going to make a game that runs in a console or handheld device, it is better to design the levels in a way that there isn't much floor height variation. Otherwise if the game is for desktop computers, where you have a keyboard and mouse for controls, people find floor height variation interesting (of course they find it interesting in other platforms too, but it is much harder to control and requires a lot of assistance from the game engine which can be hard to get "right").

    Whatever the case, the first step will probably be to have some sort of story for the level: why does the level exist in the game's world, how it came to be, what is the player doing there, who was there before, etc. This will help you figure out what the level will look like and what items will be needed. In some cases you'll need to have questions and answers for the whole game - for example, assume that you are in a space station and the game's lore mentions that the station uses Purecorp's gravity generator pads. These pads require field analyzers connected to them in a circular pattern around the floor and at least 30MW of power supply. What that means is that in each room, you'll need to place some special looking pads (for the analyzers), put cables around the room for them, put some sort of "transformer box" in a corner and if makes sense in the room, put it away from water/liquids (and places where people tend to sit - or add protection) and near other places where machines are connected for power.

    Then you need a quick sketch. It can be a 2D pen-and-paper like this one or a "3D sketch" in your editor of choice with very simple, broad primitives to get a feeling for scale and stuff. This depends on you really - some people prefer the former while others prefer the latter.

    After that, you need to do what is usually called "blocking out" the level - that is make a very crude version of it using a generic texture (or 2-3 textures) and temporary lighting, but with real entities (enemies, bots, pickup items or whatever) to test the gameplay before committing yourself to properly texturing and lighting it. This is where a proper world editor where you can actually create and modify geometry comes handy, but it can be done with simple scene editors too - it just might be a little harder, especially when you want to modify stuff and need to swap between the 3D modeller and the scene editor.

    Finally once you have this part done (and hopefully having others playtested it too - really, try to put this in a as much later stage as you can) you can start texturing, lighting it and detailing it. How you do this depends on how you are comfortable with working - some people work in a room/area by room/area basis and some others do whole passes over the world (or even the game). I haven't been yet to that stage enough times to make a preference, but it might be a good idea to focus on a room at the beginning to get a good feeling of the game's style in practice.

    Level design is a whole thing by itself and cannot be explained in a single post. And personally i'm not much of a level designer - calling myself one would be an insult to real level designers :p. I'm just interested in it. Fortunately, similarly to game programming, there are communities with level designers and World of Level Design is a good one. There are forums and articles, including a couple of lengthy ebooks you get when you sign up to the mailing list (it is a very low frequency list so don't worry about spam - and besides there is a lot of interesting content in the list) and even some descriptions on how some maps were made from start to finish. In there you can find people experienced in making levels and ask any questions you might have :)
     
  9. Flopjack

    Flopjack New Member

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    As long as you know it's not good for everything. Randomly generated [whatever] works where it does, and fails where it doesn't.
     

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