Level Design


Level Design is a one of the most crucial elements of game design, and it’s usually the starting point for a designer. Great level designers are always needed and the role ranges from Jr. to Lead, all specializing in this one discipline.

Good layout, pacing, variety, challenge etc. can make all the difference, irrelevant of the genre. Even if a game has the best player mechanics (what the player can do), if they’re not utilized properly via level design, they may as well not be there. I can’t think of very many games that have stood out for level design in a 3rd person action game genre, maybe Ratchet & Clank, God of War (I & II), Resident Evil 4, Metroid and there’s a few more, but the list isn’t huge. It’s a crying shame.

To get into Level Design, you obviously need to learn what makes for good level design, sometimes, the best way is to just do it. For budding level designers, there are plenty of options.

PC LEVEL EDITORS

PC editors are usually found packaged with games, or download from all over the net. A large percentage of people getting into the industry have come through the PC MOD community. What you’re getting with a PC LEVEL EDITOR is the power to create, execute and play ideas, rather than write about them (although, it’s usually a good idea to plan your ideas out first anyway).                

UnrealED 3.0    Yes, Epic’s great, flexible and powerful UnrealED, the toolset that helped create Gears of War and the Unreal series. This is the total package, but due to its power and flexibility, there will be some learning time, but it’ll all be worth it. A lot of developers are moving over to, or currently using the Unreal engine for their next generation games. Depending on how deep you want to go, there are plenty of websites to teach you the ways: UnrealED basics > Architectonic, Map Creation at Planet Unreal and so on. To get hold of UnrealEd 3.0 (latest one), pickup a secondhand copy of Unreal Tournament 2003 and take it from there!

Valve Hammer Editor 3.5    Formerly called “Worldcraft”, this tool helped to create half life, and what a game that it is too! I also love Counterstrike btw. Anyways, this is quality tool to create maps and there is a huge community out there for it too..so what are you waiting for? File Download > Wiki Info > Beginners Guide 

Radiant    Another well known and flexible editor from John Cormack and co. at ID. This editor was used to create the Doom games. You can get hold of Radiant by picking up Doom 3. Katsbits, File Download, File Download (mac),

2D LEVEL LAYOUT

Below are a set of packages that are used within game development. Knowing and using these are helpful to layout ideas and get an visualize how everything connects & works:

Microsoft Visio    2007            This is a great package for flowcharts and basic map layouts. It has a lot of hidden depth if you give it the time. There are free trial downloads available.

Adobe Illustrator    This is used in many different industries due to its power and flexibility, and as its all vector based, you can scale things to your hearts content! The only problem is, it’s expensive.

Flash    A little more complex (probably too much so for most), but has the beauty of interaction, scripting and triggering, so, you can set maps with different layers, turn elements on/off, animate etc. Again, it’s expensive, so may put you off getting hold of it.

3D LEVEL LAYOUT
If you’re not 3D savvy, and don’t own one of the PC Level Editors, the best choice for your design creation will be SKETCH UP:

Sketch Up    Recently bought out by Google, Sketchup is a great, simple and powerful 3D layout tool. This will help you mockup ideas really quickly, set the camera on run through and see what it feels like to negotiate your creations. Best of all, there’s a FREE version that will get you up and running.

PRESENT YOURSELF
Don’t just sit there and wait for somebody to give you a job, get off your bee-hind and start to make yourself visible. You’re going to need to promote yourself, mix in with other people in the mod community, learn by experience and make a place to strut your stuff.

WordPress – Like I’m using here, get yourself one, they’re free and you can display your game ideas and talents to the world….FOR FREE…did I say it didn’t cost anything?

Blogger  – Another way to showcase your stuff, although I do prefer wordpress.

Wikis –    Collaborate with others and create your own wiki pages, work together, share ideas..make a plan. You may need your own server space for this though. Mediawiki (Wikipedia), Dokuwiki, Confluence < this is the best one by far (I use this at work), and they did have a 2 user FREE edition, not sure if that’s still true or not. If they’ve stopped this, then it does cost quite a bit of money L

Webpages    It’s getting cheaper and cheaper to get a unique url, webspace etc. so make use of the most powerful connecting tool on the planet!

Some companies also use 3D Modelling Packages to create and prove their ideas, but luckily for you guys, only basic knowledge is really needed (if at all). The most popular packages are: Maya & 3DS Max, both owned by Autodesk. They’re both expensive, so concentrate on other stuff first.

If I was starting out right now, my first thoughts would be to get the most basic version of Visio (for quick 2d layout), Sketchup (getting use to working with 3D shapes/sizing) and the UnrealED 3.0 to start making mods and making things PLAY! Also, it’s good idea to work on your presentation; you’ll need a way of presenting your game ideas in writing. Microsoft Word 2007 is good for presentations, or, you could just start a wiki page or a blog like this one!

Document your ideas, explain game flow and reasons for doing what you’re doing. Try and keep it as simple as possible; over complexity can put people off reading your stuff.

I wish I had more time to write on this subject, as there’s so much more to it. I’ll probably write a few different pieces on this in the future.

Haydn

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About Haydn Dalton

Creative Lead 30 Years Developing Games

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