There is a generalized notion of what should comprise a level. There is a generalized notion of what should comprise a level

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There is a generalized notion of what should comprise a level.

  • There is a generalized notion of what should comprise a level.

  • Basically, even though a level can be implemented in many different ways, one can roughly say that a player should be able to complete a level in one sitting.



A level should represent a milestone in the game, whether it be with respect to dexterity or accomplishment.

  • A level should represent a milestone in the game, whether it be with respect to dexterity or accomplishment.

  • Some games operate with one level at a time, while others allow players to pursue multiple quests simultaneously.

  • This allows a player to take a break from a difficult problem for a while, but still advance through the game.



Level design and gameplay are not mutually exclusive.

  • Level design and gameplay are not mutually exclusive.

  • Level design both compliments and defines the gameplay.

  • If you are a level designer, you will be given the gameplay rules and suggestions by the game designer, and hopefully also from the Design Document, which is discussed later.



There are three basic styles of level design.

  • There are three basic styles of level design.

  • In the first, none of the game levels bear any relation to each other.

  • Puzzle games tend to be of this sort.

  • The puzzle gets more difficult with each level, but each level is independent of the others.

  • Many action games also fall into this category, as each level serves to only get more difficult, requiring more dexterity.



The second type of level construct is where there is an overriding storyline, but each level is a self-contained episode.

  • The second type of level construct is where there is an overriding storyline, but each level is a self-contained episode.

  • Many people are comfortable with this type of level construct as it similar to a soap opera or TV series.



The third type of level construct is the campaign.

  • The third type of level construct is the campaign.

  • This is the most common structure in today's games.

  • In a campaign, you do not get access to another level unless you complete the levels below it.

  • You must complete all previous missions before you can move forward.



We can distinguish between three types of level difficulty constructs.

  • We can distinguish between three types of level difficulty constructs.

  • These are the flat, linear, and S-curve.



If you think of these as curves on a graph it's easy to understand what they mean.

  • If you think of these as curves on a graph it's easy to understand what they mean.

  • A flat difficulty curve is one where the game's difficulty does not change from level to level.

  • Different levels may introduce different activities, but the purpose is not to somehow advance the player.



For linear difficulty constructs, the difficulty increases in a somewhat uniformly incremental way between levels.

  • For linear difficulty constructs, the difficulty increases in a somewhat uniformly incremental way between levels.

  • For S-curve difficulty, the player gains quick experience early on, but then the learning curve grows steeper.

  • Towards the end of the game, the curve flattens out again as the player can now use everything they have learned to achieve the final goal.



For the most part, players need to be challenged, so most often the best strategy is to use the S-curve construct.

  • For the most part, players need to be challenged, so most often the best strategy is to use the S-curve construct.

  • The player gains confidence early, then is put to the test, and then finally exhibits mastery of what they have learned.

  • You do not want to bore the player, but you also do not want to set up conditions that make it virtually impossible for them to get anywhere and continue the game.

  • Difficulty increments must be paced to keep the player interested entertained and properly challenged.



There is a concept of Life Cycle for entities in a game.

  • There is a concept of Life Cycle for entities in a game.

  • What this means is that game content (props, non-playable characters, playable characters) will come and go.

  • How they do so is an important part of level design.

  • If your enemy's characteristics never changed, especially between levels, you would soon become very bored.



In the first stage of an entity's life, the entity makes itself known.

  • In the first stage of an entity's life, the entity makes itself known.

  • At this point a player knows nothing about the entity.

  • They must figure out the enemy's strengths, what weapons it uses, and what it takes to overcome it.

  • This is sometimes an exploratory process on the part of the player, while other times the entity acts on its own and reveals that information.

  • Sometimes the information is written on the screen.



Once the player understands how an entity behaves, they can adjust how they deal with it.

  • Once the player understands how an entity behaves, they can adjust how they deal with it.

  • From that point on, familiarity with the entity guides the player as to how to interact with the entity.

  • After some time, the entity may show up less and less, or some mild variations might be introduced into the entity's behaviors to keep things interesting.



Eventually, the novelty of encountering will wear out, so the entity no longer appears.

  • Eventually, the novelty of encountering will wear out, so the entity no longer appears.

  • Although the above discussion suggests a gradual introduction and fading away of an entity, some games do this abruptly by introducing an entity at the beginning of a level, using the entity throughout the level, then simply never using it again in the following levels.



Tim Ryan of Muse of Fire Productions has written an excellent article for gammasutra.com where he enumerates 20 design rules for level designers.

  • Tim Ryan of Muse of Fire Productions has written an excellent article for gammasutra.com where he enumerates 20 design rules for level designers.



The levels must reflect the vision of the game. Avoid tangencies and make every effort to understand what the game producer or designer is looking for.

  • The levels must reflect the vision of the game. Avoid tangencies and make every effort to understand what the game producer or designer is looking for.

  • In some cases you can help shape that vision through your work.



The design palette refers to the resources at hand.

  • The design palette refers to the resources at hand.

  • When working in a game company, make sure you understand the tools that you are working with.

  • Also make sure you understand what the player can do with the weapons they have.

  • If you are new at this, talk to more experienced artists to help you along.

  • Read the Game Design Document so you are absolutely clear on what it is you are trying to achieve.



Your best work is done if you enjoy what you are doing. Level design is not for everyone, and if you are hating life, then maybe level design is not for you.

  • Your best work is done if you enjoy what you are doing. Level design is not for everyone, and if you are hating life, then maybe level design is not for you.



Have a good idea what you are shooting for.

  • Have a good idea what you are shooting for.

  • Take time to think about what elements you want to add before starting.

  • Once you have the bulk of the level designed, you can always go back and add details.



If you have multiple routes in your level, avoid filling them with the same enemies, costs, risks and rewards.

  • If you have multiple routes in your level, avoid filling them with the same enemies, costs, risks and rewards.

  • Mix it up a bit. Many players will play a level multiple times just to see what happens it they make a different choice.

  • If there is no difference, there is also no fun.



Try to offer multiple solutions to suit a range of players.

  • Try to offer multiple solutions to suit a range of players.

  • You can have risky scenarios and conservative ones mixed in together.

  • It can be difficult to imagine what a player may be thinking as they traverse a level, but always remember that people learn at different rates, so keep this in mind.



Players like intricate options and want to explore your world.

  • Players like intricate options and want to explore your world.

  • You must introduce an ample number of secrets, surprises, paths, and so on.

  • Many players will spend a good deal of time looking for some out of the ordinary way of doing something, rather than going the obvious route.

  • Consider what the player might want to do and design for it.

  • Avoid putting in dead end routes or challenges.

  • They only frustrate the player, especially if they've spent a good deal of time exploring that option.



Pacing is how you control suspense and tension.

  • Pacing is how you control suspense and tension.

  • Use it to your advantage.

  • Some ways to produce tension, or pace the game, are to impose time limits on execution of some action, or place pathways in your environment that serve to speed up or slow down the gameplay.

  • For example, a mud pit would slow a car down, while a super highway would allow the player to drive at a high rate of speed.



This tip reflects back on the entity life cycle discussed above.

  • This tip reflects back on the entity life cycle discussed above.

  • You do not want to introduce all or many of your assets too quickly because you run the risk of overwhelming the player.

  • By gradually phasing in or out enemies, terrain, and situations, you create perpetual interest.

  • Normally the lead designer will have defined what assets get introduced when, and will provide you with guidelines as to how to introduce them.

  • But not always. Another point to keep in mind is how you physically space assets apart in the level.

  • Wall switches, treasure chests and other items should be spaced in a way that encourages exploration.

  • The same holds true for terrain related objects such as bridges, waterways, and other obstacles.



As a level designer, challenging the player should be an overriding concern.

  • As a level designer, challenging the player should be an overriding concern.

  • The way you do that can make all the difference as to whether or not the player continues to play or puts the box on the shelf.

  • Victory in a level should be won with some degree of difficulty in order to be satisfying to the player.

  • Referring back to level difficulties above, some variation of the S-Curve is generally a good way to do this.

  • Also, while you should follow a general increase in difficulty in from level to level, often the beginning of a level will not be as difficult as the end of the previous level.

  • The intensity then ramps back up. This helps you give the player a rest and vary the tension.



A level doesn't have to be completely original to be unique.

  • A level doesn't have to be completely original to be unique.

  • You can use elements of the story to motivate your design.

  • You can use ideas from other games as well, but suited for your environment.

  • The best way to get a sense of how you want your level to behave is to play the competition.

  • Be aware of what techniques are at your disposal.



Never assume that the player is going find everything they need to find on their own.

  • Never assume that the player is going find everything they need to find on their own.

  • They will not read all the dialog, will not turn over every stone, and will not follow every path.

  • You must be sure that the essential elements of the story or mission can be learned by whatever route the character chooses to take.

  • Often the best approach is to define objectives at the very beginning of the level, before too many decisions have been made.

  • This could include dialog, introduction of enemies and introduction to some of the major elements of the terrain.



While some players will examine previous terrain, many will not.

  • While some players will examine previous terrain, many will not.

  • Players tend to concentrate on the present situation, and in particular on anything new that is occurring.

  • There is a term called the "event horizon" which is where new terrain is revealed and new enemies appear (it does not necessarily indicate a horizon in the common sense of the word).

  • This is where the player will concentrate the most. You can change the event horizon to keep the player interested and generate excitement.



The context of the game, the story, and the specifics of the level force certain expectations.

  • The context of the game, the story, and the specifics of the level force certain expectations.

  • A wizard is expected to cast magic spells. A bridge crossing a river might lead to an enemy army on the other side.

  • While always entertaining the option of surprise or the unexpected, be aware of what the player might expect, and what makes sense in the game world.



Surprises do not necessarily interfere with expectations. If you are fighting a wizard's apprentice, then you can be surprised to find the wizard showing up and saving him, although this would not be unexpected.

  • Surprises do not necessarily interfere with expectations. If you are fighting a wizard's apprentice, then you can be surprised to find the wizard showing up and saving him, although this would not be unexpected.

  • However, entering an industrial building but failing to find any industrial equipment would lead to confusion.

  • Worse, failure to follow through on a blatant expectation will leave the player feeling cheated or scammed.

  • If it happens enough times, you will lose the player.



The saying goes "you can't please everybody".

  • The saying goes "you can't please everybody".

  • That is definitely true in games.

  • Therefore you must have a target skill level that you design to, but you cannot abandon those who might have greater or less skill than the average.

  • Many games simply let the player set the skill level.



Actions, expected response times, number of enemies present at one time, and value of booty can all be adjusted depending upon which skill level the player selects.

  • Actions, expected response times, number of enemies present at one time, and value of booty can all be adjusted depending upon which skill level the player selects.

  • There are some games that even adjust the gameplay dynamically according to how the player is doing.

  • Such schemes are difficult to implement, but not impossible.

  • Setting the median skill level is normally done through extensive testing.

  • If your system is flexible enough, you can adjust the parameters that affect skill level after most of the level is designed.



Each player has his own bag of tricks – strategies and tactics for solving puzzles or challenges that are presented to him.

  • Each player has his own bag of tricks – strategies and tactics for solving puzzles or challenges that are presented to him.

  • This includes battle tactics, scouting methods, preferred armament, choice of allied forces, choice of targets, construction strategies, and so on.



When designing a level, you can assume that the player will use some of the tricks from his bag to beat your level.

  • When designing a level, you can assume that the player will use some of the tricks from his bag to beat your level.

  • However, look at the earlier levels in your game and see if players have been taught the trick yet.

  • If they have, feel free to use it, but be careful not to rely on an overused trick, as it makes your level boring.

  • If players have not been taught the trick yet, then be careful not to base your level’s solution on its use.



You will be designing each level with some expectation of the player's skill at that moment.

  • You will be designing each level with some expectation of the player's skill at that moment.

  • There will be assumptions on the player's strength characteristics, weaponry and tactics used to get as far as they have.

  • The level should be designed in accordance with those expectations.



Your Game Design Document should include an Asset Revelation Schedule that acts as a guide for this.

  • Your Game Design Document should include an Asset Revelation Schedule that acts as a guide for this.

  • You do not want to construct your level to be too easy or too hard for the player's acquired skills.



Look at the level through the eyes of the enemy.

  • Look at the level through the eyes of the enemy.

  • Remember that even though you are creating a puzzle that must have a solution, you need to throw in many obstacles and challenges that draw them deeper into the game.

  • Think from the perspective of the thwarting force in designing your challenges



The only way to know that you have it right is to play and test the game to death.

  • The only way to know that you have it right is to play and test the game to death.

  • You should test during level design as well as after so you can make adjustments before they become too difficult to make.

  • Although your company will be hiring testers, don't wait for them to find your bugs and obvious flaws.

  • It is always interesting to watch as others play your level.



Gauge not only their reactions, but examine what decisions they make.

  • Gauge not only their reactions, but examine what decisions they make.

  • Consider carefully why they might not have chosen a particular action when you thought it was obvious.

  • See if there are tendencies or biases towards always playing the level a certain way.

  • Never get upset if a tester does not play the game the way you intended.



If one tester is doing this, then players who buy the game will do it as well.

  • If one tester is doing this, then players who buy the game will do it as well.

  • Rather, examine the reasons and make changes if necessary.

  • A good tester is one who will help you in this process, and can make good suggestions.

  • One more note, use as many testers as possible.

  • You will be surprised at just how much variation in gameplay there really is.



You will be constrained by schedule limitations, but do your best to put as much effort as possible into your levels.

  • You will be constrained by schedule limitations, but do your best to put as much effort as possible into your levels.

  • Try different things, save copies of different experiments and distribute them around if you can for comments.

  • Level design is not something you can do in a whimsical way.

  • It requires thoughtful, hard work, and it's your job to provide the ultimate experience for the player.




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