Monday, 11 February 2013

Task 16: Elements of game design, part seven: level design

I've never really considered what level design is about until now. I'm guessing its largely focused on environmental work and design, which isn't something I'm interested in or good at. I'll do my best to get my head around it though.

Level flow design
Lets start with the purpose of level design and their goals. Level design is needed for two main reasons, providing players with a goal and providing players with enjoyable play experience. Good level design will produce quality gameplay, provide an immersive experience, and sometimes, especially in story-based games, to advance the storyline. A poorly designed level without thought will stand out as badly done and feel awkward to play, detracting from the gaming experience.

Who is a level designer? A level designer is a game designer who creates environments and scenarios using a level editor and other tools.  They work on levels from pre-production to completion during various stages of the games overall progress. Game programmers usually make the level editors and design tools for the level designers so they don't need to modify or use the game's code.

Blocking out simple layouts

It is the level designers job to layout a level, aiming for consistency, clear layout and playability ready for game artists to then produce concepts over block outs or texture artwork. Many level designers have skills as both a visual artist and game designers, which helps them to imagine what the level may look like and produce compelling work.

Level design itself can be quite complicated. Each level in a modern game typically starts with concept art, sketches, renderings, and physical models. Once completed, these concepts transform into extensive documentation, environment modelling, and the placing of game specific entities, usually with the aid of a level editor.

Indicating where in a level things will happen

There are various steps involved in laying out a map and these steps vary depending on what game genre the level is for. 
General steps include:
  • Laying out the large-scale features of the map, such as hills, cities, rooms, tunnels, etc., for players and enemies to move around.
  • Determining environmental conditions and "ground rules" such as day/night, weather, scoring systems, allowable weapons or gameplay types, time limits, and starting resources.
  • Specifying certain regions where certain gameplay activities or behaviours occur, such as resource harvesting, base building, water travelling, etc.;
  • Specifying non-static parts of a level, such as doors, keys and buttons with associated mechanisms.
  • Specifying locations of various entities, such as player units, enemies, monster spawn points, ladders, coins, resource nodes, weapons, save points etc.;
  • Specifying the start and exit locations for one or more players;
  • Adding aesthetic details such as level-specific graphic textures, sounds, animation, lighting and music;
  • Introducing scripted event locations, where certain actions by the player can trigger specified changes;
The level design process is complicated, there are a lot of things that need to be thought about and considered when someone sets out to create a playable level. The process may need to be redone several times to achieve a desired outcome and the design of a level may change several times during its creation.

Good level design and planning is important, levels aren't just thrown together, they are carefully planned and evaluated and its an integral part of a game being enjoyable and believable.
Hopefully this new insight will help with the group project which has just started.

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