What the heck is Level Design? And what does a level designer do?
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What is level design?
Level design’s role in game development is to create an entertaining playground for the players.
Level designer’s job is to design the levels (duh ;)) and make sure that whatever happens to the players is gonna be engaging for them.
They need to translate gameplay mechanics into the environment of the game.
Ofc it all starts with PLANNING.
Take your fellow Game Designers pals, sit down together, and ensure everyone is on the same page. What kind of game are you making? 2D platformer or 3D FPS? (Yeah, it kinda matters).
Consult what is necessary to create engaging and juicy gameplay for your players. You need to answer many questions like how many maps you need, what objectives the player has, and what special events are waiting for him? You need to know the setting of your game (an environment where the action takes place). So you have a brief idea of what kind of levels you need to prepare.
It really makes a difference from the design point of view. For example, building a level in the game – where the action takes place in the literal desert will be different from designing a complex cyberpunk building. You get my point, right?
When you have that sorted out…
To the sketch board!
Here is where the creative process kicks in. Start sketching out ideas on paper or using 2D drawing software (such as Miro, Adobe Illustrator, Sketch, whatever feels comfortable to you).
Your job as a level designer is to guide a player throughout the whole gaming experience. So put yourself in the player’s shoes. Think of all potential possibilities regarding actions, events, sequences, objects, and the game environment. Think of your level from a top-down perspective. Mark all goodies that can await your players. Is it a puzzle that needs to be in a specific place? Encounter with a bunch of baddies?
Ask yourself – what will happen to the player during his playthrough?
LDD – Level Design Document
You might need to create proper documentation. Especially when you’re working in a team. You know, so others will know what you’re cooking.
The document you need to prepare is called an LDD (a Level Design Document).
What can you include in a Level Design Document?
- Goals and objectives for the stage
- Are there any additional challenges that the player needs to complete?
- Are there any special zones?
- Are there any special items that players can pick up?
- Is there a boss battle?
- Are there any notable sequences?
- Flow chart of the level
- Top-down map of the level
- Include only relevant things (you really don’t need to list down every barrel or a crate you want to have on your level)
Now it’s the time for BLOCKING-OUT! 😉
(Image from: https://www.gamasutra.com/blog…)
Open up your game engine or other level editors, and we’re starting some serious level building.
You did your planning; you created a map. You know what you want to achieve. Now let’s go. We need to build some sh*t.
Blocking-out is the process of building your level using simple shapes. You’re focusing on the layout, flow, and overall functionality of your map. After you put all shapes in their place, you can playtest the hell out of it. Gather feedback and adjust your level to it.
Is it fun to play?
Is it clear what the player should do or where he can go?
Level Design vs. Environment Art – two different roles
Yeah, you probably noticed that I didn’t mention adding all those pretty models, details, and stuff to your newly built level.
It is simply because it’s not the job of a level designer. After the level designer ends up on his part – the job goes to the Environment Artists (you can call them also Level Artists). These guys are adding all the rocks, trees, and stuff. It’s their job to make everything screenshot-worthy.
People are often confused about these roles. Ofc, There’re companies where the level designer also does the environment art. Still, these are cases when people need to put on different hats to make things work.
For the educational purposes of this piece – let’s know the difference between these two.
Level designer – designs the path for the player. Keeps the flow entertaining.
Environmental artist – is responsible for making the experience appealing to the eye. Make sure to use art principles to visually guide the player to the paths designed by the level designer.
And this is it?
Not even close, my man. 😉 It’s just the beginning. Every single thing that you’re gonna add to your level – you need to playtest and check if it works. Testing is an important part of good level design.
There can be plenty of new ideas that you need to implement to your level. Some of the things you thought of at the very beginning might not work the way you wanted them to.
Then you might need to implement AI’s to your level. (AI it’s simply simulating the behavior of other players or entities).
Listen, the game development process is fluid. And it’s work through soooo many iterations.
Level Designer is a bridge in the game development process
Once you get ownership of your level, you need to secure all elements that you need to put in it to keep your players engaged.
Take out your Level Design Document and ensure that everything you noted down there will happen on your level.
If you need an interaction between two AI’s – make sure that you tell your fellow narrative designers that you need some juicy lines. Or if you need to add some custom sounds for the event you’re planning to put on your level – let your sound designer know.
You get the idea. 😉
What are the skills of a Level Designer?
- Deep understanding of gameplay and game mechanics
A true appreciation and understanding of the game’s ambition and gameplay must be translated through good level design.
As a level designer, you need to show the storyline and gameplay through the right level setting. It will set the proper mood for the game.
Play a lot of games. Get familiar with different game genres, game levels, gameplay mechanics. Analyze the levels of different games and understand how they set the mood for the level, what do you like/ not like about certain levels, and (most importantly) why. (This is an excellent level design exercise btw. recommended in many level design tutorials)
- Ability to transform 2D concepts into 3D objects
Any Level Designer should see the 3D view of their 2D drawings, allowing a smooth transition. So keep practicing translating sketches and written ideas to a 3D environment.
This will surely set you on the right path to becoming a Level Designer.
- Know your way around the game engine
Having prior experience with game engines will be considered a very strong point for an aspiring Level Designer. After all, this is where most of the magic happens in terms of the actual level designing.
Whether it’s Unreal Engine’s blueprints or Unity Engine Visual Scripting – you need to know your way around these tools.
The best way to get accustomed to these tools is to watch some tutorials and practice, practice, practice.
- Knowledge about composition and art
Even though it’s not your job to make the level pretty, it’s still important to have an overall knowledge of composition. The base of your level needs to be readable and clear for your player.
The art of level design is to know how to point the player’s attention to the places you want him to go.
- Storytelling skills
Usually, you will work closely with a bunch of game designers and narrative designers. Still, it’s good to have this in your skill arsenal. So you easily understand what your team wants to achieve.
But the fact is that Level Designers need to connect with the players to keep them engaged and immersed in the world they’ve built.
Level Designer’s portfolio and resume
While looking for new opportunities for level designers, include all game level design internships that you completed. Share also what kind of software you use. Did you finish any courses? Put that as well!
What about your portfolio? The best possible way to show off your skills is to include a video tour through your level.
Explain your thought process.
Remember to add some awesome screenshots. You can also include some of your maps.
So I guess that we can wrap it up.
We hope that now everything is clear and you’re ready to become a level designer. So drop us a note here in the comments or on our social media and share your fav level designs in the games!