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    The Hows and Whys of Level Design - Sjoerd "Hourences" De Jong


    Next Level Design has been given permission from the author to host this entire book in PDF format.

     

    Download the attached PDF at the bottom of this article for the entire book, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70z

    Still not sure?  
     

    Read through this section on lighting that was recently posted on Next Level Design: 


    In addition, we've included another small section of the book right here:
     

    pg. 25
    INTRODUCTION
    Due to games’ ever-increasing complexity and the expanding nature of levels in general, it can certainly be said that levels are not easy to design. Levels, as said before, are combinations of dozens of different aspects, the conglomeration of which render them complex by nature. This combination of complex systems itself requires good design from the start in order to avoid an inconsistent and downright messy result. 

    Because the different aspects are so interdependent, it’s very important not to lose sight of a level’s ‘big picture’. This chapter highlights some of the issues that can pop up when designing a level, as well as some more minor aspects to keep in mind. The overall design is the foundation for a level. Without a clear, strong design, there is no solid base on which to build the level.

    hw-cover.jpg

     


    THE CREATION OF A NEW WORLD
    The most important part of a successful level is its beginning. The way a level starts will determine a great deal about how the rest of the level will evolve and how quickly. In these days of growing complexity, efficiency and speed are valued highly. Getting off to a bad start or using bad work methods can cost time which is usually at a premium to begin with. Part of starting a good design is foreseeing potential problems before anything is created. By doing this early in the process, a good level designer can quickly and easily modify the design to better fit the available time, workload, difficulty, technical limits, or all of the above.

    How one begins a new level is different for every person. One designer may write everything down in a design document while another, like me, just plans it out in their head. The method used also depends upon if one is working in a team environment. Working with a team means that the level’s design must be communicated throughout the team which usually means some sort of written, drawn, or quickly modeled design that can be passed around and/or presented. How it’s done isn’t important as long as several key aspects are kept in mind and the end product is of a sufficient quality. If the technology used cannot create lush jungles, for example, then this must be recognized before starting.

    A design should progress only when exactly what is wanted and how to accomplish it is known. Exact information is the key to this. Again using the jungle example, one must know what the jungle will look like, the colors it uses, the overall style, how the player will move through it, if the engine can render thick vegetation, what kind of physics will be involved, and too many more to list here.

    To assist in this task, I have developed a type of checklist that is at the base of everything I design. The list compares several key values against each other to see if they are possible and if they should be modified. It also helps define the values better. The list checks to see if the rules of, for example, lighting and composition are contrary to each other and if the goal is possible and what direction to take. This extensive chapter will mostly be about the latter.

    A level is complex and it takes increasingly more time and effort to successfully complete one; thus failure is not an option. All the areas that could potentially cause a problem should be identified before starting any work. Once the design process starts it should go smoothly; design dilemmas should not occur or, if they do, should be easily overcome with few modifications to the overall plan. Getting stuck can be very demoralizing and time consuming.

    HW-back.jpg

     


    pg. 26
    THE CHECKLIST
    A level always begins with a goal, a theme, or both. The goal may be that the game requires a medieval castle, or that it’s missing an ominous environment, or that the level is to be the central hub of the game.

    After identifying the basic idea, certain key information needs to be pinned down before starting the level. This ‘key information’ will be referred to as ‘the keys’. The keys communicate important properties about the level. They are the key words the level is built around and provide more information on the level’s requirements.

    The following are questions to determine the key information for the level-to-be:
        • (1-Time) How much time is there available? Is there a deadline?
        • (2-Tech) What tools and game engine will be used?
        • (3-Limitations) What limitations are there? Is there a shortage of art assets or staff/personal skill limit? Can anything be made or are some aspects
        beyond the scope of the  project because of their complexity?
        • (4-Requirements) What kind of requirements are there? Are there any specific  elements, for example, special buildings or areas that have to be in the
        level? When compared to the rest of the game what visual style or theme must the level adhere to?
        • (5-Purpose) What is the overall purpose? For example, is it a multiplayer practice level or a singleplayer boss arena?
        • (6-Gameplay) What should the gameplay be like? How should it be played? Should  there be enough room for a large boss encounter? Or does it need
        to be large enough to  contain a large number of enemies attacking the player? Perhaps it’s a vehicle level? Or  it is a stealth level? And so on.
        • (7-Theme) What theme and/or style will the level have? Will it be a castle or a jungle?  Will the style be cartoonish or realistic?

    This is all essential information for a level. The order of the list is not as important as the  answers. Once the essential elements of the level have been identified it can be run through a checklist to see if it holds up. Will it work? Look right? Play right?

    The keys provide the information while the checklist determines if it is possible or not. The checklist combines two or more keys in order to determine if they fit together or not. If the desired theme is a jungle, but the engine can’t handle rendering dense vegetation, then these are two keys that do not fit together and the design will need to be adjusted accordingly. This is the type of information the keys provide: essential information that design decisions can be based on before actually starting work on a level. Thinking ahead is the key to success.

    The checklist itself is a system for asking questions and making comparisons. The questions are different each time, but the comparisons remain the same. Verify that the individual elements compliment each other.


    Here's the entire Table of Contents:
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    TOC2.png
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    Download the attached PDF below, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70z


    *The Hows and Whys of Level Design is hosted on Next Level Design with permission from the author


    Follow Sjoerd De Jong
    Website: http://www.hourences.com/
    Portfolio: http://www.hourences.com/portfolio/
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/Hourences
    Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Hourences/feed

     

    The Hows and Whys of Level Design.pdf


    Article Preview: Last week we featured the Hows and Whys of Lighting from Sjoerd De Jong. This week we're sharing the WHOLE BOOK. The Hows and Whys of Level Design is hosted in its entirety on Next Level Design. A must read!


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