Level design for game

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Level design is a unique art of building game levels. The level designer must have a technical and creative mind at the same time. The process of level design is not to make rooms and place objects. Designer must use this instruments to make the player feel some kind of emotions or to set adequate gameplay difficulty.

level design of a game

We will tell you what do level designers do, how level design works in different genres and how we do level design for our clients.

What is level design for games

Main task of level design is to create an interesting levels which will push the player to play further. Level design includes level architecture development, objects, NPCs and enemies placing and using places where the player must use specific game mechanics.

Our level designers say that level design is a compromise between game design, art and technical stuff. And the goal of level design is to make the player believe in the virtual world and it’s rules.

game level planning

And we, the players and developers, believe that level design if what makes games fun. What’s the point of perfected game mechanics and balance if the game doesn’t provide a situations to use them? That’s why we pay attention to level design in every game we work on.

Example of level design process — map

Let’s start with basics: creating the first level for your game. The first level is the most important because 100% of players will go through it. If it is boring, only 70-80% will pass it and play the game further. The main task of first level design is to introduce main game mechanics and let the player to learn the basics.

To make the player learn the game level designer must not confuse him and introduce game mechanics one by one. For example, you need to place the player in some sort of safe place where he can just try the controls.

tutorial level design

When the player gets familiar with walking, he will try to explore the world. For now the level designer must not distract him with forked paths and dangers. Instead the level designer gives the player a straight and safe path with some obstacles. We need those obstacles to make sure that the player learned basics like jumping and crouching. It’s not always works: few years ago there was game journalist who couldn’t beat a tutorial of Cuphead.

The end of a tutorial level or area must lead to something more complex: a second level, a hub-location or passage to the open world. When the architecture is ready, level designer can step to more complex task: object placing.

Example of level design process — interactive objects an enemies

The level’s map is ready but empty. Level designer must add some objects to make it more alive: enemies, weapons, healing items and other items needed. The designer must assure that the player will not miss any part of the tutorial level. To achieve this he places the items on the only way the player can walk.

level shooter design

We think that the Dark Souls game has the best tutorial level design. There are no crossroads where the player can lost his path. Notice, how the mechanics are introduced one by one:

  • the player must pick up a key to escape from a cage — he learns how to interact with items;
  • then the player finds some defenseless enemies and learns how to fight;
  • the player finds bonfire, ladders and doors and learns how to use them;
  • then the player meets a trap — a boulder rolling from stairs. The boulder crashes a wall to the room with healing item and NPC, who explains the main task;
  • then the player finds some weapons and face real enemies;
  • the last part of the tutorial — the first boss.

And a cherry on top — after each try to beat the boss the player must start from last used bonfire and make his way through enemies. By doing this the level designer assured that player will have enough practice with regular enemies and will be able to finally slay the boss.

dark souls design

So the “object” part of level design is to make sure that player will get all the necessary items, learns how to interact with objects and how to deal with enemies.

Example of level design process — art

When the level designer has finished with map design and object placing, it’s time to make the level look good. The team of artists chooses and places decorative elements, textures and lightning.

level artist work

At this point the level designer uses concept art to give every level its uniqueness. It may be color scheme, specific type of architecture and enemies. The main goal here is to make levels nice and holistic.

Level design as an instrument of fun

When the tutorial is ready it’s time to design the real levels. The goal of level design is to entertain the player with interesting and difficult situations.

The creation of main levels starts from key concept document. It may depict only a small location from the whole level but it is often enough to give the level designer some ideas. Then he draws the map of the level on paper. By doing this he can achieve fast response from the rest of the team and change map in a minutes.

level map

Then the level designer works on a flow — sequence of events on the level. The events may be fights, puzzles, parkour-parts or quick time events. Designer may draw a block-scheme on paper or build the prototype with primitives. If the level contains some episodes which are important for the plot, then the level designer must come up with location that will suit the plot events.

After drawing map on paper designer thinks about making it fun and challenging. The level designer knows what abilities do player have at the moment when he reach this level and can add some obstacles which can be passed only by using abilities.

Design of 3D and 2D action games

Shooters, slashers, RPGs and other 3D games have something in common: fighting enemies. Enemies use their AI to confront the player and the level designer must plan the level accordingly to AI limitations. For example, planning of most levels must be relatively simple so the enemies will not stuck between columns.

enemies placing in level

Also level designer must maintain the game difficulty and do not let the player to cheat the fight. For example, if most of the enemies have long range weapons, the player must not be able to shorten the distance without taking the risk. And if the enemies are dangerous in close quarters, it is better to make a location with narrow corridors and ambush sites.

In designing 3D game it is important to keep the balance between fights and exploration. If the player survived a tough fight he must get some rewards: healing items, artistic view or upgrade. If the player is introduced to a new game mechanic then level designer must create a location where the mechanic will be very useful.

level shooter design

Level design in casual and puzzle games

Puzzle games like Cut the Rope and Angry Birds must contain a few dozens of levels to make the game long-lasting. It is important to come up with a new challenge in every level so the player don’t get bored.

arcade level design

The best design in casual game level design is to combine game mechanics in different proportions. And the goal of game designer is to make every level have unique solution. Solution consists of number of game mechanics and number of their uses needed to beat the level. For example, in Angry Birds you have a set of birds for every level and must use only what you got.

Our secrets of game level planning

We create some levels from end to start. At first we decide what the goal will be and what does the player comes through to reach it. It comes in handy for a platformer game level design: if we know where does the player need to land, we can develop challenging jumps and involve different game mechanics.

When we are developing an open world we always place some high landmarks so it will be easier to navigate through the world. Also we can use stylized signposts to help the player to remember locations positions.

secrets of level design

We love to hide some secrets in every level. To interest the player we leave the secret visible, but not accessible from current spot. The player has to find a secret passage to reach the secret and get rewarded.

If the game has a good story we give each location it’s unique looks which will tell the history of a location. And of course we’ll make some levels with beautiful view ahead to make the player stop and enjoy the view.

We pay attention to game balance in every level. If we are developing an action game, we balance the duration of action, exploring and storytelling. And if it’s about the puzzles or arcade games, we try to balance the level to the skills required.

We will design levels for game of any genre

Good level design will entertain players till the final credits and make them want to replay the game or buy additional content. Make sure to hire the best people to design your levels to be fun to play.

We in Kreonit studio have talented level designers with knowledge in architecture, human behaviour and game design. We’ll make fun and high quality levels for your 3D and 2D action, casual and puzzle games.

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