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LEVEL
DESIGN
CHAPTER 12 – THE FUNDAMENTALS OF
GAME DESIGN
WHAT IS LEVEL DESIGN?
• Space in which a game takes place
• Designed and using 2D or 3D modeling tools
• Initial conditions of a level
• Determines the initial state of variables in the
level (drawbridge up or down, starting
resources)
• Set of challenges players faces in level
• Enemies, puzzles, etc.
WHAT IS LEVEL DESIGN?
CONTINUED
• Termination conditions of the level
• What determines whether you win or lose in
the level (defeating a boss for example)
• Interplay between the gameplay and the
story
• Making sure that the story and gameplay
work together coherently
• Aesthetics and mood of the level
• Tone and atmosphere created in the level
(haunted house game)
KEY DESIGN
PRINCIPLES
Universal Level Design Principles
General guidelines every game should follow
Genre Specific Design Principles
Only apply to games in a specific genre
UNIVERSAL LEVEL
DESIGN PRINCIPLES
• Include tutorial levels in the beginning
• Vary pacing of the level
• Provide resources upon completing
challenges
• Avoid conceptual non sequitirs
• Everything should work and make sense
together
• Inform players of current goals in the level
• Players should know what the next goal is
not necessarily long term goals however
UNIVERSAL LEVEL
DESIGN PRINCIPLES
• Reward players for skill, imagination,
intelligence and dedication
• Powerups, resources, shortcuts, etc.
• Large rewards, small punishments
• This will help not discourage players
• Foreground takes precedence over
background
• Graphically focus on stuff right in front of the
player first
UNIVERSAL LEVEL
DESIGN PRINCIPLES
• AI in a game should put up fight but lose
• Not extremely difficult to frustrate player
• Multiple difficulty settings
• This opens it up to a wider array of
audiences
GENRE-SPECIFIC LEVEL
DESIGN PRINCIPLES
• Design of levels is extremely dependent on
which specific genre the game is catering to
• Action
• Pacing is crucial
• Lots of high intensity areas followed by
periods of recovery and rest (cutscenes)
• Strategy games
• Reward planning
• Anticipating your opponents move and
planning attacks or defense
GENRE-SPECIFIC LEVEL
DESIGN PRINCIPLES
• Role Playing Games
• Opportunities for character growth and selfexpression
• Every level should have opportunities that
reflect player’s persona in the game
• Sports Games
• Verisimilitude is vital
• Each match can be considered a level
• Design stadiums, players, jerseys
GENRE-SPECIFIC LEVEL
DESIGN PRINCIPLES
• Vehicle Simulations
• Reward skillful maneuvering
• Steering is primary challenge, after that shooting
and exploring etc. is secondary
• Construction and Management Simulations
• Offer an interesting variety of initial
conditions and goals
• Empty space where player has free reign
• Scenarios where there is a goal to achieve in
a specific time limit
GENRE-SPECIFIC LEVEL
DESIGN PRINCIPLES
• Adventure Games
• Construct challenges that harmonize with
their locations and the story
• Exploration and puzzle-solving
• Each chapter is a new level, challenges
should incorporate current environment
• Artificial Life Games
• Create many interaction opportunities for the
creatures in their environment
• Game designer typically specifies interaction
opportunities
GENRE-SPECIFIC LEVEL
DESIGN PRINCIPLES
• Puzzle Games
• Give players time to think
• Either create puzzles that give player
complete freedom to think things through or
allow pausing
LEVEL
LAYOUTS
LEVEL LAYOUTS
• Open
• Linear
• Parallel
• Ring
• Network
• Hub-and-Spoke
• Combinations
OPEN LAYOUT
• Almost entirely unconstrained movement
• May have small regions that are only
accessible in a linear fashion
• Open map of an RPG
• Eg. Skyrim main world
LINEAR LAYOUT
• Most common
• Play may only go
backwards or forwards
• On rails
• One-way doors
sometimes that players
can’t go back out of
• Make sure to not lock out
players if they haven’t
obtained necessary item
from region!!
PARALLEL LAYOUT
• Variant of linear
• One fixed start and
end point but variety
of paths to get to the
end
• Players sometimes
explore all paths
• Some paths easier,
some more difficult
RING LAYOUT
• Level returns to it’s
original starting point
• May be shortcuts in
the level
• Shortcuts faster but
proportionately more
difficult
• Primarily in racing
games
NETWORK LAYOUTS
• Spaces connect to
each other
• Learning way around
is a challenge
• Gives player freedom
on what path to take
• Difficult for story
telling
HUB-AND-SPOKE
LAYOUTS
• Central hub that
implies safety
• Linear path out of hub
and then back
• Return journey quick
• Major
challenge/reward at
end of spoke
• You can make certain
spokes accessible at
different times
COMBINATION
LAYOUTS
• Combines several
types
• RPGS where main
map but subplots or
quests
• Game is linear but
levels can be
completed in various
orders
PRINCIPLES
OF LEVEL
DESIGN
PRINCIPLES OF LEVEL
DESIGN
• Atmosphere
• Progression
• Pacing
• Tutorial Levels
ATMOSPHERE
• Lighting
• Color Palette
• Weather and Atmospheric Effects
• Special Visual Effects
• Music
• Ambient Audio
• Special Audio Effects
ATMOSPHERE LIGHTING
• Placement and orientations of the
lights set the scene
• Lights have to fit area and the mood
of the level
• Sunlight for warm and cheery
• Moonlight for a dark alley
• What you don’t light is just as
important as what as lit
ATMOSPHERE LIGHTING
https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/MgKHubmf9ds/Tr5eXeS3eKI/AAAAAAAAFn0/xI0yZuEV1Dk/s6
00/gt5time4darkxuoi.gif
http://www.abload.de/img/gt5timesuwd.gif
ATMOSPHERE –
COLOR PALETTE
• Colors of a level reflect its mood
• Combination of colors on the
objects as well as the lighting
• They can elicit specific emotions
from players
ATMOSPHERE –
WEATHER
• Fog, rain, snow and wind all create
distinct impressions
• Dark skies show storm
• Fog creates mystery
• Wind suggests instability
ATMOSPHERE – SPECIAL
VISUAL EFFECTS
• Weapon recoil, tires screeching
creating smoke, magic spells
• Startle players
• Discomfort them
• Amuse them
• Reward them
ATMOSPHERE –
MUSIC
• Rhythm of the music can set the
pace of the game or the current
level
• Keep with the tone of the game
• Generally remains consistent
throughout the level
ATMOSPHERE –
MUSIC
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C
RwWGXEsxm4
ATMOSPHERE –
AMBIENT AUDIO
• Contributes to overall mood of the
level
• May vary with place and time in the
level
• Can help player orient themselves
• Night time, enemies near, market
square
ATMOSPHERE –
AMBIENT AUDIO
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u
1nY_5-UrY4
ATMOSPHERE – SPECIAL
AUDIO EFFECTS
• Help alert the players of what they
might not observe visually
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
OSg_c9uWg0U
PROGRESSION AND
PACING
• Games that are over an hour in length
should have some form of progression
system
• Having challenges that too close together
can create stress for the player
PROGRESSION
• Mechanics
• Experience duration
• Ancillary awards and environmental
progression
• Practical gameplay rewards
• Difficulty
• Actions available to the player
• Story progression
• Character growth
PACING
• Designing the pacing
• First you must decide the genre that is
being designed for
• Varying the pacing
• Should vary, fast sections followed by
slow sections
• Overall pacing
• Pacing should increase throughout the
game and climax with the final boss battle
TUTORIAL LEVELS
• Used to be game manuals, now tutorial
levels
• Lets players learn in a hands on fashion
• Not an easy or short level, scripted or
partially scripted experience
• Use voiceover narration, text
superimposed on the screen or a mentor
character
TUTORIAL LEVELS
CONTINUED
• Key Principles to follow:
• Introduce game’s features in sequence
• Don’t make all features available at once
• If the interface is complex, introduce over
multiple tutorial levels
• Highlight the interface element being
shown, do not make player look for them
• Let the player go back and retry aspects
of the tutorial or the whole thing
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