10 August 2011

[Literature] Fundamentals of Game Design, ch 12: Level Design

Level design = determine level's initial conditions, pacing (stressful or calm, genre-dependent) challenges, win/loss conditions, cut scene locations, aesthetics and mood (lighting, color palette, weather, special visual and audio effects, music, ambient audio), through tools.

Level design process

  1. Determine level features: events, objects, NPC
  2. Plan the gameplay: layout, challenge areas, win/lose conditions. Plan also the art: textures, styles, moods, ...
  3. Prototype: requires that the game engine is at least partially working. Use mockups to place triggers and document what sets triggers off (= rigging).
  4. Keep reviewing (with other people) and refining the level's size, pacing, objects, triggers, NPCs, and aesthetics.
  5. Hand off the level to the art team with requirements and documentation.
  6. Integrate visual and audio art assets, bug fix, and tune.


  • tutorial = included in the first levels of the actual game (not as a side) = hands-on learning. Start explaining the most used features one by one. Disable unused features to avoid confusing the player. Explain UI elements and point at them visually (blinking or glowing). Let player go back and try the tutorial examples again. Allow the tutorial to be skipped.
  • vary pacing within a level
  • after player surmounts resource-consuming challenges, player should be given resources to come back
  • avoid things that do not make sense/inconsistencies
  • scope: do not get too big, adapt levels to team's capacity
  • do not show all the challenges to in one level - introduce features gradually
  • know your audience
  • atypical levels should be optional: either they break suspension of disbelief or the challenges are foreign to the genre, and are therefore not exciting for players who like the genre. Atypical levels should be unlockable, hidden levels, or side missions, but not in the main progression.
  • inform player of short-term goals
  • be clear about risks, rewards, and consequences of decisions
  • reward for skill, imagination, intelligence and dedication
  • reward a lot, punish a little
  • The AI is here to lose
  • provide multiple difficulty settings
  • action games: vary the pace/players must be able to rest
  • strategy games: reward planning, give advantageous locations but let the player find them
  • RPG: allow character growth and player self-expression
  • sports: verisimilitude
  • vehicle: reward skillful maneuvers
  • construction and management sims: provide interesting variety of scenarios (= initial conditions and goals)
  • adventure: challenges consistent with their location and the story
  • artificial life: offer a lot of interactions between creature and environment
  • puzzle: give time to think

Layout patterns

Pattern Indications
open player's movement has no constraints
linear works well with linear stories
parallel works well with foldback stories, shortcuts possible
ring mostly only for racing games
network maze, good for explorers, hard to tell a story because the path is quite free. If all major spaces are connected, then exploration is easy: it's good for FPS deathmatches.
hub and spoke/star start at center, challenges and rewards in branches
combination many kinds of games!

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