Level design

Level design

Level design or game mapping is the creation of levels—locales, stages, or missions—for a video game (such as a console game or computer game). This is commonly done using level design tools, special software usually developed just for the purpose of building levels, however some games feature built-in level editing tools.

Level design is a process used in the majority of video games in a variety of genres, such as platform games, puzzle games, adventure games, computer role-playing games and even driving games. Most of the coverage of the discipline in widely available media such as the Internet relates solely to level creation for first person shooter (FPS) or real time strategy (RTS) games. Only in the last ten years or so has the actual separation of labor occurred that has allowed the job of level designer to come into being, and in the last three or four years the job of level designer itself has often been subdivided into level artist, level designer and scripter.

Process

There are several steps involved in laying out a map, not necessarily performed in a specific linear order. Different game genres may have very different steps, according to the different game features available. General steps include:

* laying out the larger design of the map by sculpting out hills, rooms, tunnels, etc. for players and enemies to move around in
* specifying certain regions where specific activities or behaviors occur (resource harvesting, base building, water regions, etc)
* specifying other entities in the map (such as enemies, soldiers, monster spawn points, ladders, coins, resource nodes, ammo and health, weapons, save points, etc)
* specifying which part of levels move, locations of doors, keys/buttons and associated locked doors, teleporters, and hidden passageways
* specifying the start and exit locations for one or more players
* adding realism by filling in with details such as level-specific graphic textures, sounds, animation, lighting and music
* often advanced techniques are required, such as scripting, where certain actions by the player trigger specified events
* the path that non-player characters take as they walk around, the actions they will take in response to specific triggers, and any dialog they might have with the player

Cut scenes may be triggered by events in a level, but require distinctly different skills, and may be created by a different person or team.

History

MUDs were one of the first type of games that required significant amounts of time to design areas. Often, promoted users were assigned to create new paths, new rooms, new equipment, and new actions, often using the game interface itself. ZZT was another early game notable for its user-accessible mapping and event triggers/scripting, and it still is one of the gentlest ways to introduce a person to level layout.

Once game modding become popular, individuals became very interested in designing unique levels. Some of the best tools and most mapping expertise became associated with games that were designed to be easily modified. Doom and Doom II were two of the first games to attract focused modding activity, and many WAD files were made for it. Half-Life, Quake 3, and many other games have notable mapping tools and communities that formed around them.

In certain games, such as NetHack, some levels may be randomly-generated. In these cases, it is the original programmer who controls how the shapes of rooms and tunnels are formed, by tweaking the randomized algorithms.

Goals

Good level design strives to bring out the best gameplay in a game, provide an immersive experience, and sometimes to advance the storyline.

Good use of textures and sounds can go a long way towards convincing players they're walking through a lush tropical forest or crawling inside a wet gloomy cave.

Maps can impact gameplay to a certain extent. Maps are capable of turning many types of games into a platformer (by careful placement of platforms) or a puzzle game (by extensive use of buttons, keys, and doors). Some FPS maps may be designed to largely prevent sniping by not including any long hallways, while other maps may allow for a mix of sniping and closer combat. Most RTS maps give each player a starting base, but will have resources and terrain that are designed to draw players out of their base and actively encourage players to engage each other. Team game maps can give a noticeable advantage to one team over another, when designed poorly.

"Gimmick maps" are sometimes created to explore a specific narrow type of gameplay, such as sniping or fist fighting. While they are briefly interesting to level designers and experienced players alike, they are not usually included in final polished games because of their limited replay value.

Hidden

Some levels have features that the casual player will likely never see, but are interesting enough to be discovered and documented by dedicated gamers.

Level designers sometimes create hidden rooms and areas. These usually give some additional rewards, such as ammo or powerups, for players who figure out how to reach them. Sometimes, they serve as easter eggs, containing messages such as the level designers' names or pictures, or political or humorous messages. For example, "Quake" has many secret areas that reward the player with ammo, weapons, quad damage powerups, and in one hard-to-reach secret area, Dopefish makes an appearance.

There are many map bugs that level designers try to avoid, but sometimes go unnoticed for some time. A player might be able to get stuck in a hole with no way out, or even a way to die. A player might be able to find a specific spot where they don't have to move to gain experience, because monsters are constantly spawned but can be easily killed in a single-file line. In multiplayer maps, it's problematic if a player is able to reach visible areas of the map that the level designer didn't expect them to go, for example, reaching a rooftop where players aren't usually able to go, and camping there (waiting for other players and killing them unexpectedly). In the worst case, a player might be able to drop "outside" of a map where other players can't reach them.

In some cases, specific mapping tools can be designed to automatically detect problems such as falling "outside" a level, and reaching "stuck" areas. Careful level designers run these tools as the last step before releasing a new version of their level.

In most cases, the best way to improve a map is by playtesting it with experienced players, and allowing them to try to exploit any problems.

Tools

A wide variety of specific tools may be used by someone designing a level. While it is sometimes faster to design shapes and textures with general multimedia creation tools, specific games usually require the data to be in a unique format. Because of this, many specific compilers, and converters of shape, texture, audio data may be required to lay out a level.

Some level editors for Windows games include Valve's Hammer Editor, Epic's UnrealEd, Leadwerks 3D World Studio, BioWare's Aurora Toolset and id Software's Q3Radiant. Multi engine, multi game editors include id Software's GtkRadiant, based on Q3Radiant, and the open source QuArK. Some games may have built-in level editors like "Sauerbraten" and "Doom 3". An example of a console game with a level editor is "TimeSplitters", developed by Free Radical Design. Sometimes, professional 3D editing software, such as 3D Studio Max, Blender, AutoCAD, Lightwave, Maya or Softimage XSI is used, usually customised with a special plugin developed for the specific game.

ources

* [http://www.unknownworlds.com/ns/static/Mapping_Guidelines.html#Style_Guide UnknownWorlds] - Natural Selection Mapping Style Guide

ee also

* List of gaming topics

External links

* [http://www.cliffyb.com/rants/art-sci-ld.shtml The Art and Science of Level Design] by Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games, GDC 2000
* [http://www.voraxgames.com/community/blogs/dut/archive/2006/02/04/124.aspx 3D Level Construction in 6 Steps] , a write-up on the process of 3D level design
* [http://www.adobe.com/devnet/director/articles/3d_in_30_print.html Design a game level in 30 minutes] , article on making an interactive game level, for beginner to intermediate 3D artists from Adobe.com
* [http://gamasutra.com/features/20060425/shahrani_01.shtml A History and Analysis of Level Design in 3D Computer Games: Part One] by Sam Shahrani of Indiana University from "Gamasutra" (2006)
* [http://gamasutra.com/features/20060428/shahrani_01.shtml A History and Analysis of Level Design in 3D Computer Games: Part Two] by Sam Shahrani of Indiana University from "Gamasutra" (2006)


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