Level-design as part of the game

Our game designer reveals her secrets


For those who might not know, level-design is the part of the game development where the video game/level designer creates the different stages of the game. 

Inside our studio, this is not done by the art team, which is focused on drawing backgrounds and characters. It is done by one person: Andrea, our lead game designer. Her job is quite complicated because apart from doing the level design, it is important for her to keep an eye on the art team to make sure everything is going as planned all the time. 

So we can all understand a bit better what happens behind the screen, let’s ask Andrea a few questions…

¿What’s it like to be the only game designer on the team?

A: It’s a big challenge, to say the least. I have to come up with new ideas everyday, knowing that most of them are not going to be used in the final product. This is something you should get used to if you want to become a game/level designer and even more if you are the only one working on it, because during the testing you will realise that not everything works and that is where you will really find out your failures and successes. 

¿What do you actually do? Explain the process.

A: Since I hold the position as Game and Level Designer at the same time, first I have to come up with the mechanics and rules that are going to be the core of our game and once that is settled in stone then I can start creating the levels.

First of all, I create a quick draft on paper and test it, and once I see that actually works (following the rules that I previously mentioned), I make a clean concept and stick it in one of the walls (you should see the “before and after” once you do this, it’s quite a change).

Then it’s time to create a simple prototype in Unity with some boxes and tiles in order to test it, here is where the major changes occur. I like to call this stage the experimentation phase, since most of what you did in paper is going to be changed and “thrown away”. This is the phase in the development that will make you crazy since you are going to repeat it a thousand times, but hey, look at the bright side, you will know your own maps perfectly.

During this phase is where the designer and programmer need to be on the same page, since they are going to need feedback from one another constantly and that will allow the prototype to be as smooth as it can.

Once you iterated as much as you could and are happy with the results, it’s time for the art department to jump in and start decorating the scenarios.

The last phase would include things such as making sure there is as little bugs as possible, making sure your design intention/layout is clear to the players and that the difficulty is correctly balanced.

¿How long does it take to get a level done?

A: It depends on the duration of the level, the amount of actions that you are allowed to do in that level and a bunch of other aspects that I mentioned before but let’s say it takes me a week to settle everything in paper, two weeks to move it and do the first test in Unity and then the rest of the time is all about refining what you previously created. Obviously this changes if you have to start everything all over again or if there is a major change in the game-play of the level.

¿What would you say to someone who wants to start doing level-design? Give us some advice. 

A: I will tell you what my teacher and colleagues told me: “Play as much as you can” and by playing I don’t mean only videogames, I mean any kind of game, you can learn or come up with a new mechanic by playing hide and seek with your friends, it’s a constant learning process that I personally love. 

Be ruthless, and even mean, when you are trying to understand how a level or game works, look for any bug or inconsistency that you can find and figure out different ways to solve the “problem”. You can do this with games that you have played, but it’s even better to do it with your own games or ideas, since this will help you refine your skills, and more importantly your games.

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