What is level design?
First of all, I’d like to begin by explaining what designing levels actually means. At its core, level design is the game development practice of creating stages, missions or maps as venues within which players can interact. The process of level design is an artistic as well as a technical process. Thus, level designers must not only understand the basic concepts of creating the level but also ensure that the level is aesthetically pleasant and fun. More on this will be covered below.
1. Have a Learning Curve
First thing first. Every level from every great game you’ve ever played was based on a learning curve. This means that, rather than simply throwing everything at the player from the very beginning, the level designer deploys obstacles, enemies, threats, collectibles and other elements at a slower pace throughout the game. If done correctly, the player will deal with simple tasks in the beginning (fight a weak enemy to learn the combat mechanics), only to be confronted in the end with the most difficult tasks. This differs dramatically from genre to genre and game to game in general, so think very well what’s your game about. Always put yourself in the shoes of the players!
2. Challenge Player’s Skills
When it comes to challenges you have to think about the genre of the game you’re going to make. A sports game is going to challenge players’ skills while a strategy game is going to challenge how fast and efficient players can make decisions. The challenges are supposed to be difficult enough to make the players feel stimulated. Always ask yourself: Is this level challenging enough? Are the players using their skills intensively? However, the levels shouldn’t be incredibly difficult that the players feel the level is absolutely impossible. This will lead them to feel discouraged and frustrated and they’ll abandon the game.
3. Make Immersive Levels
In order to have a great game, you must make sure that the levels are really immersive. Think of it this way, why do you play games in the first place? Is it because you’ve been too productive and want to waste your time on some boring games? Or is it because you want to escape for a while the worries that fill up your mind on a daily basis? If you’re not an alien or a robot, I’d say that you probably fit the second example (no offence to anyone who wants to play unengaging games). Indeed, the truth is that we’re too busy doing our jobs properly, taking care of the family and paying the bills. This is why whenever we have some spare time we take out our phones and play our favourite games.
It is crucial to make the levels be as immersive as possible. For instance, all of the elements present within the level must fit together, keeping the consistency. If your level takes place in volcano, a car used as obstacle has surely nothing to do with the rest of the level. Another important mistake which must be avoided are bugs, crashes and graphical mistakes. Treat each element of the level with much importance and make sure everything looks neat. Avoid leaving spaces between textures through which the skybox can be seen. Also, do not leave crashes unsolved if 60% percent of your users experience them.
4. Make it Fun!
How many times have you played a game that was completely boring? Don’t let yours be the same. You can do that by having a captivating storyline. Moreover, you can diversify the range of obstacles available. If you feel stuck from a creative standpoint, it’s always a good idea to check what other similar successful games have that makes them fun.
5. Optimise, Optimise and Also, Don’t Forget to Optimise
After you finished working on the level and feel that it meets each of the four criteria mentioned above, you must optimise them. Again, if you’re not a robot, chances are that you will not make a perfect level from the first attempt. So, you must go through it many times to uncover possible issues related to the level design. For example, it’s very common to have sections which do not allow the player to progress any further. A great level poses enough challenges for the player without being impossible to complete it. If an AI would not be able to complete your level it means you definitely have to optimise it.
So, the conclusion is that in order to have a great game you need great levels and to have great levels it needs to fall between these five criteria:
- Have a learning curve
- Make it challenging
- Make it immersive
- Make it fun
- Optimize it
I’ll leave you with this: Always put yourself in the shoes of the players! As long as you use your knowledge and emphatise with your end user you should be able to create some amazing levels!
Good luck and stay awesome!