Friday, 29 November 2013

Elements of Game Design, part seven: Level Design

 In a game, levels are important. Like, really important. They’re what everything else is placed in or onto. Without levels, you just have assets. Because levels are so important, it’s no surprise that level design is such a complex process when it comes to creating a good game.

In most games, levels are designed and built depending on the storyline and plan of the game itself. However, with free-roam, open world games; you will usually have one very large “world”, maybe with the addition of more, smaller maps if a narrative demands it.

Like a drawing, painting or any 2D piece, a level would be built up in layers and processes; through development stages and construction stages. The game design pipeline will be followed throughout, running through initial concepts to early builds and white boxes of the map to see if it works for what the run through of the game requires. When it actually comes to finalising the map and adding assets, these will be built up like a painting in order to make the level look real. From graffiti on the wall to a tank on fire while sitting in a destroyed wall, these details, big or small really add depth and believability within the levels.

When looking at open world games, the environment has to draw the player in wherever they may be in the game world. It has to give the visual and aesthetic feel of what it is representing. An urban, city environment such as the recent GTA:V needs to make each part of the city different and entertaining in some way, but retain the immersion of being in an LA-like American city. This can also backfire on some developers however. Take Team Bondi for example: LA Noire had a large, open-world map between single player levels. Being and impressive and visually interesting 1950’s setting it almost felt like it was there to cover up a much smaller game. There was no fast travel, meaning you had to drive through the city, usually to very far off objectives. The only thing that the open world was good for was to find collectibles, cars and occasionally help at a random crime reported on the radio. This, in my opinion shows lack of polish when finalising the game and although GTA is similar, it gives you lots of things to complete around the whole world. Be it side missions, random encounters or simply buying and upgrading cars and clothes.

Following the pipeline process, levels are usually white boxed or mapped out to give a visual idea of how a level will look and play out. This is an important part of level design as it looks at how the level can and will be played, where the player can go and reach and how. It also explores the practicality of certain visual and technical parts of the map. To make the map in the way it is planned for story or mechanical purposes could change its look and asset positioning. This may be to give the level enough spacing. This is space between different events; giving the “tempo” to the game if you like. If too much happens at once and too quickly, then the player will feel overwhelmed and rushed. Too little to do *cough* LA Noire *cough* and you will find the player getting bored and uninterested.

Level design is very important when it comes to game creation. It’s not just about the look and feel of it, but the way the whole map plays. If it is done right, you have a stunning game which is both good looking and interesting, making you want to play more. Do it even slightly wrong and you could lose focus from the player all together.


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