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  • 4. LEVELDESIGN BASICS

    • Call to Action - CTA​

    • Establishing Shot

    • Vantage Point
    • Point of Interest

    • Stairs & Ramps
    • Verticality
    • Doorways & Openings
    • Bottlenecks - Chokepoints
    • The Door Problem
    • T-Junction
    • Corners & Edges
    • Sightlines
    • No-Mans-Land
    • Rabbit Hole
    • Gate - Gating
      • One-Way​
      • Point-of-no-Return
      • Drop-of
      • Skillgate
    • Prison Cell Gameplay
    • Detour
    • Backtracking
    • Fatigue
      • Visual Fatigue​
      • Combat Fatigue
    • Foreshadow
    • Telegraph
    • Anticipation
    • Affordance
    • Signifiers
    • Signposting
    • Breadcrums
    • Buffer Zone
    • Illogical Space
    • Player Path
      • Main Path​
      • Desire Path
      • Golden Path
    • Player Choice
      • Player Agency​
      • Choice Parallazys
      • Percieved Complexity
      • Risk - Reward
      • Prospect - Refuge
    • Implicit / Explicit Knowledge
    • Juxtapose
    • Counterpoint
    • A Duck
    • Sidescene
    • Monster Closet
    • Combat Closet
    • Denial & Reward
    • Bait & Switch
    • Fear Then Relief
    • Tense & Release
    • Distance goals; short, middle, long
    • Red Herring
    • 10-second Rule
    • 30 seconds of Fun
    • Hour-Glass Design
    • Crazy Ivan
    • Findability
    • Discoverability

Leveldesign Techniques

Leveldesign Basics

This is a massive subject and there really isn't anything basic about it.

Here you will find various techniques, tips and tricks for you to utilize when building your levels.

Enjoy!

gl hf

/Tommy Norberg

4.1 Call to Action - CTA

The immediate thing that you want the player to hook on to and make them engaged in. this could be the trope of a damsel in distress that you script to call out for help as soon as the player approaches. The player is required to spring to action and deal with the dilemma or problem instantly.

In marketing it is used to try to engage the consumer to take action. A button marked "BUY NOW" is a classic CTA. In leveldesign we use a CTA when we want to directly force a reaction and change of pace.

 

It is not the leveldesigner saying "look at that windmill at the top of the hill.. you should probably go there"

It is more in the line of "Look! There is a windmill there! and it's on fire!! run and pour water on it!!"

4.2 Establishing shot

In filmmaking we use establishing shot to show the scene from a distance to give a sense of context where the important characters are heading and give the audience a chance to grasp the bigger picture.

 

In leveldesign it is exactly the same. Sometimes we use a cutscene to pan over an area from above, but more often we lead the players to a vantage point and let them gaze down over the area to get a clear overview of things before they venture down and engage with whatever we have installed for them.

4.3 Vantage Point

An elevated spot that give a clear view of things in front of the player. It can be a balcony on a building or a rock poking out from a cliff wall or the entire roof area of a tall factory building.

When refering to 'Prospect - Refuge' an area with good 'Prospect' often is a vantage point with good sightlines where the player has clear visual control of the surrounding area and have an advantage over intruders.

"It's over Anakin! I have the high ground!"

- Obi Wan Kenobi

4.4 Point of Interest

A POI is often a secondary goal that isn't mandatory to the player. It could be sidemissions scattered over a map marked by intriguing icons to spark curiosity, but if the sidemission is big enough then we refer to it as just that.. a 'sidemission'. A Point of Interest is an area that we as leveldesigners dedicate som extra care with environmental storytelling to lure the player to explore. It might be a peculiar rock circle on the beach and if the player digs in the middle they find a treasure.

If your game focus alot around a map overview, then one could argue that all icons on the map, big or small, are POI:s. Under some icons there are huge keymissions and under some there is a small mundane pickup. But to the player looking on the map they are all Points of Interests ready to be explored.

If your game focus on immersive exploration of the world then one could argue that a POI is a tiny sidemission. a small reward to give depth, story, meaning and context to your gameworld. 

4.5 Stairs & Ramps

We as leveldesigners have a couple of super-powerful tools in our repertoar that appear a lot in our maps. Stairs and ramps are one of them. We can use them to funnel the player or the ai and give guidance and direction.

A stair going down is intriguing and strengthen a sense of exploration.

A stair going up is cleansing and give a sense of completion and closing in on the goal.

A steep attic stair is scary because we feel watches and someone could pounce us from their vantage point

A dark and gloomy stair down to the basement is scary because we venture down into the unknown and we do not know what awaits us.

4.6 Verticality

Having height differences in your levels is really nothing you can have enough of. Even top-down games should have as much verticality as possible.. or at least a sense of verticality.

In general it is better to overdesign with too much verticality in the blockout and whitebox stage of the production and then scale back if it doesn't feel good. It is easier to design by reduction and flatten out areas that have too much height differences that just feels forced and out of place. 

When talking about verticality we don't mean only the big rooftop elevations, smaller height differences at ground level is also preferred. An entrance into a house feels so much better if it is elevated with a small plattform and staircase in front of it.

4.7 Doors & Openings

Almost all games have multiple doorways that the player pass through and in almost all cases the doorway acts as a portal between two very distinct zones and we as level designers should treat them with the respect that they deserve. We should never just add a doorway and then move on. There are an infinit number of opportunities in anticipation, staging, surprises, flow and choke points.

Together with stairs and ramps this tool is a powerhouse for us and we can in most cases use it a lot without it being forced.

A door opening gives a strong sense of protection and relief to players and they will rarely push head first through it. They will often stay at the opening for a while and survey the situation.

A doorway leading from outdoors to indoors will in general give a comforting feeling of security. We can of cause mess with that feeling depending on the type of game that we are making.

A doorway leading from indoors to outdoors will in general invoke a feeling of carefulness and leaving a sanctuary.

4.8 The Door Problem

The glaring problem with doors is that in the sense of Prospect - Refuge a door opening often have a very high prospect of the room that you are about to enter, i.e. you most often survey the area ok-ish from your position... And it has a very high feeling of refuge; the players most likely feel that the current room is rather safe.. or at least safer that the room that they know nothing about yet.

This means that even if you have better positions inside the new room with great vantage points and cover the players does not yet know about these and there for the door opening is still the best option. Our job as level designers is to lure the players into the new room before we spring any uncomfortable situations on them.

gamasutra: The door problem of combat design

The other part of the problem is that we have so many doors in our games and they have so many different purposes. How do we actually effectively design this mundane commonplace object?

gamasutra: The door problem of game design