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Design Log #5: Level Design Process Overview

In Artwork, Development Blog by Tremaine Williams

Hello true believers!

As said last time, character development plays a huge part in level layout/design. Level design and the main character go hand in hand. This is due to the fact that your character is only going to be as good as the level that he/she is designed to play through. Imagine if you had a very simple character and a level that is too complex for the character to get through. The game wouldn’t be very fun. Vice-versa, if the character was very overpowered, playing on a level that is too simplified…well that sometimes can be fun for wreaking havoc, but eventually the fun is going to die out. The key to making the game fun lies within one word: Balance.

Level Balance

After you have designed your character in his/her entirety, you can begin the process of laying out your level. We start with a very simple tiling system, using different color tiles for the different objects in our game, (i.e. ground = black tiles, water = blue, platforms = brown) just so that we won’t get confused when laying out the level.

How our level design process looks in the early stages.

As you can see the terrain tiles are black, the water is blue, kill zones are red and platforms are brown.

Now that we have our colors set, we can start the actual level layout. So at the start of the level we try not to have the player in immediate danger. That way, there are no “Surprise! You’re dead!” moments. So ease the player into each level; give them time to react to the danger ahead. Also if there are any cool mechanics that the character has, allow the player to begin using them toward the beginning of the level. (For added fun, make a few combo moments but do not make them necessary. Allow both simplistic and challenging methods of getting through the level to allow the player to play as they choose.)

Blind Jumps in Levels

Another thing that you don’t want to do is abuse the player’s trust. Let’s talk about blind jumps for example. A blind jump is when you have the player jump off of an end toward the bottom of the screen, with them not being able to see what is at the bottom. Blind jumps can be exciting, and some games do use them, but do not put imminent death at the bottom (i.e. landing on spikes). Remember, “Surprise! You’re dead!”? Stay away from those. If you have blind jumps, make sure that it is safe so that the player will be confident in traversing the level. This will make the player trust your level layout and they will feel awesome upon completing it.

Level Designers take note that in this blind jump, there is a path of pixels that will lead the player to safety should they choose to follow it.

Note that in this blind jump, there is a path of pixels that will lead the player to safety should they choose to follow it.

That’s all for this blog. If you want to know more about level design or layouts let us know on our Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!