Video game level design is just one of the plethora of incredible services provided by talented and skilled developers and designers that most players aren’t aware of. A level designer creates and designs the spaces that players enter and explore. They interact with almost all members of the entire game development team including game designers, game artists, programmers, and more to assist in bringing the game’s vision to life.
When we say level, we mean almost any space. In something like DOOM and DOOM: Eternal, this harkens back to the classic idea of a “level”. A contained area and world to explore. A video game level has come to mean a lot more than these contained pieces of play space. For now, just think about the spaces that players occupy. In every game, those spaces have been designed, created, and iterated until they fit the game’s requirements.
A good video game designer, like those in the Magic Media team, collaborate with the entire development team to ensure that these spaces match the game’s feel and tone. There is a staggering amount of work in developing a game and a level designer is just one of the many who work in tandem to bring it all together. A level designer will then document the steps of creation, from concept and white boxing to texturing and modeling. This documentation then becomes a general ruleset once completed for future level designs.
What truly goes into designing a level is a combination of game system consideration and narrative context. Every tree, rock, boulder, and ledge has a purpose or reason to be. Level designers, along with the artists and modelers, are the ones who create these assets and consider their place. Magic Media’s video game level designers will be in constant contact with the other members of the development team to understand the game’s design. Because a level designer will then have to choose when and where players interact with that design and those systems. With repeated iterations, the narrative content is refined and bound together with the game’s systems fluidly. This type of work results in the classic games that we enjoy.
The workflow of a video game level designer is dynamic and project dependent for software and pipeline. However, there’s a few standard processes that we follow at Magic Media.
The game design document is the heart of any game development piece. The Magic Media team understands that a game’s enjoyment is from the challenge and success of the player. That is a lot more satisfying when the game and its environment challenges you while also seamlessly teaching you game mechanics. A level designer must understand the game’s systems and, therefore, must study the GDD before they even begin designing a level.
The initial stages of video game level design is called “white boxing”. This is where levels are created using very simple shapes. This allows the level designers to create and test gameplay spaces quickly without wasting too much time on details that might be removed. The first priority is checking that the space in mind fits the game’s systems. This stage is great for allowing everyone involved a chance to test out the systems and their balance efficiently.
Level design lighting is all about readability and exposure of elements to the player. Competitive shooters are a great example where lighting isn’t just important but also integral to its design. If a level’s lighting is off, where players can be almost invisible to one another, you’ll quickly see it abused. Too bright and you’ll see players struggling with readability in the environment of key assets, resources, or even other players.
Our level designers often refer to themselves as roundabouts in the game development pipeline. No matter which part of development is involved, design, development, or art, everything eventually reaches the level design team. They are the ones who implement these pieces into the level and they communicate with the other teams for any changes of said pieces.
During the game development cycle, level designers are looking to work with the game’s system and iterate the levels as the game evolves. Ironing out areas that might stem the gameplay flow is important to ensure a high-quality player experience.
At Magic Media we are veterans of the gaming, tech and entertainment industries, offering comprehensive services including level design, tech design, game design, game development, VFX, animation and full art services! Our main goal is to provide a one-stop solution for any project. If you’d like to utilize our expertize and experience in creating, game art and more, drop us a line and let’s create magic!