In this new Day in the Life feature, we’re looking into the world of Berk Ökten, a Senior Level Designer at Magic Media. Berk’s work is central to the success of all our gaming projects, from immersive open worlds to traditional level-based titles. With his impressive skillset, Berk works to guide players through unforgettable and engaging game worlds.
Level design is a meticulous process that requires a keen eye for detail, knowledge of writing and art, lighting, and even photography and cinematography. Above all, a level designer must understand the player experience intimately – in-depth knowledge of being a player and a level designer.
Berk’s daily work generally depends on what projects he’s involved in and what their status is, but it all begins with communication. Level Designers must be in frequent contact with the design and development teams to wholeheartedly understand their vision and current progress. Berk implements the game design team’s ideas using game development tools, such as Unreal Engine 5 and Unity.
Once an environment or level is playable, Berk then consults with the narrative design team to discuss environmental storytelling details – how the levels and their details tie into the game’s narratives or themes. Berk also works on how to best evoke the game’s mood or tone in the levels he’s working on and how content is distributed throughout levels in a way that makes sense and is in line with the game design team’s ideas.
Level design is a flexible process, and it can vary from project to project. As Berk describes it, level design work is like the ‘roundabout’ of a game development studio where the work of all other teams merges into one. Concept art, 3D art, narrative, development, every team’s output flows into the work of a Level Designer. To that end, communication is key to the start of the level design process. The Level Designer works closely with these teams to understand the requirements of a level, everything from what purpose the level serves, atmosphere, length, and countless other factors.
With a deep understanding of the level, Berk begins designing it with a simple pen and paper to create rough sketches of the level and to interpret the decisions of the game design team – what’s included in the level, its length, everything contained within it. The next step is to create a whitebox level. A whitebox level features primitive objects and basic geometry for the Level Designer to get an overall feel for the level. From here, Berk and the team begin to iterate on the level based on feedback from the QA and design teams. Once the level’s form and function are in place and fit for purpose, art and narrative aspects are implemented to bring its visuals up to scratch in line with the rest of the game’s art direction and story elements.
One of the biggest challenges with level design is accommodating open-world games. Open-world games, such as that of GTA V tend to allow players to approach quests and combat in several ways. That level of player agency needs to be a top consideration when approaching open-world level design. Traditional level-based games are generally linear, with the primary objective being reaching the end of it. Open worlds can contain multitudes of quests without a defined endpoint.
Content distribution in an open-world game is also of critical importance. Activities need to present themselves to players logically. Rather than carelessly adding quests wherever the Level Designer sees fit, players need to discover activities naturally. This could, for instance, mean that quests should appear in towns and cities and evenly throughout the game world instead of quest markers concentrated in one or two areas. This practice also encourages players to explore the game world.
At Magic Media we are veterans of the film, tv, gaming and entertainment industries, offering comprehensive VFX services for in-game, cinematics, and more, as well as level design, game design, animation and full art services! Our main goal is to provide a one-stop solution for any project. We love nothing more than collaborating with creative minds, so drop us a line and let’s create magic!