Level Designers: What They Do and How to Become One

Level Designers: What They Do and How to Become One Image 0

Being a level designer is an interesting profession for many, but it has its own difficulties. A level designer has to make the game interesting and ensure the player experiences the intended emotions. The job of a level designer in games is to implement the techniques invented by the game designer in a specific level.

The level designer ensures the functioning of the characters in certain game situations. In addition, the level designer develops new levels with optimal difficulty. A simple game will quickly get boring and annoy players.

The tasks of level designers working on different genres are different; therefore, there is no specific methodology for developing a level. A level designer must understand the mood of the target audience and know how to evoke the desired emotions in them in the first place.

What is the difference between a level designer and a game designer?

Many people mix the professions of a level designer and a game designer together, considering them to be a single job. In fact, many specialists from different industries work on a game. These include a game designer and a level designer. The former creates the gameplay itself, which includes the structure of the game and the emotions that the player must experience when passing through a particular level.

Game designer is a rather broad term. In small teams, they work alongside a programmer. In larger companies, game designers have broader specializations.

Game design consists of the following levels:

  • Creating mechanics

  • The worlds the player travels through

  • Interfaces, which are the landscape component of the world

  • The gameplay itself

A level designer ensures the work of the mechanics themselves in specific levels of the game. In fact, level design is the creation of full-fledged entertainment venues for the specifics of a particular game. For example, in a certain game, jumping may be different in execution, height, or distance. The level designer must think about where the character can jump to avoid getting into a difficult situation.

Level designer in games: responsibilities

The development of a game world is a rather time-consuming task, and a lot of people are involved in it. A level designer develops and further improves gameplay at specific locations. The specialist also handles sound, lighting, and special effects.

Level designers also complete ready-made game applications with the help of many auxiliary tools. The amount of work depends on the number of game levels that need to be developed.

Level Designers: What They Do and How to Become One Image 1

Leading companies that work on large-scale games usually involve a large number of specialists in the process. Each level designer has their own job: setting up script scenarios, lighting, and detailing of finished maps. In independent studios, “level” means the designer performs more tasks. The specialist should monitor the quality of the basic nuances of level modeling for the game.

The main stages of the development of level design

The first level design standards were developed in 1993 by John Romero. Most of these rules affected the technical specifics of the game Doom, but today they are no longer relevant. However, a number of Romero’s recommendations for level design still hold true. For example, it’s a good idea to add secret rooms to each level or create recognizable landmarks that the player can use to get out of the labyrinth.

Over time, these principles of level design elements became fundamental, but everyone forgot about Romero due to their ubiquity.

Half-Life level designer John Guthrie solved problems differently. Valve focused on the storyline, so the levels in the project had to be made impressive in size. The level designer collaborated with game designer Kelly Bailey. Together, they created a level design where players felt like they were in real-time. The locations perfectly complemented each other, and the levels themselves were inextricably linked – in those days, no one had created such a level design for shooters.

In Thief, the level design for the players was meticulously rendered and large. The first part of the application contained 17 missions. The player had to not only overcome obstacles but also analyze the movement of characters and search for hidden keys and secret doors. The map showed only the main corridors and some areas that were not visible, and you had to find all the secrets by yourself.

In the 2000s, with further technological advancements, open-world games emerged. In 2001, a Rockstar level designer showed off Grand Theft Auto, a game that challenges the player to explore a location from a third-person perspective. That is, the character had to explore New York in real time.

In 2007, Assassin’s Creed demonstrated carefully drawn levels. In the gameplay, you had to climb all the buildings, wagons, and fortresses. You could also climb towers to open a new location on the map. In The Witcher 3, the level designer built road signs, which the player used to open up closed areas over time.

In 2019, thanks to the efforts of Hideo Kojima, moving around a location was turned into a key gaming technique. This had a major impact on level design as well. The level designer made the movement of the hero more fun, including fatigue, building objects, and a lot of aids.

Level designer: features of working in game development

Level design is one of the key components of game development. Without it, the player would not experience a range of emotions. Roughly speaking, without level design in games, all current computer entertainment would be visually reminiscent of the classic Duke Nukem. A level designer can spend several months working on color reproduction, sound effects, and architecture. However, to develop a larger-scale game project, the process can last several years.

If the audience likes a game, it is updated and weaknesses are removed according to public feedback. This can also take several years, because it will take a lot of time and painstaking work to eliminate bugs, add plugins, or create add-on packs that include characters and their equipment.

In recent years, there has been a trend towards remastering old games such as Super Mario, Contra, or Diablo. They have a brighter level design. They have less saturated tones, which draws attention to the popular hits of the past. Also, new objects are being added to the games, and if the applications stand out, they will attract the attention of any audience.

Level designers should be armed with a good portfolio, which they can use to show employers their professional qualities. There are two trends in the level creation industry for games:

  • Gameplay design

  • Visual level design

These factors seriously affect the portfolio. The gameplay developer must demonstrate the very process of creating a level, find new forms of using resources, and simply present the idea. Level designers must show that they can work in many genres.

Level designer: the pros and cons of the profession

Like any other specialty, the profession of a level designer has its advantages:

  • Fascination, the need for creativity, development

  • Demand – you don’t have to look for a job for a long time

  • Consistently high pay

Level Designers: What They Do and How to Become One Image 2

This direction also has weaknesses. The process is quite voluminous and complex, so the level designer often works on an irregular schedule. In addition, for beginners who have never encountered the procedure for building levels, it is difficult to grasp the essence.

Required skills

First of all, a level designer must be able to work with many software tools. That is, the specialist must:

  • Be able to handle graphic utilities

  • Know most engines and systems

  • Be able to work with programs for the development of landscape graphics

  • Understand the features of creating a game process

  • Understand the key elements of game design

  • Develop levels to confront the players

Also, a level designer should have experience playing shooters, RPGs, or MOBAs.

Personal qualities

A level designer is a specialist who is part of the game application development team. Like any member of the team, they must have certain skills. For a level designer, it is important to:

  • Generate ideas

  • Be ready to work every day, regardless of inspiration

  • Be attentive to details and responsible for performance

  • Have a good imagination and memory

  • Work effectively over the schedule

  • Love computer games

  • Have a broad outlook and be communicative

Most of the skills that a level designer should have can be developed or perfected. There are many specialized courses for this.

Level designer: how to get into the gaming industry

To get into game development, a future level designer needs to take into account the following points:

  1. If there is a vacancy in the ad, the company needs a specialist. Therefore, the firm is interested in hiring them.

  2. It’s necessary to carefully prepare a resume, portfolio, and test task. It’s great to work out the questions that can be asked in an interview.

  3. When passing a test task, only significant aspects should be indicated. Those elements that no one asks about should not be demonstrated, as you will meet professionals with many years of experience during your interview.

  4. During the interview, it’s better to communicate with people you meet as with future colleagues to establish contact. This is important because you might work in their team for the next few years.

  5. It’s best to be honest about what you don’t know. You also need to show your ability to work on mistakes.

If a level designer candidate follows these tips, they can become a level designer in the gaming industry.

What qualities should a level designer develop to have a good income?

Level design is now a sought-after field because the computer games industry not only remains relevant but is also rapidly developing.

To make good money as a level designer, you must:

  • Love computer games

  • Have a rich imagination

  • Be a good analyst

  • Have good logical thinking

  • Understand the basics of geometry, light, and color rendering

  • Know the basics of architecture

  • Be able to translate ideas into reality on paper

These skills will be useful in order to master the profession of a level designer and receive consistently high profits on an ongoing basis.

Level designer: career and prospects

A professional career as a level designer can start with a vacancy as a tester or participation in amateur projects where you need to create a level design for games. When applying for a job, you need to complete a test task that is unique for each company. If a potential level designer has a higher education in the specialty of a programmer and auxiliary practical skills, they have all the chances to take the position of the main game developer.

Tools a level designer works with:

To bring ideas to life, a level designer uses the following tools:

  • Paper, to create a prototype of the future masterpiece

  • Metrics, which are templates by which a project is created

  • Blackouts, which consist of two types of 3D level models for gameplay testing

With their help, experienced level designers can create many successful projects.

Useful literature

  • “101 Useful Ideas for Architects”

  • “Game Development and Entertainment Theory”

  • “An Architectural Approach to Level Design”

  • “Let’s Design: Combat”

  • “Let’s Design: Exploration”

Useful resources