Lead Level Designer
The exact purview of the lead (senior) level designer can vary by company and project, but this person is generally concerned with taking the game design documentation and supervising the design of all the possible gameplay events and actions that take place within each level. This person also oversees the design of the level environment, and may offer input on lighting, texture, and forms to the artists.
The lead level designer, in collaboration with his or her team, first sketches ideas either on old-fashioned paper or in a 2-D computer environment. This person coaches the level design staff through a brainstorming session to address the logic and flow of events, challenges that the player will face, obstacles, skills tests, and achievements to advance to the next level. Ideas are then drafted in 3-D and tested in the game engine—and the process is repeated until the level is refined. The lead level designer will coordinate with the lead programmers and senior artists to complete an inventory of level assets needed to run the level in its final form.
It is the responsibility of the lead level designer to collaborate with the concept artist, environment artist to outline level layout, geometry, population, and tuning. He or she is tasked with monitoring the workflow of the department and keeping the staff on deadline while ensuring high quality performance.
Skills & Education
This position requires some college education, typically a bachelor’s degree. Relevant degrees applicable to this position are computer programming, game design, game art, game development, electronic media arts, or a related field. Coursework in graphic design, computer animation, and art are also useful. A lead level designer must be comfortable in the use of 3-D studio packages like 3D Studio Max, Maya, and Radiant Interactive. In this role you will use level design tools (both commercial and proprietary), as well as scripting languages like C++, Python, and Lua. Different game developers prefer different languages, so a lead designer needs to stay current in as many as possible. The best research for a new game is playing old games—learning what works and what doesn’t. Keep in mind that you are not making games for yourself, but creating a dynamic gameplay experience for a specific audience. It is important to keep the player in mind when designing.
What to Expect
Level design is not an entry-level role, and leads are expected to have at least three to five years of level design experience, or background in a closely related area. This is both a creative/technical role (requiring someone who is inventive, skilled in the use of relevant software, and has encyclopedic game knowledge) and a managerial one: It is up to you to manage the staff of designers and enable them do their best work. An experienced lead level designer can make the transition from a small game developer to a larger one, or look for advancement opportunities to lead game designer or creative director. A slightly obsessive nature may be a plus for a level designer, as it will drive you to keep working until the level is perfect; a lead needs to balance that perfectionism with knowing when to call it a day.
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