Level Designer

  • Level Designer

Level design, like the larger task of game development, is a collaborative process that integrates art assets, script elements, character interaction, and environment layout to create an exciting player experience. The job of the level designer is not simply to conceive of an idea for a level, but to take that idea and fully realize it in the 3-D environment.


Duties

The level designer works under the supervision of the lead level designer, and is responsible for the total environment of a game level, as well as all of the assets and characters that inhabit it. In the conceptual stage, the level designer imagines a chapter in the overarching storyline of the game. He or she must determine where this chapter will take place, what characters and objects the player will encounter, and what the objectives of the level will be. These initial ideas are brought to the table at design meetings with the level artists, character artists, programmers, and other staff, where revisions are made and new ideas integrated. Then the level designer draws up design documentation that details a complete list of required assets and explains objectives and environment layout.

Based on the design documentation, the level designer creates visual representations of the playable space; these begin as rough sketches, and are refined to architectural blueprints for buildings or topographical maps for exterior landscapes. On those two-dimensional layouts, the level designer marks each asset to be placed in the environment, including where events take place, sound effects, and the placement of scripts that trigger those elements. Eventually the 2-D representations evolve into 3-D wireframes that are the skeletal foundation of the level’s environment. In the 3-D space, the level designer places marks for all assets and plots paths for enemy movement. Based on those wireframes, the level artists port in their work to clothe the scenery, and the other artists and programmers contribute audio effects, props, and additional characters.

Skills & Education

In a sense, the level designer is part game writer, part artist, and part engineer; therefore, this individual is expected to have a broad range of skills and experience. A college degree in game design, computer programming, or fine art is a great place to begin, but game studios regularly employ designers from varied educational backgrounds. More important is artistic talent, a methodical personality, and a creative mind. A level designer must be proficient in the use of tools like Maya and 3ds Max; experience with AutoCAD and scripting languages is extremely beneficial. Courses in industrial design, architecture, and graphic design are also useful in diversifying your skill set.

What to Expect

Level designers are typically assigned to only one or two levels in a game, and as the master of that domain, have a great deal of freedom. While he or she must stay within the established parameters of story, character, and visual aesthetic, the designer is given the latitude to creatively explore those parameters. Working with the numerous individuals who will contribute to the level, this person is free to imagine locations, enemy movement, vehicles, weapons, battle scenarios, and mission objectives. However, the job also requires considerable planning and a methodical approach to organization; from the perspective of the player, the level designer enters the conceptual space and must consider every possible variation of action and consequence to provide for those variables in design documentation. This highly collaborative job demands the designer work in sync with combat systems designers, mission designers, and other contributors to deliver a finished level that is as well-organized and visually interesting as it is fun to play.

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