Advanced Level Designing
One of the Industry's Best Level Designers Reveals His Design Secrets
by Richard "Levelord" Gray
As a level designer at Ritual Entertainment and the creator of several Duke Nukem 3D and Scourge of Armagon levels - including the incredible deathmatch level Edge of Oblivion - Levelord deserves to wax poetic about level design now and again.
Most of the advice we level designers have given to date has been at the high school level. Now it's time for college. I don't want to come off too intellectual, especially towards the fun-loving Q-munity, but much of what goes into a killer level is actually very sophisticated. When designing levels, I often find myself referring to concepts I learned in engineering school and graduate-level art school. I'll try to introduce those principles, but I can't spend enough time on such topics as minimalism and optical illusions in this short an article. Please get a book or two on those subjects, or do some surfing on the Net for these terms.
One of my favorite settings for levels is natural landscape. These settings have tons of irregular shapes and tend to be bigger and more open than the typical inside level. Unfortunately, both of these characteristics, irregularity and openness, are stymied by current 3D game engine technology.
MOUNTAIN BY IKEBANA An entire mountainside can be cast with only three simple brushes. Its sense of majesty is enhanced by placing three varying sizes in a triangle such that the middle, more bulky brush stands slightly behind the smallest and largest in height on either side.
Current technology enforces great restrictions on the number of polygonal surfaces in any given view within a level, usually to the order of 500 to 700 in count. Current 3D game engines also favor things square and orthogonal. Anyone who has spent more than a few hours trying to create a level knows that the current state of the art limits the ability to create big, natural environments. I've found ways, however, of circumventing these constraints. There are a few finesses to be borrowed from the art world, as well as a handful of tricks from the world of weird science, to make levels look bigger than they really are. A limited artist does not a limited palette make!
Next: Levelord (continued)