Tips from the professionals on how to get into the Video Games industry
Joel Burgess, Bethesda Softworks,
Lead Level Designer for Fallout 3
Ed Byrne, Zipper Interactive,
Lead Level Designer for MAG
- 3-6 months is ideal
- use a dedicated space
- use a cross-discipline team
- have a defined output
- have frequent reviews (but not milestones)
- make sure team knows what the requirements are
- have a war room with all the notes on the wall
- helpful to keep notes mobile (he prefers post-its on foam-core)
- leave no idea behind
- Player Metrics
- Core mechanics
- flow model
- 4-10 people
- have a moderator
- have a note taker (not the same as the moderator, if possible)
- 2-hour sessions are best
- giant post-its are great for this
- Goal: Create Level Abstracts
- story position (what is going on in the world during this level?)
- environment (is this level a space ship? A forest? etc.)
- the level start
- the level end
- the goal of the level
- Goal: Enough detail to describe the level
- Create as many ideas as possible
- can be combat, a vista, a scripted sequence, etc. It's really any major standout moment for that level.
- Create cell diagrams to stitch encounters together in the proper order they'll appear in the game
- draft of level flow
- exposes inital concerns
- ensures consistency of experience (incomplete or under-filled levels will stand out at this stage and can be re-examined, enhanced)
- use google or something to pull an image that represents that level.
- use one image per level
- get feedback:
- don't brainstorm here.
- collect feedback.
- walk people through the levels verbally.
- make cuts here if necessary. This is the easiest and least painful time to make cuts.
- go back to drawing board if necessary to round out slim or sparse levels
- Story of player experiences
- has most elements in detail
- shows empts/sparse parts of your game
- you can use the following encounter models as useful visual aids for your level while you're walking people through it.
- can use legos.
- is spatial
- is tactile
- not easy to save or share
- must be simplified compared to level
- can be hard for others to interpret ("Wait, this airplane is made of multicolored bricks and has a knight's lance for a laser gun. WTF."
- 2d, scalable, easy to save, reproduceable
- not tactile
- not good for representing level scale (I can definitely attest to this)
- can show detail
- easy to overcomplicate
- not abstract (can be hard to know which elements from the video are relevant to the game experience, and which are not)
- rough visuals can be off-putting to others (again, hard to know which elements are directly related to the experience and which are just rough edges)
Mattias Worch, Viceral Games,
Lead Level Designer for Dead SpaceThis talk was about environments in games, and how they can't help but tell stories. It was similar, I guess, in a lot of ways to Joel Burgess' talk about gestalt. Unfortunately, he was right in the middle of an 8-hour block of talks, so it's kind of mushy in my head.Mattias' talk focused on both process and design. He talked about how the level designer enables play.He talked about the "physical properties" of the level. What can a person learn about the world from the environment?He built a small level with only 10 brushes (in UnrealEd) and deconstructed it into its individual parts (power up, choke point, hallway, high-ground, etc.) and talked about how the gameplay emerges from the interplay of the parts, and the influences those component parts have on the players.He talked about the "ecology" (his term) of the levels. The ecology, he says, is all of the non-world-geometry stuff. Power-ups, enemies, props, etc. These all have measurable effects on the gameplay.
He (and several others on the panel) also talked a lot about "whiteboxing," which was generally defined as roughing in a level. Worch literally uses untextured brushes to build and test the gameplay of the levels he creates. Jim Brown from Epic Games, however, adds a little more detail with very basic texturing, and extremely rough interpretations of large landmarks.
Scott Miller, Co-Owner
Apogee Games/3d Realms
He also got my name wrong. :(
Tips from the Experts
- Make a mod -- Everyone
- A degree is only helpful in showing that you are a good communicator, not that you are a good designer. -- Ed Byrne
- Show that you can think in ways that provide interesting and useful solutions to gameplay problems. Show your process work, concept art, rough ideas. Show how you can take an idea, identify a problem with it, and solve that problem. That is critical to being a good designer, so it goes a long way if you can show a company that you can do that. --Ed Byrne
- Your mod doesn't have to be long. It just has to be good. -- Ed Byrne
- Lead level designers that are evaluating your work will quit your level and disqualify you in five minutes if they're bored with your work. Hook them IMMEDIATELY. -- Jean Simonet (Bethesda Softworks)
- Start at a small firm that's making small games. Larger firms have more money and can afford to hire industry veterans with higher salary requirements and lots of experience. -- Scott Miller
- Level designers are in a unique position to make a lot of talented people look really incompetent. The entire game is experienced through the work of the level designer. If an art asset or a sound is implemented poorly it makes the creator look bad. -- Jim Brown, Epic Games
The presentation slides are now available from Joel Burgess' blog (towards the bottom): Blog.joelburgess.com
- Jeremy Bennet, Valve
- Matthew Russell, Valve
- Matt Wright, Valve
- Katie Engel, Valve
- Jean Simonet, Bethesda Softworks
- Neil Alphonso, Splash Damage