3 – Designing Levels: Simple is Good

One of my jobs is to make sure that everything we put in the final product is interesting.  Interesting game modes, levels, and weapons.  I currently have levels on my brain because I have been creating a level editor all week.  It’s going pretty well but I will talk about that more in the future.  For now I would like to talk about what makes a good level.

Large, complicated levels with lots of rooms and moving parts!  No, that is a very bad thing.  It’s true that moving parts and winding hallways are interesting to look at, but such inclusions only create complications for the players.  In a fast paced game like ours, the levels can be a huge distraction.  Each player already has the other players to worry about.  They don’t need the level to be against them as well.  Many people enjoy confusion and possibly thrive in it.  I totally understand that.  We have all made ridiculous levels in Age Of Empires or Super Smash Bros. out of sheer curiosity.  How many villagers does it take to kill a war elephant?  My answer to these impulses is to include a way for players to make their own ridiculous levels.  Trust me when I say, I have made some crazy environments.  The problem is that while they may be funny or entertaining the first time you play them, they get old quickly.  At the same time, a simple, well balanced level is timeless.  There are a few things that can make a level interesting without making it overwhelming.

1 – Asymmetry

Asymmetry makes a level interesting because you can’t play the same way everywhere you go.  The player also questions if some areas are easier to defend.  The only way to understand it is to play it multiple times.  This is especially true with game modes that traditionally assume symmetrical playing fields like capture the flag.  If you can make each side different without making it obvious which side is better (hopefully neither are “better”) then you likely have a good level.

2 – A moderate amount of moving parts

Rotating walls and moving platforms can cause the player to think differently about their strategies.  They can’t simply fly to the enemy flag via the same route every time because the route may have changed.  This is great as long as the player knows that the route has changed.  Coming across a dead end where previously there wasn’t one is frustrating in a game where every second counts.  A changing level also requires that the player understands the state of the level not only in the moment but in the future as well.  To do this successfully the movements need to be simple, mechanical, and therefore predictable.

3 – Thoughtful spawn locations

Spawning in the middle of a firefight is not something that should happen.  In competitive games like ours, feeling cheated out of a life is a great way to make someone not want to play our game.  A common solution to this is to give the player a couple seconds of invincibility upon respawning.  Many successful games have done this.

The problem is that a resourceful player can use this time to their advantage.  They can release missiles and bombs without fear that they will damage themselves.  This undermines the balancing of the weapons.  You SHOULD be cautious when detonating a bomb right beside you.  Our current solution to this problem is to respawn players at the spawn location that is furthest away from all the other players.  Consider how Team Fortress 2 handles respawns.  Upon death, you spawn at your team’s base.  The problem that I have with this is that a new player can get frustrated by spending most of their time traveling to the front lines only to die and repeat the journey.  This isn’t an issue in our game because a player can get back into the action in literally 1 – 5 seconds.  I understand that this wouldn’t work for all games, however.

Of course you can always play the level to determine if it’s fun.  The important part is knowing what to change when it’s not fun.

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