MY THREE PRINCIPLES OF LEVEL DESIGN
The three questions that I always make sure to ask and answer before designing a level.
Q - I
WHAT WAS THIS PLACE BEFORE?
Everything has a beginning. That same philosophy should also apply for a level. If we can answer what is the history and the actual space,what is the story of its existence that will focus more of the space's.
Q - II
WHAT HAPPENED TO IT?
Every game has a set premise it could be a zombie invasion or 2000 years into the future or a global apocalypse whatever the premise the level will be affected by it in some way or another because of it. If this question is answered we have another dimension of spaces in our level.
Q - III
WHAT IS IT NOW?
After answering the above questions the level need to answers as to what is it being used as i.e an exploration space enemy hideout ruins etc. This added the third dimension to the level.
These three design questions play a pivotal role in my workflow process.
LEVEL DESIGN WORKFLOW
Three Phase Process
HAND DRAWN PAPER MAPS
Phase - I
The first step in making any level is a very very rough and abstract paper map. I usually break the level down into three acts based on particular level to show actual progression in terms of gameplay in the level.
FLOW CHART FOR STAGES / INTERACTIONS
Phase - II
While paper maps are good for rough brainstorming the process of breaking down the workflow into flowcharts and tables solidify my ideas.
THE FIVE STAGE LEVEL DESIGN
Phase - III
This is where the actual level design begins. I break down the level design process into five major milestones and each milestone is defined correspondingly as:
Need base geometry complete as well as initial tech/feel of the gameplay. In multiplayer, this occasionally doesn't involve much beyond the geometry (depending on how complex the game type is), but for single player and more complex multiplayer, this means the basic mechanics and gameplay/flow need to be represented. This helps determines where the "fun" is, as well as helps to identify/refine scale and scope.
Initial Gameplay :
Entire level is playable from beginning to end. All gameplay exists, is functional, and shows off the intended gameplay. Ready for iteration, balance, refinement, and polish.
Complete gameplay, refined balance, all critical visuals are in. Often there are several interim iterations between Initial Gameplay and Gameplay Complete. Ideally, this is true alpha candidate, but it is possible there are some visual refinement (i.e. small clutter), conveyance, balance, juice, and other tweaks needed to finish the level.
This should be a shippable candidate. Everything should be complete. Anything between here and end should just be critical bug fixes, and major conveyance/balance issues.
Highly polished level that could be part of shipped game.