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What does the industry expect of level designers?

Posted by PS Mouse on Sun, 30/04/06 - 6:05 AM

QANTM student/amateur level designer here.

I'm curious as to what I should have in the way of skills or what programs/processes I'd be expected to be familiar with in the industry.

(Apologies if this is in the wrong forum, wasn't sure whether to put it here or in the Job and Work Experience discussion forum)

Submitted by Caroo on Sun, 30/04/06 - 8:45 AM Permalink

I'm not in the industry yet myself. But from my research and what ive learn't from advice what you need as a level designer is:

1) Tangible content. This means you have to not just design a level but also make it and follow it through. You can do this on complex level building tools like UnrealED or really simple tools like the level builders in tonyhawk skater games or the level builder out of time splitters.

Try to make a single player level as your folio showcase as they overall have more complexity and depth then death match or CTF maps.

The knowledge on how to use trigger systems, events in game and in game movies is also an added bonus.

And probably something that we as designers should know [but admittedly I myself won't tackle this until I get my folio level over and done with.] is knowing a scripting language like Lau. That alone gives you a big BIG advantage over other candidates. But admittingly you better be good at programming if you want to pick this up fast.

Heres an example of what I'm doing at home by myself:

I'm using the unrealEd engine and my artistic knowledge of Photoshop and Maya to make my own level from almost scratch. It?s a long and sometimes painful process and frankly I'd advise if your making a level to get some assistance from over students at Qantm [it?s those extra projects that make all the difference].. but none the less be prepared for odlees of learning and hard work.

And keep in mind. I'm trying to get into the industry as a game designer, not a level designer. So what you're making should really be a lot better then my stuff.

Here's a link to the two books that i brought. The unreal book is practally a goldmine of help and for the wannabe designer who wants an edge it's almost a must have, the scripting book, as I said above I have not tackled. But from quick glances at it, it looks to teach you thoroughly about scripting.……

I don't mean to so egocentric [although I guess this sound like it.] But I believe that when I get this folio finished I will have enough tangible assets to show local developers my skill and hopefully someone will give me a go.

You need to make a project and set a goal. Raise the standards and do that little bit more then the standard Qantm student. Show passion and show you know what you're talking about. Have faith in yourself and IGNORE the downers who tell you can't get in the industry.

It's simply a matter of passion, determination and skill.

Submitted by urgrund on Sun, 30/04/06 - 10:54 AM Permalink

Do you mean level designer or environment artist? [:)]

A level designer could sit in a program like Illustrator all day creating lots and lots of 'blue print' style images for the environment artists to create meshes from. They actually design the level; document it, all the gameplay events etc...

For the 3D level artist its good to have a basic knowledge of engine technology. How a portal system works with scissoring/portal intesections, how octrees work, how BSP's work (rather, how the engine you're working on works!). This really influences how you will lay down the meshes to be rendered. An understanding of state changes so you can manage draw calls, material counts (and be tricky with aiding engine batching with texture atlas's) among other things.

This knowledge really helps you squeeze everylast frame out of an engine and efficient levels are very important as expected detail just goes up and up!

As Caroo said, knowledge of a scripting langauge is good as its needed for events and the like. Knowing popular 3D packages like Maya/Max/ZBrush. Proprietry tools (like UnrealED/Q3Radiant) aren't really important unless the particular job is using licensed technology. And when studios aren't, its usually a popular 3D package with an in-house world builder.

And for the actual art side of it... yeh, having great looking maps is an excellent addition too! [:P]

Submitted by PS Mouse on Sun, 30/04/06 - 7:57 PM Permalink

Heh urgrund, either one works [:)]

At the moment the vast majority of my expirience (about 4-5 years) is with the half life engine, most of that spent mapping for the mod Natural Selection. I've only had the briefest of dabbles with MAX and I know Maya and ZBrush by name only.

Submitted by Electro on Sun, 30/04/06 - 11:07 PM Permalink

Hi, good to see you're going out and finding out what the industry uses.

I'm a level designer in the Australian games industry, so i'll try help you steer in the right direction.

It really does differ from company to company. So you're best off deciding what type of game for starters you'd like to make levels for, and then start making them for a specific game (because editors also vary within any particular genre).

GTKRadiant (and other radiant variants - doom3/quake4/quake wars/quake 3/2/1) able to import meshes such as 3ds or ase to compile into levels exported from other 3d software, but the core of the level needs to be bsp. Levels are constructed out of brushes (blocks) and need to be completely sealed for visibility to calculate.

UnrealEd (specific to Unreal based technology - pariah, warpath, ut2004/2003/2007 etc.) This program also ties in with maya, able to import formats from that.

Maya/3D Studio Max - both very popular and used widely in the industry, especially for console titles. Radiant and UnrealEd will steer you more towards PC oriented development (namely first person shooters).

In my experiences you need to be as flexible as possible, don't just focus on 1 of these packages (ok to start out with 1 obviously) but you WILL need to expand to use other ones.

Personally i started out in GTKRadiant, then learnt max, then maya.

The job term Level Designer itself also differs from company to company. Some will just expect you to sit there doing the top down sketches and nutting out the gameplay. Most will want prototype versions of actual playable stuff to be built, and a lot will also want the level designer to be an environment artist.

However, rarely will a level designer be required to make textures. There are texture artists that specifically deal with this field of work, the level designers will make use of the textures provided to them. Positions such as an Environment Artist will require more texturing work. Also, a level designer may need to create basic placeholder textures in order to get things functional or to show the Texture Artist what kind of texture will be required if it can't just be explained.

- Get familiar with the game design.
- Sketch the layout, taking into consideration events that need to happen as per the GDD (game design document). Also take into consideration visibility, what the engine is capable of doing, what things you believe will be fun (this comes more and more from experience)
- Build the basic prototype geometry. (including basic lighting, enough to see what's going on clearly) - This also includes all entity placement to get the level at a proper functioning stage.
- Revise and playtest until it's fun! (you will NEVER get enough time for this that you think is required in the industry, always getting pushed to get things done asap with tight deadlines).
- Build final geometry.
- Lighting
- Finalise entity placement/scripted events etc.

If you give a little more info on the kind of games you'd like to work on maybe i could help with some more info. Although these processes should be applicable to any level design work, regardless of software/hardware.

Submitted by PS Mouse on Mon, 01/05/06 - 7:03 AM Permalink

Well my expirience thus far has been with FPS games, but the main reason for my interest in level design isn't so much within a particular genre, but more the challenge of level design itself. As far as particular genres are concerned, I would like to have a crack at some of the less common ones at some point; 2D and RTS at the top of that list.