在游戏开发循环中，关卡设计就是数据输入和布局分配。无论关卡出于何种意图和目标，它们都类似于任务、阶段、地图或玩家互动的其他载体。作为关卡设计师，你主要负责的 是游戏可玩性。这篇文章将让你了解如何为各种类型的游戏设计优秀的关卡，无论是由大批坦克执行的军事任务、在空中遭遇飞行模拟器还是角色扮演游戏中的地下城、解谜游戏 的关卡或某个需要玩家战胜强大敌人的世界的地图。
我会在下文中提出某些关卡设计理论，但开篇会先探讨何谓优良的关卡设计。然后将从象棋和GI Joe的动作中深入探究电脑游戏设计的非电子源头，以及我们能够从它们的成功中 获得哪些经验。最后，我们将彻底剖析故事情节背后的理论，并探讨如何将它们用于关卡设计中。
玩家是指那些付费购买游戏或花长达半个小时的在线时间下载你设计的关卡的用户。如果你正在或有意愿为某开发商或发行商工作，那么用户就是你实现自己梦想的舞台。正如所 有现代营销学校告诉你的那样，只有创造出让用户感到满足并愿意承担其费用的产品才能形成一笔生意。作为关卡设计师，如果你想要获得成功的话，就必须各位关注那些能够让 用户感到满意的事物。
你必须布置满足玩家期望的场景和演员。也就是说，你需要设计的地图不仅看起来与玩家所处的游戏世界相符，而且还必须包含有让玩家不必思考现实生活状况的元素。许多种常 见错误可能会破坏玩家逃避现实的感觉。这可能包括图像差错或冲突等漏洞，但以设计作为出发点来看，不恰当的内容也可能产生影响。比如，麦当劳的金色拱门商标出现在中世 纪的城镇中显然与背景极为不符。同样地，如果角色告诉玩家按ctrl+T来做出动作，这会让玩家意识到他正在用电脑玩游戏而不是存在于某个虚幻国度中。通常来说，为保持玩家 逃避现实的感觉，所有的内容都应该设计成游戏场景中可能看到、说到或做到的事情。
乏味的关卡可能导致游戏失败，尤其当这个关卡是游戏前数个关卡之一。游戏评论员和多数玩家在判定游戏好坏之前，只会给予游戏数个关卡的展示时间。优秀的关卡设计师知道 自己的产品所需达成的目标，他们时常会询问自己“这个关卡有趣吗？”对于许多设计师而言，较为困难的部分在于他们觉得有趣的东西，目标用户或许并不会觉得有趣。作为关 卡设计师，你需要理解核心游戏玩法，这是制作人和首席设计师所所表达愿景的部分内容。你需要努力理解这方面内容，站在目标用户的位置思考问题。
挫败感也可能让游戏失败。速度变慢或图像差错等问题可能会让玩家的娱乐心态消失殆尽。如果关卡设计师能够关注技术限制和设计师对于如何放置艺术作品的指导，可以避开许 多此类的漏洞。当然，设计师也可能制作出令人产生挫败感的漏洞，比如破碎的AI脚本或玩家期望完成却没有完成的任务。更为糟糕的是，设计师可能创造出所谓的“show stoppers”。show stoppers指那些不可完成的任务、无法解决的挑战或不可避开的陷阱，这会让玩家大感挫败。优秀的关卡设计师会察觉到这些问题，在消费者接触游戏之前通过 细致缜密的游戏测试来解决它们。
事实上，玩家不希望购买或玩两款相同的游戏。当然，就像《星际迷航》的粉丝和Gor科幻小说的读者一样，有些玩家可能会买到同样的游戏规则甚至只是情节、场景、角色和艺术 设计有些许变化的相同游戏。这务必要引起关卡设计师的注意，人们不喜欢玩相同的关卡。这不仅会破坏娱乐价值，还无法激发想象力。因而，在关卡中引进新的情节、挑战、场 景和角色（游戏邦注：比如敌人）是至关重要的做法。
玩具总是能令各个年龄段的孩子为之着迷。玩具火车是最具互动性的玩具。你可以扮演设计师、建筑师、油漆匠、乘客和工程师（游戏邦注：如果你乐于制造自然灾害的话，你甚 至可以扮演上帝）。GI Joe和芭比娃娃也都有互动功能，比如可移动的肢体和可更换的衣物和配件，甚至还有车辆等。他们利用孩子的抱负和梦想来赚钱。我最喜欢引用某纸质游 戏行业资深人士和前玩具制造者的话是：谁会知道仅仅一个玩偶就会这么畅销呢？
在游戏中，玩家很轻易便可意识到自己属于英雄这个角色。整个游戏可以视为故事，每个关卡就是对立发生的一部分，即英雄和对手间的较量和冲突。论点的深度仅局限于对玩家 角色和场景的介绍。加入你玩过游戏前篇的话，有些游戏续作会直接建立于原作之上开始引进冲突。合成就是游戏结局所发生的所有事情。无论是胜利或失败，你或许都会看到过 场动画或某些叙事文本。正如好莱坞电影那样，合成从来都不会非常长。
每个关卡都有其自身的故事。作为关卡设计师，你在准备初始情况时便设定了论点。你设定了玩家所处的位置，可能还会指定其最初的武器或部队以及咒语或其他魔法。你通过地 图或谜题来演绎场景。场景和情况可以随关卡的进展而发生改变，因为关卡各部分的内容会不断展示给玩家，比如加入新角色、新元素、能力提升、加入新玩家和新的敌人。由于 游戏具有互动性，你必须非常注意玩家在关卡进行过程中特定时间或地点可能遇到的每种情况。
每次遭遇都有论点，即战斗开始前那个时刻你感受到的害怕、兴奋或期待以及当时对所遭遇情况的认识，这些都会影响到战斗。比如，玩家或许会贸然闯进妖怪的巢穴，而且在战 斗开始之前的那一刻就对当前情况有所认识，在妖怪头领的附近有辆大型坦克，妖怪位于其火炮射程之内。但是，我们不能假设玩家永远都会做出我们预想的事情，从我们预想的 方向进入妖怪的巢穴。关卡设计师必须对此有所规划，并为反常行为提供奖励。以上面的例子为例，玩家或许会偷偷摸摸地从相反的方向进入巢穴，在尽到妖怪之前先看到坦克。 他会选择将其炸毁还是小心翼翼地继续前行呢？加入敌人选择利用坦克来对付他又会如何呢？我们将事态设计得更为复杂些，假设在这部坦克旁边有辆更棒却更易被摧毁的升级版 坦克。玩家应该怎么做呢？在这种情况下，你的选择并非唯一。事实上，设计师也不要将事情设置成选项唯一。作为论点的部分内容，你需要的只是将选项提供给玩家，让他们来 决定怎么做。
对立面是玩家与你的关卡互动的层面。通过设立敌军并规划他们的行为、限制玩家行动的时机和速度或他们必须解决的谜题，你正在制造冲突。而冲突应该与关卡的核心玩法有关 。如若不然，你就会设计出需要在论点阶段制定多项计划的关卡来。换句话说，如果玩家没有在初始阶段就制定完美的计划，那么在关卡中就会很容易失败，如果玩家制定了正确 的计划，就会在关卡中通行无阻。除了战略游戏玩家之外，多数人讨厌这类关卡。玩家希望在冲突出现之时有解决的方式，你不能把他们假设成无所不知或拥有预知未来的超能力 的人。设计师通常犯下的错误是，让呈现出的挑战完全无法战胜，除非玩家之前玩过关卡并知道关卡中的情形。应该让玩家在首次遭遇冲突和挑战之时就可以设法将其解决，这是 关卡设计中的必要想法。
对立面是划分玩家技术的工具。它的存在区分了技术娴熟的玩家和新手以及专注玩家和浅尝辄止者。理想情况下，游戏中应该存在多种胜利条件，因而技能本身并没有绝对的好与 坏。如果只有专业玩家方能打通关卡，那么你就会失去90%的市场，你的游戏也就无法畅销。同样，如果任意普通玩家都可以打通关卡并获得所有的奖励，那么有50%未受到挑战的 玩家便会觉得不过瘾。但是如果你的关卡有个令普通玩家感到满足的胜利条件和奖励专业玩家的可选挑战，那么你就可以令各个层面的玩家感到满意。
故事通过呈现出有价值的内容来保持你的兴趣。人们购买书籍或观看电影的目的不是为了只听着角色们谈论天气，除非天气本身是其中的重要因素（游戏邦注：如《Twister》之类 的灾难电影）。精巧的故事需要包含演绎场景、发展角色或推动情节等细节。虽然书籍中可能不会涉及大量的细节，但是电影不能采取这种做法。电影旨在短期的时间内吸引观众 的注意力，他们想在90分钟或更短的时间内体验整个故事。电影努力将注重点放在最为重要的细节上，而这些细节通常都会涉及角色互动。
关卡设计也是如此，除非你讲述故事的时间非常少。因此，你必须更注重角色互动细节，尤其是那些设计玩家的内容。玩家看到或作出的每件事情都必须使故事进一步得到发展。 玩家所做出的所有努力都应该推动他们走向故事的完结或使他们远离与对立面的冲突。随着游戏进行下去，应该让玩家逐步发现有关他们自己以及对手的更多信息。玩家解锁新天 赋、找到新武器或武器升级、深入理解战略或遭遇敌人新战术和新类型的敌人，这些做法都可以实现上述目标。尽管这些建议或许你看起来显而易见，但你会为设计师经常犯下的 错误感到惊讶，他们将大量时间花在玩家看不到的场景细节之上。
多数玩家只有短期关注点，尤其是那些玩主机游戏的玩家。他们没有足够的耐心去挖掘微小的细节和游戏精妙之处。如果你向他们呈现过多的细节，或者游戏玩法过分依赖玩家对 小细节（游戏邦注：如某个对话信息）的理解，那么你就会失去这部分玩家。对非电脑游戏设计师和RPG设计师而言，很难不再关卡设计中添加各种毫不相干的内容。但这种对细节 的过分关注通常会是游戏可玩性受到损害。如果你制作的不是RPG，那么就必须理解故事细节并非关卡设计首先要考虑的事情。
在非互动细节上花费大量时间无疑是对时间和资源的浪费，但是在这方面投入部分精力也很重要，因为玩家偶尔会注意到这些。比如，假如花上一天的时间来精致某个玩家在前往 参加坦克战斗途中花三秒钟时间路过的农场，这是个很可笑的举动。最好只花数分钟的时间添加些许物体，让玩家觉得这是个农场，比如农舍、谷堆、筒仓和些许牛羊。即便你有 充足的时间来创造出各种非互动细节，你依然不可以这么做。过多的细节会让玩家觉得心烦意乱，感观负载过大。如果他们尝试同那些非互动细节互动，其结果也会让他们产生挫 败感。
让场景中的所有细节都存在某种形式的互动，这或许是个更好的做法。《毁灭公爵》在这个方面做得很好。甚至连厕所都有其存在的意义，即便只是为了提供些许幽默。酒吧有个 正在运转的吧台，街机中有《毁灭公爵》这个游，这会引发你产生“我没空自我娱乐。”这种想法。游戏在这方面的额外付出显得很有价值。互动场景营造出非凡的魅力，使得 这款游戏与所有其他的《毁灭战士》克隆游戏有所差异。
电脑游戏在这方面的掌控较为简单，因为他们的目标市场大多数是那些喜欢科幻小说的读者。那些所谓的“巨作”通常是那些在科幻市场之外设立新题材游戏的作品。《模拟城市 》、《俄罗斯方块》、《文明》以及各种运动类游戏在逻辑或科幻方面并没有很大的进步，它们吸引的都是那些对射杀外星人不感兴趣的玩家。即便如此，今天的大多数游戏都是 面向科幻题材的游戏。
假设你正在制作一款科幻游戏，你确实有某种为玩家扩展事件可能性的义务。但是重点在于了解何时何处以及将现实延伸多远。玩家希望他们能做的事情能比游戏中的其他角色更 多。尽管这听起来像是顾及单方面的想法，但这确实就是玩家想要的东西。如果敌人以某种令人称奇而且超乎他们能力范围的行为来攻击他们，玩家会觉得这是作弊。他们希望对 手以有限的动作来与他们战斗。这样他们就会理解，打不过只是个技术问题而已。
然而，玩家却喜欢以超出AI能力的技巧来将其战胜，比如用咒语轻松击败对手。那么，你就应该给予玩家他们想要的东西。用上帝般的力量让他们感到满足。但是必须注意的是， 如果玩家时时刻刻都有那种能力，游戏就会变得枯燥且失去挑战性。技巧在于取得平衡，这样玩家就不会时常获得此类能力，可以通过限制能力的使用时间等方式来实现此目标。 在理想的关卡中，玩家会面对各种各样的可能性，并且以某种难以置信的方式解决这些问题。这样，他们就会觉得他们做了些不可思议的事情，他们是真正的英雄。
为了让其他关卡设计留有余地，首席设计师可能会限制你使用的设计素材。你应该自己决定如何在维持首席设计师和制作人项目愿景的前提下，在这种局限性中开展工作。如果你 难以做到这一点，可以询问他们的建议。他们也许会提供一些指导，或者使用自己的权力为你提供更多设计素材。有时候你需要充分发挥想象力，最大化挖掘这些设计素材的潜在 效用。如果你发现自己没有足够的元素来填充关卡，可以试试之前没尝试过的组合及布局，没准能想出一些新颖的游戏谜题，从而增加自己的素材储备。
许多设计师常犯的严重错误是制作迷宫。为什么是这个错误呢？迷宫是电脑游戏最早引进的谜题形式之一。但现在很过时了，因为制作迷宫无非就是设置墙体，或者其他可阻碍玩 家移动的障碍，它是最容易制作的游戏玩法。但要慎用这种设计，只有在你真正计穷的时候才能考虑这种元素。最好回避这种设计，要善于以新方式使用现有元素来优化自己的设 计素材，或者让游戏设计师制作更多素材。
索要更多素材既是赢得同事尊重也是易遭鄙视的一种做法。但不幸的是，这是你的责任，你得这么做。但要确保你将自己的出色想法妥当传达给首席设计师。如果对方觉得你的想 法不错，可能就会将其列入计划表中。只是要记住，落实想法通常需耗费大量的美术和编程资源，所以如果你的想法被否决了也不要太沮丧。能够重用现成的美术资源，甚至无需 进行编码的想法，往往才是最佳创意。如果你可以用自己的脚本使这些内容呈现可行性，那就再好不过了。当项目开发进入Alpha阶段时（即编码和多数美术内容已经完工），就不 能再指望添加新游戏元素了。
你构想和落实一个关卡时的快乐心情将传递给这个关卡的玩家。当然，工作的时候难免遇到截止日期将近，关卡编辑器在最不应该的时候崩溃这类令人抓狂的事情。也会出现一些 游戏漏洞和画面帧率问题迫使你投入多个小时重新设置关卡。但当你知道自己做的东西一定会很有趣时，这些沮丧感也就一扫而空了。要记住，会有成千上万玩家将体验你设计的 关卡，他们不会知道你在这个过程中所吃的苦头，但却会体会到你从中注入的快乐情感。
但这并不是说，你得腾出更多时间进行尝试，而是说关卡的核心玩法要足够可靠。最好选择一个可为多种玩法留下发展空间的核心理念。在落实关卡的时候，要先确立核心想法， 使其具有可行性。然后再决定这个想法是否具有优势，你是否愿意进一步推动这个关卡的发展。如果确定无疑，那就继续向其填充更多细节，并对这些细节内容进行试验。通常情 况下，正是这些细微元素和细节成就了杰出的关卡。
为玩家提供多条通往相同目标的路径，这是一种既能给予玩家多种选择以及一种自由感，又能确保他们到达相同点的有效做法。但如果每个选择呈现在玩家面前的都是相同的敌人 ，相同的奖励，相同的风险和成本，那么玩家发现这些选择并无实质上的区别时，他们很容易就会对此生厌。所以向玩家呈现选择内容时，要让这些元素具有非视觉效果上的差异 。这种差异可以体现在不同的挑战上，例如潜行路径、陷阱、隐藏的升级道具，或者更好的战略位置。重要的是不要向玩家多次呈现相同的选择，不然这种选择还有什么意义呢？
向玩家呈现选择、挑战或谜题时，要提供可满足不同玩法风格和技能的多种解决方案。有些玩家的玩法较为保守，而有些则喜欢冒险玩法。有些玩家很谨慎，希望在陷入冲突前先 探明更多关卡内容，而其他玩家则可能拎一把枪就直接进入关卡。有些人喜欢走直线路径，有些人喜欢潜行路径。玩家的游戏风格对你的游戏来说可能极具特殊性，你得及早辨识 玩家的不同玩法模式。确保你的关卡设计与心中的不同玩法风格相吻合，这样才能取悦大众玩家。
不要认为每个玩家都会用同种方式体验你的关卡。要注意，玩家如果没有想出应对关卡的替代性或终极解决方案，他们可能就会陷入困境。玩家处理困境以及掌握游戏玩法的水平 各有不同，学习速度也不尽相同。可以为你的关卡提供一些比较容易，但奖励较少的解决方法，但最好要让玩家清楚自己选择简单的解决方式会错失什么奖励。这样才能激励他们 过后再重玩关卡，挑战更高难度。
玩家喜欢尝试和探索。你在关卡中提供越多解决方法、秘密、可替代性路径等内容，就越能够取悦玩家。作为玩家，没有什么比遇到不甚显眼却能大获成功的解决方案更令人兴奋 了。记住玩家几乎都喜欢“不走寻常路”从而找到其他捷径，甜头或者意料之外的道具。设计关卡之时，要考虑玩家希望尝试的内容是什么，并将这些内容呈现给玩家。如果玩家 有“假如这样做行吗？”的念头，你的关卡设计就应该做出肯定回应“没错，可以！”。
如果设计一个看似挑战、替代性解决方案，路径或隐密地点但实际上毫无奖励的内容，那就太糟了。玩家总是想尝试与所有内容互动，而当这种互动毫无意义时，他们就会非常受 挫。那些没有存在意义的交互性游戏物品（游戏邦注：例如可移动的箱子或爆炸性筒罐）很容易让玩家沮丧。因为玩家此前可能已经尝试了数分钟，甚至数小时去探索与这些物件 互动所产生的结果。所以不可让玩家感到失望。
例如，在《雷神之锤》或《Unreal》关卡中，如果玩家看到一些椽子正处于自己所站平台的跳程内，他可能就会想“啊，这是个挑战，我想看看那里有什么东西”。而假如游戏中 的这些椽子并无存在意义，而玩家却花了一个小时尝试跳向第一个椽子，结果却发现自己一直徒劳无功。玩家可能就会产生退出游戏的念头，更糟糕的是，这也可能激发他的好奇 心，使他产生志在必得的念头。他费了九牛二虎之力终于跳到椽子上时，却发现那里空无一物，他可能就会怨自己为什么要在这个关卡白费许多功夫，也可能对关卡设计师心生不 满。所以，设计和测试关卡时，务必注意清除这些“交互黑洞”，或者最好为探索这些内容的玩家提供奖励。
“节奏”就是引进冲突和紧张感，再加上所谓的“肾上腺素上升”。这和故事、电影领域的“正题-反题-整合”模式（Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis）很相似。玩家（正题）与反 题相接触时就会形成冲突，这种矛盾会逐渐上升，而后才进入“整合”状态，此时的读者、观众或玩家才开始松了一口气（不过玩家也可能重新开始玩这个关卡，假装失败从未发 生）。
控制玩家的行动速度或行动路程也可以明显影响游戏节奏。虽然你无法简单地在《俄罗斯方块》之类的益智游戏中进行这种调整，但你还可以采用其他策略改变玩法速度。通常情 况下，地形会影响玩家行动速度，例如沼泽地会让你减速，高速公路有助于加速，而阻塞的弯曲小道却会放慢你的进程。此外，还可以通过赋予游戏单位不同的行动速度或者行动 限制来改变玩家游戏速度。例如，为玩家提供一个行动迟缓笨拙的坦克，可以让他的部队放慢速度以配合坦克，而如果提供一辆快速行走的全地形车，就可以迫使玩家加快速度。
也可以通过设置敌人速度来调整关卡节奏。例如，在POV射击游戏中，让玩家追赶一个企图从主人的城堡中逃蹿并且行踪不定的忍者；在横向卷轴游戏中，让boss怪物行动更为迅速 或者缓慢。当玩家必须以自己所习惯的速度更快或更慢行动时，就可以构建游戏的冲突感。通过使用改变行动速度来制造紧张感的不同方法，你就可以较为准确地控制关卡中的节 奏。
要保持玩家对游戏的兴趣感，就要善于巧妙地展示游戏内容。这里的内容指的是游戏的视觉元素，包括地势物体、敌人和同盟部队，升级、谜题等。游戏应该向玩家逐渐推出这些 内容，不要在首个关卡就超载这些内容，以便下个关卡仍有新鲜内容可供玩家探索。首席设计师通常会有一些准则引导你下个关卡应该引进什么新内容，最好让它们成为关卡的中 心内容，使其与核心玩法相得益彰。要以生动的方式引进这些新资产，并且要描述这些内容的独特性。
这种情况提出了一个问题：为了让自己的关卡表现更出色，关卡设计师是否可以用光自己所需要的所有素材和内容，无视游戏中其他关卡的需求？答案当然是否定的。如果某个特 定关卡破坏了不同关卡内容的自然呈现过程，那就会导致其他关卡内容更为单薄。这也会迫使其他关卡设计师返工，而这又会损害项目进程并且浪费时间。依我个人的类似经历来 看，我敢担保这种不当的关卡内容呈现方式势必给项目造成重大影响。
关卡设计师的职责就是给玩家制造挑战。只有当游戏胜利条件尚无定论时，其游戏体验才会给玩家带来快感。所以你得向玩家呈现那些考验他们勇气，并且让他们不知自己胜算的 挑战。采取这种做法时要注意迎合不同玩家的能力（详见第6点），并针对玩家的技能和装备提升而增加难度。你的关卡在游戏时间或“关卡进程”中的出现位置应与其所要求的难 度相吻合。在最初几个关卡，要先让玩家学习如何玩游戏，所以这里的关卡可以适当宽容一点。但出现在游戏尾声的关卡则应最具难度，这样才能匹配玩家增长的技能和资源。
说得容易做得难，今天独特的游戏元素非常罕见。但至少在关卡设计领域，你还是可以用新方式结合不同元素，讲述不同故事。另外要记住，没有哪一款优秀游戏能够完全与前辈 或竞争者脱节，而你也不例外。有时候你可以通过调整他人的关卡设计，从而突出你认为其缺乏的元素，或者体现你的关卡更胜一筹。你常会有一些新想法添加到自己的设计素材 中。你可能会发现自己的关卡设计是前所未有的想法，或者从他人那里得到灵感而进行创新尝试。关卡独特性并不需要完全取决于原创性，你的个人喜好会体现在自己的设计中， 而这一点就已足够显示其独特性。无论你如何落实想法，独特性都可以令你的关卡与游戏区别与其他作品。
例如，《机甲指挥官》中的一个任务要求玩家从一艘敌人护航队的相反方向沿河出发。其任务描述要求玩家通过便利的交叉点，在敌人护航队接近退出点前将其歼灭。在关卡早期 阶段，玩家的位置远离这条河以及敌人。如果你事先没有阅读任务描述，或者查看战略地图/任务目标，你就不会知道自己的目标是什么，当然也不会产生任务紧迫感。你也不会知 道敌人想干什么。而当你探索完毕并且打了数场战役时，你却发现自己毫不知情地失败了。在这种情况下，你有可能重玩一次游戏，并且看看任务描述，但也有可能直接关掉游戏 。
后来这个关卡进行了一些改变，在刚开始时就在玩家视野中呈现河流以起敌军护航队的起点。然后你马上就能看到自己的目标，得知它们处于河对岸。你就可以立即调换河岸的导 弹和激光火力，并发现护航队并不会减速来攻击你，你还会得知自己正处于一个过河竞赛中，迫在眉睫的任务就是阻断敌人去路。这样整个任务目标和玩法无需只字片语，就能在 数秒内一目了然地呈现出来而不至于令玩家困惑——所以最好是为玩家展现可视的揭露内容，位置以及敌人行为。
如果你向他们灌输更多信息，他们在同个关卡中的期望可能就会发生变化。如果你建立了特定期望但却无法将其贯穿始终，这个关卡可能就会让玩家产生困惑或者沉闷无趣。如果 你想通过颠覆玩家期望，揭露其意料之外的内容让他们大吃一惊，那就要确保这种设计对关卡的重要性，因为玩家会理所当然地认为这种元素很重要。例如，你告诉玩家他们正处 于一个工业建筑中，而他们却并没有看到任何一个工业设施，他们就会感到困惑，就会怀疑自己是否走错屋子，或者自己上错楼层了。除非这种意外之举对玩家来说真的很重要， 否则你就应该改变任务描述，或在关卡中植入一些工业机器。与此相同，如果你想给玩家制造意外之感，让他们遇到一种国外技术，你可能就不该将其设置于工业建筑中，因为外 国机器与其他机器并没有什么明显差别。你最还是将这种外国机器放置于一个旧车库中，这样才会吸引玩家的注意力。有时候，只有站在玩家的角度才能知道他们的预期是什么， 从而识别你的关卡中哪部分内容需要改进。
唯一可鉴别玩家技能水平的方法就是，先确定他们技能水平的中间值。玩家开始体验关卡时的中间技能水平，取决于他们玩之前关卡时的低级和高级水准线（游戏邦注：如果是第 一个关卡，这一数值就与他们之前所玩过的同类游戏为准）。这样你可以快速根据玩家完成之前关卡的技能来推断他们的最低水平——即最低水准线。而要确定最高水准线，你就 得从那些尚未玩过其他关卡的用户中收集反馈信息。这一点很难实现，但如果你是根据公司的测试成员，或者那些只为了免费玩游戏而参与测试的骨灰玩家的水准来获取这一数据 ，那么你的高水准线就会严重偏向资深玩家。而这些骨灰玩家不但技能高超，而且还善于在游戏过程中向他人取经，所以比起让他们在自己家中玩游戏，群体测试环境并不能试出 其真实水平。你最好能够辨别出表现最出色的玩家，以这类群体的技能水平为高级水准线，并以推理法确定低级水准线。这样就可以确立玩家接触关卡时的中间技能水平，并以这 两个极端试玩关卡，从而鉴别哪些部分应该调整难度。
每个玩家都有自己的“锦囊妙计”——即解决谜题或挑战的策略、战术。这些妙术包括战斗技巧，侦察方法，偏爱武器，盟军选择，目标选择，建设策略等。设计关卡时，你可以 假设这些玩家会使用自己的一些决策来打败你的关卡。但不能假设玩家已经知道某个特定策略的用法。要注意查看游戏早期的关卡，观察玩家是否已经掌握该策略。如果确实如此 ，那就可以放心使用这种设计，但不要过度使用该策略，因为这样会让你的关卡乏味无趣。如果玩家尚未掌握该策略，那就要慎用，最好不要让它成为你的关卡解决方案。
最好全面了解玩家进入你的关卡中所附带的兵力、武器、口语、技能等级等内容。设计师常会低估或高估玩家开始某个关卡时所带的装备。所以应该研究游戏之前关卡的情况 ，在 资产列表查看它们已采纳的内容（详见第9点）。还要查看游戏测试时的相关数值，估算玩家可能承担或建设的内容。然后据此平衡敌军兵力或其他挑战。
关卡设计师在一定程度上得是折磨玩家的“虐待狂”。你得乐于扮演这种坏人角色，从AI角度出发设计内容。这样你才能制作出更具现实感，更易为玩家所理解的对手。玩家通常 希望AI可以像人类一样采取行动，如果你编写了一个行为像人类的AI，这将有助于玩家成功制定策略，并深度沉浸在游戏中。这也会在玩家心中激发一点小小的恐惧感，因为他们 并没有料到游戏AI居然可以发现他们的脆弱。作为一个坏人，你得让玩家心生恐惧，并充分利用他们的弱点。这样才能让游戏充满挑战性、趣味性和满足感。
就确保关卡设计质量而言，没有什么比测试更靠谱了。虽然我将测试列为第19个原则，但实际上玩法测试是一个持续进行的过程。你在制作关卡过程中就得进行测试。如果你在早 期设计阶段就辨别出重要漏洞或失误，就能够节省下大量返工的时间。另外，许多关卡设计师想出更多提升关卡的念头时，也需要经常进行测试。记住，只有经过严格的测试，你 才能避免自己的关卡出现严重的漏洞，这样才不会在上司或同事面前丢脸。测试关卡也是关卡设计师工作的一部分。
身为关卡设计师最有成就感的一项活动就是看其他人玩你的关卡。此时你不但有机会看到他人的反应（游戏邦注：包括消极和积极反应），还能据此判断他们的体验和你的追求目 标有多大差距。你可以观察他们的玩法风格，看他们如何探索和发现不同技巧、谜题、陷阱和奖励。这有利于判断你的关卡对不了解情况的玩家来说究竟有多大难度。你可以由此 判断哪些环节太无趣或太难，并相应调整其难度。总有些玩家会有一些超乎寻常的举动，遇到这种情形可以向他们询问原因，要知道这些玩家的回答可能会为你提供一个提升游戏 的好主意。总之，观察玩家试玩关卡是你万不可错过的机会。
要始终铭记玩家测试者从来不会有错，尽管他们可能难以清楚解释自己的基本想法，或者提出一些有利于改进关卡的建议。对他们的建议要保留意见，因为他们并不一定是目标市 场的用户。有些测试者可能也不是你这类游戏的粉丝，或者他们对这类游戏已经非常熟悉，可能已经无法提供更有价值的难度调整建议。在调整关卡之前，你应该考虑更多测试者 的说法，这样才能找到这些反馈的共同点。如果只针对一名玩家的积极或消极反馈调整游戏，这可能会让其他玩家对你的关卡失去兴趣。
你投入的时间越多，关卡设计就会越完善。优秀与出色关卡的差别通常就体现在细节上，所以不要吝于投入时间。游戏这种电子媒介的好处在于你可以保存关卡的不同版本并对其 进行试验。你可以根据自己脑中的不同想法，或者测试者的反馈尝试不同想法。永远不要满足于自己的关卡设计，除非你已经体验到了自己最初想象中的那种乐趣。要多花时间去 想想关卡所缺内容，或者找找阻碍关卡实现那些终极体验的因素。只有你才能够让自己的关卡更上一层楼。
游戏设计是一门难以评判的技术，它无形并且不断发展，也没有专业的院校课程。而“面面俱到”设计师就是利用了这一特点来装腔作势，把自己哄抬为位高权重的人物。不幸的 是，这种人在我们行业中随处可见，并且他们总是对你的工作指手划脚。我提到这一点，是希望你不要成为这种人，因为这种人的害处在于其误导性，毕竟让人们觉得你不懂每个 玩家的需求真不是什么愉快的经历。
当你看到其他人的关卡设计，或者自己的早期关卡设计的纰漏时，你就会知道自己是什么时候形成了良好的设计直觉。本系列文章中的原则全部来自我多年制作游戏、犯错误以及 获得启发的个人直觉。而作为新人设计师的你也不可能回避错误。不过，如果你从这些经验之谈中学到知识，就能少走一些弯路。希望本系列设计理论和原则能为你的关卡设计事 来带来帮助。
最惊悚的恐怖电影会诱使观众产生一种错误的安全感，然后再用一些惊心动魄的元素刺激他们。优秀的关卡与此类似。最近的一个范例是《System Shock 2》。前一分钟玩家正在被挥舞着管子的疯狂杂交怪追赶，下一分钟他又在一个安静的卧房里一边畅饮，一边阅读已故船员的日志，心里还盘算着下一步怎么走。如果怪物不断地出现在玩家面前，那么这个游戏就不再恐怖了。然而，短暂的休整让玩家暂时忘记了身自所陷的危险。就是在这么短短的一段时间里，玩家放松戒备，然后又被下一个怪物吓到（或杀死）。
良好的游戏关卡和差劲的游戏关卡有何不同？根据美国作家和哲学家Robert M. Pirsig，“质量”是难以下定义的事物，但我们对其存在有着本能上的认识。无论我们对事物的“好”能否给出成文的定义，我们总是这么觉得，如果某事物是好的，那么它的“质量”就高。
现代主义者认为，建筑是服务于体验创造的环境。瑞士籍法国建筑师Le Corbusier曾引证：“房子是居住的机器”，而Louis Sullivan则在此基础上补充道：“功能重于形式。”我们可以从他们对空间设计的理解中得到一些启示，特别是与求生相关时。马斯洛的需求等级金字塔强调了生理上的需求，如食物、水和住所是人类最必须的需求。
另一方面，Frank Lloyd Wright的建筑学可以认为是以避难所为基础。Wright认为壁炉是房屋的中心所在，是家人安适取暖的地方。这个理论在他的许多建筑设计中都有所体现，所以就成了他自己的“核心机制”，从他的房间布局到场地位置都按这个“核心机制”展开设计。他偏好把房子置于树木掩映的环境中。就算最终建筑周围不能绿树成荫，他也要求所有的远景描述图纸中，房子周围确实绿意盎然。
游戏中的技术增强实现了动态光照。代表作有《毁灭战士3》、《恐怖病房》（《Dementium: The Ward》）和《死亡空间》等。在《死亡空间》中，大多时候玩家得靠手电筒作为唯一的光源，来探索漆黑的空间。游戏的惯例是满足玩家对黑暗环境的想像。所以在此惯例下，Necromorphs（《死亡空间》里的一种外星变种僵尸）喧闹着穿过一只废弃的船，向手无寸铁、势单力薄的工程师发起挑战。就这样，玩家在游戏中最不可怕的地方碰上可见的敌人，展开殊死搏斗。正是在这种漆黑空荡但潜藏着变异僵尸的地方，玩家被吓得最厉害。Necromorphs与大白鲨类似，以无形的存在控制着环境。
Grant Hildebrand在他的书《The Origins of Architectural Pleasure》中提到Joseph Campbell（游戏邦注：心理学者、人类学者、文学家、电影制作人等与神话学大师)的元神话，该神话从物质的角度阐述英雄之旅及英雄在旅程中遇到的危险。物质是指在某中环境中的材料的质量。
这些对材料的文学描述起源于避难所式空间中的求生本能。如上所述，Frank Lloyd Wright甚至在新建筑项目的设计图纸中加入树木，以此呼应这种强烈求生趋向。
空间求生的最后一个元素是最引人注目的高度。许多人说自己恐高。然而，高地也可以为查看地形提供方便。塔、山崖、直升机，人类正是使用这些东西找到观察周围环境的有利位置。Le Corbusier认为，他的建筑能使人征服自然，萨沃耶别墅的分层组织空间高度的设计，强调的就是这一点。Grant Hildebrand描述开放性空间与避难所时，甚至称高地也能成为有价值的避难所。
Katie Salen 和Eric Zimmerman在他们的书中，《游戏法则：游戏设计基础》中点出，克服困境能产生愉悦感，这个原则是游戏设计的基础。当关卡设计良好时，玩家是能感知到的，即使他们不能用语言表达是什么让他们产生愉悦感。一些关于关卡设计的现代文本资料只是教读者如何模拟环境和场景。按照这样的书来设计关卡是没法吸引玩家的，也不能让玩家获得什么体验。
篇目1，The Art and Science of Level Design
It is becoming increasingly difficult to define the role of the team member known as the “Level Designer.” Level design is as much an art as it is a science; it requires artistic skills and know-how as well as an extensive technical knowledge. A designer with tremendous traditional art or architectural experience will not succeed if he cannot grasp issues such as framerate, gameflow, and pacing. A designer who understands these elements yet has no architectural or art experience is doomed to fail as well. Art and Science are the Yin and the Yang of design and it takes the efforts of very talented and dedicated individuals to produce high quality levels.
I. Defining the Role
In the earlier years of the gaming industry, there was no such thing as a Level Designer. Programmers were the “one stop shop” of game creation; they were the ones responsible for designing, producing, and finishing products. With the evolving state of 3d technology, the need for these “digital architects” has appeared, and 3d environments are more gorgeous than ever.
Above and beyond everything that is outlined in this presentation, the role of the level designer on any given project will be defined by two key factors:
What technology will be used for this project?
A project administrator can cut down on training costs and time by hiring talent that is experienced with editing tools that are presently available to the community. For instance, if an Unreal Technology Licensee were to hire talent they’d benefit from acquiring someone who has previously created content with the editor and released it online, or has worked at another technology Licensee. A savvy recruiter will comb map design collection pages as well as closely examining the content produced by peers who are using the same technology for their titles.
What kind of project will we be building with this technology?
Taking a master deathmatch level designer and asking him to create sprawling landscapes for an Everquest style Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game would be a big mistake. Even if the designer were able to adapt and create great content then the time and overhead taken to train him in the new design and direction would not be worth the effort. It is possible for a designer who is “trying out” for a job to test his hand at another style in an effort to impress his potential employers, but by the time his content is presentable the job may have passed him by. Although many design elements are universal and will carry over from one style of game to another, it is key to reduce any extra time or risk that is taken in hiring new talent as budgets are constantly rising.
Until recently, at many development studios, there has been a notion of “ownership” in the realm of level design. A level was “owned” by a designer; no one touched his work and he was the one solely responsible for the content. Level Designers would become defensive, even hostile, if another LD suggested modifying his work.
The gaming industry is about evolution. The designers, programmers, and hardware manufacturers who do not evolve quickly fade out and die. The Level Designer is no different from these rules, much like his peers he must evolve. That said, it is no longer possible for one LD to maintain “ownership” of a level as computers and gaming machines are becoming more and more capable of rendering extremely detailed environments. The talent that is hired must be comfortable with the idea of others modifying and improving their work.
There is a direct correlation between the detail that a technology is capable of and the amount of ownership that one designer has over a particular level. With Moore’s law holding true (processor speed doubles every eighteen months) and 3d accelerators constantly raising the bar the detail that game engines are capable of is staggering. It is simply impossible for one driven person to build the necessary amount of detail into level locations in the allocated time, and the more detail technology can push the more people will be required to work on levels.
In addition to having dedicated world texture artists and environment concept designers the need will soon emerge for dedicated “prop” people; artists who create content that will fill up previously static and barren environments. Most architecture is relatively simple, much of the detail in the real world comes from the “clutter,” the chairs, tables, and decorations that fill these places up.
Teams may soon see the addition of “scripting” people who are responsible for storyboarding in-game events as well as assisting in the design and direction of these events. A person of these abilities would need cinematic experience as well as excellent knowledge of the tools that are used to create “cinemas,” such as a scripting language or editor.
It is very likely that the level designer will be like a chef, taking various “ingredients” from other talented people and mixing them into something special while following the “recipe” of a design document. Right now there are companies that have artists lighting levels, as well as doing custom texture work on a per-surface basis. The level designer will evolve to the role of the glue of a project, the hub at which everything comes together.
b. The Glue
Jay Wilbur once said, “Level Design is where the rubber hits the road.”
This quote holds true today, and will continue to hold true in the future. Level designers are quickly becoming some of the most important members of a development team.
Nine times out of ten one finds that programmers are the bottlenecks on a project. A game is not supposed to ship until it is clear of all “A” class bugs, and this requires much programming gusto to clean up and ship a game. On many projects this bottleneck will eventually slide into the realm of the level designer as they’re where the “rubber hits the road.” The LD is the one who is taking everyone else’s hard work and tying it together into a cohesive package. The designer takes the textures created by the artists and places them on his level geometry, or asks an artist to create custom work for his level. He’ll figure out where and when to place hostile AI that was created by programmers and 3d artists while all of it is being rendered by the work of the engine programmer.
A level designer is not just an architecture monkey or a guy who throws “cool stuff” into the pot of development. Above and beyond everything else they need the ability to judge what is fun, what gameplay elements work and what do not. He needs to judge what content works in any context while making sure his work is cohesive with the rest of the game.
II. Design Commandments
Now that the role of the level designer is defined the following are some tips for him to live by.
Designer, Evaluate Thyself
The best level designers are never afraid to step back and re-evaluate their content. Often this requires a period of respite from the work in question; distance can clear up a clouded mind. A great designer isn’t afraid to throw content out or re-work a concept that needs attention.
It is also extremely important for a level designer to recognize when he is becoming tired of his own work and when his work is not coming together. There is a huge difference between the two; in one instance a designer becomes weary of playing his own content over and over and is just sick of it. A great level might get scrapped or reworked because a development cycle is dragging on and a designer feels the work is not as fresh as it used to be. The designer must recognize that his view is tainted; he has been playing this content for months on end and by nature the work becomes stale to him. This does not mean that the work will have any less impact on the user, however! At this point, a designer should have his map tested repeatedly by new and experienced players and simply polish the work instead of reworking it.
Thou Shalt Seek Peer Criticism
Assembling and maintaining a great team of designers is a challenging task. It is important to hire easy-going talent that gets along well together. A great designer is never afraid to take criticism from his peers; in fact, a great designer is the sum of himself plus his peers. Many artists feel that they’re more talented than the next, this cockiness can be the weak link in a design team. The ideal designer seeks criticism even from those he may consider “less talented” than he, because even if he believes that the critic in question has no skills the commentary will be fresh and from a new perspective. The best way to go about doing this is to have periodic “peer evaluations” where a lead designer or lead level designer picks two designers and has them evaluate each others work while acting as a mediator.
Thou Shalt Value Rivalries
In addition to taking suggestions from one another it is key for level designers to feel a desire to “one up” each other. Healthy competition in any area of a development team means improved results. However, a positive, healthy competition can quickly turn ugly as one designer may accuse another of stealing his style or designs.
If a designer is emulating the style of another this benefits the project, as the environments will become more consistent. The Design Lead should encourage overlapping designs and work towards smoothing ruffled feathers and the Art Director should make sure the environments are consistent by leading the team’s aesthetic designs.
Do Thy Homework
As much of this work is moving into the realm of the Art Director and art team, the designers remain the Digital Architects and they will still be responsible for much of the look and feel of the levels. Therefore, if a project calls for an accurate Roman Empire then everyone had better be doing his or her homework. Having a shared directory of R+D images on a server as well as an art bible that is referred to all designers and artists will contribute to a more consistent look and feel.
At any given point in development a designer needs to be able to step back, look at his work and think, “Does this make sense?” More often than not he’ll discover little details that make no sense, such as structurally impossible architecture that seems out of place or ice beasts near lava pits. The users may not notice these details on the conscious level but will sure feel it on a subconscious level which will affect his overall game experience negatively.
Good research lends itself to good planning. Some designers simply sit down and build while others carefully plan every nook and cranny of the game. The best designs are the ones that are a combination of careful on-paper planning and improvisation.
Thy Framerate Shall Not Suck
If the designers are working with a technology that can push 100 million polys then they’re going to try to make the tech look like it can push 3 times that. Although much of the framerate issue falls upon the programmers, with optimizations and level of detail technology, it is extremely important that designers have hardcoded guidelines for framerates, detail levels, and RAM usage.
The Lead Level Designer should be the one responsible for enforcing hardcoded design limitations. Unreal Tournament had extremely strict limitations on how detailed a level’s geometry could be, as well as overall framerate time.
Framerate can be sacrificed somewhat if a title is slower-paced and does not require action-oriented reflexes. However, if the team is building an action game and levels are bloated and framerates are dying then the hardcore action users will reject the title and every review will read “looks nice, runs terribly.”
Thou Shalt Deceive
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. If a designer can simulate a newer technology with some trickery then by all means allow and encourage this. If the programmers are exclaiming things such as “I don’t remember programming that!” or “How did you do that?” then something special is going on. If a scene can look more detailed with creative texturing then go for it. If bump mapping or specular highlighting can be faked even though the engine does not “truly” support it then why not? Only the hardest of the hardcore gamer will know the difference.
This mode of thinking can be carried over to nearly every aspect of development, not just level design. Programmers can find creative ways to “fake” new effects; a sneaky artist can make a character look more detailed than he actually is with good texture mapping or smart use of polygons.
A very basic example of this would be a designer who uses “masked” textures to create the illusion of much more detailed geometry. For example, making a grate on a wall can be done by only using one polygon that’s masked instead of constructing the actual holes of the grate out of individual level brushes. Masked and translucent surfaces were used in many areas of Unreal Tournament to simulate weather effects such as snow and rain.
III. On Design Techniques
Many of these techniques can be applied to either a single player oriented title or a multiplayer oriented title. Every technique is governed by an overall concept of “Gameflow.” It is the mystical “life force” that makes a good game fun and it is very much a reward-response system that challenges the gamer and then provides a “treat” for completing tasks. Time and Time again this document will refer to the “Carrot on the End of the Stick.” This is the incentive for the gamer to keep going; many of these “carrots” are built and planted by the level designer as these drive gameflow.
The Gameflow of a Single Player title is driven entirely by the level designer. He’s the one who is creating a task and then placing the carrot in front of the gamer, encouraging him to complete the task. It is very much a cause and effect design, create a problem and then encourage the player to solve it. This is why many titles use violent elements as their focus as it is the easiest and most basic form of conflict.
Multiplayer Gameflow varies quite a bit from Single Player Gameflow; it is more about rationing risk and reward in a social environment. A Level Designer who is building for a Multiplayer-oriented title is much like a playground architect. He’s building the space where real people will be driving the game and experiencing the action firsthand; the gamers themselves largely dictate the gameflow. Designer-placed elements such as AI or story can often prod this along but more often than not it is the gamers who are the catalysts that keep that carrot on the end of the stick for the gamer. A title like Ultima Online creates a world where designers carefully place resources around the player and the users who harvest these resources are proud to wear their spoils of war. This creates a desire for the “have-nots” to become rich and prosperous and drives the game.
Let the player think he has a choice in where to go and what to do but gently guide him to his destination.
This is an avidly debated topic; if a player has the freedom to go anywhere and do anything (as many gamers claim they want) then he will quickly get lost and frustrated. By keeping level design somewhat linear and giving the illusion that there are multiple paths one has the freedom to choose then the player will have a more enjoyable play experience. This way, the player experiences the best of both worlds; the player gets to the carrot on the end of the stick, and feels like he made the right decisions on where to go.
This can take more time to design but ultimately adds up for a more enjoyable single player experience for the user. It is completely possible to build a title that revolves around the notion of “go anywhere, do anything” but a developer who does this must allocate plenty of time and funding to make this a reality. Often previous titles that have had very much “open-ended” designs have had users that have found themselves lost and asking “what do I do next?” Only the most hardcore of the hardcore gamer will stick with a title that is too open-ended. It can be done; it simply requires longer design times and a more focused and dedicated user.
Constant scares dull the senses.
The scariest horror movies are the ones that lull the viewers into a false sense of security and then spring something scary upon them, and a great level is no different. An excellent recent example of this is System Shock 2. One minute the player is being chased down by pipe wielding maniac hybrids, the next he’s tucked away in a quiet bedroom aboard the Von Braun, reading log files from dead crewmembers while wondering what will be around the next corner. If the monsters were constantly in the player’s face the game would cease to be scary. However, the down time lets the player forget, for a moment, the peril that he is in… just long enough so that his guard drops and he’s scared (and killed) by the next baddie.
The best multiplayer titles are driven by a system of good pacing through intelligent resource distribution. It requires a bit of effort in one’s skills or “character” to improve at the game and move up in the online world. For instance, in a Deathmatch or Teamplay game a player acquires his skills by learning battle arenas and how to aim. A designer’s pacing in a level will determine if the game works or not, if every character starts with a crazy arsenal or if there are areas that are impossible to breach or defend then the game suddenly fails to be entertaining. In titles that are more role-playing driven or strategy oriented a designer must be cautious with wealth and resources. If, for example, there isn’t enough ore to mine in an adventure game then players cannot build weapons and the game system crumbles. The designer is the key to making the entire game system work and often has to work and rework his ideas to make sure they balance the world well.
In single player design, there are oodles of ways a designer can utilize this time tested technique to let the gamer make his own decisions about how much trouble he’s going to get himself into for treasure.
That’s the beauty of risk incentive. The player weighs the risk; he assesses the challenge, and gets to make a decision. He feels like he’s in control, and the designer provides him with a choice.
For example, in a traditional shooter the designer might place ammunition or health below a pair of sentry turrets. The turrets can easily be avoided by crawling behind a pair of desks, however if the player wants to make a dash for the goodies it is his choice. Therefore, if the guns rip him to shreds and he screws up he blames himself, not the designers.
In a Deathmatch style game a player will have the choice of going for an ass-kicking weapon, only if he risks his neck by going into an extremely open and well guarded spot.
Never underestimate the usefulness of this technique.
The concept of “Revisiting” or “Doubling Back” refers to the gamer seeing an inaccessible area of a level and wondering “How do I get there?” The gamer then proceeds to complete a series of tasks which move the game/story along (as well as his virtual self) and he then suddenly looks around and realizes “Oh! I’m up there now!”
Revisiting areas from a different angle is a good thing for designers to practice. It keeps the gamer motivated as he tears through your designs, as well as saving time and money. The same rooms are viewed from multiple angles as well as revisited, and this saves the designer from building more areas. This will be more and more of a blessing as levels become more detailed and expensive to produce in the near future.
Many Multiplayer titles are dependent upon revisiting areas of levels as Multiplayer design often focuses around character interaction instead of just exploring. A recursive design is extremely important in any kind of social title.
Supply And Demand
Leave the gamer always concerned about running out of ammunition and/or health, but not to the point where he’s running around bullet-less, dying constantly, while cursing the designers and their product. This is yet another carrot on the end of the stick trick that makes for a satisfying gaming run. It teaches resource management, and makes it a better experience when the gamer finds health and ammo. Good supply and demand makes these goodies more valuable.
In a Multiplayer Title the designer has to account for players trying every available option to exploit the game and level design. It is key for the designer to balance the amount of resources that are available in any multiplayer game to prevent a tiny percent of the playing population from enjoying all of the virtual “wealth.”
Scene Composition and Contrast
Relatively simple objects arranged in an interesting method can result in a far more eye-pleasing image. This is true with art, architecture and, of course, level design. It becomes especially relevant when working with low-polygon geometry and strict detail budgets.
Many art classes will spend time focusing on the idea of scene composition. This is another example where an art background will come in handy for a designer.
Work With The AI Guy
AI is tied directly into the structure and composition of a level. It is where the AI does its thing, it is the place where all that hard work on the part of the AI guy is supposed to be shown.
It is crucial for a level designer to construct areas that take advantage of the AI while working with the AI guy and figuring out what the AI is going to do. For instance, if there is an AI that is really good in firefights, ducking behind boxes and taking pot shots at the player, a designer should plan to build an environment with waist high crates all over the place. If the AI guru programs a great pack AI, make space that accommodates it. Often AI does not work perfectly, it is important to maintain patience and have faith in the AI talent as the designers manage to iron out kinks in the system.
Smart designers and programmers will work together to create memorable scenes where puzzles and areas are built around crafty artificial intelligence.
Steven King, in Danse Macabre, said something along the lines of:
“When the lightning crashes and the door opens and you see a ten foot bug standing there, a part of you sighs and thinks “Whew, I thought it was going to be a TWENTY foot bug.”
Designers must work closely with sound technicians to assure a compelling and exciting audio experience. A great designer never underestimates how much mileage he can get out of a good bump in the night. No matter how good the talent is, the monster that is in the gamer’s head is always scarier than what is seen onscreen. If the title calls for chills and thrills, let the sound do much of the work!
If a designer is forcing a gamer to backtrack he must make sure that it is done in a logical and non-frustrating manner. This is a dangerous time in design, as the “carrot on the stick” of seeing a new area is gone. A designer is re-using a previously seen area and it is important to make the area seem fresh or interesting as the player navigates it. This often requires subtle scene changes, or the addition of new hostiles to prevent the area from seeming “dead” and “used.” Much like a used-car dealer will polish up an older model, a designer who is re-using an area must put more effort into it to make sure that it seems new and fresh.
It is also key to make sure that the gamer does not get lost as he is backtracking. If, for example, a gamer must activate a pump so he may drain an area with waste and cross then the route back to the previously hazardous area had better be pretty easy to navigate in reverse. Using controlled freedom here will ensure that the gamer knows where he’s going; perhaps by blocking off a redundant area or placing highly visible signs that direct him on where to go he’ll have more fun.
IV. The future
Gaming continues to evolve and is heading in a variety of directions, and level designers will be at the forefront of this revolution. Programmers will be responsible for entire tool sets that the designers use and it will be important to have a good synergy between designer and coder.
Level Editors will become closer to high end modeling packages such as Lightwave or 3dstudio max, as real time scenes are approaching pre-rendered ones. Many developers have forgone traditional in-house level editors for packages such as these, so it can’t hurt for a designer to learn Max, Maya, or any of these programs. Chances are, in-game editing tools will be at a similar level of complexity in the future.
There are basic 3d editing concepts that these programs are built upon that everyone should know, a designer should understand how to manipulate low polygon geometry as well as high polygon geometry.
In the past, geometry was extremely simple and nearly all of the world detail was done in the textures. Many current titles feature approximately a 50/50 ratio of texture detail to world geometry detail, levels feature many custom textures, a simple polygonal arch will be framed by a custom texture that makes it look that much more detailed and planned. The real Next-Generation titles will feature a more detailed “material” system where simple maps are mixed to create realistic surfaces. For instance, a designer will be able to specify the shininess, depth, and color of any material that will then be placed on world geometry.
In the future Designers will have to work even more closely with the in house AI programmers. On one hand, design will become easier as AI will become better at tasks such as navigation and conflict, while on the other hand the job will become trickier as users demand more and more cinematic experiences. Smart designers will build many custom AI “scenes,” such as exciting stand-offs between hostiles and teammates while building in a failsafe “backup” AI that keeps the scene convincing if the user “breaks” the action. By “breaking” the action the user may, say, blow up a character that is supposed to jump through a window or trigger some sort of action.
Every level designer at Epic Games has primary and secondary duties. Some designers, besides working on levels, are competent texture artists. Others are good at modeling characters or decorations. As the level designer evolves it will become more and more important for him to be familiar with many of the tools that artists and 3d modelers use.
This reduces any potential “middle man” time risk. For example, if a texture artist has created a great brick pattern for a designer before leaving for the day and the texture does not tile horizontally on a surface correctly the designer can open the art in PhotoShop and make it tile himself.
A designer who can “do it all” is both a blessing and a curse. If he can create his own textures, architecture, lighting, and decorations then he’s an all-in-one package, a one-man design machine. However, designers who are this talented often have their own notions about how they want “their” work to look and can be very difficult to work with when the time arrives for “shared” design. Another problem with a “do it all” designer is that his time is divided between texture creation, world creation and decoration creation and often finds that he’s bitten off more than he can chew! These designers often require the least amount of management at the start of a project and the most at the end when they’re struggling to finish all they’ve started.
The last quarter of a game’s development cycle is the most crucial for the entire team, especially the level designers. Features that are often broken will finally be working and the game can be solidified and polished. Truly talented designers will shine in these moments.
It is important to remember that, much like many sports, creating a game is not a one-man show. As important as level designers are for the team, they are nothing without quality programmers and talented artists to back them up, and vice-versa.
The gaming industry is constantly evolving; a short while ago there was no such thing as a “level designer” and now they’re key team members on a project. The level designer needs to understand where he fits in amongst the other talented people he works with, and needs to have an open mind and a good artistic sense if he’s going to help put everyone’s hard work together into a fantastic product.
篇目2，Beginning Level Design, Part 1
This article is the first of a two-part series covering theories behind level design, establishing some rules for level creation. The intention is to aid those new to the field who want to design levels for pleasure or pursue a career in level design.
Level design is the data entry and layout portion of the game development cycle. A level is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a mission, stage, map or other venue of player interaction. As a level designer, you are chiefly responsible for the gameplay. This article will give you insight into developing good levels for any type of game, whether they are military missions for your horde of tanks, aerial encounters for a flight simulator, a dungeon for a role-playing game, a board for a puzzle game, or a map for a world conquest god-simulator.
I will present some theories behind level design, starting with an exploration of what good level design means. Then it delves into the non-electronic roots of computer game design from chess to GI Joe action figures, and how we can learn from their success. Finally it takes a thorough look into the theories behind storytelling and how we can apply them to level design.
What Good Level Design Means for Players
Players are the consumers who paid good money for your game or dedicated a half-hour of on-line time to download your custom level. If you are working or have desire to work for a developer or publisher, the consumers are those giving you your dream job. As any modern business school will tell you, creating an affordable product that satisfies the consumers is what it takes to make it in business. As a level designer, you must become very aware of what satisfies
the consumers if you want to be successful.
A player buys a game to escape from his or her reality. Good levels and hence good games will immerse the player and suspend their disbelief. From the moment the title screen comes up, you have their full attention. From that point on, they should see and do nothing that reminds them that they are anywhere but in the world you have them in.
You must furnish a setting and actors that meet the players’ expectations. That is, you need to design a map that not only looks like it could fit inside the world they are playing in, but contains elements that help to draw that reality in the players’ heads. A player’s sense of escapism and suspension of disbelief can be ruined by a variety of common errors. These include bugs such as graphics glitches or crashes, but from a design standpoint, these also include inappropriate content. For example, a McDonald’s Golden Arches on the skyline of a medieval town is obviously out of context. Similarly, if a player is told by a character to hit control-T on his keyboard to teleport, then it would remind him that he’s typing at a computer and not in some fantasy realm. Generally, to maintain the players’ sense of escapism all content should be appropriate to what would be seen, said or done in the game setting.
Challenge – Testing the Players’ Mettle
Players buy games to be challenged. If there is no challenge, they might as well be interacting with their word processor or spreadsheet software. Challenge should always come in the form of testing the players’ skills at the core gameplay. A shooter should test their aim and reflexes. A wargame should test their tactics. A strategy game should test their strategic sense. Some games successfully combine forms of gameplay to offer a variety of challenges, such as Command & Conquer, which has both planning/building and tactical gameplay.
Challenge comes from difficulty. The trick to good level design is to present challenges that are difficult enough to merit the players’ attention and make their heart or mind race, but not so difficult as to always leave them failing and disappointed. It’s a delicate balance based on what is perceived as the median player skill, and it is a variable constantly adjusted up until the game ships.
Like a good television show or book, the game must maintain a player’s interest. The introduction of conflict, the revelation of the setting or back-story, the acquisition of new assets, the display of new art, and the increase in difficulty must all be deliberately spaced to keep the player interested and looking forward to the next level.
One boring level can be the kiss of death to a game, especially if it’s one of the first few levels. Game reviewers and most players only give a game that much time before they praise or trash it. Good level designers have learned to be objective about their own creations and when asking themselves, “Is this fun?” The hard part for many designers is that what they find fun may not be what the target market finds fun. As a level designer you need to understand the core gameplay, which is part of the vision expressed by the producers and lead designers. You need to try to understand and become that target market.
Something that helps designers tremendously is to play competitors’ games. Often producers and lead designers will name successful games that they are trying to emulate. Play and study those titles. Make sure your levels entertain, thrill and excite you as well or better than the competition’s levels.
Frustration can also kill a game. Players stop being entertained when they encounter technical problems like slowdowns or graphics glitches. The level designer can avoid a lot of these bugs if they pay attention to technical limitations and to the instructions of the artists on how to place the art. Designers can, of course, create their very own frustrating bugs, like broken AI scripts or door triggers that never trigger, or missions that don’t always end when they are supposed to. Even worse, designers can create what are commonly called “show stoppers”. Show stoppers are unbeatable missions or
unsolvable challenges or unavoidable traps that frustrate players. A good level designer can spot these problems and resolve them with careful and rigorous play testing before consumers get their hands on it.
Player’s don’t like playing, or indeed, buying, the same game twice. Of course, like Star Trek fans and readers of the prodigious Gor science fiction series, some players will continuously buy into the same formulae or even the same game with just slight variations in plot, setting, characters and art. The same can be said for level designs – people don’t like playing the same level twice. Not only does it ruin the entertainment value, it also fails to spark the imagination. It’s therefore incredibly important that levels introduce some variation in the plot, challenge, setting, and characters (i.e. the enemies).
The Roots Of Computer Game Design
Computer game design has its roots in earlier forms of entertainment that predate the joystick and personal computer. Board games, paper and dice games, toys, and the ancient art of storytelling all have methods that continue to capture the human imagination and joy. Level designers can learn by studying these methods and understanding what each form has contributed to the art of computer game design.
Board, Paper & Dice Games
Games predate civilization. Some of our oldest games still survive to this day, like mangala (or stones), dice, checkers, tic-tac-toe and chess. What gives them their lasting power? What can we gain from them as designers of complex computer games? Simplicity and elegance.
These games keep the gameplay and the rules simple. Almost anyone can grasp them and quickly perceive the strategies and skills necessary to achieve victory. Elegance comes from years of refining the rules and components to maximize and balance the gameplay, and provides lasting entertainment value.
Simplicity and elegance should be your goal in level design. So many designers (I being one of them), have fallen into the trap of creating complex games and levels that make it difficult for players to grasp the rules, objectives, strategies and indeed the fun. Designers often fail to play test their level enough to uncover any unbalancing factors and make improvements. So keep it simple, and submit your level to a lot of play testing so you can polish it.
There’s a lot more that can be learned from non-computer games, such as the value of symbolism, statistics, and role-playing, but this goes beyond the scope of level design and should be left for a future article on computer game design.
Toys – Train Sets, GI Joe and Barbie
Toys have always fascinated children of all ages. Train sets are the ultimate interactive toy. You can be designer, builder, painter, passenger and engineer (or even God if you like creating natural disasters). GI Joe and Barbie both have interactive features such as movable limbs and changeable clothing and accessories and even vehicles and play sets. They cash in on kids’ aspirations and dreams. One of my favorite quotes from a paper game industry veteran and
former toy maker is, “Who knew that a doll with tits would sell so well?”
The more you can interact with toys and the closer they get to peoples’ aspirations and dreams, the more they are appreciated. The same can be said about level design. Think of your level as a train set. Consider how can you make it interactive with all the bells and whistles and other special effects. Think about how you are portraying the player and what you are having them do. Let them feel like a general chasing down a retreating tank corps or a squad leader
breaking ranks and charging a hill. Let them feel like a deer hunter chasing down quarry. (Think about the few million units that the latter type game has recently sold.)
The most ancient form of entertainment, storytelling, has riveted mankind since the spoken word. Stories of adventure, triumph and disaster all pull at our hearts. They take us through a ride in someone else’s skin and often challenge our own convictions, illuminate our soul, or simply lighten our spirits. As game designers, you’ll concentrate on the latter.
Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis
Stories essentially come in three parts:
The thesis, which is the introduction to the setting, the characters and the hero
The antithesis, which is where the conflict and villains are introduced and is what amounts to the majority of the story
Synthesis, where there is some form of resolution, be it triumphant or tragic.
We can see this model followed precisely in the three-act play. We see it in film scripts, and indeed, all the forms of entertainment that evolved from storytelling.
In games, your player is easily identifiable as the hero, and the game as a whole can be seen as one story, where each level is a portion of the antithesis, the interplay and conflict between the hero and the villain. The depth of the thesis may be limited to a cinematic that explains who you are and what the setting is. Some sequels will gloss over the thesis and jump right into the conflict, assuming you’ve played the prequel. The synthesis is everything that happens at the end of the game. You’ve either won or you’ve lost, and you may see a cinematic or read a few lines of narrative before you see the credits. Like Hollywood movies, the synthesis is never very long.
Understanding and Developing the Thesis in Level Design
Each level in itself is its own story. As level designers, you set up the thesis by preparing the initial situation. You position the player and perhaps indicate his initial arsenal or force or set of spells or pieces. You render the setting with your map or your puzzle board. The setting and the situation can change over the course of the level as portions of the level are revealed to the player or new characters or other elements are introduced such as power-ups or new player or enemy forces. As games are interactive, you have to be very conscious about every possible situation a player can be in at any given time or place over the course of the playing the level.
Each encounter has its thesis – that moment right before the battle when your fear, adrenaline, and anticipation kick in, and how observant you are of the situation right then and there will influence the fight. For example, a player may stumble into a rats’ nest of bogies and realize at that moment right before the fighting begins, that just next to the head rat is a large fuel tank within easy range of a missile salvo. But we cannot assume that players will always do the same thing and come from the same direction. A level designer has to plan for that and reward that behavior. Using the previous example, a player may come from a sneaky route from the opposite direction and see the fuel tank in his line of sight before he sees any of the bogies. Does he blow it up now to be cautious or walk on through? What if the enemy chooses to use it against him? To complicate matters, let’s say that there is a nice but destructible power-up right next to the fuel tank. What should the player do? In this situation, you don’t have to make it a single choice. Indeed, you
really don’t want to make it a single choice. As part of the thesis, you need only present options to the player and he’ll decide what he wants to do.
Introducing and Refining the Antithesis in Your Level
The antithesis is where the players interact with your level. By positioning enemy forces and scripting their behavior, or by setting the timing and speed of the bugs they have to zap or the puzzle pieces they have to place, you are creating conflict. This should be where the core gameplay of your level is. If it ’s not, then you’ll have a level that requires too much planning in the thesis stage. In other words, if the player doesn’t plan things out right from the beginning then the level is over before it began, and if the player plans correctly then there’s not much to it. Most people, with the exception of strategy wargamers, hate this kind of level. Players need the ability to resolve conflict as it arises – you can’t assume they are omniscient or psychic. A common mistake designers make is presenting challenges that are absolutely unbeatable unless you’ve played the level before and know what to expect. It is essential that players be capable of resolving the conflict and tackling challenges the first time they encounter them.
The antithesis is where you present the knife’s edge to the player. It divides the good players from the bad, the experts from the novices, and the dedicated from the dilettantes. Ideally there is more than just one victory to be won, because indeed the division of skills is not black and white. If only experts can beat your level, then you’ve lost 90% of your market and your game won’t sell well. Likewise, if any mediocre player can beat your level and reap all the rewards, then it’s not satisfying to 50% of the players who weren’t challenged. But if your level had a satisfying victory for the mediocre
players and optional challenges to entice and reward the good and expert players, then you’re presenting multiple edges to challenge and satisfy a diverse group of players.
Synthesis – Making Your Levels End in a Satisfying Tone
Synthesis is the result of an encounter or the entire level. It’s a moment of reflection for players to evaluate the encounter or level and what they got out of it. Whether players fail or succeed, they should be able to recognize why and how they might do better next time. This keeps them interested in trying again or just replaying for a better score or reward.
Victory or failure should be obvious. Players should understand why they lost. Victories should come as the direct result of the final acts of the player, not as the result of something the player does midway through the level (the latter tends to make players bored). Ending the mission on a big, satisfying note leaves a player feeling good.
Stories maintain your interest by presenting worthwhile content. People don’t buy a book or see a movie just to hear characters talk about the weather, unless the weather itself is the villain (as in disaster movies like Twister). All the details that a well-written story contains are those that render the setting, develop the characters or move the plot. While books can get away with including an awful lot of detail, films cannot. Films are aimed at short- attention span people who want to experience the whole story in 90 minutes or less. Films try to focus on the most important details and these usually are the ones involving character interaction.
The same can be said with level design, except that you have an even shorter amount of time to tell your story. As a result, you must focus even harder on character interaction details, especially those that involve the player. Everything the player sees or does must further the story. All of the players’ accomplishments should move them toward the completion of the story or pull them further into the conflict with the villain. As the game is played, players should discover more about themselves and their opponents. This can be achieved when players develop new talents, find new weapons or upgrades, gain insight into strategy, or encounter new enemy tactics and new enemy types. All of these suggestions may sound obvious to you, but you would be surprised how often designers make the mistake of spending a lot of time working on setting details that are rarely, if ever, seen by the players.
Most gamers have a short attention span, especially those who play console games. They don’t have as much patience with minor details and game subtleties. If you present them with too much detail, or if your gameplay hinges on the player understanding the significance of minor details (like a single dialogue message), then you will lose them. It’s very hard for non-computer game designers and RPG designers to not populate levels with all sorts of irrelevant content. Often this focus on details works to the detriment of gameplay. If you’re not making an RPG, then you have to understand that the finer details of the story come second in level design.
Spending a lot of time working on non-interactive details can be a waste of time and resources, although it’s important to put some effort into it because the player will pay some attention to it. For example, it’s ludicrous to spend a day reating the details of a farm that a player will pass in three seconds on his way to a tank battle. It’s better to just take a minute to sprinkle a few objects that give the player the feel of a farm, like a farmhouse, barn, silo and a few cows. Even if you have all the time in the world to create all sorts of non-interactive details, it’s still not a good idea. Players get distracted and suffer sensory overload from too many details. They also can get frustrated as they try in vain to interact with non-interactive details.
It would be even better to make all the details of the setting interactive somehow. Duke Nukem did an excellent job of this. Even the toilets had some purpose, if only to give a little humor. The bar had a working pool table and the arcade had a Duke Nukem machine that prompted you to say, “Hmm, I don’t have time to play with myself.” The extra effort it took was well worth it. The interactive setting created a great allure and set this game apart from all the other Doom clones.
Verisimilitude – When to Stay within the Realm of Probability
Verisimilitude is the technical term used by writers to describe the readers’ acceptance of the facts and events within the story. When the story steps out of the realm of probability, the readers get frustrated.
Works of fiction must suspend the readers’ disbelief if they want to keep the reader. Readers are only willing to accept so much. How much varies with the reader, which often separates the readers of classical fiction and literature from those of fantasy and science fiction.
Computer games have it easy because their target market is much more likely to be readers of science fiction and fantasy. Though the so-called “break through” titles which establish new genres of games often go beyond the sci-fi and fantasy market. Titles like Sim City, Tetris, Civilization, Deer Hunter, and sports games of all types don’t make any grand leaps of logic or fantasy, and they entice players who’ve never shot a single alien. Even so, sci-fi and fantasy oriented games are the vast majority of games made today.
So assuming you are working on a sci-fi or fantasy game, you do have certain latitude (or indeed, a certain obligation) to extend the realm of possibility for the players. But it’s important to know when and where and how far to stretch reality. Players like the realm of possibility extended more for themselves than for other characters. While this seems one-sided, it’s what players want. Players feel cheated if the AI enemy kicks their ass by doing something amazing and beyond their capabilities. They prefer to have their butt kicked by an opponent who’s limited to what they can do. Then they can at
least be impressed and comprehend that it is just a skill issue.
On the other hand, players enjoy pulling off amazing feats beyond the scope of the AI capabilities and romping the AI for a spell. So give the players what they want. Let them enjoy themselves with a little god-like power. But be aware that giving that ability to players all the time can lead to a dull, unchallenging game. The trick is to balance it so that players don’t always have that edge, either by limiting the use of the ability or by countering it with enemy powers. In an ideal level, the players will face overwhelming odds and overcome them by leaping beyond the apparent realm of possibility. That way they can feel like they have done the impossible and that they’re real heroes.
The lead designer should describe the boundaries of the game reality to level designers. This will give you a concept of how the fantasy world works and what you can do.
Additionally, this reality often evolves as the core gameplay is balanced and new ideas are introduced, because preconceptions often fail when the game is complete enough to play. The so-called “fun factor” outweighs the unsubstantiated premise every time. However the boundary is set, it should be maintained throughout the game. Having one level that distorts players’ sense of the game’s reality and their own limitations can break the verisimilitude and
potentially ruin the game.
Armed with this understanding of level design theories, you can begin creating your own levels with greater confidence and a clearer insight into what will make them successful. Next week I’ll present a set of rules for level design and offer advice to aspiring professionals.
This article is the second of a two-part series that covers theories behind level design and suggests a set of design rules. The intention is to aid gamers who want to design levels for pleasure or pursue a career in level design.
Level design is the data entry and layout portion of the computer game development cycle. A level is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a mission, stage, map or other venue of interaction that the player in. As a level designer, you are the presenter of all the labors of the programmers and artists and chiefly responsible for what most believe to be the most important part of a game, the game play. This article will give you insight into developing good levels for any type of game, whether they are military missions for your horde of tanks, aerial encounters for a flight simulator, a dungeon for a role- playing game, a board for a puzzle game, or a map for a world conquest god-sim.
In last week’s article, I discussed the theories behind good level design. This article formulates a set of rules for level design and offers some parting advice to aspiring professionals.
20 Rules to Design By
1) Maintain the vision.
The “vision” is the core idea of the game design. It’s what the producer and lead designer express when selling the game and what they impart in the so- called “concept document.” It’s also what they expect you, the level designer, to understand when building your level. It’s very important that this vision is communicated to you very clearly. If the producer and lead designer have not expressed to you what they want, then you need to coax it out of them. It will save you a lot of time and grief in the end.
When designing your level, you must maintain the game designers’ vision. If you deviate from it you risk rejection. While designers cannot always describe specifically how to accomplish their vision, you must try to figure out ways to truly express the vision they are looking for. If you cannot maintain and express the vision, then either the vision is imprecise or unpractical, the design tools and palette are insufficient to the task, or your skills are not up to it. In any case, you need to address those problems if you hope to construct a successful level in a timely manner.
2) Learn the design palette.
One of the first things you need to establish before you begin your machinations is the design palette. The design palette includes all of the art and game play elements at your disposal.
Knowing what elements you have to work with and how you are to use them is imperative for good level design. Get instructions from the artists (if you can) and play around with the art in a test level to establish the look and feel you want. Talk to the programmers and find out what the technical requirements and limitations are, like what data arameters need to be set, what scripts need to be written, and what to do in order to keep within memory and processing-time constraints.
The design palette goes beyond art and code as well. It includes all the player and enemy forces and their behaviors, game play objects such as power-ups, switches and weapons, buildings that perform a game function such as turrets, power stations and walls, and game play puzzles and possible solutions (the so-called “bag of tricks”). Ideally you will have time to learn how to place all of these elements with your design tools (such as an editor) and play with them before you begin a real level.
The lead designer, in order to save elements for other levels, may restrict your design palette. It’s up to you to figure out how you can work with what you have in a way that will maintain the vision of the lead designer and producers. If you cannot, ask them for advice. They may provide some guidance or use their power to give you some more design lements.
Sometimes it takes a fresh look and imaginative effort to use design elements to their maximum potential. When you find you don’t have enough design elements to fill a level, experiment with untried combinations and layouts. You may stumble upon some new game play puzzle that you can add to your design palette.
For example, you may run out of ideas for using turrets, and after considering your options, you might discover a that particular combination of fixed turrets and enemies in a certain placement presents a balking defense to the player unless he takes advantage of ranged weaponry or provokes the enemies to pursue him beyond the range of the turrets. Once you’ve introduced this scenario into your level, the design of the subsequent levels could include that particular puzzle.
One grave mistake that all designers make at some point is to create mazes. Why is that a mistake? Mazes are one of the first forms of puzzles introduced in computer games. It’s old now.
Because all it takes to make a maze is placing walls or other terrain that blocks movement, it’s the easiest game play to create. It is sort of a last resort when you are fresh out of game play elements and ideas. When you get to this point, stop. Try to improve your design palette by coming up with new ways to use existing elements or by pushing the game designer to create more.
Pushing for more design elements is a good way to earn both respect and disdain from coworkers. Unfortunately, it’s your job. But make sure you do present your good ideas to the lead designer. If an idea has merit, he’ll try to get it in the schedule. Just remember that implementing ideas often involves the commitment of both art and coding resources, so don’t be surprised to hear “no” for an answer. The best ideas are often the ones that reuse existing art and involve little to no coding. If you can make it all work with your own scripts, that’s even better. When development reaches the alpha stage of the project (when all the coding and most of the art should be done), don’t expect any new game elements.
I’ve seen producers make the time for particularly good ideas as a project nears alpha, but it usually comes at the expense of the artists’ and programmers ’ sleep. That’s the reason why pushing for more design elments can also earn you the disdain of coworkers. Try to understand that new ideas take time to evaluate and develop. Don’t make a jerk out of yourself by getting insistent. Instead, keep those ideas on the back burner for the data disk or the sequel.
3) Have fun while you work – it will show.
The joy you experience when conceiving and implementing your level will convey to the person playing it. Sure, there will be frustration when deadlines loom and level editors crash at the worst possible time. There will be game bugs and frame-rate issues that will force you to rework levels and strip out what took hours to place. But it’s easy to ignore all of that when you are doing something that you know is going to be fun. Remember, there are thousands of people who will play your level and never know what you went through, but they will certainly feel the joy that you put into it.
4) A level will only ever be as good as you imagine it.
A great sculptor doesn’t begin chiseling a block of stone until he envisions in his mind what the completed sculpture will look like. The same is true with level design: there’s no point in beginning to design your map if you can’t truly see what you’re working towards. You might have a vague idea about what you are trying to make, but to start designing away without a clear vision can lead to a lot of wasted time and effort. Bosses aren’t really keen on wasted productivity, so try to get your level nearly right the first time, so you don’t have to toss it all out and start afresh.
This isn’t to say that you should leave some time to experiment, but the core idea of the game play for your level should stand on its own. It’s also best to choose a core idea that leaves a lot of room for a variety of game play. When you implement the level, establish the core idea with broad strokes, and just make it work. With that done, decide if the idea has merit and whether you want to go further with the level. If so, fill in the fine details and experiment with subtle game play details. Often it’s the subtler elements and details that make the difference between a good level and a great one.
5) If there’s no difference, what’s the point?
Having multiple routes to the same goal is a good way of giving players choices and a sense of freedom while still ensuring they end up at the same point. Yet, if each choice exposes the players to the same types of enemies, the same rewards, and the same risks and costs, then players will only get frustrated and bored when they discover that there is essentially no difference. When presenting choices to the players, there should always be some non-aesthetic
difference in game play. The difference might be the introduction of different challenges, a sneakier route, traps, hidden power-ups, higher elevation for better map revelation, or just better tactical position. It’s important not to present the same choices to players multiple times. Otherwise, what’s the point in offering them a choice at all?
6) Cater to different playing styles and abilities.
When presenting options, challenges or puzzles to players, try to offer multiple solutions that cater to different player styles and abilities. Some players play conservatively, while others like to play it risky. Some people are cautious and like to reveal as much of the level as possible before proceeding into conflict, while others just jump right in with guns blazing. Some take the straightforward route, while others look for the sneaky way. Player styles may be completely unique to your game or type of game, and you should try to identify those modes of play early on. Make sure you design your level with all the different play styles in mind, so that everyone has fun.
Don’t assume that every player is going to play your level the same way. Be conscious of how difficult it can be if a player doesn’t figure out alternate or ultimate solutions to your level. Players’ abilities at handling conflict and mastering the game play vary, and people learn at different rates. Offer easier but less rewarding solutions to your level, but make sure the players know what they’re missing if they opt for the easy solution. This encourages them to replay your level and try harder next time.
7) Reward player imagination and efforts.
Players like to experiment and explore. The more solutions, secrets, alternate paths, and so on, that you provide in your level, the more satisfied players will be. It’s a great feeling when, as a player, you come up with a not-so-obvious solution that succeeds. Remember that players almost always go off the main route hoping to find shortcuts, hidden caches of goodies, or other unexpected items. When designing a level, try to think about what players may want to try, and give that to them. When they say, “What if…?” your level should respond with, “Yes, you can.”
Nothing is worse than designing what appears to the player to be a challenge, alternate solution, route or secret place that offers no reward. Players try to interact with everything, and when the interaction is pointless, frustration results. Interactive game play objects (e.g., moveable crates or exploding canisters) which serve no purpose tend to frustrate players.
Players may try for minutes, or even hours, to figure out what they are suppose to do with these objects. Don’t let players down in this regard.
For example, in a Quake or Unreal level, imagine if a player saw some rafters just at the edge of his jump range from a narrow ledge and said to himself, “Ah, a challenge. I wonder what’s up there.” If those rafters served no purpose in the game, the player might spend an hour trying to jump out onto the first rafter, only to repeatedly fail in his efforts. The player might quit and feel let down, or even worse, this might pique his curiosity even more, and his resolve to get out there might harden. If he ultimately made it and realized that there was nothing up there, he’d get annoyed both at himself for wasting time playing the damn level, and at the level designer. So, when designing and testing your levels, look out for these “black holes of interaction” and get rid of them. Or, better yet, give them purpose by rewarding players who expend the effort to figure them out.
8) Pay attention to level pacing.
Pacing is the introduction of conflict and tension, plus what some like to call the “adrenaline rush.” This follows closely the Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis model that we know from stories and films. The tension builds as the player (the thesis) interacts with the antithesis, and it crescendos right before the synthesis, where the reader, watcher or player breathes a sigh of relief. (Or, alternatively, the player may get grim from his failure and restart the level, pretending it never happened.)
Because games are interactive, forcing a certain pace into the level can be difficult. What if the players don’t do what you want them to do? What if they take too much time? What if it’s too easy and unexciting when it’s played slow or too intense if played too fast? There are some things you can do to remedy this without taking all the interactivity out of it.
Time limits add tension that’s immediately perceptible by the player. A time limit can force a player to move more rapidly, or adopt tactics that you want him to use, such as splitting forces to achieve multiple objectives. You can put in an artificial time limit – like a mission clock, a puzzle-solver clock, or a turn time limit. You can institute a realistic time limit into a level, like the time it takes a certain enemy or ally unit to move to its exit point, or the time before enemy reinforcements arrive to overwhelm the player.
Controlling the movement speed or distance a player may traverse in a turn drastically affects game play pacing. While you cannot just arbitrarily change this in your level unless you are doing a puzzle game like Tetris, there are other ways you can play with speed. Often terrain affects movement speed, such as swampy ground that slows you down, a highway that permits you to speed up, or an obstructed and twisty route that slows your progress. Giving units different movement speeds and/or movement restrictions can slow or speed up the players, if they have to travel with that unit. For example, giving the player a slow, heavy tank will encourage his forces to slow down to the tank’s movement speed, and making the player guard a fast-moving ATV will force him to speed up.
Pacing can also be set by the enemies’ speed. For example, in a POV shooter, the player may have to chase down an elusive ninja who’s trying to escape from a lord’s castle. In a side-scroller, the boss monster can be made faster or slower. Whenever a player has to move and act faster or slower than he’s accustomed to, it builds tension. By using these various methods to manage tension through movement speed, you gain precise control over the pacing in your level.
9) Reveal assets carefully.
Keeping the player interested in the game requires careful asset revelation. Assets are the game’s eye candy, such as terrain objects, enemy and friendly units, upgrades, puzzles, and so on. All but the simplest games try to reveal these assets gradually to players, so as not to overload them on the first level, and to keep them interested in going on to the next level.
The lead designer will usually have guidelines for what new assets your level will introduce. Try to make these new assets a centerpiece to your level, somehow associated with the core game play. Their introduction should be dramatic or significant, and ought to portray the uniqueness of the asset.
For example, if you are introducing a new power-up that makes the player invisible, then make that invisibility a pivotal part of the solution to the level. If you are introducing a new enemy that flies, set up an encounter where this creature alone attacks the player in an environment that demonstrates the benefit of flying. If you are introducing a scattergun, make the gun available somewhere in the middle of the encounter with the flying enemy, so the player can see the dramatic difference in the effectiveness between his rifle and the scattergun against flyers.
The position of assets within the level is extremely important. Positioning power-ups, booty, and other loot – commonly called “gimmes” – establishes goals for players to move towards.
Gimmes are often the reward for the challenges you put between them and the player. Careful spacing of enemy encounters and game play objects, such as turrets, bridges, fuel drums, and so on, keeps the player interested in exploring and completing the entire level. A lull in the introduction of assets can encourage the player to turn the game off.
A good example of careful asset revelation within a level is shown in Heroes of Might and Magic II. At every turn, your heroes reveal a little more terrain and more assets to investigate, acquire or conquer. This revelation is what some call an “event horizon,” because it triggers and inspires players. New assets that appear on the event horizon keep players interested.
Unfortunately, an example of bad asset revelation can be seen in the same game. Heroes of Might and Magic II sacrificed its diversity of assets to make an individual level interesting, but in so doing, nothing new was left to be revealed in subsequent levels. With nothing new to reveal in later levels, the designers merely tinkered with the quantity and alliances of enemy players.
This scenario raises a very good question: Is it okay for a level designer to ignore the other levels in a game and use any and all of the assets he wants in order to make his level better? The answer is no. If the natural progression of asset revelation from level to level gets broken by one particular level, then the other levels seem weak in contrast. It also forces other designers on the project to redo their levels, and that causes havoc and wastes time. The next thing you know, that one level has set a precedent that the lead designer did not intend. Having just finished a game project on which this happened, I can vouch for how much a level that breaks the asset revlation can screw everything up.
10) Challenge the player.
Your job as level designer is to challenge the player. A level isn’t truly satisfying unless victory is at times uncertain. So you have to present challenges to players that really test their mettle and make them uncertain of their victory. When doing so, you have to cater to different player abilities (see rule #6) and to increasingly skilled and equipped players. Where your level is positioned in the game timeline or “level progression” should indicate how difficult it needs to be. In the first few levels, players learn how to play the game, so these levels should be a little forgiving. Levels at the end
should be the most difficult to coincide with the increased skill and player resources.
There will be times when you find that your level, although it plays really well, doesn’t quite fit into the progression. It may make the levels before it or after it seem too easy or too hard. There are a number of solutions to this problem.
•You can scale up or down the difficulty in your level without grossly changing the game play or the fun factor.
•You can ask to reposition your level in the game. This isn’t always an option if you have a tight story line, however.
•You can make your level a sort of “change-of-pace” level. Change-of-pace levels are usually easier than the previous level but subject the player to an unusual limitation, so they remain difficult in the fact that the player is using untested skills. An example is the “Tanya” mission in Command & Conquer: Red Alert, where you no longer control a large number of tanks and troops, but instead one super “Rambo” soldier.
In some games, levels are grouped together into modules, like missions within an operation, floors in a dungeon, or regions on a planet. While the subsequent modules should generally increase in difficulty, the last level within a module may be more difficult than the first level in the next module. This is because there’s a natural pause and release of tension that players experience when they’ve achieved very important objectives in the last level of a module. Players are not ready to jump right into the intensity again and often appreciate an easier mission to catch their breath.
Although it is easier said than done, the ability to create unique game elements is very rare these days. Yet at least in level design, you have a chance to combine elements in new ways
and tell different stories. And besides, no good game completely ignores its predecessors or the competition, and you shouldn’t, either. Sometimes it’s useful to play the competition in order to identify aspects of your level that you think are lacking, or spot where your level is better. You often come up with new ideas to add to your design palette. You may find that your level idea has never been implemented before, or you may get inspired to try something new. A level doesn’t have to be completely original to have uniqueness. Your individual tastes will emerge in your design, and that alone will make it unique. Hopefully, the differences will fill a void in your own and other players’ experiences. However you do it, uniqueness sets your level and your game apart from the others, ideally in a positive way.
12) If the player didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.
Don’t assume all players will read dialogue or mission descriptions, and don’t rely on their observation skills, powers of precognition, or capacity for logical deduction to understand what is going on in the level and what they should do. Players must see what is happening to understand it. The old proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words” is entirely accurate in level design. To a certain extent, you are bound by the art and animations, but a lot can be accomplished with observable AI behavior, enemy and object placement and settings, and the revelation of terrain.
For example, a mission from the recent hit MechCommander starts off with you on the opposite side of a meandering river from an enemy convoy. You have to destroy the convoy before it reaches the exit point by racing to convenient jumping or crossing points, as the mission description tells you. In its infancy, the level started the player far from the river and the enemy. If you had not read the mission description or bothered to look at the tactical map or mission
objectives, you would not have a clue as to your objectives, and you certainly wouldn’t perceive any sort of urgency. You wouldn’t know what the enemy was up to, or why. By the time you got through exploring and fighting a couple of battles, you’d lose without any idea as to why you lost. Maybe you’d try again and read the mission description, or perhaps you would just turn the game off.
The level was changed to put the river and the starting point of the enemy convoy within your line of sight as the level started. Right away, you see your target and perceive the problem of them being on the opposite side of the river. Soon after you exchange missile and laser fire across the river, you realize that the convoy will not slow down to attack you, and you find yourself in a race to cross the river and cut them down before they get away. The whole objective and core game play of the mission is revealed in seconds without any words or confusion – just with insightful revelation, ositioning, and enemy behavior.
13) See through the player’s eyes.
Players usually watch most closely those objects that appear on a level’s “event horizon.” The event horizon is where new terrain is revealed and where enemies are engaging the player.
Changes in the event horizon often trigger a reaction from players or influence their decisions, and changes elsewhere may not get noticed immediately.
For instance, if an enemy unit suddenly appeared in the middle of previously revealed terrain, it may not attract the player’s attention, at least until a blip appeared on the radar or the new unit attacked one of the player’s buildings. However, if the enemy unit appeared where new terrain was being revealed, it’s likely that it would be noticed right away. Likewise, a building isn’t really looked at except when it’s initially revealed.
While some players spend time examining previously revealed terrain, most people do not, and it becomes even less likely when the game takes place within a 3D environment. Players usually only observe what is in the “here and now,” and you should put yourself in their position to ensure that you don’t put imperceptible events in your level.
14) Fulfill player expectations.
Players will have certain expectations about your level based on what they may have already seen or been told. While it is fun and challenging for a player to experience the unexpected, you have to be aware of their initial expectations. This makes it easier for you to ensure that you are either meeting those expectations, surpassing them, or tossing them out altogether.
Players’ expectations can change throughout a level as you feed them more information. If you build up certain expectations and fail to follow through on them, the level can seem confusing or barren. If you elect to surprise the players by tossing out their expectations and revealing the unexpected, be sure it ’s important for your level, because the players will certainly perceive it as important. For example, it you tell the player that they are in an industrial
building and they don’t find any industrial equipment, they’ll get confused. They’ll wonder if they are in the right building or if they’ve missed any floors. Unless it’s important to the plot to surprise the player, you should either change the mission description or insert a few industrial machines into the level. Likewise, if you want to surprise the player with the existence of alien technology, you probably wouldn’t want to put it in an industrial building, because alien machines wouldn’t necessarily look much different from other machinery. You would be better off putting alien machine in the cellar of an old barn, where it would really grab the player’s attention. Sometimes, it’s only by taking the player’s perspective that you can perceive their expectations and identify aspects of your level that need to be improved.
15) Balance the difficulty for the median skill level.
Players of varying skill levels will play your game. While you can try playing your level as a bad player and again as a good player, you will probably not draw any significant conclusions about your level in this way. You’ll probably just conclude that “players who are bad should expect to lose.” The problem is that “good” and “bad” are vague terms.
The only way to identify what skills players will really have when they begin your level is to determine their median skill level. The median skill level of a player starting your level can be determined by using low- and high-water marks that previous levels have established (or, if it’s the first level, from previously played games in the same genre). You can quickly deduce what minimum skills a player has based on what it took to complete the previous levels – that’s your low-water mark. To determine the high-water mark, you have to gather feedback from people who haven’t played any level beyond yours. This can be difficult, however – if you are basing the high-water mark on the abilities of individuals in your test department or the extreme game geeks that show up to the focus groups for a free game and pizza, your high-water mark might be skewed too far towards the extremely talented players. These hardcore players are not only talented game players in their own right, they also tend to learn from one another while playing, so no one is ever going to play as badly in a group testing environment as they would if they were playing the game by themselves at home. You’re better off identifying the best player, setting that person’s skill level as the high-water mark, and using deductive reasoning to determine the low-water mark. This establishes the median skill of players approaching your level, and with this knowledge, you can play test the level at both extremes and identify where it needs to be made easier or harder.
16) Know the players’ bag of tricks.
Each player has his own “bag of tricks” – strategies and tactics for solving puzzles or challenges that are put before him. This bag of tricks includes battle tactics, scouting methods, preferred armament, their choice of allied forces, their choice of targets, their construction strategies, and so on. When designing a level, you can assume that the player will use some of the tricks from his bag to beat your level. However, don’t assume that a player knows a one particular trick yet. Look at the earlier levels in your game and see if players have been taught the trick yet. If they have, feel free to use it, but be careful not to rely on an overused trick, as it makes your level boring. If players have not been taught the trick yet, then be careful not to base your level’s solution on its use.
17) Learn what players may bring to the fray.
Have a thorough understanding of what players bring with themselves to your level, in terms of forces, weapons, spells, skill ratings, and so on. It’s not uncommon for designers to underestimate or overestimate what players will be equipped to do as they begin the level. Study the previous levels in your game. Look at the asset revelation schedule (see rule #9). Examine play testing statistics. Estimate what players may be able to afford or build. Then balance the enemy forces and other challenges accordingly.
As the game evolves over the course of time, keep an eye on the design of previous levels and make sure that they don’t change significantly – that can throw off the balance of your level or spoil your core game play. For example, if a designer working on the level prior to yours arbitrarily threw in a jet- pack, and you had already created a treacherous, 20-foot wide river to coax the player into a cool bridge encounter, it would ruin your whole level.
Be a watchdog over the design of other levels, because it will protect the integrity of your level. Worship the asset revelation schedule so that you don’t ruin someone else’s level, and nobody can spoil yours.
18) Be the adversary.
To a certain extent you have to be sadistic to the players. You should enjoy being the adversary, and think from the AI’s perspective. This will help you make much more realistic opponents that a player can understand. Players naturally put a human face on the AI, and so they expect the AI to behave like a human. When you script the AI to behave in a human fashion, it helps players successfully strategize and often draws them deeper into the game. It also evokes a little fear in players, as they don’t expect a game AI to recognize their weaknesses. As the adversary, you need to provoke fear in players and prey on their weaknesses. It’s what makes the game more challenging, fun and fulfilling.
19) Play test, play test, and play test some more.
Nothing surpasses play testing when it comes to ensuring quality level design. Although I’ve listed it as the19th rule, play-testing should be an ongoing process. You need to test your levels as you make them. It will save you a lot of time reworking your level if you can identify a significant bug or flaw in your thinking early in the design process. Plus, play testing is often where many level designers come up with some of their best improvements to levels. And don’t forget that only through rigorous play-testing you can spare yourself the embarrassment of your boss or your coworkers finding some really heinous and obvious bugs in your level. Testing your level is part of your job.
One of the most rewarding activities in level design is watching other people play your level. Not only do you get an opportunity to see their reactions (both positive and negative), but you can gauge how close they come to the experience you strove for. You can observe their play styles, see how they explore and discover the various tricks, puzzles, traps and rewards. It helps you see how difficult your level is to people who don’t already know the solutions and don’t necessarily have your play skills. You can identify where your level is too boring or difficult, observe solutions to puzzles that you didn’t expect and thereby make them easier, or harder. There’s always a player who will do the unexpected, and when you come across this situation, don’t be afraid to ask them questions like, “Why did you go there?” The player may provide you with a great idea for improving your level. Watching a player test your level is definitely an opportunity you should never pass up.
Always remember that play-testers are never wrong, though they may not be able to clearly explain the basis for their opinions or offer good suggestions for improving your level. Take their advice with a grain of salt, because they are not always the target market or the target skill level. Some of your testers may not be big fans of your type of game, or they might have played the game so much that they’re no longer good sources of advice when it comes to the game ’s difficulty. You should get input from as many play testers as you can before you change your level, so that you can see if there’s consensus in the feedback. Reacting to only one player’s response, whether positive or negative, can spoil your level for the other players.
20) Take the time to make it better.
The more time you spend working on a level, the better it can get. It’s often the subtler details that separate a good level from a great one, so take some time to put them in. It’s one of the finer pleasures of the level designer’s job to perfect a setting or the choreography of a battle. The beauty of the electronic medium is that you can save different copies of your level and experiment with them. Try out different ideas from your own twisted mind or based on feedback from play testers. Don’t ever be content with your level until you’ve experienced the fun you originally envisioned. There’s often something you can do in your level to get that vision across. Take the time to figure out what’s lacking or what’s preventing you from having that ultimate experience. You are the only one who can make it better.
The Myth of the “Every-Man” Designer
The “Every-Man” designer is the person who thinks that he or she knows what every person wants in a game. Being human and of only one mind and heart, this is a very pretentious assumption. You should have the humility to recognize that your tastes differ from others and that you are not always right. Keep your mind open to feedback and fresh ideas, and consult with people who may have more experience than you. If you do not, your games will miss their intended
Game design is a very hard skill to judge, being intangible, evolving, and not taught in any school. The “Every-Man” designers take advantage of this by putting on airs of great skill to put themselves ino positions of power. Unfortunately, our industry is full of such people and they are often in a position to judge and change your work. I hope that by mentioning this here, early in your career, that you will not become one of them, because it can be a very unpleasant realization for you and your company that you don’t know what every player wants.
Developing Level Design Instincts
Level design instincts are what employers look for when they interview you. To a certain extent, employers assume you have some of these instincts if you have designed any levels at all, for they only come from practice. They are what you take from game to game and project to project, and they’re what make your job so special. It’s these instincts that let you immediately apply design theories and rules on the first pass of designing a level.
You’ll know when you have developed good instincts when you can look at someone else’s level, or an early level of your own, and the mistakes will glare at you. All of the rules in this series of articles came from my own instincts which I developed over years of making games, making plenty of mistakes, and having plenty of realizations. You, as a beginning designer, will make plenty of mistakes. However, hopefully you will learn from these experiences and you will stick with it. Hopefully these level design theories and rules will get you a head start on a satisfying hobby or career in level design.
篇目3，Designing Better Levels Through Human Survival Instincts
by Christopher W. Totten
[In this article, Westwood College faculty member and trained architect Christopher Totten explores how human psychology is understood by architects, how that can apply to level design, and explores games that use these techniques effectively.]
What is the difference between a good game level and a bad game level? According to American writer and philosopher Robert M. Pirsig, “quality” is indefinable, yet we have intuitive knowledge of its existence. If something is good, and therefore of high “quality”, we invariably know it — whether or not we can give a textbook definition of what makes it good.
Game Advertising Online
Therefore with our game levels, as with anything in design: if the level is good, gamers will know. In game design, the particular flavor of quality we hope to achieve is known as “fun”. Unfortunately for us, saying that fun is indefinable doesn’t quite work.
The mysterious definitions of “quality” and “fun” are something that stump many a designer: how can a game designer determine whether their level is good?
Many will answer by saying that levels must be properly playtested, but for some companies that may not occur until the game is nearly finished — way past the stage of initial level design. So what are the guidelines of good level design that can help us conceive good experiences from the very beginning of the level design process?
Scientists and usability experts monitor pleasurable experiences by observing the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter called Dopamine, which provides feelings of pleasure and motivation when released into the brain. Controlling the production of this chemical in a player is a matter of using psychological methods to design our game environments.
A level designer at Valve once stated in an interview that “experience was key” to creating game environments, and as such they began their design processes from “core mechanics”, similar to the way many good game designs begin. Designing from the core mechanic, the basic action a player takes within a game, starts the designer with a sound plan. From this plan, many basic psychological tools can be employed to support the core mechanic and create a pleasurable spatial experience: reward systems, operant conditioning, Montessori Method-style interactions, visual communication methods, and numerous others.
The basis of learning these methods and applying them to level design is understanding how they became part of our own “mental wiring”. Like many things that are part of how we humans operate, they evolved from our prehistoric need to survive. Architectural theorists such as Grant Hildebrand highlight how many of our concepts of what are “pleasurable” in a spatial environment trace back to our own survival instincts.
Games already manipulate these instincts, requiring players to maintain the well-being of their avatar to continue and letting near-death gameplay situations provide dramatic tension. Game environments can provide this same psychological dramatic arc and create pleasurable experiences for players. It is therefore fair to say that understanding the spatial psychology of our own survival instincts can make us better level designers.
Architecture has for centuries revolved around creating human experiences through space. It is only in the last century, with the dawn of the postmodern movement, that it has become so heavily focused on the form of the building instead of the experience of being within. Modernists understood that a building was an environment for the creation of experiences: Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier is famously quoted as saying, “The house is a machine for living in”, while Louis Sullivan expounded, “form follows function.” We can take hints from their outlooks on spatial design, especially when it comes to survival. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs highlights physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter as the most necessary to humans.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Architecture is for creating pleasure by creating spaces that feel safe, while level design is about creating spaces that create a sense of danger that is pleasurable to battle and overcome. If to architects the house was the machine for living, the game level should be the machine for living, dying, and creating tension by exploiting everything in between. In this article, I will highlight level design strategies based on the psychology of survival and exemplified by classic gaming precedents and real-world pieces of architecture.
The “Problem of the Protagonist”
To better understand how to create better levels by utilizing human survival instincts, we must first understand the connection between our in-game avatar and these instincts. As far as animals go, humans are pretty lame: we have no large claws or teeth for fighting, no poisons, no scary markings, no horns, no great running ability, and no armor plating. Proportionately we are weaker than ants, which can carry hundreds of times their own body weight.
We do have one huge advantage over pretty much everything else in the animal kingdom, however: our intelligence. With this amazing ability to reason, we can craft tools and gadgets that help us do everything from hunting down a wooly mammoth for our dinner to listening to hundreds of our favorite albums during our afternoon commute.
Games take advantage of this weakness and reliance on tools by using something I like to call “the problem of the protagonist.” This describes a common situation in many games where a character finds him or herself in a position of natural weakness compared to his or her enemies. This simulates humanity’s own natural disadvantages against the beasts that made our pre-agricultural lifestyles a hassle.
Game avatars, by their definition, are the player’s representatives in the game world, sharing their natural strengths and weaknesses. Some games even try to more concretely solidify this relationship by making these protagonists silent or allowing the player to customize their appearance. Overcoming the disadvantages these characters possess as a human’s representative is a popular mechanic in many games, such as Metroid and The Legend of Zelda.
Of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto once said that he envisioned it as a game where you began as a young boy in the forest who must gather items and become an accomplished adult. When the player has reached this stage, they can return to areas that were once threatening and feel that they are not afraid of them anymore. In the time between being the inexperienced child and being the accomplished and powerful adult, the player will feel the dramatic tension of nearly losing their (or more accurately, their character’s) life many times.
In Hyrule, Zebes, and many other designed digital worlds, players find themselves in environments that act as both safe havens and dangerous wildernesses; using the dichotomy to their advantage and overcome their own disadvantages if possible.
The Sizes of Game Spaces and Human Emotion
Now that we know how games put players in the role of a simulated weak human, we can understand how the relationship of this character to its environment helps us create better levels through our own survival instincts. The first and most simple element of this relationship is the size of the space relative to the size of the player character. Like real life, the size of the space someone inhabits can generate feelings ranging from absolute comfort to crippling fear, in the case of claustrophobia. In games, the size of spaces can serve to create or alleviate tension, or set the stage for dramatic encounters. When discussing the size of game spaces, they can be split into three simple groups:
1. Narrow Space
A small enclosed space where the occupant feels confined and unable to move. These spaces create a sense of vulnerability in the player’s inability to properly defend themselves. These spaces are a staple of survival horror games like Resident Evil and Dead Space, the latter featuring areas where the player must crawl through confined ventilation shafts where no weapons or items may be used while Necromorph monsters make watch the player from nearby.
Narrow hallways are a staple of survival horror games like Resident Evil
The ability for these spaces to cause tension is clear: if something happens in them the player has little or no way of escaping the threat. In a narrow passage an enemy can literally become another wall of the space, diminishing the size of the space with each approaching step. This effect can be exacerbated with enemies and games specifically designed to elicit actual fear in the player, such as zombies or predatory aliens in horror games.
2. Intimate Space
Players controlling Mario can reach everything Peach’s Castle, making it a very pleasurable space to inhabit.
These spaces are neither confining nor overly large. While they can be large in overall scope, everything in the space should be immediately accessible to the player and within reach of their avatar and their inherent abilities. In a space like this, the player can feel as though they are in control, and that is the true importance of these spaces. One such example of this type of space is the hub environments of the 3D Super Mario games. In these spaces Mario can run, jump and utilize his other acrobatic moves to reach the limits of the space.
These spaces don’t necessarily have to be devoid of enemies either. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the designers wanted to utilize stealth gameplay in such a way that the player felt more powerful than their enemies. For this style of game they coined the term “predator gameplay.”
One of the elements of the game that assisted in the player’s feeling of power was the level of control they had over the game’s environments. Even in the largest rooms of the asylum, Batman can jump and swing from the highest structural elements and maintain his vantage point above his enemies. Fitting the character of Batman, players have incredible freedom over spaces that would be overwhelming and dangerous in other games.
Players can feel as though they are Batman because they have control over their environment, giving them the ability to terrorize their enemies.
Perhaps one of the most important elements of these spaces is that they can expand over the course of a game. As players receive new abilities, such as in the previously mentioned Zelda or Metroid games, the space of intimacy becomes larger. When Samus acquires the space jump she can reach higher ledges, when Link gets the hookshot he can cross wide chasms.
While this space is the exact opposite of narrow spaces, it produces a somewhat similar effect. Coined by architectural theorist Grant Hildebrand, Prospect Space describes a spatial condition that is wide open, within which the occupant is exposed to potential enemies. The idea that this type of space is unpleasant originates in ancient times when humans would have to cross open wilderness to reach food, shelter, and safety, facing the threat of predators and the elements. The fear of these places is called agoraphobia. The people that suffer from this disorder feel uncomfortable in open spaces with few places to hide.
In games these Prospects take on a few different forms. One type of Prospect is the Boss Room. Boss Rooms are typically wide-open places for staging elaborate encounters with strong enemies. One of the classic examples of these spaces is the Boss Rooms in the Mega Man series.
Boss Rooms in Mega Man often feature little or no elaboration or places to hide from the attacking Robot Master.
The other popular form of Prospect Space is that found in action games, where players are vulnerable to enemy fire. In games where players can exchange gunfire with one another, it’s common for open areas, especially those viewable from higher elevations, to function as Prospect spaces that must be traveled through to reach goals or hiding places.
The relationship between Prospect Spaces and the hiding places that they occur between is a very important one to game designers, and it is the second important element of the human survival instinct that can educate level designers.
Prospect and Refuge
The definition of Prospect Space has already been described as an open space where the player is exposed to threats and feels vulnerable. If the open wilderness were all that was available to our ancestors, however, we wouldn’t be here.
Humans survived dangerous Prospect conditions by hiding in enclosed and intimate spaces referred to as Refuges. Refuges are places like caves and tree covered areas where early humans could look out into the Prospect spaces of wilderness and evaluate potential threats.
Refuges have evolved over time to include things like covered porches, patios, or sunken places in rooms that have the impression of being separate spaces. They have the advantage of being either safely depressed into the ground or high enough to provide a safe lookout.
When dealing with interiors, things like ceiling height can give a space the impression of being either Prospect or Refuge, with the lower ceilings of course being the Refuges. They also have enough shadow for the hiding person to not be easily visible to their enemies.
Refuges have also historically been tied to water sources, since they provide hydration, security, and the potential to attract animals that can be hunted for food.
While this seems like a simple concept, it is the type of spatial sequence that is created by the alternations of Prospects and Refuges that is of particular importance to level designers.
When traveling, early man could rely on Refuges for safety at night or during adverse weather conditions. However, if this Refuge was temporary or simply a stopover for the human or group, they would use the Refuge as a place to look out for other Refuges. Making this goal would allow them to plan their passage over the Prospect space to the new Refuge, referred to as the “Secondary Refuge.” Beyond the Secondary Refuge lies the Secondary Prospect, and so on until the final goal has been reached.
As stated previously, the Prospect/Refuge/Secondary Refuge spatial sequence does not limit itself to travel over Stone Age plains, as these sequences are often featured in interior design. These examples are valuable to the level designer trying to come up with a path for their player. In a medium where there are still enemies lying in the Prospects, using Prospect/Refuge theory makes even more logical sense than it does in real architecture.
Prospects are often used to create areas of circulation and movement. The IT University in Copenhagen’s Atrium, designed by Henning Larsen Architects, creates a large prospect space for travel between classes. The Refuges are the classrooms themselves, which look or project out into the atrium itself.
The projecting Refuge spaces are classrooms. The school somewhat appropriately features a program of study in Game Design.
Likewise, the architecture of Le Corbusier has been described as being largely Prospect-based. One of his main design philosophies was that man should rise above nature. He projected this in his architecture by placing buildings on sites that the building would starkly contrast. Living spaces, like that in his most famous project, Villa Savoye, were lifted into the air by thin columns and the spaces within were wide and flowed into one another. Ribbon windows were used to give the human the maximum view of their surroundings.
In many ways, Le Corbusier would have been a great designer of first person shooter maps. His architecture features many instances of wide open spaces and ramps leading to higher ground, like those found in Villa Savoye itself. In these games, rising levels connected by ramps allow for players to find better vantage points from which to snipe their opponents, and the spaces of a place like Villa Savoye would be very conducive to this type of competition. His architectural style is not unlike that employed in the Boardwalk map of Halo: Reach (to readers of my blog: I just complimented the design of a Halo level… please take a moment to look outside at the flying pigs) with its own rising levels, viewpoints of the surrounding game space, and geometric forms.
On the other hand, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright is often considered to be Refuge-based. Wright felt that the hearth was the center of the home, where the family would gather for warmth and safety. He utilized this concept in many of his building designs, and used it as his own “core mechanic” to inform everything from his room layouts to placement on sites. He liked to place houses within large groupings of trees. Even if they did not end up built in such spaces, he demanded that all perspective presentation drawings from his office be drawn with trees surrounding the house.
These Refuge spaces show up a lot in games where exploration and treasure finding are important mechanics. Wright may have found value in worlds such as those created for the Metroid Prime games, where Samus Aran fights her way through enclosed ruins and passages riddled with secrets. Environments like the Chozo Ruins feature large, sheltering cantilevers and heavy stone construction, adding the somberness of an abandoned city with its lived-in look.
Concept art from the Metroid Prime series even at times resembles drawings of Wright’s, like this one of the “Broadacre City” by showing similar spatial concerns.
While these examples take Prospect and Refuge for their individual values, there are instances in games that create very exciting sequences of these spaces. One such example is the stealth environments found in the Metal Gear Solid series.
I would argue that MGS’s levels are actually based upon the Refuge-Prospect-Secondary Refuge sequence, as the stealth gameplay requires you to move from hiding place to hiding place. This type of gameplay changes mundane environmental elements like corners and lockers into safe places differentiated from the Prospect areas of the level with guards and cameras.
Half-Life 2, on the other hand, features a rather inventive expression of the Refuge-Prospect-Secondary Refuge sequence in the beach areas of the game. In this level, the player must cross a long stretch of beach without alerting alien insects called Antlions.
These monsters can hear the player character walk across the sand so the player must therefore use their Gravity Gun to move debris into bridge-like configurations between rock surfaces that the Antlions cannot reach. While not covered, the safe nature of the rocks makes them the Refuge spaces while the sand is the Prospect.
Previously worthless throwaway props like metal plates and wooden pallets become the most valuable items in the game, similar to Snake’s legendary cardboard box. These items become portable Refuges: they are weaker in function than the level geometry versions, but their valued is heightened nonetheless.
Prospects and Refuges can also describe the mechanics of enemy encounters in games. To use Metal Gear Solid as an example: standard enemies are often found in areas where stealth is encouraged and therefore feature large percentages of Refuge space. In this way, Snake can sneak up on his foes and take them down silently in what is “typical” method of progressing through the game (people who still go through with guns blazing notwithstanding.) On the other hand, most boss encounters in MGS do away with actual Refuges altogether and opt for a more face-to-face spatial layout with most refuges existing as cover from weapons (again, with specific stealth-heavy examples like MGS3′s battles with The End or The Boss notwithstanding.)
Another series of games where the number of Refuges changes in battle situations are those in the previously discussed Mega Man series. As discussed, the boss rooms in these games are large Prospect zones. This spatial type is very conducive to the types of theatrical showdowns that boss fights embody. Likewise, fights with smaller enemies often take place in areas where Mega Man can leap from platform to platform, allowing players to find good vantage points to shoot from or places to hide from enemy fire, such as when facing down enemies like Sniper Joe.
Prospects and Refuges are very useful for level designers as well as the player. However, there are elements of even refuges that if taken too far can create uncomfortable situations for players. Like any spatial survival concept, however, these can also be of great use to the level designer who is well educated in their usage.
Shade, Shadow, and Survival
Refuges were previously defined as having a certain amount of shadow that hides humans from their enemies.
Shadow, for our usage, will here be defined as a lack of light caused by a light source being obscured by a physical object.
Some games, such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell use Shadow to such an extreme that it creates the sense of being a different space altogether. The developers of Splinter Cell call this concept “Shadowspace.”
Shadowspace creates the perception that one room is actually two: areas within the Shadow and areas in the light. Architecture shows us that this type of space is of great use when creating Prospect and Refuge experiences.
In the Alhambra’s Court of the Lions, located in Granada, Spain, visitors enter the space from a covered arcade and can look out into the courtyard, which is open to the sky above.
While the columns of the arcade define a separate space, the shadows underneath solidify the impression that it is, indeed separate from the courtyard itself.
Shadows create their own separate feeling of space in places like the Court of the Lions. Some stealth games use this to their advantage.
What if there is a lot of shadow though? In situations where there is little light, moving from an area of light to dark becomes increasingly uncomfortable. This fear stems from the idea that what is in the dark space is not entirely visible to us and therefore, unknown, much like childhood fears of going into the basement. This has been put to great use in thrillers and horror movies such as Jaws or Paranormal Activity respectively. The idea is that the scariest thing is that which is your own imagination.
In the case of Jaws, water acts like Shadow would in a game level. Despite the fact that most people know what a Great White Shark looks like, the shark in Jaws is not seen for about an hour into the movie. The mental image projected by the audience of it silently stalking helpless bathers was much more terrifying than what they could have captured on screen. By taking the concept of “shark” away from a corporeal fish, Stephen Spielberg made the idea of “shark” synonymous with the water itself. By the time that the shark does show up in the film, he is of such mythic proportions that he seems omnipotent in the ocean.
More literally related to the concept of Shadow is the demon in Paranormal Activity. For much of the film, his presence seems to only impact action that occurs at night. In this way, when the house is its darkest is when the demon freely roams. The monster is also unseen, meaning that like the shark in Jaws it is omnipotent in the nightly shadows and the viewer’s mind is left to fill in the demon’s form with their worst nightmares. When the demon begins doing things to the couple in the daytime, the rules are broken and the viewer becomes even more terrified, he now owns the daytime as well.
Games can use this to great effect in areas where lighting is scarce. While some games, such as military first person shooters, merely use a lack of light as a nuisance that must be overcome with things like night-vision goggles, games in the survival horror genre and some others use shadow to create feelings of risk for the player. In Half-Life 2, the designers place caches of items in small alcoves for players to find. While these are typically marked with the lambda symbol used by the in-game rebel faction, there are instances of supplies being hidden without this logo. These hidden areas are also known to be homes for enemies known as Headcrabs, some of which are powerful enough to paralyze the player character and leave him with very low health. This gives entering even small shadowy alcoves an incredible feeling of risk, since they can contain either helpful items or a dangerous surprise.
Shadows create a space of dangerous unknown that can be used to instill a sense of fear. This move by a level designer can allow the player’s own paranoia to fill in the space with whatever scary object they wish.
Technological enhancements in games that allow dynamic lighting have given us games like Doom 3, Dementium: The Ward, and more recently, Dead Space. In Dead Space specifically, much of the game occurs in pitch-black surroundings with the player’s flashlight as the only light source. In the tradition of allowing player imaginations to fill in the surrounding blackness, Necromorphs noisily move through an abandoned space ship around the player’s character, a lone engineer ill-equipped for combat. As such, the least terrifying areas of the game turn out to be those where you are fighting visible enemies. It is the empty areas, pitch black but filled with the sounds of stalking mutants, where the player is the most terrified. Like the shark in Jaws, the Necromorphs command the environment with their lack of bodily presence.
In the sequel to Dead Space, players revisit the ship from the original for a brief period. The player character’s previous traumatic experiences aboard the ship give the player the expectation that it is a beehive of space zombies. The designers wisely withhold enemy presence for the first half of the player’s visit to the ship, ramping up the player’s own paranoia of the Necromorphs before unleashing them in a swarm. While the amount of time the player spends without an enemy encounter is specifically notable in this part of the game, it is not the first example of this phenomenon. Dead Space 2 utilizes traditional horror surroundings to utilize pre-existing horror-movie fears in players, such as having players travel through churches and pre-schools to evoke horror imagery from films such as The Exorcist or Child’s Play. In this way the game pulls no punches, taking environments that are thought of as friendly or safe and corrupting them, again in the cases of the church and the preschool, then bathing them in an all encompassing Shadow that sound and environmental hints fill with paranoid fear.
A ubiquitous darkness, atmospheric sound effects, and familiar horror imagery work together to intensify humanity’s already existing fear of shadowy darkness.
Shade, on the other hand, creates a very different type of spatial quality. Where Shadow is primarily used to hide objects or the nature of spaces, Shade is used to obscure objects and evoke a sense of curiosity in players. In the Middle Ages, Gothic churches were purposefully designed with windows that would diffuse light and create an ethereal atmosphere known as Lux Nova, or “new light.” Also referred to as “Mystic Light”, this condition was believed to bring patrons closer to God.
This image, in the yet-to-be-completed Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, demonstrates the diffused light used to create the effect of “Lux Nova.”
In the Mosque of Cordoba, it is combined with the rhythmic arrangement of columns to create the aforementioned sense of curiosity in the visitor, urging them to continue farther into the space and explore its experiential boundaries.
If in games light is usually a signifier of spaces that are “safe” and Shadow is typically a signifier of spaces that are “dangerous”, then Shade’s middle ground creates a sense of Atmospheric Ambiguity. One series that uses this to great effect is The Legend of Zelda.
Zelda games have always been about exploration and mystery. As a game about interacting with the myths of a fantasy world’s past, it also contains a fair amount of “sacred” items and places. The dungeon designs in these games, therefore, showcase shaded conditions in a way that keeps players wondering what lurks around the next corner. For example, it was previously mentioned that high ceilinged, wide-open Prospect spaces are often the setting for climactic Boss battles. However, these same spaces are also traditionally used in the real world for sacred purposes: churches, temples, etc. Zelda games use this dualism to create temples that, when shrouded in a blanket of fog or Shade, exudes a sense of mystery that players will want to investigate. While a dark Prospect space would seem to immediately indicate a Boss and one with rays of light filling the chamber would indicate a sacred space, Zelda games tease the player by using Shade.
In games such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, players often face a high ceilinged room with an ambiguously shaded lighting condition inside. While the final Boss room of each dungeon is very plainly marked with a skull on the in-game map and a golden Boss Door, other large encounters are placed to surprise players. Like other games in the series, Twilight Princess’ dungeons are given back stories, adding to the feeling of sacred mystery. As such, walking into an ambiguous Prospect space is often an invigorating experience for players: am I about to fight a difficult mini-boss or am I about to get a new weapon? Often the drama builds as the player surveys then actually enters the room, then ends with either the door ominously slamming shut behind Link or Link’s new weapon revealing itself bathed in a beam of light. This technique also finds its way into the game’s overworld, where players occasionally encounter a skeleton knight in a bright but ethereally lit space.
Eventually the player learns that this is the spirit of a past hero that will teach Link new moves, but the first encounter with this character is filled with dramatic tension.
Even in instances where the space does house a new item for Link, enemies often still attack the player before they may earn the item. In a way, this invasion of enemies into a previously sacred temple is not unlike survival horror games infesting churches and preschools with monsters: corrupting the sacred spaces of our society. While in survival horror this is used to instill fear, games like Zelda allow players more freedom in fighting enemies and turn these scenes into heroic battles.
While used alone, both Shadow and Shade can be incredibly effective. However, when used together, they can keep players constantly guessing at the nature of the level they are exploring. Zelda’s Boss Rooms are often shrouded in Shade that quickly dims and becomes black Shadow when the Boss attacks. Several games by Valve perhaps even more effectively utilize a collaboration of Shade and Shadow in their level designs.
The first instance of this collaboration is in Half-Life 2: Episode One. It was previously mentioned that the enemies known as Headcrabs often hide in shadowy outcroppings in level geometry in this game. Weapons caches, left by the player’s allies, also often occupy these spaces. One particular section of the game has players exploring tunnels lit by dim blue lights. Players are left to wonder what the nature of this space will be: will the stacked cars and shadowy doorways provide supplies or am I about to be attacked?
As the players press on into the space, a horde of Headcrab Zombies enters the tunnel and attacks. Zombies enter from any shadowy crevasse available and the player must hold them off with the help of an AI character. In this case the Shadow spaces that send mixed messages to players are combined with Shade that creates Atmospheric Ambiguity to lead up to a particularly dramatic action sequence.
This theme is also prevalent in the Left 4 Dead games. These games have the added benefit of featuring an AI Director that controls the location and amount of zombies the player will encounter, making every game different. Levels must therefore be crafted to provide the most Atmospheric Ambiguity possible, as an area that was safe in a previous playthrough may now be the site of the biggest battle of the game. To achieve these goals, shadowy alleyways or tunnels are often combined with a B-movie fog and film grain that provide the necessary Shade condition. Removing the Shade and replacing it with all shadows or even heavy rain takes the atmosphere from one of atmospherically ambiguous co-op fun to a claustrophobic tension not unlike that in Dead Space.
Materiality and the Heroic Quest
In his book, The Origins of Architectural Pleasure, Grant Hildebrand describes Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the Hero’s Journey, and the dangers to the Hero’s survival during the journey, in terms of materiality. Materiality is the quality of materials in an environment.
The beginning of the Hero’s Journey, Hildebrand argues, began in a land of natural and pleasant material landscape. There were often quaint villages and lush forests near the hero’s hometown, as well as a water source. Eventually something terrible happens to the hometown or someone in it, otherwise the hero of the story would have nothing to do that would keep our attention, so the Hero must leave home and venture into the dangerous world.
Hildebrand goes on to describe how as the Hero gets farther from home, into what Campbell would describe as the “challenges and temptations” stages of his journey, the quality of landscape steadily decreases.
Where there were once happy forests for the Hero to travel through there are now rocks and cliffs. Steadily these conditions too decline until the hero finds him or herself at the “abyss”, where a climactic battle with evil or transformative event is to occur.
The materiality of this location is often one of man-made industrial darkness or deadly swampland. In Beowulf’s story of battling Grendel his journey takes him from the mead halls of Heorot to the slimy cave home of Grendel’s Mother.
In The Lord of te Rings, Frodo must leave the quaint and happy Shire, venture through Middle Earth to unpleasant landmarks such as the mountains of Emyn Muil, and ultimately reach the fire and shadows of Mordor.
The Hero’s Journey can be expressed through the material qualities of each part’s setting
In games like Zelda and Super Mario Bros., it is easy to see how this idea translates into the material qualities of levels. Zelda games in particular begin in brightly colored and cheerful forestlands, such as Ocarina of Time’s Kokiri Forest or Twilight Princess’s Ordon Village. Each dungeon is like a Hero’s Journey of its own: each tasks Link with defeating an evil monster to find a sacred item that will help the greater population of Hyrule. In this way, the Hero’s Journey that is The Legend of Zelda is constantly changing material qualities from safe and natural to dangerous and industrial. Likewise each world in the original Super Mario Bros. begins in a simple grassland environment, to either a cavern or lake, then to a dangerous platforming level, then to one of Bowser’s fiery castles.
Changing materiality begins to describe the levels of danger present in these spaces.
These literary descriptions of materials stem from the survival instinct to be near Refuge-like spaces. As stated previously, Frank Lloyd Wright even responded to this strong human tendency by adding trees to his drawings of new building projects.
The final element of spatial survival that must be addressed is perhaps one of the most dramatic – height. Many people declare a fear of heights. However, high places can also serve as a strategic position for watching surrounding terrain. Towers, cliffs, helicopters, humans use all of these things to view their surroundings from a better vantage point. Le Corbusier believed that his architecture allowed man to “rise above” nature, and houses like Villa Savoye emphasize this by hierarchically organizing spaces with height. Grant Hildebrand, in his descriptions of Prospects and Refuge spaces, even says that high places can be valuable Refuges.
The key distinction is the security of the high point and the nature of the area around it. Height can be a terrifying thing when the ground falls away and the player is left tottering on the edge of a seemingly endless hole in the Earth’s crust. Height can likewise provide a very secure feeling when surrounding structure such as walls or railings envelops players.
Why is this? In a way this is another example of the Prospect/Refuge relationship. High places with safeguards feel safe because there are things between the drop and us. Sniping would not be a very popular role in first person shooters were it not for this safe feeling. Le Corbusier uses height in Villa Savoye as the goal of the occupant in a building. If analyzed like a game, Villa Savoye’s Core Mechanic might be “climbing.” Ramps provide passage from the utilitarian spaces on the first floor all the way up to the roof garden. The reward for an occupant’s passage is the ability to look down not only on the natural surroundings of the building, but on the other occupants within it as well.
Game levels can function in this way as well. Making a sniping position a prize to be won can have a profound impact on a level. This “king of the hill” style sniping contest could allow opportunities for other Prospect/Refuge spaces in a map, where properly navigating cover allows players to move in on a sniping player.
On the other hand, height when there is no enveloping structure keeping the player safe acts like a Prospect. The player is open to danger, but in this case, the greatest source of danger is not enemy creatures or combatants but the environment itself. This feeling is known as vertigo. Height used in this way is a very dramatic spatial element. Vertical elements such as structures or shadows can deepen the sense of vertigo by drawing the player’s eyes deeper into the chasm.
Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman in their book, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, point out that there is pleasure in overcoming dangerous situations, a principle they say is one of the most basic ideas of game design. When levels are engaging, players know, even if they cannot verbalize what makes them so pleasurable. Some modern texts on level design only teach readers to model environmental models and scenery. The levels designed by learning from these books have no way of engaging the player and provide no discernable amount of experience, so level designers have to look to other sources for inspiration. The alternative is creating the experience boredom or frustration for players, which is counterintuitive to the goal of making a “fun” game.
Level designers can take the concept of “pleasure from overcoming danger” to heart by utilizing the human survival instinct to create dramatic environments that play with the comfort levels of people interacting with them in a way that is motivated by creating pleasure. As stated previously, utilizing these spatial survival concepts to create levels gives players opportunities to not only interact with the game on a functional button-pressing manner, but also on a cognitive one that speaks to the instincts that help make video games fun in the first place.
Also, while these concepts are incredibly important to the practice of level design, they are but part of an expansive whole. Concepts such as Operant Conditioning and the articulation of short and long-term goals were mentioned among others. Again, as Salen and Zimmerman have pointed out, pleasure is derived from overcoming danger.
This article has been about the spatial dangers or elements of space that create the impression of danger for players. The other concepts describe elements of the pleasures that follow, and other methods for training players.