Level Design First Blocks: Part 3 – Personal Skills
What is up my design gurus!
This the third and final part of the trilogy, in the previous two parts I talked about Level Design in a games development which is what an LD does at each stage of the project and routes to becoming a level designer. If you missed the first part then please click the link to read it now: Level Design: First Blocks
Part 2 was focused upon level design theory, as I shared 10 best practises to keep in mind, which will help take your level to the next (pun intended) level. If you missed the second part then please click the link to read it now: First Blocks: Part 2 – LD Theory
Now that the re-cap is sorted, let’s begin the final part, which is all about you… Yes that is right you... a creator. I will be talking about personal elements which will help you not only become a great Level Designer but a great team player who will bring the best out of a team. As I have said in both previous parts you are going to be working with a number of people, it takes (normally) more than just one person to make a game. So there will be more than just you working on a level, and with these skills you will be able to bring the best out of your team as well as yourself.
Okay let’s not waste any more time and start!
This is the first point because it is the most important! You have to talk to people, a lot of people on a regular basis. You need to be able to articulate your ideas, making sure your vision for your level is clear to the other members.
Team members will be coming to you with questions and suggestions all the way through the development so make sure you are able to listen and communicate what it is you intend or need.
Not all of the communication will be verbal, you will have to send updates of your progress every day or week. So make sure everything is clear to the reader, you’re to the point and do not over explain or babble on.
One thing that caught me off guard when starting work as a professional was the amount of documentation I had to create or others created. This (in my opinion) is the least sexiest part of being a level designer, and at first I did all the documentation but did not care how it looked, the information was all there and was done to a high standard. Yet my lead would always come over and tell me how to re-do it all again. It was not till we had a sit down and he explained why this was such a big deal.
When you are working on a game you are going to receive hundreds to thousands of emails a day, most having some form of documentation attached. Trust me you will get sick and tired of reading emails. Yet if you present your work in an exciting and elegant way it will hook the reader and keep their attention.
Take that extra time to make sure, images are all the same size, colours are easy on the eyes and represent the emotions you want the reader to feel.
Leave Your Ego at the Door:
I cannot stress this point enough, I have seen egos stop people before even starting their careers, and put an end to others when they reached the top. We have a truly, truly, amazing opportunity to learn each and every day. Most people go to work, do their job from 9-5 and leave. Not us I come away from nearly every day picking up something new from my experience of the day’s activities or from my team.
Our industry is ever changing, what you knew a month ago may be outdated today. It takes a lot to make a game work. There is no need to be ashamed if you do not understand how something works.
You cannot grow if you think you are already the best, I have had the real pleasure to work with directors and leads who had the confidence within their own ability to admit they do not know how something works and ask for help. If you see that as a weakness then you need to follow this step the most.
Seek Feedback and Iterate:
If your level looks identical from the first time you designed it to the release of your game, then 1 of 2 things has happened. 1) You truly are a genius who has nailed down a phenomenal level on your first try and you are a god among men. 2) You truly did not test your level.
Levels and even games never stay the same throughout development and that is fine, it is better that things change because 9/10 time the change has been for the better. This is why you should be seeking feedback, is this okay? I am trying to create this feeling or experience and does it match that? If no then that is fine because now you can figure out why and make those changes to your level, it will only be better for this. I know it is scary asking for feedback and showing your work to the world. Yet this is how things get better. Seek the feedback and make those changes.
Best advice I ever got for making games was “Fail Faster” the quicker you fail the quicker you get to greatness.
Push the Crazy:
We are making video games so push out your crazy ideas. Do not be afraid to put them out there, we want these and players love the crazy while playing. If you are just going to create a standard combat room then prepare for your level to be soon forgotten, but if you have something awesome like destructible areas of your level. Then these moments will be remembered instantly. Make sure it fits within the lore of your game but embrace the crazy and try make it part of your level.
Do what is right for the game
Now it is common to butt heads with someone on your team about an idea, and this is honestly fine...... As long as you are doing it for the right reasons. You and your team are ALL working on the same game so this is not about you using it as a place to display your art for your folio or for you to show of all your skills, this is the game. We all need to come together and do what is best for the game.
If you truly believe that your suggestion is going to improve the game then fight for this but if you are just doing something for personal gain then stop what you are doing. The only thing that should win is the game.
Knowing When to Stop
In a previous point I talked about iteration, but there is flip side to this where people just constantly keep making changes and eventually it becomes for the sole purpose of making a change. This can set your level back rather than push it forward. Knowing when to stop is not an easy thing and there is no method to figure it out. How I try to measures when I am done is when I see players smile (I know it sounds cheesy but this is a key sign you have something special).
Have confidence in your work, your gut will have an idea of when to stop.
Show Don’t Tell
When creating a game you are going to have many cool ideas and the one thing no one is a fan of in the industry is ‘An Ideas Guy/Gal’ they have cool ideas but just tell you about their ideas. If you have a cool idea for a mechanic or a mission type, don’t just document, documentation is cool but we make games which are interactive, prototype.
Prototype is a quick process where you can create the bare bones of your idea and boom people can play instantly, they understand what you do and normally this leads to better results than telling someone your idea.
Make sure you embody this ethos, you think this cool make something simple and let the people play it. You will get more attention from this. Remember show don’t tell.
Those are eight helpful points which can really help you grow to become a better dev. There will be more personal skills you will gain as go on your journey but these are some useful skills which I have learnt along the way.
There we are party peeps, the concluding chapter to what I believe will help you take those first steps to becoming a Level Designer, and I seriously hope this has helped in some way. If you have useful tips you want to share, then reach out to me via twitter or leave a comment down below.
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