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Trying Your Hand at Level Design?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the interior-design-for-fraggers dept.

Graphics 382

Utawoutau asks: "As a student nearing graduation with high interest yet no game industry experience I have been taking a serious look at the position of Level Designer. In order to apply for such a position of course, I would need an impressive portfolio. I am aware that a number of games, Neverwinter Nights for example, come packaged with level development tools and that a number of other games have tools (official or not) that are readily available on the Internet. I am interested in hearing opinions from others that have experimented with the level design tools for a number of games as to what they found the easiest, the most fun, the most in depth, and the most impressive to work with. In particular, I am interested in a game whose tools strike a good balance between all four of the above criteria."

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first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110427)

first post

FAGS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110431)

FAGS

MyDoom (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110432)

OK listen. I hate SCO as much as any of you. This is a clear pump and dump. However, I am getting sick of people saying SCO or someone wanting to discredit the open source community wrote this worm. I can think of ALOT of linux supporters that would have done this in a second if they had thought of it. The chances are, it was a linux supporter. I'm not saying whether I support the people that did this or not. I'm really not sure but I am also getting tired of this "holier than thou" attitude of people who say its not good because it makes open source look bad blah blah blah. I'm beginning to think we must fight fire with fire. We must fight these tacticts of SCO, tactics that may even be illegal under RICO, with tactics that are less than legal. Maybe it is time we start doing things designed to bring down SCO, just as they are trying to bring down linux. The legal process will take years. SCO will probobly do alot more damage in that time than some worm written by a linux supporter. So we must do something. WE MUST FIGHT!

First (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110436)

first...

I'm not a game programmer (5, Insightful)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110437)

But the friends of mine who are do not find the industry all that they expected it to be. The fun and games that you would expect from a game company is actually politics and stress in reality.

You end up working long hours on a game that will be released when you know it's only half done, only to be laid off the week after the game ships.

Do yourself a favor and buy a Vanagon and go on a long road trip instead.

Re:I'm not a game programmer (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110460)

Do yourself a favor and buy a Vanagon and go on a long road trip instead.

I recommend the life of a pothead on the Isle of Man.

Re:I'm not a game programmer (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110698)

Well, at the very least that would make it quick, cheap and easy to get to the TT.

KFG

Re:I'm not a game programmer (1)

Hinkey (746112) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110597)

The only down-side to using hammer is that when HL2 comes out no one can garentee it'll use hammer, and there's no point in learning howto use something if its going to be obsolite in.... whenever HL2 comes out. ;)

Re:I'm not a game programmer (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110612)

This is actually quite true.

I work as a level designer for a game developer in europe, and it is anything but fun and games.. working on games. That illusion is quick to fade.

But then again, it is a good job. The hours are really really long, but it's creative.

Re:I'm not a game programmer (1)

clustermonkey (320537) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110663)

It's that way where I work as well, and we make mission critical telecommunications systems....

What job would you suggest?

Re:I'm not a game programmer (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110678)

Let me make a suggestion to you from somebody who grew up in the valley and in high school got his start working summers in the computer gaming industry during its infancy.

Forget it.

The gaming industry stinks as a place to work.

Why? The companies can't make much money at it. The value just isn't there to the consumer.

Computer Gaming software is amongst the most complex software out there. It always pushes the limits of the hardware and requires near artificial intelligence coupled with the complexity of a flight simulator. The code for these things are miles long, difficult to validate, and have to run on a variety of hardware platforms. Some of these things are taking up to 4-6 years to develop today. Compare that to how often Microsoft updates Office or even its operating systems.

At the end of all of this work what do end up with. Something that can't sell for more than about $40-$50. Mommy just won't spend much more on it no matter how much little Johnny pleads to her.

Even better, when I started out most games were on Apple IIs, or PCs both open platforms. Today most games are sold on Playstation or the like. These are closed systems so guess what? Sony will charge you a big royalty and take a big chunk of that $40-$50.

Better yet what happens if the game flops after a 4 year development period? Just one of these things can kill a gaming software company in a single blow.

Then end result is that there are a lot of people doing a heck of a lot of work but the company has very little money to reward them. That doesn't make for a fun atmosphere to work in.

Needless to say when I graduated college, the computer gaming industry was not something I that I was interested in pursuing as a career. From what I can see the industry really hasn't changed all that much today other than rampant software piracy that almost obliterated the industry back in the mid 80s seems to have been kept manageable.

Valve Hammer Editor (5, Informative)

plams (744927) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110438)

That's the Half-Life editor. It's been tried and tested. Lots of tutorials to be found on the net. Easy to use and learn.

However, being an excellent architect is never easy:)

Re:Valve Hammer Editor (4, Informative)

pocketfullofshells (722066) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110563)

I'd have to agree.

To enlighten you further, Valve Hammer Editor a.k.a. Worldcraft is very versatile, and like plams said its backed up a thousand times over, with places like the Valve-ERC Collective [valve-erc.com] . It's a very excellent Valve mapping/editing resource.

The latest version of the Valve Hammer Editor is 3.4 and can be found here [valve-erc.com] .

Re:Valve Hammer Editor (0, Redundant)

Flingles (698457) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110667)

Is this used in half life 2 or is there a dif one?

Re:Valve Hammer Editor (2, Interesting)

plams (744927) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110737)

You havn't downloaded the BETA?!?!1!

Seriously, Valve has promised to make the migration from HL1 to HL2 as painless as possible. I guess that means some kind of backward compatibility in the HL2 editor.

Re:Valve Hammer Editor (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110744)

I'd agree. It's a very nice editor. HL2 still uses the hammer interface but with some added functionalities and stuff :)

If you're seriously about leveldesign: remember, rome wasn't build in one day!! I'm talking from my own experience :))

Civ III easy (0)

ZoneKagen (200784) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110439)

Maybe this doesnt count, but Civ III has an easy interface and lets you build your favourite countries etc.. Impressive, however, is not the word im looking for.

OT: can only mods mod over/underrated? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110442)

see subject.

Re:OT: can only mods mod over/underrated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110583)

umm, yeah

Worm.SCO.A (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110444)

OK listen. I hate SCO as much as any of you. This is a clear pump and dump. However, I am getting sick of people saying SCO or someone wanting to discredit the open source community wrote this worm. I can think of ALOT of linux supporters that would have done this in a second if they had thought of it. The chances are, it was a linux supporter. I'm not saying whether I support the people that did this or not. I'm really not sure but I am also getting tired of this "holier than thou" attitude of people who say its not good because it makes open source look bad blah blah blah. I'm beginning to think we must fight fire with fire. We must fight these tacticts of SCO, tactics that may even be illegal under RICO, with tactics that are less than legal. Maybe it is time we start doing things designed to bring down SCO, just as they are trying to bring down linux. The legal process will take years. SCO will probobly do alot more damage in that time than some worm written by a linux supporter. So we must do something. WE MUST FIGHT!

Re:Worm.SCO.A (1, Offtopic)

ebrandsberg (75344) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110467)

A little off topic I would say. Now, if you created a SCO mod which put the SCO exec staff as the monsters in a variant of the UT2003 invasion type, that would be on topic, and amusing to actually play too!

The truth is... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110449)

We don't know, and we don't give a shit.

Before you start (4, Insightful)

Cipster (623378) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110451)

Just play a ton of mods (Half-Life and the forementioned NWN for example). You end up with a pretty good idea what works and what does not.

Whatever you decide to design start with pen and paper and a good idea first. Pointless mods that merely throw a bunch of monsters at you feel pointless.
Check out some classic mods for Half Life like They Hunger for HL.

Re:Before you start (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110551)

But he/she doesn't WANT to try out a few editors until they find the ones they like. Oh no. That would be legwork. Research. It would be hard and take time and might even involve skill and talent.

So naturally, when you don't want to do the work yourself and don't have any skill or talent, you ask /. to tell you what's good. Surely /. knows all, tells all, and always only the truth.

I like Build. Go make some games with that. Oh yeah. Modern ones too, with colors and stuff.

Apologies to Ken Silverman. I actually DO like Build, but it's not appropriate for 2004 which is, of course, the joke.

Few reccomendations (5, Informative)

Qubed (665563) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110452)

I'd try bouncing a couple of levels off the fan community first. As far as games to develop go, I'd develop primarily for FPSs, and maybe a few strategy/adventure games. I don't play many of the latter, so here are the FPSs: Q3 and anything that uses it's engine (i.e. has Radiant editing tools) -- very easy to use, allows for lots of creativity. (Other Q3 engine games: JK2, RC Wolfenstein, Call of Duty?) The unreal games also have a nice bundled set of editing tools that would aid your portfolio. Best of luck!

Get a portfolio (1)

irokitt (663593) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110453)

You should get experience with major, common engines. The Unreal engine(s), for one, are very common and have robust level tools bundled with some of the games that use it. Get used to the characteristics of several common engines, esp. how they use lighting. Then put some good examples of yours in a portfolio.

Re: UED... 50% match (3, Informative)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110553)

UED (Unreal Ed) is only really meets two of his "criteria".

In depth? Extremely.
Impressive? Well, maybe Intimidating is a more appropriate word, but sure.
Fun? Depends on how much of a sadist you are. It can be fun, but it can also be a lot of friggin work.
Easy? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAHAAAaaaaaaaahhhh... good one!

Ok seriously now though. UED is a pretty damned fine level editor if I may say so. Powerful as all hell, but its not exactly idiot proof. Its not impossible either. I managed to learn the ins and outs of UED (and to a lesser extent, the Unreal engine) just by reading tutorials, dissecting other peoples maps, and screwwing around... but it took a while. Months really. Even after three years of occasionally booting up UED, i'm still learning new things. Though to be fair, a lot of it is stuff that changed from UT99 to UT03 (haven't had the urge to map as much for the new game :( ).
But hey, if people really want to learn, there isn't much stopping them. Most people just dive right in. You'll probably be frustrated and attempt to quit (repeatedly ;)), but eventually some of it starts to stick. Maybe one day you'll even be half decent, if you keep at it. Funny how a lot of things in life work that way, no? :)

as to what they found the easiest (5, Informative)

va3atc (715659) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110457)

as to what they found the easiest

The Cube Engine [cubeengine.com] allows you to edit maps right in the game on the fly. There is also a cooperative edit mode, try and beat that :)

Re:as to what they found the easiest (4, Informative)

irokitt (663593) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110475)

The upcoming (soon?) DOOM3 engine has in-game editors incorporated into the engine. Once it hits, I would expect that it would have all the success of the other Id engines, like the Quake engines.

Re:as to what they found the easiest (2, Interesting)

jtriska (520530) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110644)

Cube is great to get started with. I've been playing with it recently.

However, its a very different engine, and as such the mapping is very different from how most modern games do it.

Its actually styled a lot more like how the original Doom worked. It uses height fields, so you cant really construct things like shelves, or bridges.

That said, its still a LOT of fun to play with for its relative ease. Good engine to get started with, to at least get a hang of spacial design. Afterwords, try out some of the more modern engines.

Easy? Intuitve? Powerful? (4, Insightful)

lexcyber (133454) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110462)

Remeber if you work as a level designer in a company making a game. I can not expect to work with tools that are full fledged.

The tools you are going to work with will constantly evolve, your tools availble will be added and removed as the game moves on.

To create an impressive portfolio that will pop eyes where you apply. Design very good levels for a wide area of games. And last but not least, they have to. Absolutly HAVE to be well balansed. Especially with a multi-player game. I have seen some very pretty levels done for counter-strike but that was very poor balanced. So they where never played.

Another big thing when you design a level. Make sure you make your own textures. If you have solid texturework you will have a far better shot at the job.

-L

Re:Easy? Intuitve? Powerful? (2, Funny)

MyFourthAccount (719363) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110539)

Hmmm, so you. Are saying. That punctuations should be used. In favor of. Long lines? ;-)

Re:Easy? Intuitve? Powerful? (1)

lexcyber (133454) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110638)

In my defense, I have to say that I am writing this, standing up in a computer lab. While students are demanding help. So it took like 15 minutes to write. I am very sorry for the bad bad baaaad english.

Re:Easy? Intuitve? Powerful? (1)

MyFourthAccount (719363) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110711)

Hey, no worries. I was just kidding, nothing wrong with your post. Just thought it was funny. :-)

Games (1)

Matrix2110 (190829) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110464)

You might want to try Unreal Tournament.

It meets your criteria. And there are lots of community and resources to help you learn.

I was doing pretty decent mods within hours of learning the level editor.

Depends on your tastes (2, Informative)

Fate02 (722204) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110465)

Most of the mapping tools I have worked with, if you want more in depth features, it will have a harder learning curve. It also depends on what game you are designing levels for. Neverwinter Nights is completely different than Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (RTCW:ET), so the tools for the respective packages will be just as diverse. I personally like GtkRadiant for RTCW:ET.

I'm curious... (5, Interesting)

jdbarillari (590703) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110468)

If you've never designed a level before, how did you hit on the idea of designing them for a living?

(I don't mean this as a flame; I'm just curious.)

Re:I'm curious... (1)

funky_butt (746107) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110504)

I'm not trying to answer for him or anything. But I'm in a similar situation. I would like to be work in game development, yet I've never actually made a game. As a gamer, it seems like a very fun and rewarding job. You get to use your creativity along with your knowledge of computers and programming skills. It seems even considering the negative aspects of a job as a game developer, it would be fun to help create the ideas you've come up with as a gamer. But, after all I'm just a college student who's had no real professional experience in software development. I might end up finding out that the job isn't as cool as I thought. But gotta take those risks I guess.

Re:I'm curious... (2, Insightful)

jdbarillari (590703) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110554)

That's fair -- but it strikes me that game production is way, way, way more involved than level design. If you want to work in games, it's perfectly reasonable that you've never built one yourself -- it's not practical for modern games. But given that level design *can* be done by one person, that level-design tools exist for it, and that the Internet is teeming with player-designed levels for a variety of games, it seems suprising that the author implies that he's never designed one before.

Perhaps I'm reasing his question incorrectly, but it sounds as if he hasn't tried any of the design tools available. That led me to wonder: how did he get the idea that he wanted to do level design, in that case?

Re:I'm curious... (2, Insightful)

SlashdotLemming (640272) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110653)

Perhaps I'm reasing his question incorrectly, but it sounds as if he hasn't tried any of the design tools available.

Not to flame either, but I think his career will be shortlived. The personality type that would succeed would have started messing with at least one editor before throwing the question out there. I think this is a case of him hearing someone say that the way into the gaming industry is to do level design. His first criteria was for a tool that was easy to use. Instead of diving into the tools and the community, he's looking for the easy route.

Re:I'm curious... (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110577)

HAHAHAHA fun SNORT rewarding...sure, kid, software development is all those things. FUN, hee hee hee.

Re:I'm curious... (1)

funky_butt (746107) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110648)

Where did I say "alot"? I quit that spelling habit in the 3rd grade. But like I said, it only seems fun. I don't actually know if it's fun. And hey, there are some people out there who enjoy programming.

Re:I'm curious... (1)

funky_butt (746107) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110671)

Doh! ...The "alot" comment is in your sig. Nevermind

Re:I'm curious... (5, Insightful)

sniggly (216454) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110596)

More than that I think it is rather naieve to think he stands a chance getting a job if he hasn't started making doom 1 wad files back in the early 90s and is not a well known mapper by now. Some extremely competent map designers have tried but failed to get a job because they didn't quite cut it. It's pretty much like getting a job in the movie industry helping with movie sets, you need a serious track record and good connections to get inside.

Everything is attainable but you've got to be passionate about attaining it - Utawoutau the poster seems not very passionate about mapping if he failed to produce any maps, mods, models, etc, so far.

Map designing takes a lot of skill, passion, and interest in a huge variety of subjects such as architecture, interior decorating, gaming experience, multiplayer, psychology... the works.

Re:I'm curious... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110725)

Obviously the asshat just sees the $$$'s

FPS Level Design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110481)

Cube ( http://wouter.fov120.com/cube/ ) is one of the easiest games to map for. It should give anyone a good idea of what the basics of level design are all about before they try their hand at something more complex and technical like Q3 or UT.

The most important thing to remember is that your first level is going to suck. Don't get discouraged when you find that applies to you just like it does everyone else.

Try a game you like that popular. (1)

BrookHarty (9119) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110488)

There are lots of forums for developers and mod designers. You should try those message boards, where they hang out even irc.

Its amazing how many people start out making mods, or levels for games can turn that into a job. Lots of people are recruiting for mod help, try to see if you can assist in making a level or 2.

BTW, The havok engine seems to be getting lots of attention, and Havok2 should be on par with the Halflife2 engine. Might check into that, and get a leg up on skill. Seems most games come with or have an SDK to download. Begging people to design levels and mod's.

I know many people waiting for HL2 to get BACK into level design. It will be the defacto engine for quiet some time.

Re:Try a game you like that popular. (1)

BrookHarty (9119) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110513)

lol, Ya, Guess the Havok2 engine would be on par with HL2 engine [havok.com] , it IS the halflife2 engine.

Re:Try a game you like that popular. (1)

Jotham (89116) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110579)

Actually Havok is just the (very well written) physics library... the HL2 engine also has graphics, input, audio, networking, AI, etc.

Re: Umm... howbout "no", Scott. (1)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110591)

*Bzzt*, both of you are wrong, sorry.
Havok [havok.com] is the physics engine behind Half-Life 2. And Dues Ex 2, Freelancer, Max Payne 2, Thief 3... you get the picture.

The actual game/rendering engine behind Half-Life 2 is called "Source", and it was made completely in house at Valve. You can't play with it yet though, not until Valve releases the SDK anyways (which is supposed to be "soon", which, knowing Valve, means 6-8 months). Well, that is assuming Valve isn't "hax0rd" again. *Groan*

Re:Try a game you like that popular. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110740)

"I know many people waiting for HL2 to get BACK into level design. It will be the defacto engine for quiet some time."

Not until Doom3 blows it away, dude.

level design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110489)

we all want to be level designers or producers (well some of us at least)

neverwinter night's toolset is literally click and drop fun, but don't expect to get a door working. creating enviroments and enemies is easy, doors and other elements are truly illogocal.

unreal editor is a popular choice. beyond the recent contests it seems to be far more appreciated by people (probably because if you've ever tried using it, you've found it isn't as easy as it looks) i hate plugging stuff, but the UT 2004 collectors edition is supposed to come with video training modules to show you how to work with the editor, and if 2004 comes with maya 5 ple it is will be the logical way to build levels and content.

if you're not trying to impress anyone you can always design levels for excitebike. $3.99 will get you the game on a used cart, or on e-reader cards almost anywhere ;)

Re:level design (1)

Doppleganger (66109) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110576)

[Neverwinter Nights] doors and other elements are truly illogocal.

You select the door, and then select the waypoint or other door you want it to go to (or type in the name you made for it). What the heck is illogical about that?

Things in NWN only get odd when you are wanting to add in all sorts of special coding for your effects, and even then it's pretty straightforward for anyone who has some exposure to coding..

Re:level design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110681)

"we all want to be level designers or producers (well some of us at least)"

Until you get a design or production job and find out that you work insane hours for next to nothing.

Experience with gameplay (3, Offtopic)

emj (15659) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110496)

First of all you have to have lots of experience in how the gameswork, and an artisticside. Good levels are very hard to do and they are done with lots of sweat from their makers, you have to weight in all the diffrent things in the game so that the level is a fun one, and beautiful.

This is not something you will get from getting a couple of tools that are easy to use, but from your own mind. That mind must also be able to adjust itself to the new tools, i.e. going from the worldcraft to new Radiant, and that will only be done if you have the time to do it.

The two biggest are Q3A and UT, check out the dev tools for them, they are equally good, just choose the one that suits you. If you want to dev for linux then you can get a very good start with GtkRadiant (the Q3A tool), but UnrealEd is very good as well alas only with windows support.

I agree with this (3, Insightful)

PotatoHead (12771) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110609)

having recently tried a number of Q3A mods that really did nothing to balance the game.

Most of the really good things that define a highly playable mod from a 'cool, lets try something else' one are in the basic mechanics of the game.

Where are the weapons and are they appropriate for the playspace? Do they work well for a few players? Lots of players?

What about the playspace itself? Does one side have a clear advantage? How about a particular path? Many of the classic levels avoid dead end ways making it tough for players to just sit and wait for others to show.

For games like capture the flag, where is the balance of power? Is it possible for a team to cover all their bases without being forced to venture off for new weapons/ammo?

Visuals have never been as important as play mechanics are, but they do play an important part. A dark spot or interesting texture placed just so, might allow a player to hide for a bit, or clash horribly with the target, making for either a sneaky element of challenge and tension, or a frustrating experience...

Spawn points should be in areas where players have a fighting chance at actually spawning without being camped too often. Best ones are those where the player forms near the action while campers always are watching their back.

All of this is specific to Q3A --hey, I still play the game because it is well balanced and interactive, but other games have similar issues. The parent is right, you gotta play.

If it were me, fun first, beauty later, but that's just me.

Having played Q3A a lot, I have been thinking about this too. Be sure to check out other mods and play them. You will get a great sense of what you want to do. --Then do it!

Unreal Tournament (2, Informative)

Metallic Matty (579124) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110497)

I think that Unreal Tournament came with an excellent level builder, and is worth taking a look at. (At least if you're interested in FPS games.) There are also lots of great tutorials and resources available for it, seeing as the game has been around for so long.

Re:Unreal Tournament (2, Interesting)

redwood2 (179115) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110572)

I'm in almost the same position myself.
I've talked to a number of 'pros' in the business and all of them have said the you need to learn to use UnrealEd (the level editor that comes with win copies of Unreal). Apparently that is the number one level design app being used by theses houses.
I went out and bought an athlon box just for this cause there isn't an UnrealEd osX port.. and I need the practice..

Developement tools. (1)

Fat Jedi Kid (745321) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110499)

Psh, you younin's with your developement tools. Back in my day we didn't even have compliers never mind developement tools. We had to code everything in machine code. And we were happy.

Try Doom levels with porn textures... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110503)

I had a friend who took great joy in making Doom levels chock full of porn :-) He seemed to enjoying making the levels quite a bit!

Learn more than one thing (5, Insightful)

plams (744927) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110506)

It would be a bit risky to focus on suddenly being "an level artist with an outstanding portfolio" wouldn't it? But it would certaintly look good on your CV for any position in the game industry if you show that you've been "around". Communication is usually a problem in software engineering projects, so being able to understand what each other is doing is definitely an advantage.

I recommend that you'd also take your time to learn a little about:

Programming

Scripting

Photoshopping (Sorry! I said GIMP'ing, of course)

3d modelling

Sound editing

Re:Learn more than one thing (2, Interesting)

Kyojin (672334) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110628)

A number of game companies in Australia have been looking for level designers with degrees in Architecture, not necessarily computing backgrounds.

That said, I agree with the parent, and having had some experience myself, I can assure you that a level designer who understands art or architecture would be a great plus, although most companies employ texture artists seperately to level designers.

Again, familiarise yourself with as many engines as possible, not just the ones that are easy to use, since the development tools available while a game is being made are notorious for being buggy, difficult to use, and slow. Once the game is released, it gives them time to work on the development tools for mod makers and sequels etc.

If, or when, you get to interview stage, make sure you can analyse some of the current games and mods and say why some maps work and some don't. Especially those made by the company you are applying for.

That goes for all games, not just fps.

Torque Engine (3, Interesting)

Nycto (138650) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110507)

I have done level design for a few engines and a number of different games. I do it as a hobby, so I am no professional. The most fun I have had designing maps, though, has been with the Torque Engine [garagegames.com] .

I say this not because it is the most advanced engine out there, but because I have actually done work on games and not mods. A few of my maps will actually be released in the wrapped version of the independent games I have worked on. That is a cool feeling.

By working with the torque engine on an indie game, I also get to work with the engine developers to add needed features.

As far as the tools used to create the maps, QuArk [usm.edu] is used to create buildings (that same site [usm.edu] has more information) and an in-game map editor.

Personality and dreams (2, Informative)

mijacs (731687) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110516)

What is your personality like? Do you like all games equally? Is there something you wish to make just floating around in your head?

You should be looking something suitable for you not other people. Everyone likes how things work differently. Also go take a look at Gamasutra [gamasutra.com] for some good reading.

Personally, try out Valve Hammer Editor [valve-erc.com] and QuArK. [planetquake.com] They are standards that can be used for many games.

how to procede (5, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110522)

1: steal decent levels from web sites
2: say there your own
3: get job
4: Stab manager in back, get his job
5: golf with the producers backers
6: back stab producer
7: get backer for YOU game
8: SHip it when it's half done, retire.

I figure about 8 month worth of work.

Re:how to procede (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110630)

You're new here right?
Let me rephrase your plan:

1: steal decent levels from web sites
2: ???
3: world domination

Re:how to procede (0)

schild (713993) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110652)

Holy crap are you David Bowman?!

Or conversely.... (5, Funny)

Chordonblue (585047) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110697)

1: Get a job at some faceless corporation with a name like 'Enron'.
2: Design kick-ass games after hours.
3: Get your work stolen by your sneaky co-worker.
4: Beat the Master Control Program for domination of your codez.
5: Become the newest exec (you even get your own helicopter!)

"Greetings Programs!"

Shmooze son, (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110532)

Schmooze!

I know more people that got there dream job by getting in touch with people who work at the company.

From personal experience... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110533)

Code up a game and hand it to some kids to play with it. Ask them what they'd like added to it. Ask them what sucks. Make changes. Repeat.
When it's reasonably decent, expand the number of kids testing it out and repeat the above.
Using Generative Programming techniques (read the book Generative Programming -- available at Amazon, Bookpool.com, etc.), autogenerate hundreds of variations of the above-tested game.
Add them all to your portfolio.

Counter Strike, no seriously (1)

respite (320388) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110544)

I would not categorize counter-strike/half-life as having great level editing tools to work with and the engine is dated, but I would definitely suggest you add some levels and maps to your portfolio, the platform is a standard of sorts and it would be good to show what you can do with it.

Also, definitely take a look at Doom III when it is released. The level editor is built right into the game and allows you to immediately see your results.

Forget about experimenting with design tools... (1)

forrestt (267374) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110552)

...if you really want an impressive portfolio just download a bunch of user created mods from the Internet and claim them as yours. Then spend the time you saved by not exercising your creative abilities to design a kick ass resume. When word gets out, and the real authors complain that you stole their work, hire a lawyer and sue. Hey it worked for me!!!

Darl

Morrowind (1)

Laconian (578463) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110559)

Morrowind. Fantastic game, fantastic editing suite, massive detail, massive depth, beautiful scenic effects, great scripting.

Re:Morrowind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110694)

> great scripting.

Unless you try to do something usefull like passing a variable to a function, like:

Set FOO to 149
player-> RotateWorld, x, FOO

Variety (1)

KillerHamster (645942) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110560)

Try to familiarize yourself with a variety of editors and game engines from the beginning. I had used only UnrealEd for several years, and when I finally tried the Quake 3 editor, everything felt so different that I gave up on it pretty quickly. Also, make sure you know how to do all that "advanced" stuff I never bothered to learn: make textures, write scripts, import 3D models from other programs like Maya, set up sounds, atmospheric effects like fog, etc.

And if you're new to the Unreal Editor, the Unrealed Reference [levels4you.com] is a great place to start.

Level design is for conformists. (2, Funny)

raehl (609729) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110564)

Real designs are crooked.

HELP!!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110567)

I have virii on my linux boxen!!!

You're better off with a well-rounded CS education (3, Interesting)

Flyboy Connor (741764) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110568)

I work at the Computer Science department of a university. I found that at the moment many universities are starting "game designer" courses. This is in my own area of research, but I don't think such a specific line of study is a good start for a career as a game developer. The basic groundwork for any job in computer science is simply computer science. Game design is not different. Do level design as a hobby but make sure your education covers the basics. It will not only give you better chances at becoming a game developer, but also opens up a huge alternative market for your talents.

I'd like to add that it depends on what game you like to play what level design tools you should use. I like NWN, so I use the Aurora Engine, even if the Quake Mod tools are better or easier to use. Good level design means you have to understand what makes the game fun. I could never design a good Quake mod because I don't like Quake.

So, for level design my advice is: pick a couple of games you like and see how the tools for those games are. If they are not too daunting, jump in. It'll take a couple of weeks to get familiar with ANY tool, but there are usually good forums that'll help you along.

A friend.. (1)

njan (606186) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110570)

..and I were very into doom/heretic level designing when we were students, and some of my most satisfying moments were when designing levels for those games. However, the level designing tool which I always liked the most was qoole, which was *the* de-facto quake level designer.

I used qoole in quake 1 and quake 2, and I found it extremely easy to put together 3d designs very quickly, and wasted many many hours of my time; qoole, as far as I'm aware, still exists, and is still free, so if you have a copy of quake 1 or 2 lying around, you might want to try it ;) ((note: I haven't level designed for halflife or q3, or anything newer, so you might want to snoop around to see if there's any newer equivalent, since a cursory google has informed me that qoole doesn't seem to support q3))

Marathon 1/2 & Infinity was the most fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110582)

I created levels for these games somewhere halfway through the 90s on my Mac. One of my PC friends also had great fun creating levels for these games, even though he couldn't play them on his own PC.

I don't think creating levels for games is fun nowadays, it's all become much to complex with those 3d engines, but maybe I shoud try again in he future.

The games can still be seen here(bungie.com):
- Marathon [bungie.com]
- Marathon 2 [bungie.com]
- Marathon Infinity [bungie.com]

Marathon Infinity shipped with the official tools used to create the series.

Get down and dirty.... (2, Funny)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110584)

I see a few posts here as I write this about this level editor for that game... whatever.

I suggest you get down and dirty with the game, and use a hex editor to write your level files!

Really! It's not so hard, (after all, there's only 16 possible combinations in hex, and English has 26 in the alphabet!)

Just open a file or two in a good hex editor, and start tweaking. I'm sure it'll "come to you" after a bit of experience...

Not even the developers do that (1)

Tokerat (150341) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110702)


Why waste time hacking a file format? You know, one hex edit and you can screw up an entire file...suppose that particular byte is part of a run-length indicator? Load and crash, as the entire rest of the level is shfted even one byte left or right.

Hex editing is a good skill to have, but don't try to learn level editing with a hex editor unless you're trying to edit Chip's Challenge...

Trying my hand at level design? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110599)

nah, i'm using it for something else right now actually. The color scheme for the games category really makes me hot by the way.

Level Design as outlet for a programming degree? (3, Insightful)

syrion (744778) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110600)

You may be barking up the wrong tree. Level design, particularly for modern 3D engines, is more of an art than a science. There are many mappers who have been working at it for years, for various games. In particular, you might look at some of the maps released for Quake III and even the original Quake, along with more recent games like Unreal Tournament 2003. The problem with assuming that you can just "jump in" and become immediately skilled is that it completely ignores the skillset which is unique to that position. Quite honestly, almost no programming experience will transfer to the field. If you are still interested--and it is truly a hobby/profession which requires interest--Half-Life is actually a good place to start. Try not to get overwhelmed with concern about newer features at first--learn about brush layout, visibility occlusion, et cetera. These will help you with any engine. Also, I think that these skills are more transferable than something like Neverwinter Nights or other, simpler level editors. Making a level in a 3D game like the FPSes I listed above is very similar to 3D modelling, so you can transfer skills between the two. Func_Msgboard [celephais.net] is somewhat dead these days, but you might find things of interest there--and there are some truly great mappers who hang out there. :) Good luck.

You should read one of Chris Crawford's books (5, Informative)

1iar_parad0x (676662) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110601)

First, read anything and everything by Chris Crawford. I hate most new media theorists, but he's an exception. He's a physicist by education and programmer/game designer by experience. I'd especially take a look at "Chris Crawford on Game Design".

You should also take a look at some of his old game design articles in Next Gen magazine. He had one article on level design in Doom that was quite unique.

Secondly, from a tricks/tools perspective, gamedev.net or xgames3d.com are your best bet.

Chris Crawford - useful links (4, Informative)

joelparker (586428) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110731)

Definitely see Chris Crawford's website [erasmatazz.com]
and "The Art of Computer Game Design" here [wsu.edu]
and the related Game Design Wiki [ludism.org]

Good luck! -Joel

Well, IANALD (1)

deathcloset (626704) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110614)

I Am Not A Level Designer, but I am quite an accomplished connesiour thereof. Being as such, i've not really touched the tools of the trade. However, being a 30 hour a week consumer of your trade I think a good way to make your levels and maps stand out above everyone else's would be to have a bit of noteriaty attached.

Do this by getting your map into the rotation a popular online game server.

I think Desert Combat would be just the game to make a map for.

If you make maps for the top ten games listed on the following website's you should have a fairly impressive portfolio: more to that, get those maps in rotation and a couple endorsements by game dev's and your resume should have good boyancy.

http://www.gamespy.com/stats/

*end advice, begin explanation

Desert combat and BF1942 are unique amoung shooters in that their maps are so immense, yet detailed. The engine developed for this game is called Refractor 2, and while not the prettiest of engines availble it is certainly the best performing large-scale engine. Desert Combat is also wildly popular, and rightly so; it's freaking so much fun.

A Battlefield sized map allows you to show off your ability to think on a large scale: the maps are much bigger than any quake 3 maps; really more of worlds when you think about it.

I recommend hoping on teamspeak with some of the LAG (lake area gamers) guys. They run two very popular servers and are a good natured lot. Now and then you'll even catch a developer hanging out.

Getting the endorsment of developers and server admins has to be worth something (the guys that designed the wolfenstein map Market Garden http://www.splashdamage.com/ got that same map included in the official map pack .pk3 download linked on id's website).

Anyhoo, the best way to smooze with this lot is to play the game well and work as a team. If you're lucky they'll offer your map for download and might try it out in rotation.

Of course, this is just my own speculation and easier said than done.

Advice is easy to give, but it's also easy to say good luck! 8D

Of course, follow your own tastes. What games do you enjoy playing the most? What games have been your favorite? This is You.

Never get stuck doing something for the money above your own personal satisfaction.

doom (1)

cyrax777 (633996) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110616)

yeah I know its really old and outdated but it was one of the easyest games to modify. From Simple Dehacked code changes to advanced TC Doom was and still is very fun to mess around with.

Try not going into games... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110624)

I worked in games through test, development and production for three years. When I started (at 18) it was fabulous to work in the industry (cool games, lots of overtime, etc.). But it gets old, fast. I abandoned a decently paying production job for a trip back to college, because most game industry kids (especially developers) average 80-90 hours per work week.

I love games, but I will never, ever go into the industry again. All companies expect full (maddening hours) commitment, with little compensation.

Dont get into games, its quite a bad idea.

Cube (2, Interesting)

Jammet (709764) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110641)

Even though it might not come across as a full blown "map editor" or even "mod maker" that you might expect - with plenty of time and creativity you can build somewhat primitive but awesome looking and playing maps in the plain deathmatch environment of Cube.

The project is free and hosted here, screenshots are right on the front page.

http://wouter.fov120.com/cube/

The actual editor works in-game, and while playing the game in single player mode, you can press E to switch to editing mode. The README explains what the keyboard functions are. Basically, you mark things in the map and shrink/grow them, and everything is built out of cubes that can be 'bent' to your liking in various ways.

Quake engine (2, Informative)

TehHustler (709893) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110646)

Probably any game that uses the quake engine, including things like Half-Life, are easiest to edit for. Thing you have to remember is, anyone can learn the ins and outs of an editor, but having good design flair is the biggest obstacle to cross.

Im eagerly awaiting the HL2 level design tool, with the SDK, in whatever form it takes when it's released. I have to make a ton of levels for our mod (Junkyard Corps, see sig) when it comes out.

Some people say the Unreal engine is better for level making. Rather than build a level inside empty space and have to close everything off (ie, checking for leaks, etc) the unreal world is a block, and you carve stuff OUT of it. This seems a harder way of doing things to me, but according to other people, its the most natural way of doing it. As for non FPS games, I have no idea. I suspect it's horses for courses. Liking a particular genre more will make you want to take more steps to learn out to get good at designing for your chosen game.

Gabriel Knight 3 (1)

NicenessHimself (619194) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110650)

This fantastic classic from Sierra had an ingame editor; you could stop and look at, even change the scripts at the point of the game you were in. So, no separation between level designer and game player. Also, the game is, I reckon, a better candidate for demonstrating story skills than, say, a first person mindless shooter. Loads of fun!

Storyteller first, level designer second (2, Insightful)

WankersRevenge (452399) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110674)

In my personal opinion, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what tools you use, rather the tale you tell and how you tell it (use game design elements to buttress story elements). I could go and on about how stories have been neglected for eye candy and the gee-whiz factor, but I think that horse has not only been beat, but processed and distributed in school lunches. Before you put your head to the grindstone, it might benefit you to check out some books on the basics of writing fiction. Apply those principles to the game world, and I don't see how you can go wrong. Unless of course, it's a bad story :) Good luck.

Morrowind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110676)

I've designed a few mods for Morrowind, i must say the WYSIWYG interface in the editor is VERY VERY nice, but the scripting language is pretty shitty, it wont allow you to do much with variables, but you can compensate for that using the dialogue interface.

Can import NIF objects from 3DS Max (not Gmax unfortunately which was supposed to be the editor of choise for us who chug out Mods), sounds can be scripted and verbals can be thrown in on a character in many different ways.

This is THE best editor i've worked with.

Technology is secondary to artistic ability (3, Interesting)

Sludge (1234) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110713)

Threewave has hired mappers out of the Quake 3 community. We've trained artistic and dedicated people on the tools. And, finally, we've retrained people for different technology. (Our company does multiplayer for two or more games a year, so you're gonna get a lot of exposure to different toolsets).

The most important things are a quality filter so we can leave you alone and have you produce good work, ability to come up with a working layout (this is fundamental and oft underestimated), a decent technical understanding and in our case, a love for multiplayer gaming.

Having experience shipping finished maps implies very good things about your ability to manage your own time, and your ability to finish what you start. That's a pretty rare trait. Extra bonus points if youur work gets played. (Probably means it's part of a pack or a mod.)

It also falls into the "nice work if you can get it" category, as mapping careers are relatively tough to find. I don't know of any other companies in Canada who are asking for the same technology experience that Threewave is. Digital Extremes comes close.

WTF happened to the Microsoft funded study article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8110719)

It was there, I tried to reply and then it just vanished. What the hell is going on?

Neverwinter Nights has huge custom community (1)

rufusdufus (450462) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110720)

Neverwinter Nights has a huge community of custom content creators. The Neverwinter Vault [ign.com] has tons of user made custom content from 3d models to music to character portraits. You can find help from the community for anything you need from dialog management to using 3dstudio. With so much support, you can start with a 'prefab' world and simply populate with your own custom story and ease yourself into the building process as deep as you choose to go.
There are thousands of modules made by fans already, some of them are actually better than the one's shipped by bioware. Theres a lot to be learned about level designed in there, good bad and ugly!

Start with the basics or dive right in... (3, Insightful)

SteelLynx (179569) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110727)

A thing that struck me when reading through the other posts is that a lot of people seem to say "use the newest and most advanced tool available". That is definitely something you will have to do in order to get a good portfolio.

But for learning the basics about the different aspects of level design you might want to try your hand at something simpler. Try finding "old" games like Doom or Warcraft2 (I think there was an editor for that?) and try your skills at designing levels that are only two dimensional. Believe me, there's a lot that can go wrong even without the extra options available in the 3D editors.

I know it may sound like a waste of time, but it will give you a few good experiences, I think. Due to the simplicity of e.g. Doom's level structure you can spend a lot of time working on the small details like how to align two platforms so a player just barely can (or, if you're wicked, can't) move from one to the other. You can experiment with how to let the player use different objects/walls/etc as cover when shooting large monsters and so on.

One of the other posts mentioned that you would undoubtedly be forced to learn to adjust to using new/different tools that what you're used to so another benefit of "working your way up" from the old games is that you will eventually have to move on to new tools. Make sure you focus on learning the fundamental parts of what level editing is rather than memorizing the exact functionalities of a single level editor.

Oh, and after having made levels for 2D games you'll definitely appreciate 3D editors and the freedom they give you.

A last piece of advice is to try and come up with something original instead of "yet another multiplayer map". Some years ago me and a friend designed a series of "Quake Hinderbahn" levels. It's basically an idea we got for a LAN party where we wanted to host a different kind of competition - and we made an obstacle course and had people record demos of their fastest runs.
I learned a LOT about how Quake works from that.

Good luck with it.

It's not just building a jigsaw (1)

superhoe (736800) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110728)

Well, Level Designers I know are more of 3d modellers than just jigsaw builders with premade tools..

It's not just getting a good, interesting and playable level together.. you should be able to make it live to at least to some point and make it look somewhat good as well.

I think pre-made level design tools like in NWN might help you to learn create nicely plotted levels, but dunno about anything else.. :(

Level Editors... (5, Informative)

nekoes (613370) | more than 10 years ago | (#8110735)

Where to start...

Well, I guess the easiest, most obvious level editing suite out there (in the realm of FPS games anyway) is Valve's Hammer. It's quite scary just how easy it is to make levels with that util. Upon starting it I was able to figure out pretty much all of the basic features just by looking at the buttons. That's quite an accomplishment, if you ask me. The whole way the editor is layed out, and the process you use to design a level in the editor are both painless and relatively easy. If you're looking for a place to start, and games like TFC, CS, and NS are your forte, might as well start here. I think the only problems you may run into are in the setup options, and true to its oldschool roots, getting down and compiling a map, then tweaking that, can get pretty gritty.

The only other editor I've logged any sort of time on was the unrealed that shipped with UT2003. I missed the whole UT generation, so I can't vouch for the older unrealed, I'd assume it's basically the same. However, after coming from Hammer, learning unrealed is a real pain. The interface is kind of counter-intuitive and the whole logic behind building levels is completely the opposite. It's quite weird. Once you get into the unreal mindset though, creating a level isn't hard at all, it's just that initial hill that you need to climb over. Well that, and unrealed is insanely buggy. I cannot tell you how many times I've lost work due to unexpected quits or fatal errors that seem to make no sense. I guess as it is with every program, save early and save often. This is the editor I eventually found most technically impressive. After learning something new about the editor, or pouring after technical docs and taking a stab at it myself, I am still wowed when I get a new effect (be it graphical or gameplay) working.

Now note I have not logged any significant hours with these editors (read: I have not produced any well known or well thought of maps) as to know the individual quirks and the nuances of each editor. However I can offer the complete newbie's look into it, which I guess is better than nothing. If anything, I say that the Half-Life community has more tutorials and help geared toward my audience than the unreal community, as finding good and easily digestible information is hard. Epic seems to be trying to remedy this with their opening of Unreal Uni, or whatever it is they are doing, which offers video tutorials and forums for developers. (A good thing, but I'm fearing the mod potential is going to waste in these days counting closer to HL2, with potential developers looking for the next big thing rather than weighing the assets of what's out there- which is hard to do for something not quite released)

As for most things tech, I guess slogging through it and exploring is probably the best way to learn either of these.

I guess on the RTS front, nothing is easier than Blizzard's warcraft 3 map editor. The thing is incredibly simple to use, though not quite as intuitive to the newbie's eye as hammer. I was able to get up and building levels (after finding I was unable to figure the tools out myself I went to the documentation) in about 10 minutes after reading the rather friendly documentation that comes with the toolset. I guess the thing is that the tools take 10 seconds to learn, but to master them and build a balanced and fun map, will probably take you a life time. (not to mention a keen understanding of the game.) The tools are fun to use, and going from the editor to a game to a multiplayer match you're testing with friends is quite easy and gratifying.

Neverwinter Nights, I found, was rather easy. Scripting seemed to get kind of nightmarish quick, but I quickly lost interest with building with those grossly simplified tools. I guess the real challenge was figuring out a way to make and import your own tilesets, but in the beginning when I had just spent 50 and tax on the game, it was a disappointment for it to have such poor mod support right off the bat.

I have heard good things about Red Faction's Editor, but I cannot confirm them.

I guess any tips would be learn the game you want to design levels for. That should be obvious, but what I got from the text is that you wanted to find a game with good tools and start there. It really should be obvious, but for emphasis, play the game you plan on designing levels for. Learn what makes a good map, what makes a bad map, and what makes a map fun. From there you will most likely gain an understand that you'll be able to carry on over to other platforms.

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