Level design is a key part of game design because it forms what the player has to do and the environment in which the player performs. The look and the feel of a level can change how a player plays and how immersed the player feels, because of this level design ought to be consciously thought through with intent.
If any of the material below gets you more interested in level design you can keep on researching. There are links below to good GDC Vault presentations. Another great resource for level designers is Level-Design.org.
Conceptual approaches to level design:
“Spaces like identities are constructed.” Is the summation of the this video and it’s worth watching!
Level Design Histories and Futures
Robert Yang examines how level design tools and techniques have evolved over the years. Towards the end he argues that we ought to use architecture terms to talk about levels (I agree!). The talk finishes at the end looking into possible futures of level designs.
Tips from level designers:
AAA Level Design in a Day Bootcamp
Gain deep insights into the level design process for our industry’s biggest games, including Gears of War, Bioshock, and Skyrim in this intense day-long tutorial, moderated by Coray Seifert. The most respected voices in level design weigh in on all aspects of their craft, engage with attendees via numerous Q&A sessions, and offer a once-in-a-career opportunity: a mock interview with a panel of the most veteran level designers in the business.
Gradients on limited palettes, dust clouds kicked up in places where there is no dust, bouncy tweens on hard rocks — through the idea that adding polish makes a game feel more alive, we’re actually losing a level of immersion. There has been such a tremendous focus on putting eye candy in our games that the context doesn’t get considered.
Galak-Z: Forever: Building Space-Dungeons Organically
While there exists a myriad of well-documented algorithms for generating procedural content, the combination and usage of these techniques is far more of an art than a science, and one that’s inherently unique to each game project. In this talk, lead engineer Zach Aikman will discuss a few different failed approaches before presenting a detailed breakdown of Galak-Z’s dungeon generator, including its usage of some unorthodox math, and his thoughts on the proper balance between hand-crafted and procedural content.
Jobye Carmaker works at Ubisoft and has made a ton of levels. On his blog he reflects on some key things that he takes into consideration when making levels. He tries to use assets in creative ways to ensure a playable experience while adding texture, narrative, and more to each level.
Imperfection – This is a tenant I’ve carried with me ever since our very first high-level Art Direction meeting with Scott Lee. One of the art pillars of Splinter Cell: Blacklist was Imperfection. That’s something that applies whether you’re making something for a war-torn map, an abandoned warehouse or a perfectly pristine government facility or private estate. Nothing in life is ever really perfect. There’s always some sort of imperfection whether it be in its placement, its shape, its material quality (this is where you get a lot of your imperfections for ‘clean’ environments), etc.
Multiplayer level design:
Community Level Design for Competitive CS:GO
This talk will focus on the subtle aspects of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive level design which have proven critical to creating a successful, popular, and well-designed experience for professional players and those aspiring to become professional players. Designing levels for Counter-Strike: GO is illustrative of broader challenges in multiplayer game design. For instance, Counter-Strike levels should always reward players and teams for skillful play, while at the same time providing ample opportunities for individual and team creativity.
Ben Burkart reveals eight secrets of multiplayer maps over at 80 Level. It’s good series of tips to keep in mind when making multiplayer experiences.
It is always important to have a goal and purpose for your level, deciding this early on should influence how you make decisions regarding layout/visuals/balancing through every step of your levels creation. When preparing to design your level you should have a clear indication as to what kind of visual theme you are going for as it should influence your layout as well as allow you to get the right assets together or to get a better idea of what kind of assets you are going to need.
Just for fun:
A fast level design exercise making a medieval inn: