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Robert Yang -- Level Design... now with GDC post-mortem!


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I feel kind of weird about it because I have to target two audiences: game industry AND some art school MFA programs I applied to. In hindsight, I probably should've just made two separate portfolios instead of trying to balance explaining what a "mod" is vs. using design terminology comfortably.

What I want to know is, if pretty screenshots don't demonstrate a real understanding of level design (since level designers don't even touch the art, supposedly?) then what does? Should I draw a bunch of diagrams? Write an analysis? Or what?

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I think the best, most accessible and shortest way to show your design skills is to create a video about your project's development, such as the one coulianos did for technodome. It's also been discussed before that post-mortems can be interesting aswell, like what you had in mind, what went wrong or right...

I like your portfolio btw, I think it's visuals are a good change from what you usually see.

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I got back from GDC! Here's what happened --

Obsidian: "Looks good, we'll look at it some more"

Insomniac: "Looks interesting, we might look at it some more"

Crytek: "What are you, stupid? Make a Crysis mod. We don't care about this stuff."

Bethesda: "Uhh, where's the video? What are you, stupid?"

Valve: "Looks really cool, but you need some traditional stuff to balance it out" + a lot more advice and feedback, I love Robin Walker


So, takeaways for my fellow amateur level designers here, trying to break in:

- Crytek and Bethesda want open world stuff, preferably as mods for their own games. (Duh.)

- Just as screenshots are a no-brainer, videos and flythoughs are really important too. (I guess I should've heeded the advice in this thread, huh?)

- If you go to a career fair like GDC, bring your laptop. My best sessions came from them being able to play my mod right then and there. Bring a mouse and (ideally) headphones as well.

- If you have all traditional, that's boring. If you have all experimental, they won't know how to use you. Have a balance of both.

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Well, I'm talking about single player contexts. I know and respect multiplayer level design, but single player just seems a lot more compelling to me, so that's what I choose to specialize in.

Err, traditional level design: so basically "normal" stuff involving shooting at NPCs, picking up health, watching stuff explode, etc.

Experimental: Dear Esther, Korsakovia, my stuff, things that deliberately confuse or fuck with the player, mods that don't involve shooting at people, etc. -- from what I can gather, it shows that you're forward thinking enough to make your own style of gameplay rather than replicate / refine someone else's, which is valuable in its own right but also implies limitations to your ability to think and conceive

"So I should make some pretentious artsy indie game stuff?" -- Absolutely. I encourage everyone to do it.

Ha, I'm doing a write-up on what Robin Walker said for my blog, I'll link to it when it's done, it was really humbling though -- it's like he sat down and started playing it and then had all these stunning insights after 5 minutes and I was like :shock: I LOVE THIS MAN

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Good feedback, it's definitely important to have a bit of a variety in your work, that said in my interview they didn't want to play my levels or even look at them. They just grilled me on gameplay dynamics, layout design and stuff like that. Which was good as my laptop had died the day before and I was on an old one which could barely run HL2 on low/DX7.

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Cool, yup the reason Crytek wants open world design proof is...

1) it's very challenging and required a completely different mindset than standard single player scripting

2) Almost every design "rule" that works for the majority of other games (HL2, COD, Bioshock etc) gets flipped on its head and doesnt work in an open world, if you attempt it you get a giant bite in the ass as everything becomes a cluster frack

3) Here at Crytek we have very good tools allowing extremely rapid prototypes of levels, tools experience is very important

4) The people we send to events like GDC arent the game team, they are SDK/Sales reps, if you want advise about actual development they are not really the guys we should send, they are there to sell the engine and are generalized in their knowledge, not experts at any specific given field.. ;)

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I was there too, what a ride!

I concur, I spoke with Robin for like 40 minutes. Very supportive and knowledgeable. He ignored my Gears of War, looked mostly at my HL2 and a few minutes at my Fallout. Where CCCP focused almost entirely on my Gears of War level, ignored most of my HL2, and then focused on my Fallout. Insomniac gave some good tips too, mostly focused on general gameplay, but still gave a lot of great feedback. If there is one thing I learned from GDC and the Career seminars is that everyone wants different things. Thats not to say you should do whatever floats your boat, but different companies clearly make different things which require different focuses.

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I think one needs to emphasize the difference of feedback comes primarily from the difference of profiles you guys have asked feedback from.

I am not surprised to see Robin provided the most useful feedback, simply because as designers you both could speak the same language and understand where each other came from. It stands to reason that he would be the most knowledgeable too. And that's not to take anything away from him because I know first hand he's extremely helpful even with emails. You can see his passion through his replies and I personally think this is one of the main reasons for his continued success.

On the other hand, speaking to someone that has absolutely nothing to do in the recruitment process except signing the paperwork, he's only going to give you some generic answers based on what he thinks happens. Not sure who it was you spoke to from Crytek, but I can already tell you that person was not in the same room interviewing me 6 weeks ago. I spent the entire day there with the full team of level designers, and I'm sure you'd enjoy that kind of talk a LOT more.

As always, the first rule in cold calling people is to come prepared and know the terrain first. Know as many people on the company's chart as possible and know who does what. That will help you save time by focusing your interviews with the people that matter. More often than not this info is freely available on the net.

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