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Giving guest talk on Level Design


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Hey guys


I've been asked to do a talk on Level Design at a University for some first year Games Design students. It will take place in 9 days time, and I'm bricking it! I've been preparing, reading, revising and learning as much as I can, but I'm still unclear about how to approach it and stretch out a talk for over an hour without just rambling incoherently. I'm thinking about using one of my previous projects to help explain some things, perhaps show work in progress shots from start to finish. Some subjects and central themes I've thought about covering are:


  • Developing a level from start to finish
  • Covering different development phases such as initial design, greyboxing, playtesting, iteration, moving into polishing the level and optimising
  • Do's and dont's from my own experience
  • Good ways of gaining experience
  • What its like working in a professional environment
  • Benefits of modding
  • How to Mapcore


I feel somewhat out of place, most of what I know came from my amateur/hobbyist experience, I'm sure there will be a lot of things more knowledgeable people will disagree with me on.


I would like to ask if anyone has some advice about how to handle this, and what you would expect from lecture on level design. If you were going to a talk about level design, what would you like to hear or learn about, what areas would you want the speaker to go in-depth to? Do you have any suggestions on key areas of level design I should focus on?


Perhaps some of you have given talks or lectures yourself and have a few tips about how to approach it, or have some examples of some good presentations. literally any bit of help or insight would be great, I promise to sneak a hurg in somewhere in return! I've never done any public speaking before, so this is really nerve-wracking for me and I could really use some support.


Thanks Core



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I've had some experience lecturing - in philosophy, not level design unfortunately - it can definitely be nerve-wracking until you realise you're not being judged, you're being listened to! You're not expected to be 100% correct about everything, especially with such a broad topic to which there are multiple approaches.  This is just my opinion but I think the students and teachers would be more interested in your personal approach and what you have learnt from experience, how you bend the rules etc. so you can always CYA like this.


Personally I would be interested in hearing about what you think makes a level fun and interesting to play and how you would approach this (points of interest, timings, etc).


Oh and time will go very fast once you're in the swing of it so you might not even get to cover everything, but if this is not the case there's always question time  :P


Good luck!

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Cover multiple iterations constantly


Cover the cost of moving around the different phases - redoing something in a sketch phase is very cheap, redoing it in the final phase is extremely costly.


If you haven't been in a professional environment, don't talk about it. In general I wouldn't talk about professional environments, but rather what professional practices are (see above).


I would personally not recommend Mapcore for them either, as it is not really a place for beginners. Instead I would link them to tutorials and encourage rapport between students. I think them seeing professionals post stuff could be detrimental towards their own abilities when just starting out.


So really, make sure they communicate between each other well, talk to them about when to make changes and teach them some good design practices. That's the three things I would talk about in your case.

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I would define what exactly level design is at the start of your talk. I'm in a game development club at my university, and I don't think many people really understand what exactly level design is, and why it's important enough to be its own "thing" in game design. Also, if you can, when talking about iteration and blockout/detailing stuff, use pictures of an example map! Understanding that process is so much easier when you can literally see a dev-textured layout turn into a fully detailed environment.


From there, you could go one of two paths. You could talk about gaining experience, the professional environment, etc. like you've planned. You could also talk about the actual theory behind level design like flow, layout planning, detailing cues, etc. I'm not sure what would be more effective to teach in a "This is what level design is" lecture, and if either of those topics would be too "in depth" to cover properly in a shorter lecture.


I'm thinking of giving a talk/workshop of my own to the aforementioned game dev club, so I'm curious to know what you think. Good luck!

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Many thanks for your input and suggestions guys, its most appreciated :)


SolarB, what you mentioned about being listened to and not judged was quite reassuring to hear as that is something I have been worried about. I also like your idea of people being more interested in the personal workflow. I've tried to imagine what I'd find interesting if I was listening to someone talk about Level Design, and their own workflow is something I would want to hear about. I really enjoy reading interviews with level designers and artists and finding out what their personal processes are like.


Sentura, I think what you mentioned about the costs of redoing things in later stages of development is really important, be it your own personal project or part of a larger development when costs are much greater. I'll try encourage them to read and follow tutorials and point them in directions, after-all I've been going over as many as I can myself this past few weeks. I also see your point about them being demotivated when seeing work from more experienced people, perhaps I should talk about the more general usage of online communities to develop their skills.


Idolon, funny what you mention about needing to define what level design actually is. I've never had to really describe it to anyone, and it sounds ridiculous but I'm having trouble putting it into words! I think I will use some images of my previous projects, it will certainly help me explain myself better as well helping others understand as you say. As for the theory side of things, I'm thinking of working in little bits of that whilst talking about the more practical sides of things, little bit of this, little bit of that. 



Thanks again for your help!

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Something I guess I didn't explain well enough is the first thing I mentioned (multiple iterations):


Teach them to not be afraid to move around in the phases - especially early phases - if they aren't satisfied with what they have. Most of the time whenever I find something I'm not happy about, I often try to iterate in both 2D sketch form as well as 3D. Sometimes I just build stuff to see if it works in 3D, then, change it around if it doesn't, and then go back to sketching in 2D. Looking at something in 2D is different from looking at stuff in 3D, and so sometimes you get inspired and are able to creatively "leap" to a solution that somehow solves all the design problems in a given level. Let them play around with it in both 2D paper prototypes as well as in a 3D editor if possible.

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I'm guessing the course deals with the technical side, using editors, tools & so on. How much deals with the creative side?


If I were part of the audience, I'd be itching to know about stuff like:


Where does the germ of inspiration come from?

Do you see it visually in your minds eye?

Does it come from previous sources, games, architecture etc?

Does a source (i.e. architecture) dictate the design of a level?

Is there a focal point/set piece/structure or specific shape which has a need to be created?

Do game mechanics come into the creative process or is it purely a creative endeavor first, then tweak to fit the game?

Give me lots of 'show' as well tell, feed my imagination!


I'm insanely interested in the creative side rather than the technical, fascinated with the inspirations, source/reference material influence & the process of creating that idea.


Good luck with the lecture, please keep us posted if you can, I'm interested in how this builds up to the talk & a post mortem if you can please?

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Thanks for the article HP, moved it to the top of my stack. 


Sentura, thank you for explaining that process in more depth, interesting what you mention about jumping back and forth between 2D and 3D forms. 


I'm not too informed what gets covered in the course, from what I have gathered there is at least a good mix between the technical side of things and the creative. Thank you for telling me what you'd like to know about Nexusdog, those are things I'd certainly like to talk about and its reassuring to know others might be after that information. I'm trying to imagine what questions might be or want to be asked whilst I'm covering certain areas so I can pack in the most relevant info someone new to level design might want to hear about. I also like the idea of talking about reference gathering and how that influences ideas. 


I'll keep you informed as much as I can, right now I've been spending my evenings going over articles, trying to find ways of articulating things I feel I have a good understanding of, but just not sure how to convey that in clear words to others. 

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Introduction :


1. How level design evolved throughout the years.

2. Where it is now.

3. What are the softwares available now and what are their strong/weaks points.

4. What is the main goal of a level designer, and where is the boundary between LD and art.

5. The importance of knowing the gameplay of the game you are working on.

6. The importance of storytelling.

7. The differences between multiplayer/single player.


The important points for a LD :


1. The pacing.

2. The sense of scale.

3. The storytelling.

4. The verticality.

5. How to emphasize the objective.


The creation of a level :


1. Defining where are you going.

2. Creation of the first sketches.

3. The first blockout.

4. The importance of testing and getting feedback.

5. Iteration.

6. Lighting and catch the player's eye


You should make something clear, where every new informations are a continuation of what you are explaining. Good luck.

Edited by RaVaGe
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Hi Ravage, thank you so much for taking the time to to suggest those subject points and structure. Its really great seeing how others would approach it, I can see what I've been missing out, but also I'm reassured when I see you mention something I've planned to cover. I think your point about explaining where the boundary between level design and env art is really important and something I'd like to emphasise. I also like the way you separate the core areas level designers must understand from that of the creation of the level. As of now I had been planning on mixing the two whilst going through the creation process but I think the way you've suggested doing it will be far more coherent. 


Those lectures by Richard Feynman were also very useful Nexusdog, he seems to confident about what he's talking about, its just rolling off his tongue and he's really enthusiastic. If I were sat watching a lecturer I'd  like to see the enthusiasm they have about their subject, hopefully I can at least sound somewhat confident about what I'm saying :)


I've been structuring what I want to say this weekend, bringing all my notes together and trying to find the most relevant ones. Its quite difficult when the pressure is on and having to remove distractions, by that I pretty much mean internet heh


Thanks again guys, your help and support is invaluable to me

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I would personally not recommend Mapcore for them either, as it is not really a place for beginners. Instead I would link them to tutorials and encourage rapport between students. I think them seeing professionals post stuff could be detrimental towards their own abilities when just starting out.

I don't agree with this. Sure the discussion should probably be done at a dedicated forum, student to student, but just reading topics and threads where proffessionals and experienced mappers discuss and iterate is just pure gold to observe. I know this cause when I arrived here I was a student myself and started lurking and boy did I learn much from all of you.

You do make one point though, it can be hard seeing how good others more experienced people are but really that's something you gotta face and as long as you're not a complete rookie I don't think it's that bad. If they value prestige higher than the passion for mapping, maybe they should try something else, and more importantly - they wouldn't belong here.


Edited by Sjonsson
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