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The Elements of Video Game Level Design


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http://www.telefragged.com/teamtk/learn ... gld-b1.htm

A must read for everyone who considers themselves a deathmatch mapping fan.

EDIT: the hyperlink above has better formatting than this lovely code tag can give us... so click the link!

Version 0.8


Welcome The Elements of Video Game Level Design. This book is specifically write for the use of the 3D engine that was designed for Quake. We will be covering things from basic room layouts to advanced weapons locating to Environment/World over-all design.

I am glad that you decided to read this book as a companion to take a new or better approach to the levell editing. You are either starting out, or you are looking for new insights on how to make your levell designed to be much more fun with EyeCandy as I like to call it.


Part 1: Learning (short)

1. Pick a levell editor and learn it.

2. Compilers

Part 2: Level theory.

Part 3: Making a World

5. Working atmosphere.

6. Floor/wall/environment layout discussions.

7. Sounds, FX, and Sequencing.

8. Weapons/Ammo/Item placement.

9. Finishing touches.

Part 1: Learning.

Chapter 1: Pick a levell editor and learn it.

This is relatively the hardest part. And it is also something that I can help you the least with..

First step is to find the perfect editor to you, that means you will be searching for editors, but don't worry you won't have to do infoseek or yahoo seek. I have all the editor that I know about listed here:













Ok, BSP is the program that I currently use, and it freeware, so it doesn't cost you anything. I like it the best, but everyone has their own opinions on it. In BSP you can edit the following:

Quake C, Quake2, Half-Life, Hexen 2 and Heretic 2.

Then there is Tread which is a newer program, the maker is a real cool and nice guy. This program is also freeware for version 1.02. It may still have some minor bugs in it but it is still a good tool. It can edit the following:

Quake C, Quake 2, Half-life support is on its way if not, then it's working.

Version 1.1 has Half support.. Very nice.

WorldCraft is a commercial software now, and I think it's free now. It used to be shareware that you had to buy, but I think that changed. This editor was for Quake and Quake 2, but still the release of Half-life, since they changed the default game to Half-life It can edit the following:

Half-life, Quake, Quake 2.

Qoole is a commercial program so it comes as shareware and you have to register it for a fee. I don't know too much about this one, but I do know some people that use it and they say they like it. It can edit the following:

Quake, Quake2.

Q3radiant is the editor for quake 3 Arena. I use it too.. Nothing to much to say but tutorial can be hard to fine, but worth the work of learn them.

Quake2, Quake3

I may miss one or two, but these are the primary editors.


Now from here, I can't help you learn the editor, that's what make it hard. And what I will tell is that after you evaluate the programs you can pick which one you think is the best for you. After you have done that then you will have to follow the tutorials that are provided by the makers or fans of the makers.

Another good site for all-around stuff is:



They provide excellent coverage on the entities that you can use with the game that you are editing. They also have some coverage on how to make little tricks then you get much better.

3. Compilers

OK, you should have the compilers if you don't then enclosed with this I have 3 compilers for Quake 2. QBSP3, QVIS, ARGHRAD 2.10.

Arghrad is new compiler that works great and better than the original. It is located at:


It is real hard to find compilers for some reason. I think I will put my compilers that I have on my web site so my little crackers can get them.

OK And here they are: compilers.zip

Part 2: Level Theory

Level Theory

I have gotten good resource material that started me off as good Level Designer, then I found book that was written by the masters of levell making.

These are from such creators from companies like, id Software, Valve Software, ION Storm, Raven Software, Epic MegaGames, and Ritual Entertainment. This book just plain rocks.

First of all.. The Book is called, Game Design - Secrets of the Sages (from Chapter 6: Level Design).

I like to call it the book of Genesis, heh. And I will be taking straight excerpts from the book, for you levell designers. The book had more than Level design, It's worth a good buying for bedtime reading.

Tim Willits, id Software.

As levell designer on Ultimate Doom and Quake and lead levell designer on the legendary Quake II and the upcoming Quake III: Arena, Tim Willits has gathered quite a bit of knowledge (and respect in the industry) on how to create a successful map for 3D shooters. He shares with us his words of wisdom on this exciting facet of 3D game development.......


There are basically five popular styles of Deathmatch levells: arena, circular, linear, location-based, and theme-centered. Many of these styles can be included in one, and some have crossover traits, according to Willits.

Deathmatch - Arena

In a nutshell, arena levells usually have one central area where most of the combat takes place. Most of the hallways and passages either lead from the central area or to it Says Willits:

 	The map has very few other large rooms or area of significance. 

	The arena style of DM is very refined; the maps are quickly leaned

	and easy to master. Players will always know where they are and

	shout never get lost navigating the hallways around the arena area.

	Players will find these maps fast paced with high frag limits, which

	will be reached quickly. An example levell is map07 from DOOM II.

And a word of caution to designers:

	Try not to make the arena areas too architecturally complex. This 

	is the are where all the fighting occurs, so it has to run fast.

	Complex architecture may look good, but it only slows down the game.

	Try to build this area as simple as possible.

Deathmatch - Circular

As the name suggests, these maps are circular in design, or as Willits says, "built in such a fashion that the player would never need to stop and turn around its main path." He expands:

	Build with as few dead ends as possible-they're best built with none.

	Use numerous entrances and exits around its central core, which would

	allow free-flowing movement without hitches. The map would also need good

	weapon distribution, where either side would not have an advantage.

	There would be as little holding ground as possible. (Holding ground is

	a place where a player can stock up on health and ammo in a room and

	camp.) An example levell here is dm6 from Quake.

Deathmatch - Linear

Linear maps are built with only a few alternate paths. Willits amplifies:

	The architecture becomes a roadmap, where people instantly know which

	side of the map they're on. Nice open areas or wide hallways where players

	can enjoy jousting-type combat. Even weapon distribution to force players

	to move back and forth. Have ammo for the weapons on the opposite side of

	the map, forcing players who want to stock to travel. An example levell 

	here is dm6 from Quake.


	Location-based DM allows players to always know where they are. You may

	not be able to figure out how to get somewhere else fast, but you 

	immediately know your location. These maps are not free-flowing as in

	circular or linear maps, but instead are made up of many unique 

	identifiable areas. Each area should have some distinct combat areas

	or mini themes included in it. For example, in dm3 from Quake is a water 

	area for swimming, a thin staircase for vertical fighting, and a computer

	room made for close fighting. Each area has a special weapon or power-up

	that fits the environment.


And last on the list for DM maps are theme-based maps. As Willits put it, a theme-based map uses something unique to combat and over the map. Perhaps this is better explained by an example:

	An example of this is e1m4 from Quake, a.k.a. The Sewage System. This map

	is covered with water; most of the fighting is in or around water. Every-

	where the player looks, he sees water or something related to water. In

	almost every area, the player can enter or exit the water. The water is

	the "theme" or the special combat characterization throughout the map. Theme-

	based maps are also more difficult to navigate through, and should only be

	used for medium or advanced play. Themes need to enhance gameplay, not

	detract from it.

NOTE >> Good id Software examples of theme-based maps include wind tunnels (Quake, e3m5); low gravity (Quake, e1m8); low light, such as the mine levells in Quake 2; hazardous materials suck as lava, slime, or pits of (Quake 2); wide and open areas (Quake 2. dm1).

Capture the Flag

"Capture the Flag" is a popular team-based multiplayer game where the object is to steal the other team's flag and bring it safely back to your own base. There are now many new custom revreations of Capture the Flag (CTF) games. In the following section, Willits offers advice on creating maps for CTF fanatics.

Symmetric Levels

With CTF games, it's important that levells be nearly mirrors of each other to make things even between the two teams. Willits maintains, "In theory it's posible to have two bases look different, but even in practice this has rarely worked." He cites a bad example of a CTF map from Quake 2, and why:

	Strike is a fairly big failure in that regard due to the BFG and teleporter

	placement (putting red team at a large disadvantage). Also there are more

	methods of entering the red base that the blue base, making blue base easily

	defensible. This map also has uneven ammo and weapon placement; the blue base

	has far better resources within. All this is solved easily by making both sides


Asymmetrical Levels

Willits says if the level is not symmetrical there should be a balanced strategy that needs to be employed by individual team. For example, if one side is largely covered by water, the team should be given rebreathers. Similarly, protective environment suits should be accessible on the slime side.

Random Tip for CTF Maps

Willits grants us an assorted medley of tips on creating CTF maps:

	There should be a good supply of weapons and ammo near a base, but don't

	overdo it. This makes the base too easy to defend and difficulty to attack. If a

	designer is using power-ups, they should never start off within the base.

	While still making it defensive, there should multiple entry points and exits to

	a base.

	Centralized placement of major power-ups is a good idea. The power-ups still need

	to be located far enough from each other to percent players from using a single

	power-up and crushing everyone on the map.

	Create some good sniper locations but, if players are going to snipe, they should

	be vulnerable in some way, too.

	There should be obvious color coding of areas, but don't rely on colored lighting,

	since colored lighting tends to neutralize player colors and you can't see what

	team they're on. Use colored textures instead.

	Focus on good weapon placement and thing it through. Weapon placement may be

	more important in CTF than normal DM because it can greatly shift the balance

	of power from one side to the other.

And that's Willit's bit on the byte.

(I advise making this next section your 26 Level Commandments.)

Paul Jaquays. id Software

   1. Know what you want to do with a levell before you start. Don't expect a map that you start as a single-player map to be easily changed into a multiplayer map. The reverse holds true for trying to make a Deathmatch map into a single player challenge.

   2. Sketch out a diagram of the map to use as an initial guide.

   3. Don't start with grandiose projects. Try making something fun with a few rooms.

   4. If possible, build your levell with a "gimmick" in mind-some tricky gamism bit that players will remember. Popular gimmicks that have been used in the past include wind tunnels, numerous portals, lava maps, trap maps, water-filled maps, map with large, slow-moving hazards, and low-gravity maps.

   5. Try to be fresh and original with every new design. Do something that you haven't seen done before.

   6. Test gimmicks of gameplay, tricks, and traps in test levells before building them into your game levell.

   7. Do architecture and texture studies ahead of time to establish an architectural style. Stick to that style.

   8. Block out your levell with large pieces of geometry. Think of the architecture you'll use, but concentrate more on how gameplay will flow through the levell. At this stage, I try to keep my map grid at the largest possible setting (in Quake II or Quake III, that's the "64" grid). Avoid fussy details at this point and go for massiveness. At this stage of development, try to keep your frame-rate speeds well below the amount allowed by the game (for Quake II, we aimed to be below a maximum count of 500 triangles of architecture in any view). A good rule might be to try for no more that a third of your total possible polygon count in the worst views in and near your larger rooms.

   9. Once the flow is established, you can start adding architechural detail and refining hall and room shapes.

  10. Build in a modular manner. Make prefabricated pieces that be can fir together easily to make your levell. Build tricky pieces of detailed architecture (suck as door frames, complicated cornices, or furniture) once and set them outside the boundaries of your map. Clone them as needed for placement in the map.

  11. When designing architectural elements, study the real world. Try to duplicate the look and feel of impressive works, but with less complicated geometry. Set yourself challenges in the regard.

  12. Strike a balance between the use of the real geometry and textures that imply three-dimensional depth when building architectural details. Textures that appear to be 3D should be used with caution. When viewed from a distance, they can fool the eye into believing that the architectural geometry is significantly more complex than it actually is. But the same texture viewed up close and the eye levell completely destroys the illusion of depth.

  13. Compile the map often. Don't wait until everything is placed to see what things look like (or if you have leaks in the map hull).

  14. Complete your map geometry before adding monsters and items.

  15. When building single-player game maps, don't put every game feature in the levell. Having every monster possible in the game in a single game levell is a glaring sign of amateur work. Generally speaking, the only place you're going to see all the monsters at once is in the AI programmer's test levell.

  16. The same goes for tricks, traps, items, weapons, and power-ups. Unless your map is as massive as the 64-player DM maps created for Quake II, restrict the number of different items you put in the map. Use a few things clevelrly, rather than many poorly.

  17. "City64," a largeDM map for Quake II, featured a huge canyon area, a massive alien temple, underwater caverns, a vast deep tank with water in the bottom, and numerous stretches of twisty corridors. The corridors were often similar, but they ended in distinctive large play areas.

  18. For DM maps, give the players frequent opportunities to avoid pursuit and dodge the cover. Long hallways with no exits are bad. Avoid forcing players to make long trips to dead-end rooms-even to get good power-ups.

  19. Place lights to achieve gamma. If you have a choice between under-lighting an area and over-lighting it, err on the side of darkness. Just don't go overboard. Dark levells may look nifty, but stumbling around in the dark while playing gets old fast.

  20. Light as you go-even if you're only placing temporary lights.

  21. Don't forget the audio elements of a map. Sounds can provide important game clues.

  22. If possible, allow multiple solutions for puzzles. You can still reserve the greatest rewards for players who them in what the designer has decided is the "best way."

  23. Give the player a variety of game experiences and challenges in each map. All combat of all puzzles can get old quickly.

  24. Be kind to your players; don't over-challange them unnecessarily. Well-places environmental hazards add to the tension of game play, but falling into lava or slime every third step or being crushed to death by falling weights every time you turn around quickly becomes frustrating.

  25. Study maps you like and make an effort to duplicate or even improve situations and settings.

  26. Finish what you begin.

Part 3: Making a World

Ok, as you know you are making a world. May people thing that it's a levell. But I like to think of it more like a world.

This world must be made complete. It can be just a square realm to walk and shoot. Sad to though I have made some them in the early years but there is always more. You must create the atmosphere by making sounds, matching walls/floors/ceilings, lighting, and the plain old layout too. Since I have all that input about levell theory I won't say that much about layout, because it's already been said.. heheh..

Working Atmosphere

Ok, we'll start with the atmosphere. The atmosphere is not about the sky. As with saying this, if you make a levell that isn't put together right then the chances of that map making it on the big time will be little to none. What I mean by put together is you shouldn't texture a space looking texture type in an outdoor levell. The Layout can be superb but if it doesn't looks right, out the door it goes. The Little sub titles next should give you some little tips on what to do you make it add up.

Floor, Wall, and Environment Discussions

Now you don't have to do everything the way that I do it just because I write some of my ideas down on paper. Try to be original.

Ok now all these subjects can be rather touchy. The wall have to look right with floor and the sky/ceiling to boot.

There are many approaches here:

1. Color Matching.

Color Matching isn't just having a Grey floor and a Grey wall with a pretty little trim. It's something that you have to apply 2 or more colors to make an effect that matches.. Like on websites... Light Grey goes well on a white background as a Dark Grey Floor can go with a tan wall.

2. Textures

Makes you think.. Hey textures are the colors.. Right?...... Well.. Not really, There are textures of patches, blocks, concrete and others like that.

For Example, This could be a texture pattern:





And that can be Grey with black lines... In that instant you can match the black the lines with a textured type wall that makes dark outlook of color and texture.

In Quake 3 Arena, there are shaders. Shaders are scripts that control what the texture/colors and all around everything that the images do. There is more about how to use Shaders at the Site for Quake 3 Arena setup be id Software (http://www.quake3world.com). And you can find some nice detailed in formation on any resource you need for the editor. Since it is still being added, you can expect more and more to be there....

Now with the environment of a levell it must be consistent. If it's not then I don't know what to say, One minute your in space the other, your on a base.. Unless that's what you want, then do it. But other than that. You should have a consistent texture usage.. So the textures that you use to make the first  room, you should try to reuse the textures. If you use too many, I think it's like 30 or 40, you will get a compiler error.. and that's no good.

If you use different textures you may accidentally create the feeling to the player that the levell is made by an amateur. The levell won't look right, and won't reflect your work as top job and player count may diminish.

So try to re-use Textures.... Please...

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I haven't read through it so I can't comment on its overall quality, but that thing badly needs to be proof-read and tidied up. There are so many typos and grammatical errors in there I was instantly put off. I find it quite important that articles are written with care and attention, as otherwise I tend to doubt the author put much effort into any aspect of it.

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I haven't read through it so I can't comment on its overall quality, but that thing badly needs to be proof-read and tidied up. There are so many typos and grammatical errors in there I was instantly put off. I find it quite important that articles are written with care and attention, as otherwise I tend to doubt the author put much effort into any aspect of it.

Well I didn't write it, but I did find the info inside very useful. (and I feel your pain)

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