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Author Topic: How do you design your levels?  (Read 3028 times)
Vegetal Gibber


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« on: February 29, 2016, 16:53:03 »

I thought it'd be interesting to discuss this, just out of curiosity: how do you fellow KS authors design your levels? Do you follow any particular order (e.g, write an script first, then create the tilesets, etc) or do you just work on whatever you're in the mood for? Do you plan things meticulously before starting, or do you improvise as you keep making screens? What is the aspect you enjoy most and the one that gives you the most trouble? Etcetera.

I'm one of those authors who pretty much decides things on the spot. I do like to plan ahead to some extent, but only for the main ideas and gimmicks. It's very rare for me to make drafts or design the map layout beforehand. I tend to start new tilesets in the middle of a project and complete them as I work on that level (which is why many of these sets end up having weird layouts and a lot of empty tiles). I think this makes me, as Fubaka would say, a Chaotic Good designer (well, at least my intentions are not evil :P2 )

As for the aspect I find most troublesome, I'd say designing properly balanced challenges. It takes me a lot of time, even for the most simple challenges/puzzles. It took me forever to finally acknowledge the "What is challenging for the designer is likely impossible for the player" general rule when making games, so now I try my best to take other players' feedback into account.

Also, I enjoy making COs a lot. Maybe a little too much. I just can't stop myself from throwing in a bunch of these in my levels, especially the most recent ones. Tomatoes is, as far as I remember, the only exception to this.
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egomassive


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« Reply #1 on: February 29, 2016, 21:37:55 »

Lawful Neutral. C)

No seriously, how much planning I do depends on what kind of level I'm making. For my recent Through the Swamp, I started with a very vague layout in my head, coast -> an elevation -> swamp, and 3 tilesets. Everything else just happened as I went along.

For my biggest released level, A Knytt In Time, I did a lot of planning. One of the big tricks I discovered was to create an outline with post-it notes(TM). I wrote down all the events, cutscenes, powers, and places on their own notes and arranged them on a wall. Then I wrote a story and sketched a map that brought it all together. The notes were helpful because I could easily rearrange them until I got the story and map worked out. Then I built the level.

I build levels in an almost entirely linear fashion. I might bounce between cutscenes, tilesets, sound, and screen design; but I can't skip any location. I think designing this way ensures that challenge difficulty increases smoothly, and introduction of gameplay concepts happens as it should. When I design a challenge, I know exactly what I've put the player through, so I know how complex it can be. However, when I hit a snag I get stuck there. That's a productivity killer for sure.
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Fubaka
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« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2016, 16:01:38 »

My level design strategy is haphazard at best. It relies entirely on how much drive I have toward that project in particular, how much I believe in it as a concept. Even then, it's no guarantee that I'll finish it if I come across a roadblock that makes it no longer worth the effort.

In the case of Cosmic Meltdown, I basically had the story and most of the main level finished in late 2011. The ending was a roadblock until late 2012, when I then decided to add the big secret area, effectively doubling the size of the level. The drive for completing that level was, on top of being my first actual release, the message I was trying to convey with it.

My current project has a simple source of inspiration, in the tilesets I have to work with. The only ultimate goal is to utilize all of them to make a cohesive (and very, very long) level. In this case, any notion of a cohesive story is secondary to the ultimate goal.
Whenever I feel I have some time, I enter the editor and continue to hammer away at it, one screen at a time. I have no clue how the whole level will turn out, or even more than three-fifths of it, but I do have half an idea of how it will end.
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Ultigonio


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« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2016, 20:05:29 »

Oh boy, time for another dissertation on Deep Freeze. 


And... I think that's it.  I enjoy talking about this kind of stuff far too much.
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« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2016, 02:19:16 »

For me I start with a story. Before I'll even go on KS I need an idea for a beginning, middle and end. There are two exceptions: my actual first, mad-woman-in-the-attic level, 'The Coming of the Dark' (*winces at stupid title*) began with me just experimenting with the level designer. But the idea of visiting several illusion-worlds inside a machine was one of the ideas that had inspired me to try and learn how to use the designer so I tacked that concept onto the first few screens I made.

The other example of me not planning carefully before beginning was 'Liangzhu' which has been on hiatus for ages - this, I feel, is an example of cause and effect. I was still coming up with a story when I started working and soon found the story I was creating did not match the way I'd 'written' the first area at all. I tried remaking the plot to suit but I've never been able to bang it into anything coherent. Thus 'Liangzhu' was killed because I didn't plan adequately before beginning designing.

On the other hand, every cutscene in 'I Dreamed of the Sky' was written as a first draft before I started designing. I actually have pencil sketches for 'Eurydice' that I made prior to beginning, one of which is a full layout of the overworld on graph paper with every screen drawn in. I don't think I stayed faithful to that plan either in the size or content of the overworld, but it helped me to marshal my ideas.

From script writing comes a closer level of planning: I think out areas the level will contain, maybe collect or catalogue some tilesets (making my own tilesets is increasingly becoming a last resort - more of a necessity than a pleasure). I don't have to get every detail down but I want a good idea of the various areas of the level, what sort of environments I'll be making, how each area or sequence should feel, and hopefully at least some idea of how each part should look. Again, I won't necessarily stay faithful to these plans (the grey metal lab tileset from the beginning of 'DNPUTK' was originally designed for level 1 of 'IDotS' which became a brown natural-rock environment) but having ideas means I'm less likely to hit blocks later on. The more planning I do, the easier it is to design well.

As for actually making screens, it varies. I used to be able to do it all by feel, judging length, content and movement (up/down/left/right) of an area by instinct as I designed. Now I find that harder than I used to and I more often do some level of planning as I work. For the penultimate challenge-area of 'Dragon Myth' I placed all the screens in the editor and sketched in a line of solid tiles to make a rough but definite plan of how big the area would be and how it would move and flow (I think I did the same for a lot of 'I Chased the Moon'). I then worked on those screens out of order, starting with the ones I had the clearest vision for and then filling in the rest. When I'm designing a particularly complex area I'll actually draw the layout of the area's screens as boxes and trace lines through them to show how the player could or will move through them, before making anything in KS. And sometimes I can tap in to how easy it used to be and do it all by instinct.

The biggest blocks for me come from when I struggle to make an area look or feel how I want it to, or when I change the plot, due to a change in my vision for an area or sequence, or for some technical reason. 'Dragon Myth' stalled while I made 'IDotS' because I wanted to draw a village on a lake and just couldn't pull the image of it together, then stalled again when I reached an area I hadn't properly planned for before I began, always thinking I'd come up with an idea for the area before I got there. Right now I'm stuck on the final area of 'Dragon Myth' which I want to remake nearly from scratch; I don't like my tileset, the area doesn't feel the way I want it to, and all my testers found it way too hard. I often find making my own tilesets really difficult; I don't have a very good visual imagination.

« Last Edit: March 05, 2016, 09:30:42 by Talps » Logged

sergiocornaga
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« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2016, 05:47:12 »

Given I rarely make levels at all unless there's some kind of level-making event on, I identify my alignment as Lawful Lazy. The comparatively short length of my reply reflects this also.
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Ultigonio


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« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2016, 05:57:54 »

I forgive you for that because you made the Vestiges tileset series and that is one of my all-time favorite collections of tilesets, ever.
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« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2016, 20:24:47 »

I get the idea(s) for a level and then figure out if I can make it work with KS limitations. If I can't I re-imagine or scrap the idea(s). Once I'm sure it can work I think of the environments I want and start thinking of how to make the tilesets (which is apparently something I do now). I'll make up some tilesets and test how they look and feel, adding or changing them as I go. Then I'll just jump into the level and start making screens. I'll work on multiple areas at once depending on what suits my fancy. If I decide I want a CO or something I'll make it as I need it. There's really no planning involved beyond the initial starting ideas. I just make things as I go. I don't really have much of a plan when it comes to layout of areas or screens. Well, sometimes I'll plan it out so it fits together with something but generally I just wing it. I'll usually have a general idea of how the overall level fits together but that can change as I make (and remake) tilesets and build screens.

For Advena I just started making tilesets and constructing environments. Basically just making new areas as I made new tilesets. There was very little planning for what goes where, except for certain secrets and locations. I just make it as I like it.

I play test a lot. A lot a lot a lot. When I make a new screen I usually test how it feels to transition from the previous screen to the new one. Then I see how it feels with the overall section of the level. Then I see how well the screen works with the level overall. If it's a challenge screen (for Advena there are optional challenge sections) I'll play it multiple times. A few times when I first make it and then wait some time before testing it again to see how hard it is. I'll make adjustments to screens and sections as I go. Sometimes I'll delete entire sections because I don't like how it feels to play it in the level overall.

For Advena I've gone into the game proper and started a new game (several times now) to play the level from a fresh start at the beginning to see what it feels like. This really helps when placing the multiple locations for power-ups. In fact, I still have some testing to do for placing power-ups but I think it's almost finished.
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Vegetal Gibber


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« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2016, 13:52:20 »

Thank you for all your responses! This thread has been very informative. It's really interesting to learn about different approaches to game design.

I'd like to add a few extra tidbits to what I said in my original post. Although it's true I usually design level layouts on the fly, I did map sketches on paper for my maze-based levels (the "red maze" area in Knyttstein and the entire level in Dark Alleys). Also, even though my methods are pretty chaotic when I'm working alone, I try to be a bit more organized when I'm collaborating with other people, so I don't drive everyone else in the team nuts... which has happened in other non-KS related projects :oops:
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