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CrossRunner413 04-21-2012 08:32 PM

Level Design Planning Help
I'm sure I'm going to get a lot of backlash from people saying that I'm asking a question that can be found almost anywhere, but after days spent searching over the course of a couple weeks I can't find a good response. Everyone wants to write articles about how to become a lead designer or a general 'game designer' and I was hoping for something specifically geared toward how to become a level designer. Hopefully someone can help me out; What would be the path someone in my position and who wanted to become a level designer for a large company take?

I know there's different paths, but let me explain my situation. I'm a freshman at The Ohio State University and I'm majoring in History, looking for something to minor in, possibly computer science (majored in it for my first semester and enjoyed it, but realized that I didn't want to program for a living) or some sort of graphic design if possible. I've been working with Bethesda's G.E.C.K. a little bit, but my laptop isn't directX 9 compatible so testing anything is not possible until I get a better computer this summer.

I'll write what I think a path would look like and hopefully someone with industry experience can show me what I'm missing or have wrong, or possibly just explain in detail what it would take to become a level designer, not just how to be a good one:

1. Go to college and major in whatever interests you (stressed by Tom Sloper).
2.While at college start using editing tools like Bethesda's G.E.C.K. or the Unreal Engine to build levels/create mods for games and build a portfolio.
3. After college apply for positions all over the place and keep working on number 2.

Also, what exactly is scripting for a level designer? I realize as a programmer what a scripting language is, but in what way would a level designer use a scripting language and is it necessary for level designers to know how to script. In my limited experience using the G.E.C.K. I haven't ran into any places where I'd have to script anything and as for positioning the NPC's and setting them on paths, I haven't had to script, unless I'm missing the whole idea of what scripting is.

Thanks in advance!

bob 04-21-2012 10:15 PM

Re: Level Design Planning Help
Hey Crossrunner,

Your plan doesnt have any obvious gaping holes. I think the main advice anyone would give you is to make games / design levels, which you seem to be aware of.

I'm graduating from a 4-year university next month, and I have tried to follow the path you're essentially taking, but aimed at becoming a game designer/programmer. I majored in philosophy and have a minor in computer science. I can program relatively simple 2D games with Flash, and have some experience with Unity. What I wanted to say is that it is hard to build a portfolio for yourself completely extra-curricularly. It can be very hard for a lot of people to motivate themselves to work on things their classes aren't requiring them to do. I know one guy who has done it very well - he has 3 nice puzzle games in the Android marketplace. There's myself, who has done an okay job but could have done better, and I know 2 guys that are pretty much failing at it. If you don't have a history of taking the initiative and doing lots of work that isn't required of you, you may want to re-evaulate your ability to teach yourself game development totally on the side. That side, I have become a much more proactive person since having to teach myself game development, so there's that.

I'm not saying you should go to a game development school, but if you did you would statistically have a greater chance of having a nice portfolio upon graduation.

But you should check out what majors your school offers that would be interesting that would also let you make game-related projects. For instance, does your graphic design department offer 3d-modeling classes? You could make game-related assets or levels in those if so. The advantage here being you have deadlines you're forced to keep.

I would definitely recommend the minor in CS. Tons of jobs in a variety of fields are looking for programming skills these days.

CrossRunner413 04-21-2012 10:53 PM

Re: Level Design Planning Help

Thanks for your response. I feel like if I know how to go about making a portfolio and doing the things that would be required of, I could. Level design, as I understand it, appeals to me greatly. And the idea of modding is something me and a friend are very interested in (him being much more interested in the artistic portions of video game development). We plan on working on a zombie mod for Fallout 3 once I can get a more advanced computer.

I do see what you mean about being self motivated, and I have to admit that often times, I'm not motivated to do things that I'm not interested in, however I have always been a strong performer in school and I believe that with proper guidance, I can build a portfolio that I would be proud to show others. Plus, the idea of working on a team to make something as great as a video game appeals to me so strongly, I don't think I could pass it up.

You said that you are about to graduate with a four year degree? Do you mind if I ask where from and how you went about learning everything about design that gave you the confidence to pursue a career in the gaming industry? I feel like I'm completely lost despite the fact that there are tons of websites devoted to teaching people about how to make it into the gaming industry. I would very much like to talk to someone who recently got a job as a level designer from a similar background as me and see the path he took.

bob 04-22-2012 05:04 PM

Re: Level Design Planning Help
I'm graduating from American University, in Washington DC. I came here to study international relations, but then realized I was more compelled by video game design.

I did a few important things to prepare myself for a job in the games industry that have paid off a lot.

First, I picked up a CS minor. Because I can program games myself (admittedly simple ones) I'm not dependent on anyone else to start making a prototype when I have an idea for a game I want to make. For example, I just made a little game for this contest almost totally by myself. Finding someone willing to work equally hard as you on a project can be pretty difficult, especially on short notice, which my entry into this contest was. Being forced to rely on someone, ie a programmer, that isn't as committed to the project as you are really sucks because you'll end up forcing them to do things they don't want to do, and it won't be fun. If you can program the game yourself you dont have to worry about that as often.

I've entered a few other contests with little games I've made myself. I've definitely learned some of the pitfalls of game development by making these little games myself, so I'm very glad I learned how to program.

One other smart thing I did was get involved with my local IGDA chapter. I've met lot of cool dudes through there. I've worked with a few of them on projects, which was good experience. I also wouldn't be surprised at all if at some point I get a job through one of them.

The last important thing I did was go to game jams. Have you heard of the Global Game Jam? google it. Always make time for things like this. A lot of game developers still trying to make it will tell you how many unfinished projects they have. Usually we don't finish because we don't have to, and we get lazy. But game jams give you a deadline and motivate you to finish. Oftentimes people end up with nice little portfolio projects at the end of them.

But your main question was what gives me the confidence to work in the industry.

Originally, I thought I would be a successful game designer because I thought my ideas were better than most people's. I assumed I would be able to make games that were revolutionary and would blow people's pants off. And somehow my ability with ideas would get me a job or something. I wasn't really sure. But luckily I took people's advice on this very forum and learned to program : )

It turns out it takes a lot of work and discipline to make a game, even a small one. And if you can't do that, then no one will ever see your awesome ideas.
There are a lot of lessons to learn about working with people and intelligently managing yourself and your project you have to learn to make the game in your head. If you don't have that experience, something will go wrong and your game won't end up being what you want it to be. At least in my experience. The biggest example of what I'm talking about being the scope problem. Everyone tries to make their first game way larger than it should be, and they fail. Happened to me.

Another example: my entry for this contest is not as intuitive as it should be because I didn't look up from the code often enough to analyze if what I was making was really what the contest called for. I spent hours and hours coding complicated systems so I could have online multiplayer before I realized that the only way that multiplayer would be used was if the judges all logged on at the same time, which isn't going to happen. I ended up scrapping the real multiplayer because it was taking too long to add stuff, and faked it with AI. That was a lot of time wasted that should have went towards making what my game is about more obvious. Lesson learned: constantly reevaluate if what you're working on is really necessary to what you're trying to accomplish.

To finally answer your question: my confidence comes from me knowing that as I continue to make games I will continue to learn these lessons, and eventually be a good/great game developer. I couldn't say right now with confidence that someone should hire me as a game designer. That's why I'm probably going to get a non-games related programming job at first (again being saved by the CS minor). But eventually I think I'll be able to make a living from games in some form or another.

If I knew any level designers with jobs, I would put you in contact with them. But I don't : \

My demo for that contest is online here if you're curious. The contest tasked us with re-imagining Pong, so I made it a spectator sport. Two teams play each other in 1v1 matches, and as people lose they become spectators. Eventually a bunch of people are watching a single match, which is exciting for those people playing. I got the idea from Counter Strike.

CrossRunner413 04-22-2012 08:35 PM

Re: Level Design Planning Help
Well thanks so much for answering my questions, bob. You've given me so much information about game design, at least information about the problems and worries I've had about it. Would you mind giving me your email so I could ask you questions later on? I'd ask you about it in a private message (if they have that option on here) but I'm new to the site and I don't know how to work the site much. I understand if you'd rather not, but you seem to know about the path I'll probably be taking and it would be nice to have someone to ask questions to.
Also, I was wondering about my local IGDA branch. I'll definitely check them out as soon as possible. And my dad went to American University; small world.

bob 04-22-2012 09:29 PM

Re: Level Design Planning Help
Sure thing. Watch as I take insane steps to prevent programs from getting my email address...

dot (.) = ELEPHANT
at (@) = OSTRICH

bb8905a OSTRICH student ELEPHANT american ELEPHANT edu

Anyone lurking that thinks I might be able to answer a question of theirs is welcome to email me too. I can be a pretty helpful guy - I'm a TA ; )

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