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  • Level Design: Tricks Of The Trade

    - Jonathon Wilson
  • Level designers are usually tasked with creating environments that are both engaging and also provides relevant information to the player so they can navigate a space. A level should ensure that players understand how to overcome the challenges set before them without explicitly being shown. There is a multitude of different ways that this can be achieved and it typically requires the use of multiple level design techniques. These techniques are quite broad and how they get used differs among designers. However, they are ultimately used to achieve the same end result, creating an engaging space that communicates relevant information to the player.

    "Good player navigation should never take control away from the player, levels should be intuitively designed so that players understand what they have to do and how they can achieve it using the mechanics they have available."

    In my previous post, I discussed good player navigation and understanding a level. Well in order to achieve a navigable level it helps to understand the tools and techniques available to level designers and how they can be used when designing a level. Once again the things covered here aren't by any means gospel but more of an overview of some of the techniques available and how they can be used effectively. 

    Level Design Techniques

    The techniques that will be discussed here all share the same primary objective of helping to communicate to players where they have to go or what they have to do within a level. This information can be used to convey design intent, reveal where the player has to go, highlight important level aspects and even provide a frame of reference for the player so they always know where to go. We will look at the more visual based techniques that you can use to convey your design intent such as colour coding, lighting, signposting and implicit storytelling.

    Colour coding

    The use of colour within a level can be utilised to very easily to bring things to the player's attention whether that be revealing to the player where they have to go, the current state of an object or when something is dangerous. When deciding to use colour coding it is important to assign a meaning to each of the colours that you will use, that way it is easy to understand exactly what each part of your level represents it also makes it easier to recognise patterns.

    Establishing patterns within an environment can be really useful for a player as it helps them to understand when they're going the right way or making the right decisions. Maybe every door they go through is identical or coloured the same. This will naturally begin to draw players through an environment as you intended. Patterns can be established in many ways within a level but colouring is probably the most obvious.

    When colour coding is been considered if you factor it in early on you can plan for it to be incorporated into the game art and textures used to build out your levels. This will allow for things to appear more natural within the game and not look completely out of place which will help you to more naturally lead players through an environment, creating a more immersive space.

    Lots of games use colour coding to some degree whether you realise it or not and some use it more than others. In most games you find things like climbable surfaces are all highlighted using a coloured texture which not only indicates that they can be climbed but it also highlights the path that the player should climb. Rime, God of War, Tomb Raider and Uncharted all do this to help guide the player forwards.

    Mirrors Edge is a good example of how colour can be used to encourage how players traverse a space in a specific way. The Use of colour is a lot bolder in ME and is effectively incorporated into the game world through the artwork and textures. I recently started playing Mirrors Edge catalyst and couldn't help but notice how colour coding was used to lead you through spaces. A good example was the "Benefactor" mission where you have to climb the Anasi Emporium tower. As you climb the tower the way forwards is clearly highlighted using the colour orange where all the jumps, ledges and climbable surfaces you need to use in order to proceed are orange.  

    This doesn't look out of place because it is incorporated into the wider art too. To further help guide the player the way forward is also well lit while other areas in the same space are in shadow, creating contrast within the level that helps to more naturally lead the player forwards.  


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