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  • A Method for Pacing Analysis

    - Filip Coulianos
  •  Games are improving in quality year by year. It's mostly noticeable by the ever increasing visual quality, however the level design quality also has to improve to make a better game. Too often I see feedback solely based upon screenshots or graphics on both forums and reviews; they don't tell anything about the level design! Some people even seem to think that level design and art is the same thing.

    The word "pacing" has become more and more of a buzzword, but no one has really defined what it is. In this article I will present you my view of what pacing is, and how you can measure it and adjust it to perfect the end user experience.

    This whole thing started out as I wanted to see if I could analyze the way Valve timed things to create the great single player experiences they have been so known for creating. I invented a dirty, quick, and rough method to analyze pacing in linear computer games in an effort to find the magic recipe. In this article I will share how I used it to create Project 25, a 35 minute single player episode set in the Half-Life 2 universe, as well as suggesting how you can use it to create your own stuff.


    I'm Filip Coulianos, an aspiring level designer who has studied computer game development at the University of Skovde, Sweden with an emphasis on graphics. My multiplayer experience comes mainly as a core member of the Decadence development team contributing with environment art, level design and game design. I also have released numerous maps for various mods powered by GoldSource and Source engine prior to Decadence. My main single player achievement comes from a small single player episode called Project 25 which I will use as my main source as I write this article.


    This method is all about thinking about level design in the most abstract way; a long chain of events with different game play elements that must be balanced to one another to keep it varied, consistent and interesting. The relations between the links are as important as their content. None of the links may be too large to avoid player fatigue, nor should they be too short to keep the player focused on the challenges that are presented. This method adds a layer to the typical abstract when designing single player games because of the timestamps. First off, let's have a look at an abstract from Duke Nukem Forever;


    This abstract is very clear about what will happen in each level. It efficiently communicates player progression by stating when new enemies show up as well as new abilities and skills that adds to the core game play. It's a great start and a good way to flesh out all your ideas and to communicate your ideas to the rest of the team. What this chart does not tell you is how everything relates time-wise. How much time is the player supposed to spend flying around with the jet pack compared to the combat the player experiences later? How long are the cutscenes? What should be the target play time for a section?


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