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Trying Your Hand at Level Design? 382

Utawoutau asks: "As a student nearing graduation with high interest yet no game industry experience I have been taking a serious look at the position of Level Designer. In order to apply for such a position of course, I would need an impressive portfolio. I am aware that a number of games, Neverwinter Nights for example, come packaged with level development tools and that a number of other games have tools (official or not) that are readily available on the Internet. I am interested in hearing opinions from others that have experimented with the level design tools for a number of games as to what they found the easiest, the most fun, the most in depth, and the most impressive to work with. In particular, I am interested in a game whose tools strike a good balance between all four of the above criteria."
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Trying Your Hand at Level Design?

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  • by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:06AM (#8110437) Homepage Journal
    But the friends of mine who are do not find the industry all that they expected it to be. The fun and games that you would expect from a game company is actually politics and stress in reality.

    You end up working long hours on a game that will be released when you know it's only half done, only to be laid off the week after the game ships.

    Do yourself a favor and buy a Vanagon and go on a long road trip instead.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is actually quite true.

      I work as a level designer for a game developer in europe, and it is anything but fun and games.. working on games. That illusion is quick to fade.

      But then again, it is a good job. The hours are really really long, but it's creative.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Let me make a suggestion to you from somebody who grew up in the valley and in high school got his start working summers in the computer gaming industry during its infancy.

      Forget it.

      The gaming industry stinks as a place to work.

      Why? The companies can't make much money at it. The value just isn't there to the consumer.

      Computer Gaming software is amongst the most complex software out there. It always pushes the limits of the hardware and requires near artificial intelligence coupled with the complexity
      • Why? The companies can't make much money at it. The value just isn't there to the consumer.

        Explains the $17 billion in annual revenues.

        "Oh, we just can't make any money!!"

        "Sure thing boss. You could sell that fuckin' chair and put four people through college."
        • Yeah, but for ever Everquest, or Dark Age of Camelot, or UO, you have a Shadowbane (overly hyped, and the worst launch in years) or City of Heroes (finally entering beta after 2+ years of hype, and no one is sure how it will do), or the large number of other MMORPGs coming out.

          Sure, a lot, hell, most of these games have monthly fees, which is where the lion's share of their income comes from. But they also have costs beyond the programmers. How many servers has EQ added since it launched? How much hardware
          • With business software, there are the same issues. Every enterprise sw company I've been in has been right on the edge between profit and loss. Sure, there are some companies that find the golden goose, and get that wonderful ability to mint money by reproducing software at close to zero marginal costs, but it ain't true for most of the market.
    • by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:22AM (#8110775) Homepage Journal
      This sounds a bit like those tales pr0n stars tell about how much it sucks [] (no pun intended) to work in that business.

      Sure, you get to fuck a lot of really hot women, but you have to work long (no pun intended) hours under adverse conditions, and if you fail just once you might never get another job in that business.

      I don't think that most of us would expect the video game business to be well, all fun and games, we expect that like most jobs there will be aspects to it that supremely suck ass.

      People who want to work in that business have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Though I'll concede that reality can be even more harsh than what they expect.

      • by Ryan Amos ( 16972 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @12:21PM (#8113381)
        Yeah, except people don't realize that being a game programmer is pretty much the same as being a word processor programmer, the only difference is in the functions that you call. You probably won't even get to play the game you're working on until it's almost done, and by then you'll be so sick of working 80 hour weeks on it you'll probably never want to see it again.

        You get a lot of idealistic kids coming out of high school/college thinking they want to write video games because they like to play them, which is about as stupid a conclusion as you can draw. Nevermind most game production houses are really small, hire maybe one or two people a year, and when they do you've gotta be a guru. Christ, you practically need a master's degree in mathematics to mess with the 3d engines these days. Besides, in 5 years, they'll probably replace all the programmers with people in India.
        • by gte910h ( 239582 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @12:59PM (#8113781) Homepage
          I have a close friend who's a programmer at EA. There are harsh deadlines, but less so than I've seen in many of my consultant friends. They DO get to "play" the game they're working on as it goes along, but I think you'd find it less than fun at that stage. How do you think you test it? They also get sneak peeks at cool upcoming games, and have awesome perks, like huge libraries of games to check out from work, etc. And the functions aren't that different either. Last I heard they were looking to standardize on something like flash or the like for GUI's.

          I too am a career programmer, but I work in research in academia. My life is the complete opposite of his workwise. I actually have much more personal time to play games or whatever I want to do in my free time. I can take off when I like (within reason), while he has to schedule every second off up till the next milestone.

          If you'd really like to show your stuff as a level designer, games a la quake and a la civilization have MUCH larger audiences than ones like Neverwinter nights. If you're really serious, you'll build some of each however. I think over a year/year and a half of building you could get 5 or 6 hits in various realms, and have a further 10 or so failures that show something good in them.
    • by C10H14N2 ( 640033 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @06:55AM (#8111101)
      You have to realize one thing: game development companies are TINY, with a comparatively large portion made up by very tight pre-existing relationships. The distributors may be faceless Borgs, but the development houses are the garage bands of software. ID and Valve barely have fifty people combined. Bioware has less than one hundred--and they write a boatload of games. Ubisoft has 1280 employees -- in nine countries. That's an average of 142 each, which is pretty damned small. Even Electronic Arts only has 2300 employees in "creative" positions. You start adding all this up and you quickly realize there are more Major League Baseball players than there are people working on the creative side of game design.

      Translation: you had better be fscking INCREDIBLE and even then, be prepared to be an intern and move across the country or to a different country (say, Canada) to do so...and you'd better be able to do more than just edit levels. You'd better be a god.

      I'd take the Vanagon, find the best programmers you can and start your own studio. The odds are worse than PowerBall, but they're more in your favor than competing with a million people for one of ten jobs.
      • by James Lewis ( 641198 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @08:53AM (#8111492)
        You're right on the money, but the good news is that you can make games as a hobby, and if you ARE god, you'll be able to turn it into a living. You don't have to work your way up through the ranks if you don't want to. You can have fun making your own games, and if they take off you'll either be able to form your own company or get work at one. Personally, I think the ideal situation is to form a mod team with some guys you like, and churn out mods in your free time for popular games. If stuff like Valve's Steam really takes off, it may even be that you can remain independent mod makers and make money off of it by selling your games online only.
      • The most brilliant developer I know works in game development [], and he is frequently between jobs and looking for work. This is a guy who's got the answer to any question I've ever seen asked of him off the top of his head. I wish I could give you examples of his over-the-top brilliance, but I'll have to just say that his screen name has become a synonym for "wisdom" and leave it at that. If this guy can't hold a steady job in game development, I don't know how anyone can expect to.
    • Do *not* try to get into the game industry because you think the job would be fun.

      That's like say, oh, it would be fun to be a writer, because they travel and drink whiskey.

      Making games is damn hard work, and frequently frustrating, and frequently physically damaging, a frequently made unpleasant by dinks in suits.

      If you want a job in the game industry, make sure it's because you damn-well *love* making games.

      If you don't, then it will end up being "Office Space" with nerf-guns.
      We do this job because th
  • Valve Hammer Editor (Score:5, Informative)

    by plams ( 744927 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:06AM (#8110438) Homepage
    That's the Half-Life editor. It's been tried and tested. Lots of tutorials to be found on the net. Easy to use and learn.

    However, being an excellent architect is never easy:)
    • by pocketfullofshells ( 722066 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:33AM (#8110563)
      I'd have to agree.

      To enlighten you further, Valve Hammer Editor a.k.a. Worldcraft is very versatile, and like plams said its backed up a thousand times over, with places like the Valve-ERC Collective []. It's a very excellent Valve mapping/editing resource.

      The latest version of the Valve Hammer Editor is 3.4 and can be found here [].
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I'd agree. It's a very nice editor. HL2 still uses the hammer interface but with some added functionalities and stuff :)

      If you're seriously about leveldesign: remember, rome wasn't build in one day!! I'm talking from my own experience :))
  • Before you start (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cipster ( 623378 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:08AM (#8110451)
    Just play a ton of mods (Half-Life and the forementioned NWN for example). You end up with a pretty good idea what works and what does not.

    Whatever you decide to design start with pen and paper and a good idea first. Pointless mods that merely throw a bunch of monsters at you feel pointless.
    Check out some classic mods for Half Life like They Hunger for HL.
  • Few reccomendations (Score:5, Informative)

    by Qubed ( 665563 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:08AM (#8110452)
    I'd try bouncing a couple of levels off the fan community first. As far as games to develop go, I'd develop primarily for FPSs, and maybe a few strategy/adventure games. I don't play many of the latter, so here are the FPSs: Q3 and anything that uses it's engine (i.e. has Radiant editing tools) -- very easy to use, allows for lots of creativity. (Other Q3 engine games: JK2, RC Wolfenstein, Call of Duty?) The unreal games also have a nice bundled set of editing tools that would aid your portfolio. Best of luck!
  • You should get experience with major, common engines. The Unreal engine(s), for one, are very common and have robust level tools bundled with some of the games that use it. Get used to the characteristics of several common engines, esp. how they use lighting. Then put some good examples of yours in a portfolio.
    • Re: UED... 50% match (Score:4, Informative)

      by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:31AM (#8110553)
      UED (Unreal Ed) is only really meets two of his "criteria".

      In depth? Extremely.
      Impressive? Well, maybe Intimidating is a more appropriate word, but sure.
      Fun? Depends on how much of a sadist you are. It can be fun, but it can also be a lot of friggin work.
      Easy? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAHAAAaaaaaaaahhhh... good one!

      Ok seriously now though. UED is a pretty damned fine level editor if I may say so. Powerful as all hell, but its not exactly idiot proof. Its not impossible either. I managed to learn the ins and outs of UED (and to a lesser extent, the Unreal engine) just by reading tutorials, dissecting other peoples maps, and screwwing around... but it took a while. Months really. Even after three years of occasionally booting up UED, i'm still learning new things. Though to be fair, a lot of it is stuff that changed from UT99 to UT03 (haven't had the urge to map as much for the new game :( ).
      But hey, if people really want to learn, there isn't much stopping them. Most people just dive right in. You'll probably be frustrated and attempt to quit (repeatedly ;)), but eventually some of it starts to stick. Maybe one day you'll even be half decent, if you keep at it. Funny how a lot of things in life work that way, no? :)
      • Re: UED... 50% match (Score:4, Informative)

        by EvilXenu ( 706326 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @09:26AM (#8111699)
        If you are serious about learning how to use UnrealED, take a look at what has to offer: free video training modules (VTMs) on how to use the thing. Some of the modules are pretty hefty -- weighing in at 100+MB on some lessons. These can be found here [].

        On a somewhat related note, if you pre-order the special edition of UT2K4 you'll get the VTMs on a DVD.
  • by va3atc ( 715659 ) * on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:10AM (#8110457) Homepage Journal
    as to what they found the easiest

    The Cube Engine [] allows you to edit maps right in the game on the fly. There is also a cooperative edit mode, try and beat that :)
  • by lexcyber ( 133454 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:12AM (#8110462) Homepage
    Remeber if you work as a level designer in a company making a game. I can not expect to work with tools that are full fledged.

    The tools you are going to work with will constantly evolve, your tools availble will be added and removed as the game moves on.

    To create an impressive portfolio that will pop eyes where you apply. Design very good levels for a wide area of games. And last but not least, they have to. Absolutly HAVE to be well balansed. Especially with a multi-player game. I have seen some very pretty levels done for counter-strike but that was very poor balanced. So they where never played.

    Another big thing when you design a level. Make sure you make your own textures. If you have solid texturework you will have a far better shot at the job.

    • Hmmm, so you. Are saying. That punctuations should be used. In favor of. Long lines? ;-)
    • The big trend these days is to make games balanced. Witness games like Asheron's call 2 or Star Wars galaxies: balanced as a bubble level. Boring as hell.
      Rather than focus on balance, game designers should focus on the fun factor.
      Look at D&D, the longest running RPG of them all: not balanced. Bards are wimps and Clerics are boss. Multiplayer Neverwinter Nights is great anyway, because its not a competition for dominance, its an endeavor for fun.
      • Yes and no. - This thread is about _leve_ design. Not about game design. It all depends on the game, but if its going to be interaction, espessially between players. The levels has to be balanced. You can not have spots in the map that is godlike. Ie. warcraft III have a goldmine with 200k gold and all others have 15k gold. It will get unbalanced in a non-fun way. - But you can still have unbalanced characters that take very long time and skill to build up. - But still, the level has to be balanced for fun
    • There is no need to make your own textures even in a smaller company. There is easily enough work in actually creating the geometry and placing the entities that we would never ask a full on mapper to ever bother with creating his own textures. Maybe the odd shader tweak, but that really is the sum of it.

      Most games nowadays have finalized editors before they even start. Having an engine and tools developed during a game's development is the exception, not the rule, and it's usually done by financially

      • This is very true. - But the question was howto pave your way into the bussines of game-development. And to get the extra EDGE over any of the 20 other applying for the spot of level designer. I assume that is a good way to get that edge, make your own kick-ass textures for the level.

    • Textures? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Alioth ( 221270 )
      What has puzzled me since the days of Wolfenstein (1) was why they are called textures, and why it's called texture mapping. They aren't textures at all - they are wallpaper, and it's wallpaper mapping. Go up to a "texture mapped" object in a game, and you'll find the texture is completely smooth wallpaper over the underlying object.
      • Re:Textures? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by KenSeymour ( 81018 )
        I believe the term comes from the art world. There, texture means marks made with a pencil or brush in a drawing or paintnig to
        give the illusion of texture.

        You might also ask why do they call it 3D when in reality it is a two dimensional image
        giving the illusion of 3D.
  • by Fate02 ( 722204 )
    Most of the mapping tools I have worked with, if you want more in depth features, it will have a harder learning curve. It also depends on what game you are designing levels for. Neverwinter Nights is completely different than Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (RTCW:ET), so the tools for the respective packages will be just as diverse. I personally like GtkRadiant for RTCW:ET.
  • I'm curious... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jdbarillari ( 590703 ) <> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:13AM (#8110468) Homepage
    If you've never designed a level before, how did you hit on the idea of designing them for a living?

    (I don't mean this as a flame; I'm just curious.)
    • Re:I'm curious... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sniggly ( 216454 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:39AM (#8110596) Journal
      More than that I think it is rather naieve to think he stands a chance getting a job if he hasn't started making doom 1 wad files back in the early 90s and is not a well known mapper by now. Some extremely competent map designers have tried but failed to get a job because they didn't quite cut it. It's pretty much like getting a job in the movie industry helping with movie sets, you need a serious track record and good connections to get inside.

      Everything is attainable but you've got to be passionate about attaining it - Utawoutau the poster seems not very passionate about mapping if he failed to produce any maps, mods, models, etc, so far.

      Map designing takes a lot of skill, passion, and interest in a huge variety of subjects such as architecture, interior decorating, gaming experience, multiplayer, psychology... the works.

  • There are lots of forums for developers and mod designers. You should try those message boards, where they hang out even irc.

    Its amazing how many people start out making mods, or levels for games can turn that into a job. Lots of people are recruiting for mod help, try to see if you can assist in making a level or 2.

    BTW, The havok engine seems to be getting lots of attention, and Havok2 should be on par with the Halflife2 engine. Might check into that, and get a leg up on skill. Seems most games come wi
    • lol, Ya, Guess the Havok2 engine would be on par with HL2 engine [], it IS the halflife2 engine.
      • Actually Havok is just the (very well written) physics library... the HL2 engine also has graphics, input, audio, networking, AI, etc.
      • *Bzzt*, both of you are wrong, sorry.
        Havok [] is the physics engine behind Half-Life 2. And Dues Ex 2, Freelancer, Max Payne 2, Thief 3... you get the picture.

        The actual game/rendering engine behind Half-Life 2 is called "Source", and it was made completely in house at Valve. You can't play with it yet though, not until Valve releases the SDK anyways (which is supposed to be "soon", which, knowing Valve, means 6-8 months). Well, that is assuming Valve isn't "hax0rd" again. *Groan*
  • by emj ( 15659 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:19AM (#8110496) Journal
    First of all you have to have lots of experience in how the gameswork, and an artisticside. Good levels are very hard to do and they are done with lots of sweat from their makers, you have to weight in all the diffrent things in the game so that the level is a fun one, and beautiful.

    This is not something you will get from getting a couple of tools that are easy to use, but from your own mind. That mind must also be able to adjust itself to the new tools, i.e. going from the worldcraft to new Radiant, and that will only be done if you have the time to do it.

    The two biggest are Q3A and UT, check out the dev tools for them, they are equally good, just choose the one that suits you. If you want to dev for linux then you can get a very good start with GtkRadiant (the Q3A tool), but UnrealEd is very good as well alas only with windows support.
    • I agree with this (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PotatoHead ( 12771 ) <doug AT opengeek DOT org> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:42AM (#8110609) Homepage Journal
      having recently tried a number of Q3A mods that really did nothing to balance the game.

      Most of the really good things that define a highly playable mod from a 'cool, lets try something else' one are in the basic mechanics of the game.

      Where are the weapons and are they appropriate for the playspace? Do they work well for a few players? Lots of players?

      What about the playspace itself? Does one side have a clear advantage? How about a particular path? Many of the classic levels avoid dead end ways making it tough for players to just sit and wait for others to show.

      For games like capture the flag, where is the balance of power? Is it possible for a team to cover all their bases without being forced to venture off for new weapons/ammo?

      Visuals have never been as important as play mechanics are, but they do play an important part. A dark spot or interesting texture placed just so, might allow a player to hide for a bit, or clash horribly with the target, making for either a sneaky element of challenge and tension, or a frustrating experience...

      Spawn points should be in areas where players have a fighting chance at actually spawning without being camped too often. Best ones are those where the player forms near the action while campers always are watching their back.

      All of this is specific to Q3A --hey, I still play the game because it is well balanced and interactive, but other games have similar issues. The parent is right, you gotta play.

      If it were me, fun first, beauty later, but that's just me.

      Having played Q3A a lot, I have been thinking about this too. Be sure to check out other mods and play them. You will get a great sense of what you want to do. --Then do it!

  • Unreal Tournament (Score:3, Informative)

    by Metallic Matty ( 579124 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:19AM (#8110497)
    I think that Unreal Tournament came with an excellent level builder, and is worth taking a look at. (At least if you're interested in FPS games.) There are also lots of great tutorials and resources available for it, seeing as the game has been around for so long.
    • Re:Unreal Tournament (Score:2, Interesting)

      by redwood2 ( 179115 )
      I'm in almost the same position myself.
      I've talked to a number of 'pros' in the business and all of them have said the you need to learn to use UnrealEd (the level editor that comes with win copies of Unreal). Apparently that is the number one level design app being used by theses houses.
      I went out and bought an athlon box just for this cause there isn't an UnrealEd osX port.. and I need the practice..
  • by plams ( 744927 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:20AM (#8110506) Homepage
    It would be a bit risky to focus on suddenly being "an level artist with an outstanding portfolio" wouldn't it? But it would certaintly look good on your CV for any position in the game industry if you show that you've been "around". Communication is usually a problem in software engineering projects, so being able to understand what each other is doing is definitely an advantage.

    I recommend that you'd also take your time to learn a little about:



    Photoshopping (Sorry! I said GIMP'ing, of course)

    3d modelling

    Sound editing

    • A number of game companies in Australia have been looking for level designers with degrees in Architecture, not necessarily computing backgrounds.

      That said, I agree with the parent, and having had some experience myself, I can assure you that a level designer who understands art or architecture would be a great plus, although most companies employ texture artists seperately to level designers.

      Again, familiarise yourself with as many engines as possible, not just the ones that are easy to use, since the de
  • Torque Engine (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nycto ( 138650 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:21AM (#8110507) Homepage
    I have done level design for a few engines and a number of different games. I do it as a hobby, so I am no professional. The most fun I have had designing maps, though, has been with the Torque Engine [].

    I say this not because it is the most advanced engine out there, but because I have actually done work on games and not mods. A few of my maps will actually be released in the wrapped version of the independent games I have worked on. That is a cool feeling.

    By working with the torque engine on an indie game, I also get to work with the engine developers to add needed features.

    As far as the tools used to create the maps, QuArk [] is used to create buildings (that same site [] has more information) and an in-game map editor.
  • by mijacs ( 731687 )
    What is your personality like? Do you like all games equally? Is there something you wish to make just floating around in your head?

    You should be looking something suitable for you not other people. Everyone likes how things work differently. Also go take a look at Gamasutra [] for some good reading.

    Personally, try out Valve Hammer Editor [] and QuArK. [] They are standards that can be used for many games.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:25AM (#8110522) Homepage Journal
    1: steal decent levels from web sites
    2: say there your own
    3: get job
    4: Stab manager in back, get his job
    5: golf with the producers backers
    6: back stab producer
    7: get backer for YOU game
    8: SHip it when it's half done, retire.

    I figure about 8 month worth of work.
  • Schmooze!

    I know more people that got there dream job by getting in touch with people who work at the company.
  • Try to familiarize yourself with a variety of editors and game engines from the beginning. I had used only UnrealEd for several years, and when I finally tried the Quake 3 editor, everything felt so different that I gave up on it pretty quickly. Also, make sure you know how to do all that "advanced" stuff I never bothered to learn: make textures, write scripts, import 3D models from other programs like Maya, set up sounds, atmospheric effects like fog, etc.

    And if you're new to the Unreal Editor, the Unr []

  • by raehl ( 609729 ) <> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:33AM (#8110564) Homepage
    Real designs are crooked.
  • by Flyboy Connor ( 741764 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:33AM (#8110568)
    I work at the Computer Science department of a university. I found that at the moment many universities are starting "game designer" courses. This is in my own area of research, but I don't think such a specific line of study is a good start for a career as a game developer. The basic groundwork for any job in computer science is simply computer science. Game design is not different. Do level design as a hobby but make sure your education covers the basics. It will not only give you better chances at becoming a game developer, but also opens up a huge alternative market for your talents.

    I'd like to add that it depends on what game you like to play what level design tools you should use. I like NWN, so I use the Aurora Engine, even if the Quake Mod tools are better or easier to use. Good level design means you have to understand what makes the game fun. I could never design a good Quake mod because I don't like Quake.

    So, for level design my advice is: pick a couple of games you like and see how the tools for those games are. If they are not too daunting, jump in. It'll take a couple of weeks to get familiar with ANY tool, but there are usually good forums that'll help you along.

  • ..and I were very into doom/heretic level designing when we were students, and some of my most satisfying moments were when designing levels for those games. However, the level designing tool which I always liked the most was qoole, which was *the* de-facto quake level designer.

    I used qoole in quake 1 and quake 2, and I found it extremely easy to put together 3d designs very quickly, and wasted many many hours of my time; qoole, as far as I'm aware, still exists, and is still free, so if you have a copy of
  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:37AM (#8110584) Journal
    I see a few posts here as I write this about this level editor for that game... whatever.

    I suggest you get down and dirty with the game, and use a hex editor to write your level files!

    Really! It's not so hard, (after all, there's only 16 possible combinations in hex, and English has 26 in the alphabet!)

    Just open a file or two in a good hex editor, and start tweaking. I'm sure it'll "come to you" after a bit of experience...

    • Why waste time hacking a file format? You know, one hex edit and you can screw up an entire file...suppose that particular byte is part of a run-length indicator? Load and crash, as the entire rest of the level is shfted even one byte left or right.

      Hex editing is a good skill to have, but don't try to learn level editing with a hex editor unless you're trying to edit Chip's Challenge...

      • Why waste time hacking a file format? You know, one hex edit and you can screw up an entire file...suppose that particular byte is part of a run-length indicator? Load and crash, as the entire rest of the level is shfted even one byte left or right.

        What I find more amazing than the fact that you responded seriously is the fact that you thought I was serious.
  • by syrion ( 744778 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:40AM (#8110600)
    You may be barking up the wrong tree. Level design, particularly for modern 3D engines, is more of an art than a science. There are many mappers who have been working at it for years, for various games. In particular, you might look at some of the maps released for Quake III and even the original Quake, along with more recent games like Unreal Tournament 2003. The problem with assuming that you can just "jump in" and become immediately skilled is that it completely ignores the skillset which is unique to that position. Quite honestly, almost no programming experience will transfer to the field. If you are still interested--and it is truly a hobby/profession which requires interest--Half-Life is actually a good place to start. Try not to get overwhelmed with concern about newer features at first--learn about brush layout, visibility occlusion, et cetera. These will help you with any engine. Also, I think that these skills are more transferable than something like Neverwinter Nights or other, simpler level editors. Making a level in a 3D game like the FPSes I listed above is very similar to 3D modelling, so you can transfer skills between the two. Func_Msgboard [] is somewhat dead these days, but you might find things of interest there--and there are some truly great mappers who hang out there. :) Good luck.
  • by 1iar_parad0x ( 676662 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:40AM (#8110601)
    First, read anything and everything by Chris Crawford. I hate most new media theorists, but he's an exception. He's a physicist by education and programmer/game designer by experience. I'd especially take a look at "Chris Crawford on Game Design".

    You should also take a look at some of his old game design articles in Next Gen magazine. He had one article on level design in Doom that was quite unique.

    Secondly, from a tricks/tools perspective, or are your best bet.
  • I Am Not A Level Designer, but I am quite an accomplished connesiour thereof. Being as such, i've not really touched the tools of the trade. However, being a 30 hour a week consumer of your trade I think a good way to make your levels and maps stand out above everyone else's would be to have a bit of noteriaty attached.

    Do this by getting your map into the rotation a popular online game server.

    I think Desert Combat would be just the game to make a map for.

    If you make maps for the top ten games listed on t
  • Cube (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jammet ( 709764 )
    Even though it might not come across as a full blown "map editor" or even "mod maker" that you might expect - with plenty of time and creativity you can build somewhat primitive but awesome looking and playing maps in the plain deathmatch environment of Cube.

    The project is free and hosted here, screenshots are right on the front page.

    The actual editor works in-game, and while playing the game in single player mode, you can press E to switch to editing mode. The README explai
  • Quake engine (Score:2, Informative)

    by TehHustler ( 709893 )
    Probably any game that uses the quake engine, including things like Half-Life, are easiest to edit for. Thing you have to remember is, anyone can learn the ins and outs of an editor, but having good design flair is the biggest obstacle to cross.

    Im eagerly awaiting the HL2 level design tool, with the SDK, in whatever form it takes when it's released. I have to make a ton of levels for our mod (Junkyard Corps, see sig) when it comes out.

    Some people say the Unreal engine is better for level making. Rathe
  • by WankersRevenge ( 452399 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @04:56AM (#8110674)
    In my personal opinion, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what tools you use, rather the tale you tell and how you tell it (use game design elements to buttress story elements). I could go and on about how stories have been neglected for eye candy and the gee-whiz factor, but I think that horse has not only been beat, but processed and distributed in school lunches. Before you put your head to the grindstone, it might benefit you to check out some books on the basics of writing fiction. Apply those principles to the game world, and I don't see how you can go wrong. Unless of course, it's a bad story :) Good luck.
    • When it comes to MMPORGS, the concept of storytelling is too limited to provide sufficient gameplay. You see game after game fall into the pit of storytelling for a game that is supposed to have thousands of hours of entertainment. They end up being lame and boring because the only way to tell a story for a thousand hours is to be very slow in the telling!

      Its many flaws aside, Shadowbane is a good example of an RPG style MMPORG that does not use story as its main device; instead, it uses guild vs guild
  • by Sludge ( 1234 ) <slashdot&tossed,org> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:07AM (#8110713) Homepage
    Threewave has hired mappers out of the Quake 3 community. We've trained artistic and dedicated people on the tools. And, finally, we've retrained people for different technology. (Our company does multiplayer for two or more games a year, so you're gonna get a lot of exposure to different toolsets).

    The most important things are a quality filter so we can leave you alone and have you produce good work, ability to come up with a working layout (this is fundamental and oft underestimated), a decent technical understanding and in our case, a love for multiplayer gaming.

    Having experience shipping finished maps implies very good things about your ability to manage your own time, and your ability to finish what you start. That's a pretty rare trait. Extra bonus points if youur work gets played. (Probably means it's part of a pack or a mod.)

    It also falls into the "nice work if you can get it" category, as mapping careers are relatively tough to find. I don't know of any other companies in Canada who are asking for the same technology experience that Threewave is. Digital Extremes comes close.

  • Neverwinter Nights has a huge community of custom content creators. The Neverwinter Vault [] has tons of user made custom content from 3d models to music to character portraits. You can find help from the community for anything you need from dialog management to using 3dstudio. With so much support, you can start with a 'prefab' world and simply populate with your own custom story and ease yourself into the building process as deep as you choose to go.
    There are thousands of modules made by fans already,
  • by SteelLynx ( 179569 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:11AM (#8110727)
    A thing that struck me when reading through the other posts is that a lot of people seem to say "use the newest and most advanced tool available". That is definitely something you will have to do in order to get a good portfolio.

    But for learning the basics about the different aspects of level design you might want to try your hand at something simpler. Try finding "old" games like Doom or Warcraft2 (I think there was an editor for that?) and try your skills at designing levels that are only two dimensional. Believe me, there's a lot that can go wrong even without the extra options available in the 3D editors.

    I know it may sound like a waste of time, but it will give you a few good experiences, I think. Due to the simplicity of e.g. Doom's level structure you can spend a lot of time working on the small details like how to align two platforms so a player just barely can (or, if you're wicked, can't) move from one to the other. You can experiment with how to let the player use different objects/walls/etc as cover when shooting large monsters and so on.

    One of the other posts mentioned that you would undoubtedly be forced to learn to adjust to using new/different tools that what you're used to so another benefit of "working your way up" from the old games is that you will eventually have to move on to new tools. Make sure you focus on learning the fundamental parts of what level editing is rather than memorizing the exact functionalities of a single level editor.

    Oh, and after having made levels for 2D games you'll definitely appreciate 3D editors and the freedom they give you.

    A last piece of advice is to try and come up with something original instead of "yet another multiplayer map". Some years ago me and a friend designed a series of "Quake Hinderbahn" levels. It's basically an idea we got for a LAN party where we wanted to host a different kind of competition - and we made an obstacle course and had people record demos of their fastest runs.
    I learned a LOT about how Quake works from that.

    Good luck with it.
  • Level Editors... (Score:5, Informative)

    by nekoes ( 613370 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:13AM (#8110735) Journal
    Where to start...

    Well, I guess the easiest, most obvious level editing suite out there (in the realm of FPS games anyway) is Valve's Hammer. It's quite scary just how easy it is to make levels with that util. Upon starting it I was able to figure out pretty much all of the basic features just by looking at the buttons. That's quite an accomplishment, if you ask me. The whole way the editor is layed out, and the process you use to design a level in the editor are both painless and relatively easy. If you're looking for a place to start, and games like TFC, CS, and NS are your forte, might as well start here. I think the only problems you may run into are in the setup options, and true to its oldschool roots, getting down and compiling a map, then tweaking that, can get pretty gritty.

    The only other editor I've logged any sort of time on was the unrealed that shipped with UT2003. I missed the whole UT generation, so I can't vouch for the older unrealed, I'd assume it's basically the same. However, after coming from Hammer, learning unrealed is a real pain. The interface is kind of counter-intuitive and the whole logic behind building levels is completely the opposite. It's quite weird. Once you get into the unreal mindset though, creating a level isn't hard at all, it's just that initial hill that you need to climb over. Well that, and unrealed is insanely buggy. I cannot tell you how many times I've lost work due to unexpected quits or fatal errors that seem to make no sense. I guess as it is with every program, save early and save often. This is the editor I eventually found most technically impressive. After learning something new about the editor, or pouring after technical docs and taking a stab at it myself, I am still wowed when I get a new effect (be it graphical or gameplay) working.

    Now note I have not logged any significant hours with these editors (read: I have not produced any well known or well thought of maps) as to know the individual quirks and the nuances of each editor. However I can offer the complete newbie's look into it, which I guess is better than nothing. If anything, I say that the Half-Life community has more tutorials and help geared toward my audience than the unreal community, as finding good and easily digestible information is hard. Epic seems to be trying to remedy this with their opening of Unreal Uni, or whatever it is they are doing, which offers video tutorials and forums for developers. (A good thing, but I'm fearing the mod potential is going to waste in these days counting closer to HL2, with potential developers looking for the next big thing rather than weighing the assets of what's out there- which is hard to do for something not quite released)

    As for most things tech, I guess slogging through it and exploring is probably the best way to learn either of these.

    I guess on the RTS front, nothing is easier than Blizzard's warcraft 3 map editor. The thing is incredibly simple to use, though not quite as intuitive to the newbie's eye as hammer. I was able to get up and building levels (after finding I was unable to figure the tools out myself I went to the documentation) in about 10 minutes after reading the rather friendly documentation that comes with the toolset. I guess the thing is that the tools take 10 seconds to learn, but to master them and build a balanced and fun map, will probably take you a life time. (not to mention a keen understanding of the game.) The tools are fun to use, and going from the editor to a game to a multiplayer match you're testing with friends is quite easy and gratifying.

    Neverwinter Nights, I found, was rather easy. Scripting seemed to get kind of nightmarish quick, but I quickly lost interest with building with those grossly simplified tools. I guess the real challenge was figuring out a way to make and import your own tilesets, but in the beginning when I had just spent 50 and tax on the game, it was a disappointment for it to have such poor mod support right off the bat.

    I have heard good th
  • If you want to try something different (and altogether more fun, although I -may- be biased ;), try Jedi Knight. The editor/game is based on sectors as opposed to brushes, so you edit in negative space. You basically have a block of clay and you carve your world out of it. Of course, my site's tutorials section is the best place to learn it :)
  • Game Editors (Score:3, Informative)

    by CFBMoo1 ( 157453 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:17AM (#8110753) Homepage
    THe most experience I'd have with game editors is the Aurora Toolset for NWN. I think it's one of the more flexable yet easy to use game editors out there.

    Back around Feb 2003 I started an online module called Mandrake that went well over 90+ areas when I decided to move on. I had a good base of players too, not near as much as some places but a good base. Since then I've worked on about 4 other module designs of my own including an arena one for the PVP section.

    I'd say the scripting language and the flexability to created hundreds of possible paths for a module are it's greatest power over all the other editors out there. It's also relativly easy to use, the only thing is you don't get a nice print bound manual for the scripting though the script editor in there has a nice help reference side bar. It's also really nice to be able to script in counter measures for cheaters.

    I'm not sure I'd ever want to do this professionally though. Seems it would make a better hobby then a job but thats my opinion.
  • Pencil and Paper (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kelmenson ( 592104 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <nosnemlek>> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:29AM (#8110803)
    Having worked in the game industry for over 10 years (but just having left this past year), your question and the answers you are getting are a clear indicator of the decline in the quality of games in recent years.

    People are answering your question as if the goal is to design the best looking levels, or the easiest way to build them, or other construction related questions. But those are not the right questions you should be asking.

    Just as an architect needs to find out what the goal of their building is, a level designer needs to have a goal for a level. An amazing house that doesn't have the rooms a buyer wants is still a failure. An amazing level that doesn't advance a game, or isn't any fun, is also a failure.

    Before you start building a level, write it out. Put together a story of how the player will move through the level. Sketch storyboards of interesting challenges that will occur. Start with a rough layout of the rooms you plan to link, and describe whats going to be happening to the player as they move through those areas. Figure out which areas are dull, and either liven them up or cut them out. And once the flow of the level makes sense and seems enjoyable, a level designer passes the documents off to an artist, whose job is to make it look good.

    Far too often, the process gets reversed. The levels are designed from an artistic perspective first, without first determining why the levels are there, or where the player will be. Time gets spent fleshing out regions that the player runs through once, hunting for something to do, and never looks at. Those areas may get thrown away in playtesting, or just kept in and bore the players. Not good.

    So basically, if you want to be a level designer, design levels. Don't be a CAD designer; that is the artist's job. As a former game developer, I would have appreciated it. As a current game player, I would appreciate it perhaps even more.

  • by h4ter ( 717700 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:30AM (#8110809) Homepage
    I have a number of friends working at well-known game companies, and from what they say, I think it's not my cup of tea (it still could be yours, of course). Their biggest complaints: working 80+ hours a week for what seems forever before the game comes out; dealing with execs; getting stuck working on a lame part of the game for a little while (esp. early levels/concetps); hearing users complain that a certain feature of the game sucks when they worked hard on it and weren't given enough time to do so; and end up wondering if it's really worth it. The biggest joy for them all, though, is when the final version goes out for shipment. There are always parties, and the next few weeks at work sound pretty spectacular (i.e. just playing video games). Like any job, you gotta take the good with the bad. Just know the bad, and you'll probably be fine, but know it.
  • well.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Marsala ( 4168 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:31AM (#8110813) Homepage

    Speaking as a player, I'd encourage you to seek out any competitive communities built around the game(s) you're interested in designing for. While Neverwinter Nights is a cool enough game, I'd also reccomend you check out getting some experience with the "Quake-related" FPS games.

    One of the tools that's used to create maps for several game is Radiant [] (supported on both Linux and Windows) and supports a bunch of games. Mappers familiar with Quake3 were able to transfer that knowledge to RtCW when it came out, and in turn that was transferrable to ET. Plugins for other games (Half Life, Soldier of Fortune, and some others I'm blanking on) is also available.

    Couple that with experience working with 3DSmax (or gmax [] if you're on a budget) creating models, and you should be good to go.

    If you're also looking for ideas on what to make maps of, I'd suggest trolling around and seeing if you can find a competitive community for the games you're interested in designing for. Stuff like Half-Life and its mods (most notably Counter Strike), Quake3/RtCW/ET, and the MOHAA/CoD stuff are going to be hot ticket items right now. Organizations like The Team Warfare League [] or the Cyber Athlete League [] might be worth a look to get an idea of how people are using the games and what kind of maps and what features they'd benefit from.

    Looking to the future, everyone's pointing at stuff like Doom3 and Half-Life2 (obviously). But it might be worth taking a look at games like Far Cry and Painkiller as possible sleeper hits coming up on the horizon.

    Good luck in your efforts. :)

  • be careful (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nsebban ( 513339 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:34AM (#8110825) Homepage
    the main danger of that kind of job, is you'll end up being bored of it, a few months after you start. It's very repetitive, and probably not as creative as you believe it is.
  • Starcraft had a decent level editor, but what I really wanted to say was that the single person game had some of the best levels I'd ever seen. Not because the maps were unusually good, but because the builders had a strong story run through them all.

    If you do go on to build levels, please don't forget the story. It is one of the reasons I loved Starcraft so much. Warcraft III on the other hand has a horrible and boring story line, and as a result, I haven't the desire to finish the single player c
  • Game Design Books (Score:3, Informative)

    by rjjm ( 721631 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:44AM (#8110866) Journal
    In case no one's mentioned them, I really enjoyed Mark Saltzman's Game Design: Secrets of the Sages []. May be a bit dated (1999), but good reading on the genre. I understand he had a new one out in 2003 called Masters of the Game [] - don't know what it's like though.
  • UT2k3 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @06:09AM (#8110949)
    Unreal Tournament 2003 ships with the Maya Personal Learning Edition (high end 2D package, used by ILM f.e.) and the Unreal Editor which is a high end industry strength IDE for gaming enviroments.
    Not that UT runs on Linux and Windows alike, the editors though only on Windows.
    If you want to get into FPS level editing this is absolutely the first choice.
    Note that there are other games and other genres using the same engine.
  • by Nihilist_CE ( 683399 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @06:13AM (#8110961)
    Remember that level design, texture design, and even texture application are often three different jobs done by three different people (or, more often, teams). Level design is architecture. Texture design is a very specialized form of 2-D drawing. And texture application is basically interior decorating.

    Assuming that you want to lay out levels, then study architecture. You want to be able to make things that look real, atmospheric, and cool. A good exercise is to find a dynamic and interesting space in real life and model it as precisely as you can in a game engine. This will give you a feel for the level of detail needed to build a truly immersive level.

    Also, don't limit yourself to one tool or even one game. Some of the more full-featured and late-generation editors have a huge amount of crutches that you can easily get dependent on. Make an RPG dungeon and an RPG city. Make several RTS maps (these are great for gaining a macro-level understanding of balance and flow) for single-player and multi-player games. And, of course, make a lot of FPS maps. Even a dippy little fragfest map can show off your talents if you put a lot of work into it.

    Finally, be aware of industry trends. For instance, single-player FPS campaigns are starting to veer away from the strictly-linear style of the genre's forerunners (look at MOHAA for an example of why... the levels are very stale and scripted). Play, play, play. And take lots of notes.
  • Just try it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NoMercy ( 105420 )
    Download the tools, experiment with various games, Halflife, Quake3 and Unreal Tournement are key ones for the FPS design, look at other peoples work and such forth.

    Games like neverwinter nights are a whole diferent kettle of fish, but it does require one thing in common.

    You need to have a decent artistic and creatave ability, you need to decide what looks good, what doesn't look good, and you also may need for many games a passion for the mind-numbingly boring.... once youve aligned one texture, the next
  • All the level designers I've known also did (or still do) game QA as well. It's quite a bit easier to get regular work in QA. There's just not much demand for level designers with no industry experience. Having a job in the same industry will at least keep you in contact with people who might hire you to do level design... and it should keep you from flipping burgers most of the year.

    On that note... if you actually like to play video games consider a different industry. I used to enjoy games on my own

  • UnreadEd Project (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Craig Nagy ( 605528 )
    A friend and I just 'finished' an UnrealEd project recently.

    This was our first experience with level 'design'. We were simply modelling a section of our school; it was a challenge to keep things acurate. We barely scratched the surface of UnrealEd and it was a humbling experience. UnrealEd has it's fair share of bugs, hopefully most will be gone in UT2K4. I have a newfound respect for level designers. The tools have come a long way since I played with level design in Duke Nuke'm
  • by The Analog Kid ( 565327 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @07:41AM (#8111225)
    It is really hard to get into the gaming industry, my brother knows a guy who now makes maps for a living. He was involved in American McGee's Alice. He also worked in Ritual, Rogue, and Gearbox. I think he was also working on Counterstrike:CZ, but go canned when they stopped developement, which is another issue all on it's own. This guy who I'm not mentioning names, only got a job in the industry because John Carmack played his map.

    Another issue is job security, you have to make your own, but then again pretty much in every job today you have some degree of doing that. However, even if you have made your job security there is nothing that can protect you from being laid off when you finish the game your working on(ie Ritual employees after Elite Force 2). Those people were quickly hired by others but I don't know if you want to be moving around so much.

    So to wrap things up, you better be good at what you do, you better have a contact in the industry, or hope someone recognizes you. Lastly, your going to always run the risk of being let go and have to move somewhere else.
  • by Dr.Doom ( 78311 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @08:44AM (#8111454) Homepage
    1st, realize that making games is not the rockstar job that lots of people make it out to be. The game industry keeps itself alive on the blood and sweat of people who love making games. You will work 10-14 hour days for weeks at a time (or years, as some cases may be). You probably won't get a bonus when the game is done. You probably won't be paid very well. You'll have to work with people who think they are god's gift to the world, and they will probably be your boss.

    But, you will also work with really cool, creative people. You will get to do something you (hopefully) love to do. You will get to create games. If this small paragraph sounds better than the larger, first paragraph, then by all means, pursue a career in the game industry.

    So... the nutshell I can come up with at 4:45 in the morning (yes, I've been working since yesterday morning).

    Get a day job first. It's a different path for everyone, but odds are you won't break into the industry anytime soon (it took me a couple years). You might be able to get in as a tester or intern, but it's almost as hard to make the jump to the dev side as it is to just break in.

    Grab the whatever latest version of Unreal2KX XMP Super Mega Championship Edition is out. Epic has done a good job of marketing their engine and tools to devs, and a lot of places have picked up the Unreal engine and it's editor, UnrealEd. This can give you a slight advantage just because being familiar with the tools can be a big selling point to some companies.

    Next, learn how to use it. Not just part of it, all of it. How to make and import textures. How to make and import meshes. How to make and import sounds. Even learn the basics of unreal script. You may not be actually creating art assets/code in the position, but as level designer you are where 'the tires hit the road'. Everything has to come through you at some point to go into the level so you have to understand everything that is going on behind the scenes.

    Make a few multiplayer maps of whatever flavor you want. Focus on a few key areas:
    1. Look and feel. No BSP holes. No meshes intersecting each other at weird angles. Everything lines up. There is a good sense of 'space'. Lighting is good and reflects the mood appropriately but isn't overboard. Textures are aligned properly.
    2. Wiring. Doors open and close when they are supposed to. Switches work the 'right' way. Events happen when they are supposed to. Areas are zoned or antiportaled correctly.
    3. Gameplay. For learning, I put this last at this point. These maps your learning how to use the editor and trying to make them look as good as possible. In general, in gameplay the player shouldn't get lost or stuck anywhere. The next area to explore should be obvious. Paths are clearly marked. Framerate is good at all places in the level.

    Now, you need to make some single player experiences. You probably won't get a job making multiplayer maps (I've never made one professionally) so you need to be able to create good single player experiences. This is the hard part (learning the tech just enables you, this is the actual work!). Even moreso than understanding the technology, you have to understand the game you are making and understand the game design.

    To learn how to create good single player experiences, don't just play other games, analyze them. Watch how they create tempo and how the flow of the level works. When is the player challenged? How often? When is the player rewarded? How often? What types of challenges are present? How difficult is the game? Why were certain game and level design decisions made for that game? How would the level design be different if the character could jump twice as far? Shoot twice as fast? Once you start playing games with these sorts of questions in mind, you'll start to have a better understanding of what it takes to create a level. It will take awhile, as long or longer than it takes to learn all the tools. I'm still learning and I've been making levels since Q2 days.

    Good luck.
  • A tip (Score:4, Funny)

    by Datoyminaytah ( 550912 ) on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @08:56AM (#8111504)
    If you want to be a game developer, whatever else you do...DON'T GET MARRIED.
  • Three rules (Score:3, Funny)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Wednesday January 28, 2004 @05:55PM (#8117378) Homepage Journal
    1) lots of dots
    2) at least one tunnel
    3) pop up some fruit, or keys from time to time

When you make your mark in the world, watch out for guys with erasers. -- The Wall Street Journal