Game design is such an intriguing concept. Everyone has played that one game and thought of some way it could have been improved. Beyond just fixing bugs, but by looking at the product in its entirety. Contributing to making a game is not as unachievable as it may have always been perceived. Game level design is a vital piece of that puzzle. In this article, we will look at what a video game Level Designer is and how to become one.
Be sure to stick around until the very end so you don’t miss out on any key information!
A Level Designer focuses on creating the levels within a game, as the name suggests. It is really what the core gameplay, rules and premise will be placed into.
This means that meticulous planning has to go into planning and mapping the perfect layout in order for optimal functionality.
A level designer does a multitude of things. Let’s take a look at each one in depth!
A Level Designer will consult with the relevant Game Designer(s) and make sure they’re on the same page about what needs to be done. This is done to bring the best out of the gameplay and how to implement it into levels.
A Level Designer will need to ask themselves a few questions at the start of a project in order to plan out the process. This includes things like like ‘How many maps will there be in total?’, ‘What special features are required where?’ and ‘How many art sets will be needed?’.
They will need to map out everything required in preparation. From writing a document listing assets, to personal objectives and goals, and working from storyboards to give them a basis to proceed from.
The next step will be to sketch out ideas on paper of using 2D drawing software.
Only so much creativity can go on in someone’s mind, having it drawn out in a physical form can help it progress and manifest into something with great potential.
They will put themselves into the player’s shoes and imagine the playing experience. Trying to cover all bases and potential possibilities, regarding actions, events, objects and environment.
When considering the playing experience, certain conditions need to be met. This is something a Level Designer has to consider.
From event triggers to spawn locations, entry and exit points to the general flow of certain actions, everything has to be mapped out within a level and checked for appropriateness, reliability and above all else, functionality.
Being accustomed to and proficient in using programs such as Unity and Unreal are considered a must nowadays. They are essentially the hubs where everything falls into place and can be modified accordingly.
There are three main routes to go down when wanting to become a Level Designer; pursuing a relevant degree, DIY with trying to teach yourself or with the help of online courses, or just by applying to companies.
Whether that be at entry level or in the form of an internship.
According to a survey analysing around 600 CVs belonging to Level Designers, just under 70% of Level Designers hold a bachelor’s degree and just over 10% have an associate degree.
Bachelor’s degrees in Graphic Design, Game Design, Computer Science, Computer Engineering and other creative and design courses appear to be the most common among those.
Unless it is an entry-level job that encourages beginners, more often than not, at least one of these qualifications will be required. This is due to the importance of the role within the game creation process.
As an example, Falmouth University offers a Masters in Indie Game Development. This is definitely more of a complete package, with design being a fraction of the entire course.
While a MA is certainly one of the most expensive routes to go down, the knowledge and experience could be plentiful to carry you forward into the industry; as is the case with most Masters nowadays.
Getting a degree in a relevant field would stand you in better stead to get a job as a Level Designer. However, not everyone has the luxury to be able to afford to take a degree. Whether that be due to money or time constraints among other things.
There are certainly other ways to become a Level Designer without qualifications and becoming an intern could certainly be one. In this day and age, working for no or little money isn’t seen as a very appealing prospect.
But the experience you could get from an internship could prove priceless in the future. Especially if you’re entering the industry with no previous experience or qualifications.
Alternatively, getting your foot in the door via another job area within the gaming industry could be an option. Giving you industry experience and ultimately making for a more varied CV.
Focusing on another aspect could also give you a better appreciation for other roles when you do finally become a Level Designer. Potentially helping you to work well with other departments.
The main thing to note if you are trying to become a Level Designer with no prior qualifications, is that there are certain skills you will need to have or develop in order to be considered.
Whether you have opted to take the education route for your journey to becoming a Level Designer or jumping straight into the career itself. The skills that are required and desired remain the same.
Some come to people naturally. Or are even with them from birth. But some can be obtained through hard work, determination and perseverance.
Artistic talent is something that not everyone possesses, it’s just a fact in life. Courses, tutorials and practice can certainly develop someone’s artistic skill and ability.
But some people are just better at visual learning than others and able to convert this to an exceptional level.
Some games can connect with players due to unique aspects within gameplay or the main premise of the game, but the fact of the matter is that nothing connects better than a well-written story.
Everyone has binged a television series at one point in their lives. Which is a testament to good storytelling, to keep the viewer hooked.
In video games, a good story that can draw the player in needs an appropriate setting and environment to support it. This allows them to leave the real world and become enthralled by and immersed in it.
A person who already has impressive storytelling skills will be in good stead to do well as a Level Designer.
Translating sketches, drawn and written ideas to a 3D environment truly helps the whole process to come alive and start to feel more legit.
Any aspiring Level Designer must be able to see the 3D in their 2D drawings, allowing for a smooth transition.
This should stem from the briefing with the Game Developer beforehand. But a true appreciation and understanding of the game’s ambition and gameplay must be shown through good level design.
Everything must complement the developer’s direction appropriately and create a truly engaging experience for the player.
Prior experience with game engines is a priceless skill to possess. Most Developers specify the chosen engine, Unity or Unreal, when advertising jobs. This is to make sure they get someone with that specific knowledge.
After all, this is where most of the magic happens in terms of the actual level designing. It’s the culmination of all the work elsewhere, from the art to the coding, and where everything falls into place.
Programming knowledge is also considered a bonus, despite the fact that the core coding should be managed by the Developers when dealing with the gameplay.
Having the tools to enable any creative and adventurous suggestions to come to fruition allows for more freedom. And also the possibility of no limits to where your creative ideas can go.
C, C++ and C# are the main examples of coding to become acquainted with. There are courses online to learn the basics, with Udemy being a great website to help with just that.
Programming and coding themselves demand a lot of problem-solving. Since there is no way to work on a project in this industry without encountering any issues whatsoever; whether they be bugs or larger concerns.
Having a certain drive to push through and not get demoralized when faced with any adversities, is an absolute must for a Level Designer.
The whole beauty of the role is essentially using trial and error. This is to find the perfect fit not just for a particular level but for the game in its entirety.
The average yearly salary for level designer jobs can range from $36,000 for an entry-level position to $93,000 for a senior position, with UK statistics suggesting an average salary of around £28,000.
A Level Designer salary will vary from company to company depending on their stature and global recognition.
Either way, the maximum potential more than reflects how valuable the role is in the whole game-making process and the type of creative and practical minds that are needed to make it work.
If the job itself somehow isn’t enticing enough, the eventual level design salary might be.
So there you have it, the basics on what a Video Game Level Designer does, how much they can earn and how to become one. The video game industry has been booming over the last few years and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, so get involved!
There are free and cheap tutorials available online to teach you the basics or you can seek more advanced advice in the form of a degree or jump in at the deep end.
You have so many options to help you get started, you just have to have the courage and take the leap in getting started.
Are you a level designer? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comment section below. If you enjoyed this article why not share on your social media? Be sure to tag us @musicgateway!
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