Book Review: Level Design: Concept, Theory, & Practice
March 12, 2012 1:04 am
Level Design: Concept, Theory, & Practice
Author: Rudolf Kremers
Publisher: CRC Press
Publication Date: October 21, 2009
Number of Pages: 408
Some of you may know I’ve been into storytelling for a long time, first as an indie filmmaker making animated short films, and now as an indie game developer, switching from one medium to the next to tell my stories. When I started into game development, in a country with no game development culture (and also consider the fact that I’ve never worked in a game development studio), to me the whole process was very obscure (and in some areas, still is).
Level design was one of the most obscure areas, and is one of the most important parts of game development. You could say that a bad level design can break the best game concept. For this reason, the book Level Design: Concept, Theory, & Practice by Rudolf Kremers has proven to be very useful.
Before I go any further, I have to clarify that the book does not take a tutorial-based approach to the subject. The author takes on different subjects, like gameplay mechanics, reward systems, sound, etc., and relates them to building levels for your games.
The book has basically 5 different parts about different aspects of level design (plus one about final thoughts and recommended readings). The first part is the introduction to level design, where you learn the basis of level design, where the author talks about goals in a level, gameplay mechanics, and also a methodology to design your levels.
The next part is titled “emotional feedback systems.” These chapters focus on how you can involve emotions into gameplay effectively. I found these chapters especially interesting because they remind you that levels are not just this space you walk (or run) into, doing game-related things, but rather provide specific goals, and provide feedback to the player based on what they do. This may sound very straightforward, but these chapters reinforce how important it is not to make players feel like they have wasted time (for example, spending forever trying to solve a puzzle, or having to backtrack because many paths in a level lead nowhere, or perhaps you spent a lot of time looking and picking all the orbs just to realize nothing happened if you did).
Videogames are supposed to be immersive, and that’s what the third part is about. What you see and what you hear works to transport players into that place. This is a familiar concept since I’ve been into filmmaking (in one way or another) for some time, and some things were familiar to me (for example, adding details that show the “history” of the place, and how the environment “sounds”). This does not apply just to big games with realistic environments and such. Many “retro” (or old) games use these techniques to create immersive environments. As you can see, the previous parts of the book were purely about gameplay, and making a functional level (even if you only use boxes to define spaces, props, and other elements found in the level), but on this part he focuses on the aesthetic part of the level design as well.
Level Design also touches on story and narrative, as well as gameplay specific scenarios (please note: I’m not talking about gameplay mechanics or rules, but rather gameplay situations). This part includes chapters about building worlds and how to make them memorable, using puzzles, AI, and other things. Just like the rest of the book, these chapters are not tutorial-style chapters; they explain the psychology and logic behind them instead.
I believe having a book about level design is a must if you’re into game development (or even modding). Level Design by Rudolf Kremers offers a very interesting look at the subject, touching on different aspects of how level design works. One could argue that the book misses some subjects specific to certain game genres (for example, maybe you’re working on a third person shooter and were hoping the book deeply touches how to design levels around your cover system), but I think level design as a whole is so broad it can’t be covered in one book. Level Design will, however, give you a solid knowledge so you can start applying that knowledge in your work.
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Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.
March 12, 2012
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