Friday, June 30, 2006

Level Design

Level Design

Have you ever bought a Television....

I have (not), but if you had you'd probably ran into trouble in finding out how to operate the darn machine ;o)

It starts with finding the Power button, after which you want to choose a channel and simple watch your favorite program. Simple so it sounds, many times you encounter hurdles on your journey.

Why am I talking about television, when in fact we are building a Game?

The answer is simple, the Game needs to explain - like a television - how to play it well. This is called: LEVEL DESIGN.

Take for example Mario:

Mario, a Game character

In a Game, you would be Mario.

Now since you have not played this game before, you need the Game to tell you what you can and cannot do. And meanwhile... it should be a FUN experience.

Let's take it one step at a time.

First, you try to hit keys on the keyboard and find that Mario can walk (back and forth). Great!!! I can walk ;o)

Next, the Game designer wants you to know that you can 'jump' too. And in order to tell you so... the Big Bad Game Designer digs a hole in the ground before your feet.

Test, there is a hole in the ground before me... what to do?

Intentionally, the Game Designer has not made the hole too deep or too wide. It is a hole, but a 'friendly' hole. You as a player feel comfortable attempting to 'jump' over it. As you jump, you've learned a trick. And not only that, the Game has become more FUN. Hooray, I can now walk AND jump!

I will give more examples later on.

For now I have to jump, as the University is closing its doors!


Back, on a Saturday afternoon.

“What we learn to do, we learn by doing”.
- Aristotle

This wise and useful statement is true when helping the Game player to work out the nuts & bolts of our Game too.

A few key words in the development of a Game are listed below:

For a game to be fun, one should be able to rely on the response of the Game (characters) when you are confronted with them. That is, Snow white should be friendly - in general - and all the witches around you should be bad and nasty. Even if one of the witches is actually a 'good' witch (perhaps it is Snow white in disguise), that should be 'shown' to the player; always and everywhere.

Snow white as a Game Character - Friendly

Witch as a Game Character - Bad & Nasty

A Nice Witch, clearly indicated by the 'hint'

In the example above the 'Good' witch is always accompanied by a white dove.

Courtesy Walt Disney

Wherever you are, however long you have been playing the game, the Game player needs at any point in time or space needs to know where (s)he is.

A few tricks that could help the player to determine this are called 'LEADS'.
Leads help to guide the player.

An example of a lead is the checkerboard in chess.

Another example is the use of pipes in the game Soda Pipes; Build pipelines to guide flows of soda. Several flows may be running at the same time and a flow may divide into sub flows, so watch out! This allows construction of fascinating twisty mazes of pipes as well as regular one-way pipelines.

Knowing that we (Western) human beings expect actions to happen on your righthand side also helps us to determine which way to go to for completion of the game.

Actions happen on our right, that is from the Player's Point-of-View.

No pain, no gain. Every individual has their own way of learning. Some people are visual learners, where a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Others are audible learners, where they learn best when spoken to. The best way to learn is through overcoming difficulties. Therefore, each 'level' in the game should add new challenges to the player.

Overcoming difficulties should be rewarded. A Game is an emotional experience.

Two curves plot this experience.

I. Difficulty Curve: the more you play, the less the increase in difficulty

II. Learning Curve: the more your practise, the easier you remember

The difference with our daily 'work' is that Games have a high Entertainment Factor.

The X-factor - only we know that we are great!

The balance between 'work' and 'fun' should at best result in bringing up the X-Factor in ourselves; the feeling that we have done a Great Job, and it was Great Fun.

We are Winners!!!

And not to forget, show when the game is finished ;o)

Game Over

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