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NBA Rush Level Design Breakdown
by Alex Gold on 03/10/14 02:59:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Hi everyone! I’m Alex Gold, one of the Designers on NBA Rush at Other Ocean Interactive.

NBA Rush is an iOS infinite runner game where official NBA players race to save the world from an alien invasion! During this article, I’m going to break down the thought process involved in our level design and demonstrate how indentifying core actions allowed us to create a wide variety of engaging encounters.

Hazard Creation

During gameplay, the player can perform one of three basic actions:

These actions must be utilized effectively to avoid deadly hazards such as buses, hurdles and alien projectiles.

The various hazard types were designed with the purpose of challenging these three base actions.

By default, our hazards only occupy a single lane. As demonstrated in the table above, without placement guidelines, this makes it possible for the player to avoid every hazard simply by changing lanes.

In the above example, there are two open lanes around the hurdle. Taking a side route is the obvious choice, as the center route demands far greater timing and risk than those surrounding it.

To accommodate for this design constraint, we took one of two approaches:

  • Approach A: Block off the other routes with another type of hazard.
  • Approach B: Incentivise the more challenging route with a reward.

  • In Approach A, bus hazards block the routes on either side, making the hurdle mandatory.
  • In Approach B, all three route options are present but a coin string rewards the player for taking the riskier center path.

The final hazard type revolves around an extrinsic variable – the player’s reaction time.

This variable is challenged through one of two different methods:

  • Moving Hazards: Hazards that move towards the player at a faster rate than standard hazards.
  • Appearing Hazards: Hazards that drop down onto a lane instead of approaching from the distance.

With these variables in place, we were able to create a solid variety of hazards to test the player’s skill.

Creating Hazard Groups

During each new playthrough of NBA Rush, the game world is built by randomly pulling from a pool of level tiles known as Hazard Groups.

To create a compelling Hazard Group, we constructed a critical path of base actions and then laid out a series of hazards to support and enforce it. Take the following strings of actions for example:

Let’s expand on the Hazard 3 action chain listed above and mold it into a Hazard Group:

Example Hazard 3’s chain of basic actions developed into a Hazard Group.

  • Action 1 – Slide: Due to buses blocking the side lanes, the player’s only option is to Slide underneath the initial hurdle.
  • Action 2 – Jump: As buses on both sides continue to constrict the route, the player encounters another hurdle which requires a Jump action.
  • Action 3 – Lane Change: The player must Change Lanes to avoid colliding with a pile of debris.

To reward observant players, a coin string is placed in one of the two adjacent lanes at the end.

Taking the High Road

Most Hazard Groups have two distinct paths built into them: an Upper Path and a Lower Path.

  • Upper Path: High Rewards, Low Danger.
  • Lower Path: Low Rewards, High Danger.

Here are some statistics I made up.

In most cases, it should be the player’s goal to remain on the upper path as long as possible.

There are two different ways to reach the upper path:

As the player progresses further into the run, Grinders begin to appear with more frequency while Ramps become a rarity.

To demonstrate of how an upper path might be added to a Hazard Group, let’s expand further on the Example Hazard Group C from earlier:

To make a compelling upper path for this Hazard Group, the following additions were implemented:

  • Addition 1 – Grinders: The player can jump off either of the initial Grinder hazards to spring themselves up to the top path.
  • Addition 2 – Coins: Coins are added to the top of the buses to ensure that the upper route is beneficial.
  • Addition 3 – Power-Up: A helpful Power-Up has a chance of spawning at the end of either bus to incentivise one route over the other.

Additionally, clever players can fall off the upper path to snag the final coin string, effectively doubling their profits from the Hazard Group.

Final Hazard Examples

In conclusion, let’s take a look at a few more hazards from the final game to see how these principals are applied.

In this hazard, the player is presented with a difficult choice: take the easier Ramp route or attempt a Grinder jump to potentially double their profit.

If the player manages to boost themselves onto the top route, it will keep them out of danger but a tricky Jump + Lane Change action is required to land safely upon another bus.

In this unique hazard, players see their choice of routes way ahead of time. When the bombs drop however, their vision becomes blocked by the explosions.

Players must remember which route contained the coins and swerve around the bombs towards their desired reward.


Hopefully this provides some insight into the thought process behind the level design of NBA Rush. Breaking down Hazard Groups into a series of actions and identifying pivotal player choices was critical in creating a wide variety of engaging encounters. Thanks for reading!

You can download NBA Rush here for free:

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Some Guy
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A really nice read about the designing process, but I'm still wondering how this game is not a ripoff of Subway Surfers by Kiloo. Same actions, same rewards, same aesthetics...

Shea Rutsatz
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Ditto. Well put together documentation, but it seems like it was pretty straightforward with the runner formula.

Ryan Christensen
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It is a copycat, but at some point the copycats become a game type. Runners will be replicated forever from this point and are a definite game type now. It happens mainly because people keep playing them and they are fun, so they will continually get made and then we name it.

New game types rarely appear totally unique, you could call Subway Surfers a branch of Pitfall. However it is nice when developers innovate on them a bit rather than a direct copy with new characters and pickups. Not sure if they have one but a hoop to dunk in along the way every once in a while might be decently fun. EDIT: I see it indeed does have dunking.

Tyler King
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I would agree that it is now part of a game type. Sonic Dash, Subway Surfers, Temple Run, dozens of other games are all apart of what is now a genre. The same way that match 3 is now a type of game, and not just a single game being ripped off. Hopefully developers are always striving to advance the genre they are working in regardless of what it may be.

I however haven't played it or subway surfers so if it is the exact same game minus the graphics shame on them, however I haven't played either.

Saul Gonzalez
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Alex, a problem I see with endless runners is that as the player becomes more skilled, the earlier part of each run becomes less challenging and thus boring.
Is this something you've noticed? Any countermeasures?

-- @esaulgd