Paul Jaquays, id Software
Paul Jaquays is a "jack of all trades," but at id Software he provides level design for Quake II and game and level design for Quake III: Arena. Now who wouldn't want to be in his shoes, eh? When Jaquays heard about this Secrets of the Sages project, he wanted to offer a large collection of do's and don'ts on level design, as well as more general advice on the art of map creation. Without further ado, let's first jump into his collection of handy design tidbits.
Jaquays' 26 Level Design Tips
|Above, Jaquays roughly sketched out a complicated puzzle and trap for Quake 2, involving modularized, moving prison cells as a part of the Laboratory sequence. The concept was not implemented in the final game. Below, Jaquays began one of his first Quake 3 arena maps by roughly sketching out the major game features and their relationship to each other. The final version of his arena map carried several of the original concepts through to fruition, even though much of the layout and geometry was changed. (Both images used with permission by id Software, Inc., copyright 1998)|
|This 64-player map is taken from the Quake II DM Pack 1: Extremities expansion CD. Jaquays reminds level designers to make sure that large maps have distinctive memorable play areas. (Used with permission by Activision)|
As many other programmers, artists, animators, musicians, and level designers have stated in the past, this last point on finishing a project instead of starting 10 new ones is essential, and not easy for beginners.
Paul's Advice on Game Design
Throughout his career in the gaming industry, Jaquays has accumulated quite a bit of knowledge on the art of game design. While he covered many individual pointers in the preceding section on map creation, the following details serve as more broad advice on game design, drawing from his own personal experiences as well.
Stop Imitating Yourself
I started in the game business as a designer of game adventures for the new (at the time) game called Dungeons & Dragons and later for the game called Runequest. There was a time when I was considered one of the best adventure writers in the field. One of the reasons that I quit designing pencil-and-paper-type role-playing games was I found that I had started to imitate myself, rehashing the same storyline over and over. I was no longer fresh. Thankfully, I had other career options within the game business that I could pursue. But the problem still remains: how to keep your ideas alive and new.
Choose the Unconventional Solution
There's a tendency in game design to use familiar or tried-and-true solutions to design. In the latter part of the Golden Age of Video Games (the classic 8-bit years), the solution for nearly every game based on a character or movie license was to create a side-scrolling game. During my tenure at Coleco, we were given very few opportunities to create new games. Most of our work was to analyze and translate arcade titles. The War Games movie license gave us the opportunity to create a game that broke the mold. The conventional solution would have been to make a side-scrolling "solve the puzzles, find the hidden goodies, and avoid the bad guys" game until at last you confronted the computer in the last scene. At that point, the game would start you back at the beginning and ratchet up the level of difficulty a notch. After seeing a special preview screening of the movie War Games, I was inspired by the sequence near the end of the movie in which the computer runs simulated scenario after scenario in which the outcome was always the same: nuclear war and complete world devastation. I was taken by the graphics that plotted the arcs of missiles as they approached their targets. If I could convince the powers-that-be, that short sequence of the movie would be our game. The actual gameplay derived from several unrelated concepts. The goal of the player would be to stop bombers, subs, and missiles (which were drawn on the fly as lines--no simple trick in the 8-bit pattern tile game systems of the day), from reaching their targets on a map of the United States. In a way, it had similarities to the popular arcade game Missile Command, where the player fires anti-ballistic missiles at incoming missiles dropping down from the top of the screen. Unlike the arcade, the play took place on six separate maps simultaneously. Like the juggler who keeps numerous plates spinning at once atop thin sticks, the player had to rapidly switch his attentions between a radar map showing the whole USA and six sub-maps that contained closer views of target cities and military installations. The player had to rapidly commit resources (missiles, interceptor planes, and attack subs) to deal with enemy attacks, then shift to the next map and do the same. If the player had the right stuff, he or she could defeat the game.
Some of the most popular foods are those that blend unlike or even opposite flavors together in one tasty package. Sweet-and-sour Chinese dishes and Chicago-style hotdogs are just two examples. What does this have to do with game design? One of the products of which I am most proud is a book series called Central Casting. The purpose of the products was to create vivid back-stories or histories for characters in role-playing games. I created separate books that covered three distinct genre groups of games: fantasy, science fiction (or futuristic), and 20th century games. Players rolled dice and compared the results against a series of tables and lists. Roll by roll, they selected events and personality traits that they could use to define their game characters. Quite often, the results of dice rolls would seem unlikely to be combined together, but with a little creative thought the widely disparate events would blend together, like the myriad of flavors in a Chicago-style hotdog, into a uniquely original result.
Make It Real
Even if you plan on making your game setting wildly fantastic--that is, nothing you would ever see in the real world--take care to make it seem real. This is something I learned as a fantasy illustrator, painting covers for games and books. The way to make the fantastic elements of a painting believable is to realistically paint the mundane things in the picture. This establishes a setting that appears as if it could actually exist somewhere. You then paint the fantastic elements in the painting with an equal amount of care so that they partake of the reality of the rest of the painting. The same holds true when making 3D game levels. Give the player one or more familiar elements that he can relate to. By comparison with the real elements, the unreal things in the game should seem more real, or perhaps a better explanation is that they seem more plausible. And by contrast with the mundane, they will seem that much more fantastic.