John Romero, ION Storm
"A level designer has a very responsible position, because maps are where the game takes place," says John Romero, game designer, chairman, and cofounder of ION Storm. Having worked on such 3D shooter classics such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Doom II, Heretic, Hexen, and Quake, Romero has plenty of opinions to share regarding level design.
Romero maintains that the inevitable breaking up of responsibilities at a development house can take away from the overall vibe and consistency of the level. "Some companies do their maps in stages, with many different people handling different tasks--architecture, texture placement, object placement... and this [specialization] can take away from the 'cool' factor."
Although most of his suggestions on what makes a good level are fairly universal (such as providing the gamer with landmarks throughout the map to give it personality, making the player totally immersed in this fictitious world, and so on), Romero also proposes an interesting rule that's broken more than it's obeyed, in his opinion. "The gamer must be in constant fear," believes Romero. "It's extremely important to keep gamers on their toes when playing shooters, with plenty of traps lying around so they're constantly in fear of dying..."
Tip: Landmarks can serve a dual purpose in well-designed maps: They can add to the immersion factor while offering navigation cues to players, helping them know their direction and location in the level.
Romero cites specific examples such as Quake's E2M5 ("Wizard's Manse"), where players get locked into a cage and it slowly descends into water with no way out. Another Quake map, E2M6 ("Dismal Oubliette"), also has a slow vertical sink, inspired by Disney World's Haunted House "elevator" ride. "The player panics because he's stuck in this room and after it stops completely, a Shambler is teleported into the room, spikes shoot out, then there's a Fiend to fight, and then Zombies. It's just one thing after another," says Romero with a smile. "This is key in good level design."
Romero will be able to show off these helpful tips with Daikatana when it ships in mid-1999.