I sometimes meet designers who want to be better at their jobs, but donât appear to be improving, or feel like theyâre stuck at the skill level they have now.Â Constant iteration makes better designers, but not everybody really gets value from everything they do. Here are four habits you can give yourself that can make any level designer improve.
In AAA games we are almostÂ neverÂ given full liberty to make what we want, and sometimes the space within which you can create freely is very small. That said: you will get better if you act confidently within the space youâre given.
Early in the production process you can typically try a lot of different ideas, so make sure you do. Sync with the artists that you work with, stay involved in the creative process, and push for something amazing.
Sometimes your assigned task isnât thrilling, but you should try to rock it regardless. If one room in one map has to be filled with barrels and crates, that may not be excitingâŚ but try a few variations, take the task and make it your own, and try to create something you can be proud of.
Your first idea may be the one you like the most, but you wonât know until you try several. Working on a map layout?Â Donât build key areas only onceâŚ Build three variations, so you can confidently choose the oneÂ that works best.Â (Yes, my approach means throwing away several layouts, but if youâre not comfortable pressing the delete button, youâre not going to give yourself the freedom you need to become great at this.)
Remember, nobody forces you to submit each idea into the nightly build, but if you havenât tried several different variations locally, youâre going to be stuck with your first idea, or worse: you will only iterate when somebody like me says âthis part isnât very good, show me something else.â
If youâve tried four different ideas on your PC, youâre likely to feel confident that you submitted the best choice before you went home that night, and if nothing else: youâre practicing, learning, and improving.
Yes, even that one guy on your team who can barely express himself and seems to suck at video games. A variety of player perspectives on your design isÂ pure fuelÂ to make your content better.
Some people are terrible at giving feedback, and some devs give feedback purely as a way of seeming clever in meetings, and you shouldÂ still listen to everyone. In development, your first audience is the people you work with. Take all the feedback you can get, listen politely, and then decide for yourself what that feedback means.Â
Letâs say somebody says âI turned left here, and it was a dead end, and I was depressed, like why is this doorway even here.â This feedback may be very negative, but it does tell you that this player was expecting to be able to move through that path. It could be a layout problem, it could be a lighting problem, or you could have just found a place for a collectible item. Use the feedback to make better experiences.
I canât overstate the importance of clean data. If you work âfilthyâ (unused entities hanging around, shoddy collision meshes, badly arranged layers, etc) you are slowing your iteration time down drastically, and making little bug factories all over your level.
If you find a problem in your level, check to see whereÂ elseÂ in your data the same problem exists.Â Iâve seen a level designer fix a âinvalid height for player dropâ problem in one spot in the map and go on to ignore the other sixteen places in his map where the same problem existsâââdonât be that guy.
Level designers work with a lot of data; keeping it well organized is a big job and if you do it badly, youâll be afraid to make changes.Â You should always know whatâs under the hood, and you should always feel like you can be proud of it. If you know your data is well-organized, iteration can be painless.