How can you make a better level? By taking advantage of how "understanding the spatial psychology of our own survival instincts can make us better level designers," according to Gamasutra's latest feature
"What is the difference between a good game level and a bad game level?" asks Christopher Totten, the feature's author, a Westwood College faculty member who also has a Masters degree in architecture.
"Games already manipulate these instincts, requiring players to maintain the well-being of their avatar to continue and letting near-death gameplay situations provide dramatic tension."
"Game environments can provide this same psychological dramatic arc and create pleasurable experiences for players. It is therefore fair to say that understanding the spatial psychology of our own survival instincts can make us better level designers," he writes.
Going through examples from several significant games of the past 25 years, the feature examines how these games use different types of environments, coupled with character abilities, to create certain moods in the player.
Speaking of Mario 64
, Totten writes, "Players controlling Mario can reach everything Peach's Castle, making it a very pleasurable space to inhabit."
Meanwhile, in Batman: Arkham Asylum
, he writes how Rocksteady's designers were able to give a real sense of being Batman by offering safety in dangerous environments: "Even in the largest rooms of the asylum, Batman can jump and swing from the highest structural elements and maintain his vantage point above his enemies. Fitting the character of Batman, players have incredible freedom over spaces that would be overwhelming and dangerous in other games."
The full feature, which dips into architectural theory as well as gameplay analysis from titles such as the Mega Man
series (pictured) is live now on Gamasutra