1.2: Ideas

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Coming up with a good idea for your map can be very difficult; Especially when you are trying to be a bit original and not make the same sort of maps that everybody else is making.

In this article I am going to cover some of the ways to get inspiration for level designs and how to develop your idea’s fully.

Inspiration:

Inspiration can be hard to find sometimes, it would be easy to fall into the trap of just making another level like your last one, set on the same idea. But to many similar levels will end up becoming very boring, very quickly. Variation is the spice of life, and that stands true of video games.

In reality, Inspiration can be found anywhere. If you take a walk, you will probably pass many possible inspirations for a really fun and original level design, and you won’t even notice. A great technique I have found is to take a camera out on a walk around a town or city; Even without taking pictures, just look through the viewfinder and keep an eye out for any interesting details, architecture or even colours. This can be enough to create some interesting designs.

Inspiration can come from Anywhere

Inspiration Can come from anywhere, even places you visit on a daily basis.

Another great source we have available to us now is the internet. There is a wealth of inspiring images on the internet which you can use to find an idea you like. Check out architecture photos, travel blogs, Flickr, Youtube and much more. just look out for any detail or places that grabs your attention.

You can also take a look at current video games and try to figure out where they are getting their inspiration from. Portal 1, for example, had a very clean and efficient style about it. Set inside clean and sterile environments makes sense for ‘Science test chambers’. but the really inspiring part comes when you escape and are exploring behind the scenes. It had this dirty, industrial feeling.

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Chapter 1.1: Introduction

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Before we jump into any level design software, we need to look at some basic information which, while it may seem a little pointless, it is always useful to keep in mind. We need to define what we are actually doing here, what any of this means and why you might want to learn it.

What is Level Design?

Level Design is the process of creating a virtual environment for the purpose of playing a game in. It is typically made up of multiple stages and assets to build interesting and exciting environments that will interest the player and make their gameplay experience even better.

What is a level made up of?

A video game level is made up of a mixture of different assets, which will need to be imported into a game engine and then place using a piece of level design software such as unreal editor or source Hammer.

The main components of a level are:

  • CSG – Constructive Solid Geometry, Also known as BSP (Binary space partition), CSG are the primitive shapes that make up the basic shape of the level.
  • Materials / Textures – Materials are what the player see’s in the game. they are the look and design of every single surface in the game. typically made in a image editor such as Photoshop.
  • Static Mesh – 3D models built in a 3D modelling program. Static Meshes populate the level and are much more detailed and visually impressive than CSG.
  • Lighting – Created using the level editor tools, light objects are typically placed and the lighting for the environment is calculated based on the settings you give each light.
  • Sound – A level will have a whole range of sounds to make it seem alive. You can give it specific music track, place location based sounds (for example: drips, electrical noises, rushing water)

What software is required to make levels?

This depends on the game you want to develop for. Some games don’t have level editors provided for them, but some developers do release the tools you require.

some of the best and most current  examples are:

  • Epic Games – Unreal Tournament, Gears of war (PC)
  • Valve Software – Source Engine games such as Half Life 2, Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress and portal
  • id Software – Quake Games, Doom

Aside from the actual level editor you don’t ‘Need’ to have any other software. most level editors come with a library of assets from the game you are using, so you can start to build levels with the current game assets and create some nice results.

If however, you want to have a more customised level, you will also do well to have:

  • 3D modelling software – 3Ds max, Maya, Blender
  • Image editing software – Photoshop, GIMP
  • Sound / music editor

With this additional tools you can then create your own static / skeletal meshes, textures, music, sound effects, weapon models and even characters.

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