1.2: Ideas


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 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.

Inspiration can come from Anywhere

The ‘Escape’ levels of Portal provided a great variation to the level design

Developing an idea:
So you found some inspiring images that have conjured up some idea’s, what’s next?

Well you can’t just take a photo of a sewer and say ‘I’m going to make a level based in sewers.’ that would be a) Very Dull and B) Been seen over and over again throughout video games.

You need variation and interest in the level. Where in the world is the sewer? what kind of sewer is it? could it be a storm drain. Brainstorm for linking idea’s to expand your possible results.

If your game is an arena / death match game, then you need a point of focus. If you make a level made up of dull tunnels, then you will find players will quickly get bored, lost and confused and just give up on your level.

What if your level was based around a storm drain / sewer system? You could have some huge drops, waterfalls, massive doors and valves; all giving the environment variation. Variation doesn’t only make the level interesting, it will also help the player navigate around and make the game much more fun.

How about if you game is a story based level with objectives and progression?

Then you want to think about a narrative of your level. How did the player end up in the level? What are they aiming to do? How are they going to get out of the sewer? what challenges are they going to face in the sewer?

Lets think up one possible reason:

The player has descended into the sewer system to gain access to a secure facility. The player entered the sewer from a service entrance a few blocks away from the secure facility and must navigate through the sewer treatment area and a secure system to get into the facility. The exit of the sewer is a secure locked entrance to the facility, which is less well guarded than the above ground entrances. The facility has a security system, multiple guards and scanners checking the sewer for intruders so the player needs to be sneaky.

This has already made me think about the possibility of vents and ducts, locked gates, water valve systems and stealth to pass guards.


Now Your level has an overall theme its then time to begin researching your idea. So you think a sewer system level is a good idea for your game; well you now need to understand how sewer systems look and work; you at least need to make people believe you understand how they work.

Use google to find images of different sewer systems and analyse them. What reoccurring themes do you see in all the pictures? what little details do you notice that would be a cool addition to your level?

Make a folder of images of anything and everything relating to your idea. go out and look for opportunities to take your own reference photos; I bet your town has a sewer system? I am not saying you should go swimming in sewage just for a few reference pictures! find outlet pipes, drain covers and more as details that you need to include in your design.

Inspiration can come from Anywhere

Mirrors edge shows a great example of a sewer inspired level.

A great example of a drain level is the mirrors edge ‘storm drain’ levels. The where small details and a real feeling that the environments where designed to fill with flood water. the water falls and waterways felt believable and made the environment interesting and exciting to explore.

You can use your brainstorming from earlier to think about what features you should research.

For example, a sewer will feature a whole host of pipes, So research it.

Inspiration can come from Anywhere

Research and build collections of images to inspire you even further

This is what makes an idea work, research and development of your idea until you feel you can make the absolute most of it.


So, to sum up, coming up with an idea for your level may be hard, but you have plenty of sources of inspiration to use.

And once you have an idea remember to brainstorm and develop your idea as much as possible, think of every detail and related subject you can as this will help create a varied and interesting environment.


Be sure to come back to VG-LevelDesign.Com soon for more tutorials and Theory of Level Design.

2 Responses to “1.2: Ideas”
Jenise Steininger Says:

nice post. thanks.

Sarojin Sarna Says:

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