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.

What is Additive or subtractive level design?

This is a question i have seen asked allot; mainly due to unreal editor changing from a subtractive to, primarily, an additive level editor.

The best way to understand this is that with a subtractive level, you start with a infinitely large block of mass and you are subtracting the CSG brushes out of it. So you subtract a cube to make a room.

With an Additive level, it is the exact opposite; You start with a empty space and each brush is added to it.

Each type has their strong aspects – Additive is great for making outside spaces, subtractive is better at interiors. However, for the most part level editors tend to be additive environments these days; so i would recommend you mainly use additive environments.

What is next?

Now we have some of the basic information about level design, we can begin looking into the theory of good level design and the best processes for making fun levels.

But before we get into any of that, You will need to begin learning how to use one of the level editors; your first levels will never be amazing, you need to learn the software first. I will be going through unreal editor and hammer, with a ‘First Level’ Tutorial in which we create the simplest of levels – A single room, at a later date; If you can’t wait until then, or want to learn a different editor, then Google is your best friend. A quick search for ‘<Game name> editor tutorials’ should give you plenty of results.

I will next be writing about different games types, game play and how this will affect your level design idea’s. Look out for that post soon!

Come back to VG-LevelDesign soon for more tutorials, tips and tricks soon!


7 Responses to “Chapter 1.1: Introduction”
admin Says:

Work in progess. more content will appear here soon. currently place holder material!


Kids Says:

I like the theme here. Is it downloadable anywhere?


admin Says:

It isn’t available at the moment. I made the theme myself and haven’t had time to get it to a distributable form yet. I may try and release it soon, but i am busy creating content for the website at the moment.

So maybe a little later?


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