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  • Writer's pictureYukai Liu

My Overview of Level Design

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

What comprises “good” level design? What is the objective of a level designer, and how do they gauge success?

Before discussing what a “good” level design should contain, I would like to try to define the “level” in my way.

Level” in game = Environment (visible space, sounds) + Content (Rule, Story Info, Characters, Guide) + Interaction (the method for players to interact with the game).

With the equation above, I think a good level design has the following features:

1: Gamer-centered. When the player is in a game level, they feel that everything around them is at their service.

2: Attractive. If the level wants to be attractive, it can contain challenges, unpredictable events, rewards, easter eggs, a trap point, breadcrumbs or even a teaser for next level. Just make the gamer keep having fun.

3: Theme-appropriate. All elements in the level must fit the theme of the game.

4: Linked. There are many levels in one game. Connected levels should be related, gradually changed, and grown.

5: Purposeful. There is a clear goal in the level for the player to pursue and achieve.

6: Less word. A good level design “tells” player what to do, but without many words, sometimes without any words.

The purpose of the game is supposed to be the purpose of the level. If the purpose of the game is to make the player feel scared, so the purpose of the level is to let the player experience horror in it, like Resident Evil. Level designers need to know how to arrange the environment to be eerie and cramped, where terrifying SFX and enemy should appear, how to lead the players to these places, and how to use the existing mechanics to create interaction for players (using flashlight somehow make players feel more scared). There are many types of levels, as many types of games as there are.

The objective of a level designer is to constantly absorb new various knowledge and draw inspiration from it, to apply this inspiration to the design of the game's level.

A level designer needs to collaborate with artists and programmers to design and produce game levels based on the game design plan, including but not limited to building basic game level diagrams, scenes, integrating game levels, scripting and adjusting character AI. Level designers should be able to communicate with others, clearly illustrate more than one idea, and take advantage of using existing materials and mechanics. Think about how to play the opponent of players during the design process, and design more challenging and useful levels for them. Keep testing over and over again to make sure that there is no mistake in level design.

In my opinion, a successful level designer is:

1. Able to design game levels with those features listed above.

2. Interested in many kinds of games, both board games and video games.

3. Able to have independent creativity, a lasting passion and initiative for work.

4. Having good analytical and summarizing skills, strong logic, basic programming skills.

5. Good time management skills, able to complete the work on time in a tight schedule.

6. Having communication skills and excellent team skills

7. Strong learning ability and self-development awareness.

8. Effectively using existing materials and mechanics to create rich levels

For a traditional, linear set of levels, how to attempt to utilize level design in order to increase engagement and retention?

1. Changes of the enemies.

Create more kinds of enemies, they could be the variation of the original enemies with different abilities or outfits. Level designers also can change the location of these enemies, players would feel fresh.

2. Level achievement system

Level designer can set an Achievement grade system in one level. Player would play the same level more times.


a) Beat the level – 1 star

b) Kill all the enemies – 2 stars with 100 coins

c) Kill all the enemies and beat the game in 5 mins – 3 stars with 300 coins

3. Change the start location of the player

Level designers can place the player in a different location (from the original game) at the beginning, which allows players to engage more with the level.

Example: Super Mario-like game. Set the start point to the middle of the original level, lead the player to go left first (a locked door on the right). The player has to walk to the left end to get the key, and then the player can go right to unlock the door. Of course, the killed enemies are respawning.

4. Layout adjustment

Reasonably adjust the obstacles of the game level or change the terrain and environment.

Create different obstacle mechanics.

5. Power-ups setting

a. Upgrade the original power-ups if the enemies are also evolved.

Example: Resident Evil. Stronger and more zombies, players are able to pick up a shotgun instead of a pistol

b. Set up some platforms that players cannot reach at the beginning. Place the corresponding power-ups that can help reach that previous unreachable platform in the latter levels.

Example: Design a higher unreachable platform with awards at the beginning, and place a double jump power-up in the later level.

6. Game Plot

Bring the player back to the original levels through the game plot, reasonable scene reuse, and material reuse to increase the retention of the level. Increase the gameplay of the level by using the points 1-5 above.

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