Game Design Theory Level 3 – Customization and Creative Design Techniques

Level 1 Section 3: Level Design


Even a Cliche Can Be Made Compelling


We’ve said before that there’s nothing wrong with doing something that has been done 1000 times as long as you make it your own and make it interesting. There are many games with an ice level, fire level, desert level, forest level etc. but it’s not the environment that matters so much as the characters and potential gameplay that take place within the environment. Take the zombie concept, which has been done a lot lately. It may seem tired and stale, but you can always add some element in there to spice it up. For instance in the graphic below we’ve taken a zombie and put in an underwater scenario. What would happen if a shark came by and ate a zombie? ZOMBIE SHARK!?! How would that work? 



How do your characters and your gameplay interact with ice, fire and trees, or zombies? Are there powers available to deal with these conditions? Are vehicles available? What enemies inhabit these levels? How can the player character’s current abilities be used to overcome themed obstacles in each level? The answer to these sorts of questions will lead you in the right direction to turning an old stereotype into a unique “theme” level. 


Use the “Mexican Pizza” Technique to Make Level Themes Unique


Once again we find that it’s fun and interesting to try using the Mexican Pizza Technique when designing levels. You could have a jungle on fire with action packed gameplay where you can escape or help save the forest. You can have an underground ice cave fortified with concrete (urban) tunnels and checkpoints. Mixing different types of elements together can help you enhance your gameplay or give you an idea for another part of the game.


Level Names Can Convey Game Mode and Info to Your Players


When you’re naming your levels you need to consider what information the name conveys to the player. In the long run it won’t mean much what the levels are named if your game is really interesting to players, but for the average developer it’s a task just to get players to want to finish your game. It has to be balanced and keep people interested and wanting more gameplay. You can help build that anticipation for players by naming your levels something that tells them what they can expect next. Check out the names for the levels in a non-existent game below. What do they tell you about the game itself and the type of things you can expect to see in this game? 




Think about “Jungleland” as a name. It tells you that there is probably a jungle in that level. Now think about how “Tropical Jungle Adventure” sounds to a player. I might want to visit Jungleland, but I’m definitely looking forward to a tropical adventure in the jungle. That can be the difference between someone pushing through to the next level instead of just quitting and playing another game that’s less frustrating.