Level design, principles

Level Design Demystified: Ten Principles for Good Level Design

We’ve got an exciting new video release just for you. This time, we’re diving deep into the world of level design and exploring the Ten Principles for Good Level Design.

If you’re an aspiring game designer or simply interested in understanding how captivating levels are created, this video and our summary that we’ve crafted is a must-see!

In this video game designer, Dan Taylor, shares his favorite level design experience from Medal of Honor Heroes 2. He explains the key factors that set this level apart, such as its ability to effectively teach motion controls on the Wii and capture the essence of the original Medal of Honor game.

Ten Principles for Good Level Design Key Takeaways

Here are 5 key takeaways from the video:

  1. The importance of a well-designed tutorial level that successfully introduces core mechanics.
  2. Balancing the effort put into level design with the chance of players figuring out the mechanics themselves.
  3. The challenge of disrupting player expectations and avoiding predictability.
  4. Accommodating a broader audience through accessible level design, without breaking immersion.
  5. The crucial role of self-criticism and understanding the player’s experience in level design.

Contents: Ten Principles for Good Level Design

Ten Principles for Good Level Design

1- Good level design is fun to navigate and should have a consistent visual language to guide the player.

Effective level design revolves around a fun and coherent navigation experience, accompanied by a consistent visual language that guides the player. The focus is to fulfill the desired player fantasy, which doesn’t necessarily involve being dominant or powerful. Utilizing environmental storytelling can be a powerful tool for creating implicit narratives within the game world.

Ten Principles for Good Level Design: A person is designing a Nintendo Mario game with good level design principles.
Ten Principles for Good Level Design:A person is designing a Nintendo Mario game with good level design principles.

2- Good level design does not rely on words.

Level design that transcends the need for words is a hallmark of excellence. Implicit and emergent narratives allow games to tell stories without relying on explicit dialogue or text. An example of this can be seen in the game BioShock, where the environment itself becomes a medium for conveying narrative elements.

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3- Good level design tells what to do but never how to do it.

Well-crafted level design effectively instructs players on what to do without explicitly showing them how to do it. A notable example is the tutorial level in Medal of Honor Heroes 2, which masterfully introduces new gameplay mechanics in each section to teach players the core game mechanics.

4- Good level design constantly teaches.

The tutorial level in Medal of Honor Heroes 2 is discussed as a level that successfully teaches the core mechanics of the game. Each section of the level introduces a new mechanic for the player to learn and use.

Ten Principles for Good Level Design: A 3D image of a city showcasing the architectural highlight of a crane.
Ten Principles for Good Level Design: A 3D image of a city showcasing the architectural highlight of a crane.

5- Good level design is surprising.

Outstanding level design often incorporates elements of surprise and unpredictability. By breaking away from established paradigms and pacing, designers can keep players engaged and captivated. For instance, a sudden boss fight appearing unexpectedly can be a powerful way to disrupt player expectations.

6- Good level design empowers the player.

Exceptional level design focuses on empowering the player, allowing them to embody their desired role within the game world. It questions whether the primary motivation for playing video games is to feel important and proposes that emotional empowerment could offer a valuable alternative.

Ten Principles for Good Level Design: A toy car sits on top of a map, highlighting principles for good level design.
Ten Principles for Good Level Design: A toy car sits on top of a map, highlighting principles for good level design.

7- Good level design is easy, medium, and hard.

Outstanding level design strikes a delicate balance between offering challenges for different players. Achieving the perfect balance of difficulty is an ongoing challenge for level designers, as it is crucial to allow players to explore gameplay mechanics and progress through levels on their own.

8- Good level design is efficient.

Efficient level design optimizes player experience by considering factors such as exploration and pacing. Bi-directional levels, as seen in games like Halo and Half-Life, provide efficient pathways for players to navigate the game world. However, it is important to avoid excessive repetitiveness, as seen in some sections of Halo’s level design.

Man | Desert | Outstretched arms
Man | Desert | Outstretched arms

9- Good level design creates emotion.

Exceptional level design has the power to evoke strong emotions within players. Crafting levels that elicit specific emotions is a vital aspect of the designer’s role. Playing Journey gave me a personal experience that made me realize something significant: when it comes to level design, emphasizing emotional empowerment instead of a sense of dominance can truly create a profound impact.

10- Good level design is driven by mechanics.

Mastery of level design lies in the ability to leverage gameplay mechanics to enhance the players’ experience. The addition of modifiers that change gameplay mechanics, along with the skillful manipulation of lighting and geometry to craft unique visual perspectives, greatly enhance the immersive and varied game universe.

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Dieter Rams’ 10 principles of good design

The 10 principles discussed in this article and in the video were inspired by Dieter Rams focused on Industria Design.

In the late 1970s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly interested in the world of things that surrounded him – “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” Rams, being a designer, recognized the significant impact he had on shaping the world. This realization led him to ponder a crucial question: does my design embody true excellence?

Good design is subjective and can’t necessarily be measured. However, Rams attempted to express what he believed to be the most important principles for design.

He already had left an indelible mark on the field of design with his timeless principles of good design. His ten principles serve as a compass for designers, guiding them towards creating products that are functional, aesthetically pleasing, and sustainable. While these principles were initially intended for industrial design, they can also be applied and adapted to other creative disciplines, such as game design.

Ten Principles for Good Level Design: Dieter presents his Ten Principles for Good Level Design in his interactive guide.
Ten Principles for Good Level Design: Dieter presents his Ten Principles for Good Level Design in his interactive guide.

Let’s explore how Dieter Rams’ principles can be linked to game design:

1. Good design is innovative: In game design, innovation is key to captivating players and providing unique interactive experiences. Creating novel mechanics, inventive storytelling, and original gameplay elements can set a game apart.

2. Good design makes a product useful: Games should offer enjoyable and engaging experiences to players. They should fulfill a purpose, whether it’s providing entertainment, education, or emotional catharsis. Ease of use and intuitive controls also contribute to the usefulness of a game.

3. Good design is aesthetic: Just like any other form of design, games should strive for visual appeal. Attention to detail, art direction, and graphic design enhance the overall player experience, immersing them in captivating virtual worlds.

4. Good design makes a product understandable: clear and intuitive communication is crucial in game design. Players should easily grasp the game mechanics, objectives, and rules without feeling overwhelmed. A well-designed user interface and effective tutorials can aid in making the game understandable.

5. Good design is unobtrusive: A game should not distract or hinder players from enjoying the experience. User interfaces should be minimalistic and non-intrusive, allowing players to fully immerse themselves in the game world.

6. Good design is honest: Game designers should strive for transparency and fairness. Players should feel that the game offers a level playing field, without hidden tricks or manipulative tactics. This fosters trust and creates a positive player experience.

7. Good design is long-lasting: In game design, longevity is often desired. To develop games that can withstand the test of time, it is essential to meticulously contemplate gameplay mechanics, ensure replayability, and regularly provide content updates. These strategies are crucial for keeping players engaged even long after the game’s initial release.

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8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail: Attention to detail can make a remarkable difference in game design. From small animations and sound effects to well-crafted dialogue and immersive environments, every aspect should be polished to create a cohesive and immersive experience.

9. Good design is environmentally friendly: While this principle is more challenging to directly apply to game design, it can be interpreted as fostering sustainability within the industry. Encouraging eco-friendly practices, such as energy-efficient game development processes and reducing the environmental impact of hardware, can contribute to a more sustainable gaming ecosystem.

10. Good design is as little design as possible: Simplification and elegance play an essential role in game design. Stripping away unnecessary complexities and focusing on the core gameplay elements can create an experience that is both intuitive and enjoyable for players.

By aligning game design with Dieter Rams’ principles, creators can enhance the overall quality, user experience, and longevity of their games. Embracing these guidelines fosters innovation, aesthetic values, and user-centric design, ultimately creating memorable and engaging gaming experiences.

These principles have become iconic and have inspired designers across the world.

Other Resources:

10 Principles of Level design youtube video

10 Principles of Level design youtube video

Slideset Principles of Level design

Conclusion: 10 principles of good level design

In conclusion, level design plays a crucial role in shaping the player’s experience within a game. It encompasses elements such as navigation, visual language, storytelling, player empowerment, and balance. Effective level design goes beyond mere instruction, offering players a journey of discovery and growth.

By creating a consistent and engaging world, level designers have the power to immerse players in a captivating experience. Through the use of implicit narratives, they can tell stories without relying solely on words. Well-designed levels not only teach players how to play the game but also provide opportunities for continuous learning and challenge.

Surprise and unpredictability are key elements that make level design memorable, breathing life into the game world. By disrupting player expectations, designers can keep the gameplay fresh and exciting.

In addition, it is crucial for level design to be highly effective and cater to the diverse needs of players, striking a perfect equilibrium between presenting captivating challenges and granting players the freedom to leisurely explore the vast game universe.It’s a fine line to walk, but one that can lead to a rewarding experience for a wide range of players.

Ultimately, exceptional level design has the ability to evoke powerful emotions within players. By focusing on the desired player fantasy and emotional empowerment, designers can create truly impactful and unforgettable experiences.

Level design is much more than just constructing platforms and obstacles; it is a captivating art that demands a profound comprehension of player psychology, mechanics, and storytelling. The potential to craft immersive worlds and elicit emotional responses from players makes level design an essential component of any successful video game.

That’s all for now, fellow Game Designers. Stay tuned for more exciting content coming your way. Until then, keep leveling up your skills and creating awesome game experiences!


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