Game Design - Level Design
This note is about designing challenges in a game. Challenge design contains level design, planning puzzles and how player progresses between different challenges. Most games have a concept of levels, chapters or other term used for a segment of the gameplay experience. They pace the game. Related to game design.
Use visual cues to direct player behaviour.
Super Mario: The first level starts with more open space to the direction player should be going.
Prefer showing mechanics rather than explaining them.
Portal: The game doesn't tell you how portals work. The game start with a small semi-automated sequence that shows how they work.
Allow test driving new mechanics. Tutorial level should start by letting player to try basic game controls freely. Same thing when you introduce new game mechanics.
Super Mario: The first level starts with a bit open space where you can try out controls freely.
Don't show a treasure player can't access sooner or later. Players will waste their time by trying to get the treasure and for nothing which will end in frustration.
Don't do yo-yo level design. Don't make the player go all the way to the end, then all the way to the beginning, then all the way to the end again. Have a series of areas to get through, rather than one big awful area.
Don't use immersion breaking restrictions. Remove any "invisible walls" that artificially restrict the player.
Reduce similar looking areas on a single level. The player really needs reference points. The fun of a game is the challenge, not getting lost. At least if the game is not about orienteering.
Save somethings for later. Don't use all your graphical assets in the first level or chapter. There should be a lot of cool graphics to look forward to.
Don't require hidden tricks for the solution. The difficulty should be there because it is challenging to do, not because you are missing a piece of the puzzle without you knowing about it.
// bad A door opens only if you try to go through it while facing the opposite direction. The game has nothing indicating that you should do this.
Don't require trial and error for the solution. Always have a logical solution.
This machine needs a power source. => good: I could use cell from my plasma gun. => bad: Stuff a polar bear inside the machine.
Don't leave progress cages. Avoid situations where the player can get into an area they can't get out of. The player should never have to kill himself or restart to progress on a level.
Don't leave checkpoint progress cages. If you have halfway point markers that the players return to after getting killed, make sure the level can be completed from that point.
Make it fast to try again. Restarting from the last checkpoint should be possible by pressing a single button. It doesn't matter if the game is Civilization 5 or Angry Birds, no one likes waiting, but especially important in challenging high tempo games like platformers. Player keeps on playing longer game sessions when the effort to start again is low.
Reduce loading times and reduce steps to load previous game. Super Meat Boy: When you die, you start again by pressing one button. Game of Thrones RPG: Loading a save is disabled when in combat, really annoying.
Never draw words or other shapes on a map. If you do, you are designing from your perspective, not how player experiences the level.
// bad A level that spells HELLO when looked top down on the editor.
Don't throw all your different challenges at the player at once. Introduce a new one, let them learn it, let them experience it in combination with all the previous tricks, then introduce another new one. Later on, add new twists on the old tricks that allow them to use their knowledge in a different, but somewhat familiar, way.
Tease about future mechanics. Tutorial should tease about all the game mechanics the game has for store. This makes sure the player sees that the basic mechanics are just the start. Creates imaginary goals for players to achieve.
Many games with skill progression start where player has all the powers, but then they are taken away. This is not always good though. It's better to show other characters using the powers.