Level Design for Games
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Registration Starts On
November 13, 2017
Class Begins On
February 4, 2018
Emilia Schatz
Emilia Schatz is a lead game designer at Naughty Dog and has been making games professionally for more than 15 years. She was recognized by Fast Company Magazine as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business for 2017. In the seven years she’s been at Naughty Dog, she worked on Uncharted 3, Uncharted 4, The Last of Us, and is currently helping to lead design on The Last of Us, Part II. Em is known especially for her puzzle designs and environmental level layout. The first public gameplay reveals for both Uncharted 3 and 4 featured her level designs.

Course Description

In this course you will learn to approach 3D game level environments from a design perspective. The lectures will explore theory of games, shape composition, architecture, and player psychology. You will design and iterate on level setups from the initial planning phases to playable prototypes. The course will focus on crafting immersion and modeling shapes that intrigue, surprise, and inspire players. We'll explore how to design for game mechanics and narrative, creating level progressions that support character development and player experience.

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Pre-reqs: Strong working knowledge of Maya is required; knowledge of Unity is recommended but not required.

Course Format: Standard
Duration: 10 Weeks
Lecture Type: Pre-recorded
Assignment: Deadlines each week.
Feedback: Individual Recordings
Q&A: Once a week. 

*For classes with fewer than 6 students feedback may be provided during the live Q&A session.

Estimated time for course work: 10-20 hours per week

Course Outline

Wk1

Getting Started

  • What is a "level"? What do level designers do? We'll look at the history of environments in games and their purpose in the overall structure of a game's design. And we'll briefly take a look at the structure of the course. Finally, we'll setup UE4 and familiarize ourselves with the pipeline of creating environment mesh and bringing it into the game.

Wk2

Shapes, Space, and Beyond

  • We're going back to basics of architecture this week and exploring components of geometric shape. We'll talk positive and negative space, rules of perception, and how shape inflluences player behavor and experience.

Wk3

Elements of Layout

  • Let's get organized! We'll learn about the structure of cities and buildings, how players mentally map and utilize space, and how you can create environments that communicate their purpose to the player.

Wk4

Hit the Books

  • It's time to start planning an environment. We'll talk about how designers study and research, gather reference, and create prototypes leading up to the creation of their levels. Learn to look at reference and pick out what evokes a sense of place and atmosphere. Creating immersion means getting your head in the world of the game.

Wk5

Shape in Sequence

  • A level is a story. We'll learn about formal narrative structure and performative techniques. We'll create beat diagrams, pacing, and examine how levels flow from space to space in support of narrative and character development.

Wk6

Exploration Design

  • How do you create spaces that are interesting to explore? We'll look at path flow, valving, risk, rewards, creating mystery, player motivation and investment.

Wk7

Battlefield Design

  • Many games feature some form of combat. We'll dive into cover based shooter mechanics as a case study for how environmental shape interacts directly with player mechanics.

Wk8

Multiplayer Combat Design

  • This week we'll take a look at what considerations go into creating multiplayer deathmatch style arena maps.

Wk9

Puzzle Design

  • What is a puzzle? We'll analyze one of the hardest types of level setups, and how different games approach puzzle and problem-solving spaces.

Wk10

Play-Testing and Iteration

  • A design isn't done until it ships. It's a humbling experience putting your game in the hands of new players. We'll look at the cycle of iteration and working with other departments to carry your design to gold. Also some final thoughts.

Careers

  • Game Designer
  • Level Designer
  • Game Environment Artist