Corentin Derbré


Level Design: Concept, Theory, and Practice – Rudolf Kremers

ISBN: 1568813384
Date read: 2016-06-07
How strongly I recommend it: 5/10
(See my list of books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

I've read too many Level Design books, so I skipped after chapter 9. It's as good as any other Level Design book. Some parts are outdated. Good overview but doesn't bring some new insight on the subject.

my notes

Ludology is: A branch of game studies that approaches the subject through the prism of play.

While narrativism is: A branch of game studies that approach the subject through the prism of narrative.

So a first step in game design is to correctly identify the game’s external goals and to interpret those in such a way that they get represented well in the game’s rules.

Maps are where the game takes place.

Games provide a safe context in which these lessons can be learned through play.

Our ability to understand games crosses the species boundary.

With games, learning is the drug.

Games[‘] greatest potential is that they’re worlds in a box.

When a new gameplay mechanic is introduced to the player, it is best to let the player try it out immediately. The best way of learning for many people is by doing.

Covert, on the other hand, means that the teaching occurs within the story or within the reality and logic of the game world.

One very specific solution is not required to complete the challenge.

“Train players’ combat skills throughout the level and build up the players’ level of confidence and ability in order to prepare them for the introduction of a new enemy creature.”

External Level Design Goals. These are the overarching goals that are derived from the requirements of the game’s development as a commercial or even artistic production.

Directorial control. And in keeping with the analogy between directing a film, it can be compared to being allowed final cut on a movie.

If the player does not have time or inclination to question the direction, the level designer is successful.

This bottleneck can be a physical one such as progress to a next area via a single door, or it can be a conditional event. The event can be anything from reaching a certain number of experience points to hitting a time limit or having collected a certain amount of items.

Imagine a dark and atmospheric survival horror game filled with perverted Freudian overtones meant to disturb the player on a psycho-sexual level.

There are many reasons why we turn to art or entertainment: enlightenment, a need to expand boundaries, a quest for an alternative point of view.

Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories. Not only can es capism provide wish-fulfillment for the subject involved, it can also constitute a form of rebellion: as a way of taunting the world by saying: “You can’t touch me while I am in here!”

Unfairness is a form of disempowerment, and it should never be underestimated how much of a negative impact this can have.

It feels counterintuitive to seek out negative experiences to receive a positive reward. Indeed, in many cases we don’t do this and in fact try all we can to avoid it. But on further inspection, we find that in most societies there is actually a deep-rooted respect for doing exactly that.

People have spoken of life-changing experiences after extreme challenges like mountain climbing or spelunking expeditions, extremely long periods of meditation, or extended fasting.

Something is given and something is received.

What use is love if it is likely to end in tears? Why work a hard job if the promotions only go to people who cheat? Why play a game when any effort can be instantly wiped out by the level design?

we have the power to give the player the opportunity to finally take away the big stick from the universal tormentor and run away with all the carrots, and feel really good about it.

Within a fantastic virtual construct, we are free to create many things or situations that simply would not work in the real world, all with the approval of our audience.

Level designers have to do the same thing. They need to interpret the new rules of the world and teach them to players in such a way that it creates a great sense of wonder, as well as teaching them how to play the game.

A big mistake that many people in game development make is to assume that all gameplay spaces must feature active challenges and encounters.

When we play games, we play them for all kinds of enjoyable reasons: to have fun, to exercise our brains, to have a meaningful artistic experience.

Level designers know what simulation games are really about: enjoyable imitation.

Treat the fake rules of the game as if they were real.

If the reward is not high enough in relation to the investment, the player will feel cheated. If the reward is too high, the player will become spoiled and will expect too much throughout the game afterwards.

But in that case, the player needs to know that chance is a factor.

Generally, it is better to think of interesting challenges, rather than of difficult ones. Difficulty is just one of many ways to keep a challenge interesting.

It is generally a good idea if the game “stays in character” and does not tell the player what the real reason for the task is.

We can lend a helping hand by rigging the game in favor of the player, eliminate much of the fairness inherent to real life, and provide players with multiple chances to overcome the same challenge.

Life’s challenges tend to be fairly random.

Most people are painfully aware of the fact that life is not inherently fair. We want it to be, and sometimes the outcomes of our life’s challenges are pleasingly positive, but just as often they simply aren’t. This is why we often seek out challenges that can guarantee a fair outcome.

We have the power to create a world where taking action does mean taking control of one’s destiny.

The sense of empowerment after overcoming an interesting challenge is rewarding in and of itself.

The player may receive an upgraded weapon or gain access to a level’s security systems. Subtler methods may be employed as well. For example, the player’s relationship with non-player characters (NPCs) can change for the better, or some player skill can be enhanced from now on, making it easier to deal with future challenges.

The maze, while conducive to individual exploration, or at least to use by small numbers of people, ceases to be enjoyable if the group becomes too large and is expected to stay together.

Sometimes it is fun to be a loner, to save the girl as a unique hero, or to just collect one’s thoughts.

The player can even form relationships with NPCs.

Giving the player the proverbial puppy to care for can provide direct gameplay gains when the puppy grows up to be a fiercely loyal guard dog.

Sometimes the absence of a thing makes it more powerful in the mind of a person. Think of becoming homesick or missing a loved one while at work. Or in a slightly more ominous scenario, imagine being locked up and awaiting an interrogator. Imagine traveling through the ruins of an ancient culture, or through a city mysteriously devoid of any occupants, even though there are signs of recent habitation everywhere. These are all examples of social dynamics being in play in situations of complete solitude, a paradoxical but real situation.

Eventually it can even engineer a situation where the player misses the company of others, thus creating a mechanism that reinforces bonding the next time the player meets an NPC.

We have discussed earlier when people come out of extended periods of enduring some kind of hardship, or engaging in an extreme challenge, this can lead to a very strong release or purging of emotions.

Suspense in filmic terms is the technique whereby the director creates a large amount of tension in the audience, but then waits a certain amount of time before allowing the tension to be resolved.

The challenge grows in meaning and impact if extended through time.

Few things are as human as the occasional wish to get away from things, to escape from the troubles of our lives.

Extend the safe haven.

Until suddenly, this does happen when the AI creature suddenly reappears when the player really needs him and gets into a fight with an enormous robotic tripod creature, known as a Strider.

We readily, actively and often wholeheartedly believe in something we know to be untrue.

Catch the creature.

the audience is willing to go quite far with the artist because of the implicit promise of a worthwhile experience. If the audience is ultimately rewarded well, it will not resent the difficult route in getting there.

It is an unavoidable combat situation over which the player has limited control for the duration of the lift’s descent, and fear sets in as the player takes damage, and expends resources, with- out knowing the full duration or the final destination of the elevator trip.

© 2018 Corentin Derbré.