Rune Skovbo Johansen
Creative Programmer & Designer


Level design workflows

Let me talk a bit about my workflows for doing level design in Eye of the Temple since I recently had some progress in that area.

I've been in something akin to a level design writer's block for a long time, being able to rework individual small areas, but unable to start the major world redesign that I've been intending for over a year.

Maybe calling it writer's block is pretentious - the fact is that I've never done this sort of work before, so I may just not have developed the necessary workflows to deal with it. Anyway, I think I might have finally cracked the nut.

I've had plenty of ideas, but fragmented and not crystallized enough to get down on paper. How do you start planning a non-linear world meant to be highly interconnected and interdependent? I can talk about what eventually worked for me.

I've long pondered what type of document could help me get ideas down on paper in a quick way. In addition to text documents (glorified to-do lists) I've been using tilemaps for sketching level designs. These tilemaps naturally lead to obsess over details though. What recently helped me move on was allowing myself to draw free-hand inaccurate lines and gloss over the contents of rooms. It's difficult because I have ideas for the rooms that are important and which informs their shapes. The fear of forgetting those details if I don't put them down right away is there, but have to be ignored to get on with the broader strokes.

In order to inform what to draw in those broader strokes, I consult my documents with intended progression of a given section of the game. What puzzles are encountered, what abilities are learned and used. This is an iterative process where both documents are altered. Finally, after watching Boss Keys episodes by Mark Brown (@britishgaming), I tried using his dungeon graph notation to document, then refine, how dependencies in the world works. I already had loosely these ideas in my head, but getting things into the right document form can help immensely. These 3 document types, progressions described in text, a world map sketch, and a dependency diagram, each make certain aspects of the creative process easier, and iteratively refining them all in a complimentary manner now helps me plan out the complex world. The tilemaps are convenient in that the rough sketches can be refined into more detailed plans over individual rooms where each tile is planned, but my lesson was to only do this later, as necessary. This is not to say that these will be the only document types I use for planning out the world. None of them capture the three-dimensionality of the world well, and white-boxing may well be the next thing I look into. That's it. A lesson learned in using various forms of documents that fit various aspects of the job in order to be able to get on with "getting things down on paper".

P.S. Be sure to check out Mark Brown's awesome dungeon graph template on his Patreon.
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