Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Level Design

When I was a kid my best friend Tim and I used to play Duke Nukem games over the modem.  It was really fun, and I eventually taught myself how to use the Build Engine to make my own multiplayer levels.  It started simple, building versions of my own house, etc.  It was always a blast when I finished a level and then I’d send it to Tim and we’d play it.  Over time I got better and eventually created an entire episode, which is 12 levels of singleplayer/coop.  It took 6 months, but when it was done I sent it to Tim and we played through it on coop, and it was insanely fun.  The episode ended up being sponsored on several Duke Nukem mod sites.  This was all by the age of 13.


I used to find level building the ultimate form of creativity.  Especially single player / coop maps.  Guiding a player through something that came from my mind was a great feeling.  I’ve always liked directing an experience, whether it be video editing, photography or level design.  I remember when the next generation of level editors came out I tried to get into it, but it was a lot to learn.  Everything was true 3 dimensions, and the xyz axis model was a lot to take in.  And I was becoming a teenager;  I had a social life and had to deal with all the drama and change that comes at that time of life.  I never ended up learning it, and the field of level design left me behind.

Every so often I’ll still get the overwhelming desire to create something, and level design was always the most rewarding.  Just throw on some good tunes, bunker down at the computer with a vision and a few ideas, and spend all night bringing it together, watching it take shape.  I miss having that outlet.

I’d been planning on either learning the Dragon Age toolset or the Unreal Engine on my 3 months off, and I’ve decided to go with the Unreal Engine, since so many games use it and it’s more first-person shooter oriented, which is where my level design history is (though I did used to have a blast with RPG Maker 95).

My cousin is on the Mass Effect team which uses the Unreal Engine, so he’s been learning it as he goes, and pointed me to some invaluable resources, including over 20 hours of videos teaching you how to make levels.  I’ve made level design it’s own job now, to keep myself on a schedule and to be productive.  I wake up early on weekdays and work on levels until about 5:00, working my way through the instructional videos.  I’m catching on fast so far, and I’m already extremely excited to have that creative outlet again.  And since I’m in the industry now, I could potentially make the jump from QA to Level Design some day.

2-16-2010 4-39-48 PM

This is the test level I’ve been making so far.  I have basic geometry and lighting down, and have just practiced populating it with static meshes.  God I missed this!

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