October 7, 2008

Writing for Games: Week 10 readings…

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 2:57 pm

Rouse, R. (2000). Level Design. Game Design: Theory and Practice (pp. 406-425). Plano, Texas: Wordware Publishing.

Rouse (2000) gave an overview of the technical constraints that the level designer must take into consideration for the effective design of the game level: the need to keep all textures, models and gameplay within balance; brought together as a cohesive whole. In this regard Rouse states that the level designer is often the least liked team member as his job is to make certain that the development team are fixing the problems that the level designer finds in the development of the level (p. 407).

Provided were outlines of “level separation” (Rouse, 2000, p. 409) where the memory limits for texture and mesh loading etc, which generally would only be completed once for a single, large level, was highlighted as perhaps a limiting decisive factor in the design of a single level. However, Rouse also noted that designers could be creative in their use of a common game engine such as the Quake game engine and cited Valve’s development of Half-Life to manipulate the engine by building many small levels that shared common architecture to enable a more seamless flow from game area to game area (p. 410). However, seamless flow from one level or game area to another may present problems in narrative based games which imply a central, linear story spine as such: changing the level order or sequence would disrupt the narrative, perhaps even radically (Rouse, 2000, p. 411).  

In discussing the need to identify the level’s purpose, Rouse suggested breaking down the level into five components: “action, exploration, puzzle solving, storytelling, and aesthetics” (2000, p. 413). Points of interest Rouse observed include: the need to keep one’s enthusiasm up while going over and over a level during its construction (p. 414); not to overuse simplistic puzzle pieces such as switches (p. 415) [although this might be dependent on the engine to a certain degree]; and, letting the aesthetics become more important than the gameplay (p. 417).

The rest of the reading generally dealt with the flow of the level: this also includes providing the level with a story spine, sub paths and choices. Fundamentally though is the need to make certain that the player cannot get stuck. Rouse (2000) indicates this as obvious; however, no doubt, pitfalls can inadvertently be built into a level that are not identified through testing. Therefore, Rouse pointed out that the level designer needs to keep asking “But what if the player tries it this way?” (p. 421).

Perhaps it is also worthy to take into account that the player will not know what the level designer was thinking in the design of the level: what the level designer thought may be a “clever” way of deceiving the player may turn out to be a show stopper. One personally found this in level 3 of Lara Croft, Tomb Raider Anniversary Edition, where the exit to level three was so well hidden that the player was consequently thrown straight back into the start of that same level – after a while one began to feel that was therefore not the exit path, when in fact it was. To have to resort to cheats to resolve the exit of a level when the player actually was at the exit, seems, one feels, rather of a bastard of a thing to do to the player.

Final comment on Rouse (2000): he wrote “I once saw someone criticize Shigeru Miyamoto’s games as being all about exploration, and therefore not very good games” (p. 415). Rouse refutes this comment as perhaps all broad minded people would: to suggest that everyone enjoys playing the same type of game is akin in expecting everyone to like vegemite; they don’t, yet those that do like it very, very much. After reading various readings on game design it does appear that there are some very shallow folks out there involved in the game business in some degree or another who can’t seem to look beyond their own personal likes in gameplay. This is perhaps where the game and education sectors need to come together for the benefit of both: so that the education sector learns how to make appealing educational support materials; and, so that some game designers learn that differing people have differing learning styles, traits and interests and not everyone is the same. 


Oxland, K. (2004). The Walkthrough. Gameplay and Design (pp. 245-251). London: Addison-Wesley.

A rather light reading, but very useful as an example to an approach to describe the textural illustration of a level, or “level walkthrough”. Mind you, to emulate the detail the Oakland illustrates in his example would totally blow the word count out for the Writing for Games assignment.


Pardew, L. (2005). Level Layouts. Beginning Illustration and Storyboarding. (pp. 95-109). Boston, Massachusetts: Thomson Course Technology.

Pardew (2005) states “A level layout is a scale drawing of a level used as a guide by the development team to create a level in a game” (p. 95) and notes that scale is more important than artistic composition. Apart from describing the level design to the development team the level layout can also be used to “define story elements, place characters and objects, locate events, and define paths” (Pardew, p. 96). Each of those last points will determine the flow of the level in their own right and by planning the level in a visual manner it would be hoped one could identify problems with the level’s design before the commencement of the development phase.

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