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Becoming a… Level Designer

Building your own world in a 3D environment is what hundreds of youngsters wish they could do, yet few make that step from dreamer to practitioner. Why in this day and age do they not make the first step towards fulfilling their dreams which isn’t so hard to fulfil really confuses me. Alas, I am not them and they are not me.

When I was a child, I took a major interest in games development as a whole. It’s not hard to get into and as a child I made my own variants of Tetris, Pong, Space Invaders – You name it! However now-a-days, it’s even easier still. When I was growing up, the internet was inevitably around but was nowhere near as accessible as it is now. So the burning question is: How do I get started with making my own games… Professionally?

Becoming a

If you’ve read my articles on Game Development on a Budget over at 1001-Up, we will be covering a lot of lost ground. This is going to be a supplementary series to that one. If you’ve not checked them out, please do. Your comments would be appreciated.


Level Designer

The level designer is a fairly competitive field to get into, but nowhere near as competitive as some of the more mainstream routes into games development. The level designer is in charge of designing the overall looks and feel of a level, as well as designing the puzzles that are on the level. An example I’ll be frequently using is Portal 2, which has its own chamber building section. So, let’s first of all check out what experience is needed to become a level designer…

screenshot2

These requirements were taken from a role with Splash Damage. Free advertising for them! I doubt they’ll mind this. Go join their team if you’re good enough!

Essential Skills and Experience

  • A good understanding of FPS game-play/game-flow demonstrated in a single-player game
  • Extensive experience with Radiant-based editors (such as editWorld, DoomEdit, QuakeEdit, EditWorld, CoD Radiant and GTK Radiant)
  • A familiarity with idTech 4 engine technology features
  • A passion for architecture and environment design

Preferred Skills and Experience

  • A completed, playable level (or series of levels) for a single player game or modification
  • A portfolio of completed, released maps for an online multiplayer game
  • Experience working with a team of designers on the same level or levels
  • Knowledge of single player scripting and entity setup
  • 3D modelling experience using commercial 3d applications (such as Max, Maya or Lightwave)
  • Basic traditional art skills (for example, ability to sketch own initial topologies)
  • Experience with Adobe Photoshop
  • Experience working in an Agile environment

Let’s break this down bit by bit:

Editorshot

First of all, have you noticed that there’s something missing? It doesn’t say that you need x years commercial experience or anything similar… That’s because we’re now moving into a field that is highly specialised which they can really recruit based upon who’s talents they feel is best for the role. There’s no point hiring someone with tens of years experience, if you’re looking for someone to stay in the company for quite some time. Also it’s more likely that the less commercial experience an employee has, the less they’ll expect in terms of pay… But if you can deliver quality, then that’s really what matters and what drives pay.

To demonstrate a good understanding of FPS game-play/game-flow, why not explain the games you’ve played? Explain what you feel are the necessary components of an FPS and of course, if it makes sense – You’ll be fine! One important part of getting a role like this is to show passion for architecture and environment design. I’d recommend having sketches of architecture and environments which you can display. If you don’t have any way of scanning this, you can keep a physical portfolio and make copies of it, however you could use something like Google SketchUp.

In terms of Splash Damage’s requirements in a level designer, I think this is really reasonable. The essential skills are very fair and entirely focused around what types of games they’re expecting the candidate to be thrust into. Then there’s the technical requirements, all of which are really fair and understandable. They expect that you should be able to do some of what the 3D Modeller can do, although probably not quite to the same level. It actually doesn’t say you need extensive experience with 3D modelling or Photoshop, just that you should have experience in it.

Finally, you should see their “How to Apply” section. Do you remember last week, I mentioned that having an online portfolio is the way to go? I mentioning having a blog. Well, the below might back me up even more…

How to Apply

If you meet the requirements for any role listed above, please email jobs@splashdamage.com, stating the role in the Subject Line and including the following:

  • Cover letter stating your availability
  • Current CV / Resume
  • Up-to-date portfolio or demo reel (such as URL to your website, or a ZIP file of less than 5mb with samples.

Hard-copies of portfolios (such as CDs and portfolio books) can be sent to Splash Damage Ltd, PO Box 830, Bromley, Kent BR1 9WZ, England. Please note that we are unable to return work.

 

It seems recruiters really do appreciate having your works displayed online. I’d recommend setting one up as soon as possible if you feel you have done anything towards these or are even considering it. I mean think about it like this… If you set one up, you might also be more likely to do things towards it. After all your website would be viewed all across the world… You wouldn’t want to disappoint yourself now would you?

 


So level design is a profession that has swings and roundabouts to get in with many different ways in. I think the most practical way in is to really apply yourself to using level editing features and making a portfolio for yourself. The most dedicated level designers (hobbyists, this is) are usually picked although if you have a strong design background, then there’s no reason you can’t get in through this route either. Most importantly: apply yourself to making levels before you strive to become a level designer.

Are you a professional in the games industry? Do you have any advice that isn’t covered above which you think people need to know? Share with us everything you can and let’s help future games industry professionals be made!

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