CGMA Level Design Projects

A Lifetime of Creativity

I have recently finished taking Emilia Schatz's course on Level Design for Games on CGMA. This course has taught  me many level design fundamental concepts such as Space Theory, Spatial Composition, Occlusion, Elements of Shape, Space Articulation, Combat Design, and more.

Week 1: Getting Started

Week 1 was a basic introduction to the course and getting us familiarized with the tools we'll be using for this course. We are required to use Unity when exporting our blockouts but we may use Maya or Unity's ProBuilder when building our scenes. I decided to use Maya as it is a more standardized industry tool across multiple studios and game engines.

The focus for this week was understanding the mindset of not just a level designer, but more broadly as a game developer.

Boundaries - Setting physical and mental boundaries are one of the biggest rules of game design as they define the limits of what players can/can't do; If boundaries are not clearly communicated to the player, they will feel unclear about what the solutions to a problem are and even the extent of the problems they might face.

Utility/Denial - Essentially, this is every action that a player can utilize the environment for; A box can be used as cover from projectiles, or they can be pushed/pulled to help traverse into different areas.

Language - A simple sentence can define the Possibility Space of a level. A Possibility Space is the variety of possible actions a player performs within the boundaries of a game. A sentence like "The player runs across the barren backyard, climbs over the rusted metal fence, and vehemently runs away into the dried aqueduct" defines the actions the player can do down to the verb, adverbs, and adjectives.

The assignment for this week was to use Henri Matisee's painting of Streets of Arcueil to create a blockout. I had to refamiliarize myself with my Maya workflow so I took a more direct approach when working on the composition. I then took the extra time to flesh out the extra spaces not shown in the painting. 

Week 1 Assignment Screenshots


Week 2: Space & Shape Theory

Week 2 was about getting to understand Space Theory and grasping the concept of how positive and negative space occupies & defines an area.

The assignment for this week was to create a playable area that almost maze-like, forcing the player to move around the space to find a treasure box.

Week 3: Building Shape

In week 3, we learned about building shapes and how the structures of cities and buildings are constructed to mentally map a space for the player. We also learned about how level designers can create environments that communicate their purpose to the player.

The assignment for this week was to construct a ruined temple complex using only a limited number of meshes of each type. We had to be creative with our use of space articulation, edge bleeding, room subdivision, and the use of implied space.

Week 4: Multiple Spaces & How they Interact (and Composition)

In Week 4, we learned about how level designers study & research, gather reference, and create prototypes that lead up to the creation of their levels. We learned how to look at reference and pick out what evokes a sense of place and atmosphere; In order to do that, we had to get our heads immersed in the game's universe.

The assignment for this was to create a still composition for the player to view the layout from a single point of view. There was no combat or traversal in this assignment; simply looking at a view to and constructing it in such a way that is pleasing to look at but also understandable for the player.

Week 5 & 6: Spatial Composition & Cognitive Mapping

Weeks 5 and 6 were about Spatial Composition and Cognitive Mapping spread across 2 weeks. In week 5, we learned about how spaces are constructed in regards to narrative and performative techniques. We looked at beat diagrams, pacing, and examined how levels flow from space to space in support of narrative and character development.

For this week's assignment we looked at reference images to create a loose framework of an old West mountain ghost town. We focused on creating "spatial clusters" within our town.

Week 7: Guiding The Player

In week 7, we covered risk vs reward, affordance/denial, and how these concepts shape player choices.

For this week's assignment we had to create a non-linear maze-like space. We used simple shapes in order to help emphasize risk vs. reward and affordance vs. denial.

Week 9: Combat Design

In Week 9 we focused on combat design, a concept that featured in many games. Specifically, we looked at cover-based shooter mechanics as well as took a look at what considerations goes into creating multiplayer deathmatch style arena maps.

For this week's assignment we had to create 3 spaces with an emphasis on combat. For one of my assignments I tried to create a The Last of Us-esque scenario of a run-down area with lots of cover and flank routes. I really enjoyed working on this assignment :)

Week 10: Final Project

For our last week we tied up some loose ends about combat by taking a look at how to valve players into a combat scenario, as well as constructing a journey for the player.

For our assignment, we had to create a journey-like level where the player must fight their way through enemies to find a treasure at the end. We were allowed to use our previous assignments in this one so I used my work from Week 2 and 5.

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