I thought many times about talents, which should have aspiring level designers on casual mobile game projects. You can find a lot of articles around the internet, but usually they have one mutual thing – they are strongly focused on 3D shooters or action adventures. It’s completely understandable – young boys and girls who are interested in level design are usually players of big triple A games. Mobile games are usually different – we don’t build big worlds for players playing in front of their TVs or monitors. Our audience is playing on small screens of their smartphones, during commuting, during watching boring tv shows or during short breaks in work. Levels in mobile games are usually more abstract – there is a clear difference between level in Home Scapes and level in Team Fortress. Since I was part of several job interviews when we were looking for new colleagues for junior level designer positions, I put together the list of skills and traits, which I have seen as important. When you are choosing new people into your team, you are also considering different aspects – the personality, working experiences, approach to work etc. But this is a different topic and we will stay only with skills and traits connected to specific craft and in our case it’s level design. I chose 5, which I consider the most important.
Likes to entertain people
It doesn’t matter if you are creating content for web, TV, or games. The main purpose of any content in this kind of media is to entertain your audience and create for them something, what they can use as relax or enjoyment in their free time. Level designer who is truly enjoying entertaining other people is something that you want in your team. It sounds obvious, but not all people who want to start a career in this position have this motivation. A result of their work will be played by hundreds of thousand players. The role of level designer is to find what players like and bring it on their screens. Personal preferences have to go often on a sideway.
Universal design principles
Level design is about communication with players through gameplay. Aspiring level designers don’t have to know the theory of design principles, but it is a good sign if they are aware of their existence and use them naturally. Which color is used to communicate danger? How to emphasize importance of a object in the level? How to navigate player through level? This are just basic questions, where you can find useful to look at some well known design principles and study them.
According to this funny diagram, if you want to become a level designer, you should be able to work with unfinished tools. And from my experiences I can agree. Or at least, it’s very helpful. Documentation is often missing or non-existing, tools aren’t always user friendly and sometimes you have to improvise.
Sense for visual aesthetics
Good looking level is always better. It’s simple. What does it mean for your gameplay? Simplistic minimal scene, or complex rich environment? Both approaches have their space and the hard part is being able to create stunning visuals for both of them. It’s like playing with Lego. You can build a minimalistic locomotive from 10 bricks or very detailed from 500. Which looks better? In an ideal world, level designers will be able to create both versions.
I like to build every level (or his part) around a single idea. This idea can be based on any interesting aspect – shape of a level, using specific game’s elements, required gameplay strategy or it can be the feeling which you want to evoke in players (and yes, you can do it also in puzzle games without any texts). When you have the idea of your level, can you make interesting gameplay around it? What you put there and what not? Something less is more and something is more just more. This is maybe the most tricky skill – not everybody can learn it, but is very universal and transferable between different game types. Simple questions can be helpful when you want to see if a candidate is able to think this way. How do you create a level with a feeling of fast progression? Which shape of level do you use to get interesting navigation and progress unlocking? You will probably don’t get exact answers, but you should be able to see if the direction of thinking is what you need.