Forum Post Breakdown: Game Design Edition

Heres a bunch of Game Design related posts I churned out on various forums I visit. Lets start with my ‘level design’ post which was supposed to become a full sized article. I’m lazy though.


iTremble ye who look upon this map, for it is the mightiest of its kind/i
Tremble ye who look upon this map, for it is the mightiest of it

What makes good level design? Such is mysterious! Many men could point and say “Behold! This level is the shizzle, for rizzle”, and fewer but still many could psay “I like things!” and point vigorously at things which are made of good and things that are made of bad and EVEN FEWER may actually design a stage, have it be good and likely still does not know what he’s talking about. He also does not get to point.

Even I designed I Wanna Be The Guy with no idea what I was doing. I merely had intuition and experimentation to go by, which led to good and bad decisions as I went along, but over time I came upon the understanding of a process. But before I go into my methods, I will raise the first question. Why is Super Metroid so good and why does its map beat the pants off of everything else in it’s genre?

A typical Castelvania Area compared to a typical Super Metroid Area
A typical Castelvania Area compared to a typical Super Metroid Area

Super Metroid does a lot of small things very well through attention to detail. It keeps you moving and it keeps you moving in an energetic way. It makes you do platforming that may almost feel like formality when looking at it from a distance and it flows from one area to the next. it is active and varied, pleasing to look at and fluid. So with that in mind I will go on to discuss my building blocks for a level. This can apply to any type of level (not metroidvanias excusively) so I will use broad elements.


Before you do anything, you generally need at least a vague concept, thinking about what you want to happen on this screen, adjacent screens. You want to know what real challanges you want to have, if any and you want to consider the pacing of the game in it’s entirety when you come ot this point. Sometimes even a passing thought in these areas are all you need.

When you begin placing a level down, be it in game or on paper, there are other things you need to take into consideration.


Moving is the key thing you do in most games and in platformers or FPSs or anything, I generally think of two general considerations.


Portable Castlevania’s biggest sin has always been indescript hallways with periodic enemies. No features. No platforms to jump on. No motion but the most basic of motions. Games in the mairo series have traditionally been very good at this. Even tiny touches such as changing the terrain elevation or needless platforms and asymetrical areas makes moving from point A and point B way more enjoyable.


Flow I think of as distinct from motion. A stage has good flow not when you necessarily do a lot of ‘unnecessary’ ‘motion’, but when the path the player takes flows naturally. In games with winding passageways and complicated maze like structures, flow is important to gently guide the player where he has to go. Super Metroid does this beautifully as their are few times where you have to blindly backtrack. You can proceed through the game almost entirely through a cyclical motion. In linaer games like Half-Life, good flow wll help make the player not feel rail roaded. They are going down this road because they WANT to go down it, not because they have no choice. Playing the original Half Life, I always felt like I had mutliple paths to take that never existed during my first time through the game.

pacing often has to be looked at in a macro and micro sense. In the macro scale, you may ask ‘was the last area hard? Does the player deserve a relaxing area? Do I need ot remind the player that this game is hard?”. You may ask if the game is reaching it’s climax and if it’s time to crank on the pressure. On a micro scale, each level is filled with ups and down.Long corridors in Symphony of the Night can get boring with your emotion impeded by ‘walls'(enemies) you have to hack down Even little screens in IWBTG can represent pacing. repeating rooms constantly filled with spikes are painfully stressful and even a few scant free spaces to move around in without fear can be a massive relief to players. On the same point, there are times when you purposely want to give no quarter.

Not Pictured: Quarter
Not Pictured: Quarter


Aesthetic! Many hardcore gamers say they don’t care about graphics. Thats mostly BS. Graphics do not need to be fancy though by any means. Still, every screen, every panel, every section represents a composition. These compositions must look balanced. Stage design without balanced composition often feels random and arbitrary. Remove the moody atmosphere from the Colony section at the beginning of Super Metroid. Replace all the platforms with just simple boxes. Now it feels like a cheap flash jumping game! Take out the aesthetic screen balance and now the game looks like Cheetahmen II. Terrible aesthetic can even directly damage your flow.

You don’t have ot be an artist and don’t have ot make your levels a work of art, but at the very least you need things to be unnoticable Glaringly bad balance and composition can hurt to look at.

the simple lay out of most of the Zelda screens are burned into my brain.
the simple lay out of most of the Zelda screens are burned into my brain.

So… So far I’ve told you a bunch of stuff to look for. If you look you’ll probably find that these things are shown in pretty much all examples of games with good level design. Even Quake 3 maps use these concepts just to make something competitive! But I haven’t told you how to do any of this.

Well as far as I know, the only way to do it is guts and effort. The knowledge of what to look for and what is fun is key to making a good level. You have to test it and feel it. If you know what you’re looking for and keep in mind what makes an area more appealing, you have a better chance to hit the mark.

So what I’m hoping from everyone is that you add our input and insight on good levels. I’ll probably add more based on what I think of and what you say. I want to eventually compile a blog post out of this, so I’ll end here for now. May next time I’ll get into specific cases!

Also recommended reading:
Auntie Pixelante

Now wasn’t that nice, if not a little rough? Then theres a few posts I made on making games in general. A few people asked me for advice for new game developers.

Alright, lemme get some stuff out before I go to bed then.

First off, it’s better to complete something bad then make nothing at all. Your friends might disagree, but you have built up knowledge. This considered, it’s best not to start doomed projects. You’ll learn a little, but will never get the full picture.

So first thing is to not be over ambitious. If you over exert your self, you will never succeed and your effort will be wasted. There is no reason your ‘big’ game has to be your first game. Releasing a decent game of some kind will teach you an infinite amount of valuable things about managing your work and creating the content, as well as the effort required to get things done.

Second thing is to self edit.

Pro Tip: 95% of your ideas are abhorrent garbage

People often wonder how great designers come up with great ideas! The big truth here is generally that their average idea isn’t much better then yours. Well, maybe a little better due to experience, but they started out with ideas as bad as yours! The difference is, they are self critical. They do not hold their ideas sacred. They think about how workable an idea is and, if it is bad, they discard it. They are a better pruner of ideas then you are and the best way to become more like them is to prune more. Many people have idea that sound good, but fail, even theoretically. They are generally afraid to throw out ideas that seem cool, or try and shoe-horn them in just because. Develop the discipline to just say no to your self.

Secondly, great designers find a great idea and they make it shine. They don’t bog it down with excess. What excess is will vary, but they generally will focus on the juicy core. This isn’t to say you need to be minimalist, but the difference between minimalism and maximalism are smaller then you think. I’ll run this down quick…

Minimalism: Cut as many ideas and concepts away as possible without damaging the core idea (Example: Braid, Ikaruga)

Maximalism: Add as much awesome stuff as possible……. WITHOUT DAMAGING THE CORE IDEA (Example: Bunny Must Die, Radiant Silvergun)

So when adding or subtracting ideas to supplement your core concepts, keep this in mind.

Third! Brilliant people steal. A LOT. Originality is the most overrated concept in existence. If you look around hard enough, you should see that there is nothing new under the sun. Nunix said it pretty well earlier in the thread when talking about Idea Theft. REMEMBER THAT. Do not be afraid to steal. That doesn’t mean to just steal and be done with it — then you’re just uninspired and uninteresting to the player. Take the idea, polish it up, show it love and heck, implement it in a new, or heck, just plain well executed way. What games are accused of stealing and being clones the most? Bad games. Don’t be a bad game and you’ll be alright, even if a lot of your ideas are derivative.

The process of idea making, refinement and editing is one of the hardest things to learn. At the same time it is also one of the reasons why releasing garbage is good. It gives you a chance to get real feedback on your work so you can refine your internal processes.

Theres a lot of failure involved in making things, but that shouldn’t scare you. There is a Go adage I like…

Lose Your First 50 Games As Quickly As Possible

There are similar quotes involving painting as well. Failure is a part of learning and the sooner you make mistakes, the sooner you will no longer make the same mistakes again.

I guess thats enough for now, I think I should get to bed! Sorry if this is rambley, writing is not one of my best skills. I could benefit from a little more self editing, in fact. :(

A bit more on originality.

Originality is overrated.

Nothing about originality or innovation intrinsically leads to more fun or anything. I think people confuse themselves. They play a bad game that clearly wanted to cop off of Halo and they’re like “This game sucks! It’s so derivative and does nothing new!”

Well they’re sort of confused. When the game is a tepid mess, blaming the lack of originality is easier then blaming the lack of polish, love and care that didn’t go into the game.

When you play a good game, the slight differences between it and it’s predecessors seems huge, because it’s all dolled up and is well presented in a way that accentuates these differences. It doesn’t make the differences any greater, it just makes you notice them.

And some on game pricing…

I totally agree with Geo. I played VVVVVVV’s demo without looking at the price. Then I was like “Hey this is neat, if it’s priced right, maybe I’ll buy it!”

I saw 15 dollars. I was just like “lol” … I figured 5 might be the higher end, and 10 was possible. But 15? I laughed my ass off. I laughed at the absurdity.

I thought of all the things I could buy. Notably on the indy end of things, Noitu Love 2 is 5 dollars cheaper.

So for 15 dollars you get

for 10 dollars you get


And I haven’t even bothered to buy NL2 yet (one day I will). I just bought Serious Sam HD for 8 bucks. I can get a number of remakes of great games on PSN for less than 15.

VVVVVVV just does not look even close to a 15 dollar game. NL2 looks better than most professional DS games and its’ only 10 dollars. Granted I think it started at 15 or 20 but at least that looks awesome! VVVVVVV also has to compete with a number of FREE games.

15 is just a poorly considered price. He lost my sale and quite a few other sales I’m sure.

The problem I see if an issue of pride. If VVVVVVV was 5$ it almost seems to the average person that it was trying to make less money. Even if a simple game required a ton of effort, charging 15-20$ isn’t going to fly. You’re trying to find the optimal price point, not assess of much your game is abstractly worth on a value of goodness.

Feel that sting? Thats pride, fucking with you. Understanding price as an aspect of marketing and maximizing profits is the important part. This is regardless of quality, effort or production value.