CliffyB and Levelord on the Fine Art of Level Design

In the first of our series of double interviews, we compare the responses of two men who need no introduction. But we recognize that some of our readers may have been living in caves, so for those of you just stepping into the light, Cliff Bleszinski is a hoary old game industry veteran in his mid-twenties better known as "CliffyB". His game credits include the Jazz Jackrabbit games (see photo below as CliffyB gets into method acting to "think like a jackrabbit") and Unreal and Unreal Tournament. Levelord (whose carries around a driver's license with the name "Richard Gray" under his picture) is an industry veteran whose credits go back to Duke Nukem 3D and the original Blood. More recently, he has worked at Ritual Entertainment on their Scourge of Armagon Quake II expansion and SiN. He also helped Rogue Entertainment in the later stages of American McGee's Alice.

Isn't level design an underappreciated art? How many casual gamers can really appreciate the difference between a well designed level and a poorly designed level so long as there are things to shoot at?

CliffyB: There are 2 key things that the casual gamer can easily spot, even if he/she doesn't realize it. One, is this a neat looking game/environment? Two, am I having a good time? These are two basic things that are inherently tied to good level design. And you're damned right level design is an underappreciated art. When you're playing an otherwise good game and you can't find your way around and you're frustrated it's because of bad level design, this can be a real deal-breaker for a gamer. I've quit many games in frustration over bad level design.

Levelord: Actually, I believe the opposite! We seem to get most of the credit related to games, at least within the online community. I often get praise for work that is really the artist's or programmer's merit. You'll never catch me admitting that, of course, but they are the unsung heros of the industry. We level designers just slap stuff together ;)


What is the most common mistake new level designers make when they're first starting out?

CliffyB: I'd say "not aligning their textures," but that would be too easy. You know what the biggest mistake I see level designers make? They don't "pull" the player through the level. At any given point in the game the player should know what he's doing, where he's going, and why he's there. A well designed level should have a hook in the mouth of the player and the designer should be reeling the gamer in towards the next scene. Having to stumble around aimlessly and backtrack is not fun.

Levelord: Framerate! ...without a doubt!

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