Level Design in a Day: Best Practices from the Best in the Business

A session at GDC Game Developers Conference 2012

Tuesday 6th March, 2012

10:00am to 6:00pm (PST)

In this intense day-long tutorial, attendees gain deep insights into the art of Level Design from an all-star cast of industry veterans. This year, everyone's favorite Level Design tutors return with new topics, new formats, and new genres, plus acclaimed Dead Space level designer Seth Marinello! From the iterative process behind a production of Gears of War level, to the process of creating the most stirring moments of Dead Space, this tutorial reviews best practices and lessons learned from almost a century of collective level design experience on a vast array of contemporary and classic games. Topics of focus include documentation, pacing, environmental storytelling, balancing, player agency, narrative agency and others. This fun, high energy talk features portfolio deathmatches, talk show-style panel discussions, extended Q&A and a post-tutorial trip to the bar to wrap up the day with speakers and colleagues.


10:00–10:15am- LEVEL DESIGN IN A DAY INTRODUCTION SPEAKER: Coray Seifert 10:15–11:08am- BUILDING A UNIVERSE THROUGH DETAILS SPEAKER: Seth Marinello (Visceral Games Redwood Shores)
Seth Marinello details his experience helping bring the terrifying world of Dead Space alive through careful pacing and environmental storytelling. Pulling from numerous sources such as film, literature, and traditional games, Seth outlines how to create immersive spaces and craft memorable gameplay moments.

Whose story does a game tell? That of the player, the game character, or the designer? This lecture provides a comprehensive review of how games create narrative by structuring designer and player stories through level design. It also offers suggestions on how we create game stories don't simply provide context for the player's actions but integrate the gameplay and narrative layers of the game.

12:00–1:45pm- LUNCH SPECIAL! Portfolio Review for LD Newbies and Vets PORTFOLIO REVIEW FOR LD NEWBIES AND VETS
Design has always been one of the most competitive disciplines in game development when it comes to landing a position, and this of course rings true for level design. This talk will provide an arsenal of tips and tricks for everything from getting noticed initially to waiting for a response after an interview. Before this talk, we'll send out a request for level design resumes/portfolios and put them head-to-head in brutal Portfolio Deathmatches. Two enter, one gets the job offer.

1:45–2:30pm- LIVE WITH MATTHIAS WORCH & THE LEVEL DEVILS Speaker: Matthias Worch (LucasArts)
With bellies full of food and eyes full of sleep threatening focus levels, it's time for an upbeat, entertaining romp through the lighter side of level design with our effervescent host Matthias Worch and his enigmatic group of ne'er do wells, the Level Devils. Audience members are invited to join the panel on-stage in a cable talk show format as we discuss audience topics from the first half of the tutorial, burning questions about the art and craft of level design, and the meaning of life in general.

2:30–3:30pm- OCCAM'S LEVEL DESIGNING RAZOR SPEAKER: Joel Burgess (Bethesda Game Studios)
A study in "the least complicated solution is usually the best" with examples from game balance, layout and scripting. While inexperienced designers often implement tons of convoluted safeties and edge case handling edge cases, before the situation ever actually calls for it, the best solution is often the one that is simplest in nature.

3:30–4:00pm, 4:30–5:00pm- LEVEL DESIGN DOCUMENTATION SPEAKERS: Ed Byrne (Imba) and Neil Alphonso (Splash Damage)
Generally looked upon as an unfavourable relic of old-school game development, documentation and sketching is a fundamental part of any design process. Using examples from his work on contemporary and classic games, Ed explains the reasons for understanding and using planning materials, how to go about creating them, and why sometimes the old ways are the best ways. 5:00–6:00pm- THE LEGACY OF FAIL SPEAKER: Jim Brown (Epic Games)
Jim Brown describes his experience in learning from mistakes and the importance of iteration. Jim will take a shipped level from a recent Epic product and show it at each stage of development, tracking how and why it changed over time.

TAKEAWAY: Level Design newcomers gain a solid foundation in the art and science of level design. Experienced level designers learn tips, tricks, and best practices from the best in the business. Non-Level Designers gain an intimate understanding of the level design process, becoming better equipped to collaborate with level design teams.

INTENDED AUDIENCE: Designers, writers, and scripters involved in the level or scenario creation process. Programmers, artists, team leads and testers interfacing with level design teams. Anyone interested in learning more about the art of crafting great moment-to-moment gameplay.

About the speakers

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Joel Burgess

game developer bio from Twitter

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Jim Brown
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Ed Byrne
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Neil Alphonso

Lead Designer at Splash Damage in London, helped make Brink. Super-cres at best meat popsicle. Games, design, levels, the Arsenal, booze. And not in that order. bio from Twitter

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Seth Marinello

i design games, currently at Visceral Games Redwood Shores bio from Twitter

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Matthias Worch

Professional game developer with amateur opinions. Lead Designer at LucasArts. bio from Twitter

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Coray Seifert

Coray Seifert is a game designer, writer, producer and educator. He sits on the Board of Directors of the IGDA and likes fancy cheese. bio from Twitter

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Time 10:00am6:00pm PST

Date Tue 6th March 2012


2016, Moscone Center

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