P O R T F O L I O    O F    B E N J A M I N    D A R L I N G


The following is a basic breakdown of the processes I have developed and now adhere to when doing my level design. Over time, I have found that this pipeline works best, and more detailed explanations of these steps have been embraced by the studios that I've had the opportunity of working with.

Level design is critical to the success of making a game fun, just as much as the game’s design. It's about taking what the game designers have done, elaborating on it and coming up with new and interesting ways to engage the players unexpectedly to keep them wanting more.

I strongly believe that properly structured pipelines ultimately lead to a higher quality of work in a quicker time through a more efficient workflow. Where time can be spent focusing on ensuring the levels are fun, rather than battling with otherwise time costly revisions.

Stage 1: Research

It is important to gather all information necessary prior to any actual planning. The level needs to take into account specific gameplay mechanics and scenarios as specified in the game design document. Game designs will often contain particular areas and sources for inspiration, these include (but aren't limited to) photo references and concept art. It's crucial that everything is clearly communicated to the level designer(s) prior to beginning any sort of planning on the level to ensure the correct direction is taken to result in the desired outcome.

Stage 2: Sketching

Now it's time to put pencil to paper (and eraser as needed) and sketch a top-down layout of the level. This should take into account all research, making sure that all the key features, gameplay elements and scenarios are all incorporated into the design. Integrating the various elements into a contained level experience will take careful planning in this stage, connectivity, pacing, and entity placement/scripting, all need delicate attention. While sketching, the areas should be able to be played out in the head of the level designer, and also noted down on the paper for future reference and understanding of others (if and when other designers need to discuss plans for a particular level). This is the absolute easiest stage to change any gameplay planning in, but all the theory is just that at first, theory. Once more levels are designed for a particular game, the easier and more accurate this stage will become.

Stage 3: Blockout

This is the stage where you take the sketch and begin to transform it into the game. This is where portraying the gameplay comes into action; the blockout and revision stages are where level designers should spend most of their time. It is critical that the 3D is kept to an absolute bare minimum to ensure changes can be made easily. Staying faithful to the intentions of the sketch is best, as a lot of planning and care went into it, however if there is a need to change something because it simply won't work when translated to 3D or because something was overseen, then this should be noted and amended as soon as possible. Only basic lighting is needed as a means to show the way, and so that everything can be clearly seen. Entity placement and scripting should also be done during this stage; the goal is to get the level to a completely playable state, in basic form.

Stage 4: Testing & Revision

After blocking out the basic level, the level designer should then undergo heavy testing and revision. This stage tests out all aspects of the level design, including the gameplay, the scale of the areas, and a general feel of how things are progressing. It's important to make revisions in this stage until the gameplay is considered as fun as possible. There shouldn't be a fear of making major changes during this stage as now is the best time to do it. Later on it'll just become a lengthier process to amend and a very inefficient one, once the art begins coming in. Small changes have a butterfly effect that will drag down the entire pipeline. This is a chance to get as much feedback as possible and hold discussions to ensure everything has been met and things are at a stage where they can be locked down (where no further gameplay changes should apply).

Stage 5: Aesthetics

Taking the level from the blocked out basics and transforming it into a wonderful immersive environment is no quick task. Some studios appoint environment artists to take over from here. It is very important that the level design is locked down by this stage; otherwise a lot of work (and rework) will need to be done in most cases, even for the most trivial of tasks, especially if the job is being handed between different level designers and artists. Modeling all the details, constructing the textures, and doing the lighting, happens during this stage. This is the stage where the level design goes to final/ship status after much polish.

The following are levels I've made for a variety of games/hardware specifications/engines.

I'm experienced in both high and low polygon limitations. Vertex, lightmap and per-pixel based lighting solutions. Able to work within tight time constraints while still maintaining a high quality level of work.

I'm able to work from photo references, art guides or create new styles from scratch.

Viewer requires JavaScript and the Flash Player. Get Flash

Viewer requires JavaScript and the Flash Player. Get Flash

Viewer requires JavaScript and the Flash Player. Get Flash

Viewer requires JavaScript and the Flash Player. Get Flash

Viewer requires JavaScript and the Flash Player. Get Flash

Viewer requires JavaScript and the Flash Player. Get Flash

Viewer requires JavaScript and the Flash Player. Get Flash

Viewer requires JavaScript and the Flash Player. Get Flash


All content is the property of Benjamin Darling unless otherwise stated and cannot be used without his permission.