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Design & Style

How to Become a Video Game Level Designer

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 24, 2020 • 3 min read

There are dozens of careers in the fast-growing video game industry that contribute to quality game production. These highly coveted positions include game designers, QA testers, producers, concept artists, and programmers, who all work together to create a fun, playable product that gamers can enjoy.

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What Is Level Design?

Level design is the phase of game development that deals with creating the stages of the game. Unlike environment design, which focuses on background and scenery composition, level design incorporates player capabilities, game mechanics, obstacles, and discoverable elements that create a positive user experience.

Different levels give the gamer efficient and fun locales to explore while progressing the story or completing side quests. Good level design is rarely arbitrary, it is purposeful and deliberate. Every design element of a level—from its geography and terrain down to its obstacles and specific difficulty—contributes to the overall gameplay experience. Level designers efficiently use the available resources to build a game environment that both supports and enhances the story, character development, and tone.

What Does a Level Designer Do?

A level designer creates the stages (or maps) and missions in a video game. Level designers draw inspiration from the concept art and the game design document (GDD) to create a believable environment, establish the boundaries of the game, set up the pacing and composition of each level, as well as maintain a style consistent with the game’s objectives. Level design is where the physical limitations of the game world are established. Depending on the type of game, a level designer might only work on the same one or two levels throughout the entire design process.

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How to Become a Video Game Level Designer

While it’s not easy to become a video game level designer, it is also not impossible. To help yourself stand out from the competition and land a level designer position of your own, check out the following tips:

  1. Get a degree. The video gaming industry is highly competitive, but having a formal education can give a candidate an edge. While talent is the most important thing game developers look for, comprehensive knowledge and experience in a related field like graphic design or computer science can make you more of an asset. Completion of a few basic courses in architecture or graphic design can help push you even further ahead of the curve.
  2. Understand all elements of level design. The games industry is a high-pressure and deadline-driven environment, so you should have a full understanding of the level design process and all the responsibilities that come with the job title. Knowing the full scope and expectations of the position can help you better prepare for the role.
  3. Expand your skillset. Level designer jobs involve long hours, the ability to meet deadlines, strong communication skills, and a good work ethic, as well as consistent, meticulous attention to detail. Level designers are also part-writer and part-programmer, so it is important for aspiring designers to embody those skills as well. Get familiar with game engines, design software, programming languages, and scripting languages, so that potential employers see you as a valuable and necessary asset.
  4. Compile a resume and portfolio. When drafting your resume, outline any and all of your design experience. If you do not have any, make sure your portfolio includes impressive samples of great levels you have designed on your own that can properly demonstrate your talent and abilities.
  5. Search for positions. Some video game companies are more generous with job postings than others, so always be on the lookout for who is hiring. Create a website or create a profile on job sites to advertise your skills and availability. Try to network with people who work at indie companies or small studios to get on their radar and hopefully open up an employment opportunity of your own.

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