During pre-production class for animation thesis I had to go through pages worth of questions and material to figure out every detail about characters, story and the environment. Nothing was left to chance.
I thought if this is how in-depth we go into creating a story then level designing should not be any different. I sat down and designed a long questionnaire outlining everything that I should know before opening up the level editor.
After answering these you should have a very clear idea of the art direction of your map. Make sure you answer every one of these in as much detail as you can. Planning like this will make your mapping experience a lot smoother, faster and less spent in guessing and reworking.
- Single Player or Multiplayer?
- Game Type?
DM, Capture the Flag, Assassination, Warfare, Hostage Rescue etc
- What game is this map for?
- Story behind your map. Why are the players there? Why is the place/environment there? Write the history of your environment. What happened to the place before the player entered the environment?
- What is this map about?
- Every player at every map/level has a goal/desire/object and it is either fulfilled or denied/blocked/obstacle. Do you have this? Does it rise? This is especially important in Single Player maps.
- What is the objective of your map?
- Do you have a top down game play sketch?
- Will there be any puzzles? If so, what are they?
- How would the level play out? Gameplay wise?
- How would you want the player to play through your map? Visualize this. What experiences do you want the player to walk away with from your map?
- How big is the map?
- Who is your audience? Who is your player? What is your Demographic?
- How will you make the map memorable?
- Do you have basic top down view and few location concept sketches?
- Is the map original? What is everyone else doing? Don't make another "everyone" map. Be original and different. How will you achieve this?
- Reference. Have you collected all the inspiration and research? What is this going to look like (proof of visual development).
- What is the time of day of the map? Season? Color? Reference.
- Feel and Atmosphere. Describe what you want to portray in terms of the feel of the map and atmosphere.
- Will exploration be rewarded? If so what will it be and in what way?
- How will you direct the player? What methods will you use? Color? Noise and Sound? Guide the player without telling them where to go. Smart design.
- What are you going to concentrate on? What do you want to learn when you are finished? What aspect of design, gameplay, fun, crazy, atmosphere?
- What is the visual trademark of your level? How will the players remember your map?
- Are the environments/locations too generic? How does their design strengthen the story?
- Custom content? Textures, Models etc. If so, what are they.
After this you should have a very clear mental picture of your map, including reference and inspirational material.
Now go make a kick ass map.