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Tutorials to Becoming the Best Level Designer and Game Environment Artist (since 2008)

Guide to Collecting Level Design Reference

Category: Game Environment Art, Level Design
September 02, 2009

Collecting reference is a very important part of pre-production. If reference images are not collected, you will have a hard time creating something that looks real, authentic and high quality.

Using reference for your level designs is the key to create real, authentic environments.

One thing that I notice that most people do not do is use reference in their environment creation. That is a huge mistake. Reference is something that should always be used at every step along the mapping process.

Here are five different types of reference I use.

There are 5 different types of reference:

1. Architecture reference

Guide to Collecting Level Design Reference

Collect images of buildings, streets, shops, back alleys etc.

As you are collecting architectural reference, you will begin to get more clear idea on what it is you will need to create in architectural details and prop assets.

2. Environment reference

Guide to Collecting Level Design Reference

3. Light reference

Collect lighting reference.

Lighting reference is anything that has relevance to the lighting of your environment you are trying to create.

Is it daytime? Night? Evening?

Is it raining?



How hot/cold is it? Temperature has an effect on lighting.

All of these will determine how the lighting will look in the environment

Guide to Collecting Level Design Reference

4. Prop reference

Guide to Collecting Level Design Reference

5. Inspiration reference

When collecting inspirational and style reference, it is the visual and the emotional reference. Emotional response you have to an image will determine if that image is what you need or not. If the image does not evoke an emotional response, find an image that does.

Guide to Collecting Level Design Reference

Each one has their intended purpose. For your level designs you want to collect as much as needed for all five.

One thing to keep in mind is try to avoid collecting reference that has little to do with what you are creating. Collect reference to what you are intending to create.

By going through your mapping list that you created in last chapter you can begin to see what assets you need. Use the following two websites to do all your research and collecting reference.



Focus on having 2-3 good images for each building and prop in your environment. Try to go for less then more. Problem with collecting a lot of reference images, you will begin to incorporate various different aspects form 3-5 buildings into one, which will result in mishmash of shapes and detail.

Keep it simple.

Often enough having 1-2 images of architectural references is enough.

After collecting all the references, bring them into Photoshop and arrange them on a sheet of 8x10 or 17x11.

Guide to Collecting Level Design Reference

Your Task:

  • Collect photo reference of your environment you are creating.
  • Go to two websites:
    These are good websites to start with. Then you can begin expand to others.
  • Collect 2-3 images for each of the building, lighting, and prop you have in your map.
  • Arrange your collected reference on 8x10 or 17x11 image


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About World of Level Design

My name is AlexG. I am self-taught level designer, game environment artist and the creator of World of Level Design.com. I've learned everything I know from personal experimentation and decades of being around various online communities of fellow environment artist and level designers. On World of Level Design you will find tutorials to make you become the best level designer and game environment artist.

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