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Easy 11-Steps Guide to Planning Your Game Environment and Level Design Projects

"Preproduction Blueprint: How to Plan Game Environments and Level Designs"

Preproduction Blueprint: How to Plan Game Environments and Level Design
  • Includes:
  • Updated and Revised
  • 240 pages and 11-step planning workflow
  • Must use prior to beginning any project
  • Stand-alone planning system that can be used for any level design and game environment project
  • Paperback version qualifies for free shipping (US Only)
  • Choose Paperback or Kindle
  • $67 $49.99 or 24.99

Why I Failed for Years at Level Design and Game Environments

Looking back over last decade it is easy for me to tell you what I did wrong and what I could have done better in learning level design and game environments. It is easy to say what I could have avoided and where I should have focused my time on.

The mistakes and failures I went through were extremely valuable, even though during such moments it seemed I wasn't going to pull through. In the end, most if not all experiences were valuable and I wouldn't give them up.

But, I do wish someone could have told me a few things to make level design and game environment art creation a simpler process to go through. Certain principles to keep in mind and goals to aim for. So I didn't have to re-invent the wheel. It would have helped me to avoid my first few years starting a project after project and never finishing a single one.

One of the biggest roadblocks I needed to focus on was planning.

I needed to know what I was going to create before starting to work on any projects. I believed that if I had the right foundation, the right plan to execute it would help me to finish. Although planning did not make me finish all of my maps and it will not make you finish everything you start. But I realized that planning is a very important part of a larger process.

Planning my level designs and game environments helped me to know exactly what I wanted to create before I opened a level editor or 3d application. I now had a foundation to work with - something to rely on. Planning gave me the confidence to pursue an idea to work on.

Planning process is called Preproduction and what you end up with is Preproduction Blueprint. A document for your game environment or level design. This document details what you are going to create. How it is going to look, how it will play, location where your environment takes place, top down layouts, objectives, purpose, reference, story and visual development.

Unfinished fan map for UT3

Unfinished fan map for UT3

Unfinished fan based project for L4D

Unfinished fan based project for L4D

How I Used to Work

This is how I used to design game environments and level designs. There was no planning involved. When I had the idea, I would go straight for the editor. Sometimes I would create a top down layout.

I didn't research or collect photo references, I didn't explore various layouts, I didn't have a story, I didn't set up a visual theme or set goals. I didn't know how the environment was going to look, play or how it was going to come together in the end. For a few hours it was fun.

Idea would begin to take shape inside the level editor. I would be excited. Then slowly the entire map would begin to collapse. When I encountered my first problem or a decision I had to make, I didn't know what to do.

More and more questions began to pop up during production. I did not have answers for them because I had no foundation to rely on. I was left with making on the fly decisions. I would get more ideas and try to incorporate them into the current environment. As the environment began to grow in scale and complexity, I would become overwhelmed. I would try to change the layout and the foundation. Which often destroyed the project.

Soon after, the entire environment would fall apart. I'd get frustrated, overwhelmed and move on. I would abandon the project.

I would then begin a new idea. New project. Thinking this time it will be different. This time I will push through and finish.

Of course nothing different happened, because I didn't change my process. This continued for couple of years.

I often would get so angry with myself that every map and every game environment project I started did not get finished. It came to a point where I stopped creating maps for a while.

Another unfinished map

Another unfinished map

Another unfinished map

And yet another...

I Got Fed Up

Something had to change. I reached a point where I walked away from level design and game environments. I just told myself that I would pursue other things, that level designing and game environment art wasn't for me.

I went to college to study filmmaking, drawing, painting, architecture, programming, web design, photography, business and management. I ended up getting a B.F.A in Computer Animation.

The thing was, my love for level design and game environments never left. Throughout my entire college career I wanted to design game environments. I would always get more ideas that I would want to create. Environments I wanted to see come to life. I was obsessed about level design and game environments. I just suppressed it and pushed it away.

During my junior year in college for computer animation, everything began to click. For my senior thesis I had to create a 2-minute animation short. But before anything could be modeled, textured or animated, I had to spend an entire semester during junior year in prepro. This is where I had to create a story, design characters, props, visual style and environments not in a 3d app, but on paper. I had to have a plan and know exactly what I wanted before Maya was ever opened. I would have to present the story and all the design ideas to faculty for feedback and criticism. This continued for an entire semester. No modeling, no lighting, no animation. Just preproduction for a 2-minute story. A full semester!

If this is what I had to do for a 2 minute short, I realized I needed to do the same for my level designs and game environments. Perhaps not a full semester. I decided that I needed to create a planning workflow specifically for level designs and game environmentsI could use every time I worked on a project.

After a semester of prepro and before I had to return to work on my senior thesis I took a trip to Switzerland for 19 days. Something happened during the trip made me realize that level design and game environments was something I want to do. I couldn't ignore it anymore.

Image reference from the top of Jungfrau in Switzerland

Image reference from the top of Jungfrau in Switzerland

Finally, completed map in UT3 (fan map)

Finally, completed map in UT3 (fan map)

You see, I never wanted to animate. I thought I did when I first got into learning computer animation during first two years. But more I animated, the less I ever wanted to animate anything ever again. Going through the computer animation program made me realize how much I love level designs and game environments.

After I came back from Switzerland I started and finished a playable map in only 3 weeks. For me this was huge revelation.

I began to take a closer look at what exactly I would need to do in order to plan out the process workflow for my environments. Next big breakthrough was 11-day level design where I started and finished a map in 11 days.

4 Steps to Creation and Why Planning is So Important

Level design and game environment creation comes down to just 4 things.

  • Planning or Preproduction: Having a proper plan. The vision of an idea to go after that is concrete and worthwhile to pursue. (What this book "Preproduction Blueprint" is focused on.)
  • Gameplay: This includes pacing, flow, objectives, set pieces/scripting and player progression/experience.
  • Visuals/Artistic: Things such as color theory, aesthetic and visual quality, style, lighting, architecture and landscape. What makes an environment or a level design visually pleasing?
  • Technical: Knowledge of the software. 3d application, level editors etc.

Planning

1. Planning

Gameplay

2. Gameplay

Visual/Artistic

3. Visual/Artistic

Technical

4. Technical

Why Planning is So Important?

I believe that a proper plan; a strategy for a game environment or a level design is the foundation of a completed project. It is the blueprint that everything else can be built on. It is like a house foundation, if it's faulty eventually it will crumble. Game environment that is planned out has a better chance of seeing the light of day then a vague idea where you jump into the editor without figuring out all the details about the environment.

A lot of questions need to be answered before you begin creating any game environment or level design.

  • Is the idea worth my time?
  • Is the idea interesting and unique? Has it been done before and if yes, can I make it better?
  • Where does the environment take place? What location?
  • How am I going to pull this off? What would I need to learn and improve on?
  • What is the story of the environment? Does it make sense for the game and/or game type?
  • Is it a single player map? Multiplayer map? Stand alone game environment?
  • Do I need to create custom assets such as 3d models, textures, materials, animation etc? Does the engine or the level editor come with everything I need?
  • Which game engine and level editor will I use?
  • What is the time period? Environment setting?
  • Have I done my research about the story and location I want to make?
    What is the theme of the environment?
  • What is the color palette I want to use that makes sense for the emotional impact I am trying to convey?
  • What is the top down layout and how do I create one?
  • What do I want the player to experience in this environment?
  • What are the objectives for the player to complete if any?
  • How will the flow and pacing play out in the map?
  • How will I tackle the project? What will I do during the production stages?
    What is the core, the essence of the environment?
  • Have I collected photo reference for architecture, lighting, props, location and setting of the environment?
  • What is the purpose of this project? Why am I working on this?
  • and so much more...

There are many more questions and figuring all these out has to be done before opening up the editor. No matter how large or small the idea is, always spend time in planning.

Preproduction Blueprint Workflow System

Slowly I began to develop a planning workflow. It gave me a sense of purpose and a clear goal to aim for when I would begin creating game environments.

It has taken me couple of years to put it in a step-by-step process, and it took me even longer to figure it all out.

The planning workflow system is called "Preproduction Blueprint".

"Preproduction Blueprint" is something you can comeback to over and over again. It is a system that will set a foundation for your future progress as a level designer or/and game environment artist.

"Preproduction Blueprint" is a complete system for planning your game environments and level designs.

Preproduction Blueprint Workflow System

What You Will Learn from "Preproduction Blueprint":

Preproduction Blueprint contains 11 steps/chapters and you will learn.

  • How to generate ideas on daily basis
  • How to pick the "right" idea to work on
  • How to see the world around you as playable space
  • How to define the game environment setting, location, theme and the difference between each one
  • How to identify project purpose
  • How to define a set of features that will make the environment different and unique
  • Five categories of reference you need to collect
  • Importance of research for a game environment
  • Two ways to communicate a story of your world
  • Explicit vs Implicit storytelling
  • How to create a story for your game environment
  • Simple formula for playable levels and player's participation in it
  • How to create objectives, obstacles and set pieces (scripted events) for a playable level and stand-alone game environment
  • Gameplay theory for multiplayer and single player maps (includes: balance, flow, pacing, rewards, choke points, choice, cover, symmetrical vs asymmetrical layouts, arena based layouts, z-axis considerations)
  • How to plan for level design strategy, skill and challenge
  • How to create objective progression chart and mind map decision trees
  • How to set up focal points within your environment
  • Should you have single focal point or multiple focal points
  • Visual development for stand-alone game environments and level designs
  • How to create top-down layouts for Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Search and Destroy gametypes
  • How to create top-down layouts for single player maps and stand-alone game environments
  • Using color and light in your level designs and stand-alone game environments
  • Color theory and color harmonies of your environment
  • How to create visual progression guide
  • How to create various lists of what you would need in order to create a playable map or stand-alone game environment
  • Extensive reference section in the back of the book including a blank "Preproduction Blueprint" template

Video Breakdown

Watch this video for in-depth breakdown of the book and its 11-step process.

Preproduction Blueprint: How to Plan Game Environments and Level Designs

Preproduction Blueprint: How to Plan Game Environments and Level Design
  • Includes:
  • Updated and Revised
  • 240 pages and 11-step planning workflow
  • Must use prior to beginning any project
  • Stand-alone planning system that can be used for any level design and game environment project
  • Paperback version qualifies for free shipping (US Only)
  • Choose Paperback or Kindle
  • $67 $49.99 or 24.99

FAQ

Frequently asked questions. Click on each tab to see more.

Click 'Buy on Amazon' button to go to Amazon.com and choose paperback or Kindle version of the book.

Paperback will be mailed to you and Kindle version will be available to read on your Amazon Kindle device.

Original version of Preproduction Blueprint was PDF e-book and included a set of videos. This has been now updated to paperback or Kindle versions only and does not include videos.

If you purchased original "Preproduction Blueprint" PDF and video version then you can still request your download links renewed by contacting me at alex@worldofleveldesign.com

There is no difference between paperback or kindle versions of the book. Both are exactly the same.

Kindle version cost less and available to read right away. Paperback will be shipped to you as a physical copy.

I like having physical copies of my books, so I recommend paperback. It is easier to scan the book and get to a specific section as you work on your projects.

Preproduction Blueprint deals with the planning and pre-production stages of a project. There is no software that is required in order to follow this product.

No. Preproduction Blueprint can be applied to any game environment art or level design project.

It does not cover anything about Unreal Engine 4 Blueprint scripting system.

PS.

If you have spent some time visiting World of Level Design website, read and watched video tutorials then you know that each video and each tutorial I create is focused on giving you a lot of value and information in each one.

When I release a product, I make sure that you get your money's worth and walk away learning more than what you paid for.



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