Development Blog

Four basic rules for designing levels in “Verge”

Hey Everyone. My name is Vladimir and I’m one of creators of Verge. The main part of my work is connected to level design, so I’m going to tell you some thoughts about it. And, first of all, about some errr… let say rules, which I tried to follow every time I was creating a level in this or in one of my previous games. I have to admit that I used these rules only for puzzle games so far and I have no idea if they work for other types of games.

I’m not sure I list these rules in the right order. Rules further down my post may be more important then earlier ones, or their importance can change chaotically. But, anyway, it often happens that less important rules, which a developer decided to use at the ending of a level design process, finally change other ones which already were taken into account.

So, let’s begin with the first rule. I’d call it “quantity“. Imagine: You start a new level, then “your eyes are opening”, and you see 7 elevators, 12 horizontal moving platforms, several corridors with no visible endings and a huge number of buttons you can’t even count. For most people it’ll be a strong signal that party is over and it’s time to go sleep. That’s why my rule is: Don’t frighten them. Use as less elements as you can. Build as less constructions as you can. If all of these elements are necessary for all of 24 unique puzzles you have included in this particular level it may be better to persuade yourself to split this level to 12-24 separated ones.

 

Quantity

What should I do with all of these things? I’m so frightened.

 

The next rule is “double usage“. This is related to the first one. So, what’s the point? Let’s assume your level is almost built and everything is working well. However, there are two elements, let’s call them A and B, that have a similar property. In this case, you should consider deleting B and think of how you can use A in a way to replace B. So element works in 2 ways: A and B. Thus the “double usage”. If you manage to rebuild the level like this, it will be more concise and cute.

 

Double usage 1

What the reason of ladder B?

 

 

Double usage 2

You can use ladder A in both cases.

 

The third rule is “necessity“.  Sometimes you can find elements that are not necessary for solving a level. Of course, sometimes the developers forgot something and the player passed a level in a wrong or alternative way (bad of course, but that’s a topic for another post). If these elements are there only to confuse the player, it’s not our approach. My motto is “each element needs to have its own, important purpose”. Moreover, if there are collectibles you don’tneed to collect in order to pass the main game, I try to include them into the flow of the level. I don’t like using extra elements solely for collectibles. They should seamlessly blend into the level design. Also, some games have a huge amount of empty corridors leading nowhere. They allow to explore every corner and can endlessly stretch the gameplay time. It can be a good idea if the game is kinda like a labyrinth, I guess. But in case of one-room-puzzle games, every hole in a wall has to be relevant. Just put something there you can collect at least .

 

Necessity

You don’t need any ladder to pass this level. Don’t confuse player, remove it.

 

The fourth rule follows the last thought. A couple of months ago I was playing a game with Eugene, where we ran into the following situation several times. After many attempts to pass a level having two or three active elements that could be easily found at the start of the level. We tried to solve the puzzle for quite some time and in the end thought we’d better give up. This made it even more interesting and we thought the level was really cool. But then, we accidentally found a fourth element which was hidden in a hard to find place. You basically had to explore every corner of the level to find it, instead of finding a clever trick to solve the puzzle. With this fourth element found, it became a piece of cake. For us then, the quality of this puzzle felt really low. That’s why the fourth rule is “accessibility” (or I let me find things without pain).

Now I need to end this post, otherwise I’ll break my first rule I guess.

I’ll follow up soon.

See you.

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