When applying for a job in the game industry, chances are you'll have to do a work assignment before even getting an interview, for them to make sure you're The (Wo?)Man! That is, unless you're über and everyone knows who you are, in which case, you won't learn much reading this.
The thing about these work assignments are that you can never be really sure about what to expect, but there are some "unwritten rules" that you can think of to help prepare yourself. Now, these rules are just what I've managed to gather myself, so don't expect much of a basis for them:
- It's small enough for them to be able to review several ones, since you're not the only one applying for the job.
- It's small enough for you to be able to finish within a week. They can't really demand more.
And by these two rules, you can use your own references of your diciplin (artist, level designer, etc.) to make some conclusions. Like for Level Designers:
- You will not be asked to build an entire level.
- You will not be asked to learn a new editor and build anything.
I've personally done only two work tests for level design and they were both quite similar, becuase they both were about designing (not building) a level/area based on prerequisites from the company.
I've found it very hard to find real examples of work assignments for level design positions online. Most articles are more in the likes of "they could be like this, similar to that, imagine this" but not an actual and used test.
I will post the actual level design test I got from GRIN back in the spring of 2008. I do this with approval from GRIN GBG's Lead Designer at the time, the man who gave me the test.
And in hopes of being helpful for all aspiring level designers, I'll also post my reply to it. The result that actually got me the job.
I hope you like it.
The original (but PDFified) assignment can be downloaded here:
If you don't feel like reading the entire thing, here's a summary:
Design a level for four player co-op FPS, each player with their own set of tools (from a list in the document) and write step-by-step instructions on how to play the level.
- A fictional game
- The gameplay is about solving things together with the teammates
- Realistic setting
- Must draw a map
- Pretend the game is done using Half-Life 2's Source Engine
First of all, take note that even thought I'm a Swede, applying for a job in Sweden in an office with only Swedes, the test was still in English. All documentation is always done in English in the game industry. At least in Sweden.
After reading the assignment, I reached two conclusions:
- I decided to write a short document for the Game Design as well. I don't think anyone else that applied did that. It wasn't part of the assignment, but since I have a passion for game design, I felt I needed to clarify how I imagined this "fictional game".
- I was happy that we were to pretend it was for Half-Life 2 because I have experience modding for that engine. I therefore decided to actually build a playable mockup of the level as well for Half-Life 2.
I tried to keep the game design document short since it wasn't an actual part of the assignment and I didn't want the employer to get bored before even looking at my level design. It ended up as a four page document, describing the setting, playable characters, tools, enemies, actions and how I defined "realistic" in a game:
After I was done with the game design, I started sketching on a level design. Strangely enough, I never started over from scratch but I kept with my original idea during the whole process. I kept iterating on it, sketching varieties and whatnot.
The level was basically designed by first sketching it, then building it for Half-Life 2 and then creating the map. Building it helped me get the scale right and I could trace an overview of the actual map in Photoshop, making my map picture have a perfect scale. I reused this technique for another work assignment I've done for another company.
The actual map ended up like this:
I worked hard on making the map easy to read, clear and I made small icons with explanations on what they meant. Like enemies, covers, switches, etc. Afterwards I started making notes on it by writing them by hand. I chose to do them by hand because I wanted them to have a "friendly" appeal and to exaggerate the "notiness" of them. I don't regret that decision.
The playable version of the map can be found here:
I provided both the playable file and the workfile. I didn't expect them to play it or open the workfile, but it's a lot about appearance and I wanted to make it clear that I want to keep my way of working transparent to them. And of course, I was hoping for extra points for dedication.
In my Level Design Document I went through the entire map, Step-By-Step, by showing zoomed in areas of the map and describing it with text.
You can find all the images here (also shown in this post):
And the most important file of them all; the 17 pages Level Design Document here:
Why did I get the job?
Of course, interviews and showing who you are as a person are just as important as a work assignment, but putting that aside, let's focus on the results of my test.
An extremely important thing to know about work assignments are that your result is not simply quantifiable and it's not easy to say that one result is better than another. What it all comes down to is what the reviewer happens to like, personally. I was lucky in that way, because the lead at GRIN happened to like my way of thinking. If there had been someone else reviewing my result, I might not even have gotten an interview. Who knows?
I focused heavily on three things:
- Height difference
- Working in pairs
For me it's a natural choice to have a lot of height differences in the level, because a flat level is among the most boring things you can do.
Since it was supposed to be four player co-op, I had to come up with an interesting way to play it. I decided on having the players split up into two pairs from time to time, instead of having them all work in one group or splitting them all up.
With the help of the tools I'd divided amongst them, I made two players being able to see in dark places and two players could survive within areas with poisonous gas.
Afterwards I had the higher areas of the level be full of the gas and the lower parts being extremely dark, thanks to this I could have the players split up, helping each other progress within their own "kind of environment".
The Lead Designer told me he liked this approach very much at my first interview. I was very grateful, because I still think I took a chance there with such a different idea.
I think I was the one applying with most text with my 21 pages and to this day, I'm not sure this was good or bad. It was good that I managed to explain everything I guess, but I can imagine people scratching their heads before starting to read it. But really, have as much text as you feel you need. Don't try and shorten it just because you think it's too long.
In the end, my result landed me an interview. My interview (with only the Lead Designer) landed me another interview later on with the producer, lead level design and associate producer and finally, a month after that I got a call saying I got the job.
I hope you've found this post informative and helpful if you were curious as to how a work assignment for a level design position can be like. This is just my scenario, but still, it's a real one.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to comment.
Thank you for reading!
All links: 17/9/2009
You know the cinema in the first level of Duke Nukem 3D?
I felt I'd made it too big, but wasn't sure about how much too big it was, so I thought I'd check by placing benches in it, similar to that in the original Duke.
...I was way off...
One of the decisions I had to make very early in the production of my Source level was how faithful the original I wanted to be. The very first and original idea was to make a replica, geometry-wise but the more I thought about it, the worse that felt.
One of the reasons was that if I were to simply recreate something the same way it was, then what's the point, except for some people to get some retro feeling? Simply recreating it would only be a challenge when it comes to using the tools and measuring everything but that's not a challenge I'm looking for.
The gameplay can't be directly translated either, since we're talking about completely different games, except for the FPS-aspect.
I want to stimulate myself in regards of creativity, gameplay and problem solving so I decided to go for a remake/remix-thingy instead.
My goals are to keep the feel of the level. I want every player having played and rememberd the first level of Duke Nukem 3D to instantanously see and feel the resemblence of the level. I want them to "feel at home" with it. But I'm doing it "my way".
I'll keep the things you remember, like the hidden corridors, the alternative entry points, the overall layout and stuff, but I'll have it tweaked to become (what I hope) better.
And example of this can be seen in the image below, where the left part is the original Duke Nukem 3D and the middle part is my first blocked layout of the beginning of the level which is a 1:1 replica of the original. The right part of the image shows how it looks (at least right now) in my level.
I've scrapped the idea (for now) to create a Half-Life 2 level out of it and moved on to the Orange Box-version of the SDK, since Valve recently "released" documention for Left 4 Dead level design.
Thanks Cozy Dave for the URL. Oh, and don't forget to check out his blog (in Swedish) in which he gives updates on his HL2-mod.