What a title actually means differs from company to company; especially the title of designer.
First a quick description of the title "level designer". You never know what a level designer does at a company untill you ask. All you know is that it's level creation related.
The thing is, at some companies a level designer does everything in regards to creating a level. They plan the design, create the graphics and implements the layout and gameplay scripting. At another company, there are different people for scripting and creating the actual game worl. It's most common to have dedicated graphics artists to make the art as well.
Anyway, what I wanted to discuss was the role of the designing producer. Some large companies merge the roles of producer and the role of game designer.
- Makes sure stuff are made in time.
- Keeps track of the big picture.
- Communicates with all disciplines (design, code, art, etc.)
- Says: No, we can't implement that, it'll take too much time!
- Handles the creative imagination part of the game.
- Keeps track of the big picture.
- Communicates with all disciplines (design, code, art, etc.)
- Says: We must do this, it's gonna make for a much better game!
So, by looking at my lists of what I think they do, we can see that they both share two critical tasks. They both keep track of the game as a whole and they both must talk to everyone, to make sure things are running smoothly and act depending on the status.
With this in mind, it would be wise to have the multi-class Designing Producer guy, because you don't have to worry about the communication between producer and designer and you might need less people.
The fact that the producer keeps track of the time and the designer handling the creativity doesn't necessarily work against each other, so no problem there.
But here's the problem, the last point of each role. The producers main job is to say no to doing things because it cost time and money, while the designer must push for the good stuff and really argument for having them made to create the best game possible. This "battle" is the constant struggle of measuring the "bang for the buck". Usually, the producer has the final say.
By now, one would think that then of course, you can't have a designing producer because it defeats the whole purpose of the producer and the game will never be finished in time, or finished at all, because the designer will always want to do more stuff and iterate them to make them better.
And here it is, at last, my opinion. The opinion that shapes worlds, the opinion that cures cancer and make blind people see again. I personally, am not too fond of the designing producer idea overall. However, I do think it works if, and this is a big if, you can find the right people for it. I think it requires very skilled people who are very honest with themself and with the project.
A designing producer can save a massive amount of time, because they can make decisions on the fly. The discussions and bickering between designer and producer can be held inside the head within a few minutes instead of out loud for several hours or days.
The issue at hand is that it's incredibly hard not to be more of one than the other. Me for example have often had the role of designing producer during many projects at the Game Development at the University as well as during the spare time. I'd say I do a decent job, but there are times I'm way too much of a designer and other times when I'm way too much of a producer.
Okay, so I've blah blah blah'ed quite a bit now. Summary; in general I think it's not a wise choice to have the designing producer, but if, IF, the right person assumes the role, it's a very good thing.
A pretty default section of a contract you sign with a game developing company is that the company owns whatever you do within the area of video games, on and off working hours. And some companies doesn't like you doing anything at all regarding video game development other than what you do at work.
I know a horror story about a guy working at company X (I shouldn't mention which one here) but did modding and level designing using another rival company's engine/editor during his spare time. He got fired for working with the enemy.
Of course, you can always try and negotiate your contract. When I signed with Hello There we made it perfectly clear that they only own the stuff I do for their project in their office. They leave my site, my own designs and every spare time project alone. It wasn't a problem.
I understand why companies do this:
- The risk of people taking explicit things they learn at work and implementing it in their own projects.
- The risk of people working very hard on projects in their own time, affecting their performance at work.
But me, personally, I'm still not entirely convinced it's the way to go, because I think it's choking peoples' creativity and blowing our their fire.
If I hire a level designer, I would be thrilled if she's so passionate about level design that after she goes home, she keeps doing it, even if it's not for me. She's still practicing her craft and makes for a better resource for my company. Maybe she learnt something amazing while playing around at home?
Take me for example, I run this site where I write about game design, right? Because of, or thanks to this site, I keep focusing my thoughts and try to communicate different ways of thinking, problems, solutions and ways of doing things. If I didn't "practice" at home, I would be much less of a designer than I am today. (Not saying I'm anything special.)
And besides, if I wasn't able to, or allowed to do what I love during my own time as well, I would be less of a happy guy. And a sad person is a bad worker.
I say: Let people keep doing what they're doing!
If you apply for a job within the game industry, it's very likely that you'll get a question at the interview asking what game impresses you the most regarding the area you want to work with.
I actually don't remember if I got that question when I had my interview before getting a job as Level Designer at GRIN, and if I did, I don't remember the answer anyway.
However, if I were to get that question today I know exactly what I'd answer and I think it'd be a shocker.
The game I think has the most impressive level design is Valkyria Chronicles.
Not a FPS, Third Person Shooter or a Platformer, but a strategy game!
I'm a bit behind on some games so I didn't get Valkyria until a few months ago, but after beating it, I can't say I'm anything but amazed of how fantastic the execution of each level is.
Once again, it's a strategy game! A genre that has never had me raise an eyebrow because of its level design before.
I think it has somewhere around 20 missions (levels, maps, whatever) in the main campaign and what's so interesting is that each and everyone really is unique. It's often a line on the back of the cover with little to no meaning, but in this case it would be perfectly true.
There is no "one tactics" that always work on each level. You're encouraged to play different missions in different manners and they're extremely varied while at the same time never going astray from its core. They never feel weird, out of place or "forced".
Every now and then they present one new level feature. That's what I choose to call it. It can be stuff like trenches, mortar attacks (explosions covering a large area of the level), train carts you can ride, etc. The new level feature open up new possibilities for the level design and they take full advantage of it. And as you progress, there are more and more features and tools to combine to create great levels, different from the previous once, but still familiar enough for you to be able to play right away.
Putting story aside, each level make me very committed to finish it and I feel very involved. Of course, gameplay and presentation are huge parts of this as well, and it's pretty much impossible to ever differentiate game and level design to a great extent but each of the three really merge into something great.
Well, enough rambling for now. My point is, I think you should really have a look at Valkyria because of it's great level design. It's a game that shows that even genres like this can stand out in areas such as that and I think techniques they use can be of great inspiration for any kind of level design. With that, I mean how they use a little to make a lot and the respect of the game's core while introducing new features.
A perfect object for an in-depth analysis if you have the time.
Funny thing, I was just browsing through some folders on the computer and I found this picture. It's a sketch for my test to get my job at GRIN, which I wrote about here:
Anyway, thought it might be fun to see how it looked on paper before I started with the document and building process.
And sorry about the whole "not posting for a while"-thing. I needed some time to rest, but I'm back now and my next post will about how to create a lovable video game character. Seriously, how does one do it?
Back in December last year I posted about the University in Skövde using my Bachelor Degree Project as part of the education (Weee!):
I found a video from the level I created for Unreal Tournament 3 that was part of the project. So I've uploaded it on YouTube for anyone who's curious.
It's nothing fancy art-wise but it's actually quite fun to play as I put a lot of thought into it:
- It uses four different heights ("floors") to play on.
- There's no place from which you can get a view of your entire surrounding.
- You're always within reach of a helpful item/weapon.
- And some other pretty basic level design stuff.
As mentioned way back when, you can read a whole lot about it if you can bare with the Swedish.
Oh, and here's vid from when it was early in development:
I wrote earlier about how some themes in games are more commonly used than others. Shortly thereafter; BAM! Smacked me right on the mouth, it did!
Muscle Men in Bikini, I didn't see that one coming.
Apparently "Muscle Koushinkyoku", an arcade game is coming for the Wii. I'm not sure it's something I'd get for anything but a laugh as the gameplay seems monotonous and boring but I'm still really happy about it. It's exactly what I asked for. Something other than Space Marines.
But more importantly for many. Last weekend Valve finally released Left 4 Dead's tools for level creation (without the need for hacking as it was earlier). So have a go at it if you got the game!
I haven't been able to get too dirty with it yet but it's been smooth sailing this far. It's downloadable via Steam, of course.