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
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.
[Disclaimer: I'm sorry. After writing this I realise that it's a lot of words... It's just that I got so much to say. I even left some parts out. I'll try and keep it shorter in the future.]
Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet is my new drug. The sensation will most likely wear off but heck, right now, I can't stop thinking about it.
First of all, let's get this out of the way; the game isn't perfect. I wanted it to be, but it really isn't.
The gameplay is focused with a great scope. The controls are really user friendly making this very close to being a pick-up and play title. The plattforming gameplay only requires one analogue stick and two buttons to be used, the rest of the buttons are used for emotes and placing stickers to unlock some secrets.
The friendly approach towards the player is, if you ask me, a wise decision but it can however turn many experienced players off. In an earlier post I described the physics as being part of a moon landing and I'll stick by that claim. It's all very... floaty. The plattforming isn't like Mario, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet & Clank, Mega Man or any other plattformer you think feels good. LittleBigPlanet is just... slow. The controls can be quite unresponsive because of this and some precision jumping can get you killed because of what you as the player might feel isn't your fault.
However, the more you play it the more you get used to it and starts adjusting your timing accordingly automatically. It's more often not a problem for me nowadays.
Because everything is physics driven you'll probably encounter what I think is the gameplay experience's biggest flaw. Sometimes your (adorable!) sackboy will have a hard time keeping his feet on the surface beneath him. The problem with this is that when you're trying to jump you just... might not. This is because if the sackboy isn't actually standing on something, of course he can't push away from anything to jump. A great example in the game of this is an early level in which you stand on a (mechanical) bull's back and you have to jump off at the end to reach a plattform. Because the bull's back keeps moving, aswell as his neck, I most often needs several tries because actually making what would in any other plattforming game be a very easy jump.
There are, as I see it three parts of the game; the Story Mode created by Media Molecule themself, the community aspects and the creation of new content.
I've finished the Story Mode playing by myself and I've replayed quite a few of them with friends and with randoms on the Internet. The story is about as deep as a puddle of water but that's okay. Actually, it's more than okay, it's great. This is the kind of game that shouldn't take itself too seriously when it comes to narrative and epic story-telling.
The Story Mode is really fun and all but the reason I keep playing is because there are hidden treasures all over each level, giving you more stuff to use in Creation Mode and the fact that Media Molecule's own levels are truly great examples on what you yourself can create. It serves as inspiration like no other if you don't already have many hours spent on the Creation Mode. Let me tell you this; the guys that made this game are quite clever fellows!
Now, playing alone is jolly good fun but playing with friends, local or online, now that's where the fun really takes off! It's hard to make a game boring if it includes co-op, but it's even harder to make a game this much more fun when played with buddies!
When I feel that I want something else than the bundled levels, I can go online and try out all the user-generated content and that's where the second part of the game takes place. There are hundreds, maybe thousands (I don't know) of levels created by other players out there. Let me be honest with you guys... You can keep a secret, right? Most of the community levels sucks... Big time! But hey, that's to be expected and while there are some worse than any episode of Days of our lives, there are also some simply amazing ones. Some levels beat Media Molecules levels in in ingenuity, some in art and some in pure fun to play!
One thing I think is really cool with the community levels is that the creator can choose to share things he or she builds as prizes on the level. Either by having them as a pick-up in the level or as a reward for finishing the level with a pre-requirement fullfilled. Thereby community levels are just as much worth playing as an official level.
The game's Trophies are even encouraging playing both the Story Mode aswell as the community levels. Thumbs up Media Molecule!
The third and final part of the game is to create your own levels for others to play.
Let me just get this off my chest:
Include Keyboard and Mouse-support! Create a patch now and give me some decent controls! I want hotkeys, Ctrl-Click, Mouse-based camera control, Ctrl-Z (Oh god... How I want Ctrl-Z...)! Give me! Gief! I want it! I crave it! I'll even pay for it on PSN! Just... Do it!
When I was to create my first stuff in the Creation Mode I made one big mistake. I got in way over my ears! "How hard can it be? Let's build's some mechanical robot-thingy." ... Well, let me tell you; I failed. Oh man, the first night I was fiddleing with the editor, I got furious. Nothing worked, things kept falling apart, my levers and switches didn't do what I wanted. I got to bed irritated that night...
The entire next day at work I pondered on each tools functionality, I read up on some forums (avaliable 15/11-08) (during breaks, of course) and once I got home, I sat down and started creating some simpler stuff, one step at a time and suddenly I felt enlightened. It all worked. Godrays lit on me from heaven, I had been chosen, I was now one of the creators.
God said: Arcade, damn you're cool!
I answered: Thanks dude, you're not so bad yourself, creating the earth and everything.
God: A mighty fine world I might add.
Me: Yeah, but sorry to dissapoint you. I'm gonna surpass you now. I'm gonna create a world in which everyone is happy. And once I'm done, I won't take a day off to relax.
God: Impudent child! I'll stop you!
Me: You try and do that. Watch me!
It's on! So let's see who's gonna win. Me or God?
Creating, now there's my drive. It's what I love to do and it's what I'm usually good at. I find the tools in LittleBigPlanet to be very limiting and they offer a very slow working environment which at times make me a less than super happy boy with stunning looks.
Yet, I love working with it. Right now, I'm longing for it! I've been away this weekend, and during the time on the trains, I've been sketching ideas for one of my two level projects. At work, I sketch. It's like a drug!
I'm such a LittleBigPlanet sucker that I've bought all their extra in-game clothing available on the PSN-store. One measly T-shirt, only for sale during the first week cost 45 Swedish crowns (4.5 euro or 5.7 US dollars)! Luckily it as the only thing ridiculously expensive.
The game has overall been getting some really great reviews. During the first few hours with the game I thought maybe they were a little too positive but now I see that they were right. This game deserves all the great reviews it gets!
So, I'll see you in LittleBigPlanet?
PS. God, prepare for humiliation!