Storytelling for Level Designers

Align Your Collaborators With Macro Design Early

I use the word “macro” a lot and I’m really just referring to ‘big, overarching aspects of design that create rules and consequences as they occur’. These big-chunks-of-design-intent become the foundation of the level design I’m going to do, and as such: they will become the foundation of my conversation with key collaborators, like art, writing, and bosses.

  • Vigilante hero will do a combat sandbox beat, then investigate, learn of a weird machine in the basement, and explore to find the basement. Once arriving in the basement, we trigger a cinematic and Dr.Badguy escapes riding his strange machine into some kind of dimensional vortex portal.
  • Vigilante hero will enter the dungeon through a loose vent and arrive at a high position where they can see [Dr.Badguy’s Workshop]. It’s a large modern industrial space with futuristic equipment everywhere.
  • Badguy thugs roam the area, so player must defeat them to make the area safe to investigate.
  • Once investigating, the player gets an objective to “search for clues”
  • After finding [4] clues on computer consoles that suggest that Dr. Badguy doesn’t want anyone to talk about “The Vortex Engine stored in the basement” the hero will have a realization beat where they talk about “clearly should go to basement”. Realization should gradually hint that the machine is experimental but can be very dangerous.
  • Player objective changes to “find a way into the basement”. Hero dialogue supports this by underlining that learning of the mysterious Vortex Engine is frightening, warranting further exploration.
  • etc.

Greybox for Fun and Communication

A lot of Level Designers (myself included) find that greybox is the most fun, most creative, and generally coolest thing we get to do. Everything seems possible, and we can try ideas extremely quickly.

More Storytelling Tips

The number one, most powerful storyteller in your level is you, level designer. Other people will collaborate, and some of them will make decisions for you… but it is Level Design that ties together all the different bits of storytelling to make a unified player experience.

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Geoff Ellenor

Geoff Ellenor

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Game Director, WB Games Montréal. Video game nerd. Designer. Tech head. Views expressed here are my own.