Author Topic: Opinion on designing levels  (Read 3031 times)

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Offline Flopsy

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Opinion on designing levels
« on: February 15, 2016, 09:52:40 pm »
Originally asked this question in Gronklems Tilesets but it was pointed out I should have made a new topic for this.

With it being the anniversary of Lemmings and I've been totally immersed in playing through Neo Lemmix level packs created by this community since the start of this year. I thought it was time to start thinking about making my own levels and maybe even a level pack.

I used to do this when I was a child and fascinated with the concept of Lemmings on the Amiga and Acorn. We were even asked to draw on T Shirts at one point at school and I drew a custom drawn Lemmings level on my T Shirt (which I can still remember to this day!).

Anyway my question is, when you lot have been designing levels did you have the ideas fully drawn out on paper (or other note taking devices) before embarking into the editors or sometimes is it a case of messing about with the objects in the editor and ideas fall into place? Or alternately it could be something completely different?

I haven't taken a look at the Neo Lemmix editor yet and would like some insight of what I'm getting myself in for...
Thanks in advance :thumbsup:
RIP Gotta Go Fast....

Online namida

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #1 on: February 15, 2016, 10:05:01 pm »
In my case, I would say there's definitely a bit of both involved. The majority of my levels are designed by "mess around in the editor, see what I come up with" but often, I'll also have ideas for at least part of the level (such as a general theme, or a main trick) in my head beforehand. Other times I really do just design a layout, and see what I come up with and what I can do with it - and many times, while doing this, I'll actually come up with the idea during the design. On the other hand, I very rarely if ever go as far as fully planning out a level on paper. It's usually either in my head, or a rough sketch. The only example of a level I can think of that I have fully designed on paper would be Bumpy 12 "Luck of the Draw" from Lemmings Plus IV.

Quite a lot of it also comes from other levels. I might notice some trick and think "hey, I can think of a way to use this in a level" - this is especially valuable if you come up with the idea during a backroute or a challenge to another level. This can be with both other fan-made levels and the official ones - one trick that has seen surprisingly little use in custom levels is the trick from the end of Mayhem 20 "No Added Colors Or Lemmings". On the other hand, some others have been done to death, for example that from Sunsoft 29 "I am A.T." - of course, this does not mean you shouldn't use it in your level if you've thought of a great way to do so. Do remember that the number one rule is - "Think about what will be good for your level." If you have a great idea, but a level design "rule" would interfere with it - break that rule. This is especially true for larger packs, where it's the norm for some levels to be better than others - very few large packs consistently have excellent levels; the only one I can think of that's close to that would be Lemmings Reunion. As such, if you have an idea for a great thematic level, or even an artistic one, that might not be the best playing experience, consider making it anyway.

I also find that listening to the music track the eventual level will have, while making it, can help with the design. I don't know if this is just me or not - certianly there are some users here who place very little importance on music at all, but others who think that it's an essential part of their pack on a per-level basis.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2016, 10:13:42 pm by namida »
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Lemmings Plus Series | Doomsday Lemmings

Offline IchoTolot

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2016, 10:39:38 pm »
For me there are a few cases on which I make my levels:

1.) I have a certain landscape/theme in my head (often with a certain tileset) and create a level around it. Like the shape of Nightmare! 30 was in my head and I just build a level out of it.
     Often with a good landscape in mind the easier levels can be made more enjoyable.

2.) I have a core trick or combination of skills in my mind and focus a level around this (+ maybe putting even some other tricks in it). Here I mostly use tilesets which are best fitting for the trick/combination.

3.) I just pick the tileset I feel about using right now and just start building sth...eventually sth good comes out of it ;)

Offline mobius

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2016, 11:57:54 pm »
Besides what everyone else said, I sometimes try to use a unique approach [but this doesn't always lead to best results, keep in mind] A bunch of my levels are based on dreams I had. Not necessarily dreams about lemmings, but a certain type of landscape or architecture that came from a dream.

Another way of designing or getting ideas at least is to base something off an existing level. I wanted to keep this a secret but I might as well tell it here; Right now I'm working on re-working a bunch of ONML Tame levels and levels from the Genesis/Mega Drive. I think it's fun to take an existing level and move things around and mess with it to make a new level.
"Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away."
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Offline Nepster

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2016, 12:06:54 am »
As you already can see from the previous posts, everyone has a different approach to level creation. My own workflow is usually like this:

1) Get level idea
More often than not, I get level ideas while playing other levels. I try out something, but it doesn't work. But the lemmings interact in an interesting way, skills get combined in an unusual way, ... in other words: stuff that cries "turn me into a new level".

2) Strip the level idea of anything unnecessary
When first encountering some level idea as above, I usually made many skill assignments before, there is lots of terrain around, ... But I want that players of my level to see the level idea in the clearest possible way. So I ask myself the questions: What are the key ingredients contained in the level idea? What is the minimal terrain layout where this can work?
To answer them, I step completely away from the computer and "play" the level purely in my mind. For me this is the fastest way to modify the imaginary level, strip away parts and see what happens, add some piece of terrain to see how this influences the level, let the lemmings wander around without having to care about their precise timing, ... For very complex ideas, I make rough sketches on paper once the broad layout is fixed.
This step might not be absolutely necessary. But I found it useful to reduce the amount of unintended solutions. In the following steps, the levels usually gains quite a bit of complexity again, and the more complex, the more potential for backroutes.

3) First rough design in the editor
Now I return to the editor and put terrain where I imagined them. I do not worry about the looks at all and in this state the levels usually look like an unholy mess. It is meant to check, whether my imaginary level can be turned real. If some lemmings have to meet at a certain point, I have to adjust the lengths of paths they walk; if a miner should reach point X, I have to worry that this is actually possible, ...

4) Do I see easy alternative solutions?
Changing the final level with all the terrain carefully fitted together is quite a bit of work. Therefore I found it useful to start worrying about alternative approaches/solutions quite early. So I sit down (usually after taking a break) and try my best to backroute my own level. Whenever I find one, some rough modification is made to the level to remove it.

5) Prettify the level
Now that I have a level that more or less works as intended, but looks totally unappealing, it is time to prettify it. Often I find, that the style I chose at first is not really suitable to turn the level's terrain into some pretty terrain. So I start another editor and recreate the level from the beginning, but now properly fitting the terrain pieces together.

6) More backrouting
Prettifying a level usually changes lots of details, so backroutes may creep in again. I found it useful to have a whole day break before starting backrouting again.

7) Make intended solution easier to execute
As the level designer I already know, where to start the builder, miner, ... but all other players don't know. So I go through the whole solution and always ask myself: Does the solution still work if I assign the skill a few frames earlier or later? Quite often changing a few pixels can make a huge difference to this question.

8) Let other people play the level and encourage feedback
Other players might see problems, ways to improve the level, ... that I missed. Not to mention that they will almost certainly find more backroutes that needs to be fixed ;).

Some final advice:
- Take your time! People are much more likely to play your levels, if they see that you put much effort into it. I am probably one of the slower level creators here and even for a one-screen level I rarely need less than 4-5 hours (not counted any time I spend backrouting my level).
- Do not be discouraged if your first levels have not quite the quality you wish for. Of the first 20 levels I made, only 5 were ever seen by other people (and then only after heavy editing once I got more experienced). Of course there are other people, who create excellent levels right away.

Offline Pieuw

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2016, 10:20:22 am »
I have no method whatsoever.
Sometimes I have a trick in mind and build the level around it, sometimes I fool around with the editor until I manage to build something nice, sometimes inspiration comes while playing other custom levels (especially when I find a backroute). Some of my levels were even inspired by backroutes people found in other levels I made (Akseli is a champion for this :D)

My only advice would simply be : go ahead and make stuff with the editor even if you don't have a plan in mind. You'll be surprised how quickly ideas can come especially when you're fresh at it and don't feel like you've already given everything you could :scared:

Just keep in mind that making a good level takes time. Building it, testing the solution (over and over and over again) and the worse part : testing for backroutes. Spending a whole day on a single level is not rare. But the hardest thing once your level is finished and perfect... is to find a good name for it. :P
« Last Edit: December 30, 2016, 09:58:42 am by Pieuw »

Offline Flopsy

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2016, 04:27:51 am »
Woah, I'm blown away by the amount of responses and detail everyone has gone into!

I've tested out the Neo Lemmix editor and it's such a great tool, I can't believe how easy it is to use (although I haven't figured out what everything does yet!).

Just wanted to make sure I went into creating levels with the right sort of approach and thanks to everyone who put a lot of effort into their reply :thumbsup:
RIP Gotta Go Fast....

Offline Clam

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2016, 07:40:07 am »
I haven't drawn a level on paper in a long time. The only times I did that were for my first pack (before I had a functional editor) and for my Lemmings 3 pack (lots of little pieces means it's hard to just play around in the editor, and the block system means things need to be drawn to scale). The current editors are so good that it's simpler to just "draw" straight to the screen! So the starting point for some of my levels really is just a blank screen that I throw terrain at :laugh:. But as others have mentioned, the more common starting point is a piece of someone else's level – so it's worth playing other peoples' levels to broaden the mind.

My level-design musings from two years ago; still relevant today.

Offline Dullstar

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2016, 04:26:21 am »
It's been a while since I've made levels, but one thing I've done before is making landscapes, giving myself absurdly large numbers of skills, and just seeing what sort of solutions to the level I can come up with before actually settling on a puzzle for the level.  Then again, my levels were never particularly hard.  But I was a lot younger at the time, so maybe I can do better now.

Offline mobius

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Re: Opinion on designing levels
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2016, 10:05:28 am »
Nice to see you back here Dullstar!
"Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away."
-Hakwin Rinzai

"Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man"
-the Dude