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Level Design Discussion and Questions
Forum Index - SMW Hacking - SMW Hacking Discussion - Level Design Discussion and Questions
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Originally posted by Captain Savage
How does everybody go about planning their level designs? Do you just jump into Lunar Magic and begin placing blocks? Or do you sketch them out on notebook first? Where do you get your inspiration?

Inspiration comes and goes, it's hard sometimes.

Nowadays I make levels based on the gimmick it'll have. Think that if it's the first time you're presenting this gimmick to a level introduce the player to it without being too harmful so s/he'll get used to it eventually, and in later levels with similar gimmicks make sure the level presents it in a way the player already knows what to do, but with more creativity. But you could to some sketch of it in a notebook or elsewhere as well, it must be one of the ways to do.
Originally posted by Captain Savage
How does everybody go about planning their level designs? Do you just jump into Lunar Magic and begin placing blocks? Or do you sketch them out on notebook first? Where do you get your inspiration?

I actually rarely/never sketch anything. Once I have a general/generic idea of a level in mind (something like this: a grassland level with line-guided platforms and chainsaws, and monty moles in the land areas; after that midpoint it introducts line-guided ropes and ON/OFF switches), I open Lunar Magic and simply start designing. I won't make levels when I'm not inspired, since I know that it won't turn out very good if I don't really know what I'm going to do.

As I design my level, I give priority to those two things:

Keep the level focused - I have a gimmick and I've got to play with it around the entire level. I'm not going to split a level into various segments with completely unrelated gimmicks. I think it's alright and may be even interesting to implement more than one gimmick at once if it's done the right way, though.

Keep the level's flow - the gimmick needs to start being played in a simple way and then get gradually harder in clever ways. This works together with the difficulty curve.

"Where I get my inspiration" isn't a very easy question for me, it just comes eventually. Be it when I'm playing other hacks or even when I'm outside. Basically, whenever I sense that something could go well for a SMW level.

I don't really find designing levels hard if you know what you're doing. I can just go from my inspiration directly into the editor, but if you feel more comfortable with sketching your levels on paper and if that works for you, then go for it! It's actually a good way to keep your ideas organized. :3
First, I think of the gimmick, the graphics and thee sprites I'm going to use. I also plan a gimmick and some ways to use the sprites and objects. The rest is improvising.

When I'm on the editor I only place the land border tiles with no dirt or decoration, this allows me to quickly change anything I need to. Then, I test the levels several times and when nothing feels off, I add the rest.
I always start with the music since it gives me an idea of the atmosphere/mood that I want for the level. Once that's down, I take a "Donkey Kong Country"-styled approach - that is, I'll select a gimmick, and use that as the level's main focus. I'll typically introduce it in a safe manner (i.e. teach the player how it works such that it can't really kill them), and then gradually build on it. At the end of the level, I'll culminate in a "final test" of sorts and create a challenging set-up using the gimmick.

..of course, your approach may vary, but this has always worked wondered for me.
Well, just like S.N.N., I can't really design a level without the music in mind, in which case I build around that music too; making sure the environment and situations fit the beat.

Other than that, I don't follow gimmicks unless it's pretty original. Instead, I design my levels to work around a specific sprite, or to be an obstacle course of some kind. I generally like to avoid "instant death pits" as well, because they're not fun, and since I like making long levels, that only serves to make them (pits) less fun. I also design a level around the story I have set up so it kind of fits the atmosphere of the situation, which is something most hacks can't accomplish due to lack of a serious/innovative story. (most hacks is Bowser has kidnapped the pricess or something similiar to Mario needing to collect something.)
What I would do is build the level design first, not caring about the glitches. That is because if I build both the level design and aesthetics then I might become too focused on the aesthetics and end up having a crappy level design. After I've tested the level design and all, I then start adding the decorations.

I used this strategy on my 7th VLDC Level and got 77th place... Haha... Hah... #smw{-_-2}
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A bit late, but the way I design levels is a bit weird.

I usually think on an interesting gimmick first; it can be something simpler, like a new enemy or even a different level theme or more complex stuff such as on-off trees that appear/disappear. After that, I try to think on interesting obstacles first, then draw them on paper to have an idea of how I'm going to design the level. Then I start working on the aesthetic part of the level, searching for some fitting music and inspiration for graphics. After that, I start building the level using the obstacles drawn previously, and try to 'connect' them somehow. Then, I just test the level countless times to see if it flows well and search for any bugs.

It works well for me, but I end up taking 4-5 days min to design a simple level :P


Userbar for the IRC channel. Can be replaced at any time by someone else, this is just to get it noticed. CODE:

Code
[url=irc://irc.caffie.net/#lm][img]https://dl.dropbox.com/s/e7p1rarpe9l6cuo/12797.png[/img][/url]
Originally posted by MercuryPenny

Very simplistic. Effort would have been nice at the very least even if it is just to get noticed for the time being (which a plain userbar isn't the best thing for that). Kind of tempted to make one myself.
User: Hinalyte / ID: 1553 ~ loading kotori.css
Thanks for giving the userbar idea, I was bored so guys I made a thing:



Code
<a href="irc://caffie.net/lm" title="#lm - your primary level design discussion channel"><img src="http://i314.photobucket.com/albums/ll403/jed9876/Userbars/lm_userbar.png"/></a>

I'll see if I can make variations of it (mini-version, with rounded edges).
Oh wow, I never even noticed that this was made. Though, it was intended to replace (and combine) the screenshot and video thread so the thread won't die and people can talk about their design as well as post screenshots. Regardless, this is cool.

Anyway, I design levels by saying "alright, what obstacles should this level have?". As far as I'm concerned, obstacles are anything that obstruct the player from progressing -- whether that be chucks, pits, spikes, slopes, puzzles, whatever. Then, I try to introduce the obstacles one at a time, and gradually increase their difficulty and combine them together. I usually aim for shorter levels as well, so the gimmicks won't get too stale.

Now, does anyone think a difficulty spike near the end of levels is fair? I always ramp it up near the end, but never unfairly.
I sometimes take the end of the level as "put the hardest obstacle before the goal here". I don't do it all the time because it can get annoying if it's done too much, but having it in some levels here and there doesn't hurt.
this thread could be very helpful for those new in hacking and/or ones that have trouble with level design ideas and creativity at times, like i do.

anyways, i design levels and create new level design ideas in my mind. sometimes, when i lose interest or level design ideas, i tend to play some vanilla hacks to get inspiration for level design (for vanilla hacks) and vice versa: for chocolate hacks, i play some chocolate hacks with ideas for good level design gimmicks. at first, i usually design the level without caring about glitches or bad sprite placements (as i fix them after i finish designing the levels), then i play-test the levels for minor and major glitches, some unfitting music, bad palettes, bad sprite placement, etc. but like everyone said for the gimmicks, i usually start off a gimmick easy, then turns into medium after the midway point gate, and then some creativity in difficulty near the end of the level.

--------------------
Currently: Starting college!
I start by deciding on the gimmick and building over that, like a lot of people stated. Then, I get graphics and start making the level. However, it usually takes me around 2 months to finish a level. It also never ends up being good and it never actually follows the gimmick I decided on (or poorly uses it).

Last, I find the music. *Insert generic doesn't-use-music-at-all-anymore-because-of-music-section-overuse-AMK-fucking-up-and-porting-inability rant here*

I haven't got any original idea for a level for 4 months now. I think my hacking days are over. I still port old levels from failed hacks over to my new one, with new graphics, but I haven't done any original content in ages and probably never will be able to do it again.
I tend to think of a gimmick and I try not to use it much so it doesn't get stale. But when it comes to designing the level is where it gets really complicated.
I'm not much of a planner, usually. I sometimes start a level with a specific idea, but in general, I'm far more of a spitballer. I might sometimes just toss a few random objects and arrange them in different ways, just to see what I get. Most of the levels I make happen this way. I usually end up liking what I get.

I don't make my hacks super hard, and I try to use powerups and other rewards as an incentive to go different places.

I agree with others, that a game like this is traditionally pretty linear. I try to make sure that (most of) my levels can be played this way, if that's what the player prefers. However, exploration can be fun. Certainly, I like to go through levels and see everything, once I've beaten them a time or two, and honestly, anybody who aspires to make a hack should want to do this. If you never read, you'll never be much of a writer.

I do have a few rules that I try to follow:
1. Try, as much as possible, to minimize making the player stop moving.
2. Make exploration optional most of the time, but offer good incentives for players who wish to look around.
2. Try to make it fair. I hate blind jumps and I hate it when a player has options closed to them right away because of something they had to do beforehand, that they didn't know they had to do. If a part of the level requires flight, even if it's an optional part, there will be a feather somewhere in the level (but you might have to look for it).
3. I work on levels in segments first. I set up a set of obstacles and I test it to make sure that the set is both playable and interesting. Then, once I have a level full of segments, I test the entire level to make sure that the segments flow together well.
4. Testing is very important. Play your levels thoroughly. I end up testing each of mine probably a couple of dozen times each.
GANYMEDE

Chapter two: Land of No Shame
Coming January 2022
Originally posted by Ten
I'm not much of a planner, usually. I sometimes start a level with a specific idea, but in general, I'm far more of a spitballer. I might sometimes just toss a few random objects and arrange them in different ways, just to see what I get. Most of the levels I make happen this way. I usually end up liking what I get.

I don't make my hacks super hard, and I try to use powerups and other rewards as an incentive to go different places.

I agree with others, that a game like this is traditionally pretty linear. I try to make sure that (most of) my levels can be played this way, if that's what the player prefers. However, exploration can be fun. Certainly, I like to go through levels and see everything, once I've beaten them a time or two, and honestly, anybody who aspires to make a hack should want to do this. If you never read, you'll never be much of a writer.

I do have a few rules that I try to follow:
1. Try, as much as possible, to minimize making the player stop moving.
2. Make exploration optional most of the time, but offer good incentives for players who wish to look around.
2. Try to make it fair. I hate blind jumps and I hate it when a player has options closed to them right away because of something they had to do beforehand, that they didn't know they had to do. If a part of the level requires flight, even if it's an optional part, there will be a feather somewhere in the level (but you might have to look for it).
3. I work on levels in segments first. I set up a set of obstacles and I test it to make sure that the set is both playable and interesting. Then, once I have a level full of segments, I test the entire level to make sure that the segments flow together well.
4. Testing is very important. Play your levels thoroughly. I end up testing each of mine probably a couple of dozen times each.


This is my general approach as well. Though I'll have an overall theme or some gimmick, I tend to just build a few screens and play through the new section to see if it fits.


As for how linear the levels are, I like to mix it up. A level focused on exploration can be a nice break after a challenging gauntlet (and vice-versa.)


As for challenges, I like to keep things kind of even keel. Either there's a slight increase and decrease throughout (like gently rolling hills) or a gradual ramp-up. I don't like it when the difficulty shifts suddenly; it's rather jarring.
I can't help but wonder if anyone else is trying to go for creativity in their level design. I've been trying to focus on creativity lately and I'm wondering if it is a thing people are focusing on these days, like we have been on level design for the past...year, two years?
I'm pretty sure level design is inherently creative. Unless you're talking about something else.
I like to think level design encompasses everything about the level. Whether that be music, theme, the amount of pits, which enemies to use, the difficulty, etc. How well the level plays is effected by a lot of things, so boiling it down to solely the structure is inaccurate.
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