GDD 005 : Getting Started With Procedural Level Design

By November 11, 2013 Podcast No Comments
Game Design Dojo Podcast Episode

This episode is an exploration on how to approach creating a procedural level design system for a variety of game styles, and what to look for when it’s up and running.

Getting Started With Procedural Level Design

Procedural Level Design is basically the design of the game and making it fun while keeping gameplay long. For example Jet Pack Joyride and Temple Run. With procedural level designs it’s easier to adjust gameplay vs. crafted level designs. Free to play mobile games are good reason to use procedural level design because you want to keep gameplay at 30 sec to a minute and a half, you can ramp it up to become impossible and the player wants to purchase power up etc.

Segment out the Experience

It’s important to make a beginning, middle and an end in your video game by putting random seeds in random seeds and creating in and out points. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Beginning – easy intro and limit the length
  2. Middle – the bulk is Act II and should be moderately difficult while introducing new mechanics to keep the game fresh and fun
  3. End – last is very difficult, almost impossible and the player relies on luck

 Apply Fast as Fun to Video Games

Think about when you were a kid and when riding your bike down a hill and that exhilarating feeling of having little control. In gameplay, it creates a satisfying experience when the player is lasting longer in the game then they should. Roller Coaster are designs with this in mind: Thrill minus death equals fun. 

Sometimes levels aren’t going to come out as you planned and it’s important to push boundaries like with magnetic fields or orbit bullets. Allow the player to explore because that kind of discovery is fun for the player and you can also use social media as a tool for players to post their new discoveries.

Challenges with Procedural Level Design

Procedural level design can be tough and harder than hand-crafted level design. Some challenges we discuss are:

  • Hard to gage if the game is fun – needs to be focus tested
  • Play the same scene
  • Easy to lose relationship of difficulty
  • How to measure success of game?

Endless Runner and Tetris are good examples of games that overcame some challenges.

Bait the Player

In a Sandbox game the player is in a physical world and can do things and move things the way they want. But the challenges that come with that are not sure what the player will do and will they all just bunch up in the corner? To overcome those challenges, give the player a reason to explore – bait them.

Baiting is a good idea especially when you’re not seeing a behavior you want, you can bait them in a procedural fashion. One way to accomplish this is to play with resources. Have resources run out and the player will need to explore to get more.

 Choosing a Theme for your Video Game

The great thing about developing video games is you never stop learning when you make games. You can look to Mother Nature as a natural source of inspiration as well as look to history and make it your own. Video Games can be a story telling medium. Some things to consider when choosing your theme:

  1. Have depth and be interesting in some kind of way
  2. Easy to play – difficult to master
  3. Once have procedural level design down, you have the gift that keeps on giving

Tetris is probably the best example of procedural level design and was academically rated the most perfect game ever made. It found a balance and made a scale and made it simple and effective.

Helpful Pointers with Procedural Level Design

  • Important to distinguish curve to shoot up difficulty
  • Bait player with a carrot stick in front of them
  • Understanding random
  • Access tables to edit on the fly – adjust a couple of parameters
  • Be the master mind behind the curtain to create the show

Dungeons & Dragons is a classic example of understanding randomness. As the Dungeon Master you can learn how to adapt situation to keep everyone in game, keep player’s interest and learn about design. Recommend playing it for insight.

Examples of Procedural Level Designs in Depth

  1. Beach Buggy Blitz – environments feel open
  2. Smurfs Village – make village feel alive
  3. Real world train set – create illusion village exists
  4. Sims – Freedom, user can create level
  5. Minecraft – like Legos, become the level designer

Procedural level design can have user generated content that allows high levels of creativity players can share. It also can be action based where the player feels fun, comes out, go through the shop to enhance character for the next round.

When developing your video game, you as the developer want to be in control as the puppet master with an adaptive system playing with randomness to find the fun for the player.


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #005

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