Since 2015 I have been lecturing in the Bachelor of Design (Games) program at RMIT University. In 2019 I created a new university-wide elective, Level Design & the Player Experience, the first of its kind at RMIT. The course has been a huge success with students with almost one hundred enrollments and overwhelmingly positive feedback.
Level design has been a major focus of mine in past projects and research. The course presented an opportunity to rethink how level design can be taught, an issue other game educators have grappled with.
Focusing on level design theory and practice the course involves three increasingly complex capstone projects. Each project is a a lens to learn about different level design concepts and contexts. At the end of the course each student finishes with a small portfolio of levels a knowledge foundation.
Much of the syllabus involves hands-on workshops where my existing level designs are analyzed and reworked. For example, reorganizing challenges to better teach the game mechanics, modifying layouts for competitive balance, and adjusting lighting to alter atmospheric mood.
Aside from creating and delivering the syllabus, my major role is that of a mentor. I work for and with students to push their critical knowledge, and give design feedback and technical support, to encourage iteration and motivate creative experimentation.
The first project delves into historic and ever-relevant retro-Platformer level design. Using Mega Man Maker students design their own levels responding to the theme of two generated adjectives (e.g. fast and slow) as a creative prompt.
Classes grapple with teaching rules and mechanics through levels, and how challenge can be fostered and increased through mixing and reusing gimmicks, and paced for an emotional ‘arc’ that keep players engaged from start to finish.
The second project engages in multiplayer First-Person-Shooter level design, switching to a 3D environment. Using Quake and TrenchBroom students design their own death-match levels and engage in iterative design techniques and live playtests.
Class exercises engage in ‘greyboxing’ level designs, how layout changes can adjust a range of player choice thereby influencing competitive and social play, and the adjusting the ‘readability’ of a level through visuals and architecture.
The third project interrogates the idea of a ‘level as game’ and more complex development environments. Working in Unity with ProBuilder and Realtime CSG students design a walking simulator to create their own navigable world.
Classes grapple with how player navigation can be guided or disrupted for exploratory experiences, tell stories through environmental decoration, communicate atmosphere through lighting, and foster memorable moments through composing iconography and reveals with stylistic flair.