This page is where I drop some random material about level design and my thoughts about it. As you read, it sometimes might not make sense and or sound a tad chaotic. It's likely to be meant a "brainstorming" page.
Literature about Level Design
An Architect's Perspective On Level Design Pre-Production
The Architecture of Level Design
Excerpts from (the Book) An Architectural Approach to Level Design
Video: An architectural approach to video game level design
Level Design Workflow Tutorial
Since then I have had a hard time completing a map. Typically the problems were that I did not have proper planning. The other problem was my procrastination. I see that many people have the same problems. I see people post their progress on forums for a while and then slowly the thread stops getting updates. Usually that individual moves on to start another project, only to repeat the same process again. 
When I say "be honest" I mean to speak from your heart. Don't be manipulative or condescending in your work; treat the player how you'd wanted to be treated. Honesty is extremely valuable when making art. 
Level Design Process
1) The Preliminary Idea: a solid idea to start off.
2) Research Before Design: know what you're going to do.
- The design document
- Know about other games/maps in the genre
- Learn from colleagues
- Know the technical specs: software possibilities and limitations.
4) The Level Document
Time to write the ideas down
- What kind of experience a player will have within the level?
5) Concepts What's your point?
- Gameplay diagrams as concepts
6) Spatial Studies
- First Study: Post-Its
- Second Study: Bubble diagrams
- Third Study: Drawings
- Fourth Study: Enlarge and Detail
- Final Preliminary phase: Massing Models
7) Start Building
(expand it upon...)
"How do you design your levels?"
Once a member had PMed me a question like that. Well, let me post here my answer (with some changes):
Basically architecture. If you notice, almost every level I've released has buildings. Not that I say "let me build any building and it's done". It's not the buildings that make things happen, but the space that came from an idea.
First, I have an idea that could make the game fun, that proposes something interesting to the player. Then, I need to create a space where that idea can take place. It can't be any space, this space must be fit in that idea, this space has to have a theme and all elements of this space have to follow the theme.
This space will receive a player who will play the stuffs I'm proposing. Then, I study where each element (traps, scenery, rooms) will be build with needed space so that the player can run and reach the end. Map starts easy and ends harder, and will not be cramped, the space must match player's movements.
Then, you'll have a map that has an identity (you can understand where you are); has a theme (all traps, elements and scenery follow the theme); has flow (and can run and be played) and goal.
This is architecture: you think of and idea and a space for this idea, and make an effort to make this space work with the idea you're proposing. Sources for ideas like books, sites, photos, history are welcome. Obviously I don't need to say what a Sonic's player likes.
Let me show you some samples:
- Theme: Middle Age grain mill.
- Idea/proposal: Player will face traps and perils of a heavy and dark grain mill.
- Traps and elements: Crushers, pits, spikes, falling floors, grainslides, tunnels.
- Visual elements: stone walls, wood, grass, grains, darkness, debris.
- Theme: A lift-bridge between two fortress.
- Idea/proposal: Player will carry the flag from a fortress to another through a bridge that moves without warning.
- Traps and elements: Bridge, water, death pits, isles, fortresses, springs.
- Visual elements: stone walls, wood, water, concrete, steal.
Can you see how stuffs work? I use more effort than inspiration.
If you just sit down and open up SRB2DB, I doubt something good will appear. Go know interesting places, what is Internet for?
Well, that's it.
Some thoughts about Level Design
First off, this is a stub. I'll drop some ideas and info as a brainstorming, so don't expect logic.
Anyway, I hope this *be* useful. Also, I hope I have some fun here. :D
(if you are looking for a finished article about game design, you can download and read "What is a Good Game?" by Mark Overmars at http://www.yoyogames.com/make/tutorials. Note: this article is based on Overmars' article.)
Main points of a game
- Game is a software: so a level designer should know how the game works (see Dimensions for level design);
- The game should involve the player: scenic and form (level architecture) is fundamental to create an atmosphere that involves and motivates the player to keep playing;
- Playing a game is about making decisions: let the player make decisions, he need to perceive that his decisions are important and he may be awarded or punished for good or bad decisions;
- Playing a game is about control: never take the game control from player's hands;
- A game needs a goal: main goals and secondary goals;
- Level design helps the player
- Player needs to be challenged
- Level never fights against the player
- unavoidable enemies
- player gets lost easily
- items and objects don't work as expected (i.e. you try to hit a Mario box and it doesn't work)
- in a real game, the reality helps the player get involved: peril is real, punishments are real, etc. In PC games (in jump & run ones) player needs help to get involved with the game, then scenic plays an important role in gameplay. Why a player will expend hours to make a bunch of pixels to walk throughout a couple of virtual rooms?
- game = decisions: the player must perceive that their decisions are important for final result; choices (paths, items, face enemies or run like hell?) and strategies.
- Gameplay flow
- Balance between difficulty x player's skill. No balance: the game can't go forward for "boredom-ness" or "OMG, dis iz too hard".
- Difficulty should increase as player goes forth...
- Movement flow
- No cramped plz
- Good spacing for obstacle lay-out.
NO: avoidavoidavoidavoidavoidavoidavoidavoid...argh, I gonna die!... ;-)
- Hierarchy and Scale
- Important things should look important, or big...
- Main paths allows good flow and speed, i. e. wide lanes/corridors
- Hidden places are accessible by "minor" paths.
- Tiny things x monumentality
- Good visualization
- level elements
- scenic elements
- textures show what the level elements are supposed to be.
- Solid theme (well applied in whole level)
- NO: Player gets in: "WTH!? what's this?"; YES: "The theme is..."
- Direction cleanness
- Player can't get lost in...
- Visual: Enemies always face you!
- Visual: Lay-out, rooms, architecture, scenic and other elements can indicate that you are moving forward...
- Feeling: gets harder as player moves forward...
Elements of Level Architecture
- Marks (references): each part or room should have "something" that gives identity to the place.
- Points of interest
Landscape design is, among other things, used a lot in level design. I could write tons of paragraphs and quotes from another authors, like Kevin Lynch et all, to explain what is a path, edges, regions, focal points, landmarks and other funny/strange/serious/boring/whatnot stuff. Landscape design in level design is, how a player could say: "create a place where I can mess with and doesn't let me get lost".
Obviously there's a lot of other things you need to consider to design levels. Level is not just architecture, architecture is its body on which you organize the space and the elements. I'm meaning the visual part, not the beauty though (a level can be ugly like a sin and still interesting), but create a landscape that teaches the player how to behave, where he is, where he should go, what the atmosphere is, what world he is, give the player an orientation and a clue of the tasks he needs to pull off.
A good landscape design (as any artwork) doesn't need to be explained; the landscape explains itself. You don't need to explain the meaning of things you used in the map (if so, you failed. You won't be behind the player when he's playing the level to explain stuffs). I find meaningless when a developer questions another one "why you used this thing? You need to create a story to give it a meaning". If the player is capable of giving the landscape a meaning and an identity, my congratulations.
Dimensions for level design
How wide is a Sonic's thok?
How high Tails can fly?
How long Knuckles can glide?
Ranges of springs.
Ideal dimensions for paths, tunnels, bridges, walls, stairs etc
These questions and others will be answered here... (when I start doing it...)
(NOTE: this is like a sand-box-stub. Later this text could earn a "normal" page in the Wiki)
- Minimum width: 33 FU
- Minimum height (walking): 56 FU
- Minimum height (spinning): 32 FU
- Corridors and lanes
- Minimum width: 33 FU
- Minimum width for 180/360º turn: 640 FU (?)
- Steps and stairs
- Maximum height for step: 24 FU (?)
- Minimum width for step: 2 FU
- Recommended: 16 FU height x 32 FU width, depending of textures.
Moviments and "jumps"
(if running, with move forward pressed)
- Running over a pit without falling in (must have > 24 FU deep): 384 FU maximum width
- Running + Jump: ~1600 FU width
- Standing + Jump + Thok: ~1200 FU width
- Running + Jump + Thok: ~1952 FU width
- Tail's flight: maximum height = 1552 FU
- Knuckles's gliding
- Height: useful to avoid the character from hitting his head against ceiling.
- Width: to know where the character will land, considering same floor height.
- Red spring - diagonal up - dry soil: width = 4095 FU , height = 968 FU
- Yellow spring - diagonal up - dry soil: width = 1599 FU , height = 426 FU
- Red spring - diagonal up - underwater: width = 7071 FU , height = 3028 FU
- Yellow spring - diagonal up - underwater: width = 2799 FU , height = 1200 FU
- Current and Rivers
- "Fast" river
- Height for movements in water: running (?? FU), walking (?? FU), drowning (?? FU).
- Pillars (stepping on)
- Other stuffs
Special Samples for Special Level Designers
Samples for the people! Samples that came from my crazy ideas.
Controllable Conveyor Belt
It's a conveyor belt that you can control.
Samples of maces and possibilities
Lift Bridge Zone's Switches
Still loving Lift Bridge Zone? Gotta love more using it in you levels.
Wanna more? There are more goodies hidden in my sleeves. Behold!
(if you have got a crazy idea too, drop it on my Arch Pack topic. Maybe I convert your crazinesses into wad files for the people too ^_^)
Sunny/open-air and full light rooms
- Full light (direct light): 255
- Full light (variation): 239
- Shadow (light/high ceiling): 223
- Shadow (strong/low ceiling): 207
- Light: 191
- Shadow: 175
Dark in-door areas and night atmosphere
- Light: 159
- Shadow: 143
Tunnels, caves and pits
- Light: 111
- Shadow: 95 ("playable" limit)
Enemy seeing distance
- Thing Type 100 - Crawla (Blue) = on sight
- Thing Type 101 - Crawla (Red) = on sight
- Thing Type 102 - Stupid Dumb Unnamed RoboFish = irrelevant
- Thing Type 103 - Buzz (Gold) = 3072
- Thing Type 104 - Buzz (Red) = 3072
- Thing Type 105 - Jetty-Syn Bomber = on sight
- Thing Type 106 - Jetty-Syn Gunner = on sight
- Thing Type 107 - Crawla Commander = on sight
- Thing Type 108 - Deton = 3072
- Thing Type 109 - Skim = ----
- Thing Type 110 - Turret = 2047
- Thing Type 111 - Pop-up Turret = 1024
- Thing Type 112 - Sharp = on sight
- Thing Type 113 - Jet Jaw = 192
- Thing Type 114 - Snailer = on sight
- Thing Type 115 - Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard = on sight
- Thing Type 116 - Pointy = on sight
- Thing Type 117 - Robo-Hood = 512
- Thing Type 118 - CastleBot FaceStabber = on sight
- Thing Type 119 - Egg Guard = on sight
- Thing Type 120 - Green Snapper = on sight
- Thing Type 121 - Minus = on sight