Kids parties and videogame levels

Kids parties and videogame levels - not so different

“Level design is necessary for two primary purposes – providing player with a goal and providing player with enjoyable play experience. Good level design strives to produce quality gameplay, provide an immersive experience, and sometimes, especially in story-based games, to advance the storyline. Skilled use of textures and audio is necessary to produce immersive player experience.”
(Wikipedia: Level Design)

I am a level designer for video games, and I have been since 2001.  I love level design, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to see level design as a discipline, and for new skills to bring to my personal toolset.  So imagine my surprise when I made the connection today that the skills of a level designer are not as niche and rare as I may have previously suspected!

Where have I found this seam of rich level designing potential?  It’s been hiding out in the brains of certain kinds of mothers, and in particular types of dads, and masquerading as “crafty” or “creative” all this time.

Perhaps you think I’m reaching – afterall, few are the mums and dads who break out UnrealEd after an exhausting day parenting – but I suspect that there’s a creative drive shared with some.  You know the type – the mum who organizes a Nasa Space Party for her son and his friends – complete with costumes, custom invitations, decorations, games to play, and goodies to take home.  Or perhaps the father who retreats to the garage for weeks on end, only to emerge with a complete and hand-made children’s market-stall, kitchen, pirate ship, dinosaur or space rocket.

You know these parents exist.

What they’re doing, isn’t all that different from level design – they begin by imagining an experience that they want their player to have.  Whether it’s killing the zombies, exploring the galaxy, ruling your people wisely, or successfully running your own store – these aspirational experiences are the goal.

They then take stock of the means they have to bring this experience to life – their tools are both more limited, and more exciting than ours.  Where we have every available color, sound effects crafted by skilled teams, complete control over the lighting, a dazzling array of effects, script writers with decades of experience, and some of the most cutting edge code anywhere in the industry – they have the senses of touch, taste and smell, as well as audio and visual to play with.  While they might be limited by foodsafe-paints and iron on transfers, they have the boundless imaginations of children to both fill in the gaps and trans-formatively improve on their efforts.