Tag Archive: videogames


So, yeah.  That’s me – Amanda Jeffrey, Level Designer.  Hearing my own voice is most unnerving.  Not long now until the game is released and on the shelf, and Elizabeth will take her first real steps out into the real world.  That’s my girl.

Go Liz Squad!

Intro Picture for Tower Defense games - showing Defense Grid: The Awakening and Plants vs. Zombies

Tower Defense games have, in my opinion, stagnated – but there’s hope!

Think of what a tower defense game means these days – a top down view of a field of play, where AI controlled agents enter from one or more known directions, seeking to damage your critical resource so much that you fail.  The way you counter this is by spending a renewable resource to strategically place specialized buildings that will neutralize certain types of these AI agents before they can damage the critical resource.  Neutralizing an agent results in a gain of renewable resource, and the cycle starts anew.

Sound like a tower defense game?  Yup.  However, it could also be describing…

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Imagine you’re in the world of Guild Wars 2 – the Shiverpeak Mountains in particular.  It’s cold; a perpetual winter, where even the warmest parts of the landscape are barely above 0°C, birch trees and fir trees dominate a landscape peppered with shaggy bears and fantasy beasts of burden of massive size and thick dense pelts.  Nearby, the lakes are frozen solid to a depth of 10m or more, the hills are covered with thick packed snow, and the homes of the Norn have extremely pointed roofs and gigantic fireplaces.  This place is COLD.

Now, skip the video above ahead to 3:33 to see the default armor types for the 8 different Norn female classes.  Remember – it’s bitterly cold.

I picked the Engineer class.  Can’t imagine why, can you?

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I’m a professional level designer – and to 99.99% of the population that is an utterly meaningless title.  Even to other video game industry insiders, ‘Level Designer’ is a pretty unusual job – one that varies from studio to studio.  So why is Hollywood (and the books it’s based on) doing so well at answering that common question: “Yes, but what is it that you do?”

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I’ve been playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – it’s pretty great!  However, I start singing along and air-guitaring the Top Gear theme music every time someone summons a Faer Gorta skeleton beastie.  Watch, and decide whether or not I’m completely off my rocker.

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Terraria videogame screen shot - showing player made tree village, merchant, helper and nurse.

Player-Made Forest Village with NPC Housing in Terraria

[Updated post with a video tutorial and more decorating tips, here!]

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of Terraria – a lovely little 2d side scrolling game where you fight monsters, build homes for NPCs, mine for ores and treasure, and explore from the top of the skies to the depths of hell.  It’s just one of the batch in a relatively recent revival of interest in games with mining and building – from the insanely brilliant (and insanely inaccessible) Dwarf Fortress, to the breakout hit, Minecraft (with Infiniminer before it), and now Terraria.  Each one takes a different graphical approach, but each one has you stepping into an uncaring, unknown, wilderness with just a few meager tools with which to bootstrap yourself to self-sufficiency.

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School of Athens, by Rafael/Raphael

The School of Athens painting, by Raphael

I’ll get straight to the point – the following article about a philosopher successfully teaching 8-9 year old children how to count in binary using the Socratic Method, over the course of a single Friday afternoon (think back to your own Friday afternoon level of concentration in school) seems nothing short of magic.

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Improviso B-Movie style poster from the GAMBIT MIT Lab

B-Movie Style Poster for Improviso - The Improvisational Research-Game

I have less than the recommended human quantity of fear – it’s a peculiar thing, but there it is – but what it means is that while other people are getting rightfully terrified about the inevitable AI uprising, I’m more fascinated than scared.  So imagine my excitement when I find that I can play B-Movie improvisational acting games FOR SCIENCE!

You play as either the Director or the Lead Actor (as Ted the Reporter) in a three act, alien invasion, B-Movie.  The scene is set with Ted tied up in the crashed alien spaceship, and Agent Smith has discovered him – beyond that, it’s up to the two players to ham it up as much as possible, and get their finest cheesy sci-fi movie cliches dusted off and used.

The GAMBIT Lab at MIT and MDA record these little works of art, and use them to educate their AI systems to better be able to play the individual characters – and while teaching an AI to properly overact doesn’t seem particularly helpful, it’s all baby steps on the road to creating artificial intelligence that can emulate human behavior in a constrained but unpredictable situations.

So what are you waiting for?  Download Improviso, fire up the tutorial, and start overacting!

(Seen at H+ Magazine.)

GlaDos Commends and Commands You

Aperture Science Countdown

12 midday, EST, and Aperture Science will reveal a final puzzle

From the hidden countdown site at ApertureScience.com, at time of posting there were just 2 hrs (12 midday, EST) until whatever final puzzle that GlaDos has decided to inflict on her ARG following fans.  Portal 2 is close, and Valve’s Alternative Reality Game is making fans of us all.

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!

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