Level Designer

The role, salary, software and skills of a video game level designer

What does a level designer do?

A Level designer is part artist, part game designer, part storyteller, and part engineer. They put the vision of the game and assemble the world in which the game exists, together.

Level Design, a specialization of game design, focuses on the creation and practical implementation of levels, environments, stories, and quests while considering flow, pace, and space (e.g., ensuring that if players fall out of bounds they don’t get stuck). A Level Designer also creates each level's entry and exit points and guides the player logically through the game via its rules, rewards, and objectives.

Level designers take inspiration from concept art, photo reference, and game design documents (GDD) to sketch believable maps and create physical models of levels. Level design begins early in the game development process as it is the basic structure of the game, with gameplay refinement, inter-level consistency, and user experience driving the development process. 


Level designer job description

A Level Designer's role is to keep the player focused on moving through the game and achieving their goal or mission while reducing the potential for confusion.

The sequence of levels is also taken into consideration by Level Designers. The first level of a game will introduce the player to the game. It will establish characters, explain the storyline, instruct the player on the objectives of the game, and generally initiate the player into the world of the game. Each level that follows will then act to further the story, develop characters, increase the level of complexity, up the stakes, and draw the player further into the game. 

Level design should not be confused with level creation, which is an environment artist's role; they create the 3D game environment and then Level Designers create game scenarios based on this, such as placing enemies, loot, secret trapdoors, configuring mission parameters, AI patrols routes, NPC positions, etc.

Role & responsibilities of a video game level designer:

  • Create level layouts, hot spots, and points of interest (POIs) for players to explore according to the themes and lores of the game
  • Iterate your levels through the full cycle of production from conception to finalization, maintaining and balancing the readability, difficulty, and accessibility of the levels for a positive player experience
  • Prototype the environment, establish the layouts, and suggest ways of using the interactive and non-interactive elements to create the desired emotions
  • As the project progresses, integrate the elements produced on the map (new gameplay, AI, sound, etc.)
  • Develop solid design documentation for level progression (flow), layouts, and 3D block-outs for in-engine playtesting

Skills required to become a level designer

Good Level Designers need a high level of creativity. They don’t need to be super technical, but this role does require a good understanding of some of the basic aspects of technical game development and game programming.

Employers may look for the following skills in a level designer:

  • Possess a great understanding of game levels, level layouts, drawing maps, architecture, and other design areas related to game level design
  • Strong ability to use puzzles and gameplay to create interesting narratives
  • Have a good understanding of technical implementation within games, scripting languages, syntax, and other basic programming concepts
  • Basic to advanced drawing skills to communicate ideas visually
  • Basic understanding of 3D art, modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, and other areas of 3D art creation, use, and conversion
  • Basic to advanced knowledge of Interface design and UI/UX in game system

What software and tools do level designers use?

Level Designers use a broad variety of resources that reflects their variety of responsibilities. They will work with graphics, 2D and 3D animation software, game engines, and programming languages throughout the game development process.

Level Designers may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Game Engine (Unity 3D, Unreal Engine, or another)
  • Microsoft or Google Office Software for documents, spreadsheets & presentations
  • Art software (Like Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator) for a wide assortment of visual design, flowcharting, mind mapping
  • Jira & Bug Tracking Software
  • Scripting Languages & Tools (Python, LUA, C#, Unreal Script, Blueprints)
  • Programming languages C++ and Python are also commonly used

How much does a level designer make?

In the US, average wages for the video game Industry are as follows:

Junior: $55,000
Mid: $80,000
Senior: $111,000
Lead/Manager: $135,000

(Source: Skill Search 2021 Survey)

To learn more about this field, visit: The Game Development Process: How Video Games are Made



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