Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Producing Chaos Series 1 - Getting Into Games "Creating Levels"

One of the best pieces of advice I can give people wanting to get into development, design especially but also applicable to other disciplines is to start using a level editor. You really can’t go wrong with Unreal in my opinion but there are others out there. I’d wholeheartedly recommend doing a bit of research but make sure you pick one of the bigger names…

What’s even better, is that many of the bigger engines provide free-to-use versions…more details on the free Unreal Development Kit can be found here:

The best reason to go with a more popular engine is the amount of support and information there is out there. Download the UDK, grab yourself a book like this one: Mastering Unreal Technology: v. 1: Introduction to Level Design with Unreal Engine 3: A Beginner's Guide to Level Design in Unreal Engine 3 and (snappy huh?) and get started…if you get stuck, jump online and get active in any number of UDK dedicated forums.

Once you get some basic skills/knowledge then just start to create some levels…this’ll do multiple things for you…firstly, it’ll tell you if you even like making levels for a start as this is what my designers and artists do pretty much 80% of the time…secondly it’ll teach you the right process for designing and making a level which will enable you to talk confidently about how you approach designing a level/scenario/player experience and then actually creating it which’ll be relevant for a whole bunch of disciplines like production, design, art, animation etc…thirdly, it’ll give you examples of your work which will help you way more than anything on your CV…trust me!

Just make sure you come up with lots of examples of different types of gameplay such as high action, chases, puzzles, exploration etc…

As always, please feel free to link this out, spread the word and let people know about the blog…it is very encouraging for me to see comments and get into conversations with people on Twitter and stuff…please message me here or on Twitter with ideas for specific topics, I’ve got a backlog of ideas but its always good to hear what people want to know…


Mayank said...

Hey Mat,

I have been contemplating learning UDK VS Cry Engine 3 Vs Unity. Would you recommend UDK over the others and also are there any specific tutorials you would recommend?



Mark Davies said...

If you want to learn level design then get started in UDK - better level design tools.

If you want to build your own small games, then learn Unity - much easier to learn scripting and build basic games, getting something up and running in UDK can be a real ballache.

Peter Field said...

If you get the special edition of Unreal Tournament 3 then you get 20 hours of tutorial videos with the game and editor. This is how I learned unreal. I am sure Unity and Cry Engine will have a wealth of tutorial videos out there too but Unreal made the process of getting started a lot more accessible for me.

Also you can use all of Epics art assets to create your levels. As a designer you would not be required to create all of the art and programme the mechanics for the game. You would instead (especially at the start) be required to come up with interesting levels within the confines of existing mechanics, so creating interesting levels for Unreal Tournament or Gears of War using their art and their mechanics would be a very quick and relevant way to demonstrate your abilities.

Calibur25 said...

Great sources for UDK learning would be the "How to" videos @ and also if your willing to pay I recommend buying a video from which they also have a few cool free videos.

Also make use of testimonies about the scripting power of Kismet and how many projects were completely created in that visual script-er. One Mod I was apart of for testing was Terminator FPS on for a brief time period.

Also make sure to always check out UDKs documentation as there is a wealth of knowledge and another handy site is

Sorry for the lengthy post I'm a fan of Epic and their technology. (yes I have used Radiant, TSR & Hammer in the past)

Andrew said...

Thanks for the interesting posts =D

I'm currently studying character animation at iA but have always been interested in the level design side of things. Now it's even more of a pull given the sheer amount of free tutorials on UDK and Unity alone. I'm not considering a career change or anything but wondered if a working knowledge of, for instance, UDK would enhance my employability as an animator. I presume that a grasp of level design would inform the animation choices but i'd like to ask what you think about venturing more into this side of things. Is it best to specialise in the games industry or does a good knowledge/profficiency of a number of disciplines aid more towards getting a job?

Again, good posts and thanks a lot for making them.
All the best,
Andrew Cothill

Mark Davies said...

@Andrew - knowing UDK would definitely be an advantage. Whilst specialization is a good trait for large AAA titles, for smaller studios, being able to throw your hand in anywhere is always appreciated. Knowledge of other fields also helps you understand their needs and how you can accommodate them.

Places like Valve and Naughty Dog (where I currently work), tend to be staffed by "specialists" who are capable in many fields beyond their particular specialization - and often pitch in with different departments.

Andrew said...

Thanks very much for the information Mark! Just a couple more questions though, if it's OK? (carries-on-without-waiting-for-a-response)

I have not secured that first position in the industry yet so like as not my first place will probably be either a small place or a company which provides an internship program.

Is it best to aim (realisticaly) for a stuidio and learn their packages such as UDK/Unity/Source or would preemptively learning UDK port well enough over to the other packages. Sorry if that sounds vague but for example, at the minute i use Maya. I have used XSI in the past and although i've never used MAX, i shouldn't think it'd be too difficult. an "all the same tools but in different places" affair. Is the same true when learning a game engine?

Sorry for the hijacking of the post but it's piqued my interest and is raising a lot of questions.

Thanks again.

Mike_Reverb said...

Mark, Peter: do you guys already have a C++ foundation to work off of?

I'm curious to know if UDK, Unity, and Cry Engine are useful starting points for someone who wants to start learning how to program/design without any formal training.

Mark Davies said...

@Andrew - learn as many different packages as you can. Many companies have their own bespoke software, so having experience of different packages is very useful. Keep using Maya, it is very widely used in the industry.

@Mike I have a degree in Computer Science, but I know Peter very well (having worked at two places with him now) and can tell you he had no programming background (but he picks things up very quickly ;) ). A technical background is definitely an advantage, but not a prerequisite.

Mayank said...

Thank you all for the great advice. You have given me some great places to start learning something new.


I've recently graduated in BSc Computer Science and the majority of my degree was based around Java. I quickly found out after speaking to developers that Java is only good for web based applications and I really needed to learn C++. It wasn't all a waste as foundations of programming tend to carry over languages.

For my final year I had the choice of taking a C++ module which I did and I focused my dissertation on creating a 2D platform game using pure C++ and an API called SDL.

Now I'm looking for a entry level job and although I'm offering to opt into any aspect of development from design, programming, testing to business analyst all studios tend to place me forward for a programming position.

My desire to learn Unreal and Unity has come about from this dilemma that I find myself in and by learning these technologies I hope to expand my portfolio and give myself more options for entry into the industry.

Just click my name if you wish to see my work. Hope this helps.

Neil said...

Good to see the brain cell count has reach 1 in the above comment.

Thank you for this blog, as an aspiring Producer, its great to have personal knowledge passed on.

Mark Davies said...

DmC haters in the house I see...