Here is a collection of the work I completed for the CGMA Level Design course over the summer of 2021.

Lectures: Emilia Schatz, Lead Level Designer at Naughty Dog

Instructor: Max Pears, Level Design at CD Project Red

The cowboy character, enemy AI’s and some props were provided, but the majority of the geometry in the levels were modelled from scratch in either Maya or Unity using Probuilder. Below is a slide show of the blackouts created each week. Each week focused on different elements of Level Design such as:

  • Composition/Framing
  • Positive/Negative Space
  • Shape Language
  • Guiding the player
  • Emotive Design
  • Combate


Week # 1

The first assignment was to study Matisse’s painting and build a level based on it. I started by blocking out the area that matched Matisse’s painting first and then expanding the area around it. When Designing the space I tried to think about its purpose, as I wanted to interesting and historic structures that fit within a medieval town. My goal was to make a map that would naturally guide a player through the environment to the main goal but also encourage them to explore the areas. To achieve this, I:

  • Used the opening shot to establish the goal for the player, the church building is coloured differently from the rest of the buildings and the yellow door stands out and attracts attention.
  • Focused on creating areas in the map with local landmarks within them that the player would easily recognise and be able to navigate using them.
  • Ensured that there are multiple paths for the player to take to get to the main goal.
  • Created an external boundary in the form of the castle walls and obstacles.

I also added a stables area, trees and props like barrels and benches to add visual interest to the environment and encourage the player to explore the area rather than heading straight for the end goal of the level.

Week #2

For this week’s assignment, we had to build a level where the player had to find the hidden chest. The rules of the assignment meant that I had to stick to the size constraints of the terrain object (60 x 60 meters), could only use the 7 assets provided to build this level, though I could duplicate them as many times as needed, and the player had to be able to eventually find the treasure chest. I choose to create a level that felt like the abandoned ruins of an ancient civilization. My aim was to create an environment that is falling apart but that implies what the space would have looked like if it hadn’t become derelict. To encourage the player to explore the level I created multiple paths through the level giving the player choice on how to approach the level though the end goal is still the same. To help the player navigate I used:

  • Landmarks, I tried to include both local and distant landmarks
  • Different coloured terrain to help differentiate the different area
  • Shapes to guide the player through the level.

I wanted to create an overall feeling of history and story to the level by implying that the player has arrived in this location by jumping off a ledge above their start point.

Week #3

This assignment involved creating the ruins of a temple using the foundations provided in the level and a set number of assets. To add some more narrative and purpose to the level we were allowed to add additional assets as long as they didn’t affect the structure of the ruins. I decided to add the treasure chest from the last assignment into the level to encourage the player to look around and explore the ruins, there are four of them to find. I also wanted the history of the space and its purpose to be more obvious so I added in a statue of the Roman Goddess Aphrodite’s to give the temple a main space, that is surrounded by smaller outbuildings. I also thought about how a temple would naturally become a ruin, and how the weather/climate would affect this. Because of this, I decided to have the walls and pillars on the right side of the build more intact than the ones on the left implying that this is the more sheltered side. To give the temple ruins a feeling of being reclaimed by nature I also decided to add in some foliage.

Week #4

The focus of this week was image composition. Using the principles of image composition covered during the lecture I had to create a Unity scene inspired by a wild west style canyon. As the lectures this week were about composition the level needed to be designed as if it was meant to be appreciated solely from the static perspective of the main character’s spawn point. For the assignment itself – create a composition to be seen from a vantage point – I framed the main objective, reaching the abandoned mine, by having it towards the centre of the screen so that the player sees it quickly. To Really draw attention to the mine entrance as the goal I used the light to highlight it so that the darker interior is really contrasted in comparison to the lighter red of the canyon walls. The buildings, bridge, trees, canyon walls, and river all guide the player towards the mine entrance as well. Once I had built the level I then decided to look at how the level would be interesting for a player to explore, adding areas that would be discoverable through player exploration. To add some more narrative and purpose to the level I added the treasure chest to the interior of the mine as well as props in the building to give them the feeling of once having been lived in. As the assignment was based around composition I made sure to pay attention to the overall composition of the level so that it looked clean and interesting from different angles.

Week #5&6

This assignment, to create an old West mountain ghost town, ran over two weeks. For my submission, I took inspiration from Uncharted 4 Libertalia with the ghost town becoming a ghost town because the people in charge stole all the money and this coursed the people living there to riot. The first week involved building a single area, I choose to build the main entrance and town centre, blocking out the gates, stables and saloon. For the second week of this project, I had to add several more “districts” with their own distinct identities and articulate the edge boundaries and paths that connect them. For this second part, I had to be aware of the node network across my level and how to use it effectively so that the player can form a mental map of the space, and inspire player action. For each major space there needed to be local or immediate focal points, but the more distant landmarks still needed to be visible. For week 6 I focused on building out the rest of the town with buildings before focusing on the small market area and residency area before adding in props and environmental storytelling moments.

Week #7

For week 7 the assignment was to create a non-linear, maze-like space taking inspiration from simple shapes. I wanted to focus on a more organic, nature-based level for this assignment after the last two weeks of working on the western ghost town. I choose the theme of a pagan, witchy feeling valley as I wanted to create a level that felt very different to the desert theme of the western ghost town. I decided to start the level by having the player elevated above the main area of the level to allow the player to get an overview of the environment. By doing this it allows the player to build the beginnings of their mental map and aids them in navigating the level. There are 15 coins and a treasure chest to find within the level.

Week #8

For week 8 the assignment was to create a labyrinth, with the 15 collectable coins and a treasure box as the end goal. As the level is a labyrinth, there needed to be a clear linear progression, with one clear route for getting to the end. This assignment focused on the shapes of the environment, compositions and pacing, with the overall aim being to create an emotional journey from start to end. To establish the emotion and narrative of the level I started the player off shipwrecked and starts them off at the lowest part of the level, using colour and assets to create distinct zones in the environment.

Week #9

The assignment for this week was to create a combat setup for three scenes:

  • Scene A: Create a space no larger than 30 x 30 (the size of the ground plane in the scene). It should be a scene comprised of a single room.
  • Scene B: Create a space no larger than 30 x 30 (the size of the ground plane in the scene). It should be composed of two primary spaces with a porous boundary, allowing combat to flow back and forth between rooms.
  • Scene C: Create a space no larger than 40 x 40 (the size of the ground plane in the scene). Feel free to create any composition of spaces.

The focus of this assignment was to understand how to build cover and to encourage us to think about combat in preparation for the final week assignment.

Week #10

For this final assignment, the goal was to create a full mini-level. The theme set was:

“Many years ago, the cowboy’s mother was a prospector and struck it rich. Unfortunately, her partner betrayed her and stole all the gold for himself. The cowboy’s mom tracked him down, but he died before she could find out where he stowed all the gold. Recently, the cowboy happened upon some clues about the gold’s location. But his sworn enemy overheard his plans to find it and has gotten here first, with an army of desperados. They’ll use any means necessary to keep the cowboy from his treasure.”

When designing the level I had to follow this structure:

  1. Explore
  2. Valve, then Small Combat
  3. Explore
  4. Valve, then Big Combat
  5. Find the Treasure!

Using the techniques I had learned from the previous weeks I designed a level where the player starts at the cowboy’s camp and travels through the level, defeating the enemy to eventually find the treasure chest at the end. There are 15 coins for the player to find throughout the level to encourage exploration and environmental storytelling moments found throughout to establish the history of the place and allow the player to build their own narrative based upon what they find.

Detailed Levels Breakdowns:

Level breakdowns for the levels I am most proud of from this course:

Cowboy Ghost Town
Pagan Valley
A Cowboy’s Revenge

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