Back in March of this year, BGS senior designer Joel Burgess made the trek out to San Francisco to be apart of the 2014 Game Developers Conference. During the week, Joel presented the following presentation to industry peers focused on level design.
For the prospective game designers out there, Joel was nice enough to bring his presentation, “The Iterative Level Design Process of Bethesda Game Studios” to Bethesda Blog. Here’s Joel…
A note about author voice in this article: As per the usual disclaimers, the views and opinions expressed within are my own, and may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bethesda or Zenimax. Those views and opinions are intertwined with the interests, history and objectives of Bethesda Game Studios, however. While I am reporting on the practices of the studio, some of the particular reasons behind these practices are my own opinions, which only have partial impact on the actual adoption and implementation thereof. For this reason, I will try to use “I” to express my opinions, where “we” will usually express a fact about the studio.
Iteration, as it’s generally known within game development, is the progressive process of planning, creating and testing content. This is typically expressed as a cycle, where a process is repeated, with each repetition applying lessons learned from the prior. This cycle is progressive, with each iteration building upon and refining the last. This concept is widely embraced: many game developers have espoused iteration when discussing the design process.
There’s good reason for this. Iteration works. Studies such as this one from J. Nielsen show that when developing interfaces for software such as a banking application, polling users on the UI experience can provide designers with findings which then inform their next UI iteration. The result is that early iterations see major gains in usability. These finding are echoed in other studies, as well as being supported by observing everything from how an artist develops a painting to the scientific process.
Like any broadly-referenced term, there are many interpretations, scopes, and applications of iteration. An annual game franchise such as Madden Football, for example, can be seen as a very long-form iteration, where each game sees entire features added, removed, and improved upon. Spelunky, which originally came into existence as a fairly low-fidelityGamemaker game would later be released as a commercial title with entirely new art and codebase which largely mimicked and refined that seen in the original release.
Individual assets within a game are frequently iterated upon, too. The look of the original Team Fortress Spy is a far cry from his modern TF2 incarnation. The gameplay design of the Spy has also been iterated upon over the years, even though the core class role has remained fairly consistent. The visual design of the spy also demonstrates that elements, such as his balaclava, can stand the test of time over many iterations, while other aspects change radically. TF2 is also a game which has seen a great deal of publicly-observable iteration over the years, as Valve has introduced many new gameplay-altering items and game types.
Continue reading full article ›