Professor Burgess talks level design at GDC


Earlier this month, Fallout 3 Lead Level Designer Joel Burgess headed out to San Francisco for the 2010 Game Developer’s Conference. At the conference, Joel joined other LDs (including Splash Damage’s Neil Alphonso) as a speaker for an all-day tutorial called Level Design in a Day: Best Practices from the Best in the Business.

We thought you guys might be interested in hearing about Joel’s experience. Heeere’s Joel…

This month I attended my first-ever GDC.  There were a lot of great talks I got to attend, and the expo floor was full of cool new tech.  I had the honor of sharing a stage at GDC with some great minds in Level Design.  I spoke with Jim Brown (Epic), Ed Byrne (Zipper), Matthias Worch (Visceral), Neil Alphonso (Splash Damage), as well as Forrest Dowling and Coray Seifert (Kaos).

Our task was to create an all-day tutorial covering a variety of core level design topics.  Each of us prepared a talk focused on a specific aspect of level design.  I tried to tackle the role a level designer plays in telling stories.  My belief is that level designers share a special relationship with the player, a sort of content tour guide.  My goal was to talk a little about the various ways in which we can tell or support story through this relationship.  I also wanted to encourage designers to invite the player to participate in story-telling by leaving meaningful gaps which the player can fill in.

I shared one example from Fallout 3; Radio signal Oscar Zulu.  This radio tower uses traditional dialogue to tell a shred of story, then provides additional information through some deliberate visual cues within the bunker from which the signal originates.  Even though the player’s interaction with this story is relatively low in gameplay terms – you can only explore the space and turn the radio signal off – I think that the player is likely to speculate on missing details of this story.  For me, this investment is an important part of the player experience.

Here are the slides from the talk, just in case anyone out there is curious to have a look.  The GDC experience was a positive one overall, and it was quite an honor to participate.

Joel can really work a crowd….WOOOO!

Wanna learn more from Joel? Be sure to check out his G.E.C.K. Tips video released last year.

Reader Comments

  1. Yeah, that bunker got to me when I first found it. It still get’s to me, it make’s me think if I could only had helped and been there. I wish the bunker’s had had more secret’s, or someone actually in them. All you ever find in the waste’s are merchant’s really, would have been nice to see more friendly npc’s out there in the northern part. Like a family living in a old bunker, just trying to survive.