Here’s a list of tips for people creating singleplayer episodes. Some of these tips are from an article I wrote for Howto JCS a long time ago but most are new.
Some design tips:
- Before you even place a single tile in JCS you should know what the level is going to be about. Even better is if you make a sketch of the general layout. You should also think of how each level fits into the entire episode. You can make an episode that is comprised of a handfull of totally unrelated levels but that would be boring and it would also not be a real episode. Instead try to make the levels ‘connect’. Make the 2nd level the logical next step after the first, etc…
- Ask yourself this question: What is the point?
Why should Jazz go through all the trouble of ridding your levels of baddies and making it to the end? There doesn’t have to be a real story in the episode; it can be as simple as that Devan is planning to do something particularly evil again and you have to stop him (although that would be a bit lame).
What I mean is… There has to be a goal. Otherwise, things get boring fast. A goal makes levels interesting, it’s something you can work towards, look forward to… Without that, levels are reduced to random obstacle and enemy generators. Or to put it another way, you are reducing yourself to a random obstacle and enemy generator. Not a pleasant thought :P.
The next step in adding meaning to your levels would be adding an actual story. An episode doesn’t necessarily need one, but it CAN really help to spice up your levels. A good story adds loads of atmosphere. And above all, it makes the player wonder what happens next.
- Be different. Why would anyone want to play your level if it’s the same as all the other ones they’ve played?
- When you design your levels, put some structure and logic into them. Both nature and buildings have a certain ‘layout’. There’s a logic to the way a location fits together. A building generally has a main hall with an entrance and it has corridors that lead to other rooms. Even something as chaotic as a forest has some logic to it. There’s no point in creating endless corridors that all look roughly the same.
- Design consistently. When something is in the back- or foreground at one point, don’t make it a platform you can stand on somewhere else. It’s confusing. Definitely don’t change what objects represent over the course of the episode. Also, use the tileset logicaly. For example, what looks like a platform which you can stand on, should BE a platform you can stand on. If you confuse and frustrate the player he’ll hit Esc and quit before you know it.
- It is always a good idea to create different paths for the player to follow and different ways to overcome obstacles or solve puzzles. Make the player feel clever by allowing him to come up with a way of his own to do something or to get somewhere. Remember though that quality is more important than quantity, so you shouldn’t make loads of paths that are all really boring. Just make a few that are all very cool.
- Reward the player. If he goes through a lot of trouble to get to a certain point and finds out there’s nothing there he will be very disappointed.
- Suprise deaths aren’t fun. If a player has no way of knowing there’s a booby trap in the next room and get’s killed as a result, it’s unfair. You should warn him in some way. In the case of a booby trap, you could have skulls or blood (or whatever else the tileset provides) lying around.
And some general practical tips:
- Don’t use the standard Jazz tilesets. They’ve all been overused to death. Browse through the J2O download archives. There are plenty of excellent custom tilesets just a few clicks away…
- Use plenty of eye-candy. Good eye-candy makes good environments, good environments make good atmosphere, good atmosphere…
- Find some cool music on the internet to go with the levels or make your own.
- Don’t use “rapid fire” pickups. They make the game too easy.
- Don’t use sucker tubes too often. People like to PLAY games. Not just
to sit and watch. We have TV for that!
If you just read through this whole thing and haven’t got the faintest idea what I’m talking about OR if you are just looking for some good examples, check these out:
“The Lost World episode” – by Ninja Dodo and Jaws
I did my best to apply all the rules I mentioned above in this episode. So basicly, this is what I’m talking about.
“Tomb Rabbit” – by Kejero
An excellent episode with great design, cool puzzles and amazing environments. Did I mention great design?
“Another Story” – In a way, this was the first ‘real’ episode. This amazing little pack of levels, tileset and music, totally changed the way people made singleplayer jazz levels. It had a great story and was simply really well-designed…
“Half Life” – by Valve (distributed by Sierra)
I know what you’re thinking… “What has this got to do with Jazz?” Well… I have to admit, not much, but it has everything to do with perfect level design. It is also one of the few 3D shooters that actually has something of a story. If you’re looking for inspiration on putting together good levels, this is the game to play (It was a huge inspiration to me while designing LWE).
(The first three can all be found in the J2O downloads. As for Half Life, I suggest you take a look at the demo here.)
If you’re interested in reading more about level/game design, I can definitely recommend these:
“Design Speech 1999” – A very interesting speech by David Perry about game design.
“Game Design, Secrets of the Sages” 2nd edition (published by Brady Games) – THE book on everything that goes into developing games, including level design.
“Gamasutra” – Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a weird name but it’s actually an excellent site about game design.
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.