How to become a video game level designer in 5 steps

Updated 26 April 2023

Video game level design is a vital aspect of video game development and involves designing individual stages of a game, otherwise called a level. These skilled professionals design the capabilities of the video game's protagonist, game mechanics and interactive elements within a virtual environment. Knowing how to become a video game level designer could help you to launch a career in this field. In this article, we define video game level design, discuss what responsibilities these job holders have and offer guidance on how you can start out in this field.

What is a video game level designer?

A video game level designer is a creative and technically skilled person who creates the various elements that make up a video game level, such as the actions, events, objects and environments. Video game designers typically make each level progressively more difficult as the game moves through each level. Designing levels involves the use of game development software that is sometimes referred to as a level editor. A level designer would typically set the rules within a virtual environment, such as determining the weather conditions and which items players can interact with.

In the early days of gaming, the industry did not use specialist level designers because one programmer would typically be capable of designing all aspects of a game, but now games are far more complex and each aspect of a game's development requires a dedicated professional. While other professionals work on aesthetics and graphics, the level designer focuses on creating an enjoyable gameplay experience for players and gives them purpose and objectives in their gameplay. Game level designs include creating scenarios to engage with, obstacles to overcome and items to discover.

Related: How to become a game tester

How to become a video game level designer

Being a video game level designer requires specialist skills, knowledge and training, so you may study for years to become qualified. To become one, work on your ability to meet deadlines, and your communication, programming and creative writing skills, as these are also useful to level designers. Also, becoming familiar with game engines, design software and programming languages can help tremendously in making you capable of doing the job and also more desirable to employers.

Here's an overview of how to become a video game level designer:

1. Take your A-levels

Having A-levels is what is going to give you access to higher education, which is almost always necessary to get a job as a video game level designer. Studying at least one A-level that relates to video game level design is a good idea, such as 3D modelling or programming. The minimum qualifications are CCD, as you need at least 2 Cs to get into a bachelor's degree course.

Related: What are A-levels? (With alternatives, grading and FAQs)

2. Study for a bachelor's degree

Obtaining your bachelor's degree is the next step on the path to becoming a video game level designer and typically involves 2 to 3 years of studying at a university. Ideal bachelor's degrees to pursue would be those in computer science or game development, as these can equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to design video game levels.

Related: What is a bachelor's degree?

3. Get an understanding of gameplay and engagement

Having a general understanding of gameplay and what makes games enjoyable is a beneficial skill for these professionals. Drawing on their own experience and having a knowledge of the gaming world, they can aim to create game levels that they themselves would enjoy playing.

4. Learn programming skills

Some of the best game level designers have benefited from the level designer's ability to apply programming skills, which you learn before you start your first job. You can learn programming skills in a formal environment like college or university, or online. You don't always need these skills, but it is a useful skill to have as it enhances the professional's overall knowledge of building games.

Related: 4 computer programming languages to learn (Plus tips)

5. Get a relevant first job

Finding an entry-level job is the final step in the process of becoming a video game level designer. You might start as an assistant designer before being given responsibility for a project or you could get a job as a level designer straight after university. Apply for jobs as a video game level designer or related roles, such as game programmer, to get into the company you would like to work for.

Related: Job hunting tips to help you find your next job

Skills of a video game level designer

Video game level designers typically possess a certain set of skills that help them to do their jobs effectively. These include:

  • Artistic skills: Video game level designers are typically artistic individuals because their job requires them to think creatively and ensure elements of games look good to players.

  • Good storyteller: Being a good storyteller is important for level designers because it usually involves them creating compelling stories and situations for the character to progress through. From the player's perspective, a level often appears like a new chapter in a story, so level designers are responsible for creating this story and ensuring it fits in with the wider narrative.

  • Good with puzzles: Gameplay often involves solving puzzles, as this is an important part of engaging the player. For this reason, the game level designer can benefit from being good with puzzles and puzzle-solving so that they can implement them in level effectively.

  • Problem-solving skills: These skills are important in the creative process of game level design because various moving parts are at play and mistakes can have a domino effect. Being able to understand how things fit together and interact, as well as being able to solve problems and manoeuvre hurdles as they arise, is essential for level designers.

  • Able to turn 2D concepts into 3D concepts: Game level design involves using computers to create graphics and pictures that appear to have 3 dimensions. These skills are essential for being able to conceptualise ideas for levels.

  • Knowledge of architectural principles: Games are environments that are designed and built, so it can be useful to apply architectural principles in their development. Level designers use architecture to add to stories within a level and direct the player, and they ensure architecture looks both visually impressive and realistic.

  • Methodical thinker: This skill is key in planning, thinking and strategics and is especially useful with game level design. This type of thinking is perfect for this line of work because methodical-level designers can brainstorm, prototype and test their ideas with ease.

  • Understanding of the laws of physics and how objects respond to them: The worlds simulated for gameplay normally appear to have the same laws of physics as the real world. As a result, it is important for level designers to understand the laws of physics and how objects behave according to them to create a realistic user experience.

Responsibilities of a video game level designer

There are various typical responsibilities associated with game level design. The designer has a responsibility to:

  • Interpret and understand the designer brief: Understanding what the designer intended the game to be via the brief is an essential part of the job and is the first responsibility of the level designer. It is necessary to understand the overarching narrative structure of the game and where the level you are working on fits into it.

  • Use storyboards and other resources: Storyboards are helpful for designing narratives for characters to follow and provide a structure that you build assets around.

  • Document elements to include: This includes the layout information, objectives, sound effects, maps, characters and objects.

  • Design engaging map and story components: The map and story are the main components in creating an immersive experience for players. The designer creates a map and experience that fits the brief, is engaging to the player and invokes emotions and sensations from them that are appropriate to the experience.

  • Design entry and exit points: Every level needs a place for the character to enter the map and leave the map in a way that appears appropriate and logical to the player. The video game level designer is responsible for deciding where these locations are within a level.

  • Decide character and object interactions: The level designer also writes the story for the level and typically decides where character interactions occur and what happens. This allows the designer to keep the gameplay experience in line with the story, as well as with the overall brief supplied by the client.

Related: What does a game artist do? (Responsibilities and skills)

Game level designer salary

Salaries for video game level designers vary depending on the scale of the projects they are working on, the company they work for and the location of the job. Game level designers can expect to earn an average salary of £30,685 per year. Consider your qualification and skills when pursuing this type of role.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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