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Post news RSS Committal and top-down level design in NS2

We're back from GDC '09 and I wanted to write a micro-blog update. If these things can be short, we'll write them more.

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Our small team has been having some difficulties designing our levels and making sure we have enough environment art to make them unique without breaking the bank. We've flip-flopped between top-down and bottom-up processes. The top vexing and elusive questions often heard are:

"How can we make big design choices until we've proven it works?"
"How do we know we're hitting our visual quality goals without completely finishing an area?"
"How many props will we need, and what percentage of those will need to be unique landmark props versus generic props?"
"How will we know when we're done creating assets?"
"How many varied maps will we get out of each art set?"
"How do we do all this without wasting effort (and while having people work remotely)?"

We often create an "orange box" for our level, then decide we need the visuals to inform the layout. So we start working to add visual/finished elements, then we realize that constrains the design because we can't make layout changes without throwing away work. From time to time we "wake up" and change our process, seem to come to an agreement and we believe things will get better. Somehow we always end up back in our tar pit.

But after seeing some talks at GDC this year about top-down level creation (The Iterative Level Design Process of Bioware's Mass Effect 2, Everything I learned about level design I learned in Disneyland), I can feel a new process emerging. One where we boldly and methodically list the questions that must be answered to proceed with level creation, make a good effort to answer them, and whether we are absolutely sure or not, make the decisions with good faith and move forward.

In our efforts to make the best decisions for NS2, we've been hurting ourselves by not committing. We made many off-the-cuff decisions when making NS1 and that worked out just fine.

Are there any areas in your life you should have a little more faith about and just commit to?

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