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Inspiration in Level Design

By Matthew

All I need is an idea...

What is the hardest part of making a level? To some, it might be cogging, for others maybe lighting, but I'm sure for a lot of people, myself included, architecture is the problem area. Reviewers keep going on about how the level needs better architecture, but a lot of the time, I don't know what to put in place of a simple box room.

Creating the architecture itself isn't the actual problem, it's knowing what to create in the first place. Consider the following screenshots, both of an Imperial Control Room: (Imperial Bases tend to be popular, so this is a good example.)

Screenshot   Screenshot


Both were created using just the default cube in JED, yet there is a HUGE difference between them. The first is what most control rooms in user made levels look like, but the second, while hardly amazing, is something extremely simple to do, and adds some nice (and usually much needed) detail to your level.

Of course, both screenshots have no lighting, but imagine how good that second screenshot could look with Imperials manning terminals, red light being cast off by the hologram in the center, and a small amount of reflected light coming up through the pipes!

Now, I know what you're all thinking; "When I'm making a level I just don't get ideas to make those kinds of control rooms, hence the boxes." Well, to tell the truth, I don't get any brilliant flashes of insight every time I want to make a new room either, I have to just sit and think about the room, what function it will perform, where it is, how large it is, and hopefully a couple of minutes later an idea will form, and I can take it from there.

Having shown what how easy it is to make a plain room look good, here are some ideas for different types of areas:

Control Rooms
  • Raised Walkways surrounding the room
  • Pipes underneath the floor, as in screenshot 2
  • Split level rooms
Sewers
  • Sewerage Outlets leading into the main pipe
  • Emptying and refilling areas, which can also be used for a puzzle
Cantinas
  • Dancers
  • A bar and booths along the side of the room
  • And, of course, the infamous Cantina Song!
Space Ship
  • Consoles in the walls
  • Support struts coming out of the roof, or from one wall to another
  • Areas overlooking previous areas, or outside parts of the ship
  • Damaged or broken down areas
Another way to get some ideas is to play a lot of games of DF, JK and MotS. Even the TPM PC game has some good ideas for forests, towns, deserts, and even Coruscant! SotE for the N64 and PC also has some great ideas to use. Most areas you will want to make will have a corresponding level in one of these games, and probably more than one. Of course, these games can also give you some ideas for puzzles, but I'll leave that for a different article.

Looking around places in real life can help, too. For instance, my school has lots of architecture, that while boxy, overlaps each other, passages leading everywhere, staircases over walkways, each providing a great excuse to do some editing.

Another place to look is in the Star Wars films themselves. The various buildings depicted show how things are done in the Star Wars universe and are an invaluable source of information. So, hopefully I've given you some ideas to improve your architecture, so let's start producing even higher quality levels!

Screenshot   Screenshot


If you have any comments or questions concerning this article, feel free to contact me by e-mail, or use the message board.

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