Level Design Rant!

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Joined: 09/01/2009

Level Design: Anybody can make levels, but are they any good?

    Heyo! First off, make use of the comment section below, because level design is one of those things that is better discussed in a group. There's no one right way to do it, but there sure are a lot of wrong/annoying ways to do it. So, with that out of the way, let's begin! If you disagree with anything said here, feel free to discuss. After all, that's what a forum is for! And as much as I like to think I know everything, in reality I'm not always right all of the time.

    I've been on this site for a while (About five years now), and with that, I've played a LOT of fanmade levels. I'm not sure what level count we're at right now, but it sure is a lot. Probably a few thousand. And I've played most of them. There's a lot that are mediocre at best, but I won't discuss them here, as pointing fingers at bad addins is generally a bad idea. And let's face it, a lot of my levels are terrible as well! Instead, I'd like to focus on WHY particular level design choices aren't the best, and how they compare and contrast with levels from the original game. The level design in the original levels is fantastic! It's one of the main reasons why I enjoy the game so much. So let's begin! In no particular order:

0. Playtesting

    Ok, I lied. This is the most important part of level design: Playtest your level. If not every single time you change one thing in WooGLE while you're creating it, then at least ten or so times after you're done. Try playing it different ways. If you have friends or family handy, have them play it for you, and sit and silently watch while they try to complete it (Don't say anything to help them out. That would defeat the purpose of them playtesting! This can be REALLY annoying for you watching, but it's invaluable). Take note of anything in your level that doesn't work as well as intended. Take note of parts of your level that are too difficult, too long, and that sort of thing. Playtest your level to death so that you know it's as good of a level as you can make it. If it's too hard for you to beat, chances are it'll be too difficult for anyone else as well. If you end up hating your level by the end of it, try to figure out why, and remedy it if you can. But playtest a lot! It'll only help you make your level better.

1. Level Flow

    Too often, fanmade levels require a lot of camera movement or panning, both horizontally and vertically. If you look at the original levels, camera movement is usually constrained to one axis. In Fisty's Bog, for example, the camera moves mostly left and right. In Volcanic Percolator Day Spa, the camera mostly moves up and down. Even in larger levels where the camera can move both directions, the overall flow of the level is in one direction. For example, Welcoming Unit still flows left to right (or at least the top part does. It's kinda a circle), even though it's taller than a lot of other levels that do the same. Genetic Sorting Machine flows in a clockwise spiral. If you're searching all over a level in tons of different directions, it starts becoming more confusing to play.

2. Camera movement/end camera location

    In the original game, there is a sort of cutscene at the beginning of each level, where the camera pans across different aspects of the level, highlighting new mechanics or just panning down from empty space to the starting geometry in an artistic way. It doesn't always show the entirety of the level, and generally only lasts a few seconds at most. It's almost always a bad idea to have a lengthy intro cutscene; people playing your level will get bored very quickly if you're showing them cool things but aren't letting them play yet. But don't move the camera too quickly, either, or it's easy to nauseate your players. Ideally, you'll want one, maybe two, slow dramatic pans around key aspects of your level, to give players a general gist before they begin. Of course, it's fine to have no camera movement when the level starts, so long as the camera starts in a reasonable place. This is important. The players should be able to start playing the level immediately without having to move the camera first. Too often, I play fanmade levels that leave me searching for the starting triangle, oftentimes for upwards of half a minute! Similarly, the end-of-level camera (endpos and endzoom in WooGLE) is meant to be a zoom-out that shows how far you've come in the level, shows your structure that you built across the level, or gives a good viewport as your structure collapses horribly into a pit of spikes. By default in WooGLE, the ending camera viewport is at 0,0 - depending on how you built your level, this could cause a frantic camera pan to the very beginning of the level. This can get quite nauseating quite quickly.
    The last camera poi will be the same size as the viewport people will get in your level. Make sure this is a reasonable size. You want a good amount of the level showing without the players feeling like they have tunnel vision or are looking through a wide-angle camera. Because of this, some levelmakers zoom this final poi out really really far to show a lot of their huge level. This actually is very bad; there's a bug in the game where if you zoom out too far, the camera pans around the level very slowly while playing the level. If your level is too big, make it smaller! Or if you feel creative and want Goo Balls to appear that small on the screen, check out how the original game did it with the SimCommon Goo Balls in MOM's Computer. While these tiny guys are nearly impossible to build with, they can serve as a good starting point after some tweaking.

3. Building through geometry

    In order to prevent cheating on levels like Impale Sticky, there is a way to prevent people from building through geometry in a level. It's the level tab->strandgeom attribute. If your level has a lot of sharp corners, though, setting this makes building around the level in general impossible. Which can be really obnoxious! So please don't set this if at all possible. Keep in mind that Kyle and Ron knew about the building-through-walls thing and only set this in Impale Sticky. It still works in levels like Blustery Day, Upper Shaft, etc. My guess is that it was for this exact reason; it's really frustrating to try to build around a tiny corner when strandgeom is set. So use this sparingly, even if building through geometry breaks how you want people to play your level!

4. Explosive walls / not taking "obvious" things for granted

    In the original game, bombs were introduced in the levels Burning Man and Upper Shaft, with a gigantic bomb, signposts telling you to catch the Fuse Goo Balls on fire, walls with giant cracks on them, objects completely different from the surroundings, and that sort of thing. One of the original levels was even named You Have to Explode the Head, in case players couldn't figure out what the goal of the level was.
    In contrast, a lot of fanmade levels I've seen are very unclear about what walls are explodable or not. The worst-case scenario I've seen in far too many levels is explodable geometry that looks completely identical to the surrounding geometry. You've given me a bomb, but it's impossible to know what wall to blow up! The only solution is trial and error, and oftentimes resetting a level multiple times before finally figuring it out. This is not good. If some aspect of your level (such as a wall that can be blown up) is important to your level, it should stand out in some way. If there's a wall that can be blown up, draw some cracks in it at the very least.

5. Using original gfx or not

    This one is more personal preference than anything, but a lot of level designers use new artwork with other original art assets. Visually, this can create a contrast if, for example, you have cartoonish-looking level assets, but have the original Goo Balls. I know not everyone is a great artist who can imitate Kyle Gabler's unique art style, but you'd be amazed at the amount of levels you can design with the original art assets. Take a look for example at res/levels/FistyReachesOut/platform.png . The first time I saw this in a fan level, I didn't know what level it was from! Fisty just covers this platform up entirely, and you can use this image without most people realizing it's from an original level.
    So all this to say: you can do really creative stuff with the original artwork from the game! It's ultimately your decision if you choose to use new artwork, but I just wanted to throw that out there.

6. Polishing levels/particles/fg or bg layers

    Here's the tricky part! This isn't a hard and fast rule, but even if do quite a lot in your level wrong, and if you get this right, it'll be a great level. What I'm referring to is the most important part of level design: polishing your level. But wait, the level is playable. You've completed it yourself several times, and maybe even got a few friends to try it out. What more could you possibly need? Well, for starters, just a little bit of extra effort can make it that much better. Let's take a look back at when World of Goo was in development. We've got a great snapshot of that here: http://2dboy.com/2009/05/25/the-world-of-goo-wasn%E2%80%99t-built-in-a-d... I'd invite you to download and play this prototype if you haven't already.
    What's interesting about this snapshot is that it's after only 8 months of development! (In game development time, this is pretty fast!) What did Kyle and Ron do after this? They spent years fine-tuning and polishing the game into what we know and love. This prototype is a far cry from the final product!
    Similarly, if you spend a lot of time working on your level, polishing it out, adding particle effects and signposts, and ironing out all the kinks, you can turn what's otherwise a really good level into a fantastically great level. A tremendous example of this is the level Upper Shaft. If you take a look at the background image (res/levels/UpperShaft/bg.png), it's just a boring reddish image with a yellow bit down the center. But if you look at the level in WooGLE, there's tons of background and foreground pieces! Spinning gears in the background, some of them smaller, some of them larger. There are light shafts to highlight important parts of the level. There are circular light patches to give the impression that parts of the level are brighter or darker. There are beams that cut across the level at odd angles. There's the particle effect "mistUpSepia" to give a hazy feel to the level, and "blackBallsRising" to add to the impression of heat and ash. Not to mention a giant fire at the bottom of the level. There's a lot here! Far more than you would expect from just playing the level. And it all works together to make one of the most defining levels of Chapter 3 (for me, anyways).
    For another example, look at Fisty's Bog, and notice how Fisty is pretty bouncy and gooey-looking, himself. Contrast this to Misty's Long Bony Road, which is an intentionally similar level, but Misty is lifeless (And quite intentionally so). Both of them, however, add to the overall feel of their respective levels. Misty's Long Bony Road has a lot of cool extraneous features, too, from a puddle of stagnant water to foreground bushes to Fisty himself in the background... but I'm getting sidetracked.
    The overall gist is that while foreground and background stuff can be a bother to make and place into a level, it can really add to the overall feel of the level, and make an otherwise good level great.
    As an aside, don't make so much foreground stuff that nobody can see what they're doing in a level. That only serves to make the level REALLY frustrating to play!

7. Music/sound/mood

    Think carefully about the overall mood you're going for in your level. For example, Hang Low's "Rain Rain Windy Windy" is perfect for setting the scene of a bunch of sleepy Goo Balls that have been sitting in a cave, undiscovered for years. The machine-sounding, grindy song playing in Burning Man is great for the heavy industrial mood of the level. But try switching the songs and it won't work. There's a reason that the song in Red Carpet Extend-O-Matic is a one-off. It's just because the song doesn't fit anywhere else!

8. Overarching theme

    What's the theme of your level? I've touched on this in a couple of other points, but it's worth another mention. For example, Red Carpet Extend-O-Matic is an original level with a great theme. You're basically rolling out the red carpet for the giant Beauty Goo Ball. Along with this theme of a celebrity getting the special treatment, you have a lot of cameras flashing, a fitting fashion-show-esque song, and probably more if you go into metaphorical views of the level. But all the graphics, gameplay, and sounds in this level work together to create this vivid scene. Of course, it doesn't have to be this large and complicated. You could just be building a bridge across a gap in the middle of a beautiful day, like in Small Divide. But an overarching theme that the whole level works towards really helps the level come together as a whole.

9. Level autobounds

    In the "Level" tab, the "level" element has a field "autobounds." This is used now and again in original levels to hide certain parts of the level until you get nearby. Usually this is reserved for levels at the end of chapters, or special cases (such as the secret in Beauty and the Electric Tentacle). I personally am not a huge fan of it. I'd rather see all of a level unless there's a good reason not to. It can lead to confusion in some cases if you're not careful, and sometimes can even mess up camera movement inside the level. If your level involves building to a pipe, I'd say avoid it as a general rule, since it'll only make it unclear how far you have to go. But mostly be careful where and when you use it; like all things, it can be overused.

10. How do I complete this level?

    Imagine you're playing a level for the first time. You click on the level button and are greeted with some form of puzzle you need to solve. Where do you start, and how do you know what to do? Well, if there's a pipe, you know you need to build towards that. Maybe there's a starting triangle someplace, and some physics mechanism you need to figure out. Perhaps there are a couple of signs that'll point you in the right direction, or arrows that literally do so. But what if there are none of these things? What if the camera starts out near some sleeping Goo Balls, and there are several starting triangles near complicated machinery. How would you know where to start?
    In your levels, it's always a good idea to give some hint to the player where to start. Having the start-of-level camera end right on top of your starting structure is one good way to focus your player's attention. How about a signpost near your mechanisms to explain them or help out there a little bit? In the level The Third Wheel, the camera zooms in on the Pokey when it's first introduced, as a way of pointing out to the player that it's important. But if the camera starts halfway across the level from the starting structure they need to build from, and the whole level itself is big and confusing, how will a player know where to start?

11. Timebugs

    Why does nobody use timebugs? I guess it's because they don't know how. Here's how: Level tab->level element->timebugprobability. Set it to at least 0.2, preferably 0.3 to 0.5 or so. Fiddle around with it so there's about 3-4 timebugs out every time you mess up in the level. But forcing your player to restart a level after killing one Goo Ball accidentally isn't some great method of making your level more difficult; it's a way of arbitrarily punishing your player for making mistakes. And let's face it; we're human. We all make mistakes. Add timebugs! Imagine if the first time you played Impale Sticky or Fisty's Bog that there were no timebugs. I know I personally may have ragequit at that point. I may not have even come back. They were added to the game for a reason, so use them!
    There's only one legitimate reason to not use timebugs that I know of, and this is used in the original levels: Don't use timebugs if there are burnable Goo Balls in your level. If you pop a timebug while Goo Balls are burning, they stop burning up if they're already on fire, which prevents the fire from spreading and basically defeats the whole purpose of them burning in the first place. Notice how this is used correctly in the original levels. In Chapter 3, the levels with all the Fuse Goo Balls are short enough that the lack of timebugs isn't a problem. In Super Fuse Challenge Time, the level itself is pretty easy, and doesn't require you to rush a whole lot to finish before the whole structure burns up. The OCD, however, is a total race against the clock. In this way, messing up once in the level isn't too bad. You'll still be able to complete it without needing timebugs. You just likely won't get the OCD.

12. Forcing the player to do repetitive, mundane tasks

    Carefully building an extremely long structure over a huge space. Spending minutes on end launching waves of Bit Goo Balls from one structure to the next. These kinds of things can make an otherwise interesting level completely boring. Most original levels can be beaten in about a minute or two (for the average player not going for the OCD). If your level takes longer than that, it may be a good idea to sit back for a bit and think about what is just filler, and what parts are essential to the level. If you're spending forever launching Bit Goo Balls from one structure to the next, it may be a good idea to cut down on the number of structures. If you're spending forever building across flat ground, it may be a good idea to cut down on the amount of space you're building across. If your level isn't fun and engaging, players may just leave and do something else.

13. Using rain streaks without actual forcefields

    Blustery Day and Beauty and the Electric Tentacle are examples of levels that use the streaking-rain particle effects ("rainStreaksHeavy" in the former, and "rainStreaksDown" in the latter). Both also use linearforcefields called "wind" to push the Goo Balls to the right, to add to the wind and rain effect. If you put these particle effects in a level without any linearforcefield, though, they kind of look out of place, and it throws the whole feel of a level off. Why are your effects there? Could they be replaced perhaps with the much gentler-looking "breezeRight" or "leavesRight" effects? If you want the whole windy feel to your level, Blustery Day is a great example of how to pull it off. There's particle effects adding to the windy feeling, windmills spinning like crazy, and trees practically bending over in the background. All this works together to create a really great effect. Try removing one or all of these pieces, and you'll see how much it doesn't work without them. (and try removing the linearforcefield and you'll see immediately why it's there!)

14. Open Pipes on level start

goomatz wrote:

I know this doesn't happen often and I'm not writing this because one level with an open pipe got published recently that's just coincidence. An open pipe from the very beginning and a playthrough the level longer than 10 seconds just drives me mad. Crazy
There is always a way to avoid this. You can use one of the traps in "Gotcha!" to open the pipe or just tinker around a bit yourself. You could always ask for help in the forum if you can't find a way to open the pipe later in the level. I would help anybody finding a solution.

I would have to agree here. The pipe sucking noise playing the entire time you're playing a level can be really annoying! Not to mention that there's a bug when you retry a level with the pipe open where the pipe sucking noise doesn't stop until the level restarts fully, which only adds to the annoyance.

15. To infinity and beyond!

I attach a Balloon to a structure and start trying to maneuver it towards the pipe, but the Balloon is too strong, so it pulls it upwards to the top of the screen... then off the screen and it's gone forever. This has happened to me all the time in fanmade levels. The important point, however, is that it's never happened to me in original levels! Why not? Take a look at Fly Away Little Ones, and you'll see a linearforcefield named "upperDownWind". This force field prevents your balloon structure from floating off the screen. There's even a line to act as a ceiling in case your Goo Balls get past that! Look at Flying Machine and you'll see a similar setup. Goo Balls just shouldn't float off into oblivion unless you're directly playing a level in a way that wasn't intended (Like dropping the starting structure off the side in Infesty the Worm). If you have Balloons in a level, make sure nothing can float away!

16. Signs

    I'll be blunt; I have yet to see a well-written Sign Painter in any fanmade level. He's a tricky character to write! But what's great about the signposts in the original levels is how he's helpful and not really helpful at the same time. Sometimes he gives you hints to solve a level or figure out a new mechanic. Most of the time, he makes some kind of joke while doing so. Other times, he tells you what to do by telling you NOT to do it (Like in Observatory Observation Station: "Don't play with the fish.").
    I'm not expecting anyone to have quite the wit and creepy charm of the original Sign Painter. Quite a lot of level designers on this site only know English as a second language, and some of the nuances and such of the Sign Painter will inevitably be lost when they write a signpost. That's perfectly fine. I can't write a good Sign Painter to save my life, either. What you CAN do as a level designer, though, is think about what the purpose of each signpost should be. Is there something different or odd about your level? It'd probably be a good idea to put a signpost in and drop a few hints as to what's going on. If you want to tell a story with your signposts, or make a joke or two, that's great. If you want to do all three at the same time, well, that's what the original game did! And it turned out marvelously. Just try to make them as interesting as possible, and don't ramble on and on (Like I'm doing here, come to think of it). Clicking through long signposts is a royal pain (I should know; EVERY SINGLE TIME I play Hang Low, I accidentally click that stupid sign at the bottom... grr...), so keeping it short is good! Also, writing out your signposts in Microsoft Word first or something like that is usually a good idea. That way you can check for spelling mistakes.
    All this to say: Add signposts! Levels can feel barren and empty without them. It doesn't have to be too many; just one or two, and as witty and as grammatically correct as possible. I like witty.

17. Pipe Filters

    Red pipes should accept both BeautyProduct and BeautyProductEyes. Other pipes should accept all Goo Balls. This is how the original levels work, in any case. If you make a level where only one type of Goo Ball should be accepted in the pipe, make a new pipe type! It's pretty simple, and gives your players a better reason than "This pipe only accepts X Goo Ball just because."

    That's all I can think of for now! Are there any level design decisions that you personally like or dislike in original or fanmade levels? Post them below! Just try to not point fingers to 'bad' fanmade leves, cause that's not terribly nice. Except mine. You can make fun of mine. Mine are terrible. Well, most of them. Laughing out loud

Joined: 10/22/2009

You can also make a sign around the pipe and put the gooballs' image on it to tell the pipe only accepts these gooball.

Joined: 09/01/2009

That is an option, but a visual cue with the pipe itself being a different color is far better imo. But it's worth noting that the original levels did both!

Joined: 07/05/2011

Finally a nice forum topic that is not New Records! Tongue
1. I totally agrees. Some of the levels are just so big and there are so many choices that they confuse me. Puzzled
3. /level/@strandgeom causes this. It was used in Impale Sticky. I recommend people thicken the wall if possible instead of setting this attribute to true because yeah that corner thing is annoying.
5. Umm... What's the point of this?
14. ...?!

Joined: 09/01/2009

@Mygod: Good point. I got sidetracked on #5 and never actually wrote what I wanted to say. Fix'd. Tongue

Re: 14. I just hate Screamer. It's my least favorite song from the soundtrack. Ignore me. Tongue

3. That's what I thought it was, but then I was testing and it seemed like it wasn't making any difference and I got confused. Fix'd.

Joined: 07/06/2014

I happen to like the Screamer track, but if it's used too much then I can understand the sentiment - especially if it gets used in levels where it doesn't fit with the mood of the level! I can't say anymore for right now though, I'm a bit busy...

My Top 5 tower[s]: 51.38m Profile | 51.17m Video - Click on my username to see my addins.

Joined: 04/29/2009

11 - I like to add another reason for not using timebugs. Levels with complicate mechanics tend break if a timebug is popped. For example "Down&Out" or my levels wouldn't work with timebugs. The original levels with flinging goos have no timebugs either, but I guess that's because they are not needed in Hello World, Graphic Processing Unit...

18 Open Pipes at the levelbeginning.
I know this doesn't happen often and I'm not writing this because one level with an open pipe got published recently that's just coincidence. An open pipe from the very beginning and a playthrough the level longer than 10 seconds just drives me mad. Crazy
There is always a way to avoid this. You can use one of the traps in "Gotcha!" to open the pipe or just tinker around a bit yourself. You could always ask for help in the forum if you can't find a way to open the pipe later in the level. I would help anybody finding a solution.

Joined: 09/01/2009

Ah yes, the open pipes on level beginning can be extremely annoying as well.

Joined: 12/05/2013

Hey! Does that mean you're gonna unpublish levels with this screamer music? I should really change the music of my level "Bird Of Prey". I like the scremer music because sometimes i create sad levels for a chapter ending. That is what I'm gonna make for my next chapter to be released on October 31.

Nerdy Z is coming.

Joined: 09/01/2009

No, I'm not going to unpublish levels with Screamer. It's just a joke, cause I don't personally like the song. >.<

*removes joke because it seems like nobody is getting it...*

Joined: 10/22/2009

MOM4Evr wrote:
No, I'm not going to unpublish levels with Screamer. It's just a joke, cause I don't personally like the song. >.<

*removes joke because it seems like nobody is getting it...*

Can I put all music into loopsound? Tongue

Joined: 09/01/2009

I didn't add it, cause I only know of one level that does this, but loopsounds can be really annoying when done wrong. Aside from that, I'm not sure what you're asking.

Joined: 10/22/2009

19. Notes on autoattach gooballs
Some levels (like this one) have pilots or other auto attach gooballs at the beginning and the level require the gooball to finish the level. Some level creator didn't notice that the gooballs often attach the structure near them when the level starts, and the level can't be finished because there aren't any other gooball. The best way to solve this is to set the structure unattachable (like GooProduct) or those gooballs asleep.

Joined: 04/17/2011

MOM4Evr wrote:
No, I'm not going to unpublish levels with Screamer. It's just a joke, cause I don't personally like the song. >.<

*removes joke because it seems like nobody is getting it...*

I can understand why you hate screamer. It's the most depressing song in my opinion. But it's a very good one for certain levels.

Joined: 07/05/2011

19. Good point. You can make a unattachable goo ball by setting /ball/@grumpy=true in case someone don't know how yet.

About that joke, I understand that it's not serious, I just can't get why it's funny...