Principles of Design – Elements that work in relation to Level Design

The following post outlines “principles” often referred in general design considerations, there are obviously many more but for addressing specific problems within the Level Design discipline – I’ve listed principles that commonly questioned elements for my own guidelines rather than providing solutions to an issue.

It shouldn’t be a ‘heavy read’ and it’s up to the reader how you retain the information provided.


“The process of using spatial and environmental information to navigate to a destination.”

The basic process of wayfinding involves the same four stages:

· Orientation

· Route decision

· Route Monitoring

· Destination Recognition

Orientation refers to determining one’s location relative to nearby objects and destination. To improve orientation, divide a space into distinct small parts, using landmarks and signage to create unique subspaces. Landmarks provide strong orientation cues, and provide locations with easily remembered identities. Signage is one of the easiest ways to tell people where they are and where they can go.

Route decision refers to choosing a route to get to the destination. To improve route decision-making, minimize the number of navigational choices, and provide signs or prompts at decision points. People prefer shorter routes to longer routes (even if the shorter route is more complex), so indicate the shortest route to a destination. Simple routes can be followed most efficiently with the use of clear narrative directions or signs. Maps provide more robust mental representations of the space, and are superior to other strategies when the space is very large, complex, or poorly designed. This is especially true when the person navigating is under stress, where the wayfinding may need to be adaptive (e.g., in escaping a burning building).

Route Monitoring refers to monitoring the chosen route to confirm that it is leading to the destination. To improve route monitoring, connect locations with paths that have clear beginnings, middles, and ends. The paths should enable a person to gauge his progress easily along their lengths using clear lines of sight to the next location, or signage indicating relative location. In cases where paths are particularly lengthy or the traffic in them slow moving, consider augmenting the sight lines with visual lures, such as pictures, to help pull people through. Breadcrumbs – visual cues highlighting the path taken – can aid route monitoring, particularly when a wayfinding mistake has been made, and backtracking is necessary.

Destination recognition refers to recognizing the destination. To improve destination recognition, enclose destinations such that they form dead-ends, or use barriers to disrupt the flow of movement through the space. Give destinations clear and consistent identities.


“A method of creating imagery, emotions, and understanding of events through an interaction between a storyteller and an audience”

Storytelling is uniquely human. It is the original method of passing knowledge from one generation to the next, and remains one of the most compelling methods for richly communicating knowledge. Storytelling can be oral, as in the traditional telling of a tale; visual, as in information graph or a movie; or textual, as in a poem or novel. More recently, digital storytelling has emerged, which involves telling a story using digital media. This might take the form of a computerized slide show, a digital video, or educational software. A storyteller can be any instrument of information presentation that engages an audience to experience a set of events.

Good storytelling experiences generally require certain fundamental elements. While additional elements can be added to further augment the quality of a story or storytelling experience, they can rarely be subtracted without detriment. The fundamental elements are:

· Setting – The setting orients the audience, providing a sense of time and place for the story.

· Characters – Character identification is how the audience becomes involved in the story, and how the story becomes relevant.

· Plot – The plot ties events in the story together, and is the channel through which the story can flow.

· Invisibility – The awareness of the storyteller fades as the audience focuses on a good story. When engaged in a good movie or book, the existence of the medium is forgotten.

· Mood – Music, lighting, and style of prose create the emotional tone of the story.

· Movement – In a good story, the sequence and flow of events is clear and interesting. The storyline doesn’t stall.

Use storytelling to engage an audience in design, evoke a specific emotional response, or provide a rich context to enhance learning. When successfully employed, an audience will experience and recall the events of the story in a personal way – it becomes a part of them. This is a phenomenon unique to storytelling.


“A state of mental focus so intense that awareness of the “real” world is lost, generally resulting in a feeling of joy and satisfaction”.

When perceptual and cognitive systems are under-taxed, people become apathetic and bored. If they are over-taxed, people become stressed and frustrated. Immersion occurs when perceptual and cognitive systems are challenged at near capacity, without being exceeded. Under these conditions, the person loses a sense of the “real” world and typically experiences intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. Immersion can occur while working on a task, playing a game, reading a book, or painting a picture. Immersion is characterized by one or more of the following elements:

· Challenges that can be overcome.

· Contexts where a person can focus without significant distraction

· Clearly defined goals

· Immediate feedback with regards to actions and overall performance

· A loss of awareness of the worries and frustrations of everyday life

· A feeling of control over actions, activities, and the environment.

· A loss of concern regarding matters of the self (e.g., awareness of hunger or thirst)

· A modified sense of time (e.g., hours can pass by in what seems like minutes).

Incorporate elements of immersion in activities and environments that seek to engage the attention of people over time – e.g., entertainment, instruction, games, and exhibits. Provide clearly defined goals and challenges that can be overcome. Design environments that minimize distractions, promote a feeling of control, and provide feedback. Emphasize stimuli that distract people from the real world, and suppress stimuli that remind them of the real world. Achieving the right balance of elements to achieve immersion is more art than science; therefore, leave ample time in the design process for experimentation and tuning.

Entry Point

“A point of Physical attentional entry into a design.”

People do judge books by their covers, Internet sites by their 1st pages, and buildings by their lobbies. This initial impression of a system or environment greatly influences subsequent perceptions and attitudes, which then affects the quality of subsequent interactions. This impression is largely formed at the entry point to a system or environment. The key elements of good entry point design are minimal barriers, points of prospect, and progressive lures.

Minimal Barriers

Barriers should not encumber entry points. Examples of barriers to entry are highly trafficked parking lots, noisy displays with many unnecessary elements, salespeople standing at the doors or retail stores, or anything that impedes people from getting to and moving through an entry point. Barriers can be aesthetic as well as functional in nature. For example, a poorly maintained building front or landscape is an aesthetic barrier to entry.

Points of Prospect

Entry points should allow people to become oriented and clearly survey available options. Points of prospect should provide sufficient time and space for a person to review options with minimal distraction or disruption – i.e., people should not feel hurried or crowded by their surroundings or other people.

Progressive Lures

Lures should be used to attract and pull people through the entry point. Progressive lures get people to incrementally approach, enter, and move through the entry point.

Maximize the effectiveness of the entry point in a design by reducing barriers, establishing clear points of prospect, and using progressive lures. Provide sufficient time and space for people to review opportunities for interaction at the entry point. Consider progressive lures like highlighting, entry point greeters, and popular offerings visibly located beyond the entry point to get people to enter and progress through.

Defensible Space

A space that has territorial markers, opportunities for surveillance, and clear indications of activity and ownership.

There are three key features of defensible spaces: territoriality, surveillance, and symbolic barriers.

Territoriality is the establishment of clearly defined spaces of ownership. Common territorial features include visible boundaries such as walls, hedges, and fences; privatization of public services so that residents must take greater personal responsibility and ownership. This communicates to outsiders that the space is owned and protected.

Surveillance is the monitoring of the environment during normal daily activities. External lighting as an example makes it more difficult for people to engage in unnoticed activities.

Symbolic Barriers are objects place in the environment to create the perception that a person’s space is cared for and worthy of defence. Note that when items that are atypical for a community are displayed, it can sometimes symbolize affluence and act as a lure rather than a barrier.

Progressive Disclosure

A strategy for managing information complexity in which only necessary or requested information is displayed at given time

Progressive disclosure used in the physical world to manage the perception of complexity and activity. For example, progressive disclosure is found in the design of entry points for modern theme park rides. Exceedingly long lines not only frustrate people in line, but also discourage new people from the ride. Theme park designers progressively disclose discrete segments of the line (sometimes supplemented with entertainment), so that no one, in or out of the line, ever sees the line in its entirety. Video screens, signage, and partial glimpse of people on the ride other additional distractions.

· Entrance

· Video screens entertain visitors while they wait

· High walls prevent visitors at the beginning of the line from seeing the length of the line

· Status signs indicate wait time

· Low walls allow visitors near the end of line to see they are getting close to the end.

· Windows allow visitors at the end of the line to see the ride.

Prospect – Refuge

A tendency to prefer environments with unobstructed views (prospects) and areas of concealment and retreat (refuges).

People prefer environments where then can easily survey their surroundings and quickly hide or retreat to safety if necessary. Environments with both prospect and refuge elements are perceived as safe places to explore and dwell, and consequently are considered more aesthetic than environments without these elements.

The prospect-refuge principle suggests that people prefer the edges, rather than middles of spaces; spaces with ceilings or covers overhead; spaces with few access points (protected at the back or side); spaces that provide unobstructed views from multiple vantage points; and spaces that provide a sense of safety and concealment. The preference for these elements is heightened if the environment is perceived to be hazardous or potentially hazardous.

In natural environments, prospects include hills, mountains, and trees near open settings. Refuges include enclosed spaces such as caves, dense vegetation, and climbable trees with dense canopies nearby. In human-created environments, prospects include deep terraces and balconies, and generous use of windows and glass doors. Refuges include external barriers, such as gates and fences.

‘Universal Principles of Design’

The Fundamentals of Game Design

Falling into Place

Falling into Place


Connections can be rather surprisingly, well random.

In this instance, I’m reading 5 books (when ever I get a chance, believe me it’s not that easy!) – where depending on my mood – I’ll read a chapter here or there.

A design/work related book I have on the go happens to be ‘Theory of Fun for Game Design’ by Ralph Koster

I’ve been happily jotting down notes for one of my pitches from it.

Then today -whilst having a coffee break – I noticed ‘Boing Boing’ a link an article of an old essay Ralph Koster published on his site called “‘The fundamentals of Game Design’”.

Both links and book pimping are worth a read. I find Ralphs approach to design rather informative accessible to follow, and like I’ve mentioned, I’m happily ‘borrowing’ bit’s from at the moment.

Minecraft – One of the best indy developed games on the market!

Chip off an old block!

When was the last time you played a game that really, really induced a sense of foreboding and damn right phobia inducing sense of panic/fear?

Then on the flip side happens to be one of the most tranquil episodes that wants to create something in harmony with the natural environment, then ruins you with temptation?

One word,


For a game that’s been developed by a four person team and still in alpha testing phase, ‘1063616 registered users, of which 319639 of whom have paid about $13 each (myself included) for the game’ – so a net profit in the millions already then!

This happens to be one of those games that really shouldn’t float under any gamers radar, it really shouldn’t, if you have a PC you need to try this out.

I know all about letting boats sail off whilst I stand at the docks waving them goodbye, some journeys I’m happy to let people take, I’d purposely ignored the signs for the last couple of months but had been keeping one eye open at snippets of internet ‘buzz’ but then a sudden urge grabbed me to dance with the devil took over and I succumbed to sell my soul last week.

So glad I did…

It’s one of those stories that spins the player into a narrator of their own destiny, all Minecraft users can relate to the experience but what you choose to do will reflect on the time spent ingame.

What's up Bub?

In reflection to my opening statement, this was my 1st trip down a natural fissure, tooled up for the job in hand. I mined all precious ore on route until I slowly ran out of bag space and decided to return to the surface, in haste, taking a slightly wrong route towards the end. My placement of torches on route indicated I’d been here, they were my markers, so I thought I’d mine a ‘short-cut’ upwards after running around in circles and slowly getting slightly agitated due to my over active imagination of never seeing any daylight ever again!

..and then as I was chipping away with the last of my created pick axes, which was almost degraded, I managed to trigger a cave in.

I was buried alive.

No light!

Then my pick axe broke!


I was using a piece of rock scrabbling away at this subsidence, panicking at the prospect of remaining here for the rest of my in-game life I suddenly broke free.

I had never felt anything like it, that gaming experience is one of my personal phobias – suffocating. When I was a child I used to suffer fevered dreams of drowning in quicksand and playing this game, at that point, triggered some kind of emotional flashback I wasn’t really expecting.

Just ‘wow’!

..and then as a true gamer, I came back for some more!

For further reading,

‘Interview with Minecraft’s creator Notch’

‘Notch tells us his fav user created levels’

Head Cold Rising!

Yeah Baby!

Yeah Baby!

Head full of cold,

…dribbling mucus everywhere,

…..sustaining enough stamina to mash zombies in full drag (in-game not RL ya pervert!) in ‘Dead Rising 2’ whilst wielding a tiny handbag (yet again, ingame…) is managing to raise a wry smile to a pretty much snot filled day.

A perplexing mix of fratboy humor whilst upping ones arsenal with an array of everyday objects, I would be much happier if the game let just let my annoying daughter die so I could attach a large chain and train her to maul other decaying denizens of the dead, but alas someone somewhere has towed a line after spending most of the game bloody crossing it – like several times – to not let me even do that.

Maybe this game is best played with a headcold, apathy towards the undead.

In other design related news,

Stumbled over this vid on ‘Games Theory’ via New York Times website, worth a watch to see ‘lucky’ American children taking part in a class that I think pretty much every child in the world would want to take part in, or even go to school for that matter. Brings back hazy nostalgic memories of old school days hijacking old BBC and Electron home-computers to do something other than our homework on, ie. Play games!


I have undead to put to rest.

Organized Chaos

"Calm b4 the storm"

"Calm b4 the storm"

Currently, I’ve been collating and conspiring to produce a few ‘pitches’, idea’s or concepts – depending on my state of mind – in regards to producing a couple of game related designs.

It’s all rather fragmented at the moment, maybe an idea here for a new franchise or IP, some thoughts in regards to fun and interesting game mechanics that I’d like to play or see, notes on control methods that feel intuitive or minimal for repetitive actions, drafts on the type of stories to be told, establishing the scenes adding emotional depth and fleshing out the design of characters that could live in them.

So a lot of design related ‘stuff’ and ramblings of a madman.

If you could just see the contents of one of my working folders! When I sat in front of the computer today I had a paranoia attack and promptly reverted to back up all my material thinking that my PC will decide to fry something of importance in the not to distant future.

In these early stages I tend to create folders that contain moods and styles, colour schemes and graphical musings. I then have influencing artists and character art along with art direction that somewhere down the line may prove of some use. All documentation on random thoughts and ramblings, scraps of paper with lists and thematic importance associated to words, notebooks and yet more ramblings that litter my workspace are in what I like to refer to as ‘organized chaos’

So to get these pitches up to a presentational standard I’ve been researching “What makes a pitch?”, trying to stitch together a format or some form of consistency to them so they have the right hooks to appeal to the gamer as-well as the marketing men. Iterations from pitches I produced many moons ago look and feel ‘outdated’ even though the context or idea’s remain relatively accessible.

I stumbled over these two links that are ‘pitch’ related, probably not news for the main industry crowd but yet again I’ve found them more than useful when I’ve tried to style and tailor my work accordingly.

The 1st is for the initial pitch document for ‘BioShock Pitch’ by ‘Irrational Games’, I’m sure the BioShock franchise is fairly familiar to you guys so I won’t waffle about that, interesting to read the pitch and see where or what developed from that document though.

And the 2nd link worth anyone’s time as a designer, or aspiring game designer, is to get your grubby mitts on ‘Todd Harris’ ebook ‘Gamedesigner101’. As he states,

“ins and outs of creating an IP (intellectual property). Kind of the zen of game design.”

It was an infallible read to say the least!

I loved Todd’s work on the original ‘Takk and the Power of Juju’ on the Game Cube, the game itself was surprisingly a lot of fun if marred by a few harsh design faults (lack of in-game map and quest log), still, it must had done something right because it spawned a small franchise and made someone somewhere a lot of money.


Back to the grindstone.

Nier – Erm?, more like ‘no’ thankyou.

"Trim teh Bush!"

"Trim teh Bush!"


As a player, you reach a point in the game to which you haven’t got the answers or maybe the ‘skillz’, there’s no means provided or there’s some small detail you must have missed to help you progress further. What do you do as a player?

Sift through all inventory and in-game information provisos in context to said issue and try all possible combinations until some goes ‘ting’? (normally your patience and will to live!)


Do you turn the console off and come back with a fresh pair of eyes because you must have missed something so bleeding obvious?



Make a trip to the blessed internet for the truth and technically ‘cheat’?


Reason I ask, from a designers perspective, the game should supply the player with all the right information or tools for the task to produce a ‘rewarding’ conclusion to an issue. Now here comes the bane of my initial question which I suppose from a developers point of view the question should had been raised as thus,

“Do I design this mechanic for myself or for the good of the game and from what point do I cross a proverbial line to really throw a spanner in the works for some god forsaken achievement!?”

"May I take ya seed?"

"May I take ya seed?"

I suppose I should put this post into some form of context.

So there’s been no posts on this blog for a while because most of my spare time has been eaten up with ‘Nier’, a rather entertaining and criminally ignored Japanese action RPG. For pretty much most of the game I’ve happily stuck with it’s ‘grind’, running around with a cantankerous spellbook who at any opportunity would question my actions good or bad. A foul mouthed, underwearing, hermaphrodite with he/she’s dial cranked up to 11 and some repressed homosexual (OK, I added that last bit) floating skeleton child thing that generally goes all ’emo’ at any given stages.

I’ve played enough games to understand that loosing hours of my life could be happily spent time else where like reading the Internets wealth of additional information about this game – mostly other peoples annoyance at similar issues – but Nier presented myself with a rather frivolous time sink of ‘cultivation’ as a minor side distraction.

I should had seen the signs, in fact I’d go as far as to say I pretty much ignored this aspect of the game – and any signs – until I was actually required to grow something. If truth be told I felt a bit sorry for Googlywaa’s (the hero of the day!) garden, saving my daughter could wait! Every time I trudged past I knew the garden was in neglect, it was being ignored like a ginger stepchild and really needed to be beaten into shape. So until a quest demanded I start gardening so I got green fingers.

So this is how the basic design/mechanics work,

  • Buy seeds and fertilizer from one of the generic denizens.
  • Fertilize the ground (3 rows of soil, 5 plots), plant a seed and then water.
  • You then leave and harvest, reap the fruits of your labour!

“Simple” it sounds, except for one thing, at what point do you harvest?! You see, there’s no in-game clock, no passage of time except when the narrative changes advancing through the main story arc. So I spent to much time on route, back tracking, popping by, to see if anything had happened, oh! Stuff needed watering and that was about it.

Turn game off, load it back, continue, still nothing… But when I turned the console off and popped by the following day there would be plants, fruit, wheat,… what ever I had previously planted had grown. To which point I actually thought, “that’s quite a nice touch” and then decided that bashing things with oversized weapons was more fun that wasting my time with this distraction any more.

So one then tends to forget or ignore said plants/garden until an NPC requested 10x ‘Pink Peaches’ to which I knew there wasn’t going to be any way of buying the buggers I’d have to grow them to here lies my initial question at the start of this post. I finished the game with 1 quest unresolved which niggled me to say the least enough to search an answer, and this was it,

To get hybrid flowers, you need to plant certain seeds next to each other in the same row. It has nothing to do with watering or fertilizer, but you can add those for more seeds if you want.

  • Red seeds next to Gold seeds gives you a 20% chance for Peach seeds.
  • Blue next to Gold gives you a 20% chance for Indigo.
  • Indigo next to Red gives you a 5% chance for Pink.
  • Pink seeds next to Peach seeds gives you a 1% chance for White.

These stats aren’t as bad as they sound if you plant rows of alternating colors, then change your system clock to speed up time.

Since each row has five spaces, plant a row of Blue Gold Blue Gold Blue. Do this for the other two rows.

Your chances will get better for Indigo. Then use those seeds and plant alternating Reds and Indigo to up your chances for a Pink.

Repeat this with Pinks and Peaches if you want to get the achievement for the Lunar Tear (White moonflower).

Should be fairly easy and quick if you’re lucky.

What?! What!?..

Games designers can be complete bastards at times, How was I supposed to know any of that?!.. Other than growing stupid flowers, the games well worth a look,..

Playstation Design



This was an interesting read today on the ‘Playstation Design’. The standout quote worth reiterating here, was spoken by Teiyu Goto who worked on the external design of the Playstation,

“Other game companies at the time assigned alphabet letters or colors to the buttons. We wanted something simple to remember, which is why we went with icons or symbols, and I came up with the triangle-circle-X-square combination immediately afterward. I gave each symbol a meaning and a color. The triangle refers to viewpoint; I had it represent one’s head or direction and made it green. Square refers to a piece of paper; I had it represent menus or documents and made it pink. The circle and X represent ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision-making and I made them red and blue respectively. People thought those colors were mixed up, and I had to reinforce to management that that’s what I wanted.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.