Game Career Guide is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Get the latest Education e-news
  • Level Design Patterns In 2D Games

    - Ahmed Khalifa

  • Layering

    Layering is the pattern of combining multiple objects to create a new experience. It often relies on Foreshadowing to be able to present a fair challenge to the player. The most common use of Layering is to introduce new and harder challenges, without the need to present new elements to the player. It benefits from previously introducing the different elements separately, which players are familiar with their behaviors, but have to devise a new strategy to overcome them. This pattern can lead to frustrating experiences when the outcome of mixing these elements is not planned. Many games use this pattern efficiently [9], [11], [13], [17], [20], [28], [35], so as not to have game objects that seldom appear and are deemed unimportant by the player (which is similar to Thompson's Throw away pattern [12]).

    The previous figure shows how games can create harder experiences by combining multiple instances of the same enemy or hazard. While Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars (Anna Anthropy, 2011) achieves such by using multiple of the same enemy, VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh, 2010) does so by placing several copies of a moving hazard in a specific layout.

    The previous figure shows games that create a whole new experience by combining different elements. In Mega Man (Capcom, 1987), shown on the left image, the players have to wait to jump on the disappearing platforms when they become solid, but also have to pay attention to the enemy that runs from side to side on the floor they are standing. While in Mighty Jill Off (Anna Anthropy, 2008) players need to crawl up the level as fast as possible without touching the flames and before the spider comes out of the yellow box at the top left of the screen to follow the player.


    Branching refers to providing the players with multiple paths to reach their objective. Giving players a choice leads to a feeling of empowerment. As previous work before [4], [5], [7], [9], [12], [14], [15], [20], [24]-[28], [30], [34], [37], [39], we deduced that there are various ways in which this pattern has been leveraged to produce different experiences. Sometimes the game provides a false sense of choice [21] when to complete the level exploration of most paths are required, as is common with dungeons in The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo, 1986). In Mega Man (Capcom, 1987) levels were designed to be played in any order, as the players could choose to visit stages in any order. Therefore, every level had to be designed to be beatable with only the tools players are provided with at the beginning. Super Mario Bros (Nintendo, 1985) is famous for having pipes that players can enter to find an alternative path through the level.

    Levels can have Branching with no restrictions, meaning that all paths are open for players to select from. This reinforces the feeling of exploration during gameplay. The previous figure shows two scenes that use Branching with no restrictions. In L'Abbaye Des Morts (Locomalito, 2010) shown in the left image and The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo, 1986) shown in the right image, the players are allowed to freely choose which path to take.

    Conditional Branching presents the players with multiple paths, but only allows them to access certain paths after meeting specific criteria. This form of Branching stimulates player curiosity and might require backtracking or repeated attempts to explore more than 1 path. The above figure shows 2 examples of Conditional Branching. As shown in the left image, Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994) has doors scattered throughout levels that are locked until players find the weapon that can open them. In the case of Super Mario Land (Nintendo, 1989), the avatar can be in 1 of 2 states, small or big. The right image shows a level in Super Mario Land (Nintendo, 1989) where players can only access one of the paths if their character is small. This leads players to interesting decisions, as being small makes the player more fragile, but only then can they reach certain paths [7].

    Lastly, Branching can be used to create a risk-reward scenario [4], [5], [12], [14], [26], [30], [34], [37]. When presenting players with multiple paths, one can be a safer alternative with a small reward, while another requires higher skill, but has a bigger payoff. This gives incentive for players to spend more time with the game, as they are rewarded for their investment. The previous figure shows the racing games Excitebike (Nintendo, 1984) and SpeedRunners (DoubleDutch Games, 2013) applying risk-reward Branching. In both games players can choose to take a path the requires them to be more skilled at the game, but if successful puts them ahead of the competition.


comments powered by Disqus