Ever since I first got my hands on the DTP/art programs when I was about 10 (things like TimeWorks Publisher ST, Calamus 1.09n and Arabesque), and started printing out my own A5 newspapers and mags, I’ve loved doing design work. I’ve gone through to web design, graphic design, 3D design and of course, level design. It’s terrific.
What’s interesting though, is how elements transfer between them. Practical techniques and tricks that I stumbled across over 10 years ago still apply to the design-related gubbins I do every day.
For example, one of the very first DTP lessons learnt was this: “restrict yourself to only 2 or 3 fonts”. Simple advice, but the second multi-font DTP packages were on the market, everyone jumped at the chance to exploit every single one in every single page of every single document. The modern-day example for level design would be: “restrict yourself to a specific texture set”, which again counters the temptation to use every single texture imaginable in your first map (which I’m fairly sure everyone does, and I certainly remember doing it myself). Of course, the same principle applies to web design. Don’t use the entire rainbow if all you need is red.
The second lesson regarded ‘white space’. This is the space that you find in magazines that is just empty space with no detail (i.e. no text, pictures) and typically just a solid colour (the background colour, usually white). The idea is to make the page more comfortable to view and read, preventing information/visual overflow, and thereby also increasing appeal. Level design is similar: don’t overload the player with visual fluff or mechanics. Consider altering the appearance or layout of the map to make the important elements clearer.
Third, with DTP you can rarely afford to have pages stacked full with text. Even after formatting and layout, often it seems like something is missing. The key is to add appropriate art, images and illustrations to break up the content and make it more accessible. Even an image that is only slightly related to the content can help. With level design, it might mean adding that small alcove that provides little to no gameplay benefits, but helps conceal the monotony and break up any patterns.
If you want an example of more things not to do, have a look at some eBay auctions. The design of those is terrible (albeit sometimes intentionally so).
In other words, if you’re finding level design a little boring or tricky, try something fresh like web design or DTP. You’ll often find skills transfer (both ways) and any improvement you make with web design helps you with level design. That can’t be a bad thing now, can it?