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  • Writer's pictureSean Gorman


This month, during the annual Games Careers Week, on behalf of nDreams, I designed, ran and judged the 'Flex Your Skills' level design competition.

"Games Careers Week (GCW) is a free online festival to inspire people from every background to discover careers in the UK’s fastest growing creative industry – video games."

The brief was simple. Create a top-down level design map layout from a video game of your choosing. Entrants could use whatever they wished to complete the task, from top-of-the-range rendering software to the humble pen and paper. It was important to us to make sure this competition was as accessible as possible!

"The brief was simple. Create a top-down level design map layout from a video game of your choosing."

Top down level design layouts can be a very helpful tool in the planning phase of development for a new game level, it is usually the first thing that many designers do when coming up with new ideas - they sketch them out!

We draw out the general layout from an orthographic, bird's eye view, planning things such as where the path takes them, including what enemies they might encounter, in which areas can they discover new items, where NPCs are placed, cinematics are triggered etc. the list goes on! The better the visualization of the idea early on, the stronger it becomes. This also betters the communication when showing others.

These are used in the creation of most video games across all genres and across board games too!

So to inspire competition entries to get creative I came up with a few of my own level design layouts too; showing a manner of ways that these designs can be presented, with the different strengths and weaknesses for each layout in the hopes that it might help applicants start to think about how they want to visualize their submissions.

Competition Criteria

Submissions were not judged based on what software was used, as this competition was for everyone, instead submissions were judged based on:


· Readability

· Clear Expression

· Presentation

How clear is the level layout shown and presented?

Can one somewhat easily understand what the designer is trying to convey in their level design layout? Is it generally too messy or is it quite simple? A message communicated clearly has a better chance of being received.

Is there a representation of scale?

How big is the space that is being represented in the design layout? i.e. a grid structure (on grid paper or via a material), a measurement (per cm = 5 foot), or even by showing an avatar of the player to account for scale.

How readable is the design intention?

How effectively are your ideas being communicated in your design? Is the purpose of the layout observable?

Are areas given any distinction from one other?

Such as a unique action that the player must use in that space (a fight, a climb, a swim, a puzzle) or perhaps a visual identity? Is this communicated in your layout?


· The Journey

· Player Pathing

· Pacing

· Mechanics

The quality of ideas will be based on the game chosen: how effectively does the designer's level layout demonstrate the game mechanics from the chosen game?

For example if the example is for Ratchet & Clank, are there interesting platforms for the player to traverse? Is there an introduction of a new gun or tool in this level for the player to discover? Where do the combat encounters take place? Where does the cutscene take place?

How clear is the player critical path? Are there any alternative routes or divergences?

For example, if designing for a single player game such as Monument Valley, where the path is sometimes binary, for the player to get to point A to B, how is this clearly shown? Are there any secret or not so secret paths? Do they lead to anything interesting? Otherwise, if designing a level for a game like Marvel's Spiderman, where the player can approach and traverse a combat space in all number of different ways, whether from swinging in from the skyline, or crawling through a vent, or simply a doorway, how much freedom is given to the player in the layout through these alternative routes? What opportunities do these routes offer the player?

How interesting is the layout?

Are there distinct paths, edges and areas? Is a square level layout interesting enough? What kind of spaces do you find interesting? Think of the typology of a city, or an arrangement of a Japanese garden, what makes these spaces interesting to move through?

Competition Winners

I was thrilled to find that we had received LOTS of incredible submissions, from a variety of designers and genres. It was a difficult job, but I managed to narrow down the winners to just three people.

Check out the work from those winners below:

Pablo Navarro – Their brilliant Ghosts of Tsushima-inspired map provided multiple angles for player approach, had real consideration for gameplay elements from the specified game, and had a clearly communicated layout which makes for a credible arena design. A tremendous job!

Kornelia Sunshine – This was a wonderful open/world, game map submission. It showed careful attention to detail, defining specific areas from one another, whilst expressing natural player progression across the map. There is clear care, love, and attention poured into this submission. Great job and congratulations Kornelia!

Jacob Crawford - Their RPG-inspired map layout showed scale, player pathing, as well as a well-used Key, which was fit for purpose and had clear symbols used throughout the design. They showed consideration for encounter design with enemy placement, as well as particular attention paid to the spacing of resources across the map. It made for a great submission. Great job, Jacob!

Congratulations to all the winners and also a thank you to everyone who submitted their entries; you all made my job as a judge very difficult and it was so wonderful to see so many awesome submissions from people across the globe as well as people across all age groups. Thank you nDreams VR for helping me to host this competition and I hope to run more of them in the future, as it is of great importance to me to encourage aspirational young people and others interested in a career in video games and so I will try to help them to find their start, however I can.


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