As a programmer who likes to make games I often find myself in situation where I have to make some playable content/levels. Because let’s be honest – even the best programming patterns/practises does not really matter for player. What matters is content. But I (and propably many of you) don’t feel like level design master. But fortunetly there are ways to make games without designing levels, and in this article I decided to aggregate some of them.
System based games
In this approach you are designing game around systems, that are interacting with each one, sometimes even without player’s input. What’s interesting, player is often treaten as just one of entites presented in game’s world.
Good example of that approach is of course – Civilization. Every player, doesn’t matter if human or AI has set of similar ways to rule it’s empire and same goals. Also every outcome from Civ playthrough is valid – from taking over the entire world in future, to being flooded by barbarians in ancient times. And it is still fun!
Gandhi with his powerfull and peacefull message
Another example which I enjoyed was a small indie game called Westerado. It is closest thing to Red Dead Redemption on PC that you can have, so deffinetly check that out.
„The Ecstasy of Gold” plays in your head
On the beggining of the game your family is murdered and your farm burned down by some mysterious desperado. In his last words your brother gives your some clue about the responsible one. Rest of the game is revenge/detective quest to find this guy and put the bullet between his eyes. The detective part includes talking to other characters in game world, but with one interesting twist – you cant draw your weapon at any moment during conversation (actually outside of them too). That action can end in many ways, one of them being pierced with bullets by other people who may not like your voilent behavior, or even getting the answers from person being at gunpoint.
There are of course other excamples of game being in most part deigned around systems. Metal Gear Solid, XCOM, Fallout are just few of them.
Random Number Games (or procedural generated games if you like it more profesionally) are games where content is in most cases generated from randomized mix of prefabricated components that in most cases work well with itself in many combinations. Theses components could be for example pre-builded rooms for dungeon crawler, or set of events that player can ecounter during playthrought.
Good example that comes into my mind is FTL – Faster Than Light. In this game you are in control of a spaceship and it’s crew. Yor mission is to deliver crucial data for Federation that can help them win the war over Rebelion. The catch is – whole Rebel fleet is after your one small ship, and most of the time they are just few FTL jumps behind you.
Believe or not, but it IS easy to get your ship in presented state
Game is mostly about ship and crew managment. Other important aspect are these random events. After every jump one is taken from event pool, and player has to deal with it’s consequences. Sometimes it’s a space station sending distress signal, friendly ship with resources to help you in your mission, but most times it will be rebel/pirate/rouge ship really happy to blow up your life support system to give your crew horrible death because of oxygen deprivation. Guess why I never completed that game.
Another example are all these endless runners. That concept was propably covered from every possible angle, but I will try to give my opinion anyway. With strong mechanic it could be long lasting, addictive fun (I mean, Flappy Bird, Temple Run, etc.).
And it would not be completed list without all those rougelikes/lites. Games like Enter The Gungeon, Crypt of the NecroDancer or Binding of Issac. As I mentioned before, these are games with prefabricated dungeon modules, that are put together by magic and random number generator.
I had hard time putting these on my list, but here it goes. My resoning for that is as follows – if you are creating simulation, it does not require you to build levels around some mechanic, but recreate reality that you understand and have knowledge about. For example, if you are creating let’s say forklift simulation, you have to know it’s „natural enviroment” (wartehouse for example).
In other cases, if you are creating battlefield simulation, all you have to do is take Google Earth’s satellite pictures of area that will fit your game and recreate it in your engine.
When I was young I played a lot of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis (today it’s called ARMA: Cold War Assault because of licensing problems between Codemasters and Bohema interactive). What shocked me about that game was it’s map design. You see, Everon, Malden and Kolgujev had a lot of eastern european flavor to them. Small towns, landscapes or even small details like roadsigns they reminded me of places where I’ve been. It might be not the best for designing levels, but sure it was more reallistic.
There is vide choice of sims across the market to take inspiration from: flight simulators, car simulators, life simulators and list goes on, and on, and on…
When you are making piece of entertainment like song, you usually take instrument you are good at playing to accompany it. I think that the same thing goes to videogames. If you are good at programming, and mediocre at art, sound or level design try to take most from your programming skills.