Level design of an indie game

Designing your game is probably one of the most crucial parts of the game development lifecycle. It’s an iterative process, for sure, but design documents have to start somewhere. In this post I’m going to talk about the initial designs of the levels in Cosmic Badger and the inception of the tilesheets used in the game to date.

With a clearer vision of how the game would look, it was now time to start designing the levels. There was no real complex workflow to this. I bought a load of graph paper and sketched out the general layout of the terrain and obstacles, keeping the game mechanic in mind. I’d then build the level using the level editor and test it on the laptop (with play-testing coming later on mobile). In hind-sight, it would have been nicer to set up an easier deploy process to prototype a section of level and test on the fly via mobile, but that’s really a lesson learned for next time.

The layout of one of the later levels for Cosmic Badger

I wanted 7 distinct stages with 3 levels per stage, so I came up with a list of themes that might be cool. Out of those themes I picked my favourite according to how varied I could make the obstacles and how interesting I could make the tilesheets. The list was stripped down to the following -

  • Grassy / forest
  • Snow
  • Industrial
  • Toy room
  • Black & White
  • Asian / oriental
  • Some crazy checkered terrain stage that I didn’t have any specific label for (this was more based off a random sketch that I did)

The initial concept art of that same later level

I started sketching the ideas on a notebook, which then became a strong basis for how the sprites would evolve during game development. Photos were taken of the images and then inked/edited on the computer to become proper sprites. The images weren’t perfect by any means, but they were legible enough to fit in an indie game, and something that I would later improve upon with practice (I’ll show some examples of that evolution in a later post). This notebook became a bit of a bible during development. I know you’re dying to see how this actually turned out, which is why it’s being covered in the next post.

What process do you have for designing your levels? Add your insights in the comments below.