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Article - 'Creative Level Design' by Trash Head 2

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

"Trash Head 2" points out some things that have been bothering him about todays games and tells us how to fix that

Body

A problem I've noticed in RPGs as of late (and not just RPGMaker games, commercial ones also suffer from this problem) is a lack of creative places to explore. It just seems like everything is the same-old, same-old in rpgs. Take Lufia 2, for example. I enjoyed this game for a while until I realized that EVERY dungeon and town was the same in appearance, and I was getting tired of fighting through the same cave/dungeon/mountain constantly. Even though most other games have some variation in their levels, we've seen it all before anyways. In most RPGs, there's probably going to be one mine shaft, one snow mountain, one asian themed town, one gigantic tower, one imperial castle, etc. that we've all seen before. There's really only so many times that you can explore the 'SCARY CAVE OF DARKNESS OMG' before you get completely sick of it.

Which brings me to the puprose of my tutorial. I'm going to show you how to make some completely original, awesome, and DOWNRIGHT WACKY levels for your game! :D

First, an example. Say you want to make a village in the middle of a big forest. You get to work putting a few houses, an inn, and two shops for items and equipment respectively, with a few trees here and there, right? WRONG >:o. This has been SO done before, and a village like this will put a finicky guy like me to sleep the moment I set eyes on it. You'll want to elaborate on this village in the forest idea. Make it something that people will want to explore... like, how about if you turned that boring village in the forest into a village on TOP of the forest? Whahay, there's an idea! Put houses in the tree tops! Walking across a bunch of wooden walkways suspended in the canopy is a lot more interesting that a regular village.

Now, for those of you lacking in CREATIVE JUICES, I'll guide you step by step through this process.

First, choose a general cliche area, like a cave or a mountain. It can be anything as long it's not too specific.

Next, think of words you could add onto either of the end of the place that can jog your imagination. Let's say we add a color prefix to caves. Like, 'green caverns'. Now, think about what a green cavern could be. A forest cavern full of foliage and plants just like the outside world? A cavern flowing with rivers of glowing green acid? A cave made out of emerald? Let your imagination run wild! You can make all sorts of crazy ideas if you think hard enough, like temples made of bones, islands of seaweed, towns made of candy, all sorts of ZANY STUFF.

Of course, the problem some people have is not a lack of creativity, but a lack of graphical prowess. In other words, chipsets are too hard to make! Well, the only real solution to that is to practise your pixel art skills, although you can take a few shortcuts. Newbie chip editors should just try pasting together different parts of chipsets (that's how I got started). Like my forest cavern example above, paste some grass and a few trees into a cave chipset and bam, you've got a forest cave :D.

It also helps if you have photoshop or some other advanced image editor, so you can fix the pesky color loss that comes with saving 256 color bitmaps in MSPaint. In case you don't know how to do this, I'll explain how to do it in Photoshop. Note that depending on what version of Photoshop you have, options may be in different places. Anyways, save your chipset as regular 24-bit color in MSPaint, and then import it into photoshop. Find 'Mode' in one of the menus, and select 'Indexed color'. From the dropdown Palette Menu, choose 'Local (Selective)'. Then go to Save, and choose bitmap as the file type. When prompted to choose the bit depth, select 8-bit if 4-bit is highlighted, but it usually won't be. And make sure RLE is unchecked. Bang, you should have your chipset with no color loss. YAY!

And a final tip for chipsets, things can look DRASTICALLY better even if you just edit the colors slightly using the Hue/Saturation tools, so make good use of them so you can add some color to your drab maps.

With all these hints you should be ready to start making levels that will keep anyone glued to your games, instead of having them grudgingly slog through them just to see the next story point. So go do it. NOW!