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    Level Designer Interviews: Warren Marshal

    Interviewer: The_culture

    What is your current role, and what games have you worked on?

    I do level design and programming for Epic Games.  I used to work at Legend Entertainment where I was part of the level design team for the Wheel of Time.  At Epic, I helped get the Playstation2 and ďGame of the YearĒ versions of UT out the door.

    Currently, Iím working on our next project.  Iím responsible for maintaining/enhancing UnrealEd and doing level design.

    Whatís lacking in level design today?  What can be done to fix that problem?

    Lacking Ö hmmm.  I think figuring out original solutions to old problems is a big one.  Now, Iím not one of these anti-crate zealots, but bear with me.

    When a level designer decides to throw a crate into a level, they need to make sure it makes sense that it would be there.  When Iím in warehouse, shipping dock, etc I donít care about crates.  Theyíre supposed to be there.  But if Iím running down a hallway in a modern high rise and suddenly thereís a stack of crates there, it looks out of place and that the level designer ďgave upĒ.  Thereís almost always something else you can do to give the player cover to fire from, to climb on, etc.

    Another thing that people miss is the importance of lighting.  Contrast in lighting makes all the difference in the world.  If a room is filled with a consistent level of light, it comes off bland and washed out.  If you donít put enough light in, itís dark and irritating.  What you want is a nice progression of light to shadow.  Light sources should be ďhot spotsĒ which fall off into darkness.  This helps to lead the eye around the room and makes things more visually appealing.

    With 3D engines becoming increasingly more sophisticated, level design becomes more complex, which in turn becomes a time-consuming effort.  Is this a good or bad thing?

    I think itís a good thing Ö what will happen, is that the tools we use will evolve as well as the engines.  So adding more complex content will take about the same time as adding the current content does.

    For example, if you have a complicated scripting system in the engine, youíd better have decent editing tools if you expect your level designers to take advantage of it.  Or if you have the ability to do very high poly geometry then good, solid geometry creation tools should be a major focus of your early development process.

    If you donít pay attention to your tools, your level designers wonít be able to take advantage of the wonderful features you add to your engine.  And if they canít do that, whatís the point?

    Is there a particular level from any game that stands out as an excellent example of craftsmanship?  Why?

    I donít know about a specific level but the most architecturally impressive game Iíve ever seen is the Wheel of Time.   Yes, I worked on it and maybe Iím biased, but I still hold that game up as the best example of how to do architecture ďrightĒ.  The levels look fantastic, they look ďsolidĒ and they look real.

    Where do you draw inspiration from during your level creation process?

    I donít like these types of questions, because itís hard not to give a generic, no content answer.  I really donít know what to say.  My inspiration comes from the typical place: my mind.  The part of my brain that gives me ideas is fed from many sources: movies, books, dreams, life, etc.

    What new features in level editors would you implement if you were designing a new editor from the ground up?

    Well, Iím in the somewhat unique position of being a level designer who gets to work on the code for his level editor (UnrealEd), so anything I want or need, I have the power to add it.

    I have a long to-do list for the editor, but I donít know if thereís any specific feature that Iím looking forward to the most.  The key to a good level design tool is to make it as seamless as possible.  Meaning that you donít break the level designers concentration as he gets into a productive groove.

    If they have to stop and think about how theyíre going to do something, then that means youíre missing a feature that could make their lives easier.  If they spend a lot of time clicking buttons on the UI, then that means you donít have enough keyboard shortcuts or maybe you have too many ďmodesĒ.

    Itís a process of refinement and it takes a lot of iterations to get a really kick ass level editing tool Ö

    Where do you see level design taking us in the next couple of years?

    Outside!  More and more engines are gaining the ability to do large outdoor areas so I think thatís where weíre going to see a lot of new ground being broken in level design.  Weíre pretty used to indoor areas these days, but doing really good outdoor levels is a new challenge I see coming.

    What game are you most looking forward to?

    Team Fortress2 looks interesting from a team combat point of view.
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