Game Pill Interactive

Game Level Design 101

  • March 31, 2015
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When you’re looking for brilliantly designed levels in video games, you need not to look further than Nintendo and Mario, the platforming plumber.

Super Mario 3D world is a perfect example of Nintendo’s continuous innovation with new level design. Each level in the Wii U game is broken down into four parts, beginning by teaching the player and then challenging them further. This format took inspiration from traditional Japanese Kishōtenketsu structure which is comprised of four parts, typically used for Manga. Through this layout, the player is able to learn any new mechanics thrown at them by the game while not being interrupted by overbearing tutorials and explanations.

In the examples below, Level 5-6 Cakewalk flip has panels that switch from blue to red whenever the player jumps.

Introducing the mechanic

The level begins with an introduction to the new mechanic, and allows the player to discover it in a safe environment. In the photo above, the player can test their ability to utilize the mechanic, without consequence of failure. The pink platform below the flip panels acts as a safety net so that the player won’t fall off the level if they miss the switch panels.

01 Wont fall





Developing the mechanic

The second part of the level takes the player through tougher challenges in order to develop their ability to play with the mechanic. In the photo above, the game develops the idea and tests the player by removing the safety net.

02 No safety net

In this photo, the player has to learn how to use the mechanic in a different way; in this case, climbing up a wall using the flipping panels.

03 Up the wall

Giving it a twist

04 the twist

The game then throws the player a curveball by challenging their ability to use their new technique alongside other tasks. In the case of the above photo, the player has to deal with the flipping panels, as well as the blast radius from the bumper enemy.

The level challenges the player’s mastery at the new technique, as well as forcing them to think about it from a different or fresh perspective.


Conclusion to the level

05 conclusion

After completing the twist of the level, the game gives the player one last chance to show off their new skills with a flagpole sequence ends off the level. The concept the player learned is now thrown away for the next level, however it doesn’t mean the player will never use it again. The game can re-introduce mechanics in later levels such as the Bowser stages, where the techniques that the player learned throughout that area of the game come together. The game maker would then be confident enough that the player remembers the mechanics and can still use them.

This is a system that allows easy understanding and learning of tiered new concepts, while still making the game fun and interesting for players.

See this system in action here:

If you want to brainstorm with us how we can implement these level design techniques into your game, or if you want to check out what we’ve been working on, don’t hesitate to contact us at!

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