Understanding Video Games text-book
Review of Ed Byrne’s Game Level Design

Date posted: May 11, 2006
Updated: Oct 24, 2006

A review by Henrik Bennetsen

Author: Ed Byrne
Title: Game Level Design. Charles River Media, 2005.
ISBN: 1584503696
Price: $49.95
Pages: 344

I should start this review out with a little confession: This is the first book I have ever read on level design. What I have done is to thoroughly search the web for resources on this emerging field without much luck, so I do believe that there is a need for this new book by Ed Byrne. So far level design has been dealt with as a chapter in decent game design books, but now it is really about time that this had its own volume. Ed Byrne surely seems to be someone who could take this task on. He is currently lead designer at Zipper Interactive and has in past worked on games such as Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell. Game Level Design does indeed feel like a book written by someone who has had his hands dug deep into the practical side of things. The author starts by telling the short history of level design right on up until today followed by a map of a simple level. You really get a sense that Byrne took the fact that this book is a first very seriously. He makes a great effort to establish a common language around level design and even devotes an entire chapter to describing team roles and the pipeline in game production.

Over the next chapters Byrne digs deeper into the craft of designing levels using what he calls a genre agnostic approach. Whilst you can certainly argue that the book has an affinity for First Person Shooters and Real Time Strategy games you feel that other designers working in other genres would benefit as well. All in all I would say that most people working within level design would benefit from reading this book, but because of its introductory nature a relative beginner would probably benefit more than a seasoned veteran. If you are looking to secure a job in the game industry, this book holds a lot of information that lends valuable insight. Researchers might benefit from this book’s attempt to establish a common language around level design, but might otherwise find the book a little on the light side. One thing that might also be of interest to some is that the book includes several interviews with well known industry insiders such as Harvey Smith and Richard ”Levelord” Gray.

This books practical nature is underlined by the inclusion of level design tools on the accompanying CD. You get the Unreal 2 Runtime Demo as well as some resources such as textures and environments. These tools will come in handy for the very hands on final chapters of Game Level Design. Byrne walks you through the creation of a 3D space in UnrealEd, that you can go online and test with your mates right away. I think this touches on the core strength of this book: It feels very “right now.” I would say that the closer to the publishing date (early 2005) you read this; the warmer I feel I can recommend it. Level design is a field that has been in constant rapid development since it was born and this only look to be escalating further now that the next generation of consoles is around the corner. What this book accomplishes is to give all the aspiring modders and game designers out there an alternative to scan forums and random tutorials to build on their skills. Unlike these scattered web resources; Game Level Design does not attempt to solve concrete problems as much as establish procedures for designing good levels. With every self-respecting triple A title coming out with its own level editor I feel confident that there will be a market for Ed Byrne’s offering; at the very least until there is a new kid in town.

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