GAM 341 – Intro to Level Design – Fall 2015

updated 09/17/2015

Lecturer: Rob Lockhart


When/Where: Thursday 5:45PM ­- 9:00PM / 14E Jackson (the Daley Building) Room 212

Office Hours: Thursday 9:00PM – 9:30PM (in class) & Friday 5:45PM – 6:45PM / 14E Jackson (the Daley Building) Room 200B

Class Overview:

This class is about crafting artificial spaces which convey something to the player.  That may be very specific information or a general mood.  What do evolutionary psychology and architecture have to say about this challenge?  What are the methods for sending a message to the player that level designers of the past have discovered?  How do those methods work, and how can they be generalized? As a tool for exploring these concepts, students will use Unreal Engine 4 and Blueprint.  No prior art or programming experience is required, but GAM 245 is highly recommended as a prerequisite to this course. By the end of this course, students should be comfortable with the concepts and methods of level design, as well as some supporting technical skills.

Learning Outcomes:

Students will

  1. apply previously acquired game design principles and methods in the creation of levels.
  2. develop a foundational literacy and confidence in basic level design techniques, including blockouts, player interactions and level events, and the creation of walkthroughs and maps.
  3. show fluency in building levels in a 3D environment.
  4. demonstrate literacy with a visual scripting language designed to support the creation of levels in a 3D environment.
  5. participate working in a team to complete a jointly authored project.

Course Tools:

• Course Management System: We will be using D2L as the primary CMS for this course.

• Unreal Engine 4 (UE4): UE4 is now available for free download

• Screen cast software: Rather than uploading full levels you will be asked to create short videos of your levels, using UE4’s built in tools and a screen recording software like Quickcast ( OBS–open broadcasting software ( or some other tool of your choice. All videos will be uploaded either to YouTube or Vimeo, NOT to the D2L Dropbox. That way you can preview your video to make sure that it is working and will save time when reviewing each other’s work, since you won’t have to download big video files.

Recommended Reading and Viewing: Selected readings and videos will be accessible via D2L and the web. Access to these resources is free.  Information on assigned reading and viewing is provided in the GAM 341 Course Guide posted on D2L, as well as in class.


For most assignments you will be asked to:

1. Build a level in UE4 and Blueprint (and iterate on it as much as is possible/necessary).

2. Record a video of someone OTHER THAN YOURSELF playing through the level (see tools above).  I want to hear someone else’s voice talking about why they’re doing what they’re doing while they’re doing it.

3. Upload this video to Vimeo or Youtube.

4. Go to the class discussion thread whose title is the name of the assignment.  Post a link to your video there.

5. This link must be posted before midnight on the night before the class on which the assignment is due.  For example, your first level is due September 21st, so you should post no later than September 21st at 12AM.

I am willing to grant extensions in some cases.  If you need an extension on an assignment, send an email to 1-2 days before the assignment is due.  If you ask for an extension after the assignment is due it will not be granted.

Assignment List: 

1. Floor Plan & Rudimentary Level:

Sketch out the floor plan of a video game level which you have played.  Indicate on the map 5 locations where the designer(s) communicated some kind of information to you, the player.  Upload to Imgur.

Open Unreal and choose the third-person template level.  Switch the camera to 1st person.  Upload a video of yourself (no need for external playtesting) running around in the level.

2. A Pattern Realized:

Make a level which uses one level design pattern.  Use simple shapes to build up the level blockout. Upload a video of someone else playing through it.

Go back to the Discussion thread from last weeks Homework.  Think of something interesting to say about the work of one of your classmates and post it on the forum.

3. An Interesting Maze:

Build a level which takes 1 minute or more to get through and forces the player to backtrack 3+ times.

4. Use Your Power for Evil

Build a level with (at least) one door.  Try to prevent the player from attempting to use the door for three minutes or more.  Make as many areas as you need.  You may not block the player physically from entering the door — only psychologically.

5. What Happened Here?

Entirely through environment design, tell a simple story of an event which happened in the past.  The event must have happened between two characters.  One character must have received (or taken) something from the other.  The player must be able to tell what kind of real-world environment this level is emulating.  The player should be able to discover, indirectly, what the relationship was between the two characters and what changed possession.

6. A True Puzzle

Using the building blocks provided, build a puzzle which requires the player to form and execute a plan 3 steps long (or longer).

7. A Secret Room

Build a level with both a hidden object and a hidden doorway.  Tell the player to find the object and see if they find the doorway.  You must record 5 playtesters navigating the level.  You MUST PREDICT on October 22nd how many of those people (1-4) you aim to find the secret door.  Design your level to get as close as possible to your prediction.

8. Alternative Locomotion:

Choose JETPACK, WALK ON WALLS or JUMP REALLY HIGH.  Redo one of the earlier assignments (#2 – #7) to accommodate the affordances of this new locomotion.

9. Final Project:

Choose any of your previous levels and build upon it to make a portfolio level you can share with potential employers.

Class Schedule: 

This schedule may be updated as needed to reflect unanticipated circumstances that arise during the quarter. Below is a general overview of topics and assignments.

Week 1: Sept. 10 – Evolutionary Psychology of Spaces – How does our species’ history shape the way we feel about the spaces we experience?

Week 2: Sept. 17 – Basic Level Design Patterns (and Anti-Patterns) – Linear, Trees, Hub-and-Spoke, etc. Assignments Due: Floor Plan & Rudimentary Level

September 22 – Last Day to Drop with No Penalty

Week 3: Sept. 24 – Mazes – What makes a maze difficult? What makes it interesting? Assignment Due: A Pattern Realized.

Week 4: Oct. 1 – Player Behavior Manipulation.  Giving the player a subtle sense of purpose with Carrots, Beacons and Lines. Assignment Due: An Interesting Maze.

Week 5: Oct. 8 – Environmental Storytelling – Telling a story with physical evidence. Assignment Due: Use Your Power for Evil

Week 6: Oct 15 – Honest Puzzle Design – Assignment Due: What happened here?

Week 7: Oct 22 – Secret Rooms – Giving a player a surprise and a sense of accomplishment at the same time. Assignment Due: A true puzzle.

October 27 – Last Day to Withdraw from Class with Penalty

Week 8: Oct 29 – Effects of Traversal Allowances on Level Design – How does level design change for rolling (in a vehicle) vs. walking vs. flying, etc.? Even simple allowances like side-to-side motion and contextual vs. free jumping. Assignment Due: A secret room.

Week 9: Nov. 5 – Non-Euclidean Spaces – Building levels in alternate geometries. Assignment Due: Alternative Locomotion

Week 10: Nov. 12 – Levels which are not spaces.  When designing levels for a text-adventure, an audio-only game, etc.  How can we apply what we have learned about building virtual spaces to other domains? Assignment Due: A first draft of your final project.  For a final project, students will choose one of the levels from earlier assignments to elaborate upon.

Week 11: Nov. 19 – Final critiques Assignment Due: Final Project

Grading Scale:

A indicates excellence. B indicates good work. C indicates satisfactory work. D work is unsatisfactory in some respect. F is substantially unsatisfactory work.

A = 100-93

A- = 92-90

B+ = 89-88

B = 87-83

B- = 82-80

C+ = 79-78

C = 77-73

C- = 72-70

D+ = 69-68

D = 67-63

D- = 62-60

F = 59-0

Time Budget for Coursework:

Students should plan to spend a minimum of 12-14 hours a week on work for this course, which includes time spent on level design, reading and viewing support resources, documenting and uploading assignments, and participating in online discussions, check ins, and reviews. The hardest part of this course for most students will be learning Blueprint, so please be prepared to spend the time necessary to feel comfortable in that scripting environment by the end of the course. You will feel amazing if you do, as you will then be able to create levels without relying on programmers to build them for you.

School Policies:

Changes to Syllabus: This syllabus is subject to change as necessary during the quarter.  If a change occurs, it will be thoroughly addressed during class, posted under Announcements in D2L and sent via email.

Online Course Evaluations: Evaluations are a way for students to provide valuable feedback regarding their instructor and the course. Detailed feedback will enable the instructor to continuously tailor teaching methods and course content to meet the learning goals of the course and the academic needs of the students. They are a requirement of the course and are key to continue to provide you with the highest quality of teaching. The evaluations are anonymous; the instructor and administration do not track who entered what responses. A program is used to check if the student completed the evaluations, but the evaluation is completely separate from the student’s identity. Since 100% participation is our goal, students are sent periodic reminders over three weeks. Students do not receive reminders once they complete the evaluation. Students complete the evaluation online in CampusConnect.

Incomplete Policy: An incomplete grade is given only for an exceptional reason such as a death in the immediate family, a serious illness, hospitalization, etc. Any such reason must be documented. Any incomplete request must be made at least two weeks before the final and approved by the Dean of the College of Computing and Digital Media. Any consequences resulting from a poor grade for the course will not be considered as valid reasons for such a requests.

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism: This course will be subject to the university’s academic integrity policy. More information can be found at If you have any questions be sure to consult with your professor.

Academic Policies: All students are required to manage their class schedules each term in accordance with the deadlines for enrolling and withdrawing as indicated in the University Academic Calendar.  Information on enrollment, withdrawal, grading and incompletes can be found at:

Students with Disabilities: Students who feel they may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the instructor privately to discuss their specific needs. All discussions will remain confidential. To ensure that you receive the most appropriate accommodation based on your needs, contact the instructor as early as possible in the quarter (preferably within the first week of class), and make sure that you have contacted the Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) at:

Lewis Center 1420, 25 East Jackson Blvd.

Phone number: (312)362-8002 | Fax: (312)362-6544 | TTY: (773)325.7296

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *