Platformer Level Design Tips

Every game’s success depends on many factors from quality 3D graphics to engaging plot. But if we’re talking about platformer games, in this case, level design is a crucial aspect. Providing various challenges, fights with monsters, and achieving new useful things, platform game level design can enhance or even change the gaming experience and aesthetic of the game. 

Today, we’ll share key concepts and tips for platformer level design. From obstacle placement to enemy spawning, we’ll show you how to make a platformer game unforgettable and outstanding with the use of various level design techniques. Let’s dive into the engaging journey of 2D and 3D platformer level design!

Detailed platform game level design with strategic elements and layout tips highlighted How to Design Breathtaking 2D Platformer Levels

Fundamentals of Platformer Level Design

While thinking about platformer level design ideas, game developers also consider what fundamental elements platformer games have. Some people think it’s about jump mechanics, others consider everything depends on game physics in general. But what really matters, and what actually unites the different types of platform games, is the mechanics of the player’s character.

Such mechanics include movement (for instance, tile-based movement), jumping, and special abilities (for instance, double jump, dash, or grappling), unique to every game.

Game artists should always integrate them into level design challenges and create situations where these abilities are essential for progression or solving puzzles. Without them, the platformer game will be simple and boring.

What is also significant to keep in mind is that the controls should be responsive and intuitive. Gamers don’t want to play games where they don’t have precise control over the character’s movements. All mechanics should be fine-tuned to achieve a balance between height, distance, and responsiveness.

Isometric platform game environment with floating islands, obstacles, and interactive elements How to design levels for a platformer

Platformer Environment Elements

All platformer levels have a game background design and interactive elements. In general, these details form the environment of the game and make it interesting and unique. 

With background design everything is understandable: game artists create specific pictures with or without animation. They serve as an additional aesthetic part that sets the tone of the game. With interactive environment elements, everything is difficult. There are 3 types of them: platforms, obstacles, and hazards

While working on platform game level design, developers can use various types of platforms:

Solid platforms provide stable ground for the player to walk, run, and jump on. 

Moving platforms create dynamic challenges by incorporating platforms that move horizontally, vertically, or rotate.

Breakable platforms can break or disappear after a certain time or when triggered. 

Bouncy platforms can bounce the player character to higher areas.

Obstacles can also boast a variety of various objects:

  • Spikes and sharp objects are often used in challenging areas to guide player movement. 
  • Moving obstacles, such as rolling boulders or sliding platforms, can adjust speed to gradually increase the difficulty of the game. 
  • Blockades and barriers are significant parts of 3D and 2D platformer level design. They help players to think about creative solutions to overcome. 
  • If your game has a lot of puzzles, include such obstacles as block puzzles. They can be pushed, pulled, or manipulated to solve difficult tasks and access new areas.

And, of course, hazards! You can integrate environmental hazards such as fire, electricity, or toxic substances. Hazards like lava or pits are also very popular in platform games. Sometimes, developers like using traps and snares to catch players off guard. It is a very funny and engaging experience for gamers. One more cool idea is timed hazards. They can be activated or deactivated based on a timer or player’s actions.

Complex platformer level design, a circuit board with various game paths and elements Design Your Own Adventure-Filled Platformer

Principles of Effective Level Design

If you want to create just a good game, you should follow the game art style guide and create stunning visuals. But if you want to create an outstanding platformer, you should also include some significant principles of platforming levels design. Let’s discuss them in detail.

Flow and Pacing Techniques

A seamless flow in level progression is very significant because it can minimize interruptions and abrupt changes. So, designing platformer levels always should go with a cohesive theme, connecting environments logically. It is also useful if the gamers should gradually adapt to new challenges. In general, game developers should introduce concepts and mechanics in a structured manner, building complexity over time.

What every platformer needs is a structured checkpoint system to allow players to resume from specific locations. They should be spaced appropriately, preventing frustration without diminishing challenge.

Creating Platformer Environments

We’ve already discussed game environment elements. Now it’s time to dive into techniques. First of all, game developers should maintain a consistent visual style of environment elements and precise platform mechanics throughout the level. But there aren’t supposed to be boring details. We are big fans of interactive elements like switches, levers, and moving platforms that add depth to the environment.

Talking about depth, layered backgrounds can easily add dimension to the environment. One more awesome idea is to design dynamic environments. Elements that respond to player actions, such as collapsing bridges or rising water levels, are necessary to keep players on their toes.

Designing for Exploration and Discoverability

Always a good idea to include in the game something players will never expect — something like non-linear pathways. Allow players to choose different routes that may vary in difficulty or offer unique challenges. It is extremely interesting! Subtle visual cues can hint at hidden or interactive elements. The audience will definitely enjoy these intricate tasks with changes in color or lighting.

As these levels are more difficult than others, progression rewards should be included too. Reward players with new abilities or tools as they progress, enabling access to previously unreachable areas. But what is the best about platformer games and what 100% can make 3D and 2D games popular again are hidden levels, paths, and secrets. Hidden areas and secret paths with unbelievable treasures are some of the best things for players. You can provide tangible rewards, such as power-ups or collectibles, for players who venture off the beaten path.

Vibrant platformer game elements and obstacles set against a sunset sky with floating platforms Platformer Level Fundamentals

Structural Elements in Platformer Levels

Structural elements are the architectural backbone of any 3D or 2D platformer level design. If the points of start and end are clear, other elements such as landmarks and transition zones will easily guide players through levels. Hub areas act as central nodes, connecting various branches and side paths. The careful curation of sub-areas and side paths adds layers to the level, offering optional challenges for the players and boosting their gaming experience.

It is important to add that making unique game art for your 3D or 2D platformer can also create a visually unified experience and improve the platformer game level design.

Linear vs. Non-linear Level Design

The decision between linear and non-linear level design will impact the player’s journey. Linear designs provide a clear direction and guided experience, suitable for narrative-driven games. In contrast, non-linear designs empower players with agency, offering various paths and choices. One more opportunity is to use a hybrid approach. It may blend both styles, combining the narrative focus of linear design with the freedom and exploration of non-linear elements.

Verticality in Platformer Level Design

Verticality introduces a third dimension to the platformer experience. Vertical challenges, layered platforms at varying heights, and opportunities for climbing or descending platforms all contribute to a more dynamic and strategic level design of 3D and 2D platformers.

Checkpoints and Save Points

We’ve already mentioned the importance of checkpoints today but we want to talk about it again. Checkpoints and save points emerge as essential elements that impact level progression. Strategically placed checkpoints prevent frustration by allowing players to restart from specific locations. Save points, especially in longer or non-linear levels, provide players the ability to safeguard their progress. Respawn mechanics tied to these points are carefully designed to maintain a consistent and equitable experience.

Isometric set of platformer game elements with diverse obstacles and terrain 2D Platform Games Research

Designing Challenges and Obstacles

Platformer games are so important for gaming history due to their intricate level designs, a lot of challenges, and skill-based puzzles. The backbone of any platforming level lies in its obstacles. It’s not just about placing platforms and traps randomly. For game artists, it’s about creating a rhythm that challenges the player’s reflexes and problem-solving skills. From moving platforms to spikes, from pits to puzzles, game artists spend a lot of time making everything as perfect as possible. Because of these difficulties, a lot of game companies ask game animation outsourcing studios to help them with platformer levels designing.

Enemy Placement and Behavior

Enemies in platformers serve as more than just adversaries. They significantly impact the level’s dynamic. Placing enemies strategically enhances the challenges a lot. Whether it’s a simple creature or a complex enemy AI, their behavior and movement patterns can influence the level’s pacing and difficulty.

Puzzle Integration and Complexity

Integrating puzzles into platformer levels allows gamers to use their intellectual skills. These puzzles can range from simple switch activations to intricate mechanisms that demand both timing and wit. The key lies in gradually increasing the complexity to avoid overwhelming the player. What is also important is to ensure a satisfying sense of achievement after solving difficult puzzles.

Balancing Skill-Based Challenges

Balancing a platformer’s difficulty can be a little bit difficult process. A well-designed level progressively introduces new mechanics or combines existing ones, allowing players to improve their skills. To set the balance between frustration and triumph, it’s significant to add iterative playtesting.

Colorful and intricate platformer level design on a designer's desk with drawing tools

How to Create Engaging Visual Style

This is the most interesting part! The visual style of a platformer game level design is the first connection between the gaming world and a player. A coherent art style, vibrant colors, detailed environments, and character design significantly contribute to this engagement. 

Employing various visual elements such as foreground and background layers, parallax scrolling, dynamic lighting, and meticulous attention to detail can bring life to the game world. These elements not only serve as eye candy but also provide depth and immersion, captivating players throughout their journey.

Even if it’s the most interesting part of platform game creation, game developers are still struggling with making unique memorable visual styles. 3D and 2D game art outsourcing helps a lot with this problem, providing interesting platformer level design ideas and ensuring the game will stand out among the players around the world.

Theming and Storytelling Through Design

Platformer game levels have the unique advantage of storytelling through design. Each level can be a canvas for the overarching story or convey the theme of a particular world. Whether it’s a lush jungle setting, a futuristic metropolis, or a mystical realm, theming is very significant for storytelling.

Integrating thematic elements into level design, such as relics, ruins, or specific architecture, helps in conveying the backstory or the world’s lore. Environmental storytelling, where the level design itself tells gamers a tale, can evoke emotions and curiosity, ensuring an even deeper connection between the player and the game world.

Man sitting on steps playing a mobile game with game development strategy dashboard in the background User Experience (UX) in platformer games

User Experience and Playtesting

User experience in platformer games encompasses various elements, including controls, level layout, and pacing. Playtesting, the process of observing real players interact with the game, becomes the linchpin in understanding and improving the user experience.

Importance of Playtesting in Level Design

Even if you created excellent art with the use of 3D game art outsourcing services, came up with unforgettable game mechanics, and wrote an intricate plot for your platformer game, playtesting is still very significant. It isn’t just about identifying bugs. It’s a fundamental aspect of honing platformer game level design. By observing players’ reactions, developers gain invaluable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of their levels. 

How video game testing companies can improve the platform game by providing game testing services:

Identifying difficulty spikes. Understanding where players struggle helps in balancing difficulty curves. It ensures challenges are appropriately challenging, not insurmountable.

Refining level flow. Observing how players navigate through the level aids in optimizing the flow, ensuring a smooth experience without interruptions.

Evaluating enjoyment. Assessing player enjoyment and emotional engagement aids in tailoring levels to evoke desired emotions.

2D Game wizard with magical tools floating around tools for platformer level design

Technology and Tools

Behind every platformer game level design lies a lot of advanced technologies, tools, and innovative software that empower game designers to craft outstanding worlds. Among these, level editors and game engines stand as the keystones in the creation process.

Level Editors and Game Engines

Game engines are the backbone of platformer game development, offering a lot of opportunities for designing and building games. Platforms like Unity and Unreal Engine provide an array of tools, rendering capabilities, physics engines, and scripting languages that empower designers to create intricate platformer levels.

Unity engine development and Unreal Engine development services include:

  • Graphics rendering

High-quality rendering capabilities that enable visually stunning environments, sprite animations, and effects.

  • Physics engines

Realistic physics simulations for object interactions, character movements, and environmental dynamics.

  • Scripting and logic

Robust scripting languages and visual scripting tools that facilitate the implementation of game logic and mechanics.

Within game engines, level editors serve as the playgrounds where designers shape their worlds. These editors offer intuitive interfaces allowing for the creation and manipulation of environments, placement of assets, defining gameplay elements, and fine-tuning details.

Level editors include:

Terrain and object placement tools

Tools for creating terrain, placing platforms, obstacles, enemies, and other interactive elements.

Asset integration

Importing and integrating various assets such as textures, models, and animations into the level.

Testing and iteration

In-built testing functionalities that allow designers to playtest and iterate on the level within the editor itself.

FAQ

Frequently asked questions about Platformer Level Design and role of storytelling in platformer level design

What is most important when designing a platformer level?

When designing a platformer level, there is no one correct answer to this question. But while each aspect is crucial, one could argue that player engagement stands out as the most important factor. But player engagement also has some important aspects:

  • A well-designed platformer level should provide a balanced level of challenge. It should be difficult enough to keep players engaged and motivated to overcome obstacles, but not so challenging that it leads to frustration. 
  • Engaging platformer levels encourages exploration. Hidden paths, secret areas, and rewards for curiosity contribute to a sense of discovery, making the level more enjoyable and replayable. 
  • A sense of player agency, where players feel in control of their character’s destiny, is crucial. Meaningful choices, the ability to influence the environment, and decisions that impact the outcome contribute to a more engaging experience.

What are common pitfalls in platformer level design?

We want to define 5 common pitfalls in platformer level design:

  • Excessive difficulty spikes.

Sudden and extreme increases in difficulty can frustrate players. Gradual difficulty progression allows players to adapt to challenges organically.

  • Poorly placed checkpoints.

Inadequate or poorly placed checkpoints can lead to frustration. Ensure checkpoints are strategically positioned to provide relief after challenging sections.

  • Overemphasis on precision jumps.

Relying too heavily on precise jumping requirements may lead to frustration too, especially if controls are not finely tuned. Balance precision with other engaging elements.

  • Repetitive gameplay elements.

Overusing the same gameplay elements can make levels feel monotonous. Introduce variety in challenges, obstacles, and environments to keep the gameplay fresh.

  • Lack of player agency.

Levels that feel overly restrictive or lack player agency can diminish engagement. Allow players to make meaningful decisions and influence the outcome of the level.

What role does storytelling play in platformer level design?

Storytelling plays a crucial role in platformer level design. While platformers may not be as narrative-driven as some other genres, a well-integrated story enhances the player’s connection to the game world and can influence various aspects of level design. 

  • At first, storytelling provides context for the platformer world and the levels within it. Each level becomes a part of a larger narrative, serving a specific purpose within the game’s story. This context helps justify the challenges, environments, and obstacles that players encounter.
  • Second, the narrative establishes the protagonist’s motivation, driving their journey through the levels. This motivation can influence the types of challenges faced, the environments explored, and the overall pacing of the game.
  • Thirdly, storytelling contributes to world-building by establishing the setting, lore, and atmosphere of the game. This influences the visual design of levels, ensuring they align with the established world and evoke the desired emotions in players.

Last but not least, the narrative sets the tone for the game, influencing the thematic consistency of levels. A cohesive theme, inspired by the story, creates an unforgettable experience as players progress through diverse environments that feel connected to the overarching narrative.