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Billy Hallden Interview: Level & Environment Design

Category: Interviews
December 14, 2010

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

Billy Hallden is a level designer and environment artist. I have been inspired by his work on WoLD forums and I wanted to find out more about his work, his process and if there were any tips he could give to an inpiring level designer and environment artist.

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you get interested in level design?

I allways liked creating enviroments ever since I was a kid playing with lego, the first thing I would do every morning when I got up was go to my lego box and start building. Later on I built a lot of terrain for tabel top games like Warhammer and that kind of stuff, even if I liked painting the plastic model I allways wanted to get past that and start creating the terrain, in the end I spent far more time making the terrain than playing the game.

My first game level design was when I started making maps for Doom 2, made a lot different maps, a small campaign and I even made a really cool multiplayer map for the Swedish championship in Doom 2.

I also played around a bit with making 3D stuff in Lightwave 3D, some different enviroments and spaceship models doing basic animation. When Counter-Strike came I started playing around with the Source engine a bit.

I really got into the level design in 2009 when I decided I want to make it into a career. I quit my current job of working as a IT Technican which I had been doing for almost 10 years, to work on a website project. After that came to an end I really started to think about what I wanted to do and I found a add that Dice in Stockholm, where I live where looking for a level designer and from that point on I have been pushing myself to learn more and more about all everything that surrounds level design, gameplay, 3D models, textures, lighting and so on.

What is it about level design and creating game environments that excites you?

Hard to say but I quess it is seeing the level come to life and be able to run around in something you created yourself.

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

Could you describe your current level design workflow? How do you begin designing a level, creating it and polishing to be released?

When I get a basic idea for a map I allways start gathering a lot of reference images, I spend at least 1 or 2 days doing this. While I'm doing that I get small sections of my map done in my head and after I have the starting reference images I sit down and do a paper layout of the map. After that I normaly block out the map to get the right scale and size of the map, this is something you want to make sure you get right, because if to want to change the scale later it will be a lot more work.

Then I go over section by section and make parts of the map really detailed, this is a personal thing, some people tend to work on the entire map but I really like to make small section detailed before I move on to the next one, this keeps me from being bored with doing the same thing and seeing the area detailed makes me even more exited to move on to the next section, but the important thing for me is to be 100% happy with the area or at least where it's going before I move to the next one.

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

What would be couple of things that you recommend for a beginner level designer to focus their efforts on?

I would say, try to make smaller maps and small projects to start with and try to learn something new with each map you make, like creating custom textures, creating terrain, making your own custom models ans so on.

Where do you see most level designers go wrong when they are creating a custom level and where do you see they could improve?

I see a lot of new level designers that have problem with scale and detailing, some people have a eye for that and some do not. The ones that have a harder time with this should take extra time to look at reference pictures and make sure your building or whatever you are making has the same scale and details. And of course post you work in progress on the boards and see what people think and change your level based on feedback.

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

What are few things that you know now, but wished you knew when you first started?

That is really hard to say, there are just so many things you need to know. Like I said before, just take one step at a time and if you really want to push yourself to be a better level designer you should write down a list of things you want to learn to be a better designer. Also learning from video tutorials is just super good, really take the time to check tutorials, watch and pause and do the things yourself as they go along.

What are you trying to improve in your own work right now? How are you going about doing that?

Right now I'm doing my first tree model ever, it's fun to have your own custom made model in the game.

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

What are you working on? What is your next project?

I'm currently working as a intern for a iPhone game company called Easley-Dunn Games. It's a real fun challenge to create low poly models that has to look good with small textures. Next week I'm going to finish my first level and all the textures in that level has to fit on a 1024x1024 texture in the end, so that is a bit of a challenge.

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

I also started working on my Left 4 Dead 2 campaign called Flamingo Holocaust again, I'm currently changing all the street textures to make room for my own custom palm tree model. You can see both projects in the Work in Progress forum.

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

Where could people find you? Twitter? Website? Portfolio? LinkedIn?

I have my own portfolio site:
http://www.billyhallden.com/

LinkedIn profile:
http://se.linkedin.com/in/billyhallden

Work by Billy Hallden - www.billyhallden.com

Updated & Revised - Preproduction Blueprint: How to Plan Your Game Environments and Level Designs

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