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Why I Stopped Playing Games and Why It's Important to Start Again

Category: Game Environment Art, Level Design
July 17, 2018

Why I Stopped Playing Games and Why It's Important to Start Again

I stopped playing games for a long time...

This happened naturally after I started working on level design and game environment art.

It became about wanting to create than wanting to play.

I'd rather work on my own custom level and model my own props. I'd rather spend time focusing on improving every aspect of production from an idea to block-in to gameplay to modeling and texturing.

I Realized Something Important

But, i began to realize something...

I gave up the one thing that inspired me to get into level design and game environment art. I was no longer opening up myself to new gaming experiences.

I had to start playing games again.

I started off with just 15 minutes at a time. Then I increased it to 30-60 minutes.

At first it was difficult to do. I felt guilty for playing when I should be working.

But then I had another realization.

New Way to Play

I no longer wanted to play for the sake of playing. I became more interested in playing to learn what I saw in the game, the level design decisions that were being made.

I'd catch myself wandering off and staring at foliage blends, prop placement, trying to analyze the way scripted events were set up and level design gameplay mechanics implemented.

Here is playing "Alan Wake", staring at foliage and props:

Studying foliage blends and prop placement

Looking at prop placement in Alan Wake

Admiring the pipe work in "Mirror's Edge":

Admiring the pipe work in "Mirror's Edge"

I began to enjoy playing again and seeing the design process revealed right in front of my eyes.

New sense of purpose developed.

I Started To Want To Play Again

I began to want to play games again.

Now, every time I sit down for a new gameplay sessions, I have a note pad by my side. I get to play the game, enjoy it and at the same time walk away better from it.

My latest play session included "Alan Wake". I took 12 pages worth of notes and over 1,152 screenshots. Keep an eye out for an extensive tutorial on Alan Wake level design soon.

12 pages of Alan Wake level design and game art notes I took

As I play and I look for patterns. I look for ways, ideas and pathways on how to improve and what I can learn.

When you play games here is what you should be asking until it becomes automatic:

  • How do you think the level was created?
  • How would you re-create this level if you had to (from block-in to final piece)?
  • Draw a rough layout and how the player had to navigate the level
  • Did you ever get lost in the map? Why and what could have been done to keep you on track?
  • How is the level used to guide the player? (Light? Composition and Framing? Objective? Radar? Story and Dialogue?)
  • Is color being used to communicate certain emotional and feeling of the environment?
  • How is the world being brought to life? (sound, fx, animation, assets etc.)
  • How is playable space being blocked off from non-playable space?
  • How is the playable space used to facilitate game's story and mechanics?
  • How are the objectives set up and what decisions being made during a scripted event?
  • How was this combat area designed and why was it effective or ineffective?
  • How is the level designer teaching the player necessary skills of the game as the game moves forward?
  • How is the progression of the game? Too hard? Too easy? How would you improve it?
  • How is the pacing and balance being implemented?
  • How is the story being revealed?
  • Was there any exploration in the environment? Was it implemented effectively or was it distracting?
  • How was the player rewarded for exploration?
  • How do you think this level was optimized?
  • What did the level do well? What are some things you learned from it that you could apply to your own work?
  • What were the mistakes the level had? How would you improve on them?
  • Was the level fun? Why?

Whether you are right or wrong about the answers doesn't matter. The important part is asking questions, trying to problem solve and reverse engineer your way through it.

Where I used to spend hundreds of hours practicing my headshot skill in Counter-Strike and learning every aspect of a map to dominate online, I now spend time playing to learn level design and game environment art. It was my natural evolution.

I reconnected wanting to play games again with a different goal that I haven't experienced before.

There is a lot you can learn every time you sit down to play games. Something I didn't do before because I played games for fun. Now it is still fun but also more purposeful.

I am now looking forward to going through my Steam game queue. I just finished "Mirror's Edge" and almost done with "Alan Wake" and "Alan Wake's American Nightmare". Next on my list are "Dishonored" or "Wolfenstein: The New Order".

You will receive a lot of ideas from playing games and taking notes. Preproduction Blueprint will guide you to making those ideas into level design and game environment art projects.

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