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    Level Designer Interviews: Eric Biessman

    Interviewer: The_culture

    What is your current role, and what games have you worked on?

    Currently, I am the Design Services Director of Raven Software and the Project Lead of an, as yet, unannounced title.  Over the years, I have changed roles from Design, to Lead Design, to Project Lead.  I have been lucky enough to work on CyClones, Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders, Hexen, Hexen: Deathkings of the Dark Citadel, Hexen 2, Hexen 2: Portal of Praevus, Heretic 2, Soldier of Fortune, and most recently, Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force.

    What’s lacking in level design today?  What can be done to fix that problem?

     I don’t know if I would necessarily say that anything is *lacking* in design today.  There is a plethora of skilled and creative people working on some great games and making some great levels.  Tools have become more accessible, easier to use, and much more powerful.  Due to that, level design has become more and more important in the fundamental creation of the game and there is a lot more riding on the level designer’s shoulders.  The good thing is that it has allowed level designers to continue to push the boundaries, helping to add depth and replayability to their games.  If anything could be considered lacking, I would have to say time.  There’s just not enough time in a day to get everything done that you would like to.

    With 3D engines becoming increasingly more sophisticated, level design becomes more complex, which in turn becomes a time-consuming effort.  Is this a good or bad thing?

     I think that it is a little bit of both.  For the consumer, it is a great thing since it adds a large amount to the fun factor and replayability of any game.  For the poor level designer that sits on those ever tightening deadlines and milestones, it can be an overwhelming task.  As games become more sophisticated, we find that we have more and more “specialists.”  These are people that are really shine at one specific task and can accomplish that thing at a fast pace.  This allows us to split up levels and speed up the creation of the game.  Specialist tasks include architecture, scripting, placement, balancing, and lighting.  Of course, each designer is responsible for his or her own entire level, but it sure helps if there is someone nearby who can solve a problem that has you stumped.

    Is there a particular level from any game that stands out as an excellent example of craftsmanship?  Why?

     Craftmanship is a tough thing to judge.  I don’t think that there is any level out there that I can say was constructed better than another level, but I can definitely find levels that had interesting plot devices, a clever hook, or were just plain more fun than another level.  The one level that made me sit up and drool was the falling ship level in Jedi Knight.  It was just too cool.  For the most part, I think that a game should speak on its whole instead of on its levels.  Judge a game by its entire experience, not upon one of its pieces.

    Where do you draw inspiration from during your level creation process?

     There are a ton of things that I use to draw inspiration from.  Books, movies, T.V. shows, comic books, real-world architecture… you name it, it has probably snuck into a level or a look somewhere.  The one place that I try not to draw inspiration from is other games.  Although some ideas are too good to pass up, you really need to make sure that your game speaks for itself instead of blindly copying another product.

    What new features in level editors would you implement if you were designing a new editor from the ground up?

     The first and foremost thing that I would create for a new editor would be the ability to have a working multiple undo that would not randomly crash your editor.  Undo seems to be the bane of level designers here at Raven.

    Where do you see level design taking us in the next couple of years?

     Bigger and better seems to be the direction that all gaming is heading in.  I don’t know if I can say that it is just level design that will do this, but as tools and engines become more and more powerful, games will become more and more immersive and exciting.  Just look at the differences that have happened over the past years with FPS games and then think of what the future will bring.  I am glad that I will be a part of it, but I am more excited that I will be able to play the new games!

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