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    Level Designer Interviews: Scott Dalton

    Interviewer: The_culture

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

    Iím a Senior Level Designer at Legend Entertainment but I often find myself involved with other areas.  At the core Iím building levels with the associated gameplay elements and interacting with our artists to establish the look and feel of each area and its inhabitants.  Aside from that, thereís a lot of input which goes into weapon and creature design and gameplay mechanics.  I also work on particle effects that are used in levels as well for creatures or weapons.

    My first commercial game was Wheel of Time.  Iím currently working on Unreal 2.  Prior to getting a job in the industry I was an avid game player and amateur mod guy/LD working on stuff like the Zerstörer conversion for Quake 1.

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

    Infinite poly counts?

    In all honesty, I think what is lacking depends on where you look and what you are hoping to find.  Level Design began with 2D tile based games and now covers every sort of 3D world.  Youíve got everything from stunningly realistic worlds like youíd see in Shenmue or Metal Gear Solid 2 to the still stunning but more abstract arcade like worlds of Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament.  They each serve their purpose and do a great job at it, but each lacks qualities of the other.  For the most part that is a good thing.

    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?

    Wow, deja vu...  It can be both a good and bad thing because we have the ability to do so much more, but the time investment usually results in better quality not quantity.  Itís all about the tools - a good toolset can help to cut down the amount of time required to create these more complex environments.  Complexity isnít always a good thing though, it can be a dangerous pit of diminishing returns to get into making something more complex just because you can.  In game design in general, often times people get stuck in the trap of thinking more is better in cases where it only ends up detracting from the game rather than adding to it.

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

    I think to single out any particular level would be unfair to the many favorites I have from a variety of games.  Itís not so much that any of my favorites do anything in one particular way, but they capitalize best upon whatís good about the game.

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

    I watch a lot of movies that relate to the subject matter, read books, and play other games in a critique mode.  While I work I usually listen to music which helps keep me focused.  I habitually buy books about architecture and to some degree photography.  The usual sorts of things.

    I also gain a lot of inspiration from our Artists and Programmers.  These guys are great and deserve so much credit for what you see in the end product.  Whenever I get a new batch of textures, see some new feature or art, that really drives me to make all that I can of what Iím doing.  Thereís a lot of synergy there where weíll feed off of each otherís creative energies.  Iíll talk with one of our programmers about some effect and heíll go off and whip something up and thatíll get me all excited about making some area to capitalize on it.  Our concept artist is great at taking a huge amount of input and ideas, mixing those with his own, and producing something really cool and unique with itís own style.  Our texture artists create this mind blowing stuff, and when you look at it you just canít wait to go use it.  Thatís where a lot of my inspiration comes from...

    As an aside, while level designers are often the focus of interviews, with the occasional programmer, there are so many important elements that go into the mix - those responsible for those elements deserve every bit as much of the credit.

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

    Check out UnrealEd 2.  This editor is still evolving, but it is a total redesign of the original UnrealEd based on making it the best editing environment from an LD perspective.  Warren started on this just after WoT when we finally had time to take all the various features we yearned for and actually do them.  Being a level designer as well as a programmer, Warren has a really good perspective of not only knowing what tools are needed, but how to make them as accessible to an LD as possible.

    As far as generating an editor from the ground up, what features I would want would greatly depend on what the strengths and limitations of the engine would be.  See the next question as well.

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

    In the near future, I think weíre going to see more Maya Paint Effects style tools in 3D games.  Tools that procedurally create elements - For example, a ďTree PainterĒ which acts like an airbrush tool, creating unique fractal trees which grow and change as you paint in an area.  These sort of tools will require a lot more programmer front-end time than current tool sets, with the backend  payoff of much faster mass asset creation.  Procedural weathering of world geometry, layering of effects and materials, etc.  These things wonít change the way we approach the game design part of level design, but will help to create more complex, natural, and unique environments without requiring unimaginable asset creation time.

    What game are you most looking forward to?

    Metal Gear Solid 2 has me pretty excited.
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